Cry for Justice Still Echoes

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BY Thameenah Razeek and Dilanthi Jayamanne

Susantha’s newly built home contained only two items. The white-painted walls displayed photographs of his wife, two daughters, and only son, all of whom killed in the 2019 Easter bombings. Susantha, their father, has written on the walls that he will bring justice to the bloodshed by them and reveal why their lives had to end unnecessarily. 

“It has been three years and I still have not found out who was responsible for my children’s deaths. I am completely alone here. My wife and children were murdered. These assassins forced me to witness my daughter’s funeral through the eyes that were supposed to witness my daughter’s wedding. I could not die alongside them. At the very least, I should figure out who killed them. That is the only reason I am still alive. Those who try to conceal the truth will be destroyed sooner,” he grieved. 

These are the words of a father who lost his entire family in a matter of seconds. Susantha used to spend three months in a row sleeping in the cemetery after the bombings. He could not leave his family, particularly his children, alone in a cemetery. Susantha, on the other hand, now lives in a government-built house in Katuwapitiya known as ‘Punchi Romaya.’

Ceylon Today went to Katuwapitiya to meet some of the victims of the 2019 Easter bombing and spent some quality time with them. Throughout each conversation, the children and parents emphasised the importance of justice and nothing else.

People who were taught to forgive their persecutors are now developing hatred within themselves, not in the direction of a race, but in the direction of the Government. 

“Justice! Justice! Justice!” they all wanted.

The victims of 21 April 2019 Easter Sunday will mark three long years of futility, bereavement and loss of limb on 21 April 2022 when the country itself would remember the attacks that sent shock waves through a nation which had survived 30 years of war and were just starting to enjoy a time of peace.

There appears to be no point in delving into details that were probed by the Presidential Inquiry initiated by the then Government of good governance and later carried out, as well as by the commissions and Parliamentary Sub Committee appointed to literally ‘probe the probe’ carried out into the attacks on St. Antony’s Church Kochchikade, St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Church of Zion in Batticaloa, and the Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury, Shangri-La hotels in Colombo.

Moving on, some would argue that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka should cut their losses and move on. But who can move on when they see the anguish and loss in the eyes of victims like Susantha and Linton? A Gama Samaga Pilisandarak would not be enough for these people to express their feelings or vent their rage at those responsible for the Easter carnage. They have been given in kind, but what have they been given in spirit to alleviate their resentment and hatred for those who were elected to power on the promise that justice would be served?

Pradeep Susantha (Lost his wife and three children)

My wife and children were assassinated, not killed by a bomb. Those responsible for my children’s and wife’s murders will be held accountable. I will undoubtedly seek international assistance in bringing the murderer of my family to justice. No one will comprehend my anguish. I must fight for justice because it is the reason God spared me and took my entire family. The current government, on the other hand, will not bring justice to my family. They took advantage of my wife and children. After three years, all I have left are these four walls. What is the point of even a brick if it has no reason to exist? I am living like a dead body in this house, but the fact that I am here at the same time as my family proves that I am here to seek justice for my family, who died in vain. And after three years, I have realised that God, not the Government, will bring me justice.

Have you ever imagined living a life without a goal? It is as if you have to live because you breathe. I still regret that God took my children and wife’s lives while sparing mine. I was living my life for them. I wasn’t just making money for myself; I was making money for my family. I waited three years and there was no justice for us. I do not mind if someone kills me because I have nothing to fear. Killers and those who organised the crime are having a good time with their families, while I am suffering because we do not have a single child besides me. 

Why cannot I do the same as my good-natured children and wife? We believed that God would help us identify the perpetrators of the Easter bombings, and three years later, God has revealed who the perpetrators are and what they truly desire. We did not teach our children to make sacrifices for the sake of others.

My children were seven to fourteen years old. Those three are completely blameless and had a close relationship with me. My wife is a priceless human being who had always treated me with the highest regard that a spouse can have. They are entirely innocent. They do not deserve such a fate. I slept in the cemetery for three months after the massacre. Thunder frightens my daughter. I couldn’t bear the thought of them lying in a cemetery while it was thundering. As a result, I go and sleep with them. Why should I need mattresses and pillows if they sleep beneath the soil?

