Missed Opportunities and the Loss of Democracy

[1] Chapter 1

1.1    The Disfranchisement of Indian Tamils: 1948-49

Those who look at the political history of the Tamils since the 1930’s cannot help marvelling at the missed opportunities. The first of these came and went before independence. The idea of a Ceylon Federation had come as early as 1929 from S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who later became Prime Minister of Ceylon. By this time portents of future communal problems had already emerged. But no Tamil leader of importance fought for a federal constitution at independence. The Tamil Congress under G. G. Ponnampalam, which represented Tamil communal interests fought instead for 50-50 representation in parliament, that is half the seats for the minorities who then formed a little over 30% of the population, the Tamils being about a quarter of the population. Perhaps, that was the only way a Tamil politician with a communal electorate could hope to become Prime Minister. Whereas a federal demand would have seemed a reasonable guarantee of Tamil security, the 50-50 demand was seen to be unreasonable to the Sinhalese, as it indeed was, and finally Ceylon received independence on 4 February, 1948 without the Tamils having either.

   Mr. Don Stephen Senanayake who was Prime Minister of the then Dominion of Ceylon under the Soulbury constitution had secured the co-operation of key sections of the Tamil leadership through personal guarantees of good intent and the offer of ministries. The first parliament had over 40% of the seats represented by candidates from the minorities or left inclined candidates influenced by the minorities. (The minorities consist of the Ceylon Tamils, Indian Tamils, Muslims and Burghers.) But the Citizenship Act of December 1948 and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Act of 1949 put an end to that and paved the way to reducing the representation in parliament of minorities to less than 20%. What these Acts did was to make non-citizens of the Tamil plantation labour who formed about 10% of the national population or about a third of the minority population, and deprive them of their vote. Besides having 7 parliamentary representatives, the Indian Tamil vote influenced the decision in 20 other constituencies, generally to the ruling U.N.P.’s disadvantage.

   What was surprising, however, was that almost all of the Tamil elite representing the Ceylon Tamils through both Mr. Senanayake’s United National Party and the Tamil Congress, either voted for the bills or were not serious about opposing them. Mr. G. G. Ponnampalam, the leader of the Tamil Congress, opposed the first bill and voted for the second, having become a member of the cabinet. This somersault on the unprincipled calculation that, on the goodwill of the U.N.P. depended their personal power and vested interests. The Sinhalese elite discovered very early that they could easily call the bluff of the Tamil elite, especially the Colombo Tamil.

   Kumari Jayewardene has pointed out in her writings (see Lanka Guardian June/July 1984) that the vote in a parliament which disenfranchised the Indian Tamils was not simply a communal vote.Strenuous opposition to this bill came from the major left parties – the Trotskyite L.S.S.P. led by Dr. N. M. Perera, the Bolshevik-Leninist party led by Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, and the Communist party led by Mr. Pieter Keuneman. Most M.P.’s from these parties were Sinhalese. A prominent Buddhist and doctor, H. Sri Nissanka opposed this piece of Legislation on the grounds that it ignored the first principle of law. Other prominent Sinhalese Independents who voted against the bills were Wilmot Perera, R. S. Pelpola, I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla and Lakshman Rajapakse.

   It would be much nearer the truth to say that the vote was along class lines. Again it is probably wrong to say that Mr. D. S. Senanayake was involved in a deep anti-Tamil conspiracy to bring about Sinhalese domination. Nor is it possible to make a case that Mr. Senanayake was hatching a diabolical master plan to colonise Tamil areas with Sinhalese. When work for the Gal Oya settlement scheme in the Eastern province had been completed, first preference was given to people from the province. It was only after about six months, when faced with the paucity of local applicants, that the doors were opened to applicants from other provinces. As regards the Citizenship Act of 1948 and its sequel, what almost certainly motivated D. S. Senanayake was his alarm over the strength in parliament of the working class based parties of the Left, which comprised 20 out of a total of 95 seats in parliament. Against this the U.N.P. obtained only 41 seats in the 1947 elections, 7 short of a simple majority. There was also a distinct possibility of a coalition government of the Left sometime in the future. It was thus natural for the U.N.P. to think of perpetuating its political and class dominance by knocking out a large section of the working class which was the most easily isolated. Subsequently in the 1952 elections the U.N.P. increased its number of seats to 54. (See A. J. Wilson’s “Electoral Politics in an Emergent State“, Cambridge University Press, 1975.)

   Thus the first and most grievous blow against democracy was struck by the passage of these bills with Tamil connivance. In poignant words during the course of the parliamentary debates, Dr. N. M. Perera, the leader of the L.S.S.P. said: “I thought racialism of this type died with Houston Chamberlain and Adolph Hitler. I do not believe that anyone claiming to be a Statesman would ask us to accede to a bill of this nature … We cannot proceed as if we were God’s chosen race quite apart from the rest of the world; that we and we alone have the right to be citizens of this country.”

   S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, then a member of the Tamil Congress, strongly dissented from these bills and left the T.C. to form a new party, the Federal Party, which was 25 years later to absorb other Tamil parties and become the Tamil United Liberation Front (T.U.L.F.). Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan and Mr. C. Vanniasingham were two other eminent figures who left the T.C. to form the Federal Party whose Tamil name read: “The Tamil State Party.” The latter was closely associated in the negotiations which led to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact of 1957, the first attempt to find a political solution to the communal problem. This was not implemented as a result of pressure from extremist Sinhalese and Buddhist opinion. One of the major demonstrations against this pact was the long march from Colombo to Kandy led by J. R. Jayewardene who was trying to use the occasion to revive the fortunes of the U.N.P., which had suffered a debacle in 1956.

   While the Left saw in the legislation of 1948/49 a crude expression of class hatred overlaid by a veneer of racialism, Mr. Chelvanayakam stressed the communal aspect of it in his contributions to the debates. He pointed out that this set a very disturbing precedent for the government to shut away the opinion of any section of the population it did not like; that no one could therefore live comfortably with this act; and that it may hit almost anyone some day. Mr. Chelvanayakam said during the course of a speech: “This bill is a piece of legislation not based on the highest principles on which differences and difficulties of inter-communal problems have to be resolved and I oppose it firstly on that ground.” His fears were well founded. The sixth amendment to the Republican constitution of 1978 passed in the middle of the July 1983 race riots unseated all the T.U.L.F. M.P.’s in parliament.

   One of democracy’s main planks is the impartiality of the law and its agencies for enforcement. When there is a situation in which one can go through the prohibitively expensive process of the law and yet not find justice, it becomes pregnant with violence and anarchy. Soon after the 1952 elections, the Federal Party concentrated its energies on fighting three important and expensive legal battles. Two of these were election petition cases. The most important of these legal battles was the challenging of the Citizenship Act, No. 18 of 1949, and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment act No. 48 of 1949.

   Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution of 1948 provided that Parliament could not enact legislation which 1. prohibits or restricts the free exercise of any religion; 2. makes persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; 3. gives to persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not given to persons of other communities or religions; and 4. alters the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body. It was also provided that parliament could not vary the provisions of the constitution in a manner which infringed these.

   It seemed a clear cut case that the act in question was against the spirit of the constitution. Apart from all legal niceties, the legislation was immoral and went against the assurances of good intent and good faith given by the Honourable Prime Minister in persuading others to accept the Independence Constitution.

   In challenging the legislation it was argued that the acts discriminated against the Indian community in contravention of section 29. The argument went that these acts disenfranchised Indians resident in Ceylon who had earlier enjoyed the vote. Following the passing of the legislation the vote was to be confined to citizens of Ceylon. The Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act, No. 34, of 1949 permitted only those Indians and Pakistanis resident in Ceylon who satisfied some stringent conditions to obtain Ceylonese Citizenship. It was pointed out then that many prominent Ceylonese of the day, including the Prime Minister, could not have satisfied these conditions — for they were born in times when there was much laxity in registering births, leave alone those of their immediate forebears.

   It was true that there was a genuine human problem here. The Indian plantation labour formed a very deprived class without means of social advancement, kept isolated in line rooms, and alienated from the Kandyan peasantry by the European plantation owners. Outsiders had to seek permission to enter the estates. The formation of the estates too had involved the takeover of some lands from the Kandyan peasantry. The extent of this takeover was exaggerated by propagandists. Much of the planting was done on land where thick jungle was cleared by Indian coolie labour working in conditions of poor health and disease. At the same time the Indian labour had been brought from the middle of the nineteenth century, travelling in conditions resulting in a high death rate in the early days, and many of them now knew of no other country but Ceylon. In the nature of things Kandyan anger tended to be turned against the Indian labour rather than against the European plantation owners and the low country Sinhalese businessmen who made money in the commerce of the hill-country. It is relevant here that during the debates Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, then Minister of Home Affairs, had distanced himself from the U.N.P.’s position by saying that while he supported the legislation in the interests of statesmanship and wisdom and in the interests of peace, he would have preferred the problem to have been approached from another angle. He said in his speech that Prime Minister Nehru of India had already shown considerable understanding towards the problem. Bandaranaike’s approach involved determining in the first instance the number of persons of Indian origin who could be absorbed. Patience, consultation and a commitment to justice could have yielded solutions which would have been acceptable to both the plantation labour and the Kandyans. For instance the Federal Party later suggested that the plantation labour could be encouraged to resettle in the Tamil speaking Northern and Eastern provinces where settlements were being opened up. It may be noted that during the State Council era of the 1930’s Dr. N. M. Perera pointed out the danger arising from an influx of Indian labour. It was none other than D. S. Senanayake who argued that it was very beneficial to the plantation industry.

   The litigation first went in favour of the plaintiffs when at the Kegalle District Court, the District Judge N. Sivagnanasundaram held the legislation to be invalid on the grounds that the acts sought to deprive the Indian community of the franchise. The Supreme Court in Mudanayake vs. Sivagnanasundaram (53 N.L.R. 25, 1952) quashed the decision of the District Court on the grounds that the acts were clear and unambiguous; and that the acts in question applied to all communal groups in a like manner and were thus not discriminatory. When appealed to, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council upheld the Supreme Court’s verdict.

   Everyone – both sides to the dispute – knew that the series of legislation represented a legal conjuring trick. Everyone knew that the intended victims were the Indians. Racist sentiments expressed during the course of the debate were proof of that. The sting of the legislation was obscured by being distributed in three separate acts. Each act taken by itself may seem fairly respectable. A judge may thus hold them each to be valid without appearing to be too partial. By every accepted universal norm, the legislation was unjust and discriminatory. Many in this country agreed with that. Thus did Great Britain help to strike the first blow against democracy in independent Ceylon. Many felt at that time as later, that the quality of British justice meted out by the Privy Council is not unaffected by Britain’s other interests. The tea plantations were largely British owned and Britain had a naval base at Trincomalee.

   At that time opponents of the legislation were free to hold demonstrations, protest rallies and satyagrahas in Colombo, which they did. This freedom too was to be taken away. The process which started in 1948 (Kandasamy killing, 1952 rice hartal) culminated 30 years later when strikers and protesters would be stabbed and attacked with bicycle chains by hooligans in the pay of government ministers, while the police stood by. The 1948/49 legislative enactments had set a precedent for the politics of immoral manipulation rather than consultation. With Jayewardene on top, people would watch incredulously the controversies surrounding the appointments of Chief Justices. One of the judges appointed by President Jayewardene to go into the abuses of power by Mrs. Bandaranaike during her period as Prime Minister from 1970 to 1977 and who recommended a deprivation of her civic rights for 7 years, was later found guilty of improper conduct during a previous posting. During the months April/May 1971 and after the passage of emergency regulation 15A in July 1983, every armed uniformed person became a potential Judge Jeffreys in his own right. The law courts became superfluous in a large number of important instances, thus vitiating an important pillar of democracy.

   It was then left to Jayewardene, who had in a base manner campaigned against the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam pact of 1957, to accept under duress, the political solution along the same lines contained in the Indo-Lanka accord of 1987.

   There were other ironies too. During the course of the 1947/48 debates, Mr. A. Ratnayake accused Mr. S. Thondaman, the leader of the Ceylon Indian Congress, of having a vision of Ceylon federated with India. Mr. Thondaman would in time become a close ally of the U.N.P. under Jayewardene, helping the latter to win both the presidential elections and the controversial referendum in 1982. The latter, as will be explained later, deprived the entire country of the right to elect representatives for a crucial period of six years. Thus by slipping a few dubious benefits to the plantation labour, Jayewardene was able to secure peace in the plantations together with his unfettered continuation in power. It was ironical that D. S. Senanayake had himself advocated federation of Ceylon with India, of course protecting Ceylon’s interests.

   Some may feel that Mr. Ratnayake’s fears of a Ceylon federated with India came close to being realised with the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987. But this had much more to do with the manner in which Mr. Ratnayake voted on the bills in question, than with anything Mr. Thondaman did in the intervening years.

1.2. The Left

The performance of the Left in the wake of the General Elections of 1947 had repercussions which strongly influenced the future. With several opportunities before it the Left was hamstrung by differences which were expressed in hyperbole and by an ambiguous attitude to the institution of parliament. The Left opposition at that time was made up of the L.S.S.P., the B.L.P. (Bolshevik Leninist Party) and the Communist Party. They controlled between themselves 20 seats out of 95 for which elections were held, with the U.N.P. controlling 41 and were thus placed in a minority situation. Feverish attempts were made by independents and groups opposed to the U.N.P. to form a united front and offer itself as an alternative government. The grouping which formed the government would have received a bonus of six parliamentary seats which were to be appointed by the Governor General (the King’s representative) on the Prime Minister’s recommendation. The L.S.S.P. declined to participate in such a government. Its leader Dr. N. M. Perera explained that they were a “revolutionary party” and would therefore not serve in a “capitalist government”. They were willing, however, to assist those who may take office in an alternative progressive government. For nearly three years thereafter the Left could not even agree to a Leader of the Opposition. Dr. N. M. Perera was elected leader in June 1950. The communist party argued that the idea of “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” being part and parcel of the government, implied an acceptance that the present social order must continue.

   Having got into parliament, the Left had no clear idea of what it wanted to do with it. In its rhetoric it did not seem to accept the parliament as the arbiter of the nation’s destinies. A mixture of both fear and opportunism led the U.N.P. government to adopt an uncompromising attitude to the Left. Instead of taking an enlightened view and trying to persuade the Left that parliament was a place for reason and contained the possibility of the realisation of its social goals, it proceeded to disenfranchise a large section of the Left’s support base. Furthermore there was a reluctance to consult and do business with the Left and the needs of the constituencies represented by the Left were ignored. Describing the U.N.P.’s view of the Opposition, Sir John Kotelewala said on 9 June 1950: “Our Opposition today is an Opposition which does not believe in the democratic system. That is why the government finds its task so difficult. We have to fight the Opposition not as an Opposition but as enemies of the state… once they got in they would not get out. There is no guarantee that you would ever have a chance to go to the ballot again.”

   The ambivalence of the Left to the institution of parliament was expressed in a statement issued on the decision to boycott the ceremony of 11 January 1949 in which the speaker’s mace and chair were presented by the British House of Commons to its progeny. Amongst the reasons advanced was “the consistent failure of the government to consult the Opposition on all such matters on which by parliamentary tradition, it is the duty of the Government to consult the Opposition.” This was a complaint that it was not being treated as the King’s loyal Opposition. While the British educated learned men of the Left languished in uncertainty, the business of the day was carried on by squires and ex-military officers adept in the ways of the world.

   There were attempts from 1947 onwards to forge unity within the Left and these met with limited success. The B.L.P. merged with the L.S.S.P. on 3 June 1950. In early 1951 the L.S.S.P. affirmed that its ultimate objective lay along that of “a direct mass struggle alone and not through parliamentary devices and manoeuvres.” (See A. J. Wilson, “Oppositional Politics in Ceylon (1947-68),” Government and Opposition, Vol. 4 No. 1 Winter 1969).

   The Left had thus adopted a course where its practice was different from its rhetoric. Its ambiguities were fully exploited by its opponents. Although the rhetoric of the Left was innocuous in comparison with the racist rhetoric of the Right, the Right used it to raise the bogey of an atheistic dictatorship. The Left leaders received their education in Britain under men like Harold Laski at the London School of Economics during the impressionable period following the Russian revolution. When they spoke of “direct mass struggle” they adopted the rhetoric and imagery of the Russian revolution to mean something vague and undefined. They were by practice and conviction democrats for the most part and certainly on record more so than the U.N.P.. There is no reason why direct mass struggle cannot be democratic. Thus while the Left talked in the imagery of war, the Right talked peace and practised war – through both legislation and police action. The spectre of a Marxist atheistic dictatorship was raised again, more strongly, in the campaign preceding the 1970 elections. The Left’s ambivalence in those days prevented it from having a workable program to deliver its goods. It had to keep its constituency of workers in the hope that its program would somehow be realised. Its use of the strike weapon through unions allied to the Left in a largely agrarian country tended to serve more the propaganda of the Right.

   In many ways the fate of the parliamentary Left resembled that of the T.U.L.F. in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. The Left had failed to resolve its ambivalence towards parliament as an instrument of government. On the one hand it had sought representation in parliament and wished to participate fully in its business. Having come this far, it did recognise in parliament a potential source of good. But then from the outset it should have taken the opportunity to form an alternative coalition government and use all available levers to implement a program of reform. This it had declined to do out of deference to ideology and preferred to hint at revolution from the sidelines. But the electorate wanted reform that would improve its lot in terms of something tangible. Moreover, the Left did not attempt to modify its approach in order to appeal to the “middle level of Ceylonese opinion comprising the national minded swabasha [2] 1 -educated intelligentsia” who felt left out by the U.N.P.. It was left to Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s S.L.F.P. to fill this vacuum.

   The increasing disparity between what it promised and what it achieved finally led the Left to despair and made them secure participation in coalition governments in the early sixties and in 1970-75 after making abject compromises on principles. When an actual youth uprising came in 1971, the Left then in power, found itself on the defensive, while an elite led army and police massacred 10 to 15 thousand Sinhalese youth particularly educated unemployed rural youth. Moreover, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva presided over the drawing up of the republican constitution of 1972 which did away with section 29 of the Soulbury constitution which was nominally supposed to safeguard minorities. It also enshrined Buddhism as the state religion and Sinhalese as the sole official language, much against what the Left had upheld quite valiantly in the 1950s. At the time the influence of the Left had been such that during the race riots of 1958, it had been able to mobilise its members in Colombo and protect the Tamils in some areas. But when President Jayewardene extended the life of the parliament in December 1982 by a fraudulent referendum, the Left could not even bring out a demonstration.

   Though the Left may not have been very conscious of it, it had largely replayed the tragedies of some of the European social democratic parties in the decades leading up to the First World War (1914-18). The Danish Social Democratic Party started with a trade union base, shunned Marxist doctrines, steadily increased its strength by adapting its programme to the needs of agricultural co-operatives and, in 35 years, attained power in a coalition government by 1913. It thus attained a position where it was able to implement social welfare legislation. Socialist parties followed similar courses in Britain and Scandinavia. The German Social Democratic party founded in 1875 and led by August Bebel adopted the Gotha programme. This was a compromise programme which contained the view of its northern faction led by Lassalle that revolutionary Marxism had been rendered out of date by the existence of universal suffrage; in other words that proletarian interests were compatible with parliamentary democracy. It also accepted Marx’s view of the class struggle and his materialist interpretation of history. It thus combined resolutely revolutionary pronouncements with an equally determined reformist and revisionist policy. Formal unity was thus preserved at the cost of alienating liberal and middle-class opinion and perpetuating an unresolved contradiction between principle and practice. It resulted in an ineffective combination of challenging absolutist pronouncements and feeble action; for the party did not gain sufficient strength. The party even developed a revisionist faction led by Edward Bernstein who argued that Marxist analysis and predictions were not borne out by events. For the workers were not getting remorselessly poorer and more repressed – they were coming to be better off and freer. Some members of this faction went on to drop the ideal of the international brotherhood of workers and fell in with the rising tide of militarism and nationalism in Germany which led to the World War of 1914-18.

   In Ceylon today a reconstituted Left which will recapture the lost ideals of non-sectarian socialism and will communicate them to the masses in simple terms that they could understand and agree with, is still in its birth pangs. The Left recently lost two promising leaders in Sarath Muttetuwegama and Vijaya Kumaranatunge.

1.3 The Tamils

From the 1940’s the Tamil leadership had, as we have seen, largely shown a preference for doing what appears clever in the interests of preserving material gains rather than what is principled. This predominance of manipulation over morality produced gains which were only illusory. If Tamils did not show an interest in federalism before independence, there were sound material reasons for this. Their middle class depended on government jobs outside the Tamil speaking areas. A unitary state is not a moral issue and in Ceylon such a state could have been workable with adequate devolution such as in Britain. The peoples of Ceylon after all have much more in common in terms of origin and culture than do the people of Britain. Conflicts of the past too have been dynastic rather than along lines of language or religion.

   Where the Tamil leadership went wrong is that, having failed to obtain the unreasonable 50-50 representation, they agreed to independence under a highly centralised constitution (unlike in Britain) with its brand of communal politics. Having made this mistake, no attempt was made to integrate into a national grouping that would articulate Tamil interests. The pursuit of communal politics, the 50-50 demand, followed by the abject capitulation of most of the Ceylon Tamil leadership in selling out the upcountry [3] 1 Tamils in return for ministerial positions and the assurance that Ceylon Tamils will not be touched – all helped to create a stereotype image of the Ceylon Tamil as an unprincipled person who can be bought over by promises of transient material security. The failure of the Tamils to adopt a form of national level politics, enabled Sinhalese racists to build up stereotype images of Tamils and exploit them to foment racial hatred.

   On the other side many Tamils argue that communal politics was forced on them. The F.P.’s attempts at finding legal remedies to the iniquitous citizenship legislation were blocked, indicating that relief through legal and constitutional means was not available to them. After 1960 when the Left adopted a communal line, it became far more difficult for Tamils to enter politics at national level. It can also be pointed out that it was the Tamil Opposition in parliament that helped to keep democracy alive during some crucial periods.

   But even from the position of a regional party, the F.P. and the T.U.L.F. could have actively supported national causes and won Sinhalese confidence. This it was prevented from doing by its ideology that was founded on the assumption of Sinhalese perfidy. The general strike of 1980 and the obnoxious manner in which the government handled it, together with the fraudulent referendum of December, 1982 represented burning national issues. But the Tamil leadership under the T.U.L.F., given their narrow nationalist ideology, were able to dismiss these as problems of the South. Here again there was a preference, as in 1948/49, for what may seem clever and opportune as against what was right and fair by the whole country. The government of J. R. Jayewardene was able to buy the silence of the T.U.L.F. on these important national issues by a mixture of threat, vague promises and a few perks. This again helped to isolate the Tamils and lay them at the mercy of Jayewardene’s government and its cynicism.

   The other matter is the T.U.L.F.’s ambivalence towards parliament during the years 1977-83, to which it was led by a nationalist ideology. Rhetorically it regarded the parliamentary vote it secured in the Tamil areas as a mandate to form a separate state of Tamil Eelam and the police and army in Tamil areas were regarded as occupying forces. It further hinted at a secret plan to make the separate state a reality. Thus in the public mind a certain legitimacy was given to the Tamil youth militancy. But in its actions the T.U.L.F. behaved like a loyal parliamentary opposition. As it turned out, this unresolved ambivalence was a dangerous mix. While the T.U.L.F. hinted at war and practised peace, it was left to others to practise war.

   After the 1977 elections, the T.U.L.F. and those who voted for them, did want them to participate in the business of parliament. The priority, as the Tamils saw it in the wake of the 1977 race riots, was the resettlement of refugees and the economic development of the Tamil areas in the North and East. Money was canvassed for this from charitable organisations and from Tamils living abroad. Tamils were encouraged to invest in their areas. These activities were going on and services normally provided by the state, such as banking, transport, communication and even police were utilised. Tamil farmers were benefitting from loan and agricultural services provided for the whole country. Given that the Tamils wanted these, the natural approach should have been to recognise in the parliament a source of potential goodness and press for reform of the existing state machinery so that it would be fairer. Its political activity should have been directed at finding a common cause with a country-wide opposition and to isolate the racist elements. It was not only the Tamils who had problems with the police. There were Sinhalese peasants in Moneragala and elsewhere whose lands were being taken over for the benefit of multi-nationals. There was rampant government corruption. Our forests were being denuded by politicians who wanted a quick buck. But what the T.U.L.F. and the Tamil leadership actually did was to keep silent when police and servicemen carrying out ordinary civil functions were attacked. The moral dilemma was dodged – can we pretend that we had no obligation to those whose services we utilised because our ideology said that they were aliens? As we shall see, the result was to awaken the worst instincts in a government that was already bad enough.

   What the Tamil militant groups carried over from the Tamil parliamentary leadership was the world view based on Sinhalese perfidy. Everyone is conscious of past tactical errors of the Tamil leadership. But we have not learnt from our experience and continue the same blunders in different forms, principally because of a lack of moral conviction. The desire for material security reflects itself today in the form of seminars on development and a rejoicing over the departure from the Eastern province of many terror stricken Sinhalese, oblivious of the senseless assassinations and misery that have afflicted all communities — Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils. The moral perversity reflects itself in casual talk of horse deals — one day with the government against the IPKF, next with the IPKF against Sinhalese and so on. In a bid to justify terrorist attacks on Sinhalese in the East, some have suggested a parallel with the repatriation of Indian plantation labour to India from the hill country; as if the Kandyan Sinhalese would be justified in bombing and shooting Indian Tamils. It would be to justify the terrible anti-Tamil violence of 1983 for which the Sinhalese are still paying the price. With many members of the Tamil elite, cleverness without a moral commitment is approaching a fever of insanity. If our past should teach us anything, it should be to regain the moral initiative, mend our relations with the Sinhalese, and pursue our interests in a national context, with malice towards none.

   The foregoing has dwelt on missed opportunities in the 1940’s, and how the behaviour of the actors at the time set the pattern for years to come, leading up to India’s direct entry into the affairs of this country. To throw further light on the current crisis the sketch that follows focuses on two other missed opportunities: the referendum of December 1982 and the two months following the July 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. The events that followed the first led to the July 1983 racial riots. In both instances the Tamil disease that contributed to the crises was the same, with some shift in the actors.[Top]Next||Previous||content

2 Mother tongue

Ceylonism for hill-country

1 Roofing material from coconut fronds

Chapter 2

2.1    The Youth Congress

The first great political movement that took root in Jaffna was the Ceylon Youth Congress. This movement came into being around 1926 and had its base amongst the educated middle-class youth, especially young graduates of Jaffna from Indian Universities and the newly founded Ceylon University College, and high school students. It was greatly inspired by the Indian independence movement and looked up to its leading figures such as Mahathma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Like the Congress in India, the causes it advocated were secularism, a non-sectarian Ceylonese nationalism and independence from Britain. For this reason it enjoyed much respect from Sinhalese intellectuals in the South. It drew enthusiasm and morale boosts from visits of leading Indian personalities. Gandhi visited Jaffna in 1927 and Nehru in 1932. Kamaladevi Chattopadyaya who addressed the opening session of the Ceylon Youth Congress in 1931, is said to have taken Jaffna by storm. Not only leading personalities from India, but also eminent Sinhalese from the South, like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike addressed Youth Congress sessions. It was at the Youth Congress sessions that S.W.R.D. advocated for the first time a federal constitution for Ceylon. Some of the leading personalities of the Youth Congress were Handy Perinpanayagam, J.V. Chelliah, S. Kulendran (who, later, was enthroned as the Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India), Orator Subramaniam, K. Nesiah, N. Sabaratnam, and A. E. Tamber.

   The Youth Congress reached its high point when it organised in the Tamil areas a boycott of elections under the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931, for the reason that the constitution did not offer Poorna Swaraj (complete independence). In the succeeding years the Youth Congress fell into decline, unable to resist the pressure of communal politics. Perhaps they were unable to come out with a leadership that could combine idealism with charisma, essential for mass based politics under universal suffrage. Nevertheless many of the Youth Congress figures were great men who left their mark. Consciences had been awakened on the caste issue and the ideals of cosmopolitan, secular democracy had been instilled in many young minds. Several of their leaders such as Handy Perinpanayagam, Orator Subramaniam, N. Sabaratnam and K. Nesiah went on to make a distinct contribution, and, as educationists, remained loyal exponents of their youthful ideals. They also maintained their ties with the leading contemporaries of Mahathma Gandhi into the 1970’s. The most important legacy of the Youth Congress from the point of the present, is the position enjoyed by India in the minds of the Tamil People. India for the Tamils, came to represent high standards – virtue, moral edification and ideals of non-violence. Pictures of Mahathma Gandhi and other Indian leaders came to adorn many Tamil homes. This affection was enhanced by already existing ties of religion, education and language.

2.2 The F.P. and the T.U.L.F.

As a result of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s Sinhalese only bill of 1956, the Federal Party (F.P.) under S.J.V. Chelvanayakam became the chief repository of Tamil hopes and interests. Significantly, the Satyagraha campaign launched by the F.P. in 1961 was modelled on Mahathma Gandhi’s example. From 1956 to 1983 Tamil political thinking developed under the impact of the anti-Tamil riots of 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983 together with mounting discrimination and a series of broken promises by successive governments which promised to settle Tamil grievances. The uprising by the Sinhalese youth of the J.V.P. in 1971 had its impact on Tamil youth. By the early 1970’s a section of Tamil youth in the universities and high schools had begun to think in terms of violence. But the F.P. continued to espouse non-violence. The official ideology of its successor, the T.U.L.F., remains non-violence to this day. The other events which had an impact on the Tamil Youth were, a system of standardisation introduced by Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government in 1970 which made it more difficult for Tamil students to enter the University, and the birth of Bangladesh. These latter events made a strong impression on their minds. At this point lessons in karate and judo began to be organised in Jaffna. A group of Tamil undergraduates at Peradeniya were in the ideological forefront of this new tendency. They began to think of economic self-sufficiency for the Tamil areas. But a fully fledged rebel movement like the P.L.O .was still only a distant possibility. Many of them thought of a simple plan inspired by Bangladesh. Their plan was to have a limited militant movement, plan for economic self-sufficiency and once U.D.I .was declared India was to come in and finish the job quickly. It may be noted that almost all of these pioneering youths have now left the country, for good.

   The effect of all this was to weaken democratic ideals amongst Tamils. A new romanticism developed where political activists thought in terms of military structures, secret societies and undercover work. To have different opinions amounted to treachery. Tolerance and open discussion were no longer welcomed.

   The Federal Party was quick to cash in on the new mood of totalitarianism. A senior journalist and a long time observer of Jaffna has this to say:

“In 1972 I was at a meeting where S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, the leader of the F.P. was present on the platform. Mr. Kasi Ananthan, a popular platform speaker, who is now a member of the L.T.T.E., told the audience:

Mr. Duraiappa, Mr. Subramaniam, Mr. Arulampalam and Mr. Anandasangeri are enemies of the Tamil nation. They do not deserve a natural death. Nor do they deserve to die in an accident. The Tamil people, especially the youth, must decide how they should die….

“I knew that this was going to lead to anarchy. I was angry and said so to my colleagues. The only thing my colleagues could say in mitigation was that Mr. Chelvanayakam’s hearing was bad and consequently he would not have known what was said. This was no satisfactory excuse for a party leader. This speech was editorially quoted in the Suthanthiran, a paper owned by Mr. Chelvanayakam. Such a speech which apparently had the blessings of the Tamil leadership was a foretaste of things to come. In the succeeding years we were taught unquestioning compliance with political authority. If the F.P. or its successor, the T.U.L.F., announced a three day hartal, we had to comply and stay at home; there was no question of discussion. Anyone who did not comply could have expected some young men to come and beat him up. The seeds were sown for the growth of totalitarian militant groups and for the methods of violence they employed.”

      It must also be mentioned that Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government contributed to these developments by the methods it adopted. It arrested 42 Tamil youths in 1972 and detained them without charges for two years. These youths were mainly involved in protesting against standardisation which restricted the entrance of Tamils to the University. The actual offences were often nothing more than putting up posters. The Federal Party’s mild demands for Tamil rights in parliament were treated with contempt. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva’s constitution of 1972 had the ring of a deliberate slap on the face. Discrimination against Tamils and corruption became much more open. The one mitigating factor was that the import restriction policies of the government provided opportunities and prosperity for the enterprising Jaffna farmer. An event which had considerable impact on Tamil political thought was the police attack on the International Tamil Research Conference hosted in Jaffna in January 1974. Nine persons died by accidental electrocution during this unprovoked attack, which took place in the presence of international scholars. It was a measure of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s arrogance that she refused to order an inquiry. The first shot in the Tamil insurgency was fired when Mr. Alfred Duraiyappa, the Mayor of Jaffna who was close to Mrs. Bandaranaike, was assassinated in 1975. Mr. Duraiyappa was a popular man whose funeral was well attended.

       By 1976, the leading Tamil parties including the F.P., the Tamil Congress of Mr. G.G. Ponnampalam and Mr. Thondaman’s Ceylon Workers Congress representing plantation Tamils and Prof. C. Suntheralingam, a prominent Tamil nationalist, had combined to form the Tamil United Liberation Front (T.U.L.F.). In this year (1976) was adopted the Vaddukoddai resolution which put forward an independent state of Tamil Eelam as being the solution to the problems of the Tamils. This state was to be won by non-violent means.

      It can be safely assumed that there was no viable plan to fight for such a state. In a public debate conducted in Chunnakam in 1975, presided over by Mr. Orator Subramaniam, two of Mr. Subramaniam’s eminent students, Mr. N. Shanmugathasan, Communist Party (Peking Wing) and Mr. V. Dharmalingam, M.P. (T.U.L.F.) debated the pros and cons of the separate state. Mr. Shanmugathasan challenged Mr. Dharmalingam to state his plan of action. Mr. Dharmalingam replied that it was a party secret. Several in the audience clamoured for a more definite answer. Orator said later: “I had ties of friendship and respect to both my students and I knew that I was chosen as Chairman because in Chunnakam I was perhaps well qualified to control the crowd. Seeing that things were going too far, I intervened as Chairman and decreed that it was Mr. Dharmalingam’s right to keep a party secret. But the simple truth was that there was no such plan.” By now Mr. Chelvanayakam was in a state of poor health and Mr. A. Amirthalingam, the T.U.L.F. Secretary, had begun to play a leading role in the party. According to one report, Mr. M. Thiruchelvam, a senior member of the T.U.L.F. and ex-minister who was in Colombo at the time the resolution for a separate state was adopted, sensing danger, asked Mr. Amirthalingam, “What is the meaning of this?” Mr. Amirthalingam replied that this resolution was adopted under pressure from the youth and that when the time comes to negotiate with the government, a compromise can be reached. This, as future events showed, was the true position of the T.U.L.F..

2.3       The Years 1977-81

The new U.N.P. government which came to power in July 1977 raised hopes that it would solve the problems of the Tamils. It did away with standardisation for a time. Time showed that the government was only toying with the problem. The 1977 race riots made the average Tamil feel that the Tamils needed much firmer guarantees concerning their place in the country and an autonomous status for their homelands which would include control over colonisation. The government was in no way prepared to meet these reasonable claims. Instead ministers such as Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanaike used the resources of their ministries to further Sinhalese colonisation especially in the Eastern province. Cyril Mathew kept on discovering ancient Buddhist shrines in the Trincomalee area. The anger and helplessness of the Tamils provided a natural boost for militant groups.

      One cannot deal with the question without looking into the manner in which Sinhalese fears were awakened. Having promised Tamil Eelam, the T.U.L.F. under Mr. Amirthalingam kept on saying that they had a secret plan to bring about this event. Having directly or indirectly aided the growth of the militant movement, the T.U.L.F. had to ride it. The secret plan story with elaborations drew applause from audiences. Rumours abounded to the effect that some foreign powers, overseas Tamils, or both, were to provide military succour for the birth of Tamil Eelam. Even by the end of 1977 many believed that fighter planes had been purchased for that task. The average person listening to speeches given by the T.U.L.F. took them to mean that non-violence was just a facade and that the real thrust was being planned by enhancing the militants’ capability. But when pressed for comment by audiences of a different kind, the T.U.L.F. would become a group of urbane Western-educated gentlemen committed to non-violence. All this was not lost on the Sinhalese. When challenged by Sinhalese to condemn the militants’ violence, the T.U.L.F. would hedge. There was no doubt, for instance, that the functioning of the banks was essential for the Jaffna economy and that the prosperity of the Jaffna farmer depended crucially on the banks. The police force was in many ways racist and flawed. Yet, it was also performing necessary functions towards the maintenance of order. Subsequently police were deployed to protect banks and vehicles transporting cash. Several of these policemen were killed on duty. Yet the Tamil public treated it as a sad, but necessary part of the Eelam game. The T.U.L.F. was silent.

      As a result, a racist picture of the average Tamil as a scheming opportunist came to have a ring of credibility in the eyes of the average Sinhalese man. It then made it easier to arouse Sinhalese fears of being overwhelmed by Tamils and create the kind of feeling: “The Tamils should be taught a lesson”. Provoking such distrust made the anti-Tamil riots of 1981 and 1983 more probable. At the same time the T.U.L.F. had no tangible means in its possession to safe-guard the Tamils from such an outcome. Meanwhile the T.U.L.F. neglected party democracy and its grass-roots organisation and had adopted secret negotiations with the government. This resulted in increasing dissatisfaction amongst its supporters.

      The T.U.L.F.’s Vaddukottai resolution calling for a separate state of Tamil Eelam made a deep emotional impact on Tamils, both locally and abroad. But it took the 1977 anti-Tamil violence to give it life. Many middle class Tamils who had regarded Colombo as their home had agreed on principle that the Tamils must move back to their traditional homelands for their safety and economic prosperity and the preservation of their national identity and make them economically viable. Even before the 1977 riots, the Tamils had been becoming increasingly anxious because of discrimination in employment and in education. Several Hill Tamils had been displaced during the 1977 violence. A key problem as seen by the Tamils was the protection of border areas such as Trincomalee, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, where the resources of the state had been used in settling Sinhalese. The 1958 and 1977 violence had shown that it was in these areas that Tamils were the most vulnerable. Although the school leaving Jaffna Tamil was very conscious that these areas were part of his homeland, experience had shown that it was not easy to motivate him to settle and make a living off the land – the earnings from which could be well above white collar government service salaries. Tamil refugees of Indian origin were readily accepted to fill this void. Many of the Tamil elite advocated this migration because they were cheap labour and would serve as a convenient buffer between the Sinhalese and the Jaffna Tamil. C. Chandrahasan, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s son, once made a remark of such import to a foreign journalist. The leadership in settling these areas came from some highly motivated Tamils. Several of them later acquired links with the incipient militant movement. Three leading names amongst these pioneers were Mr. A. David, a senior Architect and the late Dr. Rajasundaram and his wife Shantini (nee Karalasingam) also a doctor. The husband and wife were in Britain when the 1977 riots broke out. They decided to return without delay to take up this pioneering work. While Shantini ran the Vavuniya clinic on a social service basis, Rajasundaram became the moving force behind the movement Gandhiyam. Gandhiyam was a charitable organisation through which agricultural advice, facilities and materials were provided for refugee families wanting to settle in project areas around Vavuniya. Volunteer workers ran schools and day care centres for children while providing advice and assistance to the elders. The U.S. agency C.A.R.E. supplied packets of Triposha — balanced cereal food for children. N.O.V.I.B. and O.X.F.A.M. were amongst the charities that helped Gandhiyam. Within two years these former refugees were producing plentiful quantities of nutritious cereals such as Ulunthu, the prices of which reached a record low as a result.

      Another organisation which became famous at this time was the Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation (T.R.R.O.). Amongst the committed officials of the T.R.R.O. were its founder President Nithyanantha and its founder Secretary K. Kanthasamy. Kanthasamy had been a very successful corporate lawyer and his life was to become one of selfless devotion to the cause of Tamil freedom, and the wider cause of human rights at an international level. His disappearance in mid-1988 was a result of the insidious growth of terror within the Tamil body-politic that was to destroy some of its finest sons.

      The T.R.R.O. designed projects for the settlement of displaced persons, canvassed funds and implemented the projects either directly or through organisations such as Ghandiyam. The Kent and Dollar farms owed their origin to the pioneering spirit of some of the youth and elders of this time. Both were integrated agricultural settlements. Several Tamils living overseas became infected with this pioneering spirit when letters of appeal reached them. Groups of people sprang up in places like London, Singapore, and Ibadan (Nigeria), who held discussions on projects that could economically stabilise the Tamil homeland and collected money to send towards existing projects. The Standing Committee of Tamil Speaking Peoples (S.C.O.T.) is an organisation of Tamil professional people that came into being in London during this period. In the Tamil homeland itself there was a sense of buoyancy as several professionals took up residence there and gave their time to designing and implementing economic projects. During these early stages, the militants were known to be present around the settlements, but few from the settlements had any links with them. The thrust was on economic development and rehabilitation. The leadership of the T.U.L.F. was unquestioned. Yet for all the enthusiasm overseas, the actual participation of overseas Tamils in terms of their numbers and resources was small. In Britain where the Ceylon Tamil settlers numbered tens of thousands, the annual income of the S.C.O.T. was only in the region of ,6,000. Those who started rehabilitation work in the field, had hoped for massive support from Tamils living abroad. They got their money. But nearly all of it from Christian charities in the West. Nevertheless Tamils living overseas maintained a keen interest in what was going on at home and the actions of the militants became the subject of much drawing room talk.

      During the year 1978 the militant group, the Tamil Tigers, carried out a spate of bank robberies and killings of police officers. The most sensational of these was the killing of Inspector Bastianpillai and some other police officers who were with him, after the police had successfully apprehended some militants. Other sensational events were the robbing of the banks at Thirunelvely, Neervely and Kilinochchi (by the group P.L.O.T.E.) and the bomb blast which destroyed the Avro passenger aircraft plying between Jaffna and Colombo shortly after it had landed on the tarmac at Ratmalana and everyone had disembarked.

      As a purely security problem, the Tamil militancy had gone beyond routine policing. But as a political problem, it was well within control. The T.U.L.F. was willing to settle for a fairly modest grant of autonomy for the Tamil areas that included some compromise on land settlement. The militants at this point of time respected the T.U.L.F. and were not challenging it. But the government decided to play tough, and given the racist attitudes of some of its leading members, every action of the government’s began to be seen as punitive. An Act of Parliament in 1978 proscribed the Tamil Tigers.

      Two events towards the end of 1978 alienated the Tamils further. Mr. Cyril Mathew, Minister for Industries in the U.N.P. government and a regular Tamil basher, had a press conference with P.P.G.L. Siriwardene, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Colombo. It was announced at this conference that evidence had been found to prove that Tamil examiners had cheated by awarding excessively high marks to Tamil candidates. The matter was debated in parliament . But no inquiry was ordered. The allegation sounded convincing to many Sinhalese. With the Tamils it left a bad taste. Many responsible Tamils who studied the matter were convinced that the allegations would not have stood up to an impartial inquiry. By allowing one of its ministers freely to make irresponsible allegations, the government had increased racial feeling against Tamils. The allegations also served as a smoke screen for the reintroduction of an indirect system of racial quotas for University admissions. It was the new U.N.P. government that had scrapped, as a gesture towards Tamils, the system of standardisation introduced by the previous government to restrict Tamil university admissions. Many Tamils would have agreed to the modification of the principle of pure merit by means of non-racial criteria to help the underprivileged. That would not have needed a drama which subjected Tamils to hurtful public vilification. This represented the same irresponsible streak in the Jayewardene government which made Jayewardene tell the Tamils who were victimised by the 1977 racial violence that they will have war if they want war. Discrimination against Tamils in government jobs continued as repeatedly pointed out in letters to the President by the T.U.L.F. leader, Mr. Amirthalingam

      The other event was the cyclone that devastated the Eastern Province in December 1978. Tamil leaders and Members of Parliament complained bitterly about blatant discrimination against Tamil victims in the provision of relief. There were several instances where material assistance provided by foreign governments did not reach the victims. In one instance, it was revealed in parliament that a large quantity of good quality sarees donated for the victims by India had been disposed of through a state trading agency. It was claimed belatedly in reply to a query in parliament that the proceeds from the sale went into the distress fund.

