Disabled soldiers demand 75% salary | Sunday Observer

Disabled soldiers demand 75% salary

Protesting disabled soldiers in Colombo Fort
Protesting disabled soldiers in Colombo Fort

Hundreds of disabled soldiers, their family members, few politicos and a dozen monks descended on Lotus Road as they made their way towards the Ministry of Finance just a couple of hours after an interim order was issued by the Colombo Fort Magistrate barring them from entering state buildings on Wednesday (18).

On their ninth day protesting in a bid to extend the payment of their salaries even after their retirement from service by the age of 55 years, the disabled soldiers took to the roads bringing traffic to an immediate standstill.

They removed their prosthetic legs, laid them on the road next to them and sat on the road, some slept, shouting foul play at the government as two water cannon trucks and policemen were positioned behind a barricade to stop them from marching towards the Presidential Secretariat.

A monk, not an uncommon sight at protests that are on the rise since of late especially in Colombo city, announced through a megaphone that they will not abandon the disabled soldiers’ struggle and urged them and their family members to remain calm. The plea was greeted with a “Sadu! Sadu!” from the protesters.

Thirty-five-year-old W. G. Anura Kumara, a father of three from Haputale in Badulla District sat on his wheelchair as the protest heated up. He had lost a leg and a hand in a pressure mine explosion in Mulativu in 2008. He is among 60 other disabled army soldiers who arrived in Colombo over a week ago to launch their protest. On his lap was a bag carrying clothes he brought with him.

“We came in hopes of ending our struggle this time. We need the salary to survive. We have no other income,” Kumara said.

This is not the first time the disabled soldiers came to the streets demanding the government to address their woes. A series of protests from 2016 to this year were launched. According to 43-year-old Nishantha Wimalasiri from Kurunegala, this was to no avail.

Wimalasiri had his leg amputated when he stepped on a landmine in Paranthan, a town in Kilinochchi on September 29, 1998. Last week, he took his family to the place where he lost his leg. This week, he sat on the road with his prosthetic leg placed next to him.

“I took the bus and came straight to Colombo to join this struggle. My family members asked me not to come, but I am here on their behalf.

“As I get older my illnesses will only get worse. We won’t be able to look after ourselves with the pension we get,” he said.

If they are not given the salary, the government will continue to pay a pension. Disabled soldiers complained that the pension is not sufficient to buy medication or treatment.

“We were wounded fighting the terrorists. We shouldn’t have to sit on roads like this to make people see what we are going through,” Wimalasiri added.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that the issue voiced by the protesting disabled soldiers was already solved. Addressing parliament, he said it was solved one and a half months ago.

He explained that, under the existing system, the war veterans who were completely disabled are paid a salary after their retirement.

“But other partially disabled soldiers need special care and special medication. Hence, we proposed to pay 75 per cent of their salary in addition to the pension they receive,” the minister said, adding that the proposal was put forward at a Defence Ministry’s cabinet proposal.

He assured that these issues can be solved without taking to the streets. He alleged that a certain political group is leading the protesters promising a solution that is already in the works.

In this regard, Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella questioned in parliament what the former government has done to answer the demands of the disabled war veterans. “The war came to an end in 2009. The then government lasted till 2015. What was it doing during all that time?” he queried.

Responding to questions raised by parliamentarians Wimal Weerawansa and Athuraliye Rathana Thera, Minister Kiriella said the issue was discussed during the Cabinet discussion on Tuesday (17) and a solution to the issue will be announced next week.

The Satyagraha protest launched by the disabled soldiers are still continuing in front of the Fort Railway Station.