INDIA'S ROLE - AN OVERVIEW
2.1††† Expectations about India's Role
In the weeks that followed the agony of the July 1983 racial violence, almost the entire population of the Tamils of Ceylon turned to India for protection. India responded to the crisis by first sending its Foreign Minister Narasinha Rao and then its special envoy Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy, to negotiate a settlement between the Government and the Tamil representatives. In the Sunday Times of 16 August, 1987, Mr. Neelan Tiruchelvam (T.U.L.F.) had praised the scholarly and painstaking efforts of Mr. Parthasarathy's which were combined with disarming courtesy. The substance of the proposals drafted by Mr. Parthasarathy in consultation with President Jayawardene and accepted by the President was contained in the document known as Annexure C. Later, the President had other ideas and went back on these proposals. These proposals with variations have represented India's stand. The same family of ideas form the fabric of the December 19th proposals and finally the accord of 29 July, 1987. All these have envisaged provincial councils with substantial powers over law, education and policing devolved to them. The tricky issues over which considerable time continues to be spent, centre around the question of land-settlement on which the Tamils have well-founded fears. Everyone knows that India also had certain foreign policy interests in Ceylon. A commitment to non-alignment had served Sri Lanka well where relations with India were concerned. But friction had been created by the Jayawardene Government's tilting towards the West. India would also like to ensure that no hostile power would use the natural harbour at Trincomalee. These were not grudged. The Tamils were confident that India would never let them down. Up to this point no one had anything but good words for India's efforts.
In the wake of July 1983, together with refugees, a substantial number of militant recruits were also heading towards Tamil Nadu, the latter for training. This was India's second front in the event of the negotiations failing. Today's problems originate from the manner in which this front was handled.
Shortly after agreeing to Mr. Parthasarathy's proposals, Lalith Athulathmudali was appointed minister for the new Ministry of National Security in January 1984. Defence expenditures soon escalated to the region of U.S. $ 300,000,000, or 15 to 20% of the national budget. It soon became clear that Sri Lanka had moved closer to the West, making new arrangements with western powers, in a fresh bid to find a military solution to its Tamil problem. Though Ceylon had severed diplomatic links with Israel in 1970, an Israeli Interests Section was established on the U.S. Embassy premises in Colombo in 1984. The Israeli agencies Mossad and Shin Bet, which specialised in under-cover and intelligence operations, began helping the Sri Lankan forces (as described in the article by Jane Hunter in Israeli Foreign Affairs, May 1986). Keeny Meeny Services (K.M.S.), an off-shore British security form, made available former S.A.S. men to train Sri Lanka's notorious Special Task Force (S.T.F.). The contention by British officials that this was a purely commercial arrangement between a private firm and the Sri Lankan government, was taken to be merely for the sake of formality. Pakistani instructors became involved in training, both in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the Black Shirts (a unit of the Sri Lanka Army in black uniform) and Home Guard units. The training of the Black Shirts, popularly known as the Black Devils, reportedly involved teaching them to look upon Tamils as enemies. This was reflected in the utter devastation of Tamil villages in the Trincomalee District where they were deployed.
Central to these arrangements was evidently, the role of the United States. President Ronald Reagan's envoy General Vernon Walters, who later was to be the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., arrived in Colombo in December 1984 and is reported to have had talks with President Jayewardene and Lalith Athulathmudali. With India providing succour to the Tamil militants, it appeared as though a proxy war was being fought in Ceylon between Indian and Western interests, from 1984 to mid-1987. This period also marked the beginning of the proliferation of state sponsored paramilitary forces in Sri Lanka, a process that had a momentum of its own.
However, Tamils in Ceylon were generally confident that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was equal to meeting the deceitfulness of the Sri Lankan regime. It is said that when the T.U.L.F. leader, Mr. Amirthalingam, received news of her assassination when he was at the Jaffna Railway Station in October 1984, he was rendered speechless for several minutes. Her death was perhaps mourned with greater intensity in Jaffna than anywhere else. Be that as it may, except for a change in style, it would be erroneous to suppose that Indian policy changed substantively after Mrs. Gandhi. The Tamil leadership, both T.U.L.F. and militant, did however feel treated less respectfully by India following her demise. This treatment might have had serious negative consequences in the long term, particularly in Indian dealings with the L.T.T.E..
