It was Lao Tzu who said, “When a nation is filled with strife, then do patriots flourish.” This epitomizes Ravi Jayewardene, who in 1983 during the first manifestations of unprecedented violence and destruction, began a response to protect our motherland, threatened by separatist forces of immeasurable proportions.
Ravi became a catalyst for change during one of the most challenging period in Sri Lanka’s history, as brutal attacks of violence occurred by terrorist forces on unarmed, innocent, villagers, living in the border areas of the North Central Province, soon spreading to Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the eastern province, and occuring even in the highly populated capital city Colombo.
I visited these areas, met the families of men, women and innocent children killed in the most brutal of manner, and was aghast that any humans were capable of such brutality and inhumanity on people who were poor, innocent and unarmed, including children and even pregnant women.
It was in this national crisis that Ravi revealed his true character and patriotism, as he sensed with his keen military acumen that this was no ordinary war, but an insurgency of an immense and ruthless nature, which needed great skill, strong determination and immense courage to overcome.
During those early days, there were 33 splinter groups, including the LTTE, at war against government forces in their effort to claim ownership of certain territory by brutal attacks on unarmed civilian targets, obviously creating panic and mayhem. Among such groups the LTTE which was by and large the strongest and most sophisticated in the context of training and arms, waging unconventional and not conventional warfare, using the most sophisticated of weaponry to attack unarmed civilians. The LTTE with time soon assumed notoriety as one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world.
Ravi was among the first to sense the magnitude of the threat to his motherland. He then established the elite STF, a specialized, highly skilled and disciplined group of well trained officers with the necessary capacity to counteract the continuing deadly carnage which was occurring against people as well as public and state property, occurring with impunity.
It was Ravi’s inborn sense of a responsibility to protect the motherland that influenced him to act as his did, to counteract the violence that had been unleashed.
Ravi was also a Buddhist by thought, word, and deed. He led a life of great simplicity, totally different to the progeny of most political leaders of yester year and even those of today. He never sought power, wealth or a position for himself. Ravi thus was a true son of Sri Lanka, whose best interest lay in protecting the sovereignty of the motherland.
One of the favourite sayings of the late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, himself a victim of an assassin’s bullet was, “who is a terrorist? They do not wear uniforms like regular soldiers. They perform violent acts, dressed as civilians. They are radicalized from a young age, and most are forcibly recruited, conditioned to believe in violence as the only means to achieve a goal.
Ravi was particularly disturbed of the carnage that was occurring in “border” villages in Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, and Polonaruwa, in remote rural areas such as Kebbethigollewe , Horawapotana, Padaviya, Tantirimale, Gomarankadewala, Herathhalmillewa, Nikawewa, Seruwila and Serunawa, where endless violent attacks occurred on innocent villagers, particularly children.
Many families, particularly women and children, could not access basic health care. I was involved in supporting Ravi to organize teams of volunteer medical staff to visit all vulnerable areas affected by the conflict with essential drugs, dressings and other essentials. The Ministry of Health gave their unstinted support, particularly former Secretaries of Health such as Dr. Malinga Fernando and Dr. Joe Fernando. Mass immunization camps were held for children and special services for pregnant mothers.
These humanitarian services were undertaken through the Sathsarana foundation founded by Ravi. He had close contact with local Buddhist priests in many key conflict affected areas, including Tantirimale, Siripura, Padaviya , Vilgamvehera, Dimbulagala, and Budhangala. The Buddhist clergy in such areas provided immeasurable support to all the villages at risk of violence. Ravi’s continuous support to the temples and priests of areas at risk of violence was of immeasurable value as they, in turn, supported the families living in such areas.
Ravi’s most valuable assets were his simplicity, total lack arrogance, great integrity and immense courage to face adversity. He was admired by those among us who loved our motherland as he battled with all his might against all odds to preserve the unitary state.
It is said, a hero is a person who gives his life to something bigger than one’s self. Ravi was indeed such a hero.
Ravi, born to a wealthy and prominent family, the son of a president, led a life of austerity and simplicity. The wisdom of the Buddha had a long abiding and profound influence on him as his mind evolved with time, leading to a gradual detachment from all that was worldly in his prime aim to achieve spiritual advancement.
May his sojourn in Samsara be brief.