The situation in Jaffna began to deteriorate soon after the Elephant Pass battle. After operation “Valampuri” the islands and the Sangupitty ferry came under Sri Lankan army control.
The people who were travelling to the south of Jaffna had only one route left. The lagoon behind the Elephant pass camp was the only route, and due to rain people went through real hardship. Although the Sri Lankan army warned people not to use that path they did not have any alternative. The Army was demanding that the people should travel through the Elephant pass camp, the LTTE did not want people to travel through that as they felt it will open room for the army to use that path to enter easily. So people were left with no option but to take the risk and travel through the lagoon, which is called Kompadi.
Travelling on rafts and walking through mud for miles has become an adventure. Once in a way they come across shell attack. Later the army stopped attacking and allowed the passengers to travel although the ban is still officially valid.
It is really to the Jaffna people’s credit that they have managed to bear the pain and agony of travelling through Kompatti. Anybody who watches the way traders still carry things and transport goods which they have bought from Vavuniya is amazed!. Human capacity is very versatile and can be stretched to an unbelievable extent.
Prices have become too exorbitantly high. The food situation has become worse. The LTTE which was virtually controlling the food distribution, found that the people were beginning to resent their predicament. In several places the people felt that LTTE was replacing their old stocks with the new ones and distributing the old stock to them through Co-operatives.
A year ago the LTTE was claiming that they could continue the war and boasted that they had enough stocks of food supply. Now they turn around and announce over their Radio that their role is to fight and it is up to the people to feed them. People were bewildered by that pronouncement. The LTTE orchestrated a campaign in front of the Kachcheri demanding food from the Sri Lankan Government.
In January the situation started to ease after the traders were allowed to take things from Jaffna. At present the prices have come down. This has created some problem for the LTTE, which could not keep the prices up by storing up the things and allowing them to be sold through selected outlets. For one lorry load of goods to pass through the Kompaatti lagoon they are charging Rs 30,000. Each day the LTTE collects nearly Rs. 450,000 from the traders passing through Kompatti. Earlier when the transport was through Keratheevu ferry (in Sangupitty) the LTTE was charging only Rs15,000. But now the prices of things are going down even though the transport cost is very high, because both traders as well as the LTTE are in a hurry to sell their goods before the army’s entry. They are not keen on storing them now. Earlier prices were also kept artificially high partially due to the LTTE s policy.
The collection of gold sovereigns continues unabated. Those who have not paid already are sometimes asked to pay double or treble the amount. In many cases the householder was taken into custody and was only released after the family made arrangements to pay up. The age group in between 10 -25 are not allowed to leave Jaffna. But the implementation of these rules varies from area to area. Some people have managed to bring their children belonging to that age group by giving medical reasons or by paying additional money and so on. But those who are unable to pay and do not have proper contacts to do so don’t have any option. The ban imposed on this group shows the whole motivation of the LTTE. By trapping them they feel confident that they can use them when the time comes. It is some times funny that the pro LTTE papers abroad deny these things without even trying to find out what is happening. [Top]
Recently a news item regarding the Jaffna Medical faculty created a lot of ripples among the Tamil community here and abroad. We bring out the salient features which might throw some light on the hypocritical attitude taken by various actors. These facts may hurt some people but truth should be faced squarely if we really care for the future generations and want to create a new value system as today’s politics represents only the bankruptcy of the present value system.
Jaffna Medical faculty in its early days was almost fully staffed with highly motivated people. The situation began to deteriorate due to the Sri Lankan armys suppression of the militant movements and the escalation of the armed struggle leading to an exodus. The internal unhealthy attitudes in the administrative sector also frustrated many individuals who wanted to contribute to this community. After ‘86 the Faculty was functioning with a skeleton staff. In the early part of88, the faculty was even closed for a few months due to lack of staff. There were attempts made by high officials in the faculty to bring academic staff from India and the Indian High commission was also approached.