The present mood amongst the Tamils of Ceylon is one of bewilderment over India's conduct during the war of October 1987. The pain and shock of mental disillusionment with India has been only slightly less than those from the physical suffering. People could hardly believe their ears as the Indians shelled them from land and air. "Perhaps", they said, "this shelling is only a misguided preliminary. The Indian soldiers are different from Sri Lankan soldiers. They will be reasonable once they come." This hope too was tragically disappointed as hundreds were shot dead for no other reason than that they were in a place where the Indian troops were angry.
When people expressed their feelings to Indian army officers and asked why this happened, they were told: "This is war; we have lost three hundred men. Be happy that you are alive and think about the future." When people say: "India said she was sending her troops to protect us. But now, as a result of Indian Army action we have lost many of our children, fathers and mothers, as well as our houses and goods.", they are told in response: "These things happen in war, there is nothing we can do." The results of Indian involvement are clearly different from what the world expected.
It is well to look into the persistent criticism made by the Indian government against the military action of the Sri Lankan government in the Tamil areas. Every time there was civilian suffering amongst the Tamils as a result of the Sri Lankan government's military action, India was unfailing in expressing her concern. The Sri Lankan Government's military action culminated in the shelling and bombing of the civilian population, shelling of hospitals, the killing of patients, massacres of civilians, torture and the displacement of populations. All these were again and again roundly condemned by India. The case against the Sri Lankan Government has been pursued at the U.N. Human Rights Sub-commission by India. The Prime Minister of India has repeatedly warned the Sri Lankan government against its attempts at a military solution of the ethnic question, stressing that only a political solution would be viable. The Indian government exerted pressure, on humanitarian grounds, on the Sri Lankan government to prevent it from closing Jaffna Hospital. The Indian air drop of relief supplies to Jaffna on 4 June 1987 and the supply of food to Jaffna's residents by the Indian Red Cross were publicly motivated by the sufferings of numerous refugees following the Sri Lankan Government's Vadamaratchi operation.
It was clear to the international community that the role envisaged for the I.P.K.F. (Indian Peace Keeping Force) in Ceylon was a most unusual one. Though legal technicalities were satisfied, the wide-spread feeling remained that Ceylon's national independence and sovereignty were put into question. Yet the international community welcomed this arrangement, mainly for the reason that they felt that the Sri Lankan Government was unable to solve this problem. It lacked the will to solve it and, because of the immense human suffering it had caused, it lacked the moral right to try again. Thus the international community expected far higher standards of India and expected India to solve the problem competently, without resort to methods similar to those of the Sri Lankan government. Indian spokesmen, including Lieutenant General Depinder Singh, Chief of the Southern Command, gave the impression that if the need arose they possessed competent means to retrieve arms from the L.T.T.E. (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). Moreover India's coming to Ceylon as a peace keeping force was expected to place restraints on her mode of operation. Her men were expected to be thoroughly disciplined and sensitive to civilian problems.
It was clearly unacceptable that the I.P.K.F. should fire shells into civilian populated areas. When questioned, Indian officers would say that if they are ordered to take a town they must first shell it, adding that we civilians are ignorant of military methods. We feel here that such a stand-point is unacceptable in terms of what was expected of a peace keeping force and in terms of India's oft repeated sentiments on the matter. The shelling seldom affected or intimidated the L.T.T.E.. The victims were almost always civilians.
Apart from the expectations of the international community and the Tamils, such use of its fire power by the I.P.K.F. must also be seen in the context of a remark made by the Prime Minister of India in early 1987, when questioned by the Press as to whether the situation in Sri Lanka had any resemblance to that in the Punjab. The Prime Minister of India replied, that unlike the Government of Sri Lanka, the Government of India had neither shelled nor aerially bombarded its own civilian population. India's moral right to intervene in Sri Lanka was based on the expectation that it would fulfil obligations, which the Sri Lankan Government could not keep towards Tamil civilians.