      However, government indifference provided an opportunity for strengthening Tamil solidarity which was not missed. Again students from the University of Jaffna played a leading role joined in by social service and religious organisations. Students went from house to house collecting money for relief. A large number of lorries left for the East carrying cadjan [1] 1, food and clothing. It was indeed an exciting period where Tamil national consciousness was riding high. Everyone wanted to be part of it, even the passive U.N.P.-voting Colombo Tamils who had habitually cold shouldered the enthusiasm of their provincial brethren. These middle class Colombo Tamils had preferred to be known as urbane, cosmopolitan and English speaking and were usually not given to nationalist notions.

      An important step in the government’s effort at finding a military solution to the Tamil problem was the passing of the P.T.A .(Prevention of Terrorism Act) by parliament in July 1979. All the while the majority of Tamils were hoping that some compromise would be reached between the T.U.L.F. and the government that would settle the problem. But what happened after the passage of the P.T.A., though on a minor scale by today’s standards, was to increase Tamil anger against the government and, consequently, support for the militants’ cause.

      The following extract from Prof. S. J. Tambiah’s book, “Sri Lanka – Ethnic Fratricide and The Dismantling of Democracy” gives the main features of the P.T.A., together with comparisons with the corresponding British Act.

THE P.T.A.: The main features of the P.T.A. are: “It allows confessions made to the police possibly under duress, as admissible evidence. Moreover, the act declares that any document found in the custody, control, or possession of anyone accused of an offence under the Act, or his agent or representative, can be used in evidence, against him at his trial, without calling its author or maker into account, and the contents of such a document can be construed as evidence of the facts stated in it… The P.T.A. can be retroactive in its implementation… Provides for prison terms for conviction ranging from 5 to 20 years or life. These provisions of the P.T.A. have been interpreted by the police and army as an open door policy that permits arrest without warrant of any person… A person may be detained for periods up to 18 months if the minister had reason to suspect him of being associated with unlawful activity… It defines as unlawful certain acts, including the speaking or writing of words intended to cause religious, social, or communal disharmony, or feelings of ill will or hostility between communities or racial or religious groups.”

THE BRITISH ACT: Prof. Tambiah offers a reply to those apologists for Sri Lanka who see the United Kingdom act, enacted in response to the situation in Northern Ireland as setting a precedent for the P.T.A.: “The U.K. legislation bearing the same name (Prevention of Terrorism) was adopted in 1974, repealed, and then re-enacted in 1978 with some amendments, It is much less far-reaching than its Sri Lankan counterpart in its infringement of human rights. For one thing, the U.K. act defines terrorism more narrowly as ‘the use of violence for political ends,’ and includes under this rubric any use of violence for the purpose of frightening any section of the public or the public as a whole. For another, the same Act limits the maximum period during which a person may be detained without charge at seven days; there is no way a person can be held incommunicado without trial for a prolonged period, as the Sri Lankan act permits. Finally the Act in the U.K. remains in force for 12 months and its continuance must be ratified by Parliament.”

According to Virginia Leary (“Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka“, International Commission of Jurists, July to August, 1981): “A number of the objectionable features in the Sri Lankan Act are similar to the provisions widely criticised in the 1967 Terrorism Act of South Africa.”

      Following the passage of this act, the military was for the first time given an active role in the Tamil areas. The President’s nephew, Brigadier Weeratunge, was sent to Jaffna in mid-1979 with an order from the President to wipe out terrorism by the end of the year. Soon afterwards, six Tamil youths disappeared after being taken into custody. The bodies of two of them, Inpam and Selvam, were found near the beach in Jaffna with gunshot injuries. Reports of torture became widespread.

      Amongst Tamils in general, there was a feeling of optimism that they were forging ahead and that the government could not win. Rightly or wrongly, the Tamils were proud of the young and the militant youth. The nickname for a Tamil in the South changed from “Panamkottai” (Palmyrah nut) to “Kottiya” (Tiger). The Tamils no longer cringed, afraid of their identity being known. The Tigers gave them back a sense of identity and dignity. This was also the time that internal killings had started sporadically within the militant movement.

      With this euphoria went many unresolved contradictions in attitudes as well as conduct. The economic development of Tamil areas went on at a very slow pace. Little capital was coming this way, whether from the government or from foreign sources. The government itself was part of the cause. Tamils complained bitterly that Colombo-based Tamil entrepreneurs who made large quantities of money from the Tamil man would not re-invest even a small fraction of it in Tamil areas. At the same time, they spent large sums doing favours for politicians. In the meantime dependence on Colombo increased. The pattern of migration was towards employment abroad, especially in the Middle East and was not calculated to increase economic activity in the Tamil areas. The money from overseas that was pouring in was largely spent on building houses, even on agricultural land, the purchase of jewellery and consumer items such as television sets and video-decks. Again profits were reaped by traders in Colombo. Travel between Jaffna and Colombo increased considerably. It was only a few who used their savings to start small industries such as mechanical workshops.

      Many Tamils did see that they were treading on dangerous ground. But people were reluctant to speak out. The situation was made worse by the government’s natural bent towards thuggery.

      It was about this time that several left-wing political groups in the South who had been talking about armed action for years started looking admiringly at what the Tamil militants were doing. The latter had been successful in alarming the state. These were written about for the first time by Dayan Jayatilleke and were published in the Lanka Guardian. Some leftist intellectuals from the South even spoke of Tamil Eelam being the cradle of future revolution. Ideas of Lenin and Stalin on small nations of minorities featured in intellectual discussions dealing with minorities and secession. The traditional Left which had been somewhat discredited by its past performance was being splintered, giving rise to new groups such as the N.S.S.P. (Nava Sama Samaja Party).

      To break the stalemate on the political front, the T.U.L.F. commenced discussions with parties of the Left (S.L.F.P., L.S.S.P. and C.P.) with a view to forming an electoral alliance. This was breaking new ground as the T.U.L.F. had been instinctively distrustful of the Left as opposed to the U.N.P.. Many critics maintained that such a bias flew in the face of experience and can be attributed to the natural Right-wing tendencies within the T.U.L.F.. Initial exchanges raised hopes. But the exercise was abruptly broken off by the T.U.L.F.. Sources within the T.U.L.F. confided that they did so on a strong indication that it may give rise to organised race riots against the Tamils. Negotiations commenced instead with the U.N.P. government under the mediation of Prof. A. J. Wilson (Lecturer in political science in Canada and son-in-law of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam) and Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam (American trained lawyer and son of an F.P. minister). Both had good relations with the government, whose open economic policies they agreed with. The result was the District Development Councils (D.D.C.s) which were meant to give the Tamils some control over their land and ease discrimination in employment by the devolution of certain subjects to the districts.

      Moreover, these Councils were ill-fated from the start, when the Council elections in July 1981 resulted in such untoward incidents as the burning of the Jaffna Public Library by government forces. Moreover, this was the first time after the Duraiyappah killing that political terror by Tamil militants against rivals of the T.U.L.F. was displayed. Mr. Thiagarajah, a retired school principal, ex-M.P. and U.N.P. candidate was shot dead. Also killed was Mr. Nadarajah, a U.N.P. organiser.

      Despite some disorganised interference by the government machinery, the T.U.L.F. was returned in all Tamil districts. But the District Councils did not work because the government was not genuinely committed to them. This put the T.U.L.F. at a seemingly dead end. The militant leaders became restive about accepting the paramountcy of the T.U.L.F.. Some of the T.U.L.F.’s backers too began to feel that the T.U.L.F. was ineffective. By July 1983 the initiative had passed on to the militants. Many observers felt that the T.U.L.F., whether under threat or not, had made a serious miscalculation in breaking off negotiations with the Left and coming to a deal with the government which the latter had no intention of honouring, whether under threat or not. Dr. A. J. Wilson was initially very positive about the political solution contained in the D.D.C.’s. But the success of the D.D.C.’s depended on willingness and foresight on the part of the government to devolve real power. On nearly all matters where a devolution of responsibility had to evolve, the centre used every hidden mechanism to maintain its hold. As a typical example, the Jaffna D.D.C. which proposed to start a ferry service between K.K.S. and Nagapatanam in order to ease considerably, travel to India which otherwise required an expensive and round about journey through Mannar or Colombo. The Jaffna D.D.C. was told to lay off on this matter. This was a bit of a joke because an unofficial boat service operated by competent mariners had always ferried people from Jaffna to India in less than three hours. As another example, since one of the Tamil fears was security, which was now a virtual monopoly of the Sinhalese state, there was provision in the D.D.C.’s for the creation of Home Guards. The T.U.L.F. had accepted in good faith that the wherewithal to train and maintain them would be forthcoming, for if not such a provision would have been meaningless. But this is how it turned out. A senior official described the position of these Home Guards as being that of a far less exciting version of the Boy Scouts. They would come paying their own bus fare, paying for their uniform and paying for their own cup of tea. It had no chance of getting off the ground. Ultimately the D.D.C.’s were left with a minuscule decentralised budget, not even amounting to one percent of the national budget. When such difficulties arose the T.U.L.F. would have discussions with the President and then announce that the matter had been resolved. These expectations too would be frustrated in due course.

      The government inspired violence and attempts at cheating at the elections by themselves spelt a bad omen for the D.D.C.’s. Some people were killed in this violence. The burning of the Jaffna Public Library and the Eelanadu Press were widely regarded as acts of cultural genocide. There were as usual members of the local population who would use public distress for personal gain. Once again university students threw themselves into the task of reconstruction by forming well-organised teams to collect funds and books.[Top]

Chapter 3

3.1       Introductions56                              

Going by the advice of the mediators, the T.U.L.F. had staked much on the success of the D.D.C.s. It had also persuaded a large section of the militant movement to back the D.D.C. proposals. The government’s failure to deal honestly in this matter and on the other hand its own pursuit of terror against Tamils were to create a rapidly deteriorating situation between November 1982 and July 1983. It is an irony of Ceylonese politics that the T.U.L.F. and the C.W.C., representing Plantation Tamils and under Thondaman, should look upon the main author of present problems, the U.N.P., as offering the best of solutions. In this vain hope the T.U.L.F. remained silent waiting for the goods. The groundswell of Tamil opinion would not have tolerated the T.U.L.F. backing the U.N.P. in the Presidential elections in October 1982 and in the referendum. By calculatedly not taking a stand, the T.U.L.F. helped Jayewardene’s U.N.P. to win both the Presidential elections and the referendum which was in any case won by widespread cheating. At the end of a series of broken promises, the U.N.P. pleaded once again that to keep its hitherto unhonoured promises to the Tamils it needed to win both elections and retain its parliamentary majority. The referendum which took place in December 1982 was in effect an undemocratic exercise depriving the people of this country of their right to choose their representatives. The excuse for this was that the government had discovered an undisclosed Naxalite [1] 1 plot. For this service to the U.N.P. in helping it to deprive the people of this country of their right to elect, the T.U.L.F. and the C.W.C. were rewarded with the July 1983 race riots followed by the sixth amendment expelling the T.U.L.F. from parliament. The C.W.C. was saved by its control over labour in a crucial sector of the economy as well as by India’s entry into the affairs of this country. For a political party, to lose its combativeness and remain passive amounts to suicide. This was the fate of the T.U.L.F.. In many ways the challenge facing the Sinhalese in the South with the rapid rise of the J.V.P. in 1987 would have close parallels with the experience of the Tamils after 1977 — particularly during the period under consideration.

      While the T.U.L.F. was waiting in vain, every new issue brought forth a spontaneous outpouring of public spirit, led by the university students. These protests were non-violent and were often against actions of the government under the P.T.A.. The spontaneous character of these protests was different in quality from the stage managed affairs of the militant groups after 1985. The militant groups did benefit from the activities of the students before July 1983 and there was widespread public sympathy for the militants as “our boys”. But those with a base, such as within the student community, could and did criticise the actions of the militants. The militants too had to take serious note of such criticism. Many observers feel that if this trend had continued, there would have been a militant movement accountable to the public and, therefore, amenable to public control. The July 1983 riots and the adoption by India of the militant groups changed all this. With material help from India, the militant groups became purely military organisations, accountable to the R.A.W. and not to the Tamil public. The latter became everyone’s plaything.

      There have always been those who argue that to build up resentment by provoking the worse instincts of the state is good for revolutionary fervour. But the misery, suffering, fanaticism and hysteria let loose by such a course on both sides of the division can hardly encourage democracy and freedom for those who survive. This appears to be a lesson ill-digested by the Tamils whose tragedy the South seems set to re-live. The failure of the community to clarify the moral issues would ultimately have a corrupting influence on the young who dedicated themselves to freedom.

3.2 Through the Eyes of the Saturday Review

What follows will be a run through the main events of this period as recorded by the Saturday Review, a weekly published in Jaffna. The title dates refer to the date of publication. It is appropriate to quote this paper, because itreflected the sense of buoyancy felt in Jaffna during this period, punctuated by doubt and foreboding.

May 15, 1982:

“Undergraduates and students in the North and East boycotted lectures and classes yesterday (14 May) to protest the continued detention without trial, of Jaffna University undergraduate Apputhurai Vimalarasa for over a year at the Panagoda Army Camp. The undergraduates in the University of Colombo too joined in the protest by boycotting lectures in the afternoon while telegrams asking for the release of Vimalarasa have been sent to President J. R. Jayewardene by undergraduates of the other Universities.”

      Students distributing leaflets in connection with this protest were arrested by the police in all Tamil districts. On 17th May the undergraduates organised a massive demonstration in Jaffna defying a police ban.

May 29, 1982:

Under the front page headlines “Jaffna violence takes on a new ugly dimension”, the Saturday Review reported the first well-publicised political killings: “Political youth violence which began seven years ago with the killing of the then pro-government Mayor Alfred Duraiyappah on 27 July, 1975, has been following a predictable course ever since, assumed a new dimension on Wednesday 26th May when a popular social worker and a Tamil liberation activist, P. Iraikumaran (27) was gunned down along with his friend T. Umakumaran (28) at Alaveddy, by a gang of seven youths. Alaveddy, a village about ten miles from Jaffna town is in the Kankesanthurai constituency represented by Tamil United Liberation Front leader A. Amirthalingam.

      “Iraikumaran, a Cultivation Officer, was the Organising Secretary of the Thamil Ilaignar Peravai Viduthalai Ani (Tamil Youth Front Liberation Wing). He had previously been a member of the youth front aligned with the T.U.L.F. and had edited a pro-T.U.L.F. paper Ilaignar Kural (The Voice of the Youth) in 1976.” Iraikumaran had been a critic of the T.U.L.F.’s after breaking away from the party when it accepted the D.D.C.s. Other sources confirmed later that militants aligned with Uma Maheswaran were responsible for the killings. One killing began as a misadventure. The other followed as a cover up. The Saturday Review had neglected to commit itself to its readers on whether or not the “new dimension” was part of the “predictable course”. These were still the early days of internecine killings. Press-men did not yet find themselves writing under duress. The Saturday Review published a powerful editorial in the same issue:

“The political heat, denied an external outlet, is turning inwards now. Violence of course is at all times destructive, but violence is now changing direction. It is becoming self-destructive. In fact there is a new terrifying chill in the political wind. The air is getting hotter with a new political intolerance. Brother is turning against brother; guns taught to shoot at targets, find that the targets are no longer there. A society which learnt to put up with killings, by looking over its shoulder and recognising a goal at a distance thought there was a thing called justifiable homicide, as in law. Now they don’t see the goal anymore. It has been politically vitiated…

      “The killing of Iraikumaran and Umakumaran, as we see it is more than mere killings: it is more than terrorism. It shows all the portents of a new ugly face in the Tamil man’s political life. A society, bereft of a rationale for homicide, is now turning to suicide…

      “The truth is that there is a new underground force in the making, an underground force without ideals, which if allowed unchecked could even bring about a state of civil strife in Jaffna, and plunge the whole peninsula into chaos. This has to be nipped in the bud, and if there is one leader who has sufficient weight and authority to do this, it is Mr. Amirthalingam.”

      There was to be civil strife which reached a feverish height with the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash in late April 1986, 47 months later. There was a state of prolonged chaos. When this happened there was no dilemma for the editorial writers of the Saturday Review, or for any other journal in Jaffna. If they did not take a holiday, as they did, they would have been regarded as mad men “turning to suicide”. The new forces were not without ideals. In the case of the L.T.T.E. these ideals had the character of religious devotion. But these had little to do with Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality.

      The editorial writer quoted above reflects the popular attitude to violence amongst Jaffna men. They would maintain that they did not like violence, except that it was sometimes necessary. They would personally avoid killing. Except for medical men and scientists working on vivisection, those involved with killing, such as butchers and dog catchers, were categorised as being from so called low caste groups, as in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. (Thomas More knew little about India, which makes his ideas all the more remarkable.) They had the authority of the Mahabharata, where the men who killed in battle were regarded as a caste group – namely the Kshatriyas. Even as the militant groups grew in strength and despite the talk of “our boys”, for the upper reaches of Tamil society they remained essentially an alien caste group. The elite, both locally and abroad, who provided material and moral support for the militants, could frequently be heard saying unashamedly, sometimes referring to the Mahabharata, that it may be the business of the fighters to obtain freedom; but the business of ruling, however, must be in the hands of those who are wise and educated. The latter often meant the sons of the elite who were abroad. The militants of course were aware of this and for many of those who had sacrificed successful careers at school, this was hard to bear. Thus the Jaffna man’s ambivalence towards violence also extended to an ambivalence towards the militants, who in turn felt that others were trying to use them. This may partly explain the cynicism and hatred of the L.T.T.E. towards the civilian population which reached new heights in 1987. The editorial writer, like everyone else, was moved to questioning and doubting over the two killings in May 1982. Yet, like others, he avoided answering the question whether there was a rationale for homicide that does not lead to suicide. Note also the hope reposed on Amirthalingam in a dark moment.

      The Saturday Review of 5 June, 1982 said that following the mass protests, Vimalarasa who was not tried for over a year, was brought before the Court of Appeal by the army authorities on Monday, 31 May. A bench consisting of Justices Seneviratne and Abeyawardene gave time till 19 July for the State to file affidavits and fixed the trial for 26 July.

      The issue of 12 June announced that Vimalarasa and nine other detainees had been released on 7 June, two days before the T.U.L.F. leader Mr. Amirthalingam was to meet President Jayewardene on the matter. The paper speculated that this move to steal the wind from Amirthalingam’s sails may have been in order to woo the Tamils directly before the President’s first official visit to Jaffna. Another probable reason was that having been pressurised into going to Court, the government may have discovered that its case was weak. This was often the case with arrests under the P.T.A.. This victory gave the students a new prestige.

5 June, 1982:

Under the heading Tiger File, The Saturday Review reported the incident which heralded India’s role in this country’s affairs. It quoted the Indian Express of 21 May, which reported the incident of the 19th at Pondi Bazaar on its front page: “According to the police, there was a confrontation between two groups, and in the process, Prabhakaran (28) alias Karikalan and Sivakumar (24) alias Raghavan opened fire with unlicensed revolvers on Mukundan (Uma Maheswaran) and Jotheeswaran (22). Jotheeswaran sustained four bullet injuries in his leg and was admitted to the Rayapettah hospital. Mukundan escaped in the melee. On hearing gun-shots, Deputy Inspector Nandakumar of the Pondy Bazaar Crime Detachment rushed to the spot with his staff and arrested the culprits.”

      The Saturday Review further added that Uma Maheswaran who had got away on his motorcycle was captured after a massive police search at a railway station on 25 May. Two revolvers and a vial of cyanide were found on his person. The incident represented the bitter split between the Liberation Tigers and P.L.O.T.E. that was now surfacing openly. Many Tamil Nadu politicians and lawyers got into the act trying to patch up the split. The militants went along expressing regret over the incident together with a desire for unity. The PTI quoted both parties as feeling that continued disunity between them could only jeopardise their real object of achieving Tamil Eelam. Uma Maheswaran who had been a surveyor by profession, expressed appreciation for the way the Tamil Nadu police had treated them. When he required some books on surveying, the Tamil Nadu police had brought them to him after a prolonged search in several bookshops. It all looked homely enough. “Boys will be boys. They will shake hands and be friendly in the interests of a higher cause,” was the general feeling around. The Saturday Review reflected the public view in expressing a hint of satisfaction that powerful attempts at obtaining extradition by the Sri Lankan government were failing. It quoted the SUN’s front page headline: “TAMIL NADU POLITICOS GIVE PATRONAGE TO TIGERS: TREMENDOUS FINANCIAL BACKING AND ‘SAFE HOUSE’: M.G.R.’s life too threatened by terrorists”. That was six years ago. The naive belief that the central government in India was bowing to Tamil Nadu pressure seemed a satisfactory explanation to both sides in Ceylon. We all lived in a cynical world where everyone thought he could cleverly use the other to get his own ends. Many Tamils thought they could use India to get Eelam. Who was master of the game would emerge much later. But for the moment all eyes were on the two boys – both makers and victims of history. We could thumb our noses at the Sinhalese. It was a time for some rejoicing. Tomorrow would take care of itself.

12 June, 1982:

An excerpt from an appreciation to the late Bishop Leo Nanayakkara by P. Arulanantham reads thus: “In 1973-75 there were many destitutes on the streets of Badulle, most of whom were persons displaced from the tea estates. Bishop Leo was the organiser behind the organisation of the Beggar Rehabilitation Camp, with the help of official and private bodies who were willing to help. He was a practical man. Bishop Leo was a champion of the oppressed. He studied the problem of insurgents taken into captivity in 1971 and took practical measures to help them. He consistently expressed the view that the Tamils and the Tamil language should enjoy equal rights in this country.”

3 July, 1982:

“Three policemen and a Police driver were shot to death by unknown gunmen who ambushed a Police jeep at Nelliady junction in the Point Pedro area, Jaffna, at about 7:30 p.m. on Friday the night of July 2. The dead policemen were Gunapala, Arunthavarajah, Mallawaratchi and Ariyaratne (driver). The O.I.C., Point Pedro, Inspector I. Thiruchittampalam and Constables Sivarajah and Ananda were admitted to Jaffna hospital with injuries. The assailants are believed to have escaped in a passing car.”

      The editorial commented: “If the killed are those who become victims of circumstances, the killers are themselves victims of circumstances. If a government cannot find ways to stop creating and fostering these circumstances, that government had failed in its duty by all its citizens.”

      That was obviously true. Most Tamils then thought that such sentiments represented the end of the matter as far as they were concerned. Then again they were depending on a provenly undependable government to wake up and deliver the goods, thus being party to the drift.

      The issue of 18 September in its lead story stated that the General Council of the T.U.L.F. was likely to take a decision that would enable the Tamils to keep away from the Presidential elections altogether. The issue of 25 September gave an instance of the kind of interference with the process of the law by the government that increasingly made Tamils sympathise with militants.

25 September, 1982:

“The Mallakam Magistrate, Mr. C. V. Wigneswaran, discharged Lieutenant Mandukodi de Saram and Privates K. J. Silva and R. T. Silva on 22 September, on the instructions of the Attorney General Mr. Shiva Pasupati. The three army men were earlier remanded and then bailed out in connection with the shooting of a lame youth Kandiah Navaratnam at Atchuvely on the night of 20 February.”

16 October, 1982:

The following is an exerpt from an article by Dayan Jayatilleke on the J.V.P.’s stand on the National Question (the Tamil – Sinhalese division). The J.V.P. (Peoples’ Liberation Front) leader Rohana Wijeweera was one of the contestants of the Presidential Elections: “He (Wijeweera in a public speech) accused the U.N.P. government of sending ‘innocent’ police and military men to their deaths. He also accuses the S.L.F.P. of promising Swaraj (Own Rule) through its spokesman K. B. Ratnayake, to the Tamils… Comrade Wijeweera also proceeds in the course of his masterly analysis of the National Question, to provide his audience with the doubtless useful and very relevant data that five top police officers are Tamils. In fact he is kind enough to provide his young Sinhalese audience with their names in what he fondly supposes is a Tamil accent. Rohana’s boast that his is the only party to hold meetings in the North, is in the same spirit as that of a gangster who boasts that he and his boys were tough enough to go into the North side of the town, i.e. territory controlled by another gang, and return in one piece. In other words he is telling his constituency that it is he and his party, rather than the U.N.P. and S.L.F.P., that are tough enough to deal with the Eelam threat.”

23 October, 1982:

The Saturday Review reported an attack by a militant group on a police station. The group was later identified as the L.T.T.E. (Tigers): “Three policemen on duty at Chavakachcheri Police Station were shot dead in a lightning dawn attack by a party of armed youth on Wednesday, October 27th. About 12 hours later the Police imposed an instant 12 hour curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the Jaffna district creating panic and confusion among the public. Guns and ammunition were also stolen at the Police Station along with some files. The weapons consisted of two sub-machine guns, nine rifles, 19 repeater guns and two shot guns. The dead men are P.C. Kandiah of Mirusuvil, P. C. Karunanadan of Uduvil and P. C. Tillekeratne of Kegalle. A remand suspect in a murder case who happened to be under lock-up at the Police Station, Kandiah Selvam, also died in the cross fire.

      “P. C. Jayatilleke who had jumped down from the upper storey of the Police Station was injured by the fall. He had been admitted to the Jaffna General Hospital along with Sergeant Kandiah who suffered gunshot injuries. Two more remand prisoners, Karthigesu and Aiyathurai were also wounded. It is believed that there was an exchange of fire for about 15 minutes… It is believed that two of the youths have been injured and that one of them could have died. Army personnel who went to Chavakachcheri after the attack discovered spent cartridges and unexploded bullets.”

      Papers in the South added that the attackers had to leave abruptly as one of the policemen took up a hidden position and started sniping at the attackers.

      The security forces in the North had not yet been brutalised to a point where their reflex action would be to go about on a rampage killing prisoners and civilians at random.

      The same issue of the Saturday Review announced in its lead story that, having won the presidential elections (J. R. Jayewardene, U.N.P., 52.91%; Hector Kobbekaduwa, S.L.F.P., 39.07%. Mrs. Bandaranaike was prevented from appearing or canvassing for the SLFP because of a questionable suspension of her civic rights.), the government was planning to hold a referendum in order to extend the life of the parliament by six years. The referendum to be held before Christmas would seek a simple yes or no from the voters. This surprise move came at a time when the country at large was expecting general elections to elect a new parliament. The move was deceitfully packaged to attract the support of Tamils who had been repeatedly tricked. The story went: “Speculation is rife in Jaffna that the T.U.L.F. leader, Mr. Appapillai Amirthalingam, may be offered high office in the Government that would eventually lead to the formation of a National Government in the country… Certain constitutional changes that require a two-thirds majority are believed to be under contemplation that would facilitate this process. The holding of a referendum seeking the extension of the life of the parliament by six years from August 1983 and a complete revamping of the Cabinet and Parliamentary Group are believed to be steps that will help in this direction… It is believed that such a government that will cut through party differences and draw in talent from non-U.N.P. sources could not only help in the continuity of the government’s economic programme but solve the vexing ‘TAMIL PROBLEM’ as well.”

      Thus the government which had repeatedly dishonoured its word to the Tamils was now inviting the Tamils to trust it once more in order to cheat the entire country of their right to elect.

      The paper was soon undeceived as it started publishing protests from all over the country. The Civil Rights Movement (C.R.M.) in three statements referred to the “dangerous and unprecedented nature of this step which threatened the very basis of democratic parliamentary government founded on periodic elections of the people’s representatives.” It pointed out that “the move was in breach of Sri Lanka’s obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.” Ceylon had only the previous year celebrated 50 years of universal adult franchise.

      R. P. Wijeratne writing from Colombo said: “The bizarre spectacle of honourable ministers and M.P.’s of the governing party being submitted en masse to the indignity of handing over undated letters of resignation to their leader is further evidence of this kind of cynicism. Apart from the mutual distrust revealed by these arrangements, the complete surrender of wills and independence by representatives elected by the people, to a leader however estimable, will certainly not enhance their prestige and standing in the eyes of the people.”

      In a telegram to the President, the C.R.M. pointed out that the referendum was neither free nor fair, because an emergency was in force, under which several opposition newspapers (including Aththa) had been prevented from publication and had had their presses sealed.

      In a letter signed on behalf of the M.I.R.J.E. (Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality) by its president Fr. Paul Caspersz, a doughty fighter for minority rights, an appeal was made to the T.U.L.F.. It was asked to refrain from being drawn into discussions with the government on the national question until the conclusion of the referendum and to participate actively in a campaign for the preservation of the fundamental rights of the people to elect their own M.P.’s. It further deplored efforts at that juncture by the government to place before Tamil-speaking people, token concessions as solutions to their problems and considered such overtones opportunistic and intended to compel the T.U.L.F. to soft-pedal its campaign against the Government’s proposal at the referendum.

      This provided an opportune moment for the T.U.L.F. to take up a principled stand and resume its combative role. A principled stand could have meant only one thing – totally to oppose the fraud the government was trying to inflict on the entire country. This would have given both the Tamils and the T.U.L.F. a new prestige countrywide. Mr. Amirthalingam could be combative when he wished to. But since the late 1970’s the party organisation had been in a deeply frozen state, with the younger elements slipping away into militant ranks. When the matter of the referendum was brought before parliament, the T.U.L.F. showed its lukewarmness by speaking against it while at the same time not registering a single protest vote. The same puzzling attitude was displayed by the T.U.L.F. during the general strike of mid-1980, which the government put down with large-scale repression. In support of the strikers, university members, teachers and trade unionists organised a one-day hartal and march in Jaffna. The T.U.L.F. declined to join. When questioned, a very senior T.U.L.F. member replied that the matter was a “Southern problem”. Here was a classic instance of divide and rule. The T.U.L.F. had voluntarily submitted the Tamils to ghetto politics, when with a little vision it could have enhanced respect for the Tamils. The government kept the T.U.L.F. quiet by means of a few perks for parliamentarians and the promise of “jam tomorrow” for the Tamils. But as in that famous song “Tomorrow never comes”, the result was a dangerous isolation of the Tamils, putting them entirely at the mercy of the government. The T.U.L.F. is a product of Tamil society. The preoccupation of its elite has not been with doing the right thing or the principled thing, but with doing what seems clever and convenient. Thus at that time (1988) when people should have been trying to restore democracy by forging links with all democratic sections in the South and by improving Sinhalese-Tamil relations, they seem to have been holding onto another will-o-the-wisp. The only idea coming from the Tamil elite today was a plea to India to negotiate with the L.T.T.E. – meaning, give them (the L.T.T.E.) something so that they would be left alone. As an eminent public man put it in words that cannot mean anything: “The Tigers and the Indian Army are our two precious eyes. We cannot be without either one of them.” This is the counterpart of the T.U.L.F.’s stand in the early 1980’s.

13 November 1982:

The Saturday Review quoted a press report, according to which President Jayewardene told his District Ministers that he had an assurance from the T.U.L.F. leadership that it would not actively canvass against the referendum. The Saturday Review further said: “An interview the Secretary General of the T.U.L.F. (Tamil United Liberation Front) and Leader of the Opposition, Mr. A. Amirthalingam, gave a Colombo week-end paper recently fuelled speculation that the T.U.L.F. leader may be offered high office in a “National Government” as forecast by the Saturday Review in its issue of 23 October.

“Mr. Amirthalingam made it quite clear, in the course of the interview, that the T.U.L.F. will not boycott Parliament nor join any so called ‘common front’ in campaigning against the referendum.” Mr. Amirthalingam further added: “Even if the Government carries the referendum through, we will remain in Parliament until August 3, 1983 when this term runs out. At this point the General Council will decide as to who should represent the T.U.L.F. in parliament for the extended period.”

      Thus it appeared to the T.U.L.F. leadership that it could imitate the undemocratic example set by President Jayewardene, who had obtained undated letters of resignation from his parliamentary group to set up a tame parliament after the referendum. It seemed a bargain to the T.U.L.F. — the price was for it to remain non-committal. To be doubly sure, the government did some arm twisting as well. The same issue reported that the Government had ordered its officers in the North and East to turn down all requests by T.U.L.F. M.P.s – the small mercies afforded to keep them in hope: “Education authorities in the North and East were summoned to Colombo to be told bluntly not to oblige the T.U.L.F. M.P.’s requests for transfers and appointments… Meanwhile the appointments of 15 bank employees recommended by the T.U.L.F. M.P. for Vavuniya, Mr. T. Sivasithamparam, have been cancelled.” All requests to the Education authorities were to be reported to the head office in Colombo, so that M.P.s wanting favours would have to go to the government directly.

      Looking back one can hardly understand why the T.U.L.F. subjected itself and the Tamils to this loss of self-respect and humiliation on the basis of promises that were not likely to be honoured. A dedication to principle could have saved the Tamils from the calamity that was to come. The betrayal of democracy by the T.U.L.F. at this point may be compared with that by well-heeled Tamil gentlemen in Parliament voting for the bills of 1948 which made plantation workers of Indian origin, also fellow Tamils, non-citizens. At that time Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the founder of the T.U.L.F., did the honourable thing in passionately opposing that bill. But the old habit of the Tamil elite being voluntary slaves to the Sinhalese ruling class, from whom they received patronage, had not changed.

27 November, 1982:

In the meantime things were taking a different turn, involving spontaneous mass protests over the detention of several prominent Tamils on suspicion of being involved with militants: “Tamil politics entered a new mass agitational phase in Jaffna this week, following the arrests and questioning of several Roman Catholic, Methodist and Anglican priests in connection with terrorism and the Neervely Bank robbery of 1981 and the peremptory ascribing of guilt to the members of the clergy by the State-controlled and other media in Colombo.

      “Whole-day protest fasts and sit-ins are being held throughout the peninsula with the Tamil United Liberation Front itself actively mounting a chorus of protests. On Tuesday 30th, there will be a collective one-day fast in both the North and the East, demanding an end to the arbitrary detention of the priests and University Assistant Lecturer Nithyananthan and his wife Nirmala, the abolition of the prevention of Terrorism Act and an end to State terrorism.”

      The arrested priests were of course the Rev. Fr. Singarayar, the Rev. Fr. Sinnarasa (both Roman Catholic), Rev. Jeyatilakarajah (Methodist) and the Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam (Anglican, Vavuniya). Dr. Jeyakularajah (Puttur Mission Hospital), brother of the Rev. Jeyatilekarajah was also arrested. The Rev. Kanagaratnam, formerly principal of the Pilimatalawa Theological seminary, was released shortly afterwards. He had resigned his principalship at the seminary after some Sinhalese members made an issue of his refusal to raise the national flag on Independence Day 1978 on the grounds that the Tamil speaking part of the nation had suffered grievous oppression during the 1977 race riots. He had then gone on to found Unity House in the border area of Vavuniya to work for Sinhalese-Tamil amity. He had good personal relations with the Sinhalese of that area. Rev. Singarayar was finally released after the July 1987 Accord. The rest had escaped to India from Batticaloa prison. They and Fr. Singarayar had narrowly escaped during the two prison massacres in July 1983.

      On the lighter side, soldiers who had been sent to search the home of the Nithyanandans, in the same compound as that of Nirmala’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Rajasingam, were asked to wait there. The soldiers felt bored, having nothing to do. They went about plucking flowers and made a large garland, which was then presented to the cow tied in the compound.

      Previously, in the issue of 20 November, 1982, the Saturday Review had strongly protested the slanderous allegations being made with impunity against those arrested, in the Southern press, with a lead piece titled “STOP THIS PEN AND DAGGER JOURNALISM.”

11 December, 1982:

Writing in the section “Political Causerie,” the Colombo based columnist Gamini Navaratne, dealt with President Jayewardene’s allegation of a “Naxalite Plot,” as the excuse for holding the referendum in place of the General Elections. The alleged Naxalites were a group of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s S.L.F.P., which led the presidential campaign of its candidate Mr. Hector Kobbekaduwa. According to President Jayewardene’s information, this group had planned to assassinate him, a few other Ministers, Mrs. Bandaranaike’s son Anura and the Armed Services Chiefs, among others. According to him, they would thereupon do away with the constitution and imprison Mrs. Bandaranaike. Except for farcical dramas like the questioning of Mr. Kobbekaduwa, nothing was ever proved then or in later years.

      Gamini Navaratne referred to several instances where members of the U.N.P. had openly indulged in violence and where no action had been taken: after the 1977 elections, in June 1981 during the D.D.C. elections, in August 1981 when communal violence had been unleashed in many places including the plantations and after the Presidential elections. The persons who attacked the meeting of the Sinhala Balamandalaya had no action taken against them, even after they had been identified by others. Navaratne added: “Unless action is taken against them, could sections of the opposition be blamed if they regard the latest coup allegation as a cover for the Government, while keeping the S.L.F.P. machinery effectively strangled, to distract people’s attention from the looming economic crisis, instil fear in their minds about a “Naxalite”, (that is Communist) threat and stampede them into saying “Yes” at the Referendum by clever manipulation of the state-monopolised mass media?”

      Protest against the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the recent arrests reached a high point in Vavuniya when steel helmeted police used batons and tear gas inside St. Anthony’s Church at Rambaikulam on 15 December.

18 December, 1982:

“Hundreds of girls, women, children and men – including Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians – began a protest fast on Wednesday on the church premises. As scheduled, a silent march headed by school-girls with mouths gagged and wearing black badges had just come to the road when police pounced upon them, dragged the girls by their hair, and kicked and baton-charged them when they defied police orders to disperse. The baton charge took place when the girls sat on the ground refusing to move. Then the police stormed into the church and baton charged protestors who sought refuge there.

      “Nine people were arrested including the Gandhiyam’s Dr. Rajasundaram, Mr. M.S. Kandiah (Social Worker, 75 years old), T.E.L.F. Secretary M. K. Eelaventhan, Dr. K.S.N. Fernando and David Naganathan. Tension was high in Vavuniya following the Police rampage and all shops put up their shutters.”

      Dr. K.S.N. Fernando was a Sinhalese doctor attached to Vavuniya hospital and a dedicated human rights activist. He was subject to much abuse by Sub-Inspector Gunasinghe for being an alleged traitor and was badly assaulted by the policeman who also took revenge on him for having earlier filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court. After his arrest Dr. Fernando was at one point beaten unconscious. The Sub-Inspector who indiscriminately assaulted participants, also threatened to kill a Kumarasinghe if he was there. Kumarasinghe was a Sinhalese activist for the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality (M.I.R.J.E.) in Vavuniya.

      The government’s handling of these protests was fuelling Tamil anger without in any way reducing the momentum of the protests. The spate of public protests continued. The students of the University of Jaffna organised a large demonstration on 26 January, 1983, followed by a 4 day fast starting on 1 February, 1983.

      The results of the referendum were announced on 23 December, 1982 the day after polling. The “Yes” vote to extend the term of the government came to 54.66% of the valid votes, with the “No” vote amounting to 45.34%. Of registered voters, 70.7% voted as opposed to 80% in the Presidential elections. But that was not the whole story. The Government had used its machinery, both official and unofficial, to perpetrate election fraud on an unprecedented scale. This was a country where elections had traditionally been reasonably clean. It was some time before the details came out.

      In his book, “Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After“, (Marram Books, London, 1984), L. Piyadasa rightly argues that, in a country where voter participation has been traditionally high, as much as 86.7% in 1977, the natural instinct of the people would have been to say that they wanted elections to elect their own representatives, even if only to return the U.N.P. with a massive majority. This consideration itself made the result of the referendum highly improbable. All indications are that there were many untoward happenings starting with the partiality of the police. Piyadasa rightly argues:

“Moreover, opposition polling observers were, in a large number of carefully checked cases, prevented by threats of murder or of having their homes burnt, by false arrest, assault and robbery of documents, (e.g.: identification) from functioning as polling observers. Officially appointed presiding officers were intimidated and manhandled when they challenged impersonators or tried to stop thuggery within polling booths by legally unauthorized persons. Many voters were prevented from voting freely or voting at all. This was done openly, with police connivance or collaboration, by U.N.P. thugs in many ways, including compelling voters to show how they had marked their papers and preventing people known to be members of “Vote NO” groups and parties from leaving their homes. Very prominent in the organising and carrying out of the violence and intimidation were Paul Perera (who was not long afterwards nominated to be an M.P.), and a gun wielding M.P., Anura Bastian, whom the President appointed Deputy Minister in charge of the Home Guards soon afterwards! There was impersonation on a scale never before attempted in Sri Lanka. In one polling booth, the Presiding Officer had counted one person voting 72 times, and had officially reported this to his superior. In most of the country it required real courage to vote “No” in these conditions.”

      There were other minor miracles too. In Mrs. Bandaranaike’s electorate Attanagala, she as the leader of the S.L.F.P. decided to withdraw all her observers and party agents from her electorate. This was after her agents were brutally and repeatedly beaten up and threatened with death. In this electorate where she had received a massive majority in 1977, the “Yes” votes counted after the polling were 35,747, as against 22,531 for Jayewardene at the presidential election!

      In the Jaffna district, the voter turn out was 290,849 – 60% of registered voters – of whom 91.3% voted “No,” no that is, to extending the life of the parliament. The voter turn out was 46% for the presidential elections. The voter turn out would certainly have been much higher if the T.U.L.F. had actively campaigned for the “No” vote. The registered voters in Jaffna numbered 493,705. The voting population in Ceylon was 8,148,015. The majority claimed by the government was 535,240. All Tamil districts voted for having General Elections: Vanni – 64.9%, Trincomalee – 56.4%, and Batticaloa – 60.1%; so did, in general, the districts of the deep South, despite the intimidation: Kalutara – 50.4%, Galle -52.6%, Hambantota – 55% and Matara -49.2%. It is these last named districts that form the base for the J.V.P.’s current (1988) insurgency against the government. The government’s proposal to continue the present parliament for another term received its highest support, with the malpractices, in the areas with a high estate Tamil population whose leader Mr. S. Thondaman was a minister in the government: Nuwara Eliya – 72.7%, Badulla – 69.9%, Kandy – 62.2%, and Matale – 73.5%. This was an irony, in view of the legislation against this community in 1948/49 by a U.N.P. government of the time.

      It may be mentioned that the vote in the Laggala electorate in the Matale district was challenged. The Sun had reported on 23 December, that the voters had been cut off from their polling stations as a result of floods and earthslips. But out of an electorate of 35,129, 26,115 registered their votes at the referendum, as compared with 17,354 at the presidential polls!

      In the Tamil districts, the low voter turn out (60-70%), together with the somewhat indecisive vote (except in Jaffna), can be attributed to the failure of the T.U.L.F. to form a common front with the parties wanting general elections and mounting a campaign to underline a sense of urgency. The excuse normally offered by the T.U.L.F. and Mr. Thondaman’s C.W.C. (Ceylon Workers Congress representing Tamil Plantation Workers) for neither campaigning against nor supporting the government, is that the former coalition government of Mrs. Bandaranaike which included the two major Left parties, the L.S.S.P. and the C.P., had completely ignored them. This was true. But at the same time the present U.N.P. government only listened to them nominally. It had already showed a tendency to use race riots as a political weapon in August 1981 in which many of the victims were plantation Tamils supporting the C.W.C.. President Jayewardene, while blaming some of his own party in moving words, did nothing to discipline them. The unkindest cut of all was to come in July 1983. The only real option that had been open to the T.U.L.F. and the C.W.C. was to take a principled stand on behalf of the democratic rights of the whole country and oppose the government. This would have increased their prestige throughout the country and possibly brought them out of marginal patronage politics into national politics. The position of the Tamils too would have been rendered more secure in the long run.

      To many it would seem unbelievable that the T.U.L.F. under a once combative leader like Amirthalingam, should sit back and allow things to drift waiting for the promised jam. The T.U.L.F. too had reflected the general lack of conviction about democracy amongst the Tamil elite, whose public conduct was for the most part based on patronage. Although not very evident at that time, the T.U.L.F.’s inactivity during the referendum had cut it adrift from its political base. The Jaffna voter had shown that he had a mind of his own by registering a 91.3% vote against the government’s proposal. Despite the T.U.L.F.’s lukewarmness, 60% (14% more than in the Presidential elections) had taken the trouble to go and register their opinion. For a political party to indulge in secret talks without actively articulating the feelings in its own constituency, spelt political suicide.