There was a committee appointed to study the feasibility of running the faculty. Students formed action committees to save the Medical faculty. They wrote letters to the doctors in the expatriate community to come and serve at least on a contract basis. They were asked not to abandon their present positions but to come and spend some time here and by doing so to arrest the exodus and slowly turn the trend. But all in vain. Those doctors who talk a lot about our Nation and Motherland felt that by sending some money and going for meetings they had done enough.
The one who had declined to run his department due to lack of staff earlier, got the faculty reopened with some minor changes when he was elected as the overall head of the administrative unit. This shows how the interests of the institutions are subjected to that of individuals.
It is important to note that the late Dr.Rajani Thiranagama, who was the Head of the Anatomy department, committed herself to run the department alone with some dedicated Demonstrators. When she assured the authorities that she would run the department, the above mentioned committee had asked whether she could give a written assurance saying that she can do that, as the concerned Professor who was heading the committee felt it was a very heavy load and she may not be able to cope with it later. Dr.Rajani Thiranagama was killed in September 1989 by some unknown “patriotic gun men”.
Certain administrators were keen to show certain forces in the community that her loss had not affected the faculty. And thus, to the dismay of the students, some temporary arrangements were made which were unsatisfactory for the students. When the students were trying to commemorate their dedicated teacher and proposed the newly constructed auditorium to be named after her, some senior group of academics thwarted that attempt by suddenly proposing the name of one of the former Deans who had passed away a few years before. When his name was proposed for a honorary degree earlier on in a senate meeting, it had got very negative reactions from the Medical staff themselves. But the eagerness to suppress Dr. Rajani Thiranagama’s memory at least brought out the memory of the former dean, which is an apt thing, as she was crying for the forgotten victims whose voices have never been heard but whose numbers were used to keep up the stranglehold of the present politics.
After the June war started a large number of staff have left, and the faculty has come to a standstill. The faculty is being run in name only, with a few staff members. The students feel that they are being let down. Large number of students, nearly 350, applied for transfer to the South. But the Faculty administration has advised the University not to give any transfers. There is a general feeling that the students have applied because they prefer to get degrees in the South which are recognised abroad and that these students are very selfish. There may be some truth in this. Even the staff who have left are accused of this crime. But the issue is not so simple as that. If there is a healthy environment, even if the war goes on, there will be many dedicated staff who would like to serve in Jaffna. But many feel that apart from the hardship they face because of the war, the poisonous environment in which there is no respect for human dignity and dedication is even worse. They cant air any opinion apart from nodding their heads in approval to certain quarters and have to live like zombies. All these makes them leave.
Then the situation of the students is also a very complex one. Of course there is an inducement that they can get a recognised degree by finishing in the South. But there are students who are even prepared to do some other degree in the south rather than go to Jaffna. They feel that they are being cheated by running the faculty for the sake of running it; a dead institution in every aspect and unable to provide even the minimum academic training for their professional course. It is the responsibility of the institution to provide and consider all the avenues to make sure that the students feel that their interests are being taken into consideration. The students feel cynical about all what is happening around them and the double standards of some of the individuals, whose main concern is to pleas the forces who are holding the power at the moment.It is unfair to criticise the students alone at this juncture.
Those students who stayed in Colombo for various reasons, including the Muslims students who were chased out of Jaffna, have not been fully accommodated in the southern universities. The reaction from the academics from various universities shows their pettiness and the inability to see things beyond their narrow horizon. Of course there are real problems in taking in additional students from another university when they are also facing shortages of staff. But the attitude taken by several senior academics stems rather from sheer prejudice and chauvinism. Some Senior Professor is supposed to have told his colleagues “let the Jaffna students come here, I’ll fail them all”. Because of the vocal opposition from these types of elements even others who have more enlightened views also have kept quiet. Only a few were arguing for a serious discussion in this matter. It is a very sad fact that most of the ordinary people have more enlightened views than most of the academics in the universities whether it is in the South or in the North.