2.2††† India and the Militants
It is generally known that senior members of militant groups were resident in Tamil Nadu. The repeated claim by the Sri Lankan government and the international press was that the militants were receiving both arms and training through India. India's position has been that she had only Tamil refugees. However the Sri Lankan government took its claim seriously and attached the highest importance to sealing off the Palk Straits by strengthening and deploying its navy. Several militant leaders and expatriate Tamils have been frank about the links the Indian government and its intelligence agency R.A.W. had with militant groups. Such relationships ignore moral considerations and are governed by mutual cynicism. Each thought it was using the other.
Amongst the Tamil civilians in Ceylon, there was the uncomfortable feeling that they did not really matter and were merely pawns in the game. Still people generally expected high standards from India. More doubts emerged as the result of the conduct of the Indian police and the Tamil Nadu government over internal killings in India. Accounts of torture and killings by the P.L.O.T.E. of its own members, many of whom had qualms of conscience, emerged in many prominent Indian newspapers around early 1985. These killings had taken place on Indian soil. The matter was ignored by the police. Such experiences with the Indian police were many. To give two instances, Mr. Santhathiar, a prominent P.L.O.T.E. dissident, was murdered by members of the P.L.O.T.E. in Tamil Nadu. The police took no action when a report was made by Mr. A. David, a senior architect from Ceylon. Subsequently, an influential Tamil expatriate in London telephoned a businessman-friend in Tamil Nadu, who in turn contacted Mr. Somasundaram, a minister in the State Government. It was after all this that the accused was taken in, only to be released later. Another case is that of Ruban who left the L.T.T.E. for reasons of conscience and became involved in refugee work. One day in late 1984, he was walking in the company of friends when he was accosted by members of the L.T.T.E.. They proceeded to beat him to death. No action was taken when a well known figure reported the matter to the Tamil Nadu Police. It is relevant here that the militant leaders, especially Mr. Prabhakaran of the L.T.T.E. and Mr. Uma Maheswaran of the P.L.O.T.E. moved in the highest circles in South India and their organisations were well-funded. Reports have persistently surfaced in the press linking some of the militant groups with the narcotics trade. The latest was a report by the London Sunday Times' investigation team linking the L.T.T.E. prominently with this trade [Sunday Times (London) 30 August 87]. It was clear that the process of the law in India had been interfered with to an extent that many countries would have considered intolerable, for reasons of expediency. What this will mean for India in the long run is another question.
The Sri Lankan Government and the international community were publicly aware that India was using the Tamil militant groups to twist the Sri Lankan Government's arm. Informed observers in Jaffna were aware that the L.T.T.E. could obtain enough arms to keep the Sri Lankan Army at bay and no more. It was unable to obtain anti-aircraft weapons. The gift by Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister, Mr. M.G. Ramachandran, of £3 million to the L.T.T.E. and £1 million to the E.R.O.S. for "refugee work" soon after the Sri Lankan Government's "Operation Liberation", is another case in point. Considering that there were several institutions more experienced in refugee work, this was generally treated as a gesture of support for the L.T.T.E. and the E.R.O.S. having the blessings of the Indian Government. This was hinted at by† the B.B.C.'s Mark Tully.
During the two months after the Indo-Sri Lanka accord of 1987, the I.P.K.F. isolated itself from the public. But some of its senior men had close relations with the L.T.T.E. high ranks. There was even a social life of sorts. A colonel in the I.P.K.F. once talked of having attended the wedding of the L.T.T.E.'s Kumarappa, who committed suicide when he was about to be transported to Colombo. At the wedding he had presented the bride with a sari. He also reflected with some sadness on how the L.T.T.E. leaders used to bring them gifts of prawns and other seafood, and went on to show photographs taken on the beach where he was present. Amongst the L.T.T.E. leaders in the photograph were Mahattaya and Kumarappa.
