Remembering Manouri Muttetuwegama nee De Silva

ONE REQUEIM from Gamini Seneviratne , in The Island, 25 July 2021  v

In the early nineteen sixties when we met, politics here was in a kind of crisis. The Left parties were defining themselves and each other in terms that emasculated such terms as ‘socialist’ of the meanings assigned to them not just in the literature but in the practice of revolution. We had sama samaja ‘new’ or without qualification, united socialist, revolutionary socialist, Bolshevik Leninist, Stalinist aka Communist, Trotskyite, Maoist and, lurking not far behind them every nuance of Democracy and Socialism. In hindsight all that seems innocent given the skulduggery that came to be sort of enshrined in a “Constitution” that enjoyed the distinction of being totally unconstitutional / illegal. So much more has been done since that J R J, the breaker of laws and trasher of justice would be chortling in whatever shades he now resides.

Manouri  was lately returned from her studies in Britain and took over the Samasamajist, the English language Party weekly; I helped as able in my free time. Though the broad contours of the LSSP were maintained – just about – new fractures were visible: thus, by 1964 when ‘it’ formed a coalition with the SLFP, those who took office in it, led by N M, were classified ‘rightist’, Colvin, Leslie, Bernard et al who did not oppose it were termed ‘centrist’ while Edmond, Bala and Merrill, the group that such as I sympathised with retained their claims to being ‘left’. But I worked in the Finance Ministry headed by NM and Manouri was Colvin’s daughter. Nevertheless, we contrived to steer the Samasamajist along lines that caused that coalition no harm.

It was around that time that I dedicated the following poem to her.


Everyone is not young as Evtushenko

says he is


It is easy to be young

in a nation which

is getting butter for a change

and open-necked shirts and pull-overs

made a size too large


When even the heavy machinery’s begun

sprouting lilies in the sky



you too seem young, meaning

I am made aware

of a confrontation. And, again I do not know

whether to be young is here

the same thing as the young

in raw Russia

applauding Evtushenko, understand,

where to be an artist of good family

only to Krushchev and such,

seems significant


Or in London where

labour is so respectable.


It is easy to be young

in a nation which is said to be only

forty-seven years old

when one is not yet forty and does not quite remember

the birth-pangs and the virtues

of one generation only need

to be lived down.

                                    (For Manouri) 1964

By the time I came to work for Colvin, the insurrection of 1971 was round the corner and when it erupted Colvin was away at negotiations on the prices of tea in the international market. He was on his way back and I managed to get through to our Deputy Trade Commissioner in Bombay to have Colvin sent through on a flight that would reach Colombo in daylight hours. The Ministry of Defence however declared that no jeep could be spared to escort Colvin from the airport and Manouri accompanied me in my Ford Anglia to Katunayake while Cyril drove Colvin’s family car, a Morris Minor behind us.

 In due course I came to know Sarath Muttetuwegama (to the degree that I could tell Pieter Keuneman that I would join a Communist Party headed by Sarath).

In the 1990s Manouri joined R K W Goonasekera and others in a Fundamental Rights application before the Supreme Court on behalf of my son Malinda. (The Court held against the Secretary of Defence and the IGP – and imposed fines on the culprits requiring them to make those payments personally).

 She has been entrusted with major inquiries into allegations of abuse of human rights and always managed to steer them towards the truth regardless of the wishes of the powers that consented to such inquiries being made at all.

May Ramani and others dear to her obtain some measure of solace in the light of the comfort she brought to so many people throughout the country.

     ****  ****
TWO: Nimalka Fernando

Manouri Muttetuwegama has passed away. She has been in the left movement as an activist in the Samasamaja Movement and continued to uphold the struggle for justice, a core value of the left.  I met Manouri in my younger days during left gatherings but later on more through our working relationship in the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development based in Malaysia where I worked as the regional co-ordinator. Manouri still remains as a valued friend in the Asian network committed to women’s human rights. She and I participated in the 20th Anniversary celebrations held in Bangkok in 2009.

Manouri though frail continued to be involved in activities for reconciliation as the Head of the Task Force for Reconciliation appointed in 2017. She remained committed to the cause against disappearances continuing her long struggle since 1989. We still refer to the report of the Commission dealing with the disappeared in the past as Manouri’s report.

Often she would express her concerns regarding the failure of the non-payment of the Rs 6000 monthly relief package to the families of the disappeared, a recommendation of the Office on Missing Persons. She wanted justice for the disappeared and took part in all our activities and events encouraging the OMP to uphold the rights of the families. She joined us as the guest speaker at the International Day of the Disappeared celebrated in 2019 at the Saraswathi Premises mingling with the families holding their hands giving us hope to move on.

Dear friend and colleague, you encouraged us, inspired us, gave advice and shared your experiences in life as well as in the struggle.

It is difficult to say goodbye to Manouri.

May you rest in peace.



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