Saturday, July 29, 2017

He served beyond the call of duty

The Police Force pays their last respects to SI Sarath Hemachandra. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage  The Police Force pays their last respects to SI Sarath Hemachandra. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage
Zahrah Imtiaz & Maneshka Borham-Friday, July 28, 2017
The village of Kumarakatuwa in Chilaw lies almost 20km away from a main city. It is over 300km from Jaffna. But it is in Jaffna, that Sub Inspector (SI) Dhamhewage Sarath Hemachandra (51) of Kumarakattuwa spent most of his time during the last two years. For the last 15 years, he worked as the Security Officer of Jaffna High Court Judge, Illancheliyan Manikavasagar (54).
On Saturday (22), SI Hemachandra was killed by Selvarasa Jayandan (39), when the former tried to intervene in an argument the latter was having with his relatives. While the police have claimed that the attack was not pre-planned, Judge Illancheliyan maintains that the attack was targeted at him. Hemachandra, as far as he is concerned - is a hero.
Hemachandra who joined the police force on November 22, 1986, lived his whole life in the same house in Kumarakattuwa, as his parents. On Thursday (26), his final rites were performed within the very same half painted walls of the house, complete with a high tin roof and a wooden partition to separate a small hall into a living room and kitchen.
His father was a World War II veteran and his younger brother had retired from the Army after the usual time of service. His wife too was a police constable, she left her job soon after their first child was born. They have two children; a daughter of 16 and son aged 11.
IGP Pujith Jayasundera has offered, Hemachandra’s wife; Kumudu her old job back to which she responded in a favourable manner. She is to work at a police station close to home.
Joins the Force
“We met in Grade 6 at the Kumararatna Vidyalaya and have been friends ever since,” said Lionel Wickramasinghe as he stood up to speak at the funeral of SI Hemachandra.
The Vidyalaya, just over two kilometres from his home, was a central part of Hemachandra’s life and even after he failed his A/L exams, Hemachandra and Wickramasinghe would return to school to teach at its Sunday school.
“We did not have electricity then and we used to meet in his home to study under the kerosene lamp,” recalled Wickramasinghe further.
In 1986, as family economic conditions worsened, both Wickramasinghe and Hemchandra decided to join the Police Force.
“On November 22, 1986 we were chosen to the Force and sent to the training school in Kalutara for training. During that time, the war was raging and our batch of 31 was turned into a separate division and sent in for military training,” said Wickramasinghe.
Hemchandra and his batch mates were one of the first police officers to be given military training as frequent LTTE attacks of police stations and the worsening security situation in the country meant that the police too had to gear themselves to fight the war.
“In 1987, we were sent to the Kahatagasdigiliya Police station in Anuradhapura, we worked there for 10 years,” said Wickramasinghe.
As the war raged, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) entered Sri Lanka in 1987 and as they prepared to leave, defeated in 1990, it was Hemachandra and his batch of militarily trained police that were sent to keep the peace in the North and East.
“We took over the Trincomalee Police station in 1991, after the IPKF left and together we worked for five years there. Thereafter, we were transferred to Wellawatte,” said Wickramasinghe.
After Wellawatte, Wickramasinghe and Hemachandra would part ways. The former soon opting for early retirement while the latter choosing to serve in the Judges’ Security division.
“Though we parted ways, every year we would meet on November 22 at one of the houses of our batch mates to celebrate the date we all joined the force,” said Wickramasinghe. Last year however, neither Hemachandra nor Wickramasinghe made it to the annual get together due to work commitments.
An unlikely friendship
The better part of the last 15 years, Hemachandra spent in the service of Judge Illancheliyan; as his Police Sergeant. As the judge progressed in his career, Hemachandra followed, all the way to the High Court of Jaffna.
He joined my service when I was in Vavuniya, at the height of the war, recalled Judge Illancheliyan,
“He safeguarded my life for six years there. Then I was transferred to Trincomalee for two years and he followed me there. Then to Colombo for six months, then Kalmunai, Trinco and when I was appointed as the permanent High Court judge of Kalmunai, he came there too. Then for the last two years we have been in Jaffna. For the last 15 years, he stayed with me in my bungalow, not in the Police barracks. Even during the nights, sometimes until 12am, when I used to work in my office, writing judgements, he would be sitting outside the door and would only go to sleep after I switched off my lights,” said the Judge sitting on the Veranda of Hemachandra’s house.
Despite such extraordinary service however, Hemachandra’s promotion only came after his death and for most of his career, he earned a salary close to Rs 30,000 per month.
At Kumarakattuwa, the Judge was accompanied by almost all members of the Judiciary in the North; judges, magistrates, court staff and lawyers from the North sat in the scorching heat of Chilaw to pay their last respects to Hemachandra.
“He was an exceptional man, he talked less and acted more. He always thought of my security and would not allow anyone to talk to me without my permission, but he never tried to control any Tamil people or talk to anyone outside of his official duty. He was a gentleman and trusted lieutenant, who has given his life to protect mine,” said Judge Illancheliyan.
“Even my food was checked by him and I would always follow his professional advice; if he tells me, ‘don’t go to that area, there is trouble there’, I wouldn’t go,” he added.
Just being humane
The death of his security officer had cut the High Court Judge deeply and as videos of him apologising in tears to Hemanchandra’s wife for the latter’s death went viral over the media, Judge Illancheliyan said to perceive his emotions within a racial prism was being limited in perspective.
“This is not a racial issue, this is what you call humanity. Racism has destroyed our humanity for so long. In my case, it is true that I am a Tamil Judge, but Hemachandra protected me not only in peacetime but also during the war. We were not thinking in terms of Tamil or Sinhala here,” he said.
His respect for the slain policeman has overflowed into all aspects of Jaffna society with students of the University of Jaffna too choosing to light candles in honour of Hemachandra.
“For the first time in the history of Jaffna, banners have gone up for a man in Khakki uniform,” said Judge Illancheliyan.
When asked if this what ‘true reconciliation’ looked like? The judge was quick to respond, “I don’t know about that, I don’t know about the politics of that.”
The High Court Judge speaking to Hemachandra’s family also promised to look after his two kids and treat them as his own and to do his best to provide them with a good education.
Those we trust are our closest kin
It is not often that the villagers of Kumarakattuwa see people from the North and East visit their homes and their presence at Hemachandra’s funeral was a welcome surprise to all.
“Most people here are those who worked with him. These people have come from so far, this alone speaks of the character and work of Hemachandra,” said Ariyadasa, his neighbour.
“These differences people tell us about the North and South are lies. These people have left their work and travelled all the way to pay their respects to Sarath Hemachandra, it seems that the he was able to bring the North and South together,” he added.
Delivering an anusasana at the funeral, the Chief Incumbent of the village temple said that out of birth, life and death, it is life that is the most important point in a man’s life.
“I believe that Sarath Premachandra fully appreciated and used his life for a good purpose,” the priest said, adding that Hemachandra did not confine himself and instead went over and beyond in performing his duties as a Policeman.
While saying that many people would attempt to obtain transfers back to their home towns, the priest pointed out that Hemachandra instead was willing to perform his duties in any part of the island in the toughest of circumstances.
“This was another instance where he utilised his opportunity at life,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking about the close friendship between the Judge and Hemachandra, the priest said that their bond has once again proved that any loyal and trustworthy person is one’s relation or kin and not just one’s caste, creed or religion. “It is his loyalty that has evoked so much of emotion on the part of the Judge,” the priest said adding that this showed the calibre of man, Hemachandra was.