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Rumours aid Lanka's post-tsunami woes

In poor villages, families mull over the prophecies of soothsayers who predict that another giant wave will descend on them.
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service, Sydney
UPDATED ON JAN 13, 2005 01:05 PM IST

Fear and rumours are an invisible thread running through Sri Lankan society after the tsunami.

Along the coast, experienced fishermen refuse to return to the ocean, fearing that the tsunami will attack again, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Consumers still decline to buy fish based on rumours that they have fed on human flesh.

In poor villages, families mull over the prophecies of the assorted soothsayers who predict that another giant wave will descend on them.

This past weekend, Galle in the south, was in the grip of another prophecy.

Lalith, a local astrologist, had projected a new tsunami.

"People were genuinely worried about this," said Sabri Khalid, a Galle guesthouse proprietor. "There were people actually talking about it in small groups on the streets in the morning. They strongly believed it was a possibility."

Sri Lankans from the Buddhist and Hindu communities like to take note of astrological forecasts in the normal course of events. But ever since the tsunami that claimed more than 30,000 countrymen, astrological activity has intensified.

"There has been a proliferation of people claiming to have predicted the tsunami," observed Gamini Akmeemana, a Daily Mirror newspaper columnist who devoted his piece Monday to deriding the phenomenon.

Even some members of the generally sceptical Muslim community have joined the chorus.

A Colombo Muslim cleric, Mohammed Faizeen, has suggested that a satellite picture resembling Arabic script taken soon after the tsunami was proof that god had sent disaster as a punishment for defying his laws.

Elsewhere, rumours have become common currency. One of the most sensational — it even made it to print — was that the reclusive Tiger rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, had been killed in the tsunami, the newspaper said.

"Many people down here would like to believe it to be true," Gamini Akmeemana said.

"Sri Lanka, despite its democratic trappings, is not a society in which information flows freely."

Apart from an increased susceptibility to rumours and superstition, there was a great deal of confusion and chaos in the aftermath of the tsunami.

A sad example that has received widespread coverage is the story of two children, Sunera Rajadasa, seven, and Jinadari Rajadasa, nine, who survived the tsunami and then allegedly disappeared from their ward at the Karapitiya Hospital in Galle.

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