I am alive because due process was followed: Lal Kantha
May 1, 2015

K.D. Lalkantha is a member of the JVP Politburo and a prominent activist of the party. One of the fine political orators in the country, Lalkantha began his chequered political career as a Marxist rebel at a very young age. In an interview with the Sinhala news paper Lankadeepa.

Q: How old were you in 1971?

A: I was born in 1964. That means I was only seven years old.

Q: What is the locality in Anuradhapura where you were born?

A: Matale Junction in Anuradhapura

Q: Were you headstrong as a young boy?

A: I was just another ordinary boy at school. I didn’t stand out in any sphere of activity at school either. However, I was active and playful just like any other boy of my age. Of course, we used to fight as boys. I used to walk along the Nuwara Wewa bund on my way back home after school. On certain days, I would enjoy a dip in the Nuwara Wewa. I also enjoyed fishing. Well, looking back, it was a fine time. We led a care-free life.

Q: When you did start feeling a keen awareness of the life around you?

A: It was when I was studying for the GCEA/Level that I began cultivating what you may call a social conscience. I made new friends. We exchanged views on various matters. Various incidents and events connected with the 1982 Presidential poll remain fresh in my memory. By this time, some people in our village had formed ties with the JVP. I remember attending a JVP meeting in Anuradhapura where Comrade Rohana Wijeweera was the star speaker. We attended this meeting just for the fun of it. The White Paper on Education was introduced when we were studying in theA/Level class. There were protests against it at school level. We also participated in those protests. Thanks to the friends I made at that time, I got the opportunity to read interesting Russian books.

Q: What did you pick for light reading before taking to reading on serious subjects?

A: O! I was reading picture story books and children’s magazines like Sittara and Satuta. There was no TV at that time. We listened to radio dramas like Moneratenna and Muvanpelessa. When I was studying in Grade 10, I read novels by Kumara Karunaratne and Karunasena Jayalath. I enjoyed reading ‘Goluhadavata’ by Karunasena Jayalath. Later, I took to reading novels by Martin Wickramasinghe. Reading books opened up new vistas in my life.

Q: Did these new vistas that opened up before you inspire you to go-off the beaten track?

A: Yes. During the 1983 Black July, we did our best to save our Tamil friends when a large majority of Sinhalese turned hostile to them. We provided refuge to some of our Tamil friends in our homes. We used to provide security to the homes of Tamil friends during the night. By 1984, militant outfits like the PLOTE, Tamil radicals like Uma Maheswaran and leftist movements both in the North and South figured as prominent subjects in our discussions. I had a friend called Sisira Somatilake who was senior to me. He was an undergraduate at the Peradeniya University at that time. We very often called on him at the campus and on those occasions we were engaged in lengthy discussions on serious subjects like politics. Some of us were attending tuition classes in Kandy at that time. This dialogue brought about a great change in our thinking – in our outlook. We also felt the undercurrents of a rebellion against the government in the making. Issues such as the Indo-Lanka Peace Pact provided the dynamics for this rebellion in the making.

Q: How were you initiated into the JVP membership?

A: I started my career in the JVP as a student of the party’s orientation programme.

Q: Do you mean that you attended the so-called five classes conducted by the party?

A: Yes, I was staying in Dematagoda. The classes were held in the Nugegoda area.

Q: Who conducted the classes you attended?

A: He was known as Comrade Russell. But it was not his real name. I think he was killed during the 1988-89 insurgency because I never met him after that. He conducted only four classes. He laid emphasis on the question of India’s intervention in the affairs of our country. He gave us books and other reading and audio-visual material on the subjects he discussed with us. He played tapes containing lectures by Comrades Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamanayake. He brought together party cadres who got scattered when the primary classes could no longer be held. We learnt what ‘organizing‘ really meant from him. We were taught to carry out the tasks assigned to us by the organization.

Q: Were your parents, family elders not aware that you were involved in JVP activity at that time?

A: No. They didn’t know. We enjoyed the freedom to go about - go anywhere for that matter without any restriction.

Q: Didn’t you visit home at least occasionally?

A: I would come home and go away soon afterwards. On one of my visits home, I had a chance of meeting with the party’s District Secretary for Anuradhapura. He took an instant liking towards me. When he knew that I was attached to the Dematagoda cell of the party, he asked me whether I could work in Anuradhapura. I told him I was prepared to work anywhere the party wanted. Later, he got the Party hierarchy to shift me to the Anuradhapura unit. From then onwards - for the last 30 years - I have been participating in the party activity as a full-timer. All this happened as a matter of course.

Q What were you doing during the 1988-89 terror period?

A: I was involved in the party work as usual. One day, it was in 1988, the District Secretary comrade asked me whether I could arrange medical treatment for an injured comrade under cover in my house. I gave my consent without hesitation. So the injured comrade was brought to my house and he was soon on the mend. In the meantime, Police raided our house. I immediately decided to make my getaway.As I was rushing out through the rear door of the house, a Policeman pointed a pistol at me and barked: “Athulata Palayan!”(Get inside). This Police officer was Sarath Prema, serving as an OIC of the Vilachchiya Police Station at that time. He was a good friend of former Chief Minister Berty Premalal Dissanayake.

Police manacled both of us - my injured comrade and me took us away in their jeep. Police started torturing us while we were being taken in the jeep. They kicked us with their boots and poked us with rifle butts. The healing wounds of my comrade began bleeding when they poked them with their rifle butts. They also pulled my beard.