2.3††† Scenes from the October 1987 War
In Karainagar, a crowd was watching the England Versus India test cricket match on a television screen supplied by a generator, because the electricity had been cut. The following day, 5 November, an Indian helicopter shelled the area killing eleven persons. This raid seems to have been carried out on the basis of the flimsy, uncorroborated speculation that passed for intelligence. The shelling of Chavakachcheri town was similar. The town was shelled from an Indian helicopter at mid-day on 27 October, 1987. The market area where the shells fell was full of ordinary people and refugees from further north. According to Mr. S.G. Deva, an eye-witness, there was nothing in the area at that time to distinguish it as an L.T.T.E. target. Between twenty and forty persons were killed. A dead mother was hugging her dead child and a piece of shrapnel had entered through her body and pierced the child she was carrying. According to a traveller who passed through Chavakachcheri market an hour before the aerial shelling, he had seen a Datsun pick-up mounted with a 50 calibre machine gun and armed L.T.T.E. men moving slowly through the market. He had remarked to some friends that there would be trouble as an Indian observation helicopter had been around. This however does not justify the action taken an hour later. Refugees who were waiting to go south at Sangupitty jetty were fire-bombed from a helicopter on 25 October. An eye-witness account appeared in the Sunday Times of 1 November. It may be noted that refugees fleeing the Sri Lankan Army's "Operation Liberation" in May 1987 were not molested in this way. A similar tragedy overtook several people attempting to get across to the Islands from the Araly jetty on 22 October. Seventeen were reported killed when boats carrying civilians were fired upon from the air.
On 3 November Mrs. Lily Rajah and three of her grandchildren, two boys and a girl were shot dead while being taken by the I.P.K.F., in front of the residence of the Solomons on the Maruthanamadam Road at Uduvil. There had been no provocation. According to one source, an I.P.K.F. officer had shouted: "Stop it". But by then it was too late. The two sons-in-law of the Solomons who had been called out were let off after the family pleaded on their knees.
From November onwards there were reported an increasing number of cases of rape, molestation and theft, by men from the I.P.K.F.. When soldiers were doing a search at Karanthan, near Urumpirai, they came upon a house where all the occupants were women refugees. The soldiers closed the door and spent up to an hour inside. This incident which took place on 16th November was related by one of those involved, now living in Rakka Lane, Chundikuli. She had been let off after pleading and crying on her knees. On 28th November in Urumpirai north, a lone soldier went into a house where a girl was. The soldier ran away when the mother and the neighbours started screaming. On 14 November, a university student who had lost her mother and grandmother in Urumpirai when they were shot by advancing I.P.K.F. troops, was being taken from Uduvil to Jaffna by an uncle. At Manipay she stopped at a friend's place where the father, mother and son were standing out, watched by two soldiers. The soldiers motioned the girl to go inside and the uncle to stay out. Sensing what was in store, the girl screamed. Her uncle asked everyone to join in the screaming. Some soldiers rushed out of the house and the whole lot of them ran away. The girl of the house had been twice raped by soldiers. She had been afraid to scream thinking that the rest of the family would be shot. The son of the house, also a university student, had been in a group of 20 boys who had been kicked and assaulted by soldiers earlier that day. The son complained to an army captain in the area. The captain replied: "I am sorry. I take full responsibility for the incident. We were angry after we went hunting for arms and did not find any. I ordered the men to beat up some young men. They are disciplined. They only follow orders." The girls have now left for Colombo.
Major Parameswara Iyer who was the I.P.K.F. commandant at Uduvil was widely regarded as a good man. He listened to the problems of the people sympathetically and made a strong effort to maintain discipline. On the morning of 25 November, he and three of his men were killed while on a search in the Dutch Road area. the captain at Uduvil Girls' School, one Sharma, was angry. The area was subject to shelling. Mr. Thanjaratnam, a pensioner, was killed while riding his bicycle. Mr. Cameron, an old man above 70, wearing a turban, was carrying a bottle of milk and had come to Uduvil junction to purchase bread. He was shot dead. A mother who had been injured by the shelling was being taken on a bicycle for medical treatment by her son. As they came up Ark Lane onto the Uduvil-Manipay Road, they were shot at by the troops from Uduvil junction. The mother died and the son escaped. A lady who is a teacher and member of the Uduvil Church said that at least 12 civilians were killed on that day.