      President Jayewardene could now afford to treat the Tamils and their representatives with contempt. As far as his immediate ambitions were concerned, he had the Tamils in his pocket, as he did his party’s M.P.s. The Tamils were now subject to his whims and his irresponsibility. He was not going to give them jam. He was going to give them cake in the sense in which Marie Antoniette meant it, when the Parisians asked for bread.

1 January, 1983:

Little attention was paid to the vote in the deep South at this time. In a post-mortem of the referendum by Staff Writer Suresh in the Saturday Review, it was pointed out that the electorates of 5 Cabinet Ministers, 5 Deputy Ministers and 19 U.N.P. M.P.s “voted clearly for a dissolution of the present government.” Most of those were in the deep South.

      But in early 1983, with the Tamils in the President’s pocket and the South under the heel of the Police and the U.N.P. goon squads, the fraud was accepted meekly. Given the situation of burning anger and humiliation below the surface in the South, a mounting insurgency in the North and the government’s control over the media, the government with its characteristic irresponsibility and cynicism, found it very natural to direct Sinhalese feelings to find release in an orgy of anti-Tamil violence.

8 January, 1983:

The Saturday Review sensed the new mood of repression. In its lead piece titled “WE SMELL DANGER,” it had this to say: “We have been tipped off by friends from various quarters, some of them surprising quarters close to government decision making processes, that we are now under very close surveillance and scrutiny and the axe might fall on us any time.”

      In a climate of increasing repression in the South, which began with the break up of the 1980 general strike and the advent of the multi-nationals which began to disrupt life even in remote villages, the Left felt helpless. The only Sinhalese area where there was some active opposition to the state was in the Moneragala District, where some Leftist groups were helping the villagers to resist the takeover of common lands by sugar multinationals, through protest campaigns. For this reason, many Left leaning persons and organisations in the South were looking to the North for inspiration, where there was popular resistance to the government. The Ceylon Teachers’ Union (with 47,000 members) and the Revolutionary Marxist Party, had in June 1982 issued statements opposing the extradition from India to Ceylon of Mr. Prabhakaran and Mr. Uma Maheswaran, arrested in India a few weeks earlier.

22 January, 1983:

The Saturday Review carried an interview with Bala Tampoe, General Secretary of the C.M.U. (Ceylon Mercantile Union) which contained this extract:

But he said he could already see young men who had neither names nor labels, but only lessons and experience, who were converging to form a new radical opposition to the oppressive government. “It is such earlier unheard of people like Kuttimani and Thevan who have the stuff in them to form a truly revolutionary force.” Though most of the Leftists are demoralised after the debacle in the Presidential and Referendum polls, Mr. Bala Tampoe is very optimistic. He said: “I see history as waves. So far we have been in the receding wave. But even in the gloomy oppressive atmosphere of Jayewardene’s rule, I can now see an advancing wave that will soon shatter all tyrannical forces ahead of it.”

19 February, 1983:

The following appeared in a Saturday Review article by a Southern Leftist, Kusal Perera:

The Left would have to fight for a broad unity among the working class at factory level on transitional demands, where the right of self-determination of the Tamil people would be included. The Tamil Trade Union Federation will have to come out of hibernation and join actively any such working class unity.

      In short, the Left and the Tamil militants will have to forge a massive anti-government mass-movement with the working class at the head of it. That would be the only process of achieving an Eelam, for separation to be possible under this crisis ridden, capitalist, semi-dictatorship.

Another left party, the N.S.S.P., a break away group of the old L.S.S.P., led by Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Vikramabahu Karunaratne, made a considerable impact in Jaffna and even acquired a following amongst students. It advocated self-determination for the Tamils. Its base in the South too was small, but was concentrated in certain areas. Its leader, Mr. Nanayakkara, later fought a remarkable by-election after the July 1983 violence, which got the government truly worried. Unlike the old ways of fighting elections, the N.S.S.P. laid down its policy towards Tamils clearly before the Sinhalese constituency. The threat was taken so seriously that President Jayewardene himself made a campaign appearance. There was a high incidence of state thuggery. Many believe that Mr. Nanayakkara actually won the by-election.

      However the Left was too divided at this time to make an impact. It could not decide on a single candidate for the Presidential elections. It was mainly romanticising about future possibilities, often put forward as certainties, as in Bala Tampoe’s case, cited above. However the interest shown by the Left in the South helped to give the Tamil militants a Leftist image.

      The Saturday Review’s issue of 19 February, 1983, also reported a court-room drama which made a powerful impact in this country as well as amongst Tamils living abroad:

This happened on Thursday when Senior Defence Counsel N. Satyendra, concluding his voire dire proceedings of the Neervely Bank Cash Robbery told court: “As regards my clients, the accused, I wish to state publicly from this Court of record, that in the presence of those individuals who belong to my community and who have been prepared to sacrifice what is perhaps the most precious possession of any individual – his very life – for the cause of liberation of their people, I feel humble.”

      The accused in this case are: Navaratnarajah, Thangavelu (Thangadurai), Selvarajah Yogachandran (Kuttimani), Siva Subramaniam Sri Sabaratnam (Thevan), Nadarajah (Sivapalan Master), Sundaram Sri Sabaratnam, who is absconding and Vaithilingam Nadesadasan.”

It was this group from which the T.E.L.O. claimed its antecedents and was led by the third named Sri Sabaratnam. Kuttimani and Thangadurai died during the prison massacre of 25 July, 1983. What would not have been dreamed of by the public at this time was that the T.E.L.O. leader would be killed 39 months later on the orders of the leadership of Mr. Prabhakaran’s Tigers.

5 March, 1983:

The unprecedented court drama had its second act on 24 February, 1983 when the first accused, Thangathurai, made a moving statement before the court. Subsequently the six accused were sentenced to life imprisonment on two counts and 15 years of rigorous imprisonment each on two other counts. The presiding High Court Judge was Mr. C. L. T. Moonemale. Thangathurai’s speech may have been a historic speech had his political heirs become successful. At that time it had an effect on the Tamils from which all militant factions benefited. The third anniversary of the Welikade prison massacre took place shortly after the decimation of the T.E.L.O. by the Tigers which rekindled some of the scenes of the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. In several places attempts to distribute leaflets commemorating the prison massacre in which Kuttimani and Thangathurai died were stopped by the Tigers.

      Thangathurai’s moving speech in Tamil eloquently recalled the historic experience of the Tamils and contained these lines: “We are not lovers of violence nor victims of mental disorders. We are fighters belonging to an organisation that is struggling to liberate our people. To those noble souls who keep prating terrorism, we have something to say. Did you not get frightened of terrorism when hundreds of Tamils got massacred in cold blood, when racist hate spread like fire in this country of yours? Did terrorism mean nothing to you when Tamil women were raped? When cultural treasures were set on fire? When hundreds of Tamil homes were looted? Why, in 1977 alone 400 Tamils lost their lives reddening the sky above with their splattered blood. Did you not see any terrorism then? It is only when a few policemen are killed in Tamil Eelam and a few million rupees bank money robbed that terrorism strikes you in the face… But my fervent prayer is that innocent Sinhalese people should not have to reap what power hungry Sinhalese politicians have sown. These tribulations are a boon bestowed by God to purify us. The final victory is ours.”

      At this point student unrest in all of Ceylon’s Universities was taking shape. What must have disturbed the government was the co-ordination between the student bodies of the different universities. This was sundered in the climate of racism following the July 1983 disturbances. However this did not bring peace to the Universities in the South which came to be known as more closed than open. The mood of racism fostered by the government, accompanied by frustration with the government itself, provided fresh opportunities for the J.V.P. in the coming years. However, the mood at that time was captured in a report in the Saturday Review: “Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act”. This was one of the main demands of undergraduates of all universities and university campuses in Sri Lanka who carried out a one-day token boycott of lectures on 24 February. The undergraduates have also demanded that the government keep its hands off the Universities. This demand refers specifically to the statement made recently by University Grants Commission (U.G.C.), Chairman Dr. Stanley Kalpage, that legislation is on the way to take over the administration of the universities and his threat that the U.G.C. would cancel the scholarships and loan facilities of students who go on strike… The third demand of the undergraduates was that students of the Kotelawala Defence Academy should not be admitted to the University of Colombo.

12 March, 1983:

This issue reported mounting unrest in Jaffna over the detention of three students. It went on: “Meanwhile a wave of discontent is sweeping the University Campuses throughout the country. The Colombo University strike went into the second week while undergraduates at Peradeniya, Kelaniya, Ruhuna and Batticaloa began boycotting all classes on Monday protesting the ‘Police brutality’ unleashed on the strikers at Colombo and Sri Jayewardenepura Universities.”

      Around this time events were gaining a new momentum. On 4 March two Army vehicles were ambushed near Kilinochchi injuring five soldiers. On 14 March Government Officers wielding clubs and batons, claiming to act on the orders of the Assistant Government Agent set fire to 16 huts belonging to hill country Tamils in a refugee settlement at Pankulam, Trincomalee District. The refugees were supported by Gandhiyam. This was a sign that the state was preparing to use an iron fist against communities, as opposed to individuals as in the past.

      On 5 April 1983, a march organised by students protesting the P.T.A. was beaten and broken up by a Police tear-gas attack. The marchers had initially avoided a Police cordon by starting from the Cathedral grounds instead of the grounds of St. James’ Church, Main Street, as earlier announced. (The news that was immediately alarming was the government crackdown on Gandhiyam.)

9 April 9, 1983:

“Gandhiyam Society, the only major voluntary service organisation engaged in community development projects in Tamil areas in Sri Lanka and the only active body looking after Tamil refugee resettlements, was raided by a combined team of Sri Lankan Army, Police and Criminal Investigation Department officials on Wednesday, 6th April at 10:00 a.m. The Organising Secretary of Gandhiyam, Dr. S. Rajasundaram, was himself taken away to an unspecified destination. Since there was no warrant for his arrest and since no reasons were given, it is believed that he was taken into custody under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act.”

30 April, 1983:

The death of Navaratnarajah in Army custody further aroused Tamil indignation over the treatment of prisoners under the P.T.A.. The lead story in the Saturday Review read: “There were twenty-five external injuries and ten internal injuries in the deceased Navaratnarajah’s body. The contusions in his lungs could have been caused by blows. I am of the opinion that death was due to cardio-respiratory failure, due to multiple muscle injuries and contusions of the lungs. In my opinion, adequate treatment from an institution would have saved his life.” So said Dr. N. Saravanapavananthan, A.J.M.O., submitting his medical report in the inquest of 28-year old Navaratnarajah of Trincomalee who died in Army custody at the Gurunagar Army Camp, Jaffna, on the 10th of April. Navaratnarajah was arrested two weeks previously on suspicion under the P.T.A..”

      N. Saravanapavananthan, Professor of Forensic Medicine, Jaffna, is one of those souls as unbending as his native palmyrah. He can be trusted never to compromise his professional judgement. After the inquest on Navaratnarajah was completed, the police searched the documents in the mortuary for the file. But Prof. Sara had taken the precaution of keeping the file in a safe place. He was an old hand at this work. In 1971 as Judicial Medical Officer in Galle during the Sinhalese youth insurgency, he could not be prevented from exhuming a whole heap of bodies near Giniganga – bodies of youngsters massacred en masse by security forces. The I.P.K.F. was compelled to treat him with respect, even when on an occasion he reversed the opinion of another doctor in the case of a rape complaint. The same issue of the Saturday Review reflected the feeling of alienation felt by the Tamils in a hard hitting editorial, titled “AWAY WITH THIS ABOMINABLE ACT”. It contained these words:

      “The first of such laws was promulgated in the very year of ‘freedom’ – the Citizenship Act No. 18 of 1948, which effectively excluded a section of the Tamils from citizenship. Then came the Indian and Pakistan Residents (Citizenship) Act No. 3 of 1949 and the Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Amendment Act No. 48 of 1949 which disenfranchised a large section of Tamils. Then came the Sinhalese Only law in 1956, making every Tamil in this country, irrespective of what doctorates some of them held, virtual illiterates in their land of birth. The Prevention of Terrorism Act is now over three years old. What has the government achieved by it up to now?”

30 April 30, 1983

This issue highlighted the detention and torture of senior Architect, Arulanandam David, President of Gandhiyam, at Panagoda military barracks. In a telegram sent to the president, Lawyer Kumaralingam stated that detainee Rajendran was passing blood and was suffering from frequency of micturation. Lawyers gained access to David through a court order after David had been forced to sign a confession under torture.

      The same issue also drew attention to countrywide repression. A meeting of the Civil Rights Movement held on 15 April 1983 and presided over by its Chairman Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe expressed concern at the growing indications of police misconduct. It listed in particular: assaults against journalists at Kotmale; assault and unlawful detention of a 17-year-old boy at the Kandy police station; assaults against women strikers at Ekala; assaults against students at Jayewardenepura; death of a suspect held in police custody at Matale; assault against pavement hawkers in Colombo; and assault against former M.P. Mrs. Vivienne Gunawardene.

      Following the announcement of local government elections three U.N.P. men in the North were shot dead (Ratnasingam, Rajaratnam and Muttiah). This brought to five the number of U.N.P. men killed (with Thiagarajah in 1981, and Thambapillai in November 1982). In a leaflet by the L.T.T.E. claiming responsibility for these killings the T.U.L.F. was branded as an evil force which was Eelamist only in connection with elections. The L.T.T.E. called for a boycott of the elections scheduled for 18th May, causing some leading T.U.L.F. candidates to withdraw and U.N.P. members to leave the party. At one meeting (8 May) when militant youths fired into the air, everyone, including the speakers on the platform, ran away except for the T.U.L.F. Secretary General and Leader of the Opposition, Mr. A. Amirthalingam.

14 May 1983:

This issue of the Saturday Review had this to say: “Tamil Undergraduates and a few Tamil lecturers fled the University of Peradeniya on Thursday and Friday following assaults by some Sinhalese undergraduates. Some Tamil students have been admitted to Kandy hospital with injuries. A few days back a student group had staged a Tamil translation of Jean-Paul Satre’s “Men Without Shadows”. The torture and cruelty by the Nazi soldiers of French resistance fighters was suspected of being portrayed in a way as to resemble local conditions. Later pamphlets issued by the L.T.T.E. were found pasted on the Science Faculty walls”.

      Another provocation for the violence seems to be the tarring of the English and Sinhalese lettering at the entrance to the University. This incident was suspected of having been engineered. A long standing tradition at the Faculty of Engineering held when Sinhalese students protected fellow Tamil students. Elsewhere Tamil students were told: “No campus and no Eelam for you bastards.”

      The turn out for the local polls on 18 May was low for reasons varying from support for the L.T.T.E. to fear. The L.T.T.E. went beyond the boycott call and attacked a polling booth: “About 64 houses, three mini-buses, nine cars, three motor-cycles and 36 bicycles were set on fire by Army men on a rampage at Kantharmadam in Jaffna on Wednesday the 18th evening and night as soon as a state of emergency came into force a 5:00 p.m.. This is believed to be the Army’s “reply” to the killing of Corporal Jayewardene by militant youths at a polling centre in the vicinity an hour earlier.”

21 May, 1983:

The army had now accepted collective reprisals as a weapon. In two months the army would take on unarmed civilians. The Saturday Review contained a report by Dr. M. S. L. Salgado, J.M.O., Colombo, indicating that the Gandhiyam secretary Dr. Rajasundaram had almost certainly been badly assaulted and tortured.

      The incidents at Pankulam and Kantharmadam marked a conscious new trend in the government’s thinking. What took place at Kantharmadam was not a spontaneous action. It was systematically done after a senior officer arrived and gave an order. With the exception of one goat there was no loss of life. The crossing of the Rubicon which set the stage for indiscriminate mass killing came with the announcement by a Defence Ministry spokesman that: “The armed forces and the police in the North are to be given legal immunity from judicial proceedings and wide ranging powers of search and destroy”. The University students in Jaffna came to the fore in collecting money and materials and providing relief for the victims at Kantharmadam.

4 June, 1983:

The lead story in the Saturday Review quoted the statement published in the Sun: “Under such circumstances soldiers were compelled to react as during a war particularly in their role of fighting armed terrorists who had no compunction about killing servicemen or members of the public. In view of this it has been felt that police and service-men in the North should be given the freedom of the battlefield rather than having their morale sapped through conflicts with legal niceties. This is not a peacetime situation and the police and services must be provided with adequate safeguards when attempting to control the problem”.

      The new immunity was Emergency Regulation 15A of 3 July 1983 which allowed the security forces to bury or cremate bodies of people shot by them without revealing their identities or carrying out inquests. It was widely believed that these new powers were a direct reaction to the evidence proferred by A.J.M.O. Dr. Saravanapavanandan at the inquest of Navaratnarajah who died in army custody. This was not an issue connected with the “freedom of the battlefield.” It was murder of a helpless captive. In general Tamils became both angry and frightened. They rightly believed that the government was arming itself with powers for some course of action that went beyond dealing with an admittedly deteriorating law and order situation.

      Almost 12 hours after the government’s announcement of tough new measures under the Public Security Act, Mr. Thilagar, a hospital employee and U.N.P. candidate for the municipal elections was shot at 6:15 a.m. on 4 June, at the Jaffna hospital. If the government was heading towards lighting the tinder, the militants were determined to help things along.

      The same issue of the Saturday Review also carried news of an army rampage in Vavuniya: “Service personnel destroyed the Gandhiyam farm at Kovilkulam, about one and a half miles away from Vavuniya town on Wednesday 1st June. The rampaging servicemen who came in trucks destroyed the crops and huts and set fire to the farm buildings and vehicles. Three tractors and a van were burnt.”

      This happened after a four man guerrilla group flung bombs at an airforce jeep and then opened fire, killing airmen U. L. M. Perera and W. A. Gunasekera. This happened at the vegetable market where the airmen were shopping. It may be noted that this incident took place before the announcement of new measures and there was no loss of civilian life. The guerrillas were later identified with a group within the P.L.O.T.E..

      The 4 June issue further reported that on 30 May, Sabaratnam Palanivel, a young van driver of Valvettithurai was dragged into the Valvettithurai army camp and shot dead by Corporal M. Wimalaratne. This happened around 4:30 a.m. when Palanivel was driving home after taking some relatives who wanted to catch the Trincomalee bus. Later an army truck ran over the dead body. This was the last time army offenders were brought before a Magistrate. Hence forward the situation in the country was to be qualitatively different. During the course of the Tamil insurgency, every death up to this time was an issue that aroused keen concern. Over the next five years, both freedom and value of life would continue to decline, not only in the North, but also in the South.

11 June, 1983:

A last plea for sanity was contained in a telegram sent to President Jayewardene on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement, by its secretary Desmond Fernando. The subject was the new powers being granted to the security forces. Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe, the president of the C.R.M. was to die a broken man on 23 October, the same year – broken by the blood letting that was to envelope the whole country. The C.R.M. felt a frequent need to refer to the events of 1971 involving the Sinhalese youth insurgency, which led to its formation when the Left government of Mrs. Bandaranaike was in power. This was because Jayewardene’s chosen tactics to dismiss the counsels of the C.R.M. was to brand it a Communist or Communist inspired (and hence subversive) organisation. That was how the destructive mind of the government worked. Quoted below is an extract from the telegram, published in the Saturday Review of 11 June, 1963:

“The granting of such powers will create again the excesses of 1971 when similar powers resulted in deaths under torture, indiscriminate killings and execution without trial by security forces, which usurp functions of courts in determining who is a terrorist and who is not; and leading to slaughter of many never established to have been involved in insurgent activities. Revocation of this horrifying regulation was one of the main demands of the CRM at its inception in 1971.

      “… It must guarantee that all such persons are dealt with by due process of the law and in keeping with the fundamental principles of justice… for otherwise a government would be flouting the principles of justice that are vital to democracy in the very act of claiming to defend democratic institutions.

      “The Working Committee of the C.R.M. also points out that the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which Your Excellency’s Government has signed specifically provides that the right to life and the right to protection from torture cannot be derogated from even at a time of emergency threatening the life of the nation.”

      This plea came against a background of racist attacks throughout the country. The situation in Trincomalee was particularly grim, where the Saturday Review of 11 June reported one killing and several bomb attacks. The fact that these racist attacks were taking place while there was a curfew on, strongly suggested the connivance of the armed forces.

      The situation there was to get worse in the weeks to come. In one incident several Tamil passengers travelling in a van were attacked and burnt with the van. Several Tamils who experienced these harrowing days in Trincomalee said that during curfew, racist hoodlums would attack them at home, and if they tried to flee, the security forces would shoot them as curfew breakers. It was clear that the government had decided to use brazen force to drive away Tamils from several areas of the North and East where they felt relatively safe. Especially targeted were the Trincomalee District and the settlements where Tamil refugees from the 1977 violence had after several years of hard work become economically stable. There was the chilly nip of unreason in the air.

      On 2 July, 1983, the Saturday Review was sealed by the state just before its front and back pages could be printed. With all its shortcomings it had been a voice of humanity. Before the referendum fraud of December 1982, it had done for the whole country a courageous service, which the press in the South was constrained from doing, by giving articulation to a wide spectrum of voices from around the country protesting at the deception. It had done much to secure an impressive vote in Jaffna against the government, despite the T.U.L.F.’s silence. Henceforward to stand up for reason and humanity in Ceylon, was to become several times more dangerous – in the South as well as in the North. Shortly after the July 1983 violence, Mr. S. Sivanayagam, the paper’s editor, would seek exile in India.

      When the paper resumed publication several months later, its role would be very different, one of its main tasks being to catalogue a seemingly endless series of gory happenings. Constraints on press freedom would come from unexpected quarters. The old interest in political debate and development issues would be vastly reduced. One would miss contributions from readers on the importance of the Palmyrah Palm, heritage matters, problems of the Vanni farmer etc.. The optimism and the sense of forward movement were gone. Many of the lights had gone out. The sins of omission and commission had much to do with this. Even as the paper was being sealed, it was preparing for a future that was qualitatively different. The unpublished issue of 2 July, 1983 had the following lines from its future editor, Gamini Navaratne, B.Sc. (Econ.) London, author of “The Chinese Connexion,” and for 30 years a Westminster style lobby correspondent: “If I have my own way, I will send most of the present politicians to the moon. That’s where they really belong.” That was saying a lot about the future.

      We see that during the years 1977-83 there were two main currents in the Tamil community outside the scope of parliamentary politics. One was to build up village level organisations of communities, economically viable and conscious of their dignity and rights as persons and communities. Their main weapon was to express, nonviolently, a feeling of public anger and outrage when this dignity was violated. Such a tendency was represented in Jaffna by the activities of the students.

      The other tendency was represented by the L.T.T.E. and sections of the P.L.O.T.E.. Their hit and run attacks against the state, especially the police and the armed services,were creating a momentum of their own. This tendency underwent rapid expansion after July 1983, marginalising the people. Groups such as the E.R.O.S. and the E.P.R.L.F. concentrated mainly on grass-roots work amongst the masses before July 1983, and did continue with this for a time afterwards. But with India’s entry and its adoption of the militant groups, all of them became primarily military organisations.

      The failure of the Tamil leadership during this period was its lack of determination to move decisively to resolve both intellectually and in practice its ambivalent attitude towards violence. The murder of Dr. Rajasundaram during the second Welikade prison massacre of 27 July 1983 marked the end of an era. Much imaginative and dedicated work by individuals who gave all they had was forgotten. By 1988 few lips would utter the name of Dr. Rajasundaram. We are without a sense of history or a sense of gratitude. That explains what became of us. There is something fatally sick in a community that expends inordinate emotion on every passing scene, forgetting the last and unable to make the connections with the events that had gone before. A return to sanity will also involve a sober evaluation of our past. Many believe that if the July 1983 violence had not intervened, the first tendency would have overcome the second.[Top]Next||Previous||content

1 Sinhalese in Sinhalese

Chapter 4

The mood of the government was reflected in a pronouncement President Jayewardene made during the course of an interview he gave Graham Ward of the Daily Telegraph, published in the issue of 18 July 1983. He said: “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now… Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us.” India had been diplomatically voicing its concern about the worsening situation to the government. The Sri Lankan government had been working up anti-Indian remarks by the President. Significantly, the first public statement of concern for the Tamils in Ceylon from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, came between the publication of Jayewardene’s remarks in the Daily Telegraph and the commencement of the racial violence six days later.

        We have seen that in the weeks leading up to the 23rd of July 1983, the government had been building up for a use of massive force against Tamils. Regulations had also been framed which empowered state officials to break up refugee settlements of victims of the 1977 violence painstakingly built up in the North and East. Under cover of the July 1983 violence, there was forced transport on a large scale of Indian Tamil refugees from the North and East back to the hill country which they had fled in fear six years previously. They were simply dumped in the hill country while around them Tamils were again being killed and rendered refugees. July 1983 saw the publication of a report by Amnesty International detailing the large scale practice of torture against detainees. This was dismissed by President Jayewardene as communist inspired.

        The course of the violence had such a planned character that the ambush of Sri Lankan soldiers rather than being the cause would have represented simply a convenient starting point. Militant activities in Jaffna had been on the increase. The army too had some successes. On one occasion two militants were ambushed and killed. On 23 July the L.T.T.E. killed 13 soldiers when the truck in which they were travelling hit a landmine on Palaly road in Thirunelvely. A senior L.T.T.E. man, Sellakilli, who had turned the tables on Inspector Bastianpillai was also killed. According to one source there had been a mix up of signals and Sellakilli had stood up. The following day the army went on a spree in Jaffna killing 41 people – some in their homes, some while they were waiting for buses at Manipay, and so on. The violence in Colombo started in the early hours of 25 July. 53 Tamil detainees at Welikade prison were killed in two successive attacks by armed fellow prisoners on the 25th and 27th of July. There was no impartial inquiry into this incident. It is believed that the prison massacre was planned at the highest levels and in the circumstances it could hardly have been otherwise.

        The excerpts given below are taken from “Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After,” by L. Piyadasa, Marram Books, London (1984). These describe the course of violence:

In Kelaniya, Industries Minister Cyril Mathew’s gangs were identified as the ones at work. The General Secretary of the government “union” the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (J.S.S.) was identified as the leader of gangs which wrought destruction and death all over Colombo and especially in Wellawatte, where as many as ten houses a street were destroyed. A particular U.N.P. municipal councillor of the Dehiwela-Mount Lavinia Municipality led gangs in Mount Lavinia. In the Pettah (the bazaar area, where 442 shops were destroyed and murders were committed) the commander was the son of Aloysius Mudalali, the Prime Minister’s right-hand man. And so on. Thugs who worked regularly for the leaders of the U.N.P., the Ministers of State and Party Headquarters, and in some cases uniformed military personnel and police, were seen leading the attack. They used vehicles of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (Minister in charge, M. H. Mohammed) and other government departments and state corporations. Trucks of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation’s Oil Refinery came from many miles away bringing the men who destroyed so much of Wellawatte. There is much other evidence of this sort. In view of the quasi-governmental nature of the “action,” the killings that took place may have been difficult for the eye-witnesses to resist … But in the neighbourhoods, after the initial shock, Sinhalese and Burghers organised themselves and kept off the gangs who had been sent to burn and kill.

        We have talked to people who were eye-witnesses of the killings – the beatings-to-death and burnings-alive in cold blood of individual Tamils seized, with never a case of police opposition, on the streets and in vehicles. Most people have read or heard the account, which we are convinced is authentic, of the Norwegian tourist who saw twenty people burnt alive in a minibus by one of these gangs. One of the most remarkable exploits of the “heroes” was the massacre, that day, in Welikade Prison (Sri Lanka’s most important) of 35 people including some convicted men, and most either on remand or arbitrarily detained by the military. All were Sri Lankan Tamils. We are convinced that this massacre could not have been carried out without government and National Security Council authorisation and preparation at a level which would have guaranteed immunity from prosecution and public investigation. The men and women responsible for the conspiracy to commit this atrocity were never named, nor were those who organised and directed it. Fellow-prisoners of the murdered persons who were set up to commit some of the killings, and provided with weapons (and what else?), were collectively but not individually identified, but no one was charged!

        The pogrom continued less intensely in Greater Colombo for three more days, in spite of the curfew. On Tuesday, July 26th, some of the action squads were transported to Kandy, some 70 miles away, and that afternoon there was a similar sharp and quick action there before the curfew was declared at 6 p.m. It then moved further up-country, past towns like Matale (devastated) and Nawalapitiya towards Badulla and Nuwara Eliya. Hindu temples had been added to the hit list. Army action had resulted in over 60 per cent of Badulla’s city centre being reduced to rubble. On the 27th, incredibly, the second massacre of Tamil political detainees and remand prisoners was successfully carried out. This time 18 were killed. There was more to come. For, as some of the Tamils began to trickle back to work towards the end of the week, their fellow-countryman, J. R. Jayewardene, spoke publicly for the first time on Thursday evening, justifying what had been done to the Tamils in South and central Sri Lanka, and uttering not a word of sympathy. On Friday, this provocative speech, and other actions, led to further arson and many more killings.

        The second extract describes the peculiar conduct of Mr. Gamini Dissanayake, M.P. for Nuwara Eliya and Minister of Lands and Land Development. Nuwara Eliya erupted following his visit, after the city had been brought under control by persons acting with foresight:

The town was closely guarded by the army. All vehicles were checked. Bus conductors had orders not to transport Tamils. Minister Gamini Dissanayake came from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya to hold a meeting with party members. The day before, M.P. Herath Ranasinghe had arrested precautiously (sic) some well-known rowdies. Soon after the end of Gamini Dissanayake’s party meeting they were released. These people went out immediately, well-equipped with petrol, iron rods and other kinds of weapons, and tried to attack two Tamil priests in town. They managed to escape. Without having succeeded they moved on – another mob joined up with the first one. They laid a ring of petrol around a Tamil shop which was then burnt. They were supported in this by the army who supplied them with gallons of petrol. During the day nearly all Tamil-owned shops were burnt. Mrs. Herath Ranasinghe ordered the army to disperse the looters – but it was already too late. The Member of Parliament was banished from town under a hail of insults. Tamil people who walked the streets were beaten by soldiers. The fire brigade which stood waiting was hindered by the army and the Sinhalese mob in doing its job… Shops which had not been burnt by the mob were set fire to by the army. Around noon Nuwara Eliya was like a sea of flames… (“Sri Lanka – ‘Paradise’ in Ruins,” Sri Lanka Co-ordination Centre, Kassel, 1983).

        Addressing a meeting of the L.J.E.W.U. (Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union), a union sponsored by Mr. Dissanayake as a rival to Mr. Thondaman’s C.W.C., shortly after the July 1983 violence; Dissanayake said: “If India invades this country, the Tamils will be killed within 24 hours.” There was much talk at that time about Indian troops being sent to protect Tamils. Dissanayake was, in the best street thug tradition, doing more than his share of Tamil baiting.

        With the march of modern Sinhalese nationalism, Duttugemunu, a prince from the second century B.C. had been brought out of the mists of time and elevated to the position of the archetypal Sinhalese hero. The most celebrated of Duttugemunu’s acts was to defeat in single combat, Elara, the aging King of Anuradhapura for 40 years. Elara had in his youth led an army into Ceylon from South India, and according to the chronicle Mahavamsa which contains the incident, had been a just and popular ruler. Duttugemunu had built a tomb for his dead foe and had decreed that all passers by should treat it with respect. To call Elara a Tamil and Duttugemunu a Sinhalese is to load modern ethnic consciousness with meanings it did not possess in ancient times. Indeed even as late as the first half of the 19th century, it was natural for members of the Kandyan upper class whom the British wished to apprehend, to seek refuge in Jaffna without feeling in any way aliens there. An older generation of the Kandyan upper class was quite happy with its children seeking spouses of the right caste in Jaffna, rather than in the low-country. There are many anecdotal stories which illustrate this. Once Mrs. Bandaranaike’s brother, Senator Barnes Ratwatte, was heard speaking to someone in fluent Tamil. When a Tamil person expressed surprise, Mr. Ratwatte had replied lightly: “The higher you go up Kandyan society, the Tamil improves.” This suggests a Ceylonese society divided on caste lines rather than on linguistic lines. This is confirmed by recent scholarship (See “Ethnicity and Social Change in Sri Lanka“, published by the Social Scientists Association, 1979).

        Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalism as it is known today was spearheaded by the emergence of a low-country based commercial class under the opportunities provided by British ruled Ceylon. Kumari Jayewardene has pointed out that the anti-Indianism of this class had to do with current business rivalries with Indian merchants who were also making it good, rather than with anything in the hazy past. A leading role in the development of this nationalism was played by the Karawe caste, descended from Tamil speaking mercenaries who were brought from South India in service of local kings shortly before the coming of the Portuguese in 1505. Modern Sinhalese nationalism thus propagated a series of myths through the teaching of history in schools; whence the obscure prince Duttugemunu came to be the achetypical anti-Indian and anti-Tamil hero. History has no justification for this if one looks at the continual migration of peoples from India and their co-mingling over the centuries.

        The latter part of the seventies saw an incident made sillier by the involvement in it of two highly educated ministers. A monument in Anuradhapura long known as Elara’s tomb was proclaimed as being the tomb of Duttugemunu. Claims to this effect in the last three decades died down when it was found that the opposition from professional scholars was too much. This time some remains from the tomb were sent to the Government Analyst, to prove that the remains were those of Duttugemunu. How that was to be done in the case of a person dead for over two millennia with no medical history, one does not know. Two of the ministers who took a prominent interest in the ceremonial fanfare were Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. Acquiring for themselves the Duttugemunu image was important for their politics and their personal vanity. This may go some way to explain their heroics. (For more on the subject of the tomb, see “The Tomb of Elara,” by Dr. James Rutnam.)

        Such histrionics were almost exclusively part of the gimmickry of the Right. The Sinhalese masses were increasingly fed on such opium to alleviate their bourgeoning misery. Theatrical gestures of this kind are likely to cut little ice today. Indian troops are within a few miles of the tomb. As an Indian General put it: “We are not here to play marbles”. Dissanayake was prominent amongst the protagonists of the Accord which ‘invited’ in the Indian troops. Mr. Dissanayake commands a ministry with a very large flow of money, next perhaps only to defence expenditure. He is also tipped to be a possible successor to President Jayewardene. With such interests at stake, it is understandable for Duttugemunus to turn Ettappan or Pilime Talawe, who connived with the British conquest of Pandya and Kandy respectively, thus betraying the trust of their Lords.

        The July 1983 race riots marked an outbreak of irrational frenzy. The reasons given are many: widespread corruption at the top accompanied by impoverishment below; the increasing resort to ecstatic religion by the common people whose worldly horizons were hopelessly restricted, thus making them more vulnerable to emotive suggestions; the failure of economic life in rural areas swelling the ranks of a discontented urban proletariat; frustration resulting from the violent break up of the 1980 strike and the deprivation of the safety valve of general elections through an almost certainly rigged referendum, etc. The government succeeded in directing all this frustration at the Tamils through its propaganda, thus providing sacrificial victims for a Bacchanalian orgy. One may compare this with the periodic pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia.

        The collective Sinhalese hysteria had the character of a religious ritual. The Cabinet which one way or the other sanctioned it, seemed to share in the hysteria. Hardly a minister came out clean. S. J. Tambiah (“Ethnic Fratricide in Sri Lanka,” Chicago University Press, 1985) records the conduct of some key ministers thus:

In the wake of the July 1983 violence, perhaps out of a “feeling of being crushed and pressured by a massive tide of collective aggression” by the Sinhalese, it took the President 24 hours to impose a curfew on Colombo, and four days to say anything at all. Then referring to the mobs as a “mass movement by the generality of the Sinhalese people,” the President averred: “The time has come to accede to the clamour and national respect of the Sinhalese people.” This tide of appeasement was carried on by other ministers. On the same television programme, Mr. Athulathmudali, who was later to become Minister of National Security, nearly wept with ponderous histrionics over a sight he had never dreamed he would see – lines of Sinhalese people waiting to buy food as the result of riots! He had not a word to say in sympathy for frightened Tamils crowded in indescribable conditions in refugee camps… neither the President, the Cabinet, nor even a single Sinhalese politician visited them to commiserate even briefly, or to promise relief and rehabilitation… The same President who admitted that some of his armed forces had participated in the riots wagged his finger at India for its alleged expansionist and interfering ambitions… Minister Cyril Mathew declared in Parliament on 4th August 1983: “If the Sinhala [1] 1 are the majority race, why can’t they be the majority?” Even Ronnie de Mel who later tried to distance himself from the government’s Tamil policy did not come out untarnished.

        Piyadase puts it thus: “The economic interests represented by Esmond Wickremasinghe, Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake can be furthered only at considerable cost to the people of Sri Lanka.”

        One thing was clear after the riots. For the first time a government had connived in violence against a section of its own people on such a large scale. Wild passions had been unleashed. It was an invitation to all and sundry to fish in troubled waters. The country was not going to be the same again. (For a detailed exposition of the subject, see L. Piyadasa’s “Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After,” Marram Books, London, 1984) [Top]Next||Previous||content

1 A popular main course from steamed flour and coconut

Chapter 5


5.1 Post 1983

The aftermath of the 1983 race riots brought a flood of recruits into the militant groups. The militant movements had become fractured in 1980 with the split between Prabhakaran and Uma Maheswaran. The latter went on to found P.L.O.T.E. (Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) and the former the L.T.T.E. (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). India’s role in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs assumed a new phase in 1981 when it refused to deport to Sri Lanka Prabhakaran and Uma Maheswaran who had got themselves locked up in police custody over a gun fight at Pondi Bazaar. The Sri Lankan government claimed that they were wanted as criminal suspects. After the 1983 riots all militant groups based themselves in Tamil Nadu. The other significant militant groups are the T.E.L.O., the E.P.R.L.F. and the E.R.O.S.. All of them received succour from India and were monitored by the Indian intelligence organisation R.A.W. (Research and Analysis Wing). By unofficial estimates 3,000 Tamils had been killed and the stock of the Sri Lankan government in international opinion reached an all time low. India had also offered its offices to reach a political settlement. Instead of cutting its losses and reaching a settlement with the Tamils, the government first agreed to proposals put forward by the Indian Special Envoy Mr. G. Parthasarathy, and then dragged its feet. A Minister for National Security was appointed in January 1984 it became evident that Mr. Parthasarathy’s proposals had been rejected in all but words. Many Sinhalese critics of the government felt that it was fatally idiotic to trifle with India in this manner. The government repeatedly claimed that India was going to invade Sri Lanka. But to more perceptive observers at that time, the possibility of invasion seemed very remote. While the international press claimed that Tamil militants were receiving training in India, India stated that there were only Tamil refugees on Indian soil. The true situation became one of the open secrets of the day. In consequence of all these, the result in Ceylon was a mounting military campaign by the government which increasingly became a campaign of indiscriminate terror. This was paralleled by an increasingly effective Tamil insurgency.

5.2 The Militants in Politics

By the time of the cease-fire of 18 June 1985, the militants had reached a dominant position in the Jaffna peninsula. Sri Lankan troops there were confined to barracks. Militarily the T.E.L.O. had come to rival the L.T.T.E.. The P.L.O.T.E. was well trained and armed, but claimed that it was building up for military action rather than for a guerrilla campaign. When the L.T.T.E., T.E.L.O., E.P.R.L.F. and E.R.O.S. formally united a short time before in April 1985 to form the E.N.L.F. (Eelam National Liberation Front), this gave a considerable morale boost to the Tamil population. Up to this time the Tamil population had hardly differentiated between rival groups. They were all referred to as boys and even Tigers. A short time after the cease fire the people began to realise that there were several disturbing trends. The formal unity of the E.N.L.F. was a facade and the boys were not going to listen to the people. About this time a novel, titled Puthiyathor Ulakam (A New World), was published by a dissident group of the P.L.O.T.E.. The book was about how young men with high ideals and a desire to sacrifice themselves for the good of their people, were drawn into a militant group which tried to pervert their original good intentions into a bizarre totalitarian conformism. Those who would not fall in line were tortured and brutally destroyed. Sources from this dissident group known as the “spark” group, claimed that about 90 members of P.L.O.T.E. had been so killed. There have also been a considerable number of authenticated internal killings within the L.T.T.E. and T.E.L.O. organisations. A large number of these killings took place on Indian soil. People began to wonder if India was indeed committed to democracy, justice and the well being of the Tamils. For what then had the police in Tamil Nadu been doing all these days?

        Another reason why these groups were not accountable to the people was that their dependence on the people was minimal. The people were mainly demonstration fodder. During 1984 and in the first half of 1985 the Citizens’ Committees had filled the gap left behind by the self-exiled M.P.s. The committees were made up mainly of people of standing and were independent of the militant groups. To them fell the task of collecting information on army atrocities and making representations to the army and the government. One of the tasks performed by them was to make representations on behalf of the numerous youths who were being detained. The Citizens’ Committees earned for themselves considerable credibility in the eyes of foreign journalists and in those of several embassies. The first blow to the mood of optimism which followed the ceasefire resulted from the murder by the L.T.T.E. of Mr. C. Anandarajan, Principal of St. John’s College, and a leading member of the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee. Many people acted in the belief that they still had certain democratic rights. Senior students at St. John’s College went around putting up condolence posters. One editor who editorially questioned the killing was taken away and warned. The members of the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee which asked the schools to observe a day of mourning received visits where the threatening undertone was clear. The main charge against Mr. Anandarajan, was the trivial one of his having organised a cricket match of Jaffna Schools versus the Sri Lankan Army, in the belief that it was in the spirit of the cease fire. It may be noted that about 15 months later in the middle of war leaders of the L.T.T.E. would fraternise on T.V. screens with Sri Lankan army officers, of whom Captain Kotelawela became well known.

        A little earlier Mr. Gnanachandran, A.G.A. (Assistant Government Agent), Mullaitivu, had been assassinated and sixteen charges against him were issued in a leaflet. A highly educated man who was close to the L.T.T.E. gave the following extraordinary tale in justification of the assassination: In 1985 the people of Mullaitivu went through a difficult period due to Sri Lankan army action. The story went that Rajiv Gandhi telephoned President J. R. Jayewardene to protest about problems in Mullaitivu. President Jayewardene denied that such problems existed and in support of his claim asked Rajiv Gandhi to talk directly to the man on the spot and connected him on to A.G.A. Gnanachandran in Mullaitivu. A.G.A. Gnanachandran is said to have backed the President’s claim. When asked how the militants got to know of this, the narrator of this story was sure that the conversation must have been overheard by an office employee at the switchboard who in turn would have informed the L.T.T.E.. Jaffna had now descended to trial by leaflet, gun, speculation and theatrics. The feeling of being besieged made the man in Jaffna accept all rumours and innuendoes that furthered the “Tamil cause,” without examination. A few felt that things had gone fatally wrong. But most felt that the boys understandably made some small mistakes and that they would come around.

        In another incident the army wanted all men in an area of Navaly to report at their camp the following day. A militant group came later and ordered that no one should go. Gunaratnam was a strong Jehovah’s witneess who felt that not to go after agreeing to do so was to have told a deliberate lie. He maintained that since he had done nothing wrong he should go and perhaps expound his religious convictions to the soldiers. He did go. He was later interrogated by the militant group who could not appreciate his point of view. He was then executed. His agonised sister believes to this day that her brother is somewhere alive.

        An example of trial by theatrics was the murder of a man popularly known as Rajanikanth by the T.E.L.O.. A resident of Kalviyankadu, he was an ironsmith who sometimes did some favours for the T.E.L.O.. It is said that once he had seen some members of the T.E.L.O. indulging in some unseemly behaviour with some girls. Rajanikanth proceeded to scold them as boys would be scolded by an older man. Later he was abducted by a faction of the T.E.L.O. and displayed on a stage at Nelliady Junction. A T.E.L.O. member dressed up as a woman came on stage and accused Rajanikanth of having raped her. The woman was given a knife and was asked to mete out an appropriate punishment. Rajanikanth was stabbed to death in a gruesome manner in public view. This happened during the second quarter of 1986.