I began by questioning God about why he had spared my life while taking all of my reasons to live. I’ve realised that God wants me to fight for justice. The only reason I’m alive is because I’m fighting for justice. Three years have passed, and all we’ve heard about are commissions and their reports. My children and wife are watching over me to see if I can figure out why they had to pay with their lives. The Government will take no action. We’ll have to take this to a global scale. We cannot join our own leaders in boycotting us; instead, we must take our grievances to the international level.

I used to bring my children into the house on my back. Despite the fact that my eldest daughter was 14, she acted like a little one. My children were priceless. They used to throw a small party in a tree house on Sundays. My wife and I used to eat there and join in on their party. This was my life, and I lived it for my children and my wife. However, the Government has now abandoned me, leaving me with nothing but a house.

I hate to bring it up, but what happened to my family on Easter Sunday taught me that you can only help yourself. While holding my three children and wife on my lap, I screamed for help. Nobody turned up. When I arrived at the hospital, they informed me that admissions were no longer being accepted. The massacre happened around 8:30 a.m., and I was admitting my seriously injured wife to Teaching Hospital Karapitiya around 2:30 p.m. People, including doctors, were not sympathetic because when my children and wife died and were admitted to the hospital, the doctors asked me to check and identify the bodies, despite the fact that I had lost my entire world. They are so cruel. I don’t understand why people are so cruel.

My wife and children fasted on Easter Sunday morning. When the massacre occurred, the doctor handed me my wife’s belongings, and I noticed she had wrapped six biscuits in plastic wrap and placed them inside the bags to feed the children. But she couldn’t pull it off. When the bomb exploded, they were killed. The blood had been soaked into the six biscuits. They murdered my children and wife before they could even eat breakfast. I’m growing enraged, and I’m willing to go to any length to bring my family justice.

The Cardinal has made all necessary arrangements to take us to Italy, and I have requested that the Bishop’s office arrange for me to speak to the international media outlets about how we, our family, were used as trump cards for their own gain.

Priyantha Jayakodi – (Lost his wife)

Delaying justice is synonymous with refusing justice. We are taught to forgive in Christianity, but in this day and age, we have begun to hate. Despite the fact that it is not documented, it is clear who is behind the Easter bombings. These people murdered my wife. She was a caring person who saw the church as an extension of her soul. She was a Christian, and she would never abandon her faith. We still don’t know who was responsible for the bombings or why they happened after three years.

They reaped unwelcome benefits from my wife’s blood. We had a child and lived in Bahrain. When we arrived, my wife had been brutally killed in a matter of minutes. Everything changed that day, and it hasn’t changed since. Every day, every month, and every year, we wait for justice. This, however, does not happen every day, month, or year. I am unable to return to Bahrain because I am disabled; my former boss informed me that he does not hire disabled people.

Sri Lankans are suffering the consequences of the attacks for the two main churches that are dedicated to Patron Saint St. Sebastian and Patron Saint St. Antony’s who are there for plague and wealth and recovery for the lost items. After the Easter Attacks, Sri Lankans were suffered with a dangerous pandemic and now Sri Lankans suffer from a grave economic crisis. 

My son has already prepared the Visa to visit Italy. He will be going with the Cardinal. 

Hasaru – (Victim and son of Priyantha Jayakodi)

Mangalika Priyantha, my mother, was a wonderful person. She was the one who kept our family in touch. On the day of the bombings, I was with her, and I was hospitalised, and my mother died. She did not deserve to be in this much pain. She was stunning, and she was dressed elegantly. She aided others. She was a significant figure in my life. I’m currently with my father. I was in the intensive care unit for 15 days and had to spend my birthday in the hospital.

Renuka Kumari – (Victim)

If you ask what has changed since the Easter bombings, the only thing that has changed is that fear has grown stronger by the day. Seeing a large crowd in a holy place reminds me that another bomb could be detonated. My 6-year-old child was with me on the day of the bomb explosion. She had to have operations on a regular basis. Even speaking is difficult for her. Her vocal sounds were altered, and she continues to be terrified. There are masses in church, and we attend all of them. But we’re afraid that whoever organised this crime will plant another bomb just to remind us that they’re still keeping an eye on us.

My 73-year-old mother died, and my daughter was saved by a hair’s breath. I don’t want to go through it all over again. It has been three years, and the Government has only been able to deploy two army personnel to the gate of the St. Sebestian Church to check IDs. It does not increase our trust in the Government. We’re still terrified. Who can guarantee that this won’t happen again? Not on us, but on anyone who is a holy location. We are concerned that history will repeat itself. My children are the centre of my universe, and I don’t want anyone to take their lives for granted. We raise our children by teaching them how to protect themselves from the outside world.But they have no idea how to protect themselves in the face of such a massacre. The important thing is that these children did not distance themselves from the church; rather, they strengthened their ties with the church.

