By Azra Ameen
Riots and violence inside prisons are not novel occurrences in Sri Lanka. It was only in January this year that a group of inmates at the Welikada Prison rioted, and in the events that ensued, 26 inmates and several prison guards were injured. This raised a number of questions about the state of Sri Lanka’s prison system.
However, the chaos that prevailed in the Vavuniya Prison last week was not just riot where a group of inmates tried to take control of the guards to demand their rights. It brought a life to an end.
Ganesh Nimalaruban, one of the Tamil political prisoners, who was allegedly attacked during a rescue drama in Vavuniya Prison last week, died on Wednesday (4). He was transferred to the Mahara Prison after being injured in the Vavuniya Prison, and had died on Wednesday morning, while receiving treatment at the Ragama Hospital.
More than 15 detainees had sustained severe injuries, and among them three were in a critical condition, and Nimalaruban was one of them.
It all started when the political detainees in the Vavuniya Prison started a fast-unto-death campaign over the transfer of three detainees, namely Alexender Dayabaran, Appudorai Ganeshwaran and Nadarasa Saravanabavan to the Boossa Prison following a court order. The request of the fellow detainees was to bring them back to Vavunia. However, authorities did not heed their request. In protest of this, the political detainees took three jailers hostage and held them for 18 hours. Meanwhile, a joint operation was launched by the Vavuniya Police, the army and the Special Task Force to rescue the three jailors, who were taken hostage. The tense situation further deteriorated when some of the detainees were transferred to the Anuradhapura Prison.
The deceased, Ganesh Nimalaruban was 28 years old. He was born in Karainagar, Jaffna. He was the only child in the family. His father is M. Ganeshan and mother Ganeshan Rajeswari. He had his primary education in the Vattukottai Primary School in Jaffna. In 1996, the family shifted to Nelukulam, Vavuniya. After that Nimalaruban continued his education at the Nelumkulam Kalaimahal Vidyalaya till his Ordinary Levels.
Nimalaruban loved music and he wanted to study music as a subject for the Advanced Level. But, since the school did not offer music as an A/L subject, he decided to switch to the commerce stream. Passing with flying colours at his old school in Jaffna it was in 2009, he returned to Vavuniya to live with his parents.
“Nimalaruban was a very smart boy. He was quite intelligent. Being the only child in the family he was loved by everyone. Also, he was the only one in the entire family who passed A/Ls with such excellent grades. Not being able to find a good job in Vavuniya he was distributing water in the war zone areas” one of his relatives, who spoke on the grounds of anonymity, said.
According to security sources, Nimalaruban was arrested by the Vavuniya Police in November 2009, while he was allegedly transporting weapons and claymore in a three-wheeler.
However, Nimalaruban’s parents tell a different story. M. Ganeshan said his son was arrested in September 2009, months after the war was over, at a time when the police were in the process of rounding up LTTE suspects in the war zone areas. He also refuted claims that Nimalaruban was a member of any movement as was suspected at the time. “My son was arrested when he was travelling on a motorbike. He was unlawfully arrested and detained by the police without any real reason. They claimed he was arrested on suspicion of having links with the LTTE and was held without charge for seven months,” he alleged.
Nimalaruban’s mother Rajeswari added that her son was a heart patient and alleged that since the arrest he had not been receiving proper medication. “I used to take home-cooked meals for him as the prison food was not good for him. I loved my son so much. I still can’t accept the fact that he is not here with me,” Rajeswari said.
The parents were in Colombo to take their son’s remains back to Vavuniya. The dejected father alleged, “I’m tired of this drama. The police covered up everything that took place. All I can say is that I lost my son.”
The parents recounted the events that unfolded on the day that Nimalaruban died: “It was at around 8 a.m. on Wednesday that the police had come to my residence in Nelumkulam in my absence and had told my wife, Rajeswari that our son was admitted to the Ragama Hospital and his condition was quite serious. Agitated, Rajeswari could hardly believe her ears. Asking her to get ready to go to the Ragama Hospital, the police came to my shop to fetch me.
“We were then taken to the Vavuniya Police Station where the police told us that our son’s condition was serious and they will be taking us to the hospital to see him. Though I could not understand a word of Sinhala, my wife knew a little. Hearing the word ‘maranaya’ being repeated several times she suspected that something had happened to our son.
“After so much dilly-dallying, at around 11 a.m. they finally took us to the Mahara Police Station. We were accompanied by two police constables and an inspector of police.”
Then, at the police station, the parents were questioned about the son and his supposed links with the LTTE, the father alleged.
“We were not very keen in answering the questions. We just asked them to show our son without delaying. When we questioned the police in a nice way they just ignored us. My wife was very impatient to know what had actually happened to our son. She sprang up and asked the police as to where our son was. It was only after that the police officer said that our son was at the Intensive Care Unit and since the visiting hours were over we cannot be taken there and we could see him only the next morning.
“Five days passed and we didn’t see our son. No one can understand the pain we went through. He was at the Vavuniya Prison, detained for no reason and then after the breakout in the prison he was transferred to the Anuradhapura Prison, then the Mahara Prison and finally they said he was at the Ragama Hospital. Not knowing where exactly our son was, made us really worried. Which mother will be able to bear this?” Rajeswari questioned.