        Another phenomenon which came to Jaffna after the June 1985 cease fire was the prevalence of extortion and often very brutal robberies. People’s houses were broken into by armed men, and after beating and sometimes torturing, their jewellery and other valuables were taken away. Appeals were made editorially and by posters to the militant groups to fulfil their obligation of policing, now that the Sri Lankan army was confined to barracks. But no militant group came forward to condemn these robberies or to do anything about them. Privately many of them expressed the feeling that these things have to be done in a liberation struggle to acquire resources. By several accounts, all militant groups indulged in robberies. Different militant groups became notorious in different areas. The game seemed to be to rob and try to put the blame on another group. The T.E.L.O. was the most noted in Jaffna town where the people were most articulate. This turned out to be useful for the L.T.T.E.. It may be mentioned that the robbery at Perumaal Temple in the heart of Jaffna, took place while an L.T.T.E. sentry was at hand. People once more lived in terror.

        Although there was formal unity in the E.N.L.F. in response to popular demand, they made no attempt to work together. It was well known that Prabhakaran, the L.T.T.E. leader, and Sri Sabaratnam, the T.E.L.O. leader hated each other. The assassination of T.U.L.F. M.P.s Mr. Dharmalingam and Mr. Alalasunderam of 2 August, 1985, is an example of the methods by which one militant group tried to score over the others. Mr. Dharmalingam and Mr. Aalalasunderam were amongst the T.U.L.F. M.P.s who continued to reside in Jaffna. On the basis of testimonies given by several persons who had talked to T.E.L.O. exiles in India, it is believed that this is how it happened: The L.T.T.E. leader Prabhakaran reportedly made a strong threatening speech against the T.U.L.F.. Sri Sabaratnam the T.E.L.O. leader then gave secret instructions to his men to assassinate the two M.P.s expecting that Prabhakaran would get the blame and the discredit.

        As expected the L.T.T.E. was largely blamed. In an independent testimony, a P.L.O.T.E. sentry near Mr. Dharmalingam’s residence identified a vehicle in which the assassins came as belonging to the T.E.L.O.. Another example of how the militant leaders functioned was given by T.E.L.O. exiles. Sri Sabaratnam was a leader whose presence gave a sense of awe to his men. Sometimes some members would complain to him about difficulties such as conditions in the camp. Sri Sabaratnam would listen with fatherly concern and go away promising redress. Later others would come and beat up the person who complained and nothing would change. Evidently the militant leaders had learnt a good deal from the methods of their predecessors in parliamentary politics. Only their adaptations were more frightening.

5.3 The Changing Character of the


The 1977 riots together with the lack of progress on the parliamentary front motivated many impressionable and able young men to look towards the militant movement by the late 1970’s. It was inevitable that the University of Jaffna should become a focal point for leadership as well as ideological direction. Many students became involved and several members of the staff became active sympathisers. The risks involved were considerable. In 1980 the University students put out a paper called the Unarvu (Sensation) which was backed by the L.T.T.E.. The paper put forward several Marxist slogans. The involvement of certain university persons gave a mistaken impression that the L.T.T.E. was a Marxist organisation. About the same time the faction of the Tigers which the following year adopted the name of the P.L.O.T.E. started a paper with the name Puthiya Paathai (New Path). This paper took a political line critical of traditional parliamentary politics as well as of the hit and run tactics of the L.T.T.E.. After two issues of the latter, Mr. Sunderam, a prominent person in the P.L.O.T.E., was assassinated by the L.T.T.E. while at the printers to bring out an issue of the paper. The official reason given by the L.T.T.E. was that the members of the organisation were signatories to a pledge not to leave the organisation and join or start another – which Sunderam had breached. But other observers say that Sunderam was a very able organiser and military man; and Prabhakaran felt that allowing him to work outside his organisation may create another rival to his own. This was the first internal killing to surface publicly, although there had been several others before. Following this two L.T.T.E. sympathisers Irai Kumaran and Umai Kumaran were killed by the P.L.O.T.E.. Though people were alarmed, these incidents were not taken to be a sign of a deeper malaise. By 1986 these internal killings were to reach epidemic proportions.

        The students of the University contributed considerably to the groups of the militant movement. The dedication of many of the students was such that they left their academic careers and went to rural areas and the Eastern Province to work for their organisations. Such persons were by nature intelligent, sensitive and bound to insist on democratic accountability from their leaders. With the rise of internal killings and autocratic leadership, these students became disillusioned. By 1985 many of them started quitting their organisations to lead quiet lives. According to the testimony of their friends, several of those students who died, ended their lives in a state of utter disillusionment. The last three student union leaders up to 1985 had deep seated problems with the L.T.T.E.. Two of them left the organisation and one died while doing refugee work. Of the University students who joined the organisation in the early 1980’s, only one remains within. By the latter part of 1985 the role of the students in the militant movement underwent a radical change. The students on the whole felt that the militant groups had gone very much astray and were locked in a war of attrition with each other. This, they felt had brought the community to a dangerous brink. The main thrust of student action now was to reform the militant movement through criticism and persuasion, to provide relief for refugees, to mediate between the public and the militants and to foster unity among the militant groups. Usually the students did not go for confrontation with the militant groups. But they raised specific questions regarding their conduct. They questioned the killing of Mr. Anandarajan and called for an explanation. They publicly questioned the T.E.L.O. over the killing of Rajanikanth. In April 1986 a demonstration from Vadamaratchi protesting the killing by the T.E.L.O. of T.E.L.O. members Das and four of his colleagues was fired upon. The students negotiated with the E.P.R.L.F. and P.L.O.T.E. to protect and shelter the demonstrators. The bodies of three demonstrators killed were taken to the University. In doing refugee work the students involved took considerable risks in going to difficult areas. In 1984 eight students died while transporting relief supplies to Mullaitivu.

        In this role the students were respected and also feared. Until the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash, the L.T.T.E. found the students movement useful. Though it no longer provided recruits, its criticisms were mainly directed against the T.E.L.O.. One reason for this was that the L.T.T.E.’s actions were more secretive, and could not be directly ascribed. Following the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash the L.T.T.E. moved to suppress the students. With the Vijitharan affair in November 1986, the break was complete. Henceforth, the students were scared and silent spectators. This virtually ended the University’s role in the militancy. Students of the past who had helped the growth of the militancy with dedication felt that they had been meanly used. The intellectual polish of the students had been useful. The leadership of the L.T.T.E., which was dominant by the end of 1986, proved that it had a mind of its own — a totalitarian mind.

        The July 1983 riots saw many new recruits pour into the militant movements. The trouble fomented by the government in the Eastern Province in 1984 found a large number of eastern province youths joining the militancy. The motivation of these youths was very different from that of their more intellectual and reflective predecessors from the University. Revenge, anger and utter helplessness were now leading motives. But the ground work had already been laid by the articulate students who had roamed the villages holding meetings. This suited the militant leadership. The new recruits would do what they were told, and not ask awkward questions. The L.T.T.E. could now drop its pretences concerning internationalism and socialism and show itself as a tightly controlled military organisation. The T.E.L.O. never had any pretences about intellectual leanings. By September 1985 a large number of refugees from the Trincomalee district were flooding into Jaffna, and these refugees who were very desperate were widely used in demonstrations. Many boys in their early teens from the refugee population joined mainly the E.P.R.L.F. and the T.E.L.O.. The E.P.R.L.F. was the first to recruit girls. The L.T.T.E. was however more discriminating in its recruitment. By December 1986 the L.T.T.E. was the dominant militant group having alienated and disbanded the other militant groups. Its military task was now much heavier, and it faced a severe man power shortage. Under these circumstances the L.T.T.E. was encouraging recruits even in their early teens. Jaffna’s Old Park had now become a show case for the L.T.T.E., where children watched the drilling going on after school and would sometimes run away from home to join. Others might first join their friends who were on sentry duty and later join fully for the thrill of it. By mid-1987 girls too were being trained for a military role. Distraught parents became a regular sight around L.T.T.E. camps crying and begging for their children who had run away and joined the movement. One would sometimes see comical scenes of mothers chasing their daughters from an L.T.T.E. camp and dragging them home, with both daughters and mothers in tears. One lady teacher who observed some of the teenage L.T.T.E. boys at Old Park coming after a bath, wondered sadly, how the community can allow such innocent ones, who hardly knew what they were doing to throw their lives away for an obscure cause. The wife of a specialist doctor said, that she actually saw the young boys in the L.T.T.E. camp next door play the children’s game called “hide and seek”. The militant movement had come a long way from its origins amongst the undergraduates of Peradeniya, who talked, theorised and then went abroad. Death, disillusionment and assassination had removed most of the able and mature leaders from amongst the militants. Their average age dropped perhaps from 22 to 14 or 16. The few leaders who remained enjoyed absolute authority over their unquestioning ranks.

        The following two conversations give some insight into the minds of the younger militants.

1.             A T.E.L.O. refugee in London: “I feel bad about seeing all these posh cars in London. That was one thing I did not lack in Jaffna. Whenever we saw a new kind of car, we would stop it and drive around for a bit.”

2.             From ex-members of the T.E.A. (Tamil Eelam Army) in Tamil Nadu: “Our camp was at Vetharaniam. Every afternoon we would drive in a van at a particular time. We used to have a bit of fun by cutting into the school girls who were returning home. One day, by accident we knocked three of them and two died. Anyway, we went to our camp, had lunch and slept. We were awakened by stones falling on our roof. We went out, saw an angry crowd and we fired into the air and dispersed the crowd… When we were in Karainagar and wanted a good meal, we would drive our truck with the L.M.G. (Light Machine Gun) at the ready at full speed towards the beach and would fire some volleys into the sea. On our way back, the villagers would ask what happened. We would reply the the Sri Lankan navy tried to attack the island and that we repulsed them. We would then be invited to a meal of mutton curry and pittu [1] 1 .”

        The T.E.A. was a marginal group under “Panagoda Maheswaran,” who was an engineering student at the University of London. Though an able military man, his group had no political outlook. Maheswaran’s greatest asset was his improvisation. After leaving Jaffna, he reportedly set up a workshop in Tamil Nadu to fashion shotguns. When an intrigued person asked him for an explanation, Maheswaran replied: “I choose the battlefield according to my equipment.” The L.T.T.E. on the other hand would take the same kind of recruit and motivate him to take the L.T.T.E.’s cause as a religion for which he would give his life. But the immaturity, cynicism, and unconcern for civilian life shows through.

        A point to be noted is the manner in which individuals were affected by the nature of the organisation they joined and the frustrations it engendered. A medical student, who was known as a pleasant young man to his friends, later became a notorious torturer within the T.E.L.O.. After July 1983, almost a whole class of senior boys at Hartley College, Pt. Pedro, joined the T.E.L.O.. Most of them were bright students from an elite school with good G.C.E. A. Level grades (from the government conducted common high school exam in the island). They made the sacrifice in the belief that within two years Eelam will be won, enabling them to get back to their careers. An observer who knew several of them, had this to say: “As time went by they realised that the struggle would be on for much longer that two years. They developed a grievance against those of their erstwhile colleagues who had gone for careers and studies abroad and had prospered. While having come to realise the shortcomings and limitations of their organisation, they were too proud to leave it and join another. They would rather work to bring the T.E.L.O. into prominence as against other groups, for their personal ambitions and prospects of power now hinged on the success of the organisation to which they were committed. Their grievance extended to a contempt for those who pursued ordinary civilian interests. They regarded themselves as superior to civilians who were obliged to accept their idea of what was good for them.” It would surprise many who knew the Tamils as an intelligent and highly educated community, that a combination of moral and intellectual lethargy, together with a misguided pragmatism, enabled them to build such high fantasies about the boys. On to their slender and fragile shoulders were thrust, all the responsibility for the moral and physical well-being of the community, trusting that barring a few ‘small mistakes’, all would be well.

5.4 The rise of the L.T.T.E.

In early 1985, the P.L.O.T.E., L.T.T.E. and T.E.L.O. were considered fairly evenly balanced. At the time when 7 L.T.T.E. men were killed in a quarrel with the P.L.O.T.E. at Chullipuram, the L.T.T.E. preferred discretion to valour. When quarrels developed between the L.T.T.E. and the T.E.L.O., neither seldom did anything more than go out on motor bikes and take pot shots at “sentry boys” in the rival group. These sentry boys, who were youngsters with no military training and in their early teens, were usually deployed with hand grenades to throw and run if the alarm had to be raised.

        In reprisal for the killing by the Sri Lankan forces of 70 civilians in Valvettithurai and the damage to the homes of Prabhakaran and several other L.T.T.E. leaders, the L.T.T.E. on 14 May 1985 conducted what came to be known as the Anuradhapura massacre. A few L.T.T.E. men drove into Anuradhapura and gunned down about 150 persons with ruthless efficiency and got away. In the ancient Sinhalese capital, the government forces were caught off guard. This gave the L.T.T.E. the reputation of being an efficient “killer machine,” that was to be both feared and respected. The many who approved of the Anuradhapura massacre little realised that such readiness to play around with lives of Sinhalese would result in making Tamil lives more insecure.

        However, around January 1986, it was a general belief among Tamils that no single group could proceed alone against the might of the Sri Lankan army. Attempts by the Sri Lankan Army in early 1986 on an L.T.T.E. camp at Suthumalai and a subsequent thrust into Tellipallai, were repulsed by all the groups acting together, including the T.E.A.. The T.E.L.O. provided critical help in saving the day when troops landed by helicopter and attacked the L.T.T.E.’s camp at Suthumalai. This was publicly acknowledged by the L.T.T.E.. It had been rumoured for some time that the “Das faction” of the T.E.L.O. in Vadamaratchi had some differences with the leader Sri Sabaratnam. Das was an able military man — and this faction was said to form the military backbone of the T.E.L.O.. The L.T.T.E.’s opportunity came when in April 1986 the Bobby faction of the T.E.L.O. treacherously shot dead Das and 4 of his colleagues. They were shot dead while visiting a colleague in the Jaffna Hospital. This resulted in the Das faction leaving the T.E.L.O. and going into exile, considerably weakening the T.E.L.O.. Towards the end of the month the T.E.L.O. moved several of its men outside Jaffna, ostensibly for operations against the Sri Lankan army. At the same time the L.T.T.E. moved many of its men into Jaffna and the word was put out that it was going to attack one of the Sri Lankan encampments. A crucial advantage possessed by the L.T.T.E. was a modern communications system with wireless sets. The L.T.T.E. took on the T.E.L.O. at the end of that month. The pretext was a minor tiff arising from both groups calling a hartal for the men they had lost at sea, about the same time. After one week of fighting the L.T.T.E. was supreme in Jaffna. The T.E.L.O. leader Sri Sabaratnam was killed on 7 May. The methods used by the L.T.T.E. were reminiscent of the shock tactics used against Sinhalese — during the Anuradhapura massacre. In a way the Anuradhapura massacre had come home and the ghosts of the dead were to haunt us for years to come.

        The manner in which the T.E.L.O. members were killed, shocked Tamil people everywhere. Many died without knowing what hit them. Twelve were killed near Manipay while they were asleep. Several were caught unawares, shot and burnt at junctions at Thirunelvely, Mallakam, and Tellipallai. Eight persons were killed at the camp behind the St. John’s principal’s bungalow. One person was thrust into a car, which was then exploded, leaving severed limbs strewn around. On hearing this the St. John’s College principal, Mr. Gunaseelan, who was in hospital, had a relapse which forced him into an early retirement. Many of the T.E.L.O. members who were from areas outside Jaffna had to flee in fear without knowing the streets or where they were going. The people were so terrified, that few found the courage to give shelter to the fugitives. While this unprecedented display was on, people stood mutely at junctions and watched, as persons hardly dead, were doused and burnt. Hardly anyone protested, which is understandable. Some went home saying things such as: “We have produced our own Hitlers.” Others gave a display of that opportunism that had become a characteristic feature of Jaffna. Some shop keepers offered aerated waters to those who had exhausted themselves putting on the show. Some students at the University attempted to take out a procession to stop the fighting but had to abandon it. The fighting was over in less than a week and Sri Sabaratnam was killed in circumstances which are not clear. Most sources agree that he was wounded in the shoot out, while his two companions escaped. Sri Sabaratnam then stood up and requested an opportunity to talk to Kittu, the Jaffna L.T.T.E. leader. He was then gunned down. Whether he was killed personally by Kittu and whether the order to kill him came from Prabhakaran himself, or from Kittu, are matters on which the various reports disagree. All this time the Sri Lankan army had remained quiet except for a bit of helicopter firing here and there. Outsiders saw the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash as fatally weakening the militant cause. Kautiliya, a columnist for the Sunday Island asked satirically whether the L.T.T.E. had taken a sub-contract with the Ministry for National Security to take on the T.E.L.O..

        Subsequently the L.T.T.E. launched a propaganda campaign where two reasons were given for its action: 1.The T.E.L.O. were a group of criminals who had harassed the people and had robbed them. and 2. The T.E.L.O. was acting as the agent of Indian imperialism.

        To substantiate these accusations, the L.T.T.E. announced that all recovered stolen items, jewellery, electrical goods and cars were being returned. In fact several cars taken over and used by the T.E.L.O. and allegedly stolen television sets and video-recorders were put on display near Windsor Theatre and were claimed by members of the public. But little or no jewellery was returned. However the jewellery robbed from Thurkai Amman Kovil [2] 1 at Tellipallai mysteriously reappeared and the wrath of the god was averted. Most people came to terms with what had happened and thought it was good. The first reason given by the L.T.T.E. had a strong influence in Jaffna town. The E.P.R.L.F. too returned several television sets and vehicles saying they were no longer needed. Several people who wanted the E.P.R.L.F. to keep these things found themselves left with no choice but to accept them. Amongst the E.N.L.F. partners only the E.P.R.L.F. found the courage to organise a protest rally for the killing of Sri Sabaratnam and the betrayal of the alliance. The E.R.O.S. remained quiet and began to be patted on the back by the L.T.T.E. as a good organisation, suitable for those who were not good enough for the L.T.T.E.. The press and the Church too came to terms with the new dispensation. The Roman Catholic Church under Bishop Deogupillai, who had been an outspoken critic of Sri Lankan army action did not use its strong base and its moral authority to protest against the fatal trend of cowardice and moral torpor within the Tamil community. The Morning Star, the journal of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (C.S.I.) commented editorially in a piece under the title, The Merry Month of May, that it had been held that the militant cause had been weakened by what had happened. It went on to allude that this was not necessarily the case as was proved by the militants’ success in repulsing the subsequent Sri Lankan offensive. Moreover it said that the people had stood shoulder to shoulder with the militants during the subsequent bombing of Jaffna. The Jaffna man was a very wise man who made a virtue of following the path of least resistance. That the path had to change direction frequently was of no consequence.

        Claims have been made by the apologists for the action against the T.E.L.O. that India had ordered the T.E.L.O. to destroy the L.T.T.E., thus giving the L.T.T.E. no choice. The reason given for such an order, it is said, is that the L.T.T.E. refused to toe India’s line. Even assuming that India had expressed such a wish, whether the T.E.L.O. took it seriously is another matter. Granting a certain amount of cockiness on the T.E.L.O.’s part, it is hard for an observer then in Jaffna to believe that they had seriously entertained such an ambition for the near future. They were disorganised and divided as well as lacking in a communication network. Looking at the circumstances and Sri Sabaratnam’s remarks at Kalviankadu, it does not appear that the T.E.L.O. was looking for a clash. It has also been mentioned that the T.E.L.O. had at that time moved a large number of trained men out of Jaffna while the L.T.T.E. did the opposite amidst rumours that they were to take on a Sri Lankan army encampment.

        A significant circumstance was a serious division within the T.E.L.O. made worse a month earlier by killing by the Bobby faction of 5 leading members of the Das faction. A similar circumstance minus the assassinations was to precede the L.T.T.E.’s taking on the E.P.R.L.F., 7 months later – namely, the split arising from differences between Padmanabha, the E.P.R.L.F.’s political leader and Douglas Devananda, the leader of its military wing.

        A short time after the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. incident, an E.P.R.L.F. leader told a leading citizen that his leadership had asked the L.T.T.E. leadership what they really wanted and to state the terms on which they could work together. He further added that no reply had been forthcoming.

        On the question of India, most Tamils had unreal expectations of altruism on India’s part, while they revelled in thinking how smart they were in using India to get Eelam. They knew the nature of Indian politics and thought they could manipulate it for their ends. The two aspects of altruism and baseness that governed the Tamil man’s perception of India corresponded to the sentimental and the real. Equally, talk of any militant group being independent of India was meaningless after the initial surrender in exchange for arms, training, base facilities and recognition. This would be sharpened later after September 1987 by the L.T.T.E.’s successive contradictory positions involving considerable amnesia. The real sufferers would be the Tamil people. The thought that India could have interests, legitimate as big power politics goes, weighed little on people’s minds.

        Following the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash, the L.T.T.E. understood the feelings of ordinary people. Loudspeaker vehicles went about telling people not to talk about or analyse what had happened. This was the first publicly announced act of censorship. Previously the L.T.T.E. and the T.E.L.O. especially had visited newspapers to tell them not to write about certain incidents.

        About 20 May, 1986, the Sri Lankan government launched a limited offensive to test the strength of the militant movement after the excision of the T.E.L.O.. The column that advanced from Elephant Pass turned back at Pallai. One group broke out of the Jaffna Fort and established a beach-head at Mandaitivu, providing a safe means of supplying troops at Jaffna Fort, for, helicopters landing inside the fort were subject to fire from nearby. The Sri Lankan army also succeeded in widening the perimeters of its camps at Thondamanaru and Valvettithurai. Until May the question amongst civilians was, when would the militants make an attempt on one of the army camps. The question now was when would the Sri Lankan army make an all out attempt to recapture Jaffna. It was well understood that the L.T.T.E. would make a formidable foe.

        An aspect of L.T.T.E. dominance that made it acceptable to the general public was that robberies virtually ceased. The poor and the middle classes were left alone. The L.T.T.E. made mutually beneficial arrangements with wholesale merchants and big businessmen to the satisfaction of the latter. They could now enjoy their profits without the nuisance of being occasionally kidnapped for ransom. Before May 1986, if a man allegedly committed a fraud, the first militant group to discover it would descend on him, most likely in the night, to carry out an investigation. Occasionally, the victim would be lamp-posted (shot after being tied to an lamp post), or would be let off after negotiating an appropriate fee. After May 1986, several goods, aerated waters and cigarettes went up in price. In the best of times petrol sold at Rs. 19 per litre as against Rs. 13.50 per litre south of Vavuniya. Huge profits were made by dealers. Transport bottlenecks in a way proved a blessing to many peasants and labourers who were thrown out of work by the war. Many turned to transporting petrol to Jaffna on a small scale by bicycles and selling it by the bottle on the roadside. In this at least, the Sinhalese and Tamils on the border of the Northern province co-operated for their mutual prosperity. Another example of how the Jaffna economy worked was given by a head teacher from Chavakachcheri. Soon after the commencement of Operation Liberation on 26 May 1987, refugees from Vadamaratchi flooded into Thenmaratchi and the demand for rice was great. The normal price of a bag was Rs. 230/. A mill owner who had a very large quantity of rice paid Rs. 50,000 tax money and sold his stock at the rate of Rs. 400 per bag, making an astronomical profit.

        It was now expected that the L.T.T.E. would soon make a bid for sole dominance. Only the E.P.R.L.F. (Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front) seemed to be in a mood to challenge the L.T.T.E.. The E.R.O.S. (Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students) and the T.E.A. accepted L.T.T.E.’s dominance. The E.R.O.S. was a much smaller group which one time acquired for itself in the popular mind a reputation for intelligence and discipline. But its allegiance to Marxism was more doubtful, together with its concern for Sinhalese civilians. The talk of some of its leadership and its ranks gave the impression that it appealed to gut feelings of narrow nationalism. Its killing of Mr. Kathiramalai, a Sarvodaya worker, left strong doubts about its commitment to fairplay.

        The middle of 1986 saw a series of sensational bombings carried out in the South. The main incidents were the explosion which destroyed an Airlanka Tristar passenger airliner which was being loaded for take-off at the Katunayake airport; the explosion in the C.T.O. (Central Telecommunications Office) building in the heart of Colombo Fort; the explosion at the Elephant House aerated water factory; and the explosion at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (C.P.C.) depot at Anuradhapura. The civilian dead numbered several tens. Like the Anuradhapura massacre it was an adoption by the oppressed of the methods of the oppressor, and hence also the disease of the oppressor. The explosion at the C.P.C. depot at Anuradhapura also represented a move away from impersonal terror. An explosive charge was placed inside a petrol bowser from the Puloly Multipurpose Cooperative Stores (M.P.C.S.) that had gone to collect fuel from Anuradhapura. Several bowsers from Jaffna were in the petrol queue. It was reported that two persons who went in the bowser were amongst those killed. It was widely claimed in the international media that the parties responsible for these bombings were connected with the L.T.T.E., or the E.R.O.S. or both. The T.E.A. was also mentioned because of its association with the bomb meant for the Airlanka flight, which exploded instead at the Madras, Meenambakam airport in 1984.

        No group claimed responsibility for these attacks. But according to Tamil sources living abroad, responsibility was claimed privately by senior persons in a militant group that ostensibly valued above all, intelligence, research and scholarship. There were also explosions in public transport buses carrying mainly Sinhalese passengers near Vavuniya. Two of the victims were an elderly Sinhalese gentleman and his son, who had been unswerving in their hospitality towards Tamil public transport workers.

        Besides blurring in the minds abroad of the distinction between terror by the Sri Lankan state and that by Tamil militant groups, another consequence of this incident was to make petroleum fuels, aerated waters and gas more expensive and scarce in Jaffna.

        It has been said by many that such acts against the Sinhalese population made the Sinhalese think seriously about the Tamil problem. It did make them think, but only in a perverse sort of way. One could see, for instance in editorials, the pressure mounting for peace talks when terror is seen as being too close for comfort. Equally, there was pressure for a final military thrust, during transient spells of seeming military successes, such as during Operation Liberation. This made the whole affair a destructive game involving extensive media manipulation in the absence of any change of heart and any democratic resurgence.

        For the time being, life in Jaffna was relatively peaceful, barring occasional shelling by the Sri Lankan army. The L.T.T.E. concentrated on bringing all key institutions under its control. The Citizens’ Committees caused no problems. Except at the University, this operation needed neither force nor intimidation. The L.T.T.E. was subtle and discerning in this matter. In the hospitals and in the administration, doctors and officials were left with enough discretion to protect their self respect. Dissent from individuals was tolerated provided this was not articulated through mass movements or other militant groups. An attempt at an L.T.T.E. sponsored Journalists’ Union through some journalists who had come over to its side foundered, because the majority of the journalists found it too hard to swallow. The pretext given by the L.T.T.E. for summoning a meeting of journalists was that it was concerned that journalists in Jaffna were not being paid the salaries stipulated by the government in a gazette notification. The editor of the Uthayan, together with others, spoke to the effect: “The question of salaries is a matter for the journalists themselves, and not for a militant organisation. No one is going to control what we think or write.” These brave words however, were not reflected in practice. Everyone knew that he would be a brave man to go beyond certain limits. The Eelanadu management dismissed a journalist, whose presence it apparently thought was embarrassing under the new dispensation. (This journalist, Mr. Shanmugalingam, has not been seen after being abducted by the L.T.T.E. on 6 November, 1989.) The L.T.T.E. went ahead with organising rural courts, vigilante committees and bodies such as cultural and development committees. The L.T.T.E. was privately cynical and disrespectful of persons who served on these bodies. A top L.T.T.E. leader once asked an old friend and senior journalist: “Those who were with us in the days when the going was dangerous and we were hounded by the Sri Lankan forces now refuse to touch us with a broomstick. But those who are joining us in large numbers now are persons whom we would have once classed as anti-social elements. Why is this?” The friend replied: “You should have no difficulty in finding out yourself.”

        The population of Jaffna fell in line. People who had once shown the spirit to resist the oppression of the Sri Lankan state now enjoyed the peace of the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. People would now get about unconcerned if a neighbour mysteriously taken away then disappeared. Some who were not prepared to do this were students of the University of Jaffna. In the circumstances they acted bravely during the Vijitharan and Rajaharan affairs. It is a comforting thought that the idealism of youth cannot be quelled.

        The two incidents took place in quick succession around early November 1986 and gave rise to what became the last mass protest in Jaffna against the violation of basic freedoms. It did not, like the mass protests against the Prevention of Terrorism Act in the early 1980’s, exude a sense of buoyancy and forward movement. This was more a rearguard action. When it ended, many of its leaders had to go into hiding or seek exile. Many of the leaders and hundreds of ordinary women from the lower reaches of society had displayed rare courage in doing something that was both essential and at the same time was shirked by their so called betters. The two incidents concerned had independent origins.

        Arunagirinathan Vijitharan was a third year commerce student from the University of Jaffna who was generally unknown until he was missing from his boarding house on 4 November 1986. The question was, why Vijitharan? He was by all accounts an ordinary fun loving student with no political affiliations. It was this aspect of it that left some doubts about the cause. Had he said something mildly offensive to a person of some importance as students are wont to do? One may never know.

        An action committee was formed by the students. They did not accuse anyone. They simply maintained that the four functioning militant groups were responsible for the security of persons in Jaffna. Further, they had sentries everywhere, making it unlikely that persons could disappear without their knowledge. The militant groups were called upon to do their acknowledged duty and restore Vijitharan. Privately, the students admitted that they were afraid and were in no mood to confront any militant group. A senior University official who was talking to the militant groups on the matter, expressed the feeling that the students had acted too hastily in making the matter public. On the other hand, the students felt that if they kept quiet, the chances of students disappearing one by one was greater. Not having received a satisfying response, the students commenced a campaign of fasting on 19 November in which six persons, both boys and girls began a fast in a temporary cadjan shed in front of the administration block.

        For the next ten days the University became the centre of attraction for all those who had been suppressing their feelings about what was going on. An important group of people who joined the students were residents, especially women, from Passaiyoor. That had to do with a separate incident, concerning the death of Edward.

        Passaiyoor is a fishing village three miles East along the coast from Jaffna town. These people were Roman Catholics and were by nature spontaneous in their collective response to perceived aggression against them. Edward had returned from Saudi Arabia and the family was said to be sympathetic towards the L.T.T.E.. They had consulted the parish priest on the matter of a land dispute with a neighbour, and not being satisfied, had invited Malaravan, the Ariyalai leader of the L.T.T.E.. During the hearing, Edward’s mother reportedly said something offensive to Malaravan, who in turn is said to have raised his hand against her. Edward then slapped Malaravan. Edward was later asked to call at the Ariyalai camp for an inquiry. Fearing what may happen, Edward contacted the parish priest. The latter went to the camp and got an assurance that Edward would be released after a short inquiry and that no harm would befall him. The parish priest accompanied Edward to the camp and waited. Edward was taken in. Twenty minutes later the priest was told that Edward was dead. The priest fainted and was admitted to hospital. Those who went to see the body said that hardly a bone was left unbroken. Then things took a turn that was unusual for Jaffna. A large group of women gathered at the local church and protested for several days, displaying hand written posters. The middle-class based women’s organisations, including the Mothers’ Front, had lost their voice in the face of internal oppression.

        The university students went out and addressed students from the higher forms in schools, who in turn came out and joined by sitting on roads and joining processions. An element of irony was added to the proceedings when the L.T.T.E. leader V. Prabhakaran commenced a Gandhi style fast in Madras when the Indian police confiscated his arms and communications equipment. A non-violent protest was on for the return of instruments of violence. Rival processions for the student cause and Prabhakaran’s cause sometimes crossed each other.

        At this point many diverse opinions came to be expressed, most of them agreeing that the students should give up their fast. Some felt that the students were excellently performing a very necessary task; but the community did not deserve the deaths of those who were fasting. If they died, six prospective leaders would be lost while people would shrug their shoulders and go on as before. Then little would be achieved. Many were hostile. They thought that the Tamils were being divided in the face of the main enemy, the Sri Lankan state, when they should be uniting behind the L.T.T.E.. Students were made heart broken and angry by an opinion expressed by a member of the staff who said that the students were making an absurd issue over one missing person when several L.T.T.E. men were dying fighting the Sri Lankan army. They were dismayed that such persons could not see the issues at stake and that one could in time come to mean hundreds. Besides, passive acquiescence by the community in such developments during a fight for freedom, would lead to its opposite, thus negating all sacrifice, including the militants’ sacrifice.

        The Jaffna press played it diplomatically by giving equal prominence to statements by all parties. The E.P.R.L.F. backed the students. The E.R.O.S. characteristically sat on the fence. The students were painfully aware that their protest could become interpreted as anti-L.T.T.E. and backed by rival militant groups who did not wish to confront the L.T.T.E. directly. A speech delivered by an E.P.R.L.F. leader at the university, the contents of which did not receive prior approval from the students, gave further room for this impression.

        Two of the student leaders were former members of the P.L.O.T.E. and the E.P.R.L.F.. However, available information strongly suggests that they were not principally anti-L.T.T.E., but had rather become disillusioned with the anti-democratic militarism of all the groups, now enjoying Indian patronage. There was strong pressure on the students to give up the protest, and the L.T.T.E. too was embarrassed by it. But the problem was how to end it. A mutually acceptable formula had to be found. Even admirers of the protest felt that it had gone on long enough and that no further purpose would be served by its prolongation. A number of persons and organisations came to patch up a settlement, including the University Teachers’ Association (U.T.A.). Some wanted to do some good. Others had reasons which were more complex.

        The L.T.T.E.’s conduct was puzzling. They could have in the first instance said that they sympathised with the students and would make every effort to trace Vijitharan. Then there would have been no protest. But they took an aggressive line. School children who joined the protests were threatened by leading L.T.T.E. men at both Mahajana College, Tellipallai, and near Jaffna Hindu College. In the latter instance a student’s name was singled out. The U.T.A. invited Kittu for a meeting in the Senior Common Room, where he was introduced as “our General.” The session was marked by the silence of the staff, making one wonder why the meeting was called. Kittu took the line that if a militant group had abducted Vijitharan, they are not going to admit it amidst all this protest. He may be released, he said, far away at some distant time. He also made the point that traitors like Selvabala cannot be given amnesty on the grounds that they were students or on any other pretext. He was referring to a student from the Jaffna College Technical Institute who was said by the L.T.T.E. to have been armed and paid by the Sri Lankan army to assassinate Kittu and other key L.T.T.E. leaders. Selvabala was killed after he made a Singapore style T.V. confession on the L.T.T.E.’s station Niedharshanam.

        Eventually a formula for ending the fast was reached. The L.T.T.E. gave a pledge to look for Vijitharan. Like many of the tales of intrigue, the truth about Vijitharan may not surface for years to come. For the University students, it ended for the time being their role in public affairs. With all their weaknesses and drawbacks, their role had been a noble one. They had been forced into tasks where others more mature and experienced than they ought to have given the lead. For the Tamil people, another light had gone out. Vimaleswaran, the student leader who led the protest fast, paid a heavy price for his defiance of the new order. He was assassinated in July, 1988.

        The natural defiance of the women from the lower classes remained a remarkable feature as opposed to the pliability of upper class women. Village women in the East went out with rice pounders to stop the internecine fighting during the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash. When the L.T.T.E. took on the E.P.R.L.F. on 14 December 1986, women from some low class villages in Jaffna near Keerimalai and Mallakam defied the L.T.T.E. by sitting on the roads armed with kitchen knives and chillie powder. The same women were to prove a nightmare to the Indians when they arrived. After October 1987 some of these women in the Pt. Pedro fish market decided that they would charge the Indians higher prices. This was noticed by a customer who took his turn after an Indian soldier. When asked, the fisher lady replied, “They came here to eat, did they?”

        One newspaper editor who came out well during the affair was Mr. S. M. Gopalaratnam of the Eelamurasu. He had once served as editor of the Eelandu and was made editor of the Eelamurasu a short while before the protest. During the crisis he wrote several bold editorials and articles. The need for unity amongst Tamils was something he felt strongly about. When the L.T.T.E. took on the E.P.R.L.F. he wrote an editorial expressing his concern for the hundreds of youths who had died in disillusionment with a feeling of being abandoned. He said that the Tamils’ failure to unite had left them exposed before their enemies. Barely two months after he took over, the paper passed under L.T.T.E. management. However the L.T.T.E. treated him with respect and quite often he had his way. An unsolicited tribute was paid to S.M.G., as he was fondly called, by the management of the University Senior Common Room: During the time S.M.G. wrote his independent editorials the Eelamurasu was the only paper to by kept out of the Common Room. With the new L.T.T.E. management of the paper from 1 January 1987, the paper reappeared in the Common Room after a month. As regards S.M.G., the L.T.T.E. may have shown higher standards than that citadel of intellectual freedom. The L.T.T.E. often respected those who dealt with them honestly.

5.5 Differences among the Militants

The public had up to now thought of the L.T.T.E. as a monolith. But in the second half of 1986 differences, rivalries and personal ambitions within the L.T.T.E. which had a politics of its own began to surface and were talked about. Sources with good connections talked of differences between the Jaffna leader, Kittu and the then Vavuniya leader Mahattaya. The latter is said to have felt that those in Jaffna were being spoilt by glamour and a relatively easy life. Following the events of May 1986 several senior L.T.T.E. men left the group. One of them was Kandeepan who was in charge of the Islands. After leaving the organisation he simply stayed in his home at Ariyalai without wanting to see any of his former colleagues. The L.T.T.E. apparently wished to talk to him in order to persuade him to rejoin. Kandeepan was a competent military man who had pioneered the use of sea-mines. The lower ranks had been reportedly disoriented by the departure of several senior men. After refusing to see Kittu on two occasions the third time he was surrounded in order to force a meeting. But Kandeepan ran into his house and swallowed cyanide. The L.T.T.E. delayed the confirmation of his death and forced the family to perform the last rites in the early hours of the morning. Before his death Kandeepan had complained to one of his old friends that during the clash with the T.E.L.O., his organisation had promptly sent reinforcements to the Islands. But when the Sri Lankan government made an attempt on Mandaitivu, Kandeepan had submitted a plan which only required a modest quantity of arms. The organisation had not, he had complained, responded to this request. Mandaitivu was lost and Kandeepan was heart broken.

        The Mannar leader Victor was killed in Adampan during a skirmish with the Sri Lankan army during October 1986. Thirteen Sri Lankan army personnel were killed during this skirmish and two were captured. Victor’s body was brought to Jaffna with the two prisoners and nine Sri Lankan corpses. In the first exhibition of this kind, the two prisoners and the corpses were exhibited at Nallur Kanthasamy Kovil, while thousands filed past. Victor’s body was taken in state to several parts of Jaffna to be viewed by milling crowds. Kittu considerably boosted his image by speaking at these meetings. His statement that Victor like all the L.T.T.E. leaders was in the battle front with his men, was reported in the press and seen as a direct challenge to Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran had been in Madras for the previous few years. The feeling was also around that Prabhakaran would make an attempt to cut Kittu down to size. It is believed the Prabhakaran’s coming in January 1987 to Jaffna had something to do with Kittu’s ambitions.

        On 14 December, 1986, the E.P.R.L.F., the P.L.O.T.E. and the T.E.A. were disbanded by the L.T.T.E.. In the Northern Province the E.P.R.L.F. fled its camps without a fight. Several E.P.R.L.F. leaders were arrested and many of them were tortured in order to make them disclose locations of hidden arms. At this point one may point to what seems a qualitative difference in outlook between the L.T.T.E. and other groups. The L.T.T.E. men were trained to carry out orders from the top blindly. There is no doubt that the other groups have displayed the same kind of courage in confronting the Sri Lankan army. But when it came to an open confrontation with a fellow militant group, the other groups seem to have been handicapped by a certain amount of reluctance and confusion. There was a certain amount of inhibition about killing fellow Tamils. An observer living close to the E.P.R.L.F. camp at Uduvil said that there was a split amongst the ranks as to whether they should go in for a bloody fratricidal confrontation with the L.T.T.E. or simply go into hiding. Before this could be resolved, the L.T.T.E. came and caught them unprepared. This left them with no option but to disperse. Like the split in the T.E.L.O. which the L.T.T.E. took advantage of, this time a split in the E.P.R.L.F. between Douglas Devananda, the leader of its military wing, and the leadership under Padmanabha was a chance the L.T.T.E. had been waiting for. In the middle of this confusion the E.P.R.L.F. had challenged the L.T.T.E. politically over the Vijitharan affair. While the E.P.R.L.F. had expected a military response from the L.T.T.E., it was undecided as to what it should do.

        The P.L.O.T.E. in Jaffna had a strong base amongst the high caste, middle-class Tamils in Valigamam North and Central. They also had a political programme which emphasised work amongst the masses. These combined to give it an image in certain quarters as a disciplined organisation in dealings with the people. However P.L.O.T.E. members have been used by the high castes, on several occasions in disputes with the lower castes. P.L.O.T.E. had suffered discredit as a result of internal killings in Tamil Nadu and from at least two gruesome incidents in Jaffna. Five of its own women cadres were killed by members of the P.L.O.T.E. at Maniamthoddam, Jaffna, in 1985. Also in early 1985, seven L.T.T.E. sympathisers who were putting up posters in Chullipuram, were badly tortured and killed by P.L.O.T.E. men under Kandasamy (Chankili). By mid-1986 the organisation had suffered from neglect from the leadership in India and was poorly armed. With the dissolution of the T.E.L.O. there was a very real threat that the Sri Lankan army may overrun Jaffna at any time. Here the P.L.O.T.E. cadre in Jaffna earned the respect of the population for the sentry work it did around army encampments. It used its training to advance towards Jaffna Fort, along K.K.S. Road behind a barrier of advancing sand bags. Its men crawled through drains and other cover to install land mines fairly close to Jaffna Fort. When hints were given that the P.L.O.T.E. was to be disbanded the P.L.O.T.E. sentries withdrew from Jaffna town exploding their land mines. Thereupon, the Sri Lankan forces fired back thinking that they were being attacked and a senior prefect at Central College was killed. The disbandment of the P.L.O.T.E. and the E.P.R.L.F. created a crisis in the manning of sentry points, making it even more likely that the Sri Lankan army would attempt to break out if the current negotiations failed.

        By this time the L.T.T.E. in Jaffna, under Kittu, had established friendly personal relations with Captain Kotelawela of the Sri Lankan army and leading personalities amongst the Sinhalese, such as Vijaya Kumaranatunga, Vincent Perera and the Rev. Fr. Yohan Devananda. Kittu and his deputy Raheem became celebrated personalities in the South. The L.T.T.E. and the government gave the impression that a move for a negotiated settlement was on. A set of proposals, called the December 19th proposals, which had been drafted with India’s help were announced by the Sri Lankan government on the 26th of December for discussion. The L.T.T.E. announced that it was taking over the civil administration of Jaffna from 1 January 1987, although in practice this could have made little difference. The government in turn announced a fuel and firewood blockade on Jaffna. Prabhakaran moved to Jaffna in early January 1987 after several years in India. The crisis had entered a new phase.

5.6 The Eastern Question

By 1985 youths from districts in the Northern Province outside Jaffna and from the Eastern Province which had been ravaged by Sri Lankan military action which included massacres, were playing a numerically dominant role in the militant groups. Unlike the articulate youth of Jaffna who had joined in the early 1980’s because of ideals of national liberation and a feeling of collective humiliation, these rural youths had been subject to some harrowing experiences at first hand. By the end of 1985, those of the Tamil residents of Trincomalee district outside the city who were alive, had become refugees. The L.T.T.E. leader Pulendran, who came to be feared by Sinhalese, is said to have seen most of his family killed by Sri Lankan forces before his eyes. In such a situation the killing and counter-killing of Tamil and Sinhalese civilians became the order of the day. Yet the leadership of the militant movement was mainly Jaffna-dominated. After mid-1985, Jaffna enjoyed relative peace whilst the other Tamil areas continued to be at the receiving end. The majority amongst the T.E.L.O. youths killed in May 1986 were from the rural areas. The E.P.R.L.F. continued to be active in the Batticaloa district after it was wound down in Jaffna in December 1986.

        One factor which distinguished the militant movement in the East was that ideological and group differences were over-ridden by a feeling that they were all Eastern Province Tamils united through the experience of common suffering, who must stand together or perish. Group differences mattered far less than in Jaffna. Often they shared camps and meals. When the L.T.T.E. was given orders by radio to go for the T.E.L.O. in May 1986, the killings in the East were far fewer than in Jaffna. At Sambur, according to a T.E.L.O. source in Trincomalee, T.E.L.O. members who were having a meal were called out by members of the L.T.T.E. who had been erstwhile friends. The T.E.L.O. men were unaware of such orders having been given and went out as if to meet friends, when their leader and two others were killed. At Sambaltivu, according to a Trincomalee resident, women went out with rice pounders to ensure that there was no killing. This was in contrast to suburban Jaffna where people watched mutely during the killings. However, during December 1986 when the L.T.T.E. went after the E.P.R.L.F., some villagers in rural Jaffna protected the E.P.R.L.F. cadre by blocking the roads, armed with knives and chillie powder.