One senior academic was quoted as saying that he was disgusted with the way this issue was handled at the faculty meetings. He further said that Minister Hameed was keen on finding a solution for the displaced Muslim students because they are Muslims. They were chased out of Jaffna because they are Muslims. The Faculty members in the South are also reluctant to take them because they are Muslims. Nobody wants to see them as students and they don’t realise that justice has to be done and that it is a responsibility of every one of us.
Against the above background only, the recent rumour of the closure of the Jaffna Medical Faculty created such varied responses from different quarters. After realising the difficulties the students and the staff are facing, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission wrote a letter to the Dean of the Medical Faculty, Jaffna, stating that if the faculty feels that they have difficulty in running it, the UGC is prepared to assist them in making some temporary arrangements in the South to run the faculty, as there may be more staff even on temporary arrangement. This was basically a goodwill offer and the decision was left to the faculty. These requests were made by several students earlier on an individual basis. Whether it is feasible is another problem. But the faculty could have used this opportunity to explore the possibilities of proper training for one or two senior batches if they felt it was worth while.
What really has happened is that a news item was splashed in the LTTE controlled papers saying that the faculty is going to be closed and moved to the South. This did not create much stir among the students as they were aware of the situation. But since they needed to satisfy some quarters, they just submitted a memo and left it at that. In Colombo the Tamil papers expressed their genuine concern over this by writing editorials raising some issues regarding this. Then the Chairman of the UGC clarified these matters and the whole affair died down after that. But among the expatriate community this was used to the maximum by the LTTE for propaganda. For instance in Amsterdam, there was a march organised by the LTTE supporters condemning the Government for its well planned move to deny the Tamils to have a Medical Faculty and to reduce the number of medical doctors in the Tamil community and so on. This was portrayed as part of the major genocide programme of the Sinhala Chauvinist Government!.
When there are genuine issues which need to be campaigned about and lot of things can be done for the betterment of the community, this type of false propaganda campaigns really weaken the whole cause. These types of campaigns show that a section of the community which has gone abroad permanently has some vested interests in the continuation of the war as well as in showing a black-and-white picture about the real complex reality.
It is ironical that most of the medical faculty students from Jaffna apply to the South or areas other than Jaffna for their placement after they pass out. Because of a dedicated few in the medical staff, Jaffna Hospital is functioning. It would have been worth while if the expatriate community organised some doctors to come to Jaffna on a voluntary basis to teach in Jaffna for the benefit of the students. [Top]
On the 26th of August 1991, students Manohar and Chelvi were arrested by the LTTE. A former student Thillainathan, who is a teacher was also arrested on the previous day. Manohar is a third year student who is an active member of Pax Christi and a pacifist who has shown his opposition to the arrests of other students. The two students Govintharajan and Srinivasan who were taken earlier on allegations that they had contacts with a group “Theepori” have been released recently. But the other members from the same organisation have not been released yet.
Manohar who despised the rampant violence which had enveloped our community, was angry about the role played by the intellectuals in the University and expressed his opinions very openly. He was very much involved in all the activities of the University students and tried his best to keep his independence. This was too much for the LTTE “Policemen” in the University to bear. During the Elephant Pass battle he was there in the hospital donating blood and giving all the assistance to the victims. He cried for the plight of those young boys who were brought to the hospital without limbs.
It is a crime in our society to feel for other people and their well being. People must be treated as dispensable matter, and if we are touching the emotion of the people about the deaths of others, it is only to reinforce our politics and not to question it. Yes, Manohar committed the crime of being concerned about the people and their tragedy, actively involving himself in whatever way he could to alleviate the pain of the suffering masses, and trying to be honest to his conscience. Still the LTTE has not openly given their reasons for the arrests. But as usual they deliberately let it out to certain sources that his crime was that he has been sending information to the UTHR(J). It is well known that UTHR(J) brings out information regarding the university which are publicly known among the university community.
