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CONTEMPORARY HISTORY {short description of image}PUNCHI BORELLA Part1
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or The Republic is alive, corrupt and getting worse by the minute...

According to reports filed by my correspondent Charmaine "Babs" Fernando (who also happens to be my sister) The Battle of Punchi Borella officially commenced at 0100 hrs Srilankan Time (GMT + 5 and a half hrs) on the 4th of April 2001 in the vicinity of the Bo-tree. (The actual date might be in dispute since a woman called Chandrika changed Srilankan time. This whole business (ie the battle) could have started just before midnight and as such on the previous day! Matters such as the exact date doesn't bother Srilankans. Many years ago when a radical organisation called the JVP tried to take over the country, they got the date wrong! Sorry!, but as usual I do digress!)

It would appear that the Bo-tree (Ficus relegiosa) and the shrine ( both right in the middle of the road) had expanded considerably in the last 25 years and was a major obstruction to traffic between Maradana road and Baseline Road. It had also attained the status of an unofficial temple. No monks resided there though.


The main players in the battle were the UDA (Urban Development Authority) and the Minister in charge of the UDA on one side. Everybody else including opposition MPs, the Buddhist clergy and the local thugs were on the other side. Surprisingly no Medical Students were involved . One Piyadasa Samarawickrema appears to have played a key role.(see later)

The objective was of course the "additional structures" that had been built around the shrine without planning permission. (Most Srilankans would express surprise to find out there is such a thing as planning permission in Srilanka.) The Minister, a man by the name of Mangala Samaraweera , although a prat is probably to be pitied as he was in what the Americans would call a "no-win" situation. His remit was to get rid of unauthorised structures. On the one hand he claims that he recieved complaints from the public re the unauthorised structures and on the other hand he had to listen to the protests of the other side.The unauthorised buildings were described by the prat (the Minister) as "bunker-style structures" thus adding to the war-like atmosphere!

The actual battle itself ie the bulldozing, was therefore scheduled for 1.00 a.m. According to the Srilankan Sunday Times(of the 8th of April) the temple bell was dismantled first "to prevent the people being alerted to the destruction" A bulldozer then moved in.(What about the noise of the bloody bulldozer! Get real!)

"The backhoe moved in menacingly with a backup of about 500 policemen who fired shots into the air forcing residents to stay indoors" (For 500 policemen read 50...or even 5! Srilankans love distorting figures! It is also physically impossible for 500 policemen and 1 bulldozer to occupy the Punchi Borella junction all at the same time!)


Any news of the tavern, I hear you ask. The good news is that the old tavern had been considered sacred a long time ago! There was never any question as to its future! This would explain the lack of active participation of the medical students (who always contribute something to any activity involving the police!.......or have times changed?) The tavern is described as a "wine store" in one report. Does that mean it has gone upmarket?

The actual demolition itself appears to have been rather boring by former Srilankan standards. Nobody chained themselves to the walls or lay in front of the 'dozer. No tear gas grenades were thrown, no baton charges took place and Medical Students appear to have played no role at all. Nobody got hurt or killed.....unlike in the good old days! The politics however are rather cut-throat and gives an insight into law and order and the collapse of the infrastructure. Read on....


In typical Srilankan style the waters get muddied from this point on. Opposition MPs, including a chap called Ranil with whom I once associated briefly during university days, descended on the scene. I believe he is the Leader of the Opposition now. (Opposing what?). Buddhist clergy and local thugs got in on the act. Reading between the lines the local thugs and wheeler-dealers had a lot to lose.Their prime interest does not appear to have been relegion. As all this happened after the activities of the beardos of Afghanistan (who destroyed some statues in a place called Bamiyan that nobody had heard of before ---see {short description of image}Literary Page) immediate comparisons were drawn, especially by the clergy and the press.

Fragments of Buddha statues were claimed to have been found in the rubble (sacrilege!). Planted by the locals said the UDA! The statues etc were taken into safe custody by us said the UDA. Who in the previous government allowed a tavern to operate opposite a Buddhist shrine?...asked one lot (Answer: The local MP, now in the opposition and one of the vociferous opponents of the demolition of the "temple"). Why wasn't the tavern demolished as well?.... others asked (whoops!).

Realising that he was losing popular support the local MP (opposition) announced that he had not been consulted! (about the temple demolition! He remained silent about the tavern) For god's sake doesn't he read the Hansard even if he doesn't attend parliament? Where the hell was he when all this was debated in parliament? Get real, sunshine!

(It is not clear what is a shrine, what is a temple and what is a traffic obstruction...may be we will find out when the dust a couple of thousand years...another unanswered question is who patronises the tavern...surely not the Buddhists! Buddhists are not allowed to touch alcohol)

This is where Piyadasa comes into the story. Wading through the contradictory news reports (from different papers written in differing styles) a few facts can be established about this character from Punchi Borella :

1. Piyadasa works (or once worked) as a Registrar of Births and Deaths.
2. He is (or once was) a Justice of the Peace.
3. He is (or he is not) a custodian of the Punchi Borella temple.
4. He had (or didn't have) a room in the temple premises.
5. From these premises in the temple he issued (or did not issue) false passports to Tamil Tigers.
6. He was taken into custody, released on bail and later cleared of all charges.
7. A Muslim MP by the name of Mohamed (opposition) tabled a document in parliament exonerating him (ie Piyadasa) of having committed forgery.

There you are! You have it all in a (coco)nutshell! Work it out for yourselves. I am sure most Srilankans would get the picture!

The answer to this conflict would be to give the locals a choice:

1. Demolish the tavern to widen the road...

2. Demolish the shrine to widen the road...

3. Sell the site to the McDonald's Corporation! ( or to my McMaluPaan Corporation!)

....This last one might be the answer!...neither my rivals the McDonald's Corp, nor my own organisation the McMaluPaan Corp sell/serve alcohol! Both organisations do not discriminate against colour (color), relegion, race, gender, sexuality, policemen (and other animals) etc......

Thats all for now. My correspondent ie "Babs", unfortunately uses snail mail. Do come back for an update..

© Gyan Fernando 2001 First written on the 25 th of April 2001

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