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Chapter 2

2.0 Incidents At University of Jaffna: 1st And 2nd February.

2.2The Town Commandant’s Office

2.3 The Media

2.0 Incidents At University of Jaffna: 1st And 2nd February.

On the 1st of February at about 5.30 r.n.. 2 IPKF vehicles commanded by the Major from the Thirunelvely came went past the University entrance towards Kaladdy, west wards. On seeing a youth carrying a parcel coming towards the University road along Coomarasamy road, the second vehicle stopped and called the boy. The boy immediately ran through the main entrance of the University, across the playground diagonally towards the library and found his way out through the back entrance of the University on the northern perimeter. At the time there were about 20 students in the football grounds about to begin playing. Other students as well as security guards were about the place after their days work was done. The soldiers opened fire from outside the gate and followed in pursuit, still firm— from the main entrance. Bullets went in all directions. That the firing was random is attested by the fact that bullet marks were found on the gate, security booth, security office and other buildings. Some bullets went through the windows of the library where over a 100 students were present The bullets covered a range of 120m. The students in the football grounds promptly fell flat. Four students on the main thoroughfare 73 m. from  the entrance felt bullets while past them. Umashankar one of them, was injured in the thigh. The soldiers ran across the football field after their quarry, hitting the players, towards the library. Once they had reached the library a lecturer in mathematics came with his hands up and talked with the commanding officer. Checks were conducted on students in. the library and the army was seen out around 6.30p.m. Soldiers left picking up tee empty shells as  they went. One of the shells found later was that of a Dum-Dum bullet which explodes upon entry. One of the members accompanying the army was identified as  Jappan formerly a member of the LTTE and now believed to be with another movement. During the Operation, about 15 students were taken out, made to lie down on Ramanathan Road and trampled.[Top]

2nd  February

At general body meeting of the students was celled at 9.03 a.m. to discuss the shooting and to decide on a form of protest A meeting of the action committee comprising of all academic staff, employees and student’s unions was fixed for 10.00 a.m The student leadership called for a sit-in protest inside the University. Some members urged a strong a protest in the form of a peaceful roadblock. It was said by -one student leader that if the-re were not a sufficient number of students, who were willing to go to the function, they would decide on a sit-in but if there were a sufficient number of students, a roadblock could be considered. The student  leaders then left for the action committee meeting and told the committee that t they had decided to have an hour a sit—in protect just outside the University entrance. Another representative of the medical faculty said that they had decided en a roadblock as a form of protest. Some of student leaders had gone to; get their :placards ready When the students came out of the Kailasapathy Auditorium most of them wanted to wait for the leaders before beginning the protest Other students were by this time moving towards the entrance. It must be mentioned that at no time was mood of the students confrontational. Once near the entrance, after 20 minutes some students present urged others to move towards Parameswara Junction. They believed that when they moved towards