WIDOW: THEY BURNED ALL WE HAD
Shakuntala Wati remembers vividly the pain of watching helplessly as everything her family had worked hard for go up in flames at the height of the 2000 coup. Ms Wati, 60, said a group of fearsome men, supporters of George Speight’s coup, first stoned the house before they fire-bombed it at Dawasamu, Tailevu.
She, her husband and seven-yearold son fled with just the clothes they were wearing. The next minute
their carrier and tractor were engulfed in flames.
Her account of that tragic event is one of the untold stories of the horrors of the coup that deposed Mahendra Chaudhry, the first Indo-Fijian prime minister. The coup was carried out to seek iTaukei political supremacy. She decided to tell her story to back the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Colonel Ratu Jone Kalouniwai about the role of the military in restoring order. Mr Bainimarama and Colonel Ratu Jone have criticised National Federation Party MP Parmod Chand in Parliament for blaming Mr Bainimarama and the military for the coup. The coup unleashed a spate of violence in parts of the country including Dawasamu, by supporters.
Ms Wati, who now lives in Calia, Navua, said she stood under a tree with her son, while her house burned to ashes.
It was around 7.30pm on Wednesday evening on July 12, 2000, when Ms Wati was having dinner with her husband, the late Kewal Singh who was 61 then, and son Shelvin Chand when three iTaukei men walked into their home and demanded yaqona and money.
“My husband said to the men that we do not have the yaqona and any money on hand. They said to us to give them the money and they will be protected. But we did not have anything to give except for the food I had cooked that evening. “After they were done with the dinner, they went out and a few minutes later, stones were thrown at our house. My husband ran outside to see what happened but by then a group of men came and threw something that caught fire in our house.
“I quickly grabbed my son and held onto him tight to save him and ran outside the house. I still do not remember if I ran downstairs or I jumped. I just had in my mind to save our lives.
“As I stood under the tree with my son next to me, I watched our house, tractor and carrier which were our source of income burn to ashes.
“When we went to the Police post, we saw a group of men drinking yaqona and Police officers standing there but they could not help us.
“Two days before our house burned, my husband’s brother’s house was also burned. After the incident at our house, the place we got shelter at was burned two weeks later.
“We were left with nothing, not even a single coin to spend. We only had what we were wearing.
“When we moved from Dawasamu, I have been too scared to go back even for a visit to see the place where we used to stay,” Ms Wati said.
She said after the incident, her husband had run around places to get help but nothing was done for them.
“I do not know where he went, but he had gone to get help for us, especially our son, but we never got any responses back from anyone,” she said.
“After we moved to Navua, we heard the Republic of Fiji Military officers had gone to Dawasamu to control the situation there as it was getting worse day by day.
“Till this day, it has been 17 years but the incident haunts me. I still have that as a memory of how our lives took a huge turn around and left us with nothing. “Since then, I have had very high blood pressure but the memory never goes away. It never will.”
Shakuntala Wati, 60, witnessed her house stoned and burned down in Dawasamu, Tailevu, in 2000.