“That night we were taken to a lodge to stay the night. First, the police asked my wife to stay with the female officers and then asked me to sleep in the males’ room. But, later they changed the plan and gave us a room to stay in and they stayed in another room. They brought dinner, which my wife refused to eat. I had dinner. After a little while, they came into the room and called me out for a drink. I was so afraid that if I didn’t join them they would do something to us and I agreed to it. But my wife compelled me not to join them. So I didn’t join them,” Ganeshan said sobbing.
“We woke up early in the morning expecting to visit our son at the hospital. As the visiting time was 6:30 in the morning we were taken to the hospital in a police jeep. When we got to the hospital, it was the policemen who went to see my son first. We were seated in the jeep. When they returned, my wife asked the police about my son’s health. The police said that Nimalaruban was recovering and was in a good condition. It was then after so long that I saw my wife smiling. She questioned the police as to why we were not taken into see our son and asked them if the son had inquired about us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rajeswari recalled an incident that took place when they were leaving the lodge. “A boy working at the lodge asked me as to what we were doing without hurrying to the hospital, as our son was dead.”
Lawyers who spoke on grounds of anonymity said, at that time everyone else knew that Nimalaruban was dead, expect his parents.
“While being seated in the jeep, the police asked me to come with them and took me towards the mortuary. As the board on the wall was in Sinhala I couldn’t understand where they were taking me. I was joyful hoping to see my son. But soon I was distressed as I realized I was being taken to the mortuary. Then I saw my son’s body,” he sobbed.
“He was my only son. It was after 12 years of marriage that we got this son. We visited so many temples to ask the gods for a baby. It was only after so much of trouble that we got him. We sold our land to educate and feed him. It’s all gone to waste,” wept Ganeshan, after seeing his beloved son laid on a stretcher in the mortuary.
“I just can’t explain in words how my son looked. The only thing I did was to scream out my son’s name loud. I was taken back to the jeep where my wife later told me that I had fainted. Figuring out what had taken place, after seeing me, my wife jumped out from the jeep pushing all the female police officers and ran into the mortuary where our son was lying,” he added.
Nimalaruban’s father alleged his son had scars and bruises on his chest and forehead. “His leg and hand were severely wounded. He had been beaten to death.
“I was not even allowed to touch my son. I just had a glimpse of him. I never expected to see my son in such a state. Each time I went to the Vavuniya Prison to see him, they assured me that the police will not release him. He was also worried and often asked who was going to look after the parents, if something happened to him at the prison,” Rajeswari said.
“It was only once that I was allowed to see my son. They didn’t allow us to go. They brought in some paper and asked me to sign. I refused, since it was in Sinhala and I didn’t understand. They demanded me to sign. I still refused. Then they asked my wife to sign. She also refused,” the father alleged.
“Not knowing what was written in the papers, we did not want to sign the document that was given to us by the doctors and the police. We were wishing that our lawyers would come there to rescue us. We were also not allowed to make any calls. We demanded that the police give the dead body to us so that we could take it back to Vavuniya for burial. But the police refused.
“Then, suddenly, our lawyers came to our rescue like a godsend. After reading the documents handed over to us by the police, the lawyers asked whether we would like to sign the document. We said we are not ready to sign anything, but we need our son’s body to take it back to Vavuniya,” Ganeshan said.
At around 3:00 p.m. on Thursday a court issued an injunction to bury the remains of Nimalaruban in Colombo, and not take him to Vavuniya.
“I was also taken to the courts. I appealed to the judge. I pleaded with him to give my son back to me that I will bury him in his home ground with the last respects of all his relatives, but he didn’t consider my request,” Ganeshan said angrily and added, “He is my only son. I have to perform the last rites for him. Why is the government trying to do this? All these years he was in the prison and even after he was killed, why can’t they give him to us,” he questioned.
According to Rajeswari, they had been taken back to the police station, and had been told that they will be taken back home. “We cried and pleaded with the police. It was only at around 8:00 p.m. that we were taken back to Vavuniya,” she said.
Mano Ganeshan, Convener of the Civil Monitoring Committee, speaking to Ceylon Today said, “We have written to the President to grant permission for the parents to take the body back to Vavuniya. They need to speed up the process. The government had demanded the parents to bury Nimalaruban somewhere in Negombo. That is not fair. Why is the government doing this? He is their only son and he is dead. So, why don’t they give the body back to them?
“The government should take full responsibility for the death of Nimalaruban. All these prisoners who are supposedly called LTTE suspects have been beaten terribly at the Anuradhapura Prison as well as in Mahara. The government should also take responsibility for all the other prisoners, who are receiving treatment at the Ragama Hospital.
“We ask the government to do justice to the deceased Nimalaruban and send his body back to Vavuniya and guarantee the safety of other inmates at the hospital,” Mano Ganeshan urged.
The lawyers also said they are trying their best to take the case back to courts and cancel the injunction and allow the parents to take the body of the deceased back to Vavuniya.
The body of Ganesh Nimalarunban is currently at the Ragama Hospital mortuary. The post-mortem reports will be submitted to court on Monday (9).