When Ceylon Today attempted to speak with Kumari’s daughter, Biguni, who was also a victim of Easter bombings in 2019, she refused to speak up, citing her fear of Easter, which is coming up next week.

Sneha – (Serious damage to her brain and skull)

Milroy is a carpenter. His daughter, Sneha is a victim of the bombings, which forced her to avoid noise for nearly six months and forced her father to stop working in his workshop. Sneha underwent major surgery in order to recover. Sneha was about 11 years old when Ceylon Today went to see her three months after the Easter bombings. She used to cover her head and stay in a fully air-conditioned soundproof room. Sneha couldn’t stand loud noises. As a result, her father was forced to close his workshop. This also resulted in the closure of their source of income. Sneha, on the other hand, has recovered and can now tolerate loud noises.

“Thanks to God, my child was saved even after undergoing many surgeries,” his father said.

Sneha and her family moved to the housing scheme two weeks ago, but his father has yet to find a location to reopen his carpentry shed. The housing scheme does not have enough space for a carpentry shed. “Everything has changed since the Easter bombings.” But everything had remained the same since the change. There is no justice. My child had been battling with death for at least a year. It’s been three years, and there’s still no explanation for why my child’s blood is bleeding. We are not requesting money, property, or food. We are looking for justice. We’ve earned it.

If you don’t reveal who is behind all of this, it automatically proves who was behind all this bloodshed. Sneha refused to say anything about her life changes and experiences. But she only complains about how she is barred from taking part in school sports because of her numerous surgeries.

Linton Rexi– (Lost her wife)

God will undoubtedly reveal the identity of the murderer before April 21. I have lost my wife and I’m now alone with my two children. I was out for fishing and couldn’t even make it due to my wife’s death. My wife died on 21 April, and I arrived in Sri Lanka on 24 April. I despise everything. The Cardinal is speaking up. However, we have been forgotten. No one, including the church fathers, will know the extent of my emotional turmoil. I wasn’t a religious person. My wife was a member of the church. But after my wife’s death, God opened the door to church and showed me a reason to live.

I have two children and I live for them. My son is 20 years old, and he is now looking for a  job, while I am responsible for my young daughter. It’s difficult to care for a daughter who hasn’t even reached puberty. We’ve forgotten a lot of things. But we will never forget that it has been injustice since 2019 to this April; a three-year period.

I’m not going to stop living. I will undoubtedly live if my God is with me for the sake of my children. There should be a reason why my life is being spared. They are cursed by me. One of those people should go through the agony that the innocent children went through and we should be able to witness it.

Antonette Fernando (Lost her husband)

Antonette, a housewife and her three children aged 15, 11 and 10 years suffered a great loss when her husband, Sudeera Fernando (48) was killed in the blast at Katuwapitiya. She said that she and her children had been devastated by his loss. Her husband was working in Sri Lankan Airlines as an airport service officer.

Recollecting that fateful Easter Sunday, when they all went to church for the mass, she said that she and her husband had been sitting close to each other while her children had been sitting elsewhere, when the bomb exploded. “I was conscious and felt as though my husband was falling. So I drew him close to me for support. It was some time however, since I realised that I too must have fallen unconscious as I was in hospital when I came to after some time. My eldest son had taken me to hospital. My husband had been killed instantly. Although the priests and nuns were there to counsel and console us, the question as to why God had brought such grievous loss to our lives is still a mystery”. 

With her husband’s untimely death, she had started a flower business which had been successful till the pandemic.

Antonette said her children attended Mari Stella, and St. Joseph’s College, Negombo. 

“They are church volunteers and sing in the choir,as per my husband’s wish. I too encourage it. 

We have wept and prayed for at least justice to be done on behalf of all victims who have suffered much more than words could express.”

Nishantha Aluth 

Mohandiramge (Wife and child had suffered injuries)

We voted for the incumbent government with full confidence. Before taking office, the current government promised that they would find the perpetrators of the Easter bombings within two weeks. However, it has been three years. We did not see anything happen to bring justice for us unless commissions were formed to probe the probe.

