Bengaluru: It was his wife Dileepa’s birthday and Shashi Danatunge was planning to go out in the evening to celebrate it at a hotel in Colombo. Transport and civil aviation minister and former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga, his childhood friend, had just called to wish her a happy birthday. A few minutes later, his phone rang. Someone told him that there had been a blast at a five-star hotel in Colombo and a few more blasts in northern suburb Negombo and Batticaloa on the east coast.
Shashi, vice chairman of the Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Authority, was shocked. He had not expected that a series of bomb blasts would rock his serene island nation on Easter Sunday.
After the LTTE was defeated exactly 10 years ago, peace had returned to Sri Lanka and the last decade had been the most peaceful and prosperous for the islanders. Security forces who were a regular sight had returned to the barracks and a few police personnel were handling law and order. No one had thought that a terror attack of this scale would take place across the nation killing over 180 innocent people and injuring over 500.
Speaking to News18 from Colombo, Shashi said he was shaken by the magnitude of the attack. “After the defeat of LTTE in 2009, life was bliss for us. It was the most peaceful time in our history. There was not a single terror incident. We were enjoying the fruits of peace,” he said.
A few kilometers away from Shashi’s house, Indian national Venkatesh K Rao was getting ready to go out. Rao, a Kannadiga from Mumbai, had shifted to Sri Lanka only a few years ago. Life was quiet for him. He was happy to live in a peaceful country but now feels that no place is safe enough.
“I never imagined that such a terror attack would take place on Easter Sunday. It is horrible. There is a lot of panic all over. A lot of Indians live in my apartment. They are also scared to venture out. Hope the situation returns to normal soon,” he said.
One of Sri Lanka’s most famous cricketers, Roshan Mahanama, was at his house in posh Cinnamon gardens in Colombo when he heard the news of serial blasts. Speaking to News18, he said: “It was a quiet Easter Sunday. War is behind us. In the last 10 years, we became used to a peaceful life. There was no fear at all. What has happened today is horrible. We don’t know where it takes all of us from here.”
Visakan, a Sri Lankan Tamil, had just woken up on a lazy Sunday morning at his house in Colombo’s Wellawatte. He was looking forward to an uneventful Easter Sunday in the city till he was informed of the blasts. “For a moment I did not believe that. Because terrorism is a distant memory for us. When I realised that it was really a coordinated terror attack, I froze for a minute. We can’t afford one more round of terrorism. Our beautiful country is progressing. Economy is improving. I hope it ends here,” he said.
Almost all Sri Lankans have similar stories to narrate. The island nation of 22 million people is shaken beyond belief. After the defeat of LTTE, no one had expected terrorism to return but now, they are more nervous and scared. They fear that dreaded security checkposts, gun-toting soldiers and night curfews will make a comeback.
Since no terrorist organisation has taken responsibility for the blasts, several theories are doing the rounds. A top Sri Lankan minister told News18 that he did not want to speculate and an inquiry will bring out the truth. "Our first priority is to help the injured and take care of the families of the dead. Our police are conducting a thorough probe. Once it is completed, we will catch the terrorists,” he said.