Every citizen has the right to live in one’s home without fear – Dr. Bandula Gunawardena | Sunday Observer
Terror of May 9:

Every citizen has the right to live in one’s home without fear – Dr. Bandula Gunawardena

4 December, 2022

The morning of May 9, was a typical Monday save for the crowds that started arriving in Colombo to bid farewell to former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. By evening violence had spread to all parts of the country as innocents and property were attacked by armed mobs.

Minister of Transport, Highways and Media, Dr. Bandula Gunawardena who also fell victim to these mobs on the day says every citizen living in a civilised country has the right to live in one’s own home without any fear. “The Constitution allows for a person to live in his home along with his family without coming to any harm despite his race, religion or political ideology.

It is these fundamental rights along with democracy that was set on fire on May 9 by some violent protesters fuelled by hateful politics. It caused a major black mark to our country’s image. The well-being of the entire society depends on the three pillars of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.

Also, regardless of which political party, race, caste, or religion they belong to, the people’s representatives who represent the country’s Parliament, are entitled to a number of special privileges in addition to the basic rights accorded to the country’s citizens. But on May 9, an innocent MP of the Government and his personal security officer were killed by a mob in the most brutal manner.

Attacked and destroyed

In a matter of 12 hours the houses and property of over 70 MPs were attacked and destroyed. Sri Lanka became the only country that had such a tragedy that occurred in the history of world parliaments. It added a black mark that cannot be erased,” he said.

“Mob justice cannot be meted out to unarmed innocent people. Even if a wrong has been committed then a person can only be punished by the law. When a Sri Lankan working in Pakistan was brutally attacked and killed, the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan saved the country from further damage by setting up a special court and bringing those responsible before justice. But I am deeply saddened that the Sri Lankan Parliament is not even able to set up a special court and expedite the case relating to the killing of MP Athukorala,” the Minister added.

Among the property attacked on May 9, was the private residence of the Minister on Jambugasmulla Road, Nugegoda, the adjacent building housing a pre-school being run by his eldest son and several vehicles.

While a group of 45 - 50 youth had arrived to attack his home, for reasons unknown they were not able to fully destroy the said properties. But their actions have left a deep sadness and disappointment in the Minister as he was also a popular economics teacher that educated scores of children for over two decades on top of being a public representative.

In fact Gunawardena in 1989 while still an undergraduate at the University of Jayewardenepura taught economics, commerce and other finance related subjects to students. To date it’s this service rendered by him that he is most satisfied about, than his yeoman service as a politician.

“For 25 years I toiled hard to show the country’s youth the correct path and to build their lives. Looking back I am pleased I was able to create many productive human resources for the county through my talents and efforts.

These include chairmen of the University Grants Commission, Vice Chancellors of National Universities, Professors, Ministry Secretaries, District Secretaries, MPs and Ministers, Chief Ministers, Judges and even Artists.

The students who attempted to kill me by locking me inside my house and setting fire to it must ask their conscience if their actions were fair. Was it just to do this to someone like me who has made such a great contribution?” the Minister asked.

Gunawardena is also an accomplished author and has written around 55 books on economics and several other fields. Therefore, his house consists of a massive library where he often reads or carries out research on various subjects.

“If my house had been razed to ashes by the mob, my library would have been completely destroyed, just like the library of President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The value of books can never be estimated in money. I have requested that the books in my library be donated to the University of Jayewardenepura on my death. I am thankful it was not destroyed on that day,” he said.

Gunawardena in his career has initiated many progressive changes for the benefit of the future generation. Allowing students who failed mathematics to follow advanced level courses, introducing the technology stream for the advanced level classes, setting up 1000 technology labs and introducing technology faculties to universities were few of his contributions as the Minister of Education.

He has also utilised Rs. 10 million of his own funds to commence the ‘Pragna Bandu Scholarship Fund’ to provide scholarships to youth studying technology. Gunawardena should be credited with the establishment and development of Mahinda Rajapaksa College in Homagama which is considered to be the largest secondary school in South Asia and the Matara Mahinda Rajapaksa College.

“I am pleased I have been able to contribute to creating a generation of talented children for the future of the country. But if there is any political movement that seeks to destroy those like us who introduced such concepts, it can only be said that its leaders are those who are full of hate and are unable to do anything innovative. They cannot contribute to the betterment of the society,” he said.

Gunawardena who entered the Sinhala film industry in 1982, won the Sarasavi award for the best film producer in 1985 for the film ‘Suddila ge Kathawa’.

“All my property I earned fairly before becoming a politician. I built this house as a popular economics lecturer and film producer before my marriage to my wife Thamara. My two sons and three daughters grew up in this house. This was our home. I was an MP who donated my monthly salary to the ‘Api Wenuwen Api’ fund intended for the war heroes of this country.

After the death of my mother I donated my full MP salary to the ‘Ape Amma’ fund set up for various social service activities. Despite being a Minister I have never used an official Government residence. I have not accepted money provided for rent, electricity or water for official residences.

I served as a Minister while living in my own home. Perhaps if I had opted to live in a protected official residence my house may have not been set on fire. Is it wrong to live in one’s own home without obtaining any privileges and benefits given by the Government,” the Minister said.

“What was troubling was that the mob had even attempted to go after property of private individuals believing politicians may own them. I have leased out a property in Maharagama to a popular company so that they may set up a supermarket.

Popular teacher

I purchased this land prior to becoming an MP. Though the land belongs to me, the business is not owned by me. But a mob had even attempted to set fire to this business on May 9. They are a group of people with a twisted mentality and full of hate that they will not spare us even the wealth we have earned without politics”, the Minister said.

According to him, despite holding many Ministerial positions over the years he had no part in corruption or fraud. “If anyone can prove that either a family member or myself are involved in such acts I will resign from my post the very next day and even retire from politics. This is something I have repeated on many occasions.

I am an honours graduate in Business Administration. I have a doctorate. I was a popular teacher and a film producer. If I had not engaged in politics and merely engaged in this work I could have become a billionaire,” he said.

Gunawardena says he believes a country has no need for politics and politicians if humanity and its values are lost due to politics.

“I served my motherland with knowledge and skill. I did not contribute to things that bring disgrace to the country. The people of this country should decide if the Parliament should be filled with people who think that people’s representatives like us who have been praised at home and abroad should be burned to death.

Prior to 1977 we had a gentlemanly form of politics. But unfortunately in the following years there has been a cultural deterioration, a moral decline and a severe lack of humanity due to armed violence and murder in the North and South”, he said.

According to Gunawardena this is a worse crisis than the current economic crisis faced by the country. The Minister believes even if the country is saved from the economic crisis, these issues will not allow people to live without fear in their own homes going forward. “It is the duty and responsibility of all to strive to save the country from this situation. Our great national duty and responsibility is to contribute as much as we can to build a society free from political and non-political violence”, he said.