by Sujeeva Nivunhella in London
There was a time Douglas Wickramaratne, President of the Sinhala Association in the UK, had to be given protection by Scotland Yard after he came under threat for exposing the blatant falsehoods propagated by the LTTE to win the support of the international community.
Despite the machinations of the powerful pro-LTTE lobby at the time, the warrior that he was, Wickramaratne held his ground and pushed ahead with his concerted campaign to lay bare the atrocities of the terrorists and expose to the world the campaign of brutal terror perpetrated by the Tigers.
Many were the times he traveled to Geneva to attend the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions to help safeguard the interests of Sri Lanka in the face of Tamil diaspora inspired allegations leveled against the government.
This time around, Wickramaratne won’t be able to make his annual journey to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva to stand up and fight for the rights of the Sinhalese.
“For 40 years, I stood by my country and fought for what was right. Many people ask why I am silent now. I cannot continue any longer as my health is not too good”, he says.
He said that over the years, he was the only Sinhalese to address the UNHRC Assembly on time allocated to NGOs. On one such visit, a LTTE leader had greeted him and asked ‘Douglas why are you doing this to us?’
“I continue to receive invitations to visit Geneva to address the UNHRC sessions, but I cannot travel now due to my poor health condition”, he explained.
Recalling the time his life was under threat by LTTE supporters in London and Geneva, Wickramaratne said Scotland Yard ensured his security. At one time, Interpol was alerted about threats on his life in Geneva.
Since 1983, after his TV debate with a LTTE supporter on BBC Newsnight, he was invited by almost every British TV channel, and Al Jazeera and Press TV to participate in regular debates and discussions on Sri Lanka. In addition, he also took part in many radio programs.
Traversing down memory lane, the octogenarian recalled the famous Oxford Union Debate in 1984, where he and Bradman Weerakoon faced Prof. A. J. Wilson, S. Sivasithamparam and Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam.
“After that, I was invited to deliver many talks and take part in seminars at Oxford University, Cambridge University, London School of Economics, Bath University among others. In addition, I also participated in debates with LTTE activists in France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Italy, USA and Canada”, he remarked.
Referring to his 1984 visits to Toronto and the USA at the invitation of Sri Lankans there, Wickramaratne highlighted how the World Federation of Sri Lankan Associations was formed. In 1985, the second convention of the Federation was held at London Hilton attended by delegates from USA, Canada, Australia and France. Among the eminent guest speakers were Minister Lalith Atulathmudali, Anura Bandaranaika and Miss. Betty Boothroyd.
“I was elected President of the Federation and the following year I handed over the presidency to Prof. Christie Weeramantry”, he noted.
Wickramaratne is a product of Ananda College, Colombo, where he led the English debating team. He was a keen cricketer from his childhood days and was instrumental in forming the Dehiwala Sports Club at the age of 10 years, which he captained for 11 years since its inception.
He migrated to the UK in the early 1960s and joined the Savings Bank and later a Clearing Bank. At both institutions, he continued with his addiction to cricket and was elected captain, a rare privilege at the time to head an all white team.
“A Guyanese friend invited me to play for the famous West Indian Wanderers CC. Frank Worrel, Garfield Sobers, Conrad Hunte and many West Indian test cricketers had played for the Wanderers formed by Sir Leary Constantine. I was the only non-West Indian in a team from all Caribbean Islands, and we bonded well together”, he reflected with a smile.
Asked what prompted him to form the Sinhala Association in the UK, he recalled an incident he witnessed during a Sri Lanka versus England cricket match at the Colombo Oval in 1975, where about 50 Tamil youths attacked and injured a small group of cheering Sinhala students.
“On my intervention, police arrested some of the attackers. This episode made me realize the need to form a Sinhala Association. With the help of a group of dedicated patriots, the Association was formed in 1976”, Wickramaratne recalled.
He said the Association organized variety entertainment programs, concerts and meetings to bring people together, and more importantly, to educate the youth of the true situation in Sri Lanka and counter the false claims made by the LTTE.
“We have organized well attended meetings with the participation of Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, Prof. Nalin de Silva, Dinesh Gunawardena, the late Gen. Lucky Algama and Cyril Mathew and many others”, he noted.
He further said the Association afforded an opportunity to Sri Lankan artistes to perform in the UK and other European countries by organizing concerts.
Among those who performed were Amaradeva, Nanda Malini, Sisira and Indrani, H. R. Jothipala, Latha Walpola, Victor Ratnayake, Sunil Edirisinghe, T. M. Jayaratne, M. S. Fernando, Malini Bulathsinhala, Clarence Wijewardena and Mariazelle, Angeline Gunatilaka, Ivor Dennis, Gypsies, Desmond Silva and musicians like Stanley Peiris, Wijeratna Ranatunga, Rohana Weerasinghe.