        When the L.T.T.E.-T.E.L.O. clash started in Jaffna, Kadavul, the Batticaloa leader of the L.T.T.E. and former agriculture student, promptly summoned a meeting of leaders of all militant groups in Batticaloa. They issued a joint statement that the problems of the East were different and should be handled differently. Kadavul, a native of the East, gave a personal assurance that all militants in Batticaloa would be protected. The L.T.T.E. command in Jaffna then radioed two of its commanders Kumarappa and Pottu, both of Jaffna origin, who were in Batticaloa, to carry out the assault on the T.E.L.O.. Several T.E.L.O. members were killed. Kadavul left the L.T.T.E. and went abroad.

        An academic from the Batticaloa University and a close follower of events also told us that the L.T.T.E. taking on the E.P.R.L.F. in December 1986 worked very much to the detriment of the Tamils in the East. The E.P.R.L.F. had begun to prove itself effective against the dreaded S.T.F. (Special Task Force). It had just carried out a series of successful landmine attacks against the S.T.F., thus restricting its movement. The L.T.T.E.’s protracted battle with the E.P.R.L.F. opened the field to the S.T.F.. The S.T.F. started the new year in 1987 with the Kokkadichcholai massacre in which scores of Tamil civilians were murdered. The L.T.T.E. was forced to withdraw from one of its strongholds.

        A consequence of these developments and the desperate plight of Tamils of the East, was that leaders of the Eastern Tamils were generally amenable to a settlement on the basis of the December 19th proposals which envisaged separate provincial councils for the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The powers devolved in policing and land settlement were generally deemed inadequate, but were the subject of negotiation. In Jaffna which was relatively secure, a more hawkish mood prevailed, backed by L.T.T.E. propaganda, an enfeebled press and a section of the articulate intelligentsia. Those in Jaffna who felt that the Tamils, now dangerously weakened, must in the common interest use India’s good offices to negotiate the best possible settlement, sometimes found through experience that they should not express themselves too loudly. Inevitably there arose a widespread feeling amongst Eastern Tamils, that the Jaffna based Tamil leadership had failed them. The Eastern Province Tamils will in the years to come have to resolve the question of their dealings with Northern Tamils and their relations with Muslims and Sinhalese in the East, whom they have for neighbours. The question is proving a thorny one today. [Top]


1 Temple

1 Lakh = 100,000

Chapter 6

6.1Retreat to Jaffna

The L.T.T.E. showed little interest in negotiating on the basis of the December 19th proposals. With Prabhakaran’s arrival, the public felt that Kittu as Jaffna leader would in due course be eclipsed.

As the year commenced the Special Task Force (S.T.F.) made rapid gains in the East forcing the L.T.T.E. out of several of its strongholds and establishing new camps. Describing the terror of civilians, a member of the Batticaloa citizens committee said:”The S.T.F. was given a blank cheque to kill, assault, torture and imprison civilians. This was used with terrifying effect. Foreign correspondents were kept out.”

In the North, outside Jaffna, all areas populated by civilians were overrun by late February and several new camps were established by the Sri Lankan army. The recently built up air power had been used to good effect. India had apparently placed restrictions on the L.T.T.E. acquiring an effective counter to the government’s air power. It is noteworthy that the Sri Lankan army’s attempt nearly a year earlier, to establish control over the Kilinochchi district had failed when all militant groups were active. A worried L.T.T.E., withdrew most of its men from other areas and concentrated them in Jaffna. Significantly, key L.T.T.E. leaders from other areas, including Mahattaya from Vavuniya, and Radha from Mannar, made their appearance in Jaffna. This meant that the threat to Jaffna was indeed taken seriously.

This brings us to certain aspects of the L.T.T.E.. From 1985 it had been a common feature of all militant groups to attract a following by successfully bringing off sensational military operations. The T.E.L.O. which was considered a marginal group rose to prominence after its colourful attacks on the Chavakachcheri Police Station and on a troop train at Murukandy in December 1984 and January 1985, respectively. What a particular group stood for became, if anything, of marginal interest. As a corollary, the people accepted the role of spectators and often admirers. This reciprocal development went in the direction of the militant groups confining the people rigidly to this role. Advice was seldom taken. The L.T.T.E. went a step further and confined the people to the role of devotees. Those who sensed danger and wished to offer their counsel were silenced with varying degrees of politeness. The reduction of the people to devotees of the political religion of the L.T.T.E. was the culmination of a process begun by the T.U.L.F. in the early 1970’s. The F.P. and later the T.U.L.F. had demanded allegiance to one party as embodying the destiny of the Tamil nation. All others were branded as traitors of various shades.

Its own following which the T.U.L.F. could keep in tow with rousing speeches, the L.T.T.E. now had to manipulate by deeds of valour which testified to its virility. The religion of the L.T.T.E. also provided for its devotees the emotional excitement of blood sacrifice. The sacrificial victims were those chosen by chance and sometimes by choice, to die in operations.

              It became a regular routine that when some L.T.T.E. member died, wailing music would be broadcast over loud speakers. The roads would be decorated with coconut and plantain trees. Loudspeaker vehicles would go around announcing the deaths in melodramatic tones. Then crowds would file past the coffins by the thousands. Such occasions were used to generate hysterical emotions. This may explain Thileepan’s death by fasting two months after the Accord. The L.T.T.E. felt a need to prove that its members were still willing to die and that it had not lost its grip.

        Unlike the higher religions which tended towards equality of men and even living creatures, the L.T.T.E.’s religion was hierarchical. The common people counted for little except as devotees. Militants from other groups, whatever their contribution, were counted as criminals or anti-social elements. Only L.T.T.E. members could make sacrifices, be counted as martyrs, and become gods in a heavenly place reserved for them. Such a creed was expressed in one of Thileepan’s last statements.

                One should not under-rate such a religion which has a resemblance to the official religion of the Third Reich. The power of such a religion to captivate men’s minds, make them forget all norms of civilisation and morality and weld them together as a hysterical and destructive force, is enormous. But most Tamil civilians were looking for security. Little did they realise that what the L.T.T.E. was offering them was permanent conflict, destruction and suicide, for accepting which they were not going to be thanked. Events of the coming months were to make this abundantly clear.

                Following the Sri Lankan army’s rapid advances in January 1987, the L.T.T.E. felt a pressing need to hit back. On the 14th of February an ingenious attempt was made on the Navatkuli army camp. The Andreisz Company which was located next to the Navatkuli camp used to supply drinking water to the Sri Lankan army. The L.T.T.E. took over the company’s water bowser and placed charges in its tank, which would explode when the water dropped to a certain level. According to reports the water tank by some freak developed a leak. The bowser was taken into a lane at Kaithady. According to one report a welder was brought to repair the leak. By some accident the bowser exploded. Amongst the ten L.T.T.E. persons killed were three senior leaders, Kugan, Curdles and Vasu. The presence of Kugan who was second in command to Prabhakaran and close to him, suggests that Prabhakaran was in direct command of the operation. Forty civilians were reportedly killed. The operation had to be abandoned. The L.T.T.E. announced the deaths through loud speakers and its notice boards. A disturbing aspect of this announcement was that the civilian deaths were not mentioned.

                Even the newspapers gave very little publicity to the civilian deaths. This set the precedent for developments to come. Not surprisingly it may be noted that both the Sri Lankan government and the L.T.T.E. were superstitious. The digits in dates normally chosen by the L.T.T.E. for major operations would add up to five, whereas for the government it would add up to eight. People would normally expect L.T.T.E.’s initiatives on the 5th, 14th and 23rd of a month and government initiatives on the 8th, 17th or 26th of a month.

                The government resumed aerial bombing of Jaffna on the 7th of March. A massive barrage of shelling from Jaffna Fort killed 17 civilians at Windsor Theatre junction and injured 50. A shell also fell on the hospital for the first time.

                In the early hours of the morning on Monday, 30 March, shells again fell on the Jaffna hospital. Eight patients were killed in Ward 19/20. Two nurses and an attendant were injured. It may be noted that the ward affected was a medical ward having elderly heart patients. It should also be noted here that this shelling was strongly condemned by India. When the National Security Minister suggested that the shell was fired by the L.T.T.E., noting the fact that the shells came from the direction of the Fort, the Indian ambassador J. N. Dixit is said to have remarked sarcastically that the L.T.T.E. has a special shell which goes forward and then turns back.

                On the night of 30 March, a bomb was thrown at the L.T.T.E.’s Jaffna leader Mr. Kittu, while he was visiting a friend living on 2nd Cross Street, Jaffna. One of his body guards, a youth from Mannar, was killed. Kittu himself was admitted to the hospital and had one of his legs amputated. The news came out that some prisoners had died on the evening of the following day at the L.T.T.E.’s Brown Road camp. The B.B.C. broadcast a news item which claimed shortly afterwards that a large number of prisoners held by the L.T.T.E. had been killed, following the attempt on Kittu. Some sources put the number at 70. In an atmosphere of mounting rumours, the L.T.T.E. issued a press statement on the 6th of April claiming that prisoners grabbed some weapons and tried to escape and that in the ensuing battle, two L.T.T.E. guards and 18 prisoners were killed. A member of the E.P.R.L.F. who escaped during the incident and later went to Batticaloa submitted an affidavit to the following effect: “Several of us prisoners were kept in a room at the L.T.T.E.’s Brown Road camp. In the evening Aruna (L.T.T.E.’s former Batticaloa leader) burst into the room and opened fire at us with an automatic weapon. Three of us managed to escape through another door and get away. Eighteen were killed during that incident.”

                Aruna is known to have been close to Kittu. In publishing the L.T.T.E.’s statement on the incident, the Jaffna daily Murasoli, of 6 April, 1987 announced in banner headlines: “18 Criminals killed.” This represented new levels of opportunism in journalism. The L.T.T.E. statement had not claimed that the dead were criminals. The L.T.T.E. is believed to have killed several other E.P.R.L.F. members in other camps at the same time. One whose death was widely talked about at that time was E.P.R.L.F.’s Dr. Benjamin, who had worked with refugees. The Saturday Review after consulting a senior member of the L.T.T.E. reported that in all about 50 prisoners were killed. The identities and affiliations of Kittu’s would-be-assassins were never revealed.

                On 2 April, the attack by the L.T.T.E. on a mini-camp at Valvettithurai was repulsed with the L.T.T.E. suffering five dead. An ambulance carrying five persons injured by shelling from Pt. Pedro hospital to Jaffna was shelled by helicopter at Vallai-veli, killing the patients and the ambulance driver.

                A senior figure in Jaffna put across to Minister Thondaman the idea of a cease-fire over the traditional Sinhalese-Tamil new year, to be used to set the scene for negotiations in order to restore peace. Mr. Thondaman asked the cabinet for a fortnight’s cease fire. The cabinet agreed to a unilateral cease fire of nine days from 11th – 19th April. This was rejected by V. Prabhakaran who stated that he would consider a cease fire after the 20th of April. It was to be expected that such a response from the L.T.T.E. would have been seen by the outside world as puerile diplomacy bordering on intransigence. Though the senior figure in Jaffna felt that the government’s announcement of the cease fire was sincerely intended, Prabhakaran’s stand had widespread sympathy from a people who had come to believe that all the blame for the situation lay with the government. The aerial bombing and shelling of the civilian population had made the people deeply distrustful of the government. Reports of government breaches of the cease fire started appearing in the Jaffna press. Given the situation, whenever government forces shelled, it became difficult to determine who provoked and who retaliated.

                On 16 April 1987, 150 Sinhalese, many of them civilians returning to Trincomalee after new year festivities at Anuradhapura, were off-loaded from their buses and massacred at Kituluttuwa. The L.T.T.E. was widely blamed and the government claimed that the massacre was led by L.T.T.E.’s Pulendran. Shortly afterwards, on 21 April, a car bomb exploded at the Pettah bus stand in Colombo, killing over 100 civilians. The attack was widely attributed to a Tamil militant group, believed to be either the E.R.O.S. or the L.T.T.E.. International opinion drifted away from sympathy for Tamils, towards approving a Sri Lankan government crack down on Tamil militants.

                In the early hours of 22nd April, an L.T.T.E. party under Radha’s command attacked the jetty at K.K.S. where cement bags from Lanka Cement Ltd. (L.C.L.) were being loaded into a waiting ship. This is again an example of the L.T.T.E.’s daring and capacity to improvise in order to stage sensational suicidal attacks. These attacks were usually accompanied by a heavy civilian toll and made the government more brutal and intransigent. It put the civilian population in further jeopardy while providing grist for the L.T.T.E. to further its religious appeal. The security precautions at the entrance to the jetty were elaborate. Lorries loaded with cement went North from the L.C.L. plant and had to queue up as they reached the K.K.S. – Keerimalai Road before crossing into the premises of the harbour which were under Sri Lankan army control. As the lorry that had just unloaded came out, the first lorry in the waiting queue crossed the road into the harbour premises. During the crossing a security officer from L.C.L. walked some distance with the lorry. The L.T.T.E.’s plan was a high risk, ingenious strategy and hence unexpected by the army. According to sources within the L.T.T.E., its members compete with each other to volunteer for such suicidal missions.

                L.T.T.E. men were hidden in a lorry with a wall of cement bags to disguise it as one going to unload. The lorry was parked in a lane towards the land side, a few yards from the crossing point, but hidden from the army. Calculating that the concentration of the army sentries will be at a low ebb in the early hours of the morning, as a lorry which had finished unloading came out of the harbour, the L.T.T.E. lorry made a dash and got in front of the one which was to enter. This went unnoticed by the army sentries who were poised on the water tank. The L.C.L. security guard was too shocked to react and followed on foot the L.T.T.E. lorry which had been allowed inside.

                Once in, the L.T.T.E. men opened fire killing 18 soldiers, and were soon out again. The army was angry. They got hold of five L.C.L. security guards and killed them. One of those killed was Sergeant Mylvaganam, who had earlier been a police sergeant. Another L.C.L. foreman was dragged out of the bathroom and shot. At the time of the attack 70 labourers were employed in loading cement bags at the jetty. Fortunately for them, the Sinhalese ship’s captain, fearing reprisals against them, took them aboard and put out to sea. These workers were put ashore several hours later after the captain obtained the assurance that the workers would not be molested. The Sri Lankan government overplayed its propaganda card when it wrapped bullet bands around the bodies of the L.C.L. security officers killed and displayed them on the state television Rupavahini as terrorists killed. Any intelligent viewer would have found the body of 55-year-old Sergeant Mylvaganam with greying hair, appearing as that of a youthful terrorist, too much to swallow. A more intelligent way of lying would have been to avoid the extras and blame the killing of Tamil security officers on the L.T.T.E.. This again indicates how the government treated the whole question as a military problem and was not interested in making overtures to Tamil opinion. This worked to the L.T.T.E.’s benefit.. If the government troops had been disciplined to avoid reprisals against civilians, it could have exposed the futility of the L.T.T.E.’s action. But the government had very different ideas. The next six weeks were to see an unleashing of random impersonal terror against Tamil civilians.

                The people of K.K.S. and the workers at the two cement plants had been dismayed by the L.T.T.E.’s action. The L.T.T.E. had given the workers at the cement plants an assurance that it would not interfere with their work. Working relations between the army and the cement plants had been fairly good. The citizens’ committees in the area had worked out an unwritten agreement between the L.T.T.E. and the army, allowing the latter free use of the K.K.S. – Palaly Road. This enabled the civilians to stay on in that area. Now all this came to an end. With an increasing number of landmine attacks by the L.T.T.E., the army took to shooting at civilians. Several civilians were shot dead, including Dr. Viswaranjan who was returning home to K.K.S. on 25 April, after working at the Jaffna hospital. This led to the total exodus of civilians from K.K.S., Myliddy and Maviddapuram. On the meaningless suffering of all these people, aided by the Sri Lankan government’s intransigent brutality, was built the expanding edifice of the L.T.T.E. religion. The random shelling and aerial bombing of the Tamil civilian population commenced on 22 April. Emotional support for the L.T.T.E. increased. People asked what India was doing. A senior Indian official told a newspaper editor, that after the Pettah bomb blast and the Kituluttuwa massacre, India had lost the moral right to protest. The destructive policies of the L.T.T.E. and the Sri Lankan government received mutual sustenance from each other.

                The people around K.K.S. had for a year tried a policy of live and let live with both the L.T.T.E. and the Sri Lankan army. Through its supporters within the cement plants the L.T.T.E. had enjoyed some privileges there. A workshop engineer had resigned and gone abroad in January 1987 after an L.T.T.E. party gave him their “first warning.” The engineer’s professional pride did not allow him to give in to certain demands. He had also been alarmed by the readiness with which people played with the safety of their colleagues for the sake of power and influence. The policy of live and let live without a principled stand was doomed to failure. The cement plants were closed on 22 April.

                Another incident which influenced the local mind was the landmine attack by the L.T.T.E. on an army patrol on 25 March 1987. Subsequently the severed foot of a Sri Lankan soldier with a boot on it was exhibited successively at the Maviddapuram temple and Tellipallai junction. For its part the Sri Lankan army shelled these two places on successive nights. On the first night a temple priest lost his leg. At Tellipallai junction, Mr. Venugopal was killed. On the 31 March, the L.T.T.E.’s Jaffna leader Mr. Kittu lost a leg in a grenade attack. Many of the Hindu folk at Maviddapuram, steeped in a belief in karma, formed their own conclusions. Nevertheless, the exhibition of gore had attracted sizeable crowds. This followed the exhibition of the dead bodies of nine Sri Lankan soldiers at Kandasamy Kovil four months before. There was taking place a transformation of sensibilities. Many Hindus were disgusted, but silent.

                The Sri Lankan government commenced random shelling of the civilian population in Jaffna, together with aerial bombing on 22 April. One could hear shells falling in quick succession in widely separated places, usually around 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Most would quickly take their families into the house or into a trench if they had one, and say their prayers. The aerial bombing was often off the mark. The Sri Lankan air force tried four times to bomb an L.T.T.E. camp in Pt. Pedro situated in the crowded market area, and finally finished the job with a bulldozer a month later, after taking over Vadamaratchi at the end of May. About a hundred civilians were killed up to 26 May as a result of the bombing and shelling.

                On the 1st of May, the L.T.T.E. defied the government ban on May day processions countrywide, and organised a massive rally commencing at Urumpirai junction, and ending with a public meeting at Kandasamy Kovil. Vans, buses and lorries were commandeered and were used to ferry people from distant places. L.T.T.E. cadres knocked on doors and asked people to come. Some flatly refused. Others went with varying combinations of consent and fear. The majority who went, did so willingly or out of curiosity.

                At the meeting, the L.T.T.E.’s rising star and Kugan’s brother, Yogi, gave a rousing speech. It was a frank statement of what the L.T.T.E. was offering its subjects. Yogi said: “Even if 35 lakhs [1] 1 should die, we will not be deterred from our goal of Tamil Eelam.” He went on to indicate that a small fraction of the present population of Tamils is enough to people the state of Tamil Eelam. Few were alarmed by such frankness. The Tamil man was far from being suicidal, although the L.T.T.E.’s critics had come to term its brand of politics, cyanide or suicide politics. The Tamil man very much loved material security. (Curiously, the L.T.T.E. again and again stressed the need to safeguard territory. There was no corresponding stress on safeguarding life.) The fact that nearly every household in Jaffna had constructed an air raid shelter at an average cost of Rs. 1000/- showed that they were unlikely candidates for suicide. For sometime, disenchantment with the manner of the L.T.T.E.’s campaign and its indifference to the fate of civilians had been expressed by affected people from Mannar, the Eastern Province and parts of Jaffna. These had fallen on deaf ears amongst articulate folk in suburban Jaffna. For many, the manner in which the L.T.T.E. had ruled Jaffna was acceptable. There were disappearances — a minor problem. But people could make money unmolested. Travel agents, employment agencies, those who ran coach services to Colombo, and contractors continued to make their money. The coach operators and the L.T.T.E. found it mutually advantageous to cut train services to Colombo. (Coach fares came down from Rs. 200/- to Rs. 65/- when train services resumed after the Accord. The Sri Lankan army too had good relations with the operators.) But now was approaching a time when all this might have to change and misery was going to be the common lot. When the L.T.T.E. started proceeding alone in May 1986, it had offered the people of Jaffna, “order within and security from attacks by the Sri Lankan forces.” This worked well for a while, but had crumbled with time.

                The Sri Lankan army had been tightening its noose by the establishment of new camps at Vasavilan, Kattuvan and Mandaitivu over the months. The Sri Lankan strategy was simple. It would create diversions from various points, such as Jaffna, Pt. Pedro, Kayts, V.V.T., Elephant Pass and Palaly. One of these would be the real column that would advance under air cover and establish a new camp. Even in the latter half of 1986, support from the E.P.R.L.F., E.R.O.S., P.L.O.T.E. and T.E.A. had been crucial in countering the Sri Lankan advance, though the L.T.T.E. hated to admit it. The counter-strategy developed by the militant groups was to have sentries posted with walkie-talkies. When an advance was sighted, the main body of fighting men, who would be mobile in pickups and mini-vans, would be summoned. This was effective up to a point. But in 1987, the L.T.T.E. was clearly over-stretched. When the Sri Lankan army advanced to Kattuvan on 28 February with just one covering helicopter, hardly any resistance was offered. According to a resident of that area, the sentry had radioed Kittu for reinforcements. He was aghast when Kittu simply ordered him to chase the army back.

                On an earlier occasion, the army had attacked Kattuvan by land and air, causing the L.T.T.E. sentry to flee. The army then withdrew. In the evening Kittu arrived on the scene in his car. He left his men and walked alone into the dusk. The short and balding figure sat down by himself to reflect, his brow furrowed. He had dispatched tens of C.I.A., Mossad and C.I.D. agents in his time, without giving it any more thought than he would in deciding to have a cup of tea. Here was the man, who during the Vijitharan affair kept the University dons awestruck, while he poured out his contradictions. Their silence was as if to say, “Yes, General.” The highest in Jaffna had waited on him. He had played with the lives of others and had gambled with his own. Mendis, his own friend and Jaffna leader of the P.L.O.T.E., had died in his custody. Friendship did not stand in the way of such things. Amongst his men, there were those who resented his flamboyance. But in battle, they trusted his leadership as few others’ was trusted. We may never know what passed through his mind. For the first time, perhaps, he was a worried man. Did he have a premonition that his rising star would soon have its setting?

                Perhaps, the development of the L.T.T.E. leadership is related to something deeply ingrained in the human psyche appearing in the evolution myths of ancient lore. Many of the L.T.T.E. leaders had lived like the ancient gods. Like Wotan in Niebelung’s Ring and Keat’s Hyperion, gods who reach their limits of action must wish for self annihilation. This is probably just a fancy that may explain one aspect of their development. Motives are complex things and the L.T.T.E. leadership was moving in several directions at the same time. Many of its leaders, Mahattaya, Kittu and Kumarappa, were either married or were on the verge of it. Their leader Prabhakaran was the father of two. The leadership had also demonstrated on several occasions that it was interested in an arrangement where it would have settled power. In late 1986 Kittu had made overtures to leading personalities and the media in the South. There had been a good deal of comings and goings and much secret talk. After the Accord of July 1987 much of the L.T.T.E.’s performance had been a bid for power. The agreement reached with India during secret negotiations at the the time of the fast, talked almost exclusively of power. In fact, they wanted exclusive power, and to this end, they pushed their gambler’s luck to the brink. But the five demands put forward during Thileepan’s fast to death, of September 1987 had nothing about demands for power. When the L.T.T.E. wanted something, it was prepared to play with the lives of its own men and with those of civilians. The impasse resulting from the suicide in custody of 12 L.T.T.E. members on 5 October 1987 and the subsequent massacre of Sinhalese, was part of a pattern. By provoking a crisis the L.T.T.E. seemed to hope for a decisive outcome, with perhaps help from Tamil Nadu. Their message seemed to say: “Accept our terms, for if you try anything else, we can sour things for you.”

                When India took on the L.T.T.E., Prabhakaran said in a message: “We have been forced into fighting to protect ourselves. India must assume full responsibility for harm resulting to the people.” This was indeed, a most queer stand for someone who claimed leadership and on whom it fell to protect the people. The war dragged on. After the worst killing was over, the L.T.T.E.’s deputy leader Mahattaya, in a letter to the Indian authorities, sued for an end to the fighting. A key demand was a return to the status quo of 28 September which offered 7 out of 12 places on the interim council for the L.T.T.E.. Behind all the gore and the Homeric drama, there was a bid for something tangible — namely power. There were the usual somersaults of traditional politics. For this reason it will be wrong to romanticise the L.T.T.E.. Every human being is ridiculous most of the time. Lord Byron, the most romanticised poet, confesses this frankly in his work Don Juan.

                At the same time, the leaders of the L.T.T.E. were proud men. They were proud of what they had achieved and did not like being trifled with. India recognised this up to a point. The Tigers were prepared to risk all they had in pursuit of a goal, in addition to risking everyone else. The religious element in the L.T.T.E. has already been mentioned. They also invoked other gods. Kittu was a pious Hindu, who was also given to lighting candles at Christian shrines. The element of calculation increased, the higher one went up the hierarchy. At the bottom, there was an unquestioning religious zeal facilitated by the impressionable boyishness of the new recruits.

                In May 1986, the L.T.T.E.’s admirers in Jaffna viewed them as a military force which offered them physical and material security. Between January and May 1987, a series of military reverses ensured that this offer was no longer good. The L.T.T.E. had compensated for this by substituting a religious appeal. When Yogi announced on 1 May 1987 that even if 35 lakhs die, they would stay their course until Eelam is achieved, people took it as the metaphorical expression of a religious sentiment. This was after all common enough in these parts. Politicians in the South had sworn to fight India down to the last drop of their blood. Even those members of the public who were the L.T.T.E.’s most ardent supporters did not relish the thought of departing this world. Yet they applauded. That the prospect of mass suicide was being seriously held out by the L.T.T.E. did not really sink in. The L.T.T.E.’s saying one thing and the public hoping for and understanding something else, was to have several more repetitions. No one looking back can complain that the L.T.T.E. had not made itself clear. The May day rally was held in the precincts of the Nallur Kanthasamy temple. The choice of venue itself was a sign of things to come. A massive crowd, numbering several tens of thousands had been brought to Kanthasamy Kovil in defiance of a government ban. The possibility of a shell attack from the Fort or firing from a helicopter was very real. Had this happened the scene of disaster would have made good propaganda. The fortunate fact that sanity prevailed and such an attack did not take place was again publicised as a victory for the L.T.T.E.. It had successfully defied a ban which was observed in the rest of the country. Either way the L.T.T.E. would have won. Yogi’s words literally meant that the human cost was immaterial. Civilian casualties were used for propaganda abroad. But inside, L.T.T.E. casualties were announced with religious fanfare, while civilian casualties received scant attention.

6.2       The Navaratne episode

It was now clear to many that the Sri Lankan government was preparing to launch an offensive to recapture the entire peninsula. Few doubted that they would succeed. The prospect of the entire Jaffna peninsula being turned into a refugee camp, like the Eastern Province, was very real. Several persons felt that a group of leading citizens should talk to the L.T.T.E., with a view to persuading them of at least talking to the government on the basis of the December 19th proposals. There were at this time several channels of communication between the government and the L.T.T.E.. One of these was the editor of the Saturday Review, Mr. Gamini Navaratne. He had been the editor of the English Weekly published from Jaffna during the crucial period which followed the 1983 riots. Being Sinhalese, his role was a delicate one in which he was often misunderstood. Having been a lobby correspondent he knew the senior parliamentarians well. He had the ability and guts, to push his luck to the edge in publishing news of human rights violations by the government. Unlike editors in the West, Mr. Navaratne was aware that restrictions were placed on journalism by the contending parties to the conflict, all of whom had much to hide. He was keen that the truth should somehow be brought out, and in this his performance was well above the standards in this country. While being critical of Jayewardene’s handling of the ethnic crisis, Mr. Navaratne did have an affectionate regard for him. He did look upon certain of the militant leaders with a paternal affection. Among them were Kittu and Raheem of the L.T.T.E., the E.R.O.S. leader, Balakumar, and the late Dr. Benjamin of the E.P.R.L.F.. He often expressed the feeling that the boys had done a great job in standing up to the Sri Lankan forces, and yet they were just boys who needed help in the form of mature counsel. The December 19th proposals, he felt, were a reasonable basis for negotiations, and that unless a settlement was reached fast, Jaffna would collapse under the strain. No doubt, events proved him right. He was forthright in expressing these views, which were accepted by a section of the public. But another uncharitable section of the public were deeply suspicious of him. In the highest circles in Jaffna he was accused of being an agent of one kind or the other including being J. R.’s agent. Now that Kittu and Raheem were under a cloud the leadership of the L.T.T.E. was suspicious of him. Mr. Navaratne’s recent attempts to talk to the L.T.T.E., regarding the December 19th proposals had met with rebuffs. Where others had taken the hint, Navaratne was not so easily put off.

                On 11 May, a group of persons met independently at the university to discuss an approach to the L.T.T.E. with a view to averting the looming prospect. Navaratne heard of this meeting and arrived at the university. He spent a few minutes giving his views on the subject and went away after wishing them luck. It was on this occasion that the full extent of the L.T.T.E.’s spy network at the University was revealed. A highly fanciful rumour was sent out by some senior persons to the effect that Mr. Navaratne was at the University to organise a petition against the L.T.T.E., that was to be presented at the S.A.A.R.C. Editors’ Conference. It was a shocking revelation that both amongst the staff and students, colleagues were spying on colleagues, with little thought of the possibility that they might put their colleagues in grave danger. Navaratne was followed and placed under arrest by a medical student. The manner of his arrest was disrespectful and gave no consideration to his invaluable services. After an investigation led by Mahattaya himself, the L.T.T.E. was convinced that they had been fed with bad information, by some of their so-called senior advisors. Mr. Navaratne was released four days later. It was a sign of the wretched state of Jaffna that in the face of disaster, some of its elites could do no better than to cast speculative aspersions on a man who, after all, believed that he was doing something for the people. Several months later, after the L.T.T.E. had lost its position of control in the wake of the Indian offensive, some in the L.T.T.E. recognised the value of independent journalism. A high ranker in the L.T.T.E. told a senior citizen that they would like Mr. Navaratne to continue his editorial work in Jaffna. The senior citizen replied: “Had Mr. Navaratne been here on the night of 5th October, you would have made a bonfire of him in the Jaffna Hindu College grounds.” The 5th of October was the night when the L.T.T.E. launched a manhunt against Sinhalese residents in Jaffna.

6.3       The closing of Jaffna Hospital

Another episode pertaining to this period was the government’s attempt to close down Jaffna hospital. A letter from the Ministry of teaching hospitals dated 27 April reached the hands of the Medical Superintendent, Jaffna, on 3 May. This letter contained an order for him to close the Jaffna hospital by the 8th of May. This was a sign that the government was getting ready for an offensive. The government had received bad publicity on account of shells falling on Jaffna hospital and the casualties resulting from it. Many of the doctors admitted that given the army’s order to fire back when fired upon, it was inevitable that even if the army commanders were careful, shells fired from the Jaffna Fort would fall on Jaffna hospital. The army had the unenviable task of maintaining a mere presence in Jaffna. For the rest, the soldiers were cooped up and vulnerable to missiles fired from outside. In January 1986, the army was ordered to retaliate with cannon, up to a radius of 1 kilometre from the Jaffna fort. The commercial hub of Jaffna and the hospital fell within this distance. This marked an escalation of the conflict in terms of civilian cost. By the middle of 1986, shells had been aimed at targets 3 miles from the Fort. One aimed apparently at an L.T.T.E. camp killed the bridegroom and the bride’s father when it exploded amidst a wedding party. As time went by the shelling acquired a more indiscriminate character. Snipers too were brought in later. Several ordinary citizens getting about Bankshall Street and K.K.S. Road fell victim to snipers. One army officer, regarded as a considerate man, told a Tamil friend that they would sometimes watch from the fort in the night in a state of fear. When they sometimes observed fire directed at the Fort, it could easily appear to come from the hospital. At the same time the staff at the hospital had obtained from the militants a guarantee that their premises would not be used to fire at the army and were certain that the guarantee had been honoured. But in such a volatile environment, the danger to the hospital was there. A rational way out of it would have been a truce in the Fort area. But when lethal means are available, rationality tends to go out of the window. Cannon came in handy when the army was in a bad temper and wished to take it out on the civilians.

                The press in Jaffna mentioned only the shelling by the army. But many journalists would admit that there was also constant provocation by firing things into the Fort. If the L.T.T.E.’s conduct during the hospital crisis of May 1987 did anything at all, it added weight to the suspicion that its attitude towards civilians was basically cynical.

                Cynicism was widespread in this conflict and was in the long run destructive to all who employed it. If a landmine went off in a remote village, the army would hit the civilians hard in the hope that it would destroy the militants’ support base. One way or the other the militants would welcome the government action as bringing in additional support for their cause. It was an extension of July 1983. A case of how this cynicism deepened enmity between groups was that of a young member of the E.P.R.L.F. from Batticaloa. He was travelling along Hospital Road, when he got a bullet in the back. This would normally have been associated with a sniper in the Fort. This boy later said in hospital, that he had looked back as he lost consciousness and fell down. He had only seen L.T.T.E. sentries. He claimed that the bullet extracted from his body was not from a sniper rifle but was fired from an M-16. Rightly or wrongly he had formed his conclusions and was extremely bitter.

                The order to close Jaffna hospital gave rise to widespread shock and panic. This came at the height of indiscriminate shelling resulting in casualties, who but for Jaffna hospital would have faced death. The Tellipallai and Pt. Pedro hospitals too had been hit by shells, and after the shelling of an ambulance from Pt. Pedro on 4 April, the transport of patients became a precarious activity. The short supply of petrol added to the complications. By 6 May, Jaffna had virtually become a ghost town. Shops shifted their goods and residents fled their homes. This too was a tricky affair. Those lucky enough to rent a house in the interior had to move again on discovering that the house had once been a militant camp. Such places were considered fair game for Sri Lankan bombers. The hospital started discharging most of its patients from Monday the 4th of May. It is a tribute to the grit of the common man that most services kept functioning during this fearsome period. The banks remained open for a few hours in the mornings. Life went on against a background of shell blasts and firing from L.T.T.E. sentries.

                Mrs. Sivapakiam Nadarajah, a long term resident in front of Jaffna hospital, was on 5 May, packing her things to send them away to Chavakachcheri. One then witnessed the amazing spectacle of a milkman, who calmly dismounted from his bicycle and rang his bell for someone to fetch the milk. He then lazily looked up at the sky and at the twittering birds on the trees. His whistling could be heard between shell blasts. Three shells fell only 90 minutes later on a building opposite the new Out-Patients’ Department (O.P.D.) in the hospital, about 40 yards to the West of Commercial bank. This demonstrated the kind of risk involved. That the thought of death was writ large on people’s minds was evident. Asked how he came to terms with coming to work given the risk involved; Mr. Arul Gnanaseelan, an employee of the Commercial Bank said: “I trust in God and come to work. If He has a purpose in keeping me alive, I will live. If it is time for me to go, it is in His hands.” Mr. Mohanachandran, another milkman, said, covering his anxiety with a smile, that distributing milk had become a cumbersome business. When he went to the homes of some of his customers, he had to ring his bell for a long time and wait on the road listening to the music of the shells. This was because many of his customers were inside trenches. During a slight pause, the customer would cautiously emerge, make a dash for the gate, collect his milk in a pan and then beat an unceremonious retreat. He added: “I too spend the nights in a trench with my family in Kopay. One must understand the feelings of those soldiers too. They must be feeling pretty rotten after the Pettah bomb blast and the Kitul-uttuwa massacre.” The people of Jaffna can be proud, that amongst the humble ranks of its milkmen, can be found the right material for the world’s most intrepid war correspondents.

                In the meantime, representatives from amongst the hospital authorities and the G.M.O.A. (Government Medical Officers Association) went to Colombo to make representations concerning the case for Jaffna hospital. Even before the closure threat, the region’s largest hospital with 1150 beds, was down to having 550 patients. The main body of the G.M.O.A. in Colombo was sympathetic to the need to keep Jaffna hospital open. So was the Ministry for Teaching Hospitals, which had even earlier argued against the closure. In consequence of their discussions with the L.T.T.E., the doctors from Jaffna felt that the L.T.T.E. would go along with any reasonable arrangement to keep the hospital open. The L.T.T.E. did have sound military reasons for keeping the hospital open. If the hospital was to be closed, the town would be abandoned. For, this would remove all restrictions placed on Sri Lankan military activity. The L.T.T.E. would thus lose the civilian cover which made it possible for it to maintain a presence around Jaffna Fort. When the news of the closure order came, the L.T.T.E. backed a demonstration in which a large number of medical students took part. The demonstrators demanded that the hospital staff should defy the closure order and stay put. Some suggested that if the hospital was shelled and some doctors got killed, it would so much the more embarrass the Sri Lankan authorities. The doctors pointed out that things may not work that way. A shell for instance could fall at a harmless distance away from a ward, causing a patient a minor cut. The patients would then promptly desert the hospital, effectively closing it. The hospital staff would then have nothing to show for defying their ministry. The L.T.T.E. by all accounts was worried.

                In Colombo, the Jaffna Hospital doctors received crucial support for their cause from the Indian High Commission. Given the wide ranging pressure, the President and the National Security Minister agreed to lift the closure order if a fire-free zone could be negotiated around the hospital between the L.T.T.E. and the Sri Lankan army. For while the G.M.O.A. accepted the word of the Jaffna doctors that the hospital to the best of their knowledge had not been used to fire at the Jaffna Fort, the National Security ministry stood by the contrary. It was then felt that such an agreement of a fire free zone would solve the problem. This was a victory for common humanity. In their enthusiasm, the doctors took it upon themselves to arrange such negotiations. It was agreed that the telephone link between the fort and the hospital would be restored and that Captain Kotelawela who had previously developed a rapport with Kittu, Rahim and some other L.T.T.E. leaders would be available at the Jaffna Fort on the afternoon of 10 May. Hopes rose high. One of the Jaffna newspapers got wind of this from what was thought of as a private talk and stated that the planned negotiations were announced at a press conference at the hospital.

                At this point the L.T.T.E. pounced on the doctors. They were found fault with for arranging meetings for the L.T.T.E. without their authority. Further, they said, it was through the press that they were being informed of this meeting. Apart from a possible technical blunder involving the press, the doctors felt that they were acting for the common good. No commitment at this time was forthcoming from the L.T.T.E.. Later the doctors learnt from Captain Kotelawela that he had contacted the L.T.T.E. independently and had arranged to meet with them the following morning. Captain Kotelawela further added that he had come on “multiple missions” and had not sounded as if the hospital matter was amongst the key subjects. It was learnt the following morning that the L.T.T.E. had not kept its appointment, assuming there was one, with the Captain who had been kept impatiently waiting. Subsequently the L.T.T.E. put forward a demand that since it could not trust the government, it was willing to talk if 5 persons nominated by them would be present. These included Dr. Ratnapriya, National Secretary of the G.M.O.A., and the Rev. Fr. Yohan Devananda. The L.T.T.E. should have known that its demand that a representative of the International Red Cross, the I.R.C., should be present would not be met. The government agreed to 4 of the delegates and added that while it cannot admit an I.R.C. representative, the L.T.T.E. could choose anyone else from this country it could trust. The doctors suggested that the L.T.T.E. could as a compromise, suggest an employee of the Indian High Commission.

                The L.T.T.E.’s effective rejection was protracted. In the meantime, the matter had received so much publicity that the government found itself unable to go ahead with the closure of the hospital. The L.T.T.E. had played its characteristic game, abusing the good intentions of the Jaffna doctors, the goodwill of the G.M.O.A., and the residual decency in the government to gain its own ends. For the moment the L.T.T.E. had won. It was to try the same gamble during Thileepan’s fast in September, win for a start, and then lose by overplaying its hand. For the Sri Lankan government, it was the end of the road for negotiations which it had tried perhaps half-heartedly in deference to international opinion and some members of its cabinet. It had strengthened its drive for a military solution to its Tamil problem by silencing critics within and showing up the L.T.T.E. as implacable and irresponsible in the eyes of the world. In this sense the Sri Lankan government had not lost. For its part, the government had not behaved as though it was dealing with human beings over whom it claimed sovereignty. Even the Geneva convention provided for far better treatment during war for the population on the opposing side. A senior citizen with personal contacts at the Indian High Commission, said at this time that India was not more than nominally interested in pushing the December 19th proposals. It would appear that India was building up a case for direct intervention of some kind. The decision was taken perhaps, sometime between January and May 1987. When the Sri Lankan government had launched an offensive earlier in the year, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India had warned that if a political solution is not reached, the level of violence in Sri Lanka “will” increase. The message was not lost in Colombo. The L.T.T.E.’s actions, together with the government reprisals against the Tamils, had served to build up India’s case.

                In one respect, the support received by the Jaffna doctors for their cause from the Indian High Commission was fateful, as events proved. During the Indian offensive on Jaffna later in October that year, the Jaffna hospital authorities assumed that because India had in the past been a friend of the hospital, she would exercise extreme consideration for the hospital during the offensive. As it turned out, the need for the hospital had been as great in October as it had been in May. Several hundred persons, ordinary men, women and children, who were victims of Indian shelling were in need of urgent medical care. When the Indians took Jaffna town on 21st October, there were no signs that they had given any thought to the hospital.

                A medical Consultant, reflecting on the events of May in light of October’s harrowing experiences, said: “One can now appreciate the National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali’s wanting to close Jaffna Hospital. He knew that if an attempt was to be made to take Jaffna, while advancing from the Fort, something embarrassing was bound to happen at the hospital. Having faced bad publicity over the years, the Sri Lankan government was used to thinking along these lines. The Indians did not seem to have a clue.” Another Consultant-Professor on the same subject said: “We should have closed the hospital on 11 October. But people are concerned about patients and they are used to cutting it fine. By their past concern, the Indians had encouraged us to do this.”

                On the other hand, the Sri Lankan government had learnt much from this experience of May. When they launched Operation Liberation three weeks’ later, they took extreme care over Pt. Pedro hospital. The Sri Lankan army was helped in this by the fact that the L.T.T.E. had withdrawn from the area around Pt. Pedro hospital a day before the army advanced from Nelliady. The Indian army did not have this advantage. One should be careful not to make comparisons from this. A few months earlier the Sri Lankan air force had bombed the hospital at Adampan. Adampan was a remote area in the Mannar district. The operation in Jaffna, thanks in part to India, had to be done under the spotlight of international publicity. The difference between Adampan and Jaffna was well understood by the Sri Lankan government. If the L.T.T.E. had learnt anything, it was the value of bad publicity for the other side. During the Indian offensive of October, the L.T.T.E. would itself commission lawyers to obtain affidavits from victims, for whose misfortune, the L.T.T.E. must itself share the responsibility.[Top]


1 Indian soldier

Chapter 7

                It was now clear that a military offensive to recapture the Jaffna peninsula was imminent. Various experts put the anticipated civilian casualties at 10 to 40 thousand and the army casualties at one to four thousand. Internationally there was no opposition to such a venture. It was generally felt that such action had been made necessary by the L.T.T.E.’s proven intransigence while an apparently reasonable set of proposals were on the table. Such a view would not have been entirely unjust. At the same time the scope for action by the government had been restricted by past choices. Sections of the government and the security forces had connived at racist killings of Tamils in 1983. The government’s subsequent policy towards Tamils was one that owed little to moral considerations. Tamils of the North and East became victims of unchecked state terror. All Tamil villages in Trincomalee District outside the town had been systematically destroyed. The Special Task Force (S.T.F.) was deployed in Batticaloa with what was described as a licence to kill, with the foreign press kept out. Apart from killings during operations, killing in the East had a casual character. A senior church official described his experience of travelling in a convoy, where passenger vehicles had been joined in by S.T.F. vehicles. At one point three peasants were crossing the road. The next moment they were simply mown down with gun fire. The convoy went on as if nothing had happened. There was no question of stopping to ask who they were or what they were doing. If an S.T.F. official happened to remember that incident before lunch, he may have telephoned the news agency Lanka Puwath to let them know that three terrorists had been killed in an engagement. Lankapuwath would oblige by adding the frills. According to information continually documented by the Saturday Review, by January 1987, over 10,000 Tamil had become victims of government action. Perhaps about 1000 Sinhalese civilians died as the result of Tamil militant action. The number of soldiers killed was 689 at the end of July 1987 according to official sources. The militant dead is believed to be lower. The L.T.T.E. claims to have lost 631 by August 1987. Perhaps a comparable number of militants died because of internal killings. These figures have been given as a pointer to the state of passions in the country. The character of the Tamil insurgency cannot be isolated from the dehumanising effect of state terror. The government had much to do with creating the problems it was up against.

