Murder of bhikkhu: Sordid details come to light | Sunday Observer

Murder of bhikkhu: Sordid details come to light

10 January, 2021
The place where Ven. Dhammasiri Thera’s remains were found-Ven. Uduwila Dhammasiri Thera
The place where Ven. Dhammasiri Thera’s remains were found-Ven. Uduwila Dhammasiri Thera

The recent deaths of two bhikkhus under unusual and gruesome circumstances have shocked Sri Lanka. The incidents were also taken up in Parliament last week prompting the Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, to assure that the Government is determined to protect the Buddha Sasana and the public.

The most recent incident reported was the abduction and the shocking death of the Chief Prelate of the Kodikanda forest hermitage in Thummodara, Hanwella.  He had been abducted from the forest hermitage by a group of 10 people on the night of January 2. His burnt remains were later found in the Nawana cemetery in Kotadeniyawa.

While the Police have already arrested four suspects in connection with the incident, the circumstances behind it remain perplexing.

According to Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, the gruesome incident appears to be a personal dispute between the bhikkhu and the group of suspects. Based on the statements given by the suspects, the Police believe money may have also played a major role in the death of the 65-year-old Bhikkhu.

On January 3, the Police were tipped off that a body of a person had been burnt on a burial plot at the Nawana cemetery, Investigations by the Kotadeniyawa Police commenced following the discovery.

The initial investigation team said that the deceased who was at the time only partially burnt was bald headed and that there were signs of bleeding from his nose and ears leading them to suspect he had been murdered.

While the Police had also sought assistance from Police canine, Charlie belonging to the Negombo Police division, they had also received an important tip from a person in the area. He said on the day around 2 a.m. he noticed a man on a motorcycle waiting opposite the Nawana cemetery.

At the same time, three Police teams of the Hanwella division had commenced investigations into the abduction of Dhammasiri Thera. Just two days earlier around 11 pm Dhammasiri Thera had been attacked by a group of 10 people wielding clubs including a woman before being taken away in a red van according to Galnewa Siridhamma Thera who also resides in the Aranya.

While sources said around five Theras reside in the Aranya at any given time, on that day only a 77 and 33-year-old father and son had been there. Both had come in the hope of taking up robes. The duo had been threatened and their phones were taken away before the group made away with Dhammasiri Thera.

Ven. Galnewa Siridhamma Thera had only learned of the incident following his return to the Aranya.

When the Thera had inquired about Dhammasiri Thera, the father and son in fear of the threats made by the group had lied claiming that Dhammasiri Thera was sleeping. However, in the morning, both had divulged the previous night’s events to Siridhamma Thera.

They also identified that among the group was the mother of a young novice bhikkhu who was taken back home by his parents recently. Siridhamma Thera had lodged a complaint with the Police and provided information about the incident.  

According to Police, investigations revealed information about a number of disputes between Dhammasiri Thera and the 12-year-old novice bhikkhu who had recently returned home. The novice Bhikkhu had taken up robes in 2016 at the age of nine. However, he had later left the Bhikkhuhood after three years.

His parents had told Police, the young bhikkhu had desired to enter the bhikkhuhood and therefore, was brought back to the forest hermitage.

However, it is claimed that the novice bhikkhu was often sexually harassed by Dhammasiri Thera, and the parents as a result had even taken steps to board a brother of the young bhikkhu to prevent him from being harassed or abused.While certain incidents of harassment had been video recorded by the novice bhikkhu, Police said his mother had used this footage on numerous occasions to extort money from Dhammasiri Thera.

Police also noted that the leasing installment of the van belonging to the novice bhikkhu’s father which was used to abduct Dhammasiri Thera had been paid by the senior bhikkhu himself. On one occasion the bhikkhu had promised to give the family a significant amount of money to uplift their business.

As the Police went in search of the novice Bhikkhu’s parents his father handed himself over to the Police on January 4. The mother of the novice Bhikkhu and another accomplice were later arrested from a house in Hokandara.

During interrogation, the arrested suspects had divulged the incidents leading to Dhammasiri Thera’s tragic death.

According to them, following the abduction, the Thera had been brought to a house in Makola which only had one other resident. The group had then gone on to assault the senior bhikkhu and had demanded money for business purposes. It has been revealed now that Dhammasiri Thera had died while being tortured by his abductors.

Now afraid of being found guilty of murder, the group had taken the body of the deceased to the Nawana cemetery by a three-wheeler and had then set him on fire. His identity was confirmed by Siridhamma Thera and another Bhikkhu from the forest hermitage. The Police also recovered a diary, bank books, and a land deed belonging to the Thera at the Makola house.

While the Police have arrested four suspects, including the novice bhikkhu’s parents and two accomplices, Police are also on the hunt for one more suspect believed to be involved in the death of Dhammasiri Thera. Judicial Medical Officer of the Negombo Hospital D.K. Wijewardene’s post-mortem examination revealed that the Bhikkhu was killed due to excessive pressure by an object being inserted into his mouth which had cut off his air supply.  

Pix: Ingiriya central group cor. Priyadarshani Kahawala and Kotadeniyawa group cor.  M. P. Kumara