Chelvi is another student who was involved in women’s issues and acted in dramas. She was once involved in the Women‘s section of the PLOTE, and when that organisation degenerated to the level of torturing and killing a large number of its cadres, she became disillusioned and left the organisation. She came back and joined the University to do her degree. she was very much involved in various social activities, including being a member of the University Women’s organisation, and very much concerned about the direction in which our struggle is going. The LTTE has not given any reason for her arrest also.
But she was arrested the day before the public staging of a drama in which she was acting. Since all cultural activity is controlled by the LTTE, when the English society wanted to put on a drama their scripts were passed by the “censors”. The drama was basically about a Palestinian prisoner who was tortured by the Israelis, and the defiance of the prisoner who vowed to fight for his mother land. Nobody thought it would offend the LTTE. It occurred to people only much later that torture and mistreatment of prisoners by state powers had been experienced by many Tamils. But this experience was alien to the LTTE. Its cadres had been ordered to take cyanide as a means of evading capture. Those imprisoned and later released were ostracised. To the LTTE, torture and brutality towards prisoners were not things experienced by them but only what they have meted out to the others. And worse, a member of the Jaffna literary scene now working for the LTTE, had commented that the heroine in the play was strongly reminiscent of the late Dr.Rajani Thiranagama.
Thillainathan, a teacher who was a former student was also arrested during that period. [Top]
During the latter part of October 1991,a number of people were publicly executed and several of their names were published in the LTTE controlled papers. Apart from these, there were also killings outside the peninsula which were not reported in the papers. General allegations against them varied from that of being informants to the IPKF to being involved in minor thefts. Most of the executions happened during the short period after the operation at Sangupitty,when the LTTE as well as the people were expecting the army to enter into the peninsula. The executions happened in such a way as to warn the people of the dire consequences they have to face if they tried to be too smart. People who have witnessed certain executions felt that they could not even identify the victims and only a few minutes were given for them to “confess”. Since the victims are invariably from another area, people have doubts about the identity of those victims and feel that the LTTE must be bringing some of their prisoners and getting rid of them as well as use them to frighten the people. [Top]
We have mentioned earlier the fate of the prisoners in the LTTE prisons. On and off they also release prisoners who have been involved in “minor” offences. Those who have been released are continuously monitored and warned that they should not utter a word to anybody about what happened to them during the interrogation. Since the threat is against the family members, even those who have gone to Colombo are scared to talk about it. More than that, if they take somebody they give an impression that they will release that person after the interrogation provided that the immediate family members keep quiet. Since the lives of the victim and the family are in the LTTE’s hand they hope for the best and keep silent. The first few months the LTTE will give an impression that they are approachable and send the relatives from camp to camp by giving them hope that if they meet such and such a person they can get some information. After some time they will inform them that there is no need to come every day to the camp and that they will inform them if and when they want to release the prisoners. Relatives unable to do any thing else wait for the release. They feel so powerless about their plight. The ICRC is unable to put pressure on the LTTE either. [Top]
On the 9th of December, when the G.C.E (O\L) exams were on, the Sri Lankan Air force dropped bombs near the Government Tamil School. In that attack a few teachers, the Principal and some students were injured. There was a lot of damage to the exam hall and to the school building. G.C.E (O/L) exams were held by the government and the air force knew that exams were going on in the schools. It was very lucky that nobody got killed.
Government has not taken any action for this type of unprovoked attacks on civilian targets. These type of actions shows the callousness and the disregard the security forces have behind their sweet talk about winning the hearts and minds of the people.
On the 18th of December the students from the university of Jaffna went on a march protesting against the bombing. Students were informed about the march only in the morning. About 250 students participated in the march and handed over a petition to the Government agent. [Top]
On the 7th of Dec 91, early in the morning the army from the Palaly camp began to move in the North-East direction from the camp towards the villages Iddaikaddu, Paththameni and Kathirippai. Shelling started in the morning at 5’clock. According to some sources, only a limited number of shells caused damage and most of the shells were plastic shells fired to force the people to move away. From the morning nearly 12,000 people began to leave further down towards Avarangal, Puththoor and Neerveli. People from certain areas from Atchuveli also left their homes and moved to adjacent villages.