                Even at this point a bold new initiative to win over the Tamils would have given the government the best chance of averting the humiliation that was to come. It could have used the media to make a clean breast of its past errors and explain to the Sinhalese the hard reality facing the country and the difficult choices involved. If as it was widely claimed, the sticking point for the Tamils was a North-East merger, it could have accepted this in principle and challenged the Tamils to offer terms acceptable to the Muslims and Sinhalese in the East. This was after all going to be a far cry from separation. If the L.T.T.E. still rejected them, the government could have proceeded to expose its desultory course by the disciplined conduct of its forces and by making the Tamils feel it was concerned for them. The 11,000 or so persons on whom the envisaged operation was going to pass a death sentence were after all citizens of this country. But the government’s moral faculties and imagination had atrophied through misuse. It was incapable of thinking on these lines, and making an original departure from the past. Courage too was in short supply.

What the L.T.T.E. was hoping for is hard to fathom. It had alienated international and Indian opinion. It had divided the Tamils. It could not count on the civilian population for anything tangible. It could only count on the unswerving obedience of a few thousand armed men, a large number of them in their teens. Its strength was of the negative kind. Except that the government troops were possessed of such discipline as to avoid reprisals against civilians, the L.T.T.E. could sour any attempts at imposing a solution. It was perhaps this strength that it was counting on. An alarmed group of civilians had earlier sought an interview with a prominent L.T.T.E. leader, requesting him to reconsider his approach to India. For there seemed a likelihood that India would do nothing as the Sri Lankan government launched its final offensive. This leader had reportedly replied: “I will make India fall at my feet.” Nor did the L.T.T.E. consider it necessary to make overtures to other militant groups, whose trained men had been disarmed, or to sections of the population alienated from it.

As for the civilian population, death had been raining on them slowly but surely. Normal lives and education had been severely disrupted. Those who could go abroad were slowly slipping out.

On the information available, the problem as seen by the National Security Ministry was like this: The government had dismissed any thought of the Tamils of the North and East being a potential electoral asset. This meant that the feelings of Tamils were of no account. (The President had said as much to the Daily Telegraph in July 1983.) The civilian casualties resulting from the action to take over Jaffna must be of such an order as could be sold to international opinion. Speed was of the essence in such an operation. For at the time, international opinion was on the side of the government. But if the operation was protracted and stories of civilian suffering began to come out, international opinion might change, giving India an opportunity to capitalise on it.

Put this way it was a problem for a technocratic approach devoid of moral content. The government was thinking in terms of a three-day operation, which would keep the L.T.T.E. disorganised for months to come. Riding on the popularity resulting from a successful military outcome, the government would call snap elections, thus strengthening its hand domestically and internationally. To this end the army had been receiving training from specialised foreign agencies (See section 2.1 of Volume 2). Air and naval support had also been boosted with the annual defence expenditure running at U.S. $500 million or 20% of the national budget. There was something to be said for the technocratic approach. The killing rate during the army’s recapture of Vadamaratchi was of a low order compared with when an unprepared army took on Sinhalese insurgents of the J.V.P. in 1971.

In contrast one finds a very different attitude towards counter-insurgency against a resurgent J.V.P. in the Sinhalese South. Iqbal Athas in his “Situation Report” in the Weekend of 20 December 1987, writes about the counter-insurgency operation in the South: “In the North where the security forces once battled separatist terrorists before the advent of the I.P.K.F., an encounter between the troops and their adversaries would have meant death for whoever was not quick on the gun. But that is the North. In the South the gun has given way to persuasive tactics.”

                The same article quotes Colonel Lakshman Algama, Military Co-ordinating Officer in Embilipitiya: “When an operation is conducted and I have taken in 100 people, only five turn out to be miscreants. When the other 95 are released, they must go without any hard feelings.” The writer adds: “This is an unenviable task. Despite all the good intentions of this dedicated soldier who has undergone specialised training in the United States, the vast majority of those who are released as innocents depart with strained feelings… the security forces and the police have a limited role… the answer to the problem is not in their hands… they are economic and political. The longer the delay, the bigger the problem.”

                This is again a technocratic approach, morally indifferent and as cynical of the Sinhalese as was the approach to the Tamils. The difference is that the Sinhalese are not regarded as a dispensable electoral asset.

7.2 Operation Liberation Commences

Probing and diversionary action for the operation to recapture the peninsula had begun by 18 May. Operation Liberation, as the operation came to be called, was planned and executed with commendable efficiency. Being a small country with limited resources, the manner of deployment of resources and timing was of crucial importance. To this end the capacity to gather and analyse intelligence had been strengthened with foreign, and particularly Israeli, help to an admirable degree. As far as this approach went, the government had in Mr. Athulathmudali, the National Security Minister, a competent man.

                Following the advances made earlier in the year, the entire Jaffna peninsula was within easy shelling range. Several houses in places like Urumpirai had stacked up sand bags against their walls. Providing such services had given rise to lucrative employment. Constant punitive shelling and rising casualties had made life for civilians a terror.

                On 18 May, a diversionary column of troops had marched Northwest from Elephant Pass. On seeing a log placed across the road most of the passengers in a Colombo bound bus of the Safety Bus Company, alighted. A few removed the log and went on. The bus received one burst of gunfire and came to a stop. Several of the passengers had been injured. It took a long time before the soldiers could be contacted and apprised of what had taken place. The bus proceeded to Elephant pass with deflated tires. It was when a North-bound doctor went back to Kilinochchi and contacted the army commander that an ambulance was provided and some of the injured were flown by helicopter for medical attention at Anuradhapura. Three of the injured died, including Mr. Jegathesan, an engineer attached to Lanka Cement Limited, who had been unsparing in his efforts at helping injured fellow passengers.

                Around 20 May, diversionary actions were also launched in Navatkuli and Palaly. Colonel Radha, the L.T.T.E. commander for the Mannar district was killed in action at Navatkuli. Radha, a mild-looking ex-bank officer, was noted for his daring. The Ceylon army made a rapid advance towards Atchuvely through Iddaikkadu from Palaly. When the advance commenced, the L.T.T.E. is said to have had 15 men in the area. More men were then ferried in by vehicles and the advance was fiercely resisted. The Tamil daily Uthayan reported that about nine civilians were killed by the army during the action, including some members of a family who were sheltering in a trench. This thrust too turned out to be diversionary as the army withdrew on the 23rd. Throughout the whole operation, the Sri Lankan forces enjoyed unchallenged freedom of the air. India had seemingly decided that the L.T.T.E. should at best be able to do no more than an arduous holding operation. It did not possess anti-aircraft weapons.

                One incident demonstrated a new, conscious, utilitarian outlook on the part of the Sri Lankan army. On 20 May, three soldiers had lost their way at Iddaikkadu and had run out of ammunition when they ran into an L.T.T.E. party. On their expressing their willingness to surrender, Lieutenant Kones of the L.T.T.E. went forward to accept their surrender. The four men who were in the open were spotted by a Sri Lankan helicopter, which promptly shelled them. All four died. Those in the helicopter could hardly have been mistaken about their target or their own uniforms. The incident was corroborated in the situation report in the Weekend of 24 May. Here those killed were all claimed to have been members of the L.T.T.E.. The L.T.T.E. were never sitting ducks for helicopter gunners. Lt. Kones must have come into the open in the confidence that the helicopter would not fire at its own side. The authorities must have decided that they were no longer going to be encumbered or embarrassed by soldiers being held prisoners of war. Prisoners would mean distractive appeals by relatives appearing in the press. The National Security Ministry had had enough trouble with the relatives of the 11 prisoners already held. One father from Galle appealed to a Roman Catholic clergyman after several failed attempts at an interview with the National Security Minister. This new aspect of the dirty war was one the sentimentally minded Sinhalese would have found hard to accept. It was all part of the technocratic approach. To those in seats of power, what was after all the semi-educated son of a peasant from the Galle district to the great matters in hand?

                Operation Liberation proper, commenced on 26 May with the transformation of the radio of the Tamil Eelam Communist Party (T.E.C.P.) into Radio Jaffna. The radio of the T.E.C.P. had mysteriously appeared on the air towards the end of 1986, with news bulletins in both English and Tamil. Until 26 May, when the same voice signed in as Radio Jaffna, it was hardly known that the broadcasters were none other than the Sri Lankan forces at Palaly. People generally listened because it gave a great deal of inside information on what was happening within and between militant groups. The accents were disguised and unplaceable. It may sometimes sound pro-L.T.T.E. or pro-E.P.R.L.F. and sometimes anti-L.T.T.E.. For the first time, it made public the impending marriages of Mahattaya and Kittu. There had been wild speculation as to the source and origin of the broadcasts. Whatever it was, it seemed a good lark. The announcer on Radio Jaffna would sometimes slip and use the old signature. On the morning of 26 May, Radio Jaffna meant business. People in the peninsula were asked to leave their homes and go to various temples and schools which were announced as places of refuge. Such an arrangement was no more than nominal, since the distances to such places were often impracticably large. Besides, the sum total of the accommodation provided would only have served a small fraction of Jaffna’s population. People simply decided that if things got hot, they would move into the nearest church, temple or school.

                The L.T.T.E. meted out harsh punishments to those who were allegedly informers. They probably would have been surprised at the amount of information the security forces gleaned by monitoring the L.T.T.E.’s radio communications and its public television network, the Niedharshanam. According to Weekend’s situation report column, by listening in over a long period, code words had been broken and signatures had been identified with particular leaders. Spies too had certainly been around. Again a large number of civilians had made it a pastime to listen in on FM communications between hovering bomber pilots. Some had taping devices and FM aerials installed inside trenches for air-raid entertainment.

                The opportune moment to commence the operation came when the security forces learnt from intelligence reports that the L.T.T.E. leader Prabhakaran was in Valvettithurai. The populated area of Vadamaratchi is in the form of clusters towards the Northern sea coast. A wide open space which extends from Thodamanaru lagoon geographically separates Vadamaratchi from the rest of peninsular Jaffna. Movement across this open space is relatively easy to monitor. Mr. Prabhakaran’s presence together with this geographical factor gave military sense to an attempt on Vadamaratchi. The control of Vadamaratchi and the rest of the northern coastline would leave the remainder of the Jaffna peninsula exposed along a broad front, stretching the L.T.T.E.’s resources to impossible limits. Although Prabhakaran’s presence at Valvettithurai was then denied by the L.T.T.E., it was later admitted by L.T.T.E. men in a conversation with Colonel Wimalaratne of the Sri Lankan army. The conversation took place in Palaly shortly after the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987 and was reported in the Situation Report Column in the Weekend of 27 September, 87. The operation was executed by Colonel Wimalaratne and Brigadier Kobbekaduwa. One infers from this conversation that not only were the Sri Lankan forces aware of Prabhakaran’s presence in Valvettithurai, but also had pretty good intelligence of his location. To the question why the Ceylon army failed to seal off Prabhakaran’s escape, the Colonel replied that the army had lost some time in negotiating booby traps. Here is an extract from the report:

Kumarappa, one time L.T.T.E. “commander” for Batticaloa and now in the Tiger hierarchy and his colleagues last week talked over coffee to one of Sri Lanka’s top military men in the anti-terrorist battle, Colonel Vijaya Wimalaratne at the I.P.K.F. headquarters in Palaly. The conversation, interestingly enough centred on some of the battles the two sides fought. A Tiger militant asked Colonel Wimalaratne who led one brigade through Vadamaratchi during Operation Liberation, why he did not overrun a sector in Valvettithurai where Tiger leader Prabhakaran and area leader Soosai were trapped. “I wish we knew that,” replied Colonel Wimalaratne, “When troops began surrounding Valvettithurai, a section of soldiers, who encountered booby traps, delayed to reach their areas to seal off that spot. That is where the Tiger leader slipped out from.”

Independent sources have said that both houses belonging to a businessman in Valvettithurai who had entertained Prabhakaran were bombed a short time after the latter had left. An unspecified number of the L.T.T.E. cadre reportedly lost their lives in the gruelling process of getting Prabhakaran to safety by moving Eastwards and then through Mulliveli, Southwards. Preoccupation with this had alone created considerable disarray in L.T.T.E. ranks.

        The army moved out of Thondamanaru on the 26th. This was accompanied by heavy aerial bombing and shelling, particularly in Valvettithurai. There was also military activity, bombing and shelling near the Jaffna Fort. The Government later claimed that this was diversionary. By the 28th Udupiddy and Valvettithurai had been taken. This was the difficult part, involving several landmine barriers. After this the L.T.T.E. resistance petered out and Vadamaratchi was taken by 1 June. One group of soldiers were heli-dropped at Mulli. One column took Nelliady and advanced northwards to Pt. Pedro. Another group of soldiers advanced eastwards towards Pt. Pedro by running in three lines. The L.T.T.E. was not given the time to regroup or to put up fresh land mine barriers. The L.T.T.E. made a quick withdrawal abandoning its vehicles and a large quantity of arms. About 8000 troops from the Gemunu Watch and Gajaba Regiments were involved in the recapture of Vadamaratchi. The L.T.T.E. was taken by surprise by what had happened. The Ceylon army had over the past three years been motivated and trained to make a steady disciplined advance under fire. It was not the so-called rabble army of 1983.

        Surprise and initiative continued to be on the side of the Sri Lankan army. It had the northern coast under its control from K.K.S. eastwards. It now moved Westwards along the coast and advanced Southwards towards Tellipallai meeting with next to no resistance. Atchuvely was again taken after a barrage of shelling. The B.B.C.’s Mark Tully quoted the army command at Palaly as having hopes of taking Jaffna within the next 48 hours. The L.T.T.E. was in a bad way. Though rhetoric abounded, the fleeing southwards into Sri Lankan held territory or to India of even the L.T.T.E.’s most ardent supporters was a reflection of current expectations. Then came the well publicised convoy of fishing vessels from India with relief supplies on the 3rd June, their being refused entry and then the Indian air drop of 25 tons of relief supplies on Jaffna the following day. This marked the end of the Sri Lankan offensive. The L.T.T.E. knew that its image had taken a beating. The initiative was now firmly lodged across the Palk Straits. Prabhakaran issued a statement welcoming what was termed India’s humanitarian concern. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose government was reeling from extensive press exposure, particularly by the Indian Express, of corruption in high places and payment of kickbacks in arms deals (estimated at ,20,000,000 from Bofors of Sweden and ,15,000,000 from the West German submarine deal), now became the instant hero of the Tamils of Ceylon.

7.3 Some aspects of Operation Liberation

The operation was based on a utilitarian framework which regarded the Tamils as an expendable mass. The problem was to pacify the Tamil areas in a manner that could be sold to international opinion. Within this framework the technical planning and execution were creditable in military terms. But if one regarded Tamils as equal citizens of this country, or even as human beings whose lives and feelings should be respected, and who should be encouraged to reassert their lost dignity, then the operation had several objectionable features. There was much shelling into civilian areas which had no actual conflict. A subsequent radio announcement asked people to take refuge in places of worship and in schools, which modified an earlier announcement designating a limited number of such places. Three places of worship which functioned as refugee centres were shelled. One shell falling on Mariamman Temple, Alvai, claimed over 35 lives. People discovered sheltering in trenches were summarily shot, as were several curfew breakers even when they were evidently harmless. The soldiers seem to have been told that those building trenches to protect themselves from air raids and shelling must be L.T.T.E. supporters. In certain areas designated pro-L.T.T.E., such as Vathiri and Kottawattai, several young men were murdered without questions being asked; sometimes after they were taken away from their parents with a pledge to release them after questioning. At Kamparmalai soldiers went on a rampage every time they saw posters commemorating dead militants. There was widespread looting by troops, especially of jewellery. Such incidents were repeated in Pt. Pedro where the army surrounded Puttalai Pillayar Kovil, a designated refugee camp on 1 June, and took away several young men from their parents on suspicion.

        An engineering student was killed in front of his mother and other refugees simply because he had a Valvettithurai identity card. About five were shot and thrown into a well as they were being marched from the temple towards waiting trucks. Mr. Ragutheswaran, an Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics, and some others who were detained at the Murugan temple refugee camp Nelliady, were briefly interviewed at Nelliady junction by Brigadier Kobbekaduwa on 31 May. They were then marched off in handcuffs towards Nelliady Central College. On the way four of them were asked to run and were fired at. Three died. Mr. Ragutheswaran was left for dead and later escaped with a hand injury. Worse than the ordinary aerial bombing was the use of so-called barrel bombs which were pushed out of Avro transports. These were crude devices which could not be aimed at specific targets, and consisted of a barrel of fuel padded with a rubber like inflammable substance. On hitting the ground the fuel would explode. The molten padding would fly in all directions and stick to the skin of a victim and burn itself out. A large number of these were dropped on Valvettithurai (48 according to one count). Barrel bombs were also dropped at random in several other parts of the peninsula. One falling on Sivan Kovil on K.K.S. Road, Jaffna town claimed 17 victims. This seemed a sadistic extra without military purpose.

        As far as the people in Vadamaratchi were concerned, there was much material damage in and around Valvettithurai. But in terms of loss of life the operation had been less severe than expected. As the bombing and shelling commenced in and around Valvettithurai, most of the able bodied persons had gone eastwards and many of them went as refugees to Thenmaratchi. The fact that the L.T.T.E. had withdrawn after about the third day and had no opportunity or desire to take up new permanent positions did help to reduce civilian losses as the army moved towards Pt. Pedro. There was some grudging admiration for the Sri Lankan army. Many were scathing about the Tigers. “They left us in the lurch and ran away without even telling us they were going,” they said. Others such as Mr. Tharmar from Kamparmalai took a more charitable view: “I will not say that the boys did not try hard. Once the land mine barrier was breached, and the army was out of Thondamanaru, there was nothing but to run for it. The boys could not face shells with AK 47’s. They asked us to run and we too ran. The army kept coming like devils. If some fell, the others did not seem to notice. We, nor the boys had expected that.” Vadamaratchi had been regarded an L.T.T.E. stronghold as it was the home of several of its leaders including Prabhakaran. To this day, the L.T.T.E. has not regained in Vadamaratchi the credibility it then lost. Many people were so tired and war weary that they were prepared to come to terms with the occupation by the Sri Lankan army. “The Sinhalese are quick tempered when they are provoked. When they cool down they are all right,” they would say. People were hoping against hope that the L.T.T.E. would keep away from Vadamaratchi. When the Tigers reappeared about two weeks later and attempted to lay landmines, the army was usually given a tip. The most common feeling amongst people was that they had had enough and needed a rest.

        A notable incident related by a senior doctor at Point Pedro hospital was to have several parallels in the South of the peninsula as the Indian forces launched an offensive against the L.T.T.E. in October that same year. On 30 May, about 2500 refugees were gathered at Pt. Pedro hospital at Manthikai as the Ceylon army was poised to advance from Nelliady. A group of leading citizens from amongst those present appealed to the doctors to approach the L.T.T.E., explain to them the plight of the people and request them not to resist the army from within half a mile of the hospital. The doctor said: “These persons were prominent supporters of the L.T.T.E.. This brings us to an unresolved moral dilemma facing the community. When landmines went off in far away Trincomalee and Batticaloa killing government troops, we used to applaud. We ignored what happened to innocent people around afterwards. When the landmines are closer to home, the very people normally given to applause think differently. In the event, the L.T.T.E. decided on its own to withdraw without offering resistance. Non-violence is the best policy for our community.” There were several instances during the Indian offensive when refugees were not so fortunate.

7.4 Sinhalese and Tamils during Operation Liberation

We put down on record, some curious instances during Operation Liberation, when Sinhalese and Tamils behaved, with their foibles perhaps, but simply as human beings. There was no communal hatred or malice. The old Sinhalese habit of making jokes at their own expense was not entirely dead. During all the time when the killing was going on, several government departments attempted to carry out their functions without regarding the Tamils as enemies. A Sinhalese railway station master at Anuradhapura is known to have gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that Jaffna Hospital had its oxygen supplies at a time when transport had been dislocated. No responsible official of the health services, the electricity board, or the K.K.S. cement works in Jaffna, had complained that their departments acted unfairly by them. The managements of the two cement works took unprecedented steps to ensure that even their casual employees were paid during a prolonged closure lasting four months. This is far from absolving the Sri Lankan government of abandoning its Tamil subjects to the tender mercies of the military, the S.T.F. and the home guards.

        On 20 May, a doctor travelling in an ambulance reached the Elephant Pass check point. The Ceylonese soldiers then told him that he may not proceed. The doctor pleaded and asked: “Why can I not proceed?” At this point shells fired by the L.T.T.E. started falling nearby. The soldiers promptly ran for cover. The doctor who was suddenly left alone in the middle of the road, went and stood at the back of the ambulance. At length when things had quietened down, the soldiers re-emerged. They pointed in the direction from which the firing came and exclaimed: “Mahattaya, mahattaya (Sir, Sir), look! See what those boys are doing! That is why you cannot go.”

        When Operation Liberation commenced on 26 May, soldiers walked into the switch room of the C.E.B. (Ceylon Electricity Board) at Anuradhapura and ordered the power to Jaffna to be switched off. When the C.E.B. employees in the switchroom at Chunnakam (Jaffna) discovered the loss of supply, they got through to Anuradhapura by means of the carrier telephone. The Sinhalese C.E.B. employees at Anuradhapura merely confirmed that the line was switched off and put the phone down. The army remained in the Anuradhapura switchroom and left at 6:00 in the evening after ordering the Jaffna line to be switched on. This routine was to be followed for the remaining days of the operation. After the army had left, the C.E.B. personnel at Anuradhapura telephoned their colleagues in Jaffna and told them: “Sorry we cut you off that time. The army was here, so we could not speak. If the line is switched off again you may assume that it is on the army’s orders. Do not ‘phone us when the line is switched off. But call us after it is all over. Then we will tell you everything that happened.” It is remarkable that ordinary human contact remained during those days and that the army did not want to black out Jaffna totally.

        On 28 May, at the height of Operation Liberation, a group of weary travellers arrived at Elephant Pass in a van and requested the army for permission to proceed. This was refused. The travellers then asked when they could go. A soldier replied: “A party of our boys have gone down the road. They will get a beating and come back. Then you can go.” The travellers later arrived in Jaffna through Puneryn. The army at Puneryn used to check travellers, but never closed the route.

        On 4 June, a group of travellers to Jaffna were being checked at Omanthai. A lorry carrying Elephant House aerated waters was also parked at the check-point. A Sinhalese soldier bought several bottles of aerated water and started offering them to the Tamil passengers. He said: “Do not worry, I get paid plenty. My parents were settled as farmers in Omanthai and I was born here. This is my hometown and so it is my duty to do the honours in welcoming people here.”

        The closure of the two cement plants at K.K.S .following the L.T.T.E.’s attack on 22 April, 1987 and the reprisal killing by the army of factory personnel was described earlier. A few weeks later on the initiative of Lanka Cement Ltd.’s General Manager, Mr. Jayamanne, to reopen the plants, the Harbour Engineer went with a maintenance crew to repair the damage. They did not like the manner in which the Sri Lankan soldiers were staring at them. Later the engineer asked the Commander of the K.K.S. Harbourview camp whether it was really safe for them to work there. The Commander replied: “We are both servants in this game. Our lives do not really matter. My advice to you is to resign and leave this country.” Plans to reopen the plants were then abandoned.[Top]

Chapter 8

8.1 The Airdrop and the L.T.T.E.’s Dilemma

With the Indian airdrop of relief supplies on 4 June, the Sri Lankan army was forced to call off its offensive in Jaffna after scenting victory. The L.T.T.E. had been administered an unpleasant shock and was reeling. India had demonstrated to the Tamils that it was ultimately India on whom the Tamils must depend. India now wanted a presence in Jaffna and there was much talk between Colombo and Delhi. It was agreed that Indian relief supplies would be distributed to the people of Jaffna, jointly by a team of Indian and Ceylonese Red Cross personnel. India underlined the allegedly humanitarian nature of its mission. During Operation Liberation and earlier All India Radio had given publicity to the L.T.T.E.’s version of civilian casualties. The figure went up to 2000 dead, while later estimates of the figure were between 400 and 700. India had also alleged carpet bombing of Vadamaratchi. The Sri Lankan government tried to make much of this. When foreign journalists were flown later in by the government, they could see few signs of carpet bombing. All this was to irk the Tamil people later when All India Radio would switch from the exaggerations of May (with which the Tamils were happy) to obvious untruths in the wake of India’s own offensive in Jaffna later in October. One consequence of India’s vocal criticism of the Sri Lankan government’s use of air power, was that India was slow to admit its use of air power during its offensive in October.

        During 1987, the Sri Lankan use of air power had a deliberate vindictive purpose. Civilians were expected to get killed. Its main effect was to keep the L.T.T.E. shifting houses. Still most of the time, as FM conversations between airmen showed, its use was usually restrained. The nature of the target was generally verified before action was taken. By restraint, one means that those lucky enough not to live within 100 yards of an L.T.T.E. camp could consider themselves reasonably safe during air raids. This did not apply to shelling. The element of discrimination was even more vitiated when fertile minds in the national security ministry introduced the Avro-dropped barrel bomb.

        The L.T.T.E. was now facing a crisis of prestige, as India was set to become top dog. After casting about for an issue on which to build up support, it picked on G.C.E. A. Level examinations. Its student wing, the S.A.L.T. wanted a boycott of A.Level examinations in July for the reason that Vadamaratchi was in a bad way, with its education disrupted, so that it was considered wrong for other Tamils to do their examinations unless a postponement was granted. The S.A.L.T. leaders went about schools canvassing the boycott. The response from boys’ schools was of a noticeably low order in comparison with that from girls’ schools. Young men with a military bearing led by Major Murali of the L.T.T.E. canvassing in schools brought about a flutter of response in the girls’ schools. Middle class girls were quite prominent in the boycott movement.

        But the boycott move was unpopular with the parents and a silent majority of the affected students. Many influential persons with children who were A.Level candidates busily ran around canvassing opinion and getting through to key L.T.T.E. leaders. Pressure was brought about even from within the ranks of prominent L.T.T.E. supporters. The L.T.T.E. thought it wise to backtrack.

        The boycott was ceremonially called off. The L.T.T.E. was praised for its show of wisdom. Tamils from devastated areas outside Jaffna wondered why there was no call to boycott when they had been affected. Many girls had become enamoured of the L.T.T.E.. This remained true. The role of girls in the L.T.T.E. had by now become significant. Several were to die in action against the I.P.K.F. in October, including at least one girl from Chundikuli Girls’ College.

        One often finds amongst intelligent middle class girls from English speaking homes, a reckless emotional drive to serve a cause like that of the L.T.T.E.’s. Being very articulate speakers, they bring in many village girls who are anxious to imitate them. But the middle class girls soon get frustrated by fascist tendencies in the organisation. Many of them develop problems of conscience and are unable to conform their independence and initiative to the tastes of the organisation. Once the honeymoon is over, many of these girls wish to leave. The parents quickly get into the act and pack off the girl to stay with an aunt in Colombo so as to get over the trauma. An S.O.S. would then be sent to a relative abroad to get her out. The girl would then continue with her studies abroad and get over the past. But for the village girls who get into the organisation under the influence of their middle class peers, things work out tragically. They too may want to leave the organisation for very much the same reasons. But they have nowhere to go. Their parents may not have the means to help them. For them it requires a great deal of courage.

        On 25 June, the Indian ship Srivastava, bringing relief supplies docked at K.K.S.. Crowds lined the route taken by the Indian embassy officials Mr. Puri and Captain Gupta together with the Indian Red Cross team, on their way to Jaffna. This resembled something of a triumphal march. The L.T.T.E.’s position was a difficult one as the Indians aimed directly for the people’s affections. It tried to give the event a different colour, by trying to behave as though it was the power in charge and was welcoming Indian efforts as helping the L.T.T.E. to achieve its aims. It urged the crowd to shout amongst other slogans, a request for arms. But the real feelings of the crowd came out as people again and again broke down in front of the Indian officials, saying simply, “India save us.”

        On 5 July, the L.T.T.E. launched a suicide attack against the Sri-Lankan army camp at Nelliady Central College. The Sri Lankan army had reduced its strength in Vadamaratchi from 8000 to 3000 men. No one was expecting a major outbreak of violence. The government had agreed to a ceasefire to facilitate the distribution of Indian relief supplies. The L.T.T.E. was also understood to be a party to this. But as in the past both sides could find excuses for not honouring ceasefires. The Sri Lankan S.T.F. action in Batticaloa was as good as any. Earlier that day, armed L.T.T.E. men were spotted at Nelliady and something had been expected. The entrance to Nelliady Central College was located in a narrow road connecting Nelliady town with Vathiri junction. Civilians were living just opposite the school and the army encouraged the use of the road as a public relations exercise. Miller, a member of the L.T.T.E.’s new black Tigers drove a van packed with explosives through the school gates into the front building. The government claimed that 20 of its soldiers died. Publicising its action through notice boards as a “great achievement,” the L.T.T.E. claimed 100 soldiers killed. Other sources said that the government figure was much nearer the truth. The army had been expecting something of this nature, and what took place was not a major setback. Troops took up positions and the Nelliady camp held out. What was surprising was the manner in which the army reacted. The government had been keen to revive confidence in the people and make Vadamaratchi a success. An elaborate public relations exercise was going on. All this was shattered as the army let loose with a barrage of cannon fire. Perhaps up to 20 civilians died in the shelling. Several others were shot as they fled. In one incident at Navindil, a group of 12 elderly persons were moving towards Udupiddy. When a round of shelling commenced they took shelter in the porch of a house, which the owners had apparently fled. A group of soldiers who arrived peeped through the window and observed that cooking had been going on for a large party. The 12 persons were accused of feeding the L.T.T.E.. Despite their denials, they were shot and pushed into the trench by soldiers of the 4th Division of the Gajaba Regiment Only the wife of a Singer company agent escaped by feigning death. In another incident a shell falling on the Karaveddy Roman Catholic Church killed 5 refugees. People were not taking chances this time. An estimated 90% of the population fled Southwards as refugees. A few remained close to the towns of Pt. Pedro, Udupiddy and Valvettithurai. Vadamaratchi was described as a place for goats and stray dogs. The lack of clear policy and army discipline demonstrated to India’s advantage the Sri Lankan government’s limitations in making headway with solving the problem.

        With many people, the L.T.T.E. had redeemed its reputation after running away in the face of Operation Liberation. This again pointed to the fickleness of public opinion in Jaffna. In the rest of Jaffna things went on as if nothing had happened. Refugee woes in newspapers were part of the fare. To the L.T.T.E. it was a desultory achievement which once again underlined its dependence on civilian cover. Once the civilians fled, the L.T.T.E. found it difficult to stay on in Vadamaratchi. The L.T.T.E. withdrew from Vadamaratchi on 13 July. On the same day a group of the notorious Black Shirts, a unit of the Sri Lankan Army trained in Pakistan, moved from Polikandy towards Navindil looking into houses and killing the aged who were left behind. According to an engineer from that area, at least 20 persons, nearly all above 70, were shot dead.

        It may be assumed that India had no foreknowledge of the L.T.T.E.’s attack on the night of 5th July. Indian officials were critical. Members of the Indian Red Cross team were amongst those trapped in Vadamaratchi. Reports at that time spoke of a heated argument within the L.T.T.E. over whether its members in Vadamaratchi should be ordered to stay or be withdrawn. With hardly any civilians left, it had become difficult to remain there. If the event worked to the advantage of India, it was an unintended consequence of the L.T.T.E.’s action, and the Sri Lankan army’s ineptness in dealing with civilians.

8.2        The Accord, Colonisation and

      Human Rights

The process which began with the Indian airdrop on 4 June resulted in the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 29th July. The ideas contained in the deal envisaged for the Tamils were similar to those put forward by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s special envoy G. Parthasarathy. The Northern and Eastern Provinces were to be linked for a year with the permanency of the link to be decided by a referendum in the East a year later. In the Eastern Province, the population was divided into Tamils 42%, Muslims (also Tamil speaking) 34% and Sinhalese 24%. The last group had come in mainly through colonisation over the last 40 years. According to a senior official who worked for the first such scheme, the Gal Oya project, in the 1940’s, when the houses in the scheme were ready for occupation the first offer was made to people in the locality. The official had gone about contacting District Revenue Officers (or D.R.O.s) in and around Batticaloa calling for volunteers. The response from the Tamils had been poor. Offers were then made elsewhere and large numbers of Sinhalese came from areas such as Kegalle. Within 18 years they started paying income tax. At this point, the government of Ceylon could not be blamed. But this set a pattern. Alarm bells started ringing when politics acquired an increasingly chauvinistic note. Some of the worst violence against Tamils, during the 1958 race riots, came from Sinhalese in the colonisation schemes at Gal Oya and Padaviya. In the meantime movements to defend the Tamil homeland had come into existence. Prominent amongst the early leaders was the late Prof. C. Suntheralingam, former Mathematics teacher at the Ceylon University, ex-Minister and M.P. for the frontier electorate of Vavuniya. Together with the ideology that Ceylon was for the majority Sinhalese had also arisen crusaders amongst leading Sinhalese wanting to populate Tamil areas with Sinhalese. Government policy too naturally veered in this direction. Attempts to settle the matter through the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam pact of 1965 failed because of a lack of decision amongst the two Prime Ministers resulting from pressure invoking the Sinhalese-Buddhist ideology.

        The Buddhist clergy propagated the ideology that Ceylon was a land sacred to the Buddha and the chosen repository of his teachings. The chosen guardians were of course the Sinhalese people. Professor Leslie Goonewardene (in “Ethnicity and Social Change in Sri Lanka,” Social Scientists Association, 1979) argues that the term Sinhala in the ancient chronicle Mahavamsa, actually referred to a particular dynasty that was then favoured by the Buddhist clergy. The priestly chroniclers of the 4th century A.D. presented a version of history that attempted to justify through reference to antiquity, a symbiotic relationship between themselves and a particular dynasty. Over the coming centuries of migration from India, assimilation, comings, goings, and transformation of both language and religion; the group of persons referred to as Sinhala underwent changes according to the political ends to which it was put to use. These ends were usually determined by the need to preserve and advance the interests represented by the Buddhist Sangha. Ironically, the allegedly chosen and exclusive group represented today by the term Sinhala is made up to the extent of 40% by caste groups (Karawe, Durawe, Navandanno, and Salagama) who trace their origins in South India to about 450 – 800 years back. Although current popular Buddhism has assimilated and legitimised the religious practices and cults of waves of migrants, the Sinhalese-Buddhist combination today represents something aggressive and unpleasant. It seeks to drive minorities to the wall. It was natural that the Buddhist clergy should form the vanguard in the cause of populating Tamil areas with Sinhalese. Such activities had as little to do with Buddhism as the Crusades with Christianity.

        By the early 1970’s the Sinhalese squatter townships of Sirimapura, Abhayapura, Mihindapura, and Pattispura had come into existence in Trincomalee. These became a major irritant to the Tamils during the race riots of 1977 and during and after July 1983. From 1977 government ministries used their facilities to provide employment for Sinhalese in Trincomalee. Prominent amongst such ministers were Cyril Mathew (Scientific Affairs and Industries) and Gamini Dissanayake (Lands, Irrigation and Power). From 1983, colonisation acquired a more terrifying aspect. Many shops in Trincomalee town were taken over after the Tamil owners had been driven out. The same thing was being done to houses and lands. The law and order machinery for redress was spiked as far as the Tamils went. From 1985, the army was used in large scale evictions of Tamils. Scenes of unbelievable devastation are still evident as one drives into Trincomalee through Pankulam, Anuradhapura junction and Uppuveli. Things were not helped when Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, the National Security Minister, announced in Parliament in December 1984 that the government was hoping, in a move towards finding a solution to the ethnic problem, to settle a large number of Sinhalese in the Tamil areas. Many of the prospective settlers were to be drawn from fishermen and ex-convicts. To this period may be traced the first attacks on Sinhalese settlers by Tamil militants.

        Tamil – Muslim relations in the Batticaloa district had been fairly good. The evidence of many Western journalists describes how the government fomented trouble between Tamils and Muslims in Batticaloa as a measure to contain the Tamil insurgency.

        The foregoing digression briefly describes how complex and anarchic the problems of the East had become. The Tamils felt cheated. There were now many Sinhalese who regarded the East as their home. The Muslims were confused and in a quandary. The actions of the government had made it easier for the Tamils, in their minds, to condone attacks on the Sinhalese civilian population which was regarded as an ultra-military arm of government policy. The bitter experience through which some of the Tamil militant leaders were born has been alluded to earlier. The East had changed qualitatively from the time of Parthasarathy’s visits in 1983.

        The East was the weak link in the Accord of July 1987. On the surface, the position on the North-East linkage seemed a compromise between Tamil and Sinhalese positions, aimed at providing the L.T.T.E. with a face saving formula to accept the Accord. Though perhaps well meaning, the Indian negotiators do not seem to have paid much attention to the complexities of the East. Many leading Tamils would have preferred the North and East to have separate provincial councils. They felt that the Tamils, Sinhalese, and the Muslims of the East had to live with each other and left to themselves, would find the most rational basis on which to co-exist. The Muslims of the East had already expressed a desire to go a separate way from the Muslims of the Western seaboard. They recognised that they had different interests. One senior Tamil civil servant pointed out that for reasons of economic self-interest at least, the Sinhalese in the East will have a vested interest in stopping further Sinhalese colonisation. But if the Tamils of the North, particularly from Jaffna, were to have a commanding voice in the East, the Eastern Tamils may tend to gang up with them against the Muslims, who in turn would tend to gang up with the Sinhalese against the Tamils. The resulting instability may then provide the centre with room to interfere.

        Substantive issues such as colonisation were left as a matter for further talks. There was also a referendum hanging over the East which would decide the fate of the linkage in a year’s time. If all parties were to act cynically in terms of their perceived interests, the government would try to push Sinhalese colonisation in the East surreptitiously using its machinery and would try to sour relations between Muslims and Tamils; and the Tamil militants would try to create conditions which would pave the way for a mass exodus of Sinhalese. To some extent all these happened. The Accord provided for the presence in the North and East of an Indian Peace Keeping Force (I.P.K.F.) to ensure its implementation. Some role for such a force was necessary.

        There were two key factors that placed the Accord on a weak footing. First, it did not provide for a mechanism to correct human rights violations. Thus it also ignored the primacy of reaching a democratic consensus. In time, the Accord tended to look more and more like a strait-jacket imposed on the people of the island. In the months that followed the Accord, the Indian Army in the Tamil areas and the Sri Lankan forces in the South, would be led to seeking political solutions through military means that involved gross violations of human rights, making a political solution even more unattainable. (See sections 8, 9 and 10.4 of Volume 2).

                The second factor that weakened the Accord, is related to the first. It is the question of whether President Jayewardene enjoyed the legitimacy to negotiate with India on such an important matter. In answering this, one is left with little doubt, if one looks at the growing repression over the past ten years, and the methods used to perpetuate power, such as regular constitutional changes and the 1982 referendum.

8.3    The end of a Long Road to Nowhere

As for the Sinhalese people, it finally began to dawn on them that they had been on a long road to nowhere. With them doubts gave way to euphoria with the successful launching of Operation Liberation. This reached a peak when the fishing vessels carrying the Indian Red Cross meekly turned back. Sabre rattling statements by senior politicians and newspaper columnists were the order of the day. With the Indian airdrop of relief supplies, euphoria gave way to indignation, followed by a long hangover during which doubts re-emerged. It was perhaps easier for a Sinhalese living outside Ceylon to see the unreality of the government’s approach in the light of how dangerously out of tune they were with the rest of the world. In contrast the Tamils generally felt that it was a great thing to gain international sympathy by hook or by crook, without themselves doing anything positive in the meantime.

        We quote below an extract from an article which appeared in the Weekend of 19 July 1987 giving some reflections on the 4th anniversary of the 1983 race riots. The article “Still at square one four years after?” by Kumudini Hettiaratchchi is made all the more remarkable by its having appeared in the Weekend:

Mea culpas during the last four years have been of no avail. What positive action has been taken to redeem this country’s image to what it was before the debacle? The Sri Lankans had been thought of as a nation of peaceful and tolerant people comprising a multiracial and multi-religious community. The recent developments, not only in the regional scene but also in the international sphere regarding the ethnic crisis, create serious doubts as to whether we have been successful in retrieving our lost image.

        What does the world think of Sri Lanka today? Has the government campaign to propagate the truth of the real position been a success? Have we been able to impress the world that in the stand taken by the majority community in the country we have held up the ideal that in the relationships between the various communities, particularly the Tamils, the virtue of justice and not that of charity should be the foundation and the norm?

        “Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting and discussing our ethnic problem with a number of persons in the United Kingdom. Those who made observations belonged to different nationalities. The general opinion was vacillating between a military solution and a political settlement. On several occasions I was asked whether Sri Lanka was interested in settling the ethnic conflict once and for all.

        “In fact there is a very serious misconception among some of the people there that we are thinking of ourselves as a chosen people. It was tragic that some experienced and senior journalists there too had formed the impression that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka would never be settled because of diehard attitudes. It is a tragedy that even though the world community was initially shocked by the Pettah bomb blast, which killed over 100 innocent persons and injured several hundred others, the inexcusable slaying of 30 Buddhist monks and the brutal murders of numbers of harmless villagers in Arantalawa and other areas in the North and the East, every country in the world had reiterated that the Sri Lanka should go in only for a political solution to the ethnic problem.

        “In the present perspective Operation Liberation was regarded by them as an ‘ill-advised move.’ Instead of helping the country regain some of its lost reputation for loving peaceful methods of settling disputes, it seemed to have created the impression that Sri Lanka was only paying lip service to a ‘political solution.'”

      “The offensive, it appears, had pushed this country further into the abyss of isolation among the comity of nations. Several journalists and others in the United Kingdom were generally “cold” towards even the violation of Sri Lanka’s airspace by India dropping food aid from in planes escorted by Mirage Fighters. The “mercy mission” violation of Sri Lankan territorial integrity by India was not condemned as it should have been by the West. It was only mildly deplored as it were by the European Parliament. A family that I knew in Oxford expressed horror at what they had seen on a programme on British television three weeks previously. “How could the Sinhalese be so brutal?,” the materfamilias asked me. The man of the house was adamant that there had been “firebombings” in the North. “What of the children shown with severe burns?” he asked. “Who is responsible for ordering Vietnam tactics in your country?” he asked me in the presence of several journalists from a number of countries, he had invited for supper.

      “A journalist listening in on our conversation laughingly quoted, “Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile” about Sri Lanka. In Britain it was also difficult to explain the “arbitrary arrests” and the alleged “disappearances” of some of those arrested.

      When one compares the protest from the international community in the case of Afghanistan, Grenada and earlier Kampuchea, not to mention the Nicaraguan crisis, with our own ethnic debacle, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that there had to be serious rethinking on the absolute necessity for an early settlement.

      But the most important and essential ingredient for peace, is honesty and sincerity.”

Chapter 9


9.1       The arrival of the I.P.K.F.The response to the Accord from the Tamils of Ceylon was one of relief and jubilation. In Batticaloa and Trincomalee where government oppression had been the most far-reaching, this jubilation found public expression. In Batticaloa where the S.T.F. once had a license to kill, the STF watched sullenly while the people celebrated. Sensing an explosive situation, some community leaders telephoned the Indian Embassy and asked them to send in the I.P.K.F. early.

