Robert takes on thugs at Homagama Meeting
By Bandula Gunaratne
Robert Gunawardena came from Boralugoda and was a leader of the Left who played an outstanding role in politics in this country. Anyone who associated him said that Comrade Robert was someone who never changed his word and someone who carried out his tasks without fail and with responsibility. He was also an honest and fearless politician. He heard about Marxism in Europe during 1920-30 from his elder brother Philip who lived in America. Robert felt that this was the best way to free the people of this country from colonial rule.
After Philip completed his studies and returned to the country in 1932, seven persons, namely Robert, Philip, N. M. Perera, Colvin R. De Silva, Leslie Gunawardena, B. J. Fernando and Vernon Gunasekera started meeting often at the Gunawardena residence.
At the upcoming elections, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) then put forward the candidature of Philip to Avissawella, N. M. Perera to Ruwanwella and Leslie Gunawardena to Panadura, as well as S. A. Wickremasinghe to Morawaka.
However, they had to face a huge challenge. That is, to take N. M. who was a resident in Grandpass at the time, to Ruwanwella and to introduce him to the people, to enable him to contest with Forrester Ubeysekera and Adeline Molamure who were way ahead in wealth and power. This was an extremely difficult task.
The capitalists as well as the colonial authorities, who showed an aversion to the rising Left, were a great challenge to LSSP members. They were suppressed by those in power and had to face some intimidation initially. There were several such incidents, of which the one from Homagama stands out.
According to a decision made by the Central Committee of the LSSP on 29 February 1936, arrangements had been made to hold a meeting at 2.00 pm, in Homagama. The group who were engaged in pasting posters about the meeting heard through the grapevine that there were preparations to deploy thugs to sabotage the meeting.
A person named Galewedha, along with some well-know thugs from Hmagama and Pitipana and several others known as 'bus mudalalis' were deployed to disrupt the meeting.
Two days before the meeting, the internal committee of the party met and discussed how to face the thugs. They decided that since the thugs were known to them, they would go up to them and discuss matters peacefully.
Robert accepted the challenge to go and meet the thugs. That night, he, along with several people carried a stock of propaganda leaflets and went to meet the thugs.
Once Robert and his group met the thugs, they explained the objective of the meeting and convinced them not to disrupt the meeting. However, since this group of thugs were people who did anything for money, Robert later told his associates that he wondered if they would change.
The meeting was scheduled to be held at the Homagama Fair Grounds. Phillip, Colvin, Reggie Senanayake and Harold Peiris had arrived for the meeting that evening. There were about 200 - 300 people. Philip commenced the meeting.
At that moment, there was a sound of a perahera, with drums and horns, approaching the meeting. Many got excited, since there were rumours that a group of oppositionists were coming to sabotage the meeting. The group of masked thugs who were intoxicated and carrying weapons arrived in front of the meeting and Robert went to meet them. Assisting him were Poré Steven, Meepe Abraham, Pitipana Kornelis, Payagala Francis and Karawelpita Saundhris.
Robert said, "We are the ones who are holding meeting. Do not obstruct it." At this point, the drummers and trumpeters had started playing their instruments even louder.
Robert lost his patience at this and had taken his walking-stick and began flaying it this way and that. The drums broke into two. The thugs who were attacked by the walking-stick left their drums and fled. It was the Chief Prelate of the Hakbellawa Temple who had given him this walking-stick which had an iron pole inside its wooden casing.
Some people suffered from head
injuries. Others who had come in
procession with the thugs began running helter-skelter.
Homagama Siyappu who had promised Robert, the day before that they would not cause any problems at the meeting, came up behind Robert with a dagger and attempted to stab him, Meepe Abraham jumped in and felled Siyappu with a blow that threw him several feet away.
Some who ran away, under cover of nearby houses began pelting stones. Robert too was struck by a stone. Pitipana Kornelis blocked many stones aimed at Robert, with his body.
When one group of thugs began to retreat, another gang arrived from the direction of the Galawila Road in a bus. That was a group of people loyal to Semeneris Bus Mudalalai.
Several tried to attack Phillip, but Robert jumped over a barbed wire fence and ran towards the scene. While the thug named Pitipana Loola aimed a dagger at Philip, Saundhris who arrived at the place before Robert, hit Loola so hard that he ended up beneath a table. After that moment, all the thugs disappeared.
Finally, a police team led by Senanayake, arrived at the scene and made arrangements to send the injured to hospital. After a while, the meeting commenced again. Gradually the entire area filled up. The meeting was held until about 8.00 at night.
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