At least the former Attorney General (AG) worked to bring justice to us, but he retired just as the 20th Amendment was passed in Parliament. The 20th Amendment limited the AG’s powers, and the AG is now merely a puppet of the President. Nothing appears to be taking place to bring about justice. We can see a ball passing game going on. That is why we are prepared to travel to Italy and speak on behalf of the victims.

There are victims who are paralysed among us. The Cardinal stated that he will accept them as well. They will have the opportunity to express their grief to someone who genuinely cares.

Verl – (Lost his son)

It is difficult to remember my son’s death. I have always adored my family. As a result of the bombings, my other son lost his sight. That day, I lost my entire world. My children appeared to be in good health. But the people who were behind the bombings beat all of that by a few minutes. My son’s eyeball popped out. He had been and still is in pain. Everything was fine until the bombings, and we have been living without hope ever since. One of my sons died, and the other is blind. I am aware that God has carved out a separate path for him. He is extremely brave. He will undoubtedly triumph in the game of life. But all he and I want is justice. Please work tirelessly to identify the perpetrators. We do not need money or compensation; we just want to be compensated for the sacrifices we have made. The Zion Church, where we work so closely, will be one of our holy places, regardless of whether one heinous incident took my son’s life.

The Housing scheme

“Following the Easter Bombings the Colombo Archbishop’s House purchased a land and constructed 15 houses during the first stage. Fourteen of them are occupied,”President of St. Sebastian’s Housing Scheme Welfare Society, Nishantha (53) whose wife and child had suffered injuries in the Easter attack said. The houses were given to victims who did not own a land or house in any part of the country at the time of the 21/4 Easter attack.

Nishantha said that more land had been purchased by the Archbishop’s House to build more houses for 21/4 victims who had either been bereaved or had been injured in those attacks. The houses and land belong to the Archbishop’s house and could not be sold or rented out. Nevertheless they belonged to those occupying them (the victims). The owners had the liberty to renovate and modify the interior if they wished.

Exceptions were made in certain cases for those who had a land but did not own a house, as in the case of Susantha who had a house constructed for him on a land which belonged to him. The houses were built according to the proposals submitted by the Catholic Church on classification made by ‘Setsarana,’ (as mentioned in the book named ‘Thitha’ published by the National Catholic Mass Communication Centre)

Visit to St. Sebastians’s Church

Parishioners of St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo had returned after Palm Sunday mass which celebrates Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Having spent 40 days of penitential preparation for Easter, Palm Sunday for Christian Communities is the beginning of Holy Week.

The church square lay washed by the rain which had fallen since the previous night. Having been apart of night of vigil the Priest of the Katuwapitiya Parish was busy preparing necessary documentation for 21/4 victims which he said had involved medical screening. The screening was a part of the preparation to obtaining visa and passport which the paper subsequently learnt was for a visit to Rome.

Attempts to contact Rev. Fr. Manjula Niroshan Fernando were futile owing to his busy schedule due to the medical screening of the victims chosen for the tour. 

Fr. Jude Raj who had been the parish priest of St. Antony’s Kochchikade had been transferred to Moratuwa and could not been reached despite many attempts. 

Having experienced the devastation which killed 56 and injured 148 at his church, it is no wonder that he would not want to recall the carnage. 

(Pix by Kelum Chamara)

Cardinal’s battle for justice

With the increasing opposition shown by the public to the present government and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith was also present at a protest march from near St. Sebastian’s Church, Katuwapitiya, Negombo to St. Antony’s Church Kochchikade. Cardinal Ranjith accused the present government of having used the Easter bombings to win the elections. “After the bombings, I appealed to people not to harm the Muslim communities as I felt that there was a conspiracy. Now we know who the conspirators were,” he said. 

“Although conspirators were able to grab power they have been unable to retain it as they would have wished,having received the curse of God. A total of 271 people died in the 21 April 2019 Easter attacks. The Cardinal said that Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church had repeatedly appealed to the Government to implement recommendations made by the Presidential Commission that probed the attacks. But the Government has failed to do so,” he lamented. They happily shifted the blame of those attacks on Islamic extremists with the hope of concealing the other dark forces that were behind those bombings which killed and maimed the innocent”.

His Eminence also took measures to brief Pope Francis last month with regard to the delay in justice for the victims. He also met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet in Geneva and the Human Rights Council to urge them to probe the attacks which were blamed on the country’s Muslims at the time.