        Some days before the signing of the Accord, the L.T.T.E. had talks with Mr. Puri of the Indian Embassy in Jaffna. The L.T.T.E. then issued a statement that India had agreed to recognise the L.T.T.E. as the sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people. On 24 July Prabhakaran left Jaffna for Delhi by Indian air force helicopter. In New Delhi he was to meet with Rajiv Gandhi and have talks with Indian officials. Apparently these did not go happily. It was clear that agreement on the Accord had been reached between Delhi and Colombo. Some details were leaked to the Sunday papers in Colombo which published them on 26 July. It was also said that the Accord was going to be signed in the next few days and that New Delhi was confident of securing the L.T.T.E.’s compliance. The government made important concessions to India, especially concerning the non-use of Trincomalee harbour by parties hostile to India. The government had failed in its goals, even false ones, which it set before the Sinhalese people. Its main gains from the Accord were that a sharp drop in the defence budget would provide funds for development projects and for salary increases to public servants, and hopefully put an end to the bloodletting and instability resulting from the war. It had to sell this to the Sinhalese with judicious packaging. The riots which broke out in Colombo with the signing of the Accord indicated that the task would not be easy. The ceremonial aspect was marked by a Sinhalese sailor in the guard of honour swinging the butt of his gun at the Indian Prime Minister, who narrowly escaped serious injury. The government’s salesmanship was not without effect. A Colombo based journalist related the story of how a taxi driver let loose at the President with expletives when the Accord was signed. One week later his tone was different. He had said: “Our President is a wise man. He has shrewdly left it to the Indians to handle the Kottiyas (Tigers).” On the other hand, the Sinhalese extremist group, the J.V.P., has been becoming increasingly deadly since the Accord. At the time the Accord was signed, the MP for Tangalle was killed. The J.V.P. has since then followed it up with attacks on leading government personalities, including an attack on the U.N.P. parliamentary group inside the parliamentary complex on 8 August and the murder of the U.N.P. chairman Harsha Abhayawardene on 23 December, 1987. The J.V.P. thrived on soil watered by the government’s racist propaganda. Its elimination has now called forth the deployment in Sinhalese territory of the same mental and military apparatus once used against Tamils.

        The L.T.T.E. was now downcast. Little had been heard from New Delhi, from their leader Prabhakaran. From 30 July, Indian forces had been flown into Palaly, while Sri Lankan forces were flown South for riot control duties. The L.T.T.E.’s first task was to secure the return of Prabhakaran. To this end crowds were made to sit down and block the roads leading out of Palaly. The crowds appeared to be more curious than angry. For two days the Indian army came out, stood before the crowds, made polite conversation and got back to base. The Accord envisaged a surrender of arms within 72 hours. The L.T.T.E. maintained that it could not take a decision without its leader. The Indians then made an announcement that Prabhakaran would be flown back on 2 August and deposited at Suthumalai from where he had earlier been flown to India. From Palaly to Suthumalai, Prabhakaran was escorted by Indian troops. The L.T.T.E. imposed a curfew for the first time in places straddling the envisaged route. People watching from their houses were strongly discouraged, with little effect, from waving at Indian troops. The L.T.T.E. announced a public meeting at which Mr. Prabhakaran would announce the movement’s decision on the surrender of arms. The meeting was held at Suthumalai on 4 August. Tens of thousands attended, including Indian military officials, embassy attaches and local and foreign journalists. Mr. Prabhakaran’s speech was commended as having been masterly delivered. He played the role of a chieftain, who had struggled for his people and had been ill-used by India who purported to be a friend. He was now bowing to fate and yet kept his independence and self respect. It was a moving performance, and yet there were discordant notes. The main anxiety for the people was now that the L.T.T.E. should surrender its arms and secure the peace — peace which had so often turned out to be an elusive phantom. The speech was heading for a tragic climax when Prabhakaran said that their armaments had been used in defence of the people of Tamil Eelam and in defence of their rights. Now, he said, they were parting with these same arms and had decided under pressure to surrender them. A crowd which was in tune with him would have wept aloud. But instead, they applauded. The television broadcast showed a momentary spasm of annoyance passing over Prabhakaran’s face. This was a continuation of the communication gap between the L.T.T.E. and the people, which was alluded to in describing the events of 1 May.

        At the same meeting, the L.T.T.E.’s Trincomalee leader, Mr. Pulendran expressed his unhappiness about surrendering their arms in the context of the unresolved problems of Trincomalee. In surrendering the L.T.T.E.’s arms Prabhakaran had commended the Tamils to India’s care and had also declined to accept the Chief Ministership in the interim administration.

        With the L.T.T.E.’s decision to surrender arms, it was thought that the peace was here to stay. There was relief all round. It may be mentioned that this period saw the rise of Yogi, the brother of the late Mr. Kugan, the previous second-in-command, to the position of Chief of Propaganda. Subsequently a quantity of arms was ceremonially surrendered by Yogi to the Sri Lankan army at Palaly under I.P.K.F. supervision. Such ceremonies took place throughout the North and East. The arms surrenders by the L.T.T.E., E.R.O.S., E.P.R.L.F., E.N.D.L.F., P.L.O.T.E., and T.E.L.O. were telecast for the benefit of the Sinhalese. The latter three militant groups were exiled in India. The E.N.D.L.F. (Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front, popularly known as Three Star) was made up of a breakaway group of the P.L.O.T.E. under Rajan and a breakaway group of the T.E.L.O.. Under the Accord, it was envisaged that all militant groups would be brought to Ceylon, surrender their arms and take part in democratic politics.

        The rest of the story is about how the failings of all parties to the conflict, the Sri Lankan and Indian governments, the militant groups and the Tamil people, wove themselves into an explosive fabric which ignited in October 1987.

        Each party could pick facts selectively to fuel righteous indignation. Each party could maintain with some justice that it had acted rightly whilst others had ill-used and wounded it. Charity, patience and a sense of give and take were missing. The Accord envisaged a surrender of arms by militants within 72 hours. Even a week after that, arms were still trickling in. President Jayewardene for his part had undertaken to grant amnesty to all militants and to release all prisoners detained. Charges had been framed only against a fraction of those detained. General Sepala Attygalle read out the President’s amnesty when Yogi made the first surrender of arms on 6 August. The process of releasing political prisoners also commenced at this time. The Sri Lankan government was convinced that only a small fraction of the arms had been surrendered. In this they had the concurrence of most observers.

        At the joint press conference with the Indian Defence Minister K. C. Pant on 8 October, the President was asked why he went beyond his side of the bargain to grant the amnesty and release prisoners before the L.T.T.E. had hardly begun to move on its part. The President replied that the Indians had persuaded him to honour his part in advance, while the Indians undertook to unearth the arms. Justifying what he had done, the President summed up his argument with impeccable eloquence: “It was an Accord for peace and not for war.” He pointed out that venturing out on the Accord would have been pointless if the war was to go on. With considerable justice, the President could maintain that he had taken commendable risks to make the Accord work.

        On the other hand, the government was in an indecent hurry to resettle displaced Sinhalese persons in the East without a parallel initiative being taken over displaced Tamil persons. Sinhalese were being settled on schemes in the Trincomalee and Amparai districts. The one on the Trincomalee-Habarana Road was in the area where stretches of jungle had been cleared on both sides of the road after the massacre of Sinhalese passengers during the new-year. When questioned by the Trincomalee citizens’ committee, minister Gamini Dissanayake replied that this settlement was meant to put a stop to various nefarious activities. The settlement on the Allai-Kantalai Road was more subtle. The Kantalai dam had been breached in April 1986 causing widespread destruction in the adjoining agricultural scheme which was about 30 years old. There had been 70 allotments each to the Tamils and Muslims and 260 to the Sinhalese. The Trincomalee G.A. told the citizens’ committee in the presence of the visiting British Minister that after the disaster of April 1986, the Sinhalese settlers had agreed to be relocated elsewhere, while the Tamils and Muslims wished to go back to their old allotments. He explained that since each Sinhalese family which held an allotment had now become 3 by natural increase, the Sinhalese settlers were now being given about 600 allotments on the Allai-Kantalai Road. There was evidently some cheating involved here. For one thing it is not the common rule that every family can claim additional crown land for its natural increase. Nor is it likely that the Tamils and Muslims were told that they could claim extra land for their natural increase if agreeable to relocation. The fact that the government was prepared to use its machinery to cheat in the matter of colonisation before the interim council to administer the North and East came into existence, was bound to arouse Tamil suspicions concerning the Accord. If the government wanted to make the Accord work and to restore Tamil confidence, it should have held off acting in controversial areas until the Tamils could be carried along. The extent of colonisation in question was small and the government had little to gain by flexing its muscles.

        Colonisation touched a tender spot in the Tamil psyche. A Tamil grievance could also be aired against the Accord with a modicum of substance by saying: “The provincial councils envisaged under the Accord are an eyewash. The government is doing the bad old thing in colonisation, with the Indians doing nothing to stop it. The provincial councils will be a ceremonial farce like the ill-fated District Councils of 1981.”

        It has been mentioned that L.T.T.E. leaders such as Mr. Pulendran, who had had a bitter personal experience of the Sinhalese army and in turn caused bitter experiences amongst Sinhalese, had strong feelings on colonisation. To this could be added other complaints, again not entirely lacking in justice. Supporters of the L.T.T.E. could say: “All right, the government and the Indians are complaining about the slow surrender of arms by the L.T.T.E.. But everyone knows that some of the other militant groups were trained and armed by the Indian government just before the Accord. Does that not amount to a plan to destroy the L.T.T.E.? They have hidden arms. Can the L.T.T.E. really afford to surrender all its arms? How will they defend themselves? Moreover the government is hedging on the release of prisoners”

        Suggestions within government ranks surfaced in the press to the effect that the release of prisoners should be linked to the surrender of arms. Many Tamils found common cause with the L.T.T.E. on the issue of prisoners and on colonisation. It could after all be maintained on legal and moral grounds that the overwhelming bulk of prisoners had no specific charges against them. Thus the government had no business to hold them even for a minute. And then holding them to ransom for arms is an inexcusable absurdity for a government to impose on its Tamil citizens who were in law equal to Sinhalese citizens.

        On the other hand, the other militant groups could say: “We too made a contribution towards Tamil liberation. Hundreds of our comrades gave their lives fighting the Sinhalese army. Not only did the L.T.T.E. murder our comrades in cold blood and torture and humiliate many others, they are also striving to wipe away our contribution from the annals of the Ceylon Tamils. Do not we at least deserve to live?”

        The Indians could say: “Are not the Tamils moving much more freely and breathing much more easily because of us? Detained Tamils are being steadily released. People should not jump to hasty conclusions about us. We cannot simply go around asking Sinhalese to pack up and go. Our officers have gone about making a careful study of colonisation. Did we not suspend work on a colonisation scheme in the Batticaloa district? The return of all militant groups to the island is a necessary part of the Accord. Our position is that all Tamils have a right to live here and participate in democratic politics. We do not carry a brief for any person or party. The L.T.T.E. must appreciate that.”

        Everyone had a case as well as complaints. These will be strengthened by the failings of others. Most significant were the failings of India, because she was supposed to be by far the most superior in wisdom, strength and experience; on her mature dexterity hinged the success of the Accord.

        Getting back to the early days of August, it looked for a time that the L.T.T.E. would go in for electoral politics with some quaint touches of its own. To this end the Eelamurasu, which was controlled by the L.T.T.E. started a very traditional attack on the T.U.L.F.. The T.U.L.F. was perceived as the main rival to the L.T.T.E. in the event of elections. The Eelamurasu started a column called Somersaults aimed at discomfiting the T.U.L.F.. For example, it published an old photograph of the veteran T.U.L.F. politician, Mr. V. Navaratnam driving President Jayewardene, then leader of the Opposition, in his automobile. It promoted elements of the L.T.T.E.’s religious creed – that there were precisely 631 martyrs for the cause of Tamil Eelam. 631 was the number of its dead claimed by the L.T.T.E.. Around this time Mr. Shankar, an E.R.O.S. leader, stated in an interview with the Colombo based Sunday Island that his group had lost 150 men and said in an aside that none of them had taken cyanide. The L.T.T.E. men carried cyanide capsules around their necks and many of those who died did so taking cyanide after being cornered. The Eelamurasu responded with a polemical piece against Shankar. All this had the flavour of election-time politics which people were comfortable with. The L.T.T.E.’s deputy leader, Mr. Sri Mahattaya, uncharacteristically started giving interviews to foreign and Colombo papers. He told the Weekend that Sinhalese were welcome to Jaffna and would not be harmed. Sinhalese flocked to see the lost land of Jaffna. This too augured well.

        However, there were elements of instability evident at this time. One was the L.T.T.E.’s insistence that its 631 dead were the only ones who died in the cause of the liberation of Tamils. The dead from other militant groups and from amongst civilians were demoted to useless chaff. Such intolerance was bound to lead towards angry violence. The other was that many of the members of the P.L.O.T.E., E.N.D.L.F. and T.E.L.O. now lodged in Mannar, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi were strongly motivated by a desire to take revenge on the L.T.T.E.. Prominent amongst these were Sankili (Kandasamy), a leading member of the P.L.O.T.E., and Rajan.

        Many felt uncomfortable that India had chosen such a volatile arrangement. India could argue that the peace accord had in it a package deal for all the militants. If participation in murder was to be a criterion, all militant groups, including the L.T.T.E., should be sent to the Andaman Islands. This would not be feasible and perhaps not what people wanted.

        Another aspect of the L.T.T.E.’s political thrust came to light in early August. A little known affair which concerned the students of the University of Jaffna was the kidnapping by the L.T.T.E. of the student Rajakaran. The student had been active in matters of common interest and had taken part as a member of the action committee during the affair in November 1986 of the missing student Vijitharan. It later came to light that the actual reason for kidnapping the student was to do with the L.T.T.E.’s suspicion that Rajakaran had connections with the N.L.F.T., a small Marxist group. Its leader Mr. Viswanandadevan, an Engineer and pungent critic of the L.T.T.E.’s, had been missing for two years. It was suspected that he had been killed during a crossing from India. The L.T.T.E. had detained and harassed other members of the N.L.F.T., but had been unable to get at the group’s cash and weaponry. It was hoped by the L.T.T.E. that Rajakaran may be able to help. At the time of Rajakaran’s kidnapping, Viswanandadevan’s 70 year old father in Nelliady had also been arrested and beaten. His compound had also been dug up. Rajakaran’s detention was denied by the L.T.T.E.. For this reason, the worst was suspected. But the versatile Rajakaran escaped L.T.T.E. custody in early July. In a letter dated 17 July 1987, Rajakaran appealed to the Jaffna University Teachers’ Association (J.U.T.A.) to speak to the L.T.T.E. and seek a guarantee that he would not be harmed. It was subsequently left to the students themselves to raise the matter with the L.T.T.E.. Here again the students had acted with commendable boldness where others had been held back by unwarranted fear. The discussion was cordial. Mr. Sri Mahattaya himself admitted that the students had been tackled the wrong way and assured them that no harm will befall Rajakaran. The students put it diplomatically that such an assurance should be made publicly. Mahattaya agreed. On a subsequent day he made an appearance at the Kailasapathy auditorium and gave such an assurance. He said during his statement that Rajakaran was investigated for links with a criminal organisation. It is interesting that other militant groups came to be branded as criminal (anarchic) only because the L.T.T.E. was the most successful in the employment of similar methods.

        The surprising development was that Rajakaran was present and took the stage on request. The L.T.T.E. walked out. Rajakaran described his experiences under detention, including physical hurt. A revealing piece of information he gave was that Mr. Kailasapillai, a T.U.L.F. stalwart from Illuppaikkadavai in the Mannar district, had been a co-detainee with him at a camp in Tellipallai. A few days before the Eelamurasu had featured Mr. Kailasapillai with his photograph in its lead story. In an interview he had reportedly said that the T.U.L.F. was no longer needed and praised the armed youth. An attorney in the K.K.S. electorate who was close to the T.U.L.F. leader, A. Amirthalingam, made a similar recantation. It cannot be said that election politics in Ceylon was strange to such methods. Only, the degree was new. Fear had replaced bribery.

        The I.P.K.F. had promised that all militant groups were entitled to its protection. In Mannar the L.T.T.E. had sought an I.P.K.F. escort. The E.N.D.L.F. under its leader, Rajan, made its appearance in Jaffna under I.P.K.F. escort. It addressed a meeting in the University. It made an attempt to set up an office on Beach Road. An L.T.T.E. instigated crowd sat on the road in front of the house, shouted slogans and threw stones. An E.N.D.L.F. man who went out to peep was caught and was being badly mauled. One of his comrades after appealing to I.P.K.F. men who were present, and not finding an immediate response, grabbed a gun from one of them and fired it into the air. The crowd dispersed. The not so independent press in Jaffna reported the matter as a case of the people not wanting the E.N.D.L.F.. The first reported internecine killings were those of 3 L.T.T.E. men in the Mannar district. In another incident an armed party of the L.T.T.E. that was sent to avenge these killings was reportedly surrounded and shot. During this latter half of August, there was little to worry in Jaffna itself, but killings and counter killings amongst militants started occurring in Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Trincomalee. The mood of optimism in Jaffna was however heightened by the resumption of the train service to Colombo on 31 August. Jaffna’s Tamil language Uthayan daily carried a report that the Indians were to build the much longed for rail link from Jaffna to Batticaloa. Although Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa were linked by Tamil territory comprising the Eastern seaboard, travel between them was cumbersome and of late, hazardous. This too was something to smile about. The train with a repair crew appeared in Jaffna on the evening of 30 August after an absence of 18 months, and stopped near the Kachcheri to replace some missing sleepers. A happy crowd gathered as if to welcome visiting Royalty. The job was quickly done. The I.P.W. (Inspector of Permanent Ways) looked at his watch and said in the homely, but not quite Queen’s English that one has long associated with that tribe: “It is getting bloody late. Let’s move on.” He then signalled to the gangs of navvies to get on board. A whole host of children clambered up as the train pulled off, to enjoy a free ride up to the station six hundred yards away.

        Then things began to move in Jaffna. On 1 September, an L.T.T.E. sentry at Kulapitty junction in Kokkuvil was abducted by persons travelling in a van, assaulted and later released. On the night of 7 September, four Assembly of God (A.O.G.) churchmen who were travelling in a van were gunned down at Uduvil junction. Two of the dead were Sinhalese clergy from the South. The motive for the killing was unclear and was put down to misadventure. The incident happened around 10:00 p.m. The van was to go inside Church Lane to pick up another A.O.G. clergyman. L.T.T.E. sources claimed that they were the intended victims. So did the E.N.D.L.F.. All that is known is that prior to the shooting, masked gunmen with walkie-talkies detained two A..O.G. members in that area. They heard orders being issued to fire at a white van that was coming. The two A.O.G. members tried telling the gunmen without success that their own pastors were expected in a van.

        The following day an L.T.T.E. loudspeaker car went around announcing in the Chunnakam area: “Not only are these criminal groups now killing our members. They have now taken to murdering Christian clergy.” On 3 September,the Assistant Government Agent of Mutur Mr. Habib Mohammed was shot dead in the early hours of the morning as he was returning from the mosque. Mutur lies South across Kottiar Bay from Trincomalee harbour. The same day angry Muslim demonstrators smashed up the L.T.T.E. office in Mutur town. The L.T.T.E. denied responsibility for the killing. The effect of the killing was to reawaken suspicions between the Muslims and Tamils of the East.

        Organising hartals (or work stoppages) to stir up political feeling was commonplace in the North and East. First the T.U.L.F. did it. Then each militant group had its independent hartals. The L.T.T.E. claimed to be against hartals but nevertheless had them. The difference was that “the people” organised them, and the L.T.T.E. generally left people who went to work alone until lately. Earlier they were organised to protest against the government. More recently their purpose was to mark the deaths in battle of leading militants. From the time of the T.U.L.F., the success of hartals required implicit force. For this reason it was also an act of self deception by which the organisers would claim high popularity ratings. If all shops and offices were closed, and transport stopped even to deter the sick from being taken for treatment, the organisers would claim a hundred percent success. The way they said it would betray the feeling that they, the sponsors, were also hundred percent popular.

        On 9 September, the Muslims of Kalmunai organised a hartal to protest the murder of Mr. Habib Mohammed. This went off peacefully. The L.T.T.E. announced its own hartal for the identical cause to be observed on the following day.

        In the morning hoodlums looted and burnt Muslim shops in Kalmunai as armed men stood by. Muslim residents associated the gunmen with the L.T.T.E.. Telephone messages were sent by the Muslim leaders in Kalmunai to the I.P.K.F. at Akkaraipattu, asking them to to come to their aid. According to a Muslim academic from Kalmunai, the I.P.K.F. came late around 2 o’clock in the afternoon after pressure was applied by Muslims at Akkaraipattu. They came with one Velmurugan master who was again said by Muslim to be close to the L.T.T.E.. The I.P.K.F. then proceeded to remove roadblocks put there by Muslims to block traffic as a sign of protest. One Tamil school-teacher who was there observed that the I.P.K.F. had acted ill-advisedly in removing those road blocks. For if a militant group had organised a stoppage, a hint from them would stop traffic on the roads. Everyone was afraid of guns. The I.P.K.F. had never interfered with these. But the Muslims are not known for possessing gun-power. Road blocks are for them the only means of enforcing a hartal and saving face. Above the I.P.K.F.’s perceived tardiness in responding to the call by Muslims for protection, the removal of road blocks was also seen as discriminatory. As an overwhelmingly Hindu body, to play the role of peacekeepers, the I.P.K.F. should have been prepared to show greater sensibility to Muslims. Qadri Ismail, writing in the Colombo based Sunday Times, gave another angle to the events in Kalmunai. He pointed out that the role of Tamil gunmen need not be blamed on the high level policy of any particular militant group. The Kalmunai Mosque stood on premises on which once stood a colony of low caste Tamils who had been driven out by Muslims 20 years ago. There was an element of settling old scores by descendants of the disinherited. The end result was to heighten tension and distrust towards the Accord within the Muslim community.

        On the night of 13 September, the L.T.T.E. launched a surprise strike against members of other militant groups in the Batticaloa district. Most of the victims were unarmed and had thought themselves to be safe. According to press reports, about 70 of them were killed. Several others sought shelter even with the once dreaded S.T.F.. The attack was denied publicly by the L.T.T.E.. The L.T.T.E. had launched on a new reckless course, pregnant with catastrophic consequences for everyone in the North and East. The L.T.T.E. had committed an outrage which was an open secret buzzing about the airwaves of the international news media. Those who defend the L.T.T.E. would blame India, maintaining that India had plans to use the other groups to destroy the L.T.T.E. while for the L.T.T.E. it was a case of do now or die later. This would hardly justify a massacre of unarmed militants who would not have known what hit them. Our experience with members of other militant groups suggests that they were certainly angry with the L.T.T.E.. They wished to re-assert their dignity and wanted the community to give them a place of respect. But to suggest that they were incognate tools of India’s would be an unfair overstatement. A large number of them would have chosen reconciliation with the L.T.T.E. on honourable terms if that course had been open. It would be more true to say that the other groups were driven into India’s hands by the position taken by the L.T.T.E. and because of increasing rejection by the community. The two processes were interdependent.

        Politically, the L.T.T.E. had been dissatisfied with the way things were developing. It had been offered 3 seats in an interim administrative council of 8. Two places went to the T.U.L.F., 1 to another militant group and 2 were to be government employees. The interim body was to administer the North and East until provincial council elections could be held. That was expected to take anything from 6 months to a year. Whether the interim council was going to administer or advise, and whether elections would be held on a first past the post or on a proportional representation basis were questions on which no clear answer had emerged. The L.T.T.E. had apparently pitched its ambitions much higher than what the Indian and Sri Lankan governments would allow or what the majority of Tamils considered prudent. The L.T.T.E. was angling for sole control of the North and East, as evidenced in its past conduct. They had displayed a capacity for astounding turns that had made headlines and for the most incorrigible conduct which confounded whoever had dealings with them. And their strength was a readiness to gamble with their own lives, and incidentally with those of many others, in pursuit of their aims. The last was symbolised by cyanide capsules. They had been gods. Good and Evil, Truth and Falsehood, Friends and Enemies and even solemn pacts had little meaning for them. Like the gods of ancient Hellas, they dwelt in an existentialist world; in their own Mount Olympus, presided over by their own Zeus. What was on offer for them now was the tame respectability of provincial dignitaries. They were tempted as events would show, and yet uncomfortable and undecided. Just as they had agreed to surrender their arms, they seemed amenable to agreeing to something as a means of buying time.

        Life had been relatively unexciting after the Accord. Several of the L.T.T.E. leaders such as Kumarappa and Pulendran had got married. They enjoyed the respectability of social life with senior Indian army officers who joined in the nuptial festivities. There were beach outings. Yet their self-image of virility was being sapped. They were being treated increasingly like a Tiger whose claws had been blunted. Dignitaries from the South, journalists, both local and foreign, were flocking in to see them, as they would go to a zoo to see a caged animal. Should they be tamed, they had nothing to fall back on. The people did not really love them. They simply admired and obeyed them. But who would honour and obey a senile animal that had lost its teeth and claws? This was worrying. What would an ancient god do in a world that had been his domain, and which was now so changed as to exclude him? Like the legendary Wotan in Niebelung’s Ring, it was time for a suicidal leap; to create some of the most obscene scenes in an effort to do or die. They were once more going to revive their capacity to shock. They were prepared to throw away all they had worked for – friendships cultivated assiduously over months as well as numerous of lives. But, did the parties concerned have other choices?

        The fact that the Indians were talking almost exclusively to the L.T.T.E. was an indication that they had accepted the L.T.T.E. as a power that counted, and that to attempt to exclude them would be taking too much trouble on themselves. This indication was strengthened by later events. Behind all the Indian rhetoric during the October war, feelers to the L.T.T.E. were being constantly made. Doubts continued to remain in the public mind as to whether India was really serious about crushing the L.T.T.E..

        Even if the L.T.T.E. had really believed that its destruction was being sought, it could have moved to strengthen its ties with the people. It could have admitted and apologised for past errors. Terms for reconciliation with dignity could have been offered to other militant groups. It could have moved to tolerate dissent and democratise its organisation. Such moves would have made it difficult for any outside force to weaken it. The L.T.T.E. enjoyed enough prestige to carry these through. Students at the University of Jaffna and several intellectuals had been entreating the L.T.T.E. for such gestures for over a year, only to be given the short shrift. Except for the diehards, most militants from other groups would have been extremely happy with such an offer. Under these conditions, few Tamils would have actively worked against the L.T.T.E., other than those whose drive for vengeance was very strong. But the L.T.T.E. chose rather a sensational use of violence in a bid to demonstrate their immense potential to sour things.

        The other militant groups felt that they deserved a place of honour and that the L.T.T.E. was systematically conspiring to disinherit them. In this most Tamils would have sympathised with them. Their presence in certain areas was guaranteed by the Indian army. They could have used this to their advantage. They could have made and stuck to a public pledge that even if the L.T.T.E. did not wish to work with them, they were against taking revenge on either the L.T.T.E. or its supporters. They could have got actively involved in projects to help the local people. Instead of harassing travellers, they could have printed and distributed leaflets through them, appealing to the Tamil people to recognise their contribution and criticising the L.T.T.E.’s stand. But many of them chose differently. In their frustration they developed an antipathy towards the common Tamil people, especially those from Jaffna, who were accused of being pro-L.T.T.E.. Bus passengers were regularly harassed and frequently robbed. Extortion and robbery once again reappeared in parts they inhabited. Vehicles were hijacked. As internecine killings increased, they were driven to depend more and more on the Indian and Sri Lankan forces. All this led to the strengthening of the stereotype image that the L.T.T.E. was trying to pin on them.

        The arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force was widely welcomed by the Tamils of Ceylon. They had come to preside over peace and not over war. They started by doing the right things. Their conduct was disciplined even in a state of provocation. They defused landmines left behind by the former antagonists. When Major Dilip Singh, Lieutenant Vickram and Mohinder Rao from the Eighth Battalion (Engineers) died in a mine clearing accident, there was universal grief in Jaffna. These men had given their lives for the people of Jaffna. The mother of the last on being given the heart breaking news of her son’s death had reportedly remarked: “I am happy that he died this way.” How did it happen that by mid-September, the image of the I.P.K.F. was looking tattered; and by the second week of October it had blundered itself into killing Tamil civilians by the hundreds? Aspects of this question have been dealt with in different parts of the volume.

        By the middle of September, developments stretching back over a month brought about a situation that was anything but peaceful. Yet the Indian Peace Keeping Force had remained seemingly inert. At first it looked as if the I.P.K.F. was offering protection to all militant groups when they were escorted on request. Then internecine killings started, people started to disappear and four clergymen were killed in Jaffna. The position of the I.P.K.F. seemed to be that its brief was to retrieve arms from militant groups and not to maintain law and order. The L.T.T.E. claimed that it had trusted the I.P.K.F. to protect Tamils from the Sri Lankan army. But instead, while the Sri Lankan army was still here, the I.P.K.F. was establishing camps in places where the Sri Lankan army was nowhere about. Sinister motives were hinted at. The Indian High Commissioner Mr. J. N. Dixit in an interview with D. B. S. Jeyaraj published in the Sunday Island of 30 August, 1987, stated that the I.P.K.F. was establishing the new camps to contain internecine fighting between militant groups. He also stated that 65% of the arms including 85% of the heavy weapons had been surrendered. Elsewhere he had said that 80% of the arms had been surrendered.

        It was the surrender of arms that was of the greatest concern to the Sinhalese. The putsch by the L.T.T.E. on the night of 13 September in Batticaloa and the continuing killings elsewhere seemed to make these claims far less convincing. Not only did the L.T.T.E. seem to possess plenty of arms, they seemed also to be able to move about freely over a wide area notwithstanding the I.P.K.F., and use the arms against other militants. As the L.T.T.E. became increasingly vocal and demonstrative in Jaffna, especially after Thileepan’s fast, passengers to and from Jaffna were increasingly harassed by other militant groups between Kilinochchi and Jaffna while Indian and Sri Lankan forces looked on.

        On all counts the I.P.K.F. was acquiring a sorry image. For the Sinhalese it was not retrieving arms. And for the Tamils it was not maintaining peace. The L.T.T.E. propaganda machine went to town on what was appearing to be a contradictory role of the I.P.K.F., spicing it up with colonisation, the slow release of prisoners and the increase of crime.

        Even more surprising was the complacency of the I.P.K.F. in not going to the people to defend its role. It had much to take credit for. The threat to civilian life through military action had virtually ended. Freedom of movement for all Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese had been restored. In the Trincomalee district, Tamils could get back to lands they were driven out of. There was a likelihood that town property that was forcibly taken over by Sinhalese thugs with government blessing would be restored to their owners. People were able to regain their homes in other Tamil areas which had now been de-mined and made safe from shelling. Train services had been restored. There was every prospect that rehabilitation work would commence and that aid money would help those who had been ruined.

        Furthermore, Tamil prisoners were in fact being released. The delay could have been explained as coming from technicalities. The problem of colonisation was being studied and particular allegations were being investigated by I.P.K.F. officers. At least in one instance in Batticaloa district, the I.P.K.F. had halted work on a scheme. The L.T.T.E.’s actions could have been rationally attacked. The adequacy of powers given to Tamil areas under the Accord could have been patiently explained and the L.T.T.E. could have been asked to trust the people to decide when elections are held. Further, the Indian authorities could have addressed regular press conferences and seminars in the Tamil areas and could have had consultations with independent sections of Tamil opinion. The latter would have provided the means of correcting errors, avoiding blunders and understanding their unfamiliar environment.

        If the Indians had attempted to use the press, that would have been understood. But when the I.P.K.F. on 10 October, 1987, detained newspapermen from two newspapers and reportedly damaged the machinery, that was seen by the public as a rowdy and unjustifiable act. Newspapers in Jaffna had got used to bending in the face of authority while fancying themselves not to break. It was said that some newspapers which respected independence, avoided trouble by reserving the front and back pages for obligatory material, while publishing independent material in the inner pages. But the people apparently came so low down the list of Indian concerns, that they were freely given over to the L.T.T.E. to play with their emotions. Anyone who witnessed the highly volatile scenes which followed, could not but help feeling that we had blundered on to the edge of a volcano.

        The I.P.K.F. stuck to dealing with the L.T.T.E. exclusively with increasing exasperation. The L.T.T.E. had no particular obligation to stick to one position. It was free to play with the Indian authorities on one hand and the people on the other as long as no tangible link (except the L.T.T.E. itself) existed between the Indian authorities and the Tamil people.  When dealings with the L.T.T.E. yielded little more than exasperation, the framework in which the Indians operated led them into a war for which they were ill prepared.

        All actors were imprisoned in mental frames into which they had been led by past choices. Sorely lacking were individuals with the strength of character to leap out of the incubus of history to turn the tide. All were being sucked into a chasm where they would lose control of events.

        The L.T.T.E. was now set on a desperate course. It was prepared to offend the minimal norms of human communication. In an interview given by Mahattaya and the L.T.T.E. spokesman Anton Balasingam to Jehan Haniff of the Sunday Island, the L.T.T.E. was questioned about the killings of 70 militants in the Batticaloa district and about the surrender of arms. In reply Balasingam said that the L.T.T.E. had surrendered all its arms and that the killings in Batticaloa had resulted from fighting between dissident militant groups. Interestingly, Balasingam made reference to Mahattaya before answering these questions. Balasingam’s position within the organisation was something of an enigma. He was known to refer to the L.T.T.E. as a mafia-type organisation. On one occasion he was quoted widely to this effect in the press including that in Jaffna. No attempt was made by the L.T.T.E. to contradict this. It is known from sources close to the organisation that despite a stormy relationship, he and Prabhakaran needed each other.

9.2 The Fast

On 15 September, Mr. Thileepan, the Jaffna chief of the L.T.T.E.’s political wing started his death fast near Nallur Kandasamy temple. A platform was set up and Thileepan and his helpers were on it. Five demands were put forward, two of which dealt with colonisation and the release of prisoners. The fast was at first not taken seriously. The Indians calculated that it would end as fasts normally do, and hoped to ride it out by ignoring it. It took some time before it sank in that Thileepan was not taking even water. All India Radio broadcast a statement by the government spokesman which said that as a leader with a cause, Mahatma Gandhi undertook fasts to death himself; he did not send in one of his assistants to undergo the ordeal and sit back. But the emotional climate was being stirred up so much that it had little impact. When things were looking like they were getting out of hand, the Indians started talks with the L.T.T.E.. Tamil Nadu politicians Pandruti Ramachandran and Nedumaran arrived on the scene. Indian officers too started visiting Thileepan. Shortly before Thileepan began his fast he made a remarkable speech in front of Jaffna fort, giving a singular twist to Tamil nationalist history. “Accords,” he said, “have been brought about by our enemies to dampen national fervour whenever this shows signs of boiling over. Today, the Indo-Lanka accord is meant to suppress the thirst of the people for liberation.” He then pointed his finger histrionically at the Jaffna Fort and continued: “The first inhabitants of this were the Dutch and they enslaved us anew. Then came likewise the Sinhalese and now the Indians with new accords and new promises. Our aim is to chase away the Indians and fly our own flag of freedom in this Fort.” This rousing speech may have gone down in history if not for the utter disillusionment which followed in October.

        At first Thileepan’s fast looked like a gimmick meant to divert attention from the killings in the East. The L.T.T.E. quickly used its organisational capacity to build up the emotional momentum. Loudspeaker vehicles went about broadcasting maudlin sentiments. Public transport vehicles were used to ferry in crowds. Long distance marchers converged on Kandasamy Kovil. Heart-rending cries over loudspeakers and sobbing noises had their effect. The cry “Thileepan anna (elder brother),” rising to a high pitch became familiar around Jaffna. The feeling was drummed up that such a fine man as Thileepan was going to die only because the Indians had cheated the Tamils and were only here to help the Jayewardene government.

        The hartals or stoppages called for in Jaffna during Thileepan’s fast disrupted public transport and made train services irregular. The other militant groups interpreted the press coverage and the rallies in Jaffna as a pro-L.T.T.E. gesture, unmindful of what the L.T.T.E. had done to them. Their attitude assumed an abusive anti-Jaffna stance. They decided that if people in Jaffna were going to travel just when it suited the L.T.T.E., then they too were going to allow people to travel only when it suited them. Train services stopped at Kilinochchi and passengers were stranded without a bus service to complete the rest of the journey. Hiring cars charged as much as Rs.500/- per passenger to complete the remaining 40 miles to Jaffna. To many travellers the harassment by the E.N.D.L.F. seemed Indian instigated, as a way of hitting back for the anti-Indian hysteria being created by the L.T.T.E. in Jaffna.

        Clearly the difficulties of travellers owed much to the capriciousness of the L.T.T.E.. The Indians could have exposed this by trying to be helpful to those in difficulty. But they instead appeared in vindictive light by identifying the Jaffna people with the L.T.T.E.. This further incensed feelings in Jaffna and played into the hands of the L.T.T.E..

        Emotional crowds at road junctions were once more in vogue. These were the same crowds that welcomed with tears the Indian Red Cross team less than 3 months before. Jaffna had been rendered even more unprincipled and volatile by liberation politics. But to call the crowds anti-Indian would have been a misrepresentation. India was still the holy mother. The people were an angry child hitting and screaming at the mother to have its way. The L.T.T.E. instigated crowds to humiliate the Indian army. At Manthikai crowds of women threw stones at the Indian army. Personal insults were flung at Indian soldiers — like stroking the beard of a Sikh soldiers and calling him a half-beedi man (beedi is a cheaper form of cigarette) The Indian soldiers were highly restrained. The only shooting took place in Manner.

        In Mannar a crowd marched towards an I.P.K.F. camp along the road from Mannar to Talai Mannar, urged on by an L.T.T.E. loudspeaker from a car. Once the crowd was highly strung with shouting slogans, the loudspeaker car instigated the crowd to march on the camp. An Indian officer came out and begged the crowd with folded hands not to advance beyond a certain point. The loudspeaker kept up its harangue and the men behind fired and killed one man in the vanguard of the crowd. The crowd quickly dispersed.

        At this time a group of Sinhalese visited Jaffna on a peace mission. The party included Mr. Shelton Ranaraja, Deputy Minister for Justice, the Rev. Fr. Yohan Devananda and several doctors including the G.M.O.A. Secretary Dr. Ratnapriya. Shelton Ranarajah, though holding a junior ministerial position in the ruling United National Party, held publicly expressed independent and liberal views on the ethnic question. For him it was a pilgrimage of reconciliation with a view to seeing and understanding. He came despite the risk to himself as an unprotected member of the government, coming during a highly strung period. The doctors had brought medical supplies to hold clinics. Many Sinhalese with a left wing bent had come to admire the L.T.T.E. as an effective revolutionary force. These Sinhalese had campaigned against the government without major success. The government had found means of neutralising their influence while allowing them a respectable existence. For them the remarkable success of the L.T.T.E. was a revelation. That the success followed in the wake of risks taken by no other leaders in this country, was to be admired. The deceit, murder and inhumanity involved in that success was taken to be of no account. A Sinhalese clergyman, who was an admirer of the L.T.T.E.’s, once told a Tamil clergyman: “They are doing the fighting. You have no moral right to criticise them.” Even as a clergyman, he little realised that in the political climate of the times, much courage was needed to preserve our sense of values as a community. This kind of moral fight too involved risks as the hundreds of internal killings within and without the militant groups had testified.

        Some of the most provocative incidents in Jaffna took place on Friday, 18 September. At Manthikai, the Pt. Pedro police station which was manned by the Ceylon Police was attacked by crowds egged on by agent provocateurs. The police station was burnt and the policemen were humiliated. The I.P.K.F. nearby did nothing to stop it. The policemen were made to march towards the army camp in Pt. Pedro carrying their belongings on their heads. A crowd shouting abuse followed behind. The vast majority of people were silent spectators. Many who saw the sorry looking policemen were alarmed and saddened. The policemen had done nothing since assuming duties in Pt. Pedro to deserve such treatment. Many common people observed that we as a community were going to pay for this.

        The peace mission from the South had come as guests of the L.T.T.E. leader. A hartal was declared on 18 September. Members of the peace mission obtained a special pass from Sri Mahattaya to drive their vehicle into Vadamaratchi. They witnessed some of the worst scenes on that day. They saw a police vehicle burning at Pt. Pedro. At Valvettithurai they saw a crowd in front of the police station shouting abuse. The peace mission was manoeuvred in front of the crowd to face angry policemen who were armed. The scene was very provoking to the police. A smashed chair belonging to the police station lay before them. On learning that those now standing in front of the crowd were Sinhalese, the policemen shouted angrily at them: “You are the ones who brought them here.” Members of the peace mission felt that the police may open fire any time and that they would then be the first victims. As they went away, they met an L.T.T.E. man loading a magazine into his automatic. He told them derisively: “You got scared, didn’t you?” They saw a similar scene at the Sri Lankan army camp in Valvettithurai. An abusive crowd stood in front of the camp. A drunken, gesticulating soldier stood before the crowd returning the abuse. An officer came out and dragged the drunken soldier away. It was clear that the L.T.T.E. was angling for a scene where one of the armed forces would open fire leaving several dead civilians on the road. What a nice story that would have made around the world: “In the middle of a non-violent struggle with a Gandhian style fast going on, Indian and/or Sri Lankan forces open fire and kill innocent civilians!” It was also clear that the Indian and Sri Lankan forces were just barely controlling themselves.

        The peace mission was to return to Colombo the following day. Since a hartal was on, they obtained permission to travel in their two vehicles. All the way from Jaffna, they were followed by a van past several sentry points manned by the L.T.T.E.. There could be little mistake about the identity of the persons in the van that followed. Past Pallai, this van overtook them. At Yakkachchi (4 miles before Elephant Pass) this van was parked on the road. A few yards away, the peace mission was stopped by 6 youths armed with grenades and machine guns. The peace mission was addressed abusively and some were dragged out of their vehicles. The peace mission was left stranded without even their baggage. The vehicle which followed them, together with the two hijacked vehicles returned towards Pallai. The parting shot from the hijackers was, “We are Rajan’s group (E.N.D.L.F.).” If one could play the game, so can two. What the E.N.D.L.F. did south of Elephant Pass, the L.T.T.E. did to the north, putting the blame on the E.N.D.L.F.. It was generally known that North of Elephant Pass was territory jealously controlled by the L.T.T.E.. Members of the peace mission caught a South bound bus after walking two miles towards Elephant Pass.

        The treatment of the mission was in tune with the course the L.T.T.E. was taking. The mission came on an invitation made by the L.T.T.E. sometime previously. If the L.T.T.E. had changed its mind on the usefulness of well disposed Sinhalese, it could have told them not to come. But to have them, talk to them nicely and treat them in this manner at parting was a rather prolix way of saying: “We have finished with you. Do not bother to come again.” The action had the L.T.T.E.’s stamp on it. If the L.T.T.E. ever needed Sinhalese friends again, such as after their war with India, its leaders would have no difficulty. All they would need to do is blame such actions and the killings of Sinhalese on some hot heads who had since been disciplined, and then resume relationships as though nothing untoward had happened.

        To Mr. Shelton Ranaraja’s credit, when he answered questions in parliament, he was a sad, rather than a bitter or angry man. Many Tamils like to blame the Indian offensive of October, together with the killings of Sinhalese from 5 October on the Sri Lankan government. They say that all the trouble was caused by the Sri Lankan government attempting to transport 17 L.T.T.E. members to Colombo and provoking them into taking cyanide. But the events which began on 13 September and the dramatic events described above signalled what was coming. The L.T.T.E. had given up on trying to cultivate Sinhalese friends. Its capacity to shock was one of the L.T.T.E.’s most potent weapons. Friendship with the L.T.T.E. was a strange and self-flattering affair. In the course of the coming days dire hints were dropped for the benefit of several old friends who had for months sat on committees, given advice, drafted letters, addressed meetings and had placed themselves at the L.T.T.E.’s beck and call.