At about 8.30 am bombers began their activity for a short spell.In Idaikaddu few houses were damaged due to the bombing. Three were killed on the spot.
The villages adjacent to Atchuveli are primarily involved in agricultural cultivation such as chilies, onions and vegetables. The people transported their products and other belongings in tractors and bullockcarts. The hiring charges for the tractor cost RS. 10,000 and for the bullockcarts cost nearly Rs 500 to transport the things only within a few miles.
The Army has moved into Valalai area,Idaikadu, a village between Atchuveli and Valalai is a no man’s land. People from there visit their homes in the day time and return to the refugee camps in the night. They expect the army to move in any time.
Refugees are staying in Atchuveli St.Joseph College, Christian College, St. Antonys Church, Avarangal Sivan temple and schools in Neerveli. [Top]
On the 10th of January shells were fired from Mandatheevu Island towards the costal areas of Jaffna town. Manuel Ratnam (age 56) from Gurunagar was seriously injured and later died in the hospital. Winchalos (age 30), P.Vanathy (age 17) and P.Ravikumar (age 8) were injured due to the shelling. Ravikumars leg has been amputated. He was playing near the church near Gurunagar sea street. People have moved to the O.L.R church and other camps in to the town. A few houses and shops were damaged. [Top]
On 10th January ‘92, the “Voice of Tigers” the LTTE radio news announced that three people who had contacts with traitors such as Alfred Thuraiappah and Inspector Bastiampillai, in the late 70s, had been arrested. The three are Parinpanayakam from Urumpirai, former C.I.D Inspector Thamotharampillai and one Mr.Chelliah from Madduvil. Alfred Thuraiappah was a former Mayor of Jaffna and was a SLFP supporter. His killing was the first political killing which started a new ugly chapter in our history. Inspector Bastiampillai was involved in hunting down the militants in the early stages of the struggle. He was famous for his ruthlesness and was very much despised by the people. He also was killed by the Tigers in an ambush.
The radio also alleged that “from the beginning of the Tamil Eelam struggle traitors to the race and renegades have been weakening the struggle. Our leader V.Praphahkaran identified these people and meted out death sentences, as punishment for those treacherous acts. Continuing the tradition of pronouncing death sentences on these type of people, has fallen on the LTTE leadership as a historical duty”.
Mr. Perinpanayagam was a close friend of late Alfred Thuraiappah. All three of them were arrested three months ago. Only on the 10th of January ‘92 the LTTE announced on the radio that three of them have been arrested. But they informed the family that Mr.Perinpanayagam was killed. [Top]
On the 10th of February at 5.30pm a bomb exploded in the old O.P.D block but fortunately nobody got killed. The Jaffna Hospital is under the supervision of ICRC and it is inside the protection zone declared by the ICRC. Immediately after the incident there were rumours regarding the reason for the explosion, saying that it was either a result of Army shelling or internal group fighting among the LTTE. According to the ICRC press release, the ICRC has categorically denied involvement of the security forces.
According to sources from Jaffna the fingers point to the Tigers but they could not give any clear reasons for the explosion. It has created panic among the hospital staff. People are giving different interpretation for the motivation. There are people who believe that it might have been caused by the infiltrators from other groups, but people who know the ground situation are sceptical about the claim. As usual the people in Jaffna, who do not want to discuss these things in public do create their own theories according to their whims and fancy. [Top]
The LTTE had recently ordered all the post offices in the Peninsula not to dispatch any letters without its permission. Every day the people who are assigned to go through the letters by the LTTE painstakingly do their job by opening the letters with the help of steam. In the process most of the letters get torn and don’t reach the people to whom the letters are written. But fortunately the people rarely send letters through the post. [Top]
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