A female student from the university who had been with her grand-mother at Pandatheruppu had this to say:
"There and in the neighbouring areas of Sandilipai and Chankanai, people live in constant fear of shelling, assault and searches. The L.T.T.E. goes to an area, fires a few shots and runs away. Then the I.P.K.F. soldiers run amok. When the market was reopened, someone came and fired a shot and ran away. The soldiers started beating people. One keerai (spinach) seller was shot dead. During the first week of December, four I.P.K.F. men were shot dead by the L.T.T.E. along the Sandilipai-Pandatheruppu road. A farmer working in the paddy field was shot and injured by Indian troops. Neighbours took him to the I.P.K.F. camps at Mathagal and Pandatheruppu for medical treatment and were turned away. The farmer died. The next day, these I.P.K.F. camps were again offering medical treatment to civilians.
"We are in fear of searches, when soldiers would suddenly jump into our compounds. During one such search a soldier beat up the girl in the neighbouring house and forced her into a room. The others in the house and we screamed. Another group of soldiers arrived on the scene and the first lot ran away. The Colonel is apparently a decent man. The miscreants were caught and court-martialled. My aunt in Pandatheruppu too was once harassed by soldiers. But she stood firm. The Colonel told us that this was a recurrent problem when the army was on exercises in remote Indian villages. The army unit is normally moved away before complaints become too many. The former Citizens' Committee from L.T.T.E. days has now been resurrected under the I.P.K.F.. The Colonel told them of how he had been fired upon while in the camp and showed some tiny bullets. He told them, "You must put a stop to this. I am considerate and did not do anything this time. The next time, I will shell the place." The Citizens' Committee apologised profusely. During an operation, I heard the Colonel ordering his men over the wireless. He was telling them not to shoot anyone, but if necessary to give chase. But I do not know how good such instructions will be when a trooper gets killed."
On the 7th November, Indian troops in Inuvil and Maruthanamadam were tense as the result of reports of L.T.T.E. movements in that area. A tractor carrying bags of rice for a refugee camp and coming from the west through a lane, crossed the K.K.S. road a few yards south of Inuvil Hospital. In the process, it knocked against an I.P.K.F. barrier and crossed into the lane opposite, going east. The I.P.K.F. sentry at Maruthanamadam fired shells which went over the hospital and fell near the lane. One fell on the house of a Prof. Chandrasegaram who was sleeping under a table with his legs sticking out. His legs were badly mangled. He was admitted to the hospital and died a few hours later.
At Atchuvely, during the first week of November, some L.T.T.E. members threw grenades at the I.P.K.F. and escaped through a Proctor Balasingam's house. Two soldiers were killed. Soldiers entered Proctor Balasingam's house and called out the Proctor, his wife and another person, who were helpless parties in the matter. Subsequently all three were shot dead.
Despite a publicly expressed wish by the Indian authorities to restore normality, public service employees, hospital employees and University employees get beaten up by Indian troops at Manipay, Sandilipay, Thavady, Uduvil and Maruthanamadam as they report for work.
On the night of 7 December, about thirty L.T.T.E. men arrived at a small temple at Kondavil. The people of that area went to them and asked them to leave, saying that their lives were going to be endangered. The L.T.T.E. refused to leave. The people then replied that they were going to inform the I.P.K.F.. The L.T.T.E. men replied: "You need not bother, we can do it ourselves". Saying this, they fired their guns into the air. The people hurriedly left that area and went into temples. The newly arrived troops surrounded the area in the morning. Some L.T.T.E. men who remained behind, shot at the soldiers and ran away. Two soldiers were killed. That morning, some C.T.B. (Ceylon Transport Board) workers were driving to work in a bus, towards Kondavil depot, as a part of the effort by the Indian authorities to restore normality. At Kondavil junction, the bus was stopped by soldiers and the driver and conductor were very badly assaulted. Each time the wounded man groaned, angry soldiers hammered the bus and broke some of its windows. The driver and conductor thought they were finished, when, fortunately, an officer arrived and asked the soldiers to call it off. During this ordeal, the remaining CTB employees lay on the floor of the bus saying their prayers.
That same night, Mr. Balasingam, the brother of Mr. Thuraisingam, office assistant to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Jaffna, and his uncle Mr. Kopalasingam remained behind in their home at Kondavil to safeguard it from robbers, whilst others betook themselves to the temple. Soldiers came and called them out. Mr. Balasingam was stabbed to death and Mr. Kopalasingam was admitted to hospital with gunshot injuries. Mr. Balasingam had got married only a year previously. Two other young men were summoned from the entrance to a temple where they were standing and stabbed to death. In all six civilians were stabbed to death that night.