        A report written by the peace mission for the Christian Worker (in the issues of the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 1987) had the tone of reflective disillusionment: “… It so appears that the gun tends to evolve a logic of it own, turning its user into an extension of itself… Rational thought and human communication are subsumed in the final solution offered by the gun. We have already seen this on a massive scale in Lebanon. Now do we ourselves have to go through a very personalised reproduction of a similar situation where everybody seems to be shooting at everybody else? Sri Lankan politics has always appeared to many as a pantomime. But now the drama seems to be turning rapidly into a tragedy on a large scale. We can but hope that firm action will avert it.” Very prophetic words to be fulfilled hardly a fortnight later.

        Before Thileepan lost consciousness, he aired some of his religious hopes. He would go to a heavenly abode, he said, where he would join the 650 or so martyrs from the L.T.T.E.. Then with the joy that is reserved for these chosen ones, he would look down upon the land of Tamil Eelam. There is little doubt that he believed in something like this undemocratic and unegalitarian of creeds. It took some time for it to sink down that Thileepan was dying a slow and excruciating death. It was presented in such a manner as to touch the religious sensibilities of the Tamils. Being next to Kandasamy Kovil, the scene was right for a momentous religious event. Saivite devotional songs called Thevarams were sung. Sombre women with tear stained faces were there. Over its television network Niedharshanam, the L.T.T.E. merged the images of Thileepan and Mahatma Gandhi. Many were taken in. A Western diplomat who visited the scene observed blankly, “it looked to me like a stage set for the Gandhi film.”

        The L.T.T.E. betrayed a misconception of a non-violent struggle for which it can not be blamed. This misconception was common even amongst educated Tamils. The Federal Party (the T.U.L.F.’s main predecessor) launched a satyagraha campaign for Tamil rights in early 1961. This took mainly the form of sit-ins in front of government offices in the North and East, and long marches. There were mass meetings at which students queued up to sign petitions in blood. The police made strenuous efforts for a few days to disperse the crowds. But the crowds withstood the police baton charges. This was an exhilarating moment. During the 1958 riots the Tamils had acquired a reputation for being cowards who get beaten and run away. The helplessness of the Tamils then seems to have inflamed the violent Sinhalese hoodlums to ask for more blood. Many of the elderly in Colombo tasted the sting of racial violence. In 1961 the Tamil satyagrahis had proved that the Tamils were as a people not cowards. They were prepared to withstand pain and injury in order to win their dignity and rights as equal citizens. Scenes of selfless courage were in evidence everywhere. Men fell down on the road before military trucks and stayed their ground until they were beaten and dragged senseless to a side. People were once more proud to call themselves Tamils. After the first few days the then government of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s, decided to ignore the satyagraha campaign. The campaign dragged on for 3 months and was ended by the imposition of a state of emergency and the use of force that was mild by today’s standards. An insider claimed that the organisers were embarrassed by the prolongation of the campaign and by difficulties in finding alternatives to government rice rations which were stopped by the closure of the administration. They thus adopted measures such as the printing of postage stamps and starting a mail service, which would compel the government either to talk seriously or end the campaign by force. The government chose the latter only to have the problem fester and erupt into violence a quarter century later. It fell to another generation to revive the spirit of courage and self sacrifice. Besides, in the use of methods there was another important difference. In 1961 the people and their leaders stood together and suffered voluntarily. Though the F.P. and the T.U.L.F. continued to claim non-violence as a policy, they put off action for a future appropriate time in the future.

        The result was a serious general misunderstanding of non-violence. Non-violence and violence were regarded as two alternative means to the same political end. Only the latter may need plenty of money and prove more hurtful. That they morally meant two different things was lost sight of. All that seemed to be required was to find the most efficacious means disregarding moral implications. The most important aspect of non-violence was lost sight of – that of self-purification together with honesty and integrity even in small things; that it involved love and respect for life rather than a coward’s desire to avoid inflicting pain because of the trouble that may result. In consequence, once people got through with sitting in front of the Kachcheri, the old bad ways continued. Nor did they love the Sinhalese any better for it. The rich lording it over and humiliating the poor, caste pride, spiritual, administrative, and physical thuggery, all continued as before only to become worse with time.

        When things went on in this manner it was to be expected that non-violence would be discredited in the eyes of the young while in fact it had never been tried. Young militants in the 1980’s too may be forgiven for uttering with brazen confidence that non-violence had been rejected by the people as unworkable. Whether violence worked was a question few bothered to ask. The misconception was evident when the L.T.T.E. claimed that it was supreme master in the use of violent as well as nonviolent means and that it was equally at home in both methods. That it was master of violence was an accepted fact. Thileepan’s ordeal was now proving to the masses that the L.T.T.E. was also master of non-violence. Violence and non-violence were here being treated as morally indistinct tools. Even amongst those who were against the L.T.T.E.’s violence, Thileepan’s fast touched sensitive chords.

        But the scenario being gradually built up by the L.T.T.E. was an essentially violent one. Crowds marching to Nallur from distant places were made to shout menacing slogans by loudspeaker cars. Prominent among the slogans were: “Prabhakaran is our leader,” and “If Thileepan dies, Tamil Eelam will become an exploding volcano.” The first kept Mr. Prabhakaran in the picture while the limelight was on Thileepan. No one knew what exactly the second meant. Those who closely watched the proceedings at Kandasamy temple, came away with different impressions. Some praised Thileepan’s determination. Some blamed the L.T.T.E. of deliberately putting Thileepan through the ordeal of a slow and painful death. There were allusions that Thileepan himself had left instructions while he was still in his proper senses, that should he ask for water as weakness made him lose control over his will; such a request should be ignored. However, everyone hoped that Prabhakaran would take pity and order the fast called off. This was not to be. Prabhakaran’s position remained that the fast had been voluntarily undertaken to secure five demands make to the Indians. Therefore India will be fully responsible for Thileepan’s fate. Whatever Thileepan had decided, an element of complexity was revealed when a community leader raised with a senior L.T.T.E. official the question of reviving Thileepan who was by now unconscious. He was told that they had taken a final decision on the matter. The external factors seemed to suggest that this was the case. This surmise would be strengthened when 12 L.T.T.E. men committed suicide on 5 October. It looked as if the L.T.T.E. had decided that Tamil Eelam should become a burning volcano.

        In the meantime the Indians had started a series of talks with the L.T.T.E.. Those on the Indian side included the High Commissioner Mr. Dixit, his deputy Mr. Sen and Lt. General Depinder Singh, Chief of the Indian Army’s Southern Command. Those representing the L.T.T.E. included Prabhakaran, Balasingam and Sri Mahattaya. By all accounts it was not cocktail diplomacy. It was like schoolmaster India attempting to verbally lash into line an incorrigible schoolboy whom he would like thrown out but cannot. Mr. Dixit must have found Ceylon a strange place in which to practise Parisian diplomatic etiquette. A senior minister in the government in Colombo of the gentler kind, once reportedly complained to a friend after meeting Mr. Dixit: “I felt like having been treated like a pick-pocket in my own home.”

        The L.T.T.E. was evidently pressing for majority representation in an interim council for the North and East, which given the circumstances would be around for a long time. This elicited Dixit’s remark: “Interim is interim.” The L.T.T.E. evidently wanted elections put off for a long time. The L.T.T.E. had also expressed a wish to have control over Police and Colonisation. The Indians had strongly objected to the use of the press to whip up anti-Indian feeling. On this matter as pointed out earlier, the Indians seemed unable to think of an alternative to pummelling the L.T.T.E.. They were not thinking in terms of a direct approach to the people. In depending totally on their ability to awe or bully the L.T.T.E. into line, they were walking on miry ground. A journalist who was present described a scene where Depinder Singh challenged the L.T.T.E. concerning freedom of the press in Jaffna. He was assured that it was indeed free. General Singh then asked if a statement given by him would be published. Thinking perhaps that Gen. Singh wished to address the people, the L.T.T.E. readily agreed. Then Gen. Singh pulled out a letter from his pocket and asked sternly if it would be published. The letter was from the father of Douglas Devananda, a senior E.P.R.L.F. leader, whose brother Premananda was kidnapped shortly after the Accord. There was an embarrassed silence. Gen. Singh continued, saying that there was sometimes censorship in India. But what prevailed in Jaffna was unheard of. Gen. Singh hardly knew of the Indian censorship that would descend on Jaffna after October 1987.

        The L.T.T.E. organised a big demonstration on Thursday, 24 September, 1987, when processions converged on Jaffna Fort to present petitions to the I.P.K.F.. The crowds were basically emotional and had little understanding of the issues involved. An Indian officer who was receiving petitions, suddenly unrolled a large map of Ceylon. He asked those present: “You are complaining strongly about Sinhalese colonisation. Show us exactly where it is taking place and we will put a stop to it.” There was some confusion and puzzlement. Some hesitantly pointed to places. The women at the demonstration were being quite expressive. One woman with a loud voice referred to the Indian Prime Minister as “The dog born of Indira”. The Indian officer turned to a senior engineering foreman who was there and asked him: “Why are your people so angry and insulting towards us?” The engineering foreman tried to reassure him: “Some may express their feelings too strongly. But we would always love India. India is our mother.”

        In the light of what happened later, it may be well to reflect here on the feelings of Indian soldiers. Most of the latter were from very poor backgrounds. When they arrived in Ceylon, they had a vague idea that they had come to protect Tamils from the Sri Lankan army. They had also expected to see a pitifully downtrodden population. But what they saw in Jaffna was contrary to expectations. There was little to do in the way of protecting Tamils. After the Accord, the Sri Lankan army were only too happy to behave themselves. Instead of uniform unrelieved, poverty, there was a fairly large well-to-do middle-class. Most people dressed well and lived in reasonable comfort. Unlike in India where each village may have just one television set, every other home in Jaffna had colour television. Shops were stocked with modern Japanese goods. Most homes had their wells, their water sealed lavatories and electricity supply as a bare minimum. They wondered why the Indian government had made such a fuss about Jaffna. Indian propaganda must have surely had a bewildering effect on the Jawans [1] 1 . In its twists and turns, one day the L.T.T.E. would be a murderous evil force. Soon afterwards they would become gallant men of vision.

        When the I.P.K.F. first arrived, soldiers expressed their surprise. Tamil Nadu Jawans observed with wonder: “This is a fertile place.” Malayali Jawans said to the effect: “This place reminds us of Kerala.” Those from North India perhaps thought that this was a strange place which was vaguely like the South. Only the shops reminded them of what is said about Singapore. For the first few weeks, the I.P.K.F. was preoccupied with the shops in Kasturiar Road. The officers bought Japanese TV sets, video recorders and 3-in-1’s. The Jawans looked for radio-cassettes, pen torches and ball point pens. As the weeks went by, some Jawans told civilians: “We thought we came to protect you from the Sinhalese. But all we see is your boys killing each other. We do not see any Sinhalese.” The colonisation problem too did not make sense to Indian soldiers. They found it difficult to appreciate the problem of state sponsored colonisation. They would say: “What is the difficulty with Sinhalese in your areas? In India we have Tamil Nadu people in Maharashtra, Maharashtra people in Delhi, Delhi people in Karnataka and so on. There is no difficulty in that!” With Thileepan’s fast, people were instigated by the L.T.T.E. to insult and humiliate Indian soldiers. Soldiers from Punjab and Rajasthan who had no stake in what was going on here, no understanding and cared even less, were ordered to put on a stiff upper lip and take it all, much against their natural impulses. Their anger is not hard to imagine: “First we were asked to come and save these people. We then find that these people were quite well off and lived much better than our people. They start killing each other and now come and throw stones at and insult us for no conceivable reason. Moreover they have the cheek to do this after eating our food.”

        Anyone would have known the consequences of the L.T.T.E.’s pushing an army smarting under such provocation into military action. After turning Tamil Eelam into a burning volcano, Prabhakaran would say with disarming gravity: “Now that we have been compelled to defend ourselves militarily, India must assume full responsibility for whatever ill befalls the civilian population.”

        When it became clear that Thileepan would die and that the likelihood of volcanic eruptions in Jaffna could not be dismissed, guessing was on as to how this would happen. Speculation and fear became ripe in certain quarters on the basis of a brick dropped in the hospital by a person considered fairly high up in the L.T.T.E.. He reportedly dropped dark hints about the fate that would overtake those officials who garlanded the Indian Red Cross, in the event of Thileepan’s dying. The list of those who welcomed the Indian Red Cross included besides the L.T.T.E., many of the senior doctors, senior government officials and members of the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee. The existence of a threat was not taken lightly. These and other persons in the administrative and academic elite who had earlier thought that their relationship with the L.T.T.E., though uncomfortable, was fair, were keeping their fingers crossed.

        Thileepan died on Saturday, 26 September, the 12th day of his fast. On the same morning it had been announced that the negotiations had borne fruit. This may be an important reason why the death did not lead to an eruption. The crowd at the Nallur Kandasamy Kovil watched, tense but silent, as a doctor felt Thileepan’s pulse. The doctor motioned Thileepan’s father to cry. The people standing around were then urged to cry. The whole crowd wept. The tension was defused. Not a stone was thrown. Not a vehicle burnt. The moment of Thileepan’s exit was touchingly dignified. Old Gandhians who had thought that non-violence was dead were profoundly moved. They even started saying confidently that Thileepan was different from the rest. He was not responsible for acts of violence, they added. The solemn manner in which the crowd received the news of his death, they hoped, was a sure sign that the Tamils had turned back to the old Gandhian way of non-violence. Thileepan’s family too almost certainly believed this. They contacted an old Gandhian to write an appreciation. It was gladly done and it echoed these sentiments. It seemed bad taste to strike a discordant note. Even those whose experience of Thileepan had not been of the pleasant kind would not say otherwise. Whether a voluntary act, an act of supreme obedience or an act of unprobed complexity, Thileepan’s death excited awe. Perhaps, many in torture cells had died more painful and more heroic deaths, even in militant ruled Jaffna. But publicity made the difference. Columnists in the South who were no friends of the L.T.T.E.’s, could not resist a hint of admiration. Lucien Rajakarunayake writing in the Sunday Times of 4 October, 1987, compared Thileepan favourably with the chauvinists of the South who were eternally promising to shed the last drop of their blood before the first in the cause of Sinhalese supremacy, all the way down from the days of the Bhasa Twins – Jayasuriya and Rajaratne. Lucian Rajakarunayake went on:

“I do not agree with Thileepan’s cause, nor have I ever agreed with the similarly motivated causes of most others on this side who have threatened death fasts or begun great walks for peace with lottery tickets on the sideline. However, one cannot help but be impressed by the extent of political dedication, even misguided, when a slow death is courted by one, when others are satisfied watching the other man’s son die for the success of their selfish slogans.

“Mind you, if the Sinhalese begin to ask their politicians and other racial champions, who make such loud noises and promises of sacrifice on public platforms, if they are prepared to go half the distance Thileepan went in hunger, it may help get rid of the political poseurs who strut about in the garb of Sinhalese heroes, and by the curious identification of the majority only with the nation, as national heroes, as well.”

        When the agreement reached between India and the L.T.T.E. was announced on Monday, 28 September, after obtaining the Sri Lankan President’s concurrence, it had little to say on the 5 demands put forward over Thileepan’s fast. The membership of the interim council was increased from 8 to 12 and the L.T.T.E.’s representation increased from 3 to 7, giving it a majority. The L.T.T.E. agreed in writing to submit 15 names, including 3 for the chairman, from which the President of Sri Lanka would choose the required number. The people were relieved.

        Why then did Thileepan die? That was a question for which no satisfactory explanation could be found. From the point of view of Tamils as a whole, the actual results were hardly a gain. Even in the council of 8 proposed earlier, the Tamils would have been in the majority, amongst whom there would have been a convergence of views on key issues. The difference in the new agreement was a majority for the L.T.T.E. by itself, until the mandatory elections were held. The only concrete achievement was a demonstration by the L.T.T.E. that its power to sour things for anyone choosing to act without its consent was hardly to be scoffed at.

        Thileepan had not suddenly changed to non-violence. He was very much a part of the violent scene, as leader of the political wing of the L.T.T.E. in Jaffna. But he was a dedicated L.T.T.E. man who had spent the prime of his life in its service. It would be truly remarkable if he had knowingly thrown away his life for such meagre returns. Jaffna is a place where cynicism has reigned for so long that nothing is taken at face value. There have been several cases of persons in militant groups who had become frustrated and who simply carried on for the lack of an alternative, caring little whether they lived or died. There are those who would assume that Thileepan was one of them. A more plausible explanation coming from some others is that when the fast was undertaken, Thileepan was not told that he would die. Even if nothing was coming in the way of response to the demands, Prabhakaran could solemnly call off the fast in deference to the wishes of the people. Once Thileepan had started fasting on a public platform, he had little control over events. Whatever he wished, the decision was left to others.

        It is perhaps uncharitable to speculate on the motives of dead men. Whatever was in Thileepan’s mind, the cynicism of others cannot be discounted. On the testimony of those who knew Thileepan, he was certainly capable of sacrificing himself for a cause in which he believed. He was certainly not a non-violent man. As late as 2 July, 1987, Thileepan took part in a lamp-post killing at Urumpirai junction. During the fast he gave expression to the L.T.T.E.’s religious creed. Thileepan was seriously wounded in the abdomen during the Vadamaratchi operation. It is known that, at least after this, he was emotionally sensitive.

        Shortly before his final fast, Thileepan went to the Eelanadu office to complain about an editorial which had said: “Whether the Elephant comes or the Tiger comes, the Accord must be implemented.” The elephant is the symbol of the ruling party, U.N.P..The senior person who was on duty that night told him with some force: “You have misunderstood this. You know the editor is a reasonable and highly respected man who was principal of your old school (Jaffna Hindu College). If you talk to him, he will explain things to you.” Thileepan stared at the ground for some time. He then exclaimed: “Do not crush us,” and walked away. This encounter betrayed a feeling amongst the Tigers that the Tamil people who once gave them flattering devotion were now distancing themselves – hence the need for desperate measures. The Thileepan of September 1987 was not the same Thileepan who stood four square at the University during a peace meeting in mid 1986, arrogantly insisting on the paramountcy of the L.T.T.E.. His words had then come not from the logic of Tamil unity or Tamil well being, but from the logic of power. Given this new emotional sensitivity, how did changes within the L.T.T.E. affect him? A journalist who was Thileepan’s class mate at Jaffna Hindu College and also knew Yogi who was a little senior to them both, had this to say: “Thileepan was from the time I knew him, a man with dedication. He did fully believe in the cause of the Tamil militancy.” This journalist, who is not an L.T.T.E. sympathiser, had little doubt that Thileepan died more or less voluntarily. Yogi’s association with the L.T.T.E. in London was relatively brief. His main asset was that he was the elder brother of the late Kugan, Prabhakaran’s deputy, whom Prabhakaran trusted completely. Unlike Yogi, Thileepan had been on the ground during a difficult period and had served loyally for a long time. Those who would like to pin on Thileepan, the image of an orthodox Gandhian martyr or even that of the unquestioning obedient servant, would probably do him injustice as a human being with human feelings. Amongst ordinary people, there was much sympathy for Thileepan and not all of it was complimentary to Prabhakaran. However, Thileepan was soon to be forgotten amidst other events.

9.3 Towards Confrontation

The L.T.T.E. expressed dissatisfaction when it submitted fifteen names for the interim council and the President made his choice. Mr. N. Pathmanathan, Additional Government Agent, Trincomalee, whom the L.T.T.E. had named as its first choice for the chairmanship of the Interim Council was dropped in favour of Mr. C.V.K. Sivagnanam, Municipal Commissioner, Jaffna. Amongst those remaining there was no one from the Eastern Province, although the L.T.T.E. had submitted the name of an Eastern Province Muslim and others from the East amongst the 7 leading names. Mr. Sivagnanam, reportedly under pressure, sent a letter turning down the appointment. It appeared to most Tamils that the President had made his choice in such a way as would alienate the Tamils and Muslims in the East from the northern Tamils. Moreover, N. Pathmanathan was an experienced and competent administrator. Mr. Sivagnanam’s main achievement was to perform the demanding task of being the government’s commissioner in an L.T.T.E. dominated Jaffna. He seldom displeased anyone, was not known for any particular principled stand, but had a mind of his own on certain matters. He could move with decision where his own ambitions could be made to fit the aims  of the powerful interest groups he had to contend with. To many, the manner in which the L.T.T.E. looked upon his appointment, was a revelation about its relationships with public men.

        N. Pathmanathan had been released from prison on 2 September, 1987, after being detained for 45 months under the prevention of terrorism act. He was a Grade 1 C.A.S. (Ceylon Administrative Service) officer who had served as the Additional Government Agent, Trincomalee under a Grade 2 Sinhalese officer. He was arrested in December 1983 and was notified of his charge more than 2 years later. The charge was peculiar to the P.T.A. and did not involve any first or second hand criminal act. The crime involved was the alleged provision of help for some Tamil prisoners who had escaped from Batticaloa prison. Pathmanathan is said to have been in the know of some person who in turn was in the know of such help being given! Pathmanathan was not taken to trial. He was detained for much longer than the mandatory limit of 18 months in the hope that he would plead guilty. Pathmanathan was determined not to plead guilty to something he had not done. While in prison he studied law and interested himself in the welfare of other prisoners who were utterly innocent and were languishing in prison because the system moved clumsily and many of the prisoners did not have the money to do the needful. His determination was such that the government had to drop the charges and release him. A senior civil servant who had worked with Pathmanathan stated that, “he was an extremely intelligent man and a committed Tamil.”

        It is understandable that the President did not wish to elevate such a man to the chairmanship of the interim council. It is interesting that the same device of asking for a list of names in place of one nominee is used to avoid appointing inconvenient vice-chancellors of Universities. The Indian High Commissioner held that the L.T.T.E. was wrong to complain as the matter had been explained to them and they had agreed in writing. The Tamil public felt cheated. But the L.T.T.E. had little reason to complain. Many would contend that Mr. Dixit had taken for a ride a ragged group of fighting men who were innocent of legal matters. Such a charge would not hold water as the L.T.T.E. had all the legal advice it needed at its disposal. They had the services of two lawyers, one of whom at least was recognised as competent and experienced. Anton Balasingam had held an academic post in Philosophy in Britain. Yogi was a student in Britain. It is unbelievable that they were unable to sort out among themselves, the consequences of what the L.T.T.E. was putting down in writing. Mr. Dixit may not have been excessively polite towards the L.T.T.E.. He may have been overconfident that he could handle them, or perhaps he hid his uncertainties beneath a facade of contempt. It was natural that he should feel more at home with the Colombo elite, whose first language and background he shared. Understanding what motivated them, his success with them had been remarkable, even when his office changed from Ambassador to Proconsul. He had perhaps at least begun to understand the L.T.T.E. when he advised President Jayewardene against transporting the 17 L.T.T.E. captives.

        It is in all likelihood unfair to accuse Mr. Dixit of conniving with President Jayewardene over the appointments to the Interim Council. It is far more likely that he did the job of a negotiator who was anxious to avoid trouble. An agreement already existed between India and the President on the composition and method of appointment. Mr. Dixit would have had to ask the President to concede a little more in agreeing to an L.T.T.E. majority. The President conceded this much with some stipulations about the method of appointment. When the L.T.T.E. objected to the President’s choice, it is reliably learnt that the President agreed to the L.T.T.E. revising the list, giving them the option of securing a chairman from the East by submitting all three names from the East. However the President could have gone further. He had little to lose in agreeing to the L.T.T.E.’s intended nominees.

        Such omissions by President Jayewardene far from absolve India from the unprincipled character of its overall handling of the Ceylon Tamil question which helped to bring about the current impasse. Dixit, however, had his share of responsibility in India’s cynical use of Ceylon’s Tamil problem. Then came an unexpected problem, not uncommonly encountered in such unprincipled dealings. The L.T.T.E. acquired an autonomy of its own — shades of Bhindranwale and the Punjab. Relationships were already complicated by mistrust and mutual cynicism. When the government in Colombo agreed to fall in line, what was on offer was not enough for the L.T.T.E.. This was a problem that India seemed incapable of tackling competently. There are those who attach much importance to claims by the L.T.T.E. concerning verbal promises made by India. Prabhakaran reportedly claims that Rajiv Gandhi assured him that the L.T.T.E. could keep its arms after a token surrender of some arms. Another claim much talked about concerns Tamil Nadu minister Pandruti Ramachandran. He allegedly assured the L.T.T.E. that, although they would have to send in 15 names for the 7 seats on the interim council, the leading names would be selected. The second has been discussed earlier. As for the first, even if such a promise was made, the end result intended was clear. No armed group was eventually going to be tolerated. The L.T.T.E. could not have been mistaken about that. Given the present reputation of the Indian government, it cannot be put past Messrs. Gandhi and Ramachandran to have made such promises.

        Other reports of a secret package agreed to between the L.T.T.E. and the Indian government surfaced in the London Observer of Sunday, 3 April, 1988. The report filed by Dhiren Bhagat from Colombo quoted Indian High Commissioner Mr. J.N.Dixit. It stated that funds amounting to 200,000 pounds sterling a month (Rs. 5 million) were to be paid to the L.T.T.E.. The funds were to be paid for the maintenance of L.T.T.E. members until normal life returned to war ravaged areas. The Jaffna peninsula was to receive Indian economic aid amounting to 43 million pounds sterling. The report quotes Mr. Dixit as having said that the monthly payment was made for the month of August (1987). The L.T.T.E. is said to have resumed secret talks with India on the subject of new financial arrangements. The initial agreement is said to have been reached between Prabhakaran and Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi at the end of July 1987.

        The same report quoted the L.T.T.E. spokesman in Madras as saying that the payment was part of a larger package of guarantees to secure his co-operation in implementing the Indo-Lanka Accord. The package of guarantees is said to have included: A majority of the L.T.T.E. in the interim Provincial Council; one billion rupees economic assistance to the Jaffna peninsula for rehabilitation to be undertaken by the L.T.T.E. dominated Interim Council; and help to form a Tamil Police Force after the establishment of the interim council. The L.T.T.E. spokesman had characterised this as a gentlemen’s agreement with the Indians. One wonders why hundreds have to die while gentlemen played their pecuniary games. Whilst big money was being talked about in high places, ordinary civilians were being assassinated for innocuous and sometimes necessary dealings with the army of the same India. Some who got threatening notes were those who sold things such as tomatoes to soldiers for a few tens of rupees.

        This report about the money sounds plausible as it fits into the general pattern of things and has been corroborated by Reuters and the Times of India. It may not amount to anything sinister as the press in the South tries to make out. It is not inconsistent with India’s pledge to secure the L.T.T.E.’s compliance with the Accord. It makes it even more unlikely that India was set on a one track course to destroy the L.T.T.E.. India would certainly have kept several options open. Even after the war India kept making approaches to secure the L.T.T.E.’s compliance. One could say with certainty that if the L.T.T.E. had moved to confess past errors and to seek a solid democratic base amongst the people, India would have found it prudent to leave them alone. That the L.T.T.E. had to look for its security in secret and undemocratic deals with a foreign power, rather than in the trust of the people was a sign of its weakness. This makes all that followed even more inexcusable.

        Apologists for the L.T.T.E. like to pick on such straws in the wind as the events surrounding the deportation on 5 October, and represent these as turning points in the tragic drama resulting from Indian and Sri Lankan perfidy. But the fabric of the tragedy was woven by the intermingling of the failings of the different actors. Lying, deceit and massacres are its various threads. It would be mere caprice to represent isolated events as turning points.

        Granted that the Indian and Sri Lankan states are flawed affairs; anyone who aspired to lead the Tamils must be judged very harshly if these flaws are held up as adequate grounds for knowingly flinging the entire Tamil community into the fire. In mitigation however, the L.T.T.E. is the product of a brutal world; a world where great leaders, men whose education and maturity entitle them to know far better, routinely use deceit and mass murder as legitimate forms of action. This can be seen in the American use of Contra rebels in Nicaragua and in the Soviet meddling and the shifting of sides in Eritrea. That President Reagan delegates authority to decide on murder and assassination to distant C.I.A. officials or proxies does not make him less of a murderer than a bandit who makes his own decisions. The same can be said of most big nations which observe little restraint in the way of law or principle when dealing with foreigners, especially by proxy. The R.A.W. cannot claim moral superiority over the Tamil militant groups. The fight against terrorism will be futile as long as the world’s leaders play with terror when it suits them. The impressionable young minds of the L.T.T.E. were moulded by the cynicism and duplicity they encountered in their dealings — with the T.U.L.F., the Tamil elite, and the Sri Lankan and Indian authorities. They concluded that the way to success was to outdo the others in these qualities. They realised unforeseen success and forgot the original cause. The Tamil people who could have exerted the corrective influence and have ensured that the right men became leaders were themselves lost and became directionless.

        The uncertainty over the Interim Council lasted a few days. Most people hoped that the matter would get sorted out, at least by the L.T.T.E. accepting the present arrangement as a spring board for more. Then came the affair of the 17 detainees and the decision by the L.T.T.E. that Tamil Eelam should after all become a burning volcano.

9.4 The End of an Era.

The suicides of the twelve L.T.T.E. men in captivity have been dealt with separately. Amongst them were Kumarappa and Pulendran. There was every prospect that they would be released. The evidence seems to point that the decision the detainees should take cyanide was taken by the L.T.T.E.’s top leadership. This brings us to two questions. What motivated men like Kumarappa and Pulendran who had reached their height of influence and power to throw away their lives so lightly? The other question is, what do friendships with members of the L.T.T.E. really mean? The L.T.T.E. is not a democratic organisation. Its members are under an oath of personal loyalty to their leader Mr. Prabhakaran. This aspect of the organisation was strengthened over time by a process of elimination. Those democratically minded fell by the wayside, mostly by leaving the organisation. There is enough pressure on ex-members of the organisation to remain passive. Those with the organisational ability to challenge the L.T.T.E. must take even greater care. It is then to be expected that those currently in positions of leadership in the L.T.T.E. whether out of conviction or convenience take the oath of loyalty to their leader seriously. Over time the workings of the organisations have acquired religious, or even theological overtones. Conformity is also ensured by a system of policing where every man is said to be the other man’s spy. Kumarappa was a man whose loyalty had been tested. When the L.T.T.E.’s Batticaloa leader Kadavul refused to take on the TELO, the L.T.T.E. had to rely on Kumarappa and Pottu. The smallest price to be paid for disobedience, for a person with no means, may be some abject retirement. To many, this may be worse than death. One person who perhaps came closest to defying Prabhakaran was Kittu. His fate will long remain a matter of conjecture. This may, just perhaps, throw some light on the fates of Kumarappa, Pulendran and even Thileepan.

        Going by human nature and the unusual requirements of the type of organisation the L.T.T.E. is, the importance of the system of policing together with rewards and punishments cannot be under-estimated. It has been frequently found that the conduct of individual L.T.T.E. members can vastly differ as individual persons and in a group. In the wake of the Indian offensive of October, those L.T.T.E. members who were isolated by their families were much readier to accept mediation and surrender. Many such persons surrendered. A clergyman involved in social work observed: “Several of the L.T.T.E. boys who have their families in Jaffna are handing over their arms to boys from outstation areas and are going to their families. Those from the outstations are moving about with the rest in isolated pockets not knowing what to do and out of communication with the leadership.” One area leader in Jaffna gave hints of wanting to surrender. Fear of punitive action weighed heavily on his family. It was later reported that he fell in with some other members of his group and had left Jaffna. Parathan, a leading member of the L.T.T.E.’s television unit, was also regarded a hard man. Shortly before the Indian army’s advance into Nallur, he was observed alone in the Kandasamy temple area. He was going from house to house and sometimes stopping motorcyclists on the road, pleading with the owners for the loan of a 200 CC motorcycle. If a vehicle had been required by the group, it could have been commandeered. Evidently, Parathan did not want it publicised that he was looking for a vehicle.

        Malaravan, the former L.T.T.E. leader of Ariyalai, was seen in the wake of the Indian advance, nestling like a babe between his father and mother, in the back of a car parked in the precincts of Kandasamy Kovil. Malaravan became notorious after beating to death a civilian, Edward, in the Ariyalai camp in November 1986. It is very probable that Malaravan’s fate could have been different had his parents not been near at hand. It was later reported the he was detained while being taken southwards to be sent abroad. The facility to go abroad is again crucial in decisions to be taken by dissatisfied militants. If many of the militants had been dissatisfied, it would have cost the Sri Lankan government only Rs. 0.2 billion out of its annual defence budget of 15 billion (1.3%) to provide 2000 militants with the maximum Rs. 1 lakh that each needed to go abroad. It gives one small aspect of the government’s lack of imagination.

        Without making unfair generalisations, like in any organisation, the motivations of those who joined it are widely different. In the case of the L.T.T.E. some would be motivated by ties of clan or thirst for power, others by romance and many by a burning hatred of the government for what it had done. Some joined just for a lark because others were doing it and the community had little to offer in making routine life worthwhile. Those most easily disillusioned are the ones who had the intention of doing some good to the community. Such persons are likely to have independent ideas and will be the least amenable to an oath of personal loyalty to the leader. It was pointed out that most of the staff and students from the University of Jaffna who joined the L.T.T.E. in the early 1980’s dropped out. Prominent amongst them were Mr. and Mrs. Nithiyanandan. The only person left from that lot is Anton Sivakumar whose relationship with the L.T.T.E. is again chequered. The best L.T.T.E. members are those who are caught young with impressionable minds, with a simple joy in carrying a gun, a boyish thirst for romance and who have no parents capable of influencing the child and of being a nuisance to the child’s career in the militancy. The latest additions are from amongst girls. Many Tamil girls have a gloomy future resulting from the breakdown of a society where women were dependent and where well above 100,000 young men have gone abroad. Numbers connected with the militancy were far less – about 15,000 at best. Amongst girls, again, motivations vary widely. Those most amenable to romance and whose tenure is short are likely to come from secure middle class families. A large number of girls joined the L.T.T.E. from lower middle class families from rural areas such as Mullaitivu. These were from homes directly affected by Sri Lankan military action. It was Prabhakaran’s genius to weld all these diverse motivations into an organisation where personal loyalty to him would be enforced. He had the imagination to study people and use even those doubting persons who would at least be formally independent. For some with literary talents, a smile and some kind and flattering words from Prabhakaran were enough to secure their loyal services.

        As for friendships with the L.T.T.E., the evidence suggests that there was a very sincere element in many of them. The friendship Kittu and Rahim formed with Captain Kotelawala of the Ceylon army was genuine, and has gone on beyond its period of mere utility. Kittu once reportedly came under criticism for preventing an L.T.T.E. sniper from taking a pot-shot at Captain Kotelawela who was exposed while inspecting positions around the Fort. Subsequently Kittu’s party is said to have been fired at by an army sniper. A senior L.T.T.E. leader once said that their relationship with Captain Kotelawela was based on their mutual appreciation of each other as professional soldiers. The close ties between Kittu and Rahim are again out of character for an organisation where loyalty to the leader comes first. The presence of both in Madras is regarded a kind of exile. Even after the strange affair of Kittu losing a leg, he proved his usefulness as a field commander in Jaffna during Operation Liberation where his mere presence was able to inspire morale which had been failing amongst the ranks. The ties even extended to family circles. Kittu’s old mother from Valvettithurai, recently visited the family of Rahim’s intended bride in Nallur. Rahim is the last remaining in the L.T.T.E. out of a group of 6 class-mates from St. John’s College who joined in 1984; the last to leave went abroad in September 1986 after being the Karainager leader. Rahim’s survival capacity is tied perhaps with his ability to avoid unpleasant subjects in conversation. He displayed a touching desire to keep in touch with old schoolmates when his application to join the St. John’s College Old Boys Association came before the committee in October 1987. Kittu can be crude, vulgar and illogical (the logic of power that one sees in so many army officers) in his appearances, and very inconsiderate to commoners who fall foul. But the ties he sought with leaders in the South appear to have a genuine element. He had that kind of erratic emotional bent.

        Amongst the many murdered while Kittu was in charge of Jaffna was the Jaffna P.L.O.T.E. leader, Mendis (Wijayapalan). Mendis was regarded as a friend of Kittu’s and was killed after one month’s captivity in January 1987 despite an assurance given to his family that he would not be harmed. Mendis is accused of having helped several persons wanted by the L.T.T.E. to escape to India. It is not known with certainty if the decision to kill Mendis came from Kittu or from above. But significantly, it took place within a few days of Prabhakaran’s arrival in Jaffna. One may hazard the guess that it would have been out of character for Kittu to have treated Sinhalese visitors and prisoners in the way they were treated in September and October 1987. This last decision appears to have been taken between Prabhakaran, Balasingam and Mahattaya. Balasingam’s influence in decision making may not be of great importance. But the personal need Prabhakaran has of him seems to have enabled him to safeguard his position. Balasingam, a former British High Commission employee, who later wrote a doctoral thesis on Hegel, was a teacher of political science at a British polytechnic. He could also converse ably on philosophical subjects. After July 1983 he moved to Madras with his Australian wife Adele to be full-time spokesman for the L.T.T.E.. His writings helped to give the L.T.T.E. a Marxist image. But his real function was far less flattering. In Prabhakaran’s words, he was to “explain rather than to direct the course of armed struggle.” His real significance stemmed from an emotional need Prabhakaran had of him. The relationship was a stormy one. When drinking with friends in Madras, Balasingam would sometimes say, “Drink, friend, drink. There is little else you can do when you are in an outfit like this.” When back on the job, his doubts would seem to vanish. His wife, a former member of the British Communist party, would sometimes agree when others expressed doubts about the state of things within the L.T.T.E., but after talking it over with her husband, she would come back with her doubts cleared.

        Mahattaya had a childhood steeped in want. He is very much a loner and is not much of a public man. Mahattaya is once said to have had serious differences with Prabhakaran. These appear to have been patched up. Those who befriended him in old times can perhaps claim a hint of loyalty that did not quite approach friendship. He would be suspicious of the kind of ties formed by Kittu.

        The ties of friendship between Kumarappa and Indian army officers again appear to be genuine. He married after the Accord and took his marital relationship seriously. The thought of death in such a relationship cannot be uppermost in a person’s mind. His was no ordinary suicide, for he had cause to live. The day before he committed suicide, he told an Indian officer he counted as a friend: “You must see my wife today.” That has the fatal ring of a man who cares for his wife, but must yet bow to an inexorable destiny. This perhaps demonstrates the nature of friendships with men in the L.T.T.E.. Many of them are human in the ordinary sense. But they are bound by an inexorable fate which draws them through either faith or fear – perhaps both.

        This fate finds its embodiment in their leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran. One aspect of his calls to mind some kind of subcontinental cult god whose mighty will commands the rise of devotees and later sends them obediently to their destruction. It is as though loyalty, and blind obedience are one and the same thing to him. A common error in presenting great figures of history is to glorify their military successes where they murdered hundreds of thousands of their fellow men, and describe their ultimate failure as incidental upon some miscalculation. Their seamy side and the destructive process it engendered are lost sight of as the real cause of failure. Napoleon on the one hand is the military genius, the victor of Austerlitz who with a wave of his hand rolled back the combined forces of Austria, Prussia, Russia and Britain. He was also the great actor who looking at the pyramids of Egypt surveyed 5000 years of history. What are we to make of his hasty, ignominious retreat from Moscow to Paris in record time in the winter of 1812, leaving his harried men to face the ravages of the Russian winter? By romanticising him we lose sight of the personal tragedy of the man, his spiritual emptiness, his uncertainties and the reassurances he sought in the way of securing power over other men. His mistake was not a misjudged attack on Russia. By 1810 France was already creaking under the load of militarisation.

        Likewise one aspect of Mr. Prabhakaran’s case is fascinating. Using unpromising material his will forged together a force, the L.T.T.E., which made the world sit up. A government in Colombo which treated the Tamil problem with derision in 1978 and savagery in 1983 was shaken to its foundations. In time New Delhi too became unsure. Washington took a keen interest. Where lesser mortals would have chosen to call it off, Prabhakaran persisted for greater gain. All this required a ruthless will to manipulate everything that came his way.

        It was now the end of an era. A struggle that had, in its dawn, been fired by several noble ideals, and called forth courage and much sacrifice from young persons irrespective of group, had now reached a point where the community was powerless and voiceless. How long could a military force that claimed to represent them retain any degree of real autonomy with such a weak base ? In the interests of sheer survival, people would have to dispense with standards and ideals and become immune to the loss of life. In time, with children becoming militarised with hardly any voice raised from within the community, even the last links on our hold on civilisation are put into question.

        What went wrong ? Had we been led by a casual acceptance of violence as a tool to disregard the value of all life ?

        One last scene impresses itself on the mind. The scene was the playing field of the University of Jaffna at dusk on 13 October, 1987. The Indians had blundered a first landing near the University the day before. Sentries were now posted everywhere. A line of women stood with guns around the field. They epitomised the hopelessness that has beset many Tamil women. Their faces were blank as if they cared little whether they lived or died. They had little resemblance to Joan of Arc or to the Parisian women who stormed the Bastille. One of them said in a quiet voice that betrayed no emotion: “Please close the gate when you go.” A tear was not out of place.

9.5 A Digression on the Forces of History

With all our limitations (not one of us among this group of writers is an academic historian) and with all our differences in views, we have in a way tried to do what Thucydides did for the Pelopponesian war 2500 years ago – the debilitating war between Athens and Sparta which ended Greek supremacy of the Mediterranean world. What we have offered is a series of reflections and accounts of our own situation. We too have to come to terms with a world that has been changed by these events. We hope we have offered something towards understanding these events and, thus, towards changing our lot for the better.

        One debate that will go on is whether there is a form of armed struggle that will bring about freedom and democracy or if violence is to be entirely abhorred and the struggle is only to be towards creating (on a large scale) the personal virtues of honesty and a love for truth, together with a willingness to suffer for them. And if the latter, whether it is consistent to confine nonviolence to human beings only or if it should be extended to the animal kingdom as well. Those who admit the possible use of force would maintain that i. they are not advocating it for the love of it; ii. violence is part of the day to day reality of this world; and iii. it would be sheer irresponsibility to blind oneself to it and leave its use entirely in the hands of anti-social or criminal elements. Moreover they would say, that at the end of the day, the objective reality is determined by those who have the guns.

        Those who disagree will say that there is a subjective element in judging the fruits of violence. Apart from the evils of war, there is also the long term damage to the psyche. There is also the question of the time frame. The idealism of Lenin gave way to the purges of Stalin – perhaps the largest act of mass murder in the history of mankind, exceeding even Hitler’s acts against Jews. Did not the legitimacy given to the revolution by dedicated revolutionaries like Lenin, pave the way for the passive acceptance of the arbitrary acts of Stalin? Did the journey from Tsar Nicholas II to Mikhail Gorbachev have to pass through the purges of Stalin?

        To this may come the reply that we are not in a position to sit back and judge history as though it could have been otherwise. It was made by those who grasped the opportunities of the moment. There is always room for others to mismanage things later. We will be judged severely if we do not grasp the opportunities of our time and choose to run away from them.

        It may then be replied that life has gone this far on the assumption that force is necessary. Its use has an honoured place in human culture. But misery has persisted and even increased, to a point that unless we can create a culture where force is outside normal reckoning, mass suicide may become a reality. What is absurd to human reason may become a reality in another realm. Perhaps a search for and the surrender to God may be the only option we have left. Are not after all, all the sophisticated theories of revolution leak-proofed to the point of becoming esoteric creations? They are never proved false because the initial conditions are somehow never right. Ask anyone who has lived through a revolution! In the academic world, a moral interpretation of history would be treated as naive. But this was the standpoint adopted by many historians through the ages who felt a burning desire to communicate what they believed to be the truth – down from the prophets of ancient Israel and Thucydides. In fact, F.M. Cornford, a widely respected Greek scholar has this to say in his essay titled The Unconscious Element in Literature and Philosophy: “Now this is not to say that Thucydides’ philosophy of life is not, within its limits, a true philosophy – as true as any alternative our own minds may contribute. It may even be truer. Fourteen years ago, writing under the impression of the South African war (Boer war, 1898 – 1900), I may have overstressed the financial aspect of imperialism. Since 1914 (First World War) Thucydides’ moral interpretation of history has seemed more profound.” (“The Unwritten Philosophy“, Cambridge University Press).[Top]


About editor 3042 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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