May 9 and the torching: of Minister Shehan Semasinghe’s properties: | Sunday Observer

May 9 and the torching: of Minister Shehan Semasinghe’s properties:

14 August, 2022

The incidents of May 9, bore the shadows of a dark age in Sri Lanka’s history. But former Minister Shehan Semasinghe says the series of incidents began on April 4, way before the attacks that took place a month later.

“A violent mob on April 4 held a protest in front of the houses of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna politicians in the Anuradhapura district on that day. That morning the private vehicle in which my father, former Minister H.B Semasinghe was travelling in also got attacked in Anuradhapura.


But luckily my father was left unharmed. But a certain group had gathered and stoned my office as well as my residence located on the Anuradhapura Airport Road for nearly two hours. The arson attack on both locations on May 9 was just the final in a series of attacks. Accordingly, it is very clear that this chain of events was a well-planned crime,” he said.

“We have been engaged in politics for three generations. In 1977 a similar incident had taken place where a mob stoned our house. I was just one-year-old at that time. But since then we haven’t experienced any violence before this year. If anyone finds any joy in setting fire to our houses and causing damage I will allow them that happiness.

The office used by my father and I was also located within our residence. My father is still living in a room gutted by the fire. Maybe those who carried out these acts are happy or maybe they now regret it. But I now look at the incident in equanimity. None of this was earned by robbing from the people. Our supporters know this well.” he added.

The Semasinghe family has a long history in Sri Lankan politics spanning over two generations. His maternal grandfather K.B Ratnayake was a popular politician and was also a former Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament. He was also later appointed as the Governor of the Central Province.

Born to a village headman in a small hamlet in Rajarata, K.B Ratnayake became an Agri officer in 1943 after completing his education amidst great difficulties. Later he joined the Survey Department as a Surveyor. With the establishment of the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Conservation Board, Ratnayake was then appointed as a Land Officer. Semasinghe says his grandfather was also a close friend of Maithripala Senanayake.

When Senanayake was appointed as the Minister of Transport in 1956, Ratnayake was appointed as his private secretary. This was the beginning of his political journey.

Ratnayake was elected to parliament in 1962. He was appointed as the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Sports in 1970, while in 1975 he took up the post of Minister of Transport. He also held key positions in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party including that of Chief government whip and its Vice President. Following the General election of 1994 he was appointed as the Speaker. Retiring from politics in 2000, Ratnayake functioned as the governor of the Central Province from 2001 - 2002.

According to Semasinghe, his father H.B. Semasinghe joined politics through the support of his grandfather K.B Ratnayake.

“Before joining politics he was a teacher in several village schools in Nochchiyagama. In 1977 he left his job as a teacher to join the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. He was elected to Parliament in 1994 and had functioned as a Deputy Minister and Minister. He also worked in the North Western Provincial Council till 2004.”

Semasinghe says he did not join politics considering it as a family inheritance. He is an educated professional of his own right. His initial school years were spent in St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura before entering D.S. Senanayake College in Colombo. He then enrolled in the University of New Delhi and passed out with a degree in Commerce.

Shehan Semasinghe, a post-graduate in business management from the University of Peradeniya, started his career in organisations related to tourism. After completing his degree, he joined a leading tourism company in Sri Lanka as a trainee executive and rose to the rank of assistant manager. Later, he worked as the operations director of a well-known star class hotel in Sri Lanka.

“I contested the 2010 election while working at the hotel. Since then I have remained undefeated. I represented the Government in 2010 - 2015 while I was an Opposition MP between 2015 - 2020. After 2020 I once again became part of the Government. I have held many ministerial positions including a Cabinet portfolio”

Recalling the incidents of May 9, Semasinghe said the house destroyed was built by his father.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

“He had begun to contract this house from the time he was a teacher. That house also has some historic value. Sirimavo Bandaranaike used to stay at our house during her visits to Anuradhapura. The room she often stayed in was also destroyed in the fire. Almost every President has visited this house. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa celebrated his birthday on November 18 after his defeat in 2015 in this house. The first meeting to reform the party was also held in this house that was destroyed.

None of this was built through corruption or robbing public funds. Those who support us know this. Therefore I am saddened about what happened. But neither my father nor I have a grudge against those who committed these acts. However I am disappointed in the Police as this crime happened right under their noses and with their knowledge. ”

Semasinghe also has an axe to grind with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. “They are standing for the protesters but I am not satisfied about their action or lack of concern for the victims of the May 9 incidents such as us. Are they only protecting the human rights of one group or party?” he asked.

But Semasinghe has not given up hope on achieving some form of justice. “But my main request is that such incidents should not be allowed to take place. The law enforcement must prevent these incidents. What happened to us can happen to another person tomorrow. When this incident took place I was in Colombo.

Some MPs asked me, despite the disturbing news of houses being set on fire, how I can relax. This is because many incidents had taken place before and nothing had been done to stop them. So I believed the Police will once again do nothing to prevent this as well. So I knew there was no point in getting worked up,” he said.

According to him, he called his parents and asked them to leave immediately. “Only their lives mattered to me. They had managed to escape just five minutes before our house was attacked. They were left just with the clothes on their backs. I wholeheartedly believe our party supporters had no hand in these attacks. A group instigated by politicians had taken part in these violent acts,” he said.


Semasinghe says his house was not only set on fire but the mobs but they had also looted his home and taken away many valuables including gold jewelry. Not only has the incident affected Semasinghe, it has also deeply impacted his father, former Minister H.B. Semasinghe.

According to H.B Semasinghe he built the now destroyed house in 1970. “I was a teacher at the time. If someone says we stole public funds to build these houses then they do not know our political history. Even when I was first elected to Parliament in 1994 I had this house. I have never stolen public funds during my political career. Before joining politics I had a house in Colombo. I even sold that to enter politics. In 2019 we sold a plot of land belonging to my wife to build some additions to this house.” he said.

H.B Semasinghe said those who attacked his house had first stolen all his wife’s jewellery including Rs. 30,000 he had withdrawn to consult an Eye surgeon. “My wife is now living with my daughters but I am still living in my gutted home. I have no place else to go. I only earned people as opposed to money. That is how even Shehan was elected to Parliament. The people who voted for us had no hands in this act. Various political parties instigated this. But I believe justice will prevail” he said.

Shehan Semasinghe also reiterated that the violence was instigated by a certain political group. “They are able to roam freely today. But those who were tricked by them and took part in these crimes now have to spend time in Police stations and courts. Therefore, I would like to tell the people, including the youth, to think wisely before taking decisions and getting caught up in such anti-Government conspiracies,” he said.

The article is an English translation of Sureka Nilmini Illangakoon

The house and office destroyed in the fire