Roofing nails driven into captives’ knees
Torture chambers in the underworld
The origin of torture, which is derived from the Latin word, tortus, meaning ‘twist, as an instrument of interrogation and/or punishment is shrouded in the mists of time. It was selectively used in ancient Greece and Rome to question slaves and other such non-citizens, allegedly involved in crimes.
Torture became an integral part of trial in early medieval Europe, according to historians. It was used to ascertain the ‘truth’ or establish guilt. The Spanish Inquisition became notorious for systemised torture, which was used to elicit confessions from heretics in the 15th Century. Thousands of people are believed to have suffered violent deaths at the hands of Inquisitors. Those who did not confess were burnt at the stake. The Inquisition euphemistically called torture ‘putting to the question’. The methods it employed were savage but widely condoned.
When Guy Fawkes was brought to the Tower of London following the abortive Gunpowder Plot (1605), King James sent a personal note to those tasked with interrogating (read torturing) the suspects. It read: “The gentler Tortures are to be first used unto him et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur [and so by degrees proceeding to the worst]. God Speed your good work, James.”
Sri Lankan kings also resorted to torture. Historical records reveal that there were 32 forms of torture. Foreign invaders introduced their own methods of torture to this country. The reign of terror in the late 1980s was characterised by the widespread use of torture and there were many torture chambers in various parts of the country. Two such places were located in Batalanda, in Gampaha and Eliyakanda in Matara. Most of the victims who were taken there and ‘put to the question’ never returned.
This column, however, is not on the state actors responsible for torture but on underworld figures running torture chambers, one of which was recently found in Wennappuwa.
Residents of Sirigampola, Wennappuwa, on hearing screams from a nearby house, one day, rushed indoors and remained there for hours. They knew what was going on there. The place was torture chamber run by a notorious criminal known as Shanuka or Olu Mara, who terrorised Wennappuwa.
(There is an interesting story about Shanaka’s alias ‘Olu Mara’, which is a spoonerism. When he was a child he used to rob fish and, therefore, came be to known as ‘Malu Hora’ in Sinhala and the first consonants (‘Ma’ and ‘Ho’) of the two words got transposed and ‘Malu Hora’ became ‘Holu Mara’. ‘Holu’ got corrupted as ‘Olu’ with the passage of time, as it happens in Sinhala.)
Inside the Sirigampola torture chamber, a youth was being beaten mercilessly for having allegedly cheated Olu Mara. The victim had undertaken to install security cameras at Olu Mara’s newly built house, in the area. He always used the best equipment which carried a warranty. But Olu Mara was convinced otherwise; he accused the victim of having installed substandard cameras and refused payment. When the latter made repeated requests, he was abducted and taken to the torture chamber, where an undisclosed number of persons had been put to violent deaths for decade or so.
The victim was pleading with his tormentors for mercy, but to no avail. Olu Mara squeezed the victim’s neck, yelling that the punishment for cheating him was death. His button men sprang into action and trussed up the youth, and one of them fetched two steel roofing nails and a hammer.
Olu Mara unflinchingly drove the two nails into the victim’s knees while others held him. The youth in excruciating pain let out screams, which the people in the neighbourhood heard, but none dared to come out of their houses. They were aware Olu Mara had a stock of large nails.
“You tell anyone that I did this to you,” Olu Mara shouted. “This is what awaits anyone who tries to be funny with me.” The victim was beaten again, taken in a van and dumped near his house. He was rushed to hospital, but no complaint was made against Olu Mara, who had become a law unto himself. He was only one of the many victims who had suffered torture at the hands of Olu Mara and his gang.
Olu Mara had some high ranking police officers and politicians in his pocket, and they would do his bidding. He looked after them well and they could always depend on him when they needed money. But there are some officers and men who have done the Police Department proud. Finally, the crime Czar of Wennappuwa met his match in an intrepid police officer, who had served in the STF and fought the LTTE. The officer, having been informed of the organised crimes in the area, decided to crack down on the criminal outfit.
ASP Eric Perera is a battle-hardened STF officer who fought many a battle with the LTTE in the Eastern Province. He prepared the battle plan to liberate Wennappuwa from the clutches of criminals, especially Olu Mara.
When Olu Mara committed the first murder, he was only 14. It was a revenge killing. He had two brothers and his father was a drug pusher. His mother did not care to bring him up. In fact, he was so aggressive that nobody dared discipline him. He took to crime when he was 13, having committed petty thefts for years. In school, he stole valuables from his teachers and became a nuisance. He used to waylay fishmongers who came to his village and rob their fish. Hence the nickname ‘Malu Hora’!
Olu Mara was arrested for housebreaking at the age of 13 and sent to a probation centre. His best friend was Lakmal, who was also involved in anti-social activities as a teenager. Their rival gang was led by a youth called Thambili Ruwa. Lakmal was killed by Thambili Ruwa while Olu Mara was at the Probation Centre.
On hearing that his bosom pal had been killed, Olu Mara vowed to take revenge. He cornered his friend’s killer, one day, and chopped him to death in full view of the residents of the area. Imprisoned for that crime, he served a jail term at the Anuradhapura Prison, where he was transferred subsequently. There he met a senior criminal known as SF Lokka, an army deserter. A prison is a gated underworld, where criminals network and learn from one another. Olu Mara cut his teeth on drug trade while in prison. He got heroin smuggled into prison by his friends operating in areas like Sedawatte and Thotalanga and sold it inside the prison. He was ably assisted in the task by SF Lokka, who got his share of the profits.
After being released from prison, he built his criminal empire. A group of criminals including Ran Chamara, Gnana Chamara and Isuru Aruna joined him and recognised him as their boss. SF Lokka, now, out of prison, became his mentor.
Olu Mara had a meteoric rise in the underworld and his hell dust trade thrived. He eliminated his rivals and turned his ancestral house into a torture chamber, where the aforesaid youth was tortured. He derived a sadistic pleasure from others’ suffering. He raped the female family members of his rivals. He terrorised the Wennappuwa area and nobody had the courage to complain against him.
No outsider could enter the area where Olu Mara operated as he had put in place a spy network. He reigned supreme in his empire.
ASP Perera had the blessings of his superiors SSP (Chillaw) S. Kumarapeli and DIG (Puttalam) Kithsiri Jayalath. They encouraged him to go all out to remove the scourge. But nobody was willing to provide any information about Olu Mara. However, he kept on trying and his efforts were rewarded. Some youth of the area agreed to co-operate even at the risk of being killed. They informed him that Olu Mara brought heroin from Sedawatte and was accompanied by his wife and one-and-a-half-year old son on such missions.
Olu Mara used several vehicles for transporting heroin. On 12 Oct., he was returning from Sedawatte in a three wheeler with his wife and little son when a police team consisting of IP Yasantha Weerasekera and SI N. Dakshina blocked his path in Sirigampola. Olu Mara claimed he was taking his son to the doctor. But the police knew he was lying and ordered him to get off and conducted a thorough search on the trishaw. They detected 100 g of heroin. He was not taken to the Wennappuwa police after being arrested. Instead, he had to face ASP Perera, who interrogated him.
Olu Mara’s mobile phone contained incriminating evidence of his criminal activities, especially pictures of his torture victims, and they shocked even the veteran crime busters. (Some of the pictures retrieved from his phone are carried with this article. Others are too gruesome to be published.) Acting on information elicited from Olu Mara, the police arrested the members of his gang.
Olu Mara was 23 years old at the time of his arrest.