In retrospect the 1971 insurrection seems a relatively tame affair, though it was traumatic enough while it lasted. I was in fact in Kurunegala at the time, having gone there for my usual April break, more sentimental than usual because I knew that it would be the last holiday of that sort. I had, to my surprise, for I had only done the entrance exam as a sort of trial run, won an award to Oxford for the coming academic year. I could not see Palm Court surviving till I got back; though in fact it did, albeit in greatly truncated form. Only Marie was there when I got back. Her father had died while I was still en route to England in August that year, and his sister Lilian followed him six months later.
My stay that April had been longer than originally intended. The police station in Kurunegala was attacked on the first night, along with police stations all over the country. The struggle had been violent, I gathered later, having managed to sleep through it all though it had kept Marie and her father quaking all night. But the attack was finally repulsed and after that the town itself remained secure. However, there were enough pockets of JVP domination on the road to Colombo to keep it closed for over a week. An almost continuous curfew was imposed, and we only survived in fact on the food that Fr. Jude and my uncle and anyone else who had curfew passes was able to bring.
I am ashamed now to say that my only thought was to get back to Colombo as soon as possible. When I did get there it was decided that I would not come back after my Advanced Levels in Madras in June, but go straight on to England. It was a time when we were all so startled by the insurrection that we felt life would never be the same again. What with the confusion and the sentimentality of sudden departure at such a time, I missed the details of what subsequently transpired in Kurunegala.
Fr. Jude it seemed had come under suspicion, given the intense involvement of many of his protégés in the uprising. Though the Church was able to ensure that he was not harmed, or even investigated at any great lengthy, it was clear that the promising career he had seemed destined for was under threat. He was removed from the parish and sent instead to the Seminary in Chilaw, the most conservative in the country, where he had to serve under a couple of extremely reactionary priests. What must have amounted to the most appalling penance for him lasted for over ten years. It was only in the face of increasing authoritarianism on the part of the government that had been elected in 1977 that the radical wing of the church again became respectable.
I only met Fr. Jude again in 1983. It was at the funeral of my uncle who, as Chairman of the Civil Rights Movement and so on, had by the time of his death become an icon for all liberal clergymen. I spoke to Fr. Jude at length then, and it seemed that we had a lot in common and would keep in touch, but as it turned out I never saw him or heard from him again. Marie however continued to maintain contact with him, even though by the time she moved to Colombo he had had himself transferred to the remotest of remote areas, in the Uva Province.
We did hear of him regularly over the next few years as a champion of peasants’ rights against the allocation of land to multinationals, specifically to a sugar corporation in the particular area in which his new parish was. He moved amongst the Buddhists there as much as amongst the few Catholics there were, and was soon recognized as almost their main spokesman. Working in harness with environmental groups and other independent organizations, he had become towards the latter part of the eighties a tremendous irritant to an increasingly beleaguered government.
Marie was generally very conservative and a staunch supporter of the government. She chose however not to comment on Fr. Jude’s activities, except to suggest that he was like her cousin the Bishop, and that since we could not fully understand the circumstance in places like that we ourselves could not judge him. Though she was not similarly diffident with regard to other such issues, I let that pass. It was clear that her contact with Fr. Jude was not ideological but religious, and there was no point in arguing with her about issues as to which her perspectives were so very different from my own.