Hammond Hill (Hammenheil)   After 40 Years
Posted on August 5th, 2017

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge 

The Hammond Hill ( Hammenheil  )  is not a prison any more. It has become a tourist detonation. The Sri Lanka Navy is running a tourist hotel in the island with all the luxuries. It has become Sri Lanka’s Alcatraz prison attracted by locals and foreign tourists. People have forgotten the 1971 insurrection and the former prisoners of Hammond Hill.

All the 1971 prisoners were released by the President J.R Jayawardene when he came to power in 1977. Although the Hammond Hill prisoners became free many are still trapped in their ruminations. Some were able to move on with their lives forgetting the emotional wounds. But for some Hammenheil has become a nightmare. Today these men are in their sixties and a large percentage is still hounded by the reminiscences of the Hammenheil l Prison.

It is evident that majority of the former inmates had abandoned their radical political ideology and now lead politically inactive lives. Vasantha alias Mabole Rexy was one of the very few remaining members of the JVP who stayed with the movement. He was an active JVP member from 1971 to 2005.

Mr. Atlas Bandara who was a wealthy businessman in 1971 and volunteered to rescue Rohana Wijeweera from the Jaffna Prison now living his life in poverty. He has severe disappointments about the 71 events. He spent a number of years at the Hammond Hill facing copious difficulties.
His driver Sirisena Alwis alias Baldhi Sira too had to spend several years at the Hammond Hill with his master. After his release Sirisena Alwis started drinking heavily and died several years ago.

Young Lal Somasiri was attracted to the movement as a school boy. He abandoned his higher education and joined the 1971 uprising. Lal Somasiri had a tough time at the Hammond Hill when he gave his statement to the Criminal Investigation Department revealing the rebel leader Rohana Wijeweera’s message after his arrest at Ampara on the 13th of March 1971. At the CJC (Criminal Justice Commission) Rohana Wijeweera denied delivering such a message to Lal Somasiri. Soon the hardliners at the Hammond Hill prison denounced him as a traitor. Today he is politically inactive and for a number of years he was forced to spend an undercover life.

Mr. Wanigabadu now a practicing lawyer has repressed his memories of the Hammond Hill saga. He does not want to remember about the events that occurred at the Hammond Hill Prison. I saw the real human nature at the Hammond Hill Prison, Mr Wanigabadu says

Mr. Jayathilaka once an active and dedicated member now runs a small business and living a simple life. He has no connections with his former radical political party. Mr. Piyumasena Kannangara who participated in the Jaffna prison attack no longer connected with any political party and does not believe in political movements.

Mr. Birty Ranjith masterminded the Jaffna prison attack in 1971. He organized the attack to rescue the rebel leader Rohana Wijeweera who was held under tight security at the Jaffna prison. The attack went for several hours but ended in failure. Birty Ranjith was arrested and then severely beaten. His attackers broke his leg. He suffered heavily physically and mentally. At the Hammond Hill Birty made an unsuccessful attempt to reanalyze the events that occurred on the April 5th 1971. The JVP leaders refused to accept his conclusions. After sometime Birty became disappointed in the 71 events. He felt that he had been used and then betrayed. He left the movement while he was still at the Hammond Hill. Today Birty Ranjith lives in exile in Germany. He is a political writer and had published his experiences in 1971 uprising and subsequent prison life at the Hammond Hill.

Mr. Wilfred Peris (alias Kegalle Peris) remained a loyal member and worked with the Movement for a number of years. However ruminations of the 71 saga impacted him profoundly. He has had suicidal ideations and sense of foreshortened future. During 1988 he left the party and worked with paramilitary groups. He later documented his 71 experiences and disturbed political events that occurred in 1988 2nd JVP Uprising. According to these disclosures Wilfred had helped the Government and Paramilitary forces to capture the undercover JVP activists. He writes that he had participated in interrogations and witnessed a number of killings. Today he is living overseas under political asylum.

The psychological impact of the Hammond Hill prison was never been studied although it was a dark part of Sri Lanka’s political history. Hammond Hill signifies a beginning of a gloomy era- political detention system and gross violation of human rights. Although Hammond Hill was an eye opener the society never learned anything from this tortures experience. The young generation who witnessed the social violence in 1971 launches another uprising in 1988 causing deaths of nearly 60,000 people.

Despite all odds Hammond Hill shows us human behaviour in extreme conditions. Unusual human relationships under extreme circumstances. It narrates the wickedness of the prison guards and also humane qualities that some possessed. Hammond Hill story described sadistic hearts as well as the kind warmth feelings under the uniform.

Hammond Hill recounts group dynamics, collective behaviour of youth who became united under one political ideology. They were ready for extreme sacrifices in the name of this ideology. When the political attempt became unsuccessful disagreements surfaced. The comradeship was shifting to the opposite pole – the traitor. The rebels denounced their fellow comrades in a tiny isolated island. Those who fought for one common political aim started fighting with each other. For some detainees the prison guards and interrogators became their new saviours. Some had radical behavioural changes at the prison sometimes accepting changes in their sexual orientation. Some sustained permanent emotional scars after facing horrors of the Hammond Hill.

The inmates at the Hammond Hill prison underwent severe environmental and manmade stressors. Apparently a large number of prisoners suffered from depression and anxiety related ailments that were never diagnosed or treated. Perhaps time healed many emotional wounds. But for some victims time didn’t. Two of the former inmates Rev Morawaka Badhhiya and Susil Galgamuva committed suicide less than 15 years after their release from the Hammond Hill Prison. Therefore posttraumatic impact of the Hammond Hill prison cannot be underestimated.

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