WIDOW: THEY BURNED ALL WE HAD

Fiji Sun - - Front Page - ASHNA KU­MAR

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.”

Photo: Ron­ald Ku­mar

Shakun­tala Wati, 60, wit­nessed her house stoned and burned down in Dawasamu, Tailevu, in 2000.

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