After taking us to the Anuradhapura Police Station, they pushed us into a spacious hall. Police had taken another group into custody in a simultaneous raid. They arrested us all in connection with one particular incident. Later, they started questioning us. We were taken to the Tanthirimale Police Station on the same night and were questioned again by a special Police squad. We were also beaten up.

By this time, a heated debate over the 1988 Presidential poll emerged in the public domain. Even Police personnel were polarized on political lines. There was an anti-Premadasa section in the Police. They had a soft corner for us, while the pro-Premadasa policemen were tough on us. A section of policemen who looked forward to the victory of Ms. Sirimavo Bandaranaike did not subject us to brutal oppressive measures. That was a great relief for us. I accepted that I was a JVP activist during police interrogations. However, I was careful enough not to betray any of my comrades. Police wanted to file a strong case as the incident in connection with which we were arrested, involved the use of firearms and other weapons. We were detained at the Tanthirimale Police Station for about two weeks until Vilachchiya Police took us to Anuradhapura Police Station. We were held there for about three months. Suddenly, one day we were produced before the Anuradhapura Magistrate. Later we were held in the detention camp at the Anuradhapura Prisons. About 20 of us were held in the camp on a detention order issued by the Magistrate.

One day, in the night, we heard a creaking sound as if the improvised cells in which we were held, were being violently shaken. A group of persons who descended on the scene proceeded to open all the cells where we were being held. Then it dawned on us that something drastic was happening and we remained poised for action. The ‘night visitors’ then pushed the prison guards into the cells and locked them up. Two persons addressed us: “Only those willing to work as full-timers may come with us.” As for me, I had already made up my mind to work as a full-timer. But there were others who did not want to. We bundled up the few personal effects in order to make our getaway. We soon realized that this was a pre-planned jail break. The group that came to free us carried firearms. Later we learnt that they had forced open the prison armoury and removed whatever weapons they could lay their hands on in a bid to stage this jail break. We crawled away from the main gate for some distance before fleeing the scene.

Q: What did you do after making your getaway?

A: Of the escapees, only I and another comrade remain among the living today. All the others perished in confrontations with the security forces. The other surviving party cadre is no longer directly involved with the party. However, he supports the party.

After the initial success in dodging prison guards and Police, we took cover in the jungles. Later we trekked aimlessly through the jungle for about three days. At a fork of jungle paths, our group separated into two. Four of us took one path while the other four another.

One of our group members knew a certain chena cultivator. We met him at his chena and he readily agreed to accommodate us. While staying on this chena, we accidentally met another party comrade. This comrade linked me with the party hierarchy and I embarked on party activities with him. However, I continued to remain in hiding. Meanwhile, the party started a seven-day Orientation Camp. I attended this camp. At this camp, we were grounded in Marxist principles. We had to follow practical lessons as well. The workouts we had to do as part of our practicals seasoned us mentally and physically to come to terms with any formidable situation. Even today, we are fortified with the necessary moral strength to live under the most difficult conditions, thanks to the training we received as JVP cadres.

The Orientation Camp had to be abandoned midway following a tip-off that the army was conducting a search operation in the area. We, the attendees of the Orientation Camp were sent out to various party units. However, some of these attendees fell into the hands of the army when they were on their way to the party posts assigned to them. As for me, I safely reported to the party post at Nochchiyagama in the capacity of an organizer.

Q: You were soon back in the thick of party activity undeterred by the hardships you had to face?

A: Yes, no regrets. By this time, the Presidential poll in 1988 was over and President Premadasa had assumed office. To go back to the pre-election situation, ASP Udugampola was in charge of anti-insurgency operations in Anuradhapura. A reasonable number of comrades who worked with us had been killed. The party leadership had decided to sabotage the Presidential election, and we had to carry out the activities aimed at achieving this end. In the meantime, the party decided to shift me to another area. Because I was a fugitive, and both Police and the security personnel could easily identify me, I was asked to go to the Hingurakgoda bus stand and stay there reading the Sinhala science periodical Vidusara.

When I was making the pretence of reading the ‘Vidusara’, a stranger approached me and asked me whether I was … He mentioned the name given to me by the party. I said: ‘Yes’.

Q: What was that name?

A: I can’t disclose that name now. I shall disclose it when a JVP-led government comes to power!

Q: What happened after that?

A: The stranger - a party cadre - took me on his motor bike to Egodapattu after crossing the Mahaveli River. By that time, party activities in the area had ground to a halt. Later I started functioning as the party organizer for Egodapattu, where the Aralaganwila and Welikanda Police Stations were located on either side of my area. I rebuilt the party organization there at the height of terror.

One day, when I was at the Kaduruwela bus stand, a Police jeep stopped by my side. Several policemen got down and bundled me into the vehicle after blind-folding me. The Polonnaruwa OIC later recorded a statement from me. He looked ecstatic that he could capture a JVP cadre who had been absconding arrest for some time. He got me to sign the statement which he countersigned, thus making my arrest a legal act. It was seldom that such a formal procedure was observed following the arrest of a JVP activist at that time. I presume that I am still among the living because that Police officer observed the proper procedure after arresting me.

Q: Had you ever met your leader Rohana Wijeweera?

A: I have seen him, but never met him personally. The idea of meeting him never materialized.

Q: How did you react to the killing of party leader Wijeweera and party front-liners like Gamanayake?

A: I was shocked, and was in Welikanda when the news reached me. But I was not overcome by grief.

Q: Did you meet the girl who later became your wife while engaged in party work together?

A: No, her name is Dilrukshi Meedeniya. I met her when I was studying in the A/Level class at Anuradhapura Central College. Our friendship gradually turned into a love affair and it culminated in marriage.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka

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