On that day (8 December), a local curfew was suddenly imposed in a wide area stretching from Inuvil to Kopay at 11.00 a.m. Many who went to work or to buy essentials in town suddenly found themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere. Knowing that their families would have a sleepless night if they did not return, they made risky detours through country lanes avoiding the main roads. A typical experience was that of Mr. Murugavel's, the University Librarian, who had to get back home to Erlalai: "We were going north along Rajapathai when I saw some people rushing towards me, going south. We stopped to ask what the matter was. They rushed past me without stopping. Suddenly gun shots started whizzing past us. We turned our bicycles around and hooked it. We then went east, crossed Pt. Pedro Road and went north through lanes in order to avoid the army sentries at Irupalai and Kopay. We crossed the Kopay - Kaithadi Road at a point 300 yards east of the Kopay sentry and got into another lane. Further down, we headed west, crossing the Pt. Pedro Road and went towards Puttur along a lane. We then got to Erlalai by travelling along the Puttur - Chunnakam Road." These are the conditions of normality under which thousands report for work!
On 27 November, Mr. Gananathan was going from Sandilipay towards Jaffna when he was stopped by the army sentry at the Kattudai irrigation channel and was asked to join a party of nine others in the channel, standing waist deep in water. Amongst the party were 3 girls and a pensioner who had taken advantage of the I.P.K.F.'s "normality" to go to Jaffna and collect his pension. The pensioner tried to plead his case, only to be by the soldiers: "We are dying and you want you pension eh!" They were told further that a party of thirty soldiers had gone looking for the L.T.T.E. and if anyone of them came to harm, they would all be killed. Gun shots were periodically fired into the water above and around them. Gananathan, who had on a previous occasion got to know one of the Sikh soldiers at the Sandilipay sentry point, tried appealing to him: "You are my friend." "You are not my friend today," came the reply. Someone from the I.P.K.F. inquired over the wireless as to what was happening. "There is a queue waiting for rice", replied one of the soldiers. All seemed to enjoy the little joke. The party was let off after 45 minutes. During that interval they had appealed to all the gods in the pantheon. Eleven I.P.K.F. soldiers were killed in that area the following day when they surrounded a party of the L.T.T.E..
2.4†††††† Encounters with Indians during the War
Our reports suggest that in encounters between civilians and officers, the latter were frequently arrogant and over-bearing. There was little effort to face up to where things had gone wrong. Civilians were often hectored and bullied and the civilians merely swallowed their feelings.
On the other hand we have met some young, reflective officers who have displayed intelligence, courtesy and a desire to learn more about problems here by listening to civilians. One such person was a young Major. He recognised that women had a problem and had spread the word encouraging them to scream if they sensed danger. In all cases that we have heard of, this has worked. He had noted in his diary the Tamil words for, "come out, do not be afraid." He told us that he had been in town during the advance, and when people had expressed an inability to move to camps, he had advised them to close up and stay inside. Having known him, we believe he was telling the truth.
A common belief amongst the Indian officers is that they were engaged in a full scale war. Many of the officers were brought in, after hostilities broke out, with little or no knowledge of the complexities of the situation they faced. They were simply ordered to take Jaffna and they went according to their books as if they were facing a highly sophisticated standing army. The enemy was in fact a group of 2,000 teenagers, fighting in any manner they could improvise, caring as little about civilian lives. By available accounts the Indian force consisted of over 20,000 men, supported by tanks and artillery. Some officers confessed that they had to come here in a hurry after picking up something of the situation from Front Line magazine and from Tamil friends.
A Major attached to the Gurkha Regiment stationed near Thirunelvely, explained to some members of the University staff: "The Gurkhas form the most disciplined regiment in the Indian Army. Last night (14th December) we heard some firing from the Thirunelvely colony. I ordered my men to hold their fire and to shoot only if they saw someone shooting at them. I know that the L.T.T.E. was given to such provocation in the hope that several civilians would be killed during reprisals."
At least one Major in the Gurkha regiment was intelligent enough to understand the L.T.T.E.'s strategy. He understood that all that is required of the L.T.T.E. to rattle the I.P.K.F. and to obstruct any semblance of normality is to fire a few shots and run away. As a pre-condition for normality, the I.P.K.F. must first make up its mind as to whether it is going to be a real peace keeping force or an undisciplined army. When the Indian Army undertook the peace keeping role, it should have been prepared to sustain casualties. But taking reprisals against civilians on sustaining casualties has become the normal thing. An exception was when two soldiers from the Madras regiment were killed in Chunnakam, on the 14th of December. The I.P.K.F. has such a low regard for the civilian population, that reprisals against civilians are not taken seriously. We do not know of any soldier being court-martialled for killing unarmed civilians. A casual attitude to civilian deaths certainly emanates from the top. A top ranking military official was questioned about the shelling of the civilian population. He said: "I have not used shelling in my area. But if this situation continues, I will have to think about it."
It has been evident that many soldiers from Tamil Nadu have found what was happening here too much to stomach. A Jawan once said: "You should see the destruction at Urumpirai and Kopay. Hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed. But the Tigers have escaped. Be careful, the northerners are in a bilious mood." Here he was referring to the North Indians in the I.P.K.F.. A touching piece of advice came from an army officer from Tamil Nadu who took a respected member of the community aside and poured out what had been bothering him. He said: "If you have been in Jaffna town, you would not know the full extent of the hardships suffered by the people. You should go towards Urumpirai and see what has happened. Innocent people have been killed by the hundreds. We officers understand the problem independently of whether they are Tamil of not. The Jawans are from all over India, from different cultures and are very ignorant. They do not know a Tamil from a Sinhalese. For them, even a 5 year old child is a Tiger. If one shot is fired they will fire a round. If one of them is killed, they will simply kill ten civilians. It is only now that we are trying to conduct some lectures and are trying to explain the situation to them. I am so tired. I wish to resign from the army in four months' time."
The community leader tried to comfort him by telling him that the Tamils had also suffered from the actions of the Sri Lankan Army. The officer waved his hand and shook his head. He said, "An army is an army. All armies are the same. The Indian Army is the world's most undisciplined army. One thing I can tell you is that, now that the I.P.K.F. is here, the people will have to choose between the I.P.K.F. and the L.T.T.E., and you cannot get the Indian Army out by shooting. If the L.T.T.E. shoots one, the Indian Army will shoot ten. If you must protest, as you should, bring a hundred thousand people and have a demonstration. But avoid shooting at all costs."
2.5†††††† A Personal Assessment
Perhaps, the following comment from a university lecturer in medicine offers something towards understanding the present crisis:
"I think the whole psychology of the Indian Army changed following the landing of commandos at Thirunelvely on 12 October. That was an area where there was a high concentration of L.T.T.E. men and the L.T.T.E. was able to mobilise effectively. Having spurned air-cover (which the Sri Lankans never did), the commandos suffered an unexpected reverse. Up to about that time the Indian Army showed concern for civilian life. Around then a convoy of Indian troops came past my house. They were at ease and were waving at civilians. The L.T.T.E. fired at the convoy and my own house became a battle ground. I had to flee with a lady and children who were with me. We were at first fired upon and, later, when they realised that were were not L.T.T.E. men, we were allowed to walk away unharmed. The army asked the people in the next house to come out with their hands up. But when they came out, an L.T.T.E. boy sneaked up behind them and fired at the army. The officer shouted asking them to get inside the house and allowed them time to do so before opening fire. There was a very real sense in which the L.T.T.E. was using civilian cover. But not in the crude sense claimed by All India Radio. During that experience, the Indian Army displayed concern for civilian life.
"Then I feel the psychology changed and there was a deliberate decision to use terror. The intensity of killing at Urumpirai a week later was very different from what I had experienced. Shelling a large army concentrated behind a battle front is understandable. But in our context, with a small thinly spread out guerrilla force, shelling becomes a weapon of terror. It all leaves a bad taste. The Indian Army may have been disorganised in many things. But the suspicion that there was a deliberate decision to terrorize is reinforced by a remarkable consistency in the threats made. It became common-place for different companies of officers and Jawans to say things like, "I will shoot you" or "I will flatten this place." It was a tragic step for Mahatma Gandhi's India." [Top]
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