Dont cry for us - disabled soldiers at Ranavirusevana
By Bandula Jayasekara
@ Sunday Leader / 2000
Corporal Jayamanne of the army’s Special Forces carried a basket of red flowers. It was a beautiful, if a slightly incongruous, sight. But this battle-hardened soldier, paralysed and in a wheelchair, gave a brave smile, as he waited to present the flowers to the little Spanish rose Patricia.
The flamenco dancer reached out and kissed him as she received the bouquet. But, the gallant corporal seemed unmoved, as if made of stone. The other disabled soldiers at Ranavirusevana seemed tense, almost uncomfortable.
Patricia danced; she danced among the injured soldiers, trying to bring rays of sunshine into their lives but they just looked on. Maybe they were transported to the time when they danced too, to a faster beat in life than in a prosaic wheelchair.
Seated next to me in a wheelchair was another soldier in his regulation striped sarong and short sleeved shirt. He was an Unknown Soldier until he started to speak. His name was Jayatissa - 28 years old. He hailed from a traditional family in Embilipitiya, third of five boys and four girls.
Jayatissa chose to safeguard this country from the separatists. It was his dream. He joined the army’s 10 CLI in 1993, but became the victim of a deadly mortar attack in Madagal in 1994. He was attacked while carrying out clearing operations at the Forward Defence Lines.
"To safeguard the country was my only dream, in fact I signed the bond to complete the full 22 years with the army. But, I couldn’t even serve for one full year," Jayatissa said sadly. But almost immediately he flashed a smile. He was not going to give up.
This young soldier has been at Ranavirusevana for nearly six years. He is well known and a senior at the place and popular because of his pleasant disposition. Jayatissa still receives his salary from the army and will continue to do so like all other disabled soldiers. He has got involved with theatre, vocational training and library work at Ranavirusevana.
It was Aurudu time when we met. He spoke of Aurudu, the season of joy and hope. He and most of his colleagues had attended the Aurudu celebrations at Ranavirusevana. The celebrations had been especially for disabled soldiers like him. It had helped him to cheer up, have a pillow fight, strike a pot blindfolded. .
Most of the inmates of Ranvirusevena had gone to their villages after the Aurudu party. Jayatissa too had been to his home in Ratnapura, but just for one day and night. He had driven his special three-wheel chaley all the way to Ratnapura, taken gifts for his parents, brothers and sisters, met his old friends, and gone down memory lane.
"It was like the good old days but, spending one day was enough," Jayatissa said quietly. But did not elaborate. He left it to us. He said that he travels alone on his special bike and people try to help. "But, I don’t need sympathy" Jayatissa said, "Most people look down on us once we fall in to this situation. Can anyone deny that?"
One could not but acknowledge the spirit of independence in the man. He said he did not need any one’s help. He lived separately from his parents - they lived in Embilipitiya and his house was in Ratnapura. He cooked and clean up by himself .
Like many disabled persons he does not want phony tears or sloppy sympathy. "All we say is that we like to live among others and to create an atmosphere worthy of us," said the soldier with dignity.
Jayatissa said that he did not want to talk politics because he is not interested in the topic. He was not sure whether people were making money out of this war. He was made to go to the forward defence lines and not to travel in tinted cars or attend military tamashas on horses.
But he seemed to understand the deep-seated malaise that festers in the body politic. "Greed for money," he said tersely. "This is our country. It does not belong only to people of Embilipitiya, Kurunegala, Kandy, Galle. We all must join hands to protect our country. People in Colombo must support and extend their hand. May be it is a good idea to make military service compulsory."
"Peace Talks?" the man who had spent nearly seven years on a wheel chair questioned me and continued defiantly, "It is good, but how can we trust the LTTE? They have cheated us many times in the guise of peace talks. This (the war) must go on until the end."
It was time to move on. He was feeling uncomfortable seated at one place for so long. I asked one final question. "Have you got any dreams left?"
He held my shoulder and smiled. "Yes. I am hoping to get married soon and settle down in Ratnapura. My girlfriend is in the Middle East and is working at a garment factory. She has already completed two years and has two more years to go. Her parents are against it but we will go ahead and get married and nothing can stop that."
But don’t shed tears; he does not want them. Let us consider him and his colleagues one of us. Because they are.