நெற்றிக்கண் திறப்பினும் குற்றம் குற்றமே…உண்மைகள் ஒருபோதும் உறங்குவதில்லை, உறங்கவும் கூடா… Truth never sleeps – and it should not…
The Indian Army Launches Attack
This account was written by a Tamil resident in London, who visited his homeland for the first time after five years and details the happenings in Jaffna during the period 12 September 1987 to 14 November 1987
Trip by train from Colombo to Jaffna
This article is written on the basis of what I saw and heard during my visit to Sri Lanka from 12 September to 14 November 1987. My visit, along with my family, was hurriedly planned to take advantage of the ‘peace’ in Sri Lanka, immediately following the signing of the Agreement between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene on the 29th of July 1987. My family and I wished to see our parents and our friends back at home.
I landed in Colombo on the 12th of September 1987, clutching in my hands the popular Sri Lankan dailies, ‘The Sun’, ‘The Island’ and the ‘Daily News’. They were full of news about the Indo – Sri Lanka Accord. They were fulsome in their commendations to Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayawardene. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were also give prominent treatment
From Colombo, we travelled by train to Jaffna. We were told that the direct trip to Jaffna by train was only made possible after the Accord and that even now, the full journey to Kankesanturai (the usual last stop of the Jaffna train) was not possible because of damage to the railway lines between Jaffna and KKS The train was packed and I found a good number of public servants returning to Jaffna for the week end to visit their families.
Everything looked new and different to me after five long years since my last visit. However, I managed to locate a few persons from my village, whom I knew and through them I was introduced to others in the carriage. Some of them said that we were the lucky ones, because we could afford a home abroad away from all the miseries in the Island. When questioned about the situation in Jaffna, they came out with their experiences of unspeakable horror and their feelings of sudden relief immediately after the signing of the Accord. They spoke about ‘Operation Liberation’ of the 26th of May, and ‘Operation Poomalai’ of the 4th of June and the courageous and dedicated stand taken by the LTTE to preserve their heritage. But when asked whether the Accord would work, some sighed and gave a smile; some said, ‘well’; a few said ‘no comments’; one or two said, ‘they will make it work whether we like it or not’; and others said ‘enough is enough, let us not talk of the past’. None of them were sure of the future.
Jaffna was peaceful when I arrived. As usual, the station was noisy but with one difference – and that was my first sight of the Indian Army (the Indian Peace Keeping Force – IPKF) carrying SLRs and AK47 machine guns. As we moved away from the Jaffna railway station towards Vaddukoddai we saw more and more Indian troops carrying weapons at main cross roads, inside the Bank of Ceylon premises opposite the Jaffna Provincial Hospital, opposite Sivan Kovil near Vannarponnai and so on. But I noticed that there were practically no troops outside the Jaffna Municipality limits.
Indian troops carrying TV and Video sets
After arriving at home, I used to visit Jaffna town daily to meet my friends and relations. The town was crowded with shoppers, pedestrians and cyclists. If one had to move about, the cheapest mode of transport was the minibus or else, cycling which had no cost associated with it. There was also a noticeable number of brand new Japanese cars on the roads. These cars, I was told, emerged only after the Accord. The shops were crowded. Here and there, I saw Indian soldiers carrying TV and Video sets on their shoulders to their parked trucks and jeeps. I was told that those who sell electrical goods were thriving in their business because of the presence of the IPKF.
I noticed the frequent use of the terms ‘development’ and ‘rebuilding’ in discussions amongst NGOs, academics, political activists, students, religious circles, business people and others – development and rebuilding of schools, industries, housing, transport, tourism, towns and cities. There was a noticeable optimism among most people in Jaffna following the signing of the Accord. There was a lull in the terror and violence which had reigned over the North and East for previous four years.
Everyday, the newspapers carried sensational investment proposals for the North and East. There was news of foreign missions visiting the North and East and promising aid in millions of rupees. I heard local development planners talking seriously of building a new town in Nallur, a new city in Vadamaratchi, a modern capital for the Tamils in Trincomalee, and a highway from Point Pedro to Trincomalee by the coastline. Money was promised for every thing from orphanages to building new cities; from rehabilitation to resettlement.
However reports reaching Jaffna indicated that the East was not fully free from unrest. There were reports of arrests, torture and killing by the Sri Lankan Security Forces But, things were going relatively smoothly until the 15th of September, when it was announced that the LTTE leader of the political wing in Jaffna, Thileepan, had commenced a fast unto death campaign at 9.30 a.m. in front of the historic Nallur Murugan Temple in protest against
the failure to effectively implement the promises in the Accord;
the accelerated state aided Sinhala colonisation in the Eastern Province;
the continued detention of Tamil prisoners under the Prevention of Terrorism Act;
the failure of the Home Guards to surrender their arms;
the failure to close army and police camps situated in Tamil areas; and
the delay in setting up an interim administration for the North and East.
Hartals and peaceful protests
The fast picked up momentum day by day and it became the issue in everybody’s mind as the days passed by. We received reports that more and more people were joining the fast. One lady teacher named Subashanthini Rajasundaram started her fast in support of Thileepan’s protest, sitting next to him on the 17th of September and I was informed that five others had joined the fast at Valvettiturai junction on the 18th of September and so on. I later received reports that such fasts had been spreading in the mainland as well – in places like Chavakacheri, Mullaitivu, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee.
There were hartals and protest marches organised by the LTTE. The schools and colleges were closed and students organised marches to Nallur and picketed the Indian military camps. During the hartal all shops were closed and the public was encouraged to attend pickets and rallies. I saw thousands of men, women and children joining pickets and rallies. All forms of transport, cars, vans, cycles, mini buses, government buses, bullock carts, scooters and motor cycles were used to move people around.
All the Tamil dailies in the North began to highlight the fast and associated events. Surprisingly, the media in the South (of Sri Lanka) was silent on the whole issue – the dailies did not carry the news and the TV and radio blacked out the fast and the protest movement. However in the North, everybody tried to see LTTE’s TV transmission named Nitharshan which gave a day by day account of the events. As days passed by, the deterioration in Thileepan’s health caught the headlines of the Tamil dailies. Coloured posters began to appear in all the villages. Loudspeaker fitted cars and vans were seen in villages making announcements on the fast and asking public to picket IPKF camps and appeal for justice.
I was informed that there had been a skirmish on the 16th of September between the public and the IPKF at Neervelli when a jeep carrying IPKF personnel had been carelessly driven at a picket line – and two women had been knocked down. The public gathered and surrounded the jeep and assaulted the IPKF officers. Three of them were tied up and thrown to the road. They were later released when a higher ranking officer intervened and gave an assurance that an inquiry would be held. On the same day, people who went to picket outside the old Dutch Fort military camp, had entered the recently opened Pannai Police Station in Jaffna, ransacked the whole place, and tore off the uniforms of the Police Officers. The police station was forcibly shut and the police officers took refuge in the Fort military camp I felt the tension mounting day by day.
Thileepan dies and thousands grieve
thileep.jpg (12669 bytes)The Citizen Committees, trade unions, students unions, teachers associations, religious leaders, all held meetings and discussed the issues relating to Thileepan’s fast and passed resolutions and submitted memoranda to the overall commander of the IPKF, Lt. General Depinder Singh requesting the Indian representatives to intervene and stop the fast and initiate immediate efforts to set up the interim administration in the North and East. But nothing moved fast enough to stop Thileepan’s death. Thileepan died on the 26th of September 1987. There was widespread grief in the North. There can be little doubt that Thileepan’s martyrdom had a profound effect on every Tamil soul in Sri Lanka. Thousands of people from the North and East poured into Jaffna as the news of his death spread.
But no violent reaction at funeral
Judging by past events, everyone expected a violent reaction in the North and East, following Thileepan’s death, but to everybody’s surprise the funeral turned into a peaceful day of mourning. The LTTE members moved in decisively to curb any kind of violence. They moved all state owned buses into depots and guarded them. They also provided cover to government institutions after some attempts had been made to set fire to them. The Tamil daily Eelamurasu as well as the TV Nitharshan carried the LTTE leader, Prabakharan’s appealed to the people not to destroy or damage public property, as this was the property of Tamil Eelam. Black flags were seen everywhere – on the roads, in houses, churches, temples, trees, public buildings and so on Thousands of sobbing men, women and children followed the body covered with the red flag of the Tigers with their emblem on it. Thileepan’s body was taken on a decorated van through the villages for the people to pay their homage and finally taken to Suthumalai where it was kept for the people to pay their last respects. I was later informed that his body was donated to the medical faculty of Jaffna University. The LTTE said that this had been his last wish.
Thileepan’s death brought sadness and sorrow and also fear to many people. Most of them had genuinely believed that the Indians would intervene and stop the disaster. They began to have doubts about India’s conduct. They began to say ‘this could have been avoided’ and ‘India should have moved fast’ and ‘India should not have let this happen’ and so on. The Tamil dailies began to carry articles criticising the handling of the whole issue by the Indians. I could feel the tension mounting.
Kumarappa and Pulendran arrested by Sri Lanka Navy
Following the death of Thileepan all other fasts were called off. But on the 3rd of October came the event which was destined to trigger off the final collapse of the Indo Sri Lanka Accord. The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and the Tamil and English dailies announced the headline news: two LTTE leaders, Kumarappa and Pulendran along with 12 others had been arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy and they were being held in the Army camp at Pallali. Panic struck Jaffna. There were rumours that the arrested leaders were severely tortured by the Sri Lankan security forces and that President Jayawardene had ordered their removal to Colombo for further interrogation.
The Tamil dailies carried head lines stating that the Indian military officers and high officials of the Indian High Commission had recommended the release of the captives but that this had been over ruled by the Sri Lankan government. I saw messages appearing on the LTTE’s giant blackboards at cross roads. There were reports that negotiations were underway for the release of the two leaders and the others who had been captured. This issue became the talk of the town. There was a big demand for Eelamurasu, the Tamil daily that was published by the LTTE in Jaffna From that which appeared in the Tamil dailies, I gathered that much discussion and behind the scene political moves were taking place daily for the release of the captives.
Arrested LTTE leaders take cyanide and die
But, suddenly, on the 5th of October, there was an announcement from local loud speaker carriers that all the captives, including the two leaders had taken cyanide and killed themselves. This according to the announcement, was to avoid torture and removal to Colombo. There was noticeable panic everywhere. I saw black flags coming up again and people standing at their gates to listen to the latest news from passers by. I saw the tension mounting and I felt a sharp deterioration in the overall situation in the peninsula.
Indian Army attacks
On October 10th, while I was on my way to Jaffna town, I was told that the IPKF had gone and blasted the premises of ‘Eelamurasu’ and damaged the buildings of ‘Murasoli’ and arrested all the employees. These attacks were reported to have taken place at 1a.m. and 6 a.m. respectively. And at 6a.m., LTTE’s TV station at Kopay was damaged by the IPKF and the equipment and machinery was removed. These actions by the IPKF were seen as unwarranted and they led to the LTTE taking up arms again.
As I neared Jaffna town, I saw vehicles carrying bands of young men in and out of the town. It was exactly 12.55 p.m. on the 10th of October that the bloody war started near Jaffna Central College. There was heavy firing which continued at least for about 40 to 45 minutes. Jaffna town was heavily crowded with people and all were taken by surprise, not knowing what was going on and which direction to flee. Mini vans packed with people fled from the main bus stand. Cyclists rolled one top of another, desperately trying to get onto the road. Pedestrians took to their heels and ran wildly in all directions. There was total pandemonium. I managed to get behind a crowd fleeing north and finally reached Vannarponnai, a village in the outskirts of Jaffna town. From there, I wasted no time in getting back home before the violence spread.
The next day I decided to get back to Jaffna to see what had happened. I did not know that a curfew had been declared. Like me, there were several others who were cycling together from Vaddukodai to go to Jaffna town. Everything looked normal. There were people on the road and here and there we saw vehicles moving on the road. Nothing seemed different until we reached Oddumadam which is small village on the outskirts of Jaffna town. We were stopped by young Tigers and some other people living in Oddumadam and asked to get back home. We heard loud explosions coming from the direction of the town. According to those who stopped us, there was continuous shelling from the Dutch Fort by the Indian Army ‘They are blowing up the town’ said the old folks. ‘You can’t go in now’ said the Tigers, all carrying weapons in their hands. We saw a helicopter which appeared to be coming from Karainagar. We ran into a nearby house and after the helicopter disappeared we were asked to return home immediately. We took no chances. We returned home
There was no news about the incidents in Jaffna except that which said in the Sri Lankan government’s news bulletins relayed by the SLBC, the newscast on All India Radio and the Manila Cheithigal (the Regional News) from India. But, the Tigers continued to release ‘Eelamurasu’ which came in a single sheet, and it was hard to obtain. Only a few copies were available in the Vaddukodai area and they were sold very quickly. It was sold at Rs.1/50 per copy and people were willing to pay double to get a copy. It was the only source available to read ‘the other side of the story’
The electricity supply was cut off and there were no lights throughout Jaffna from 10th October until our departure on the 14th of November. Everybody rushed to buy batteries for their radios, but batteries were difficult to find. We were told that the LTTE were buying batteries in bulk. Further inquiries revealed that the batteries were used for land mines. Without good batteries, the BBC World Service and the BBC Tamil Osai were hard to receive. News carried by people living in the immediate environs of Jaffna town was the only source of information available as to what was going on inside Jaffna. We heard frightening stories about killings in Jaffna. We approached the LTTE sentries for confirmation of some of the information that we had received, but they refused to comment. ‘The situation is bad and explosive. The Indians have betrayed us. They are killing civilians and they are firing motor shells indiscriminately into the civilian population constantly from the Fort and other military camps’, they remarked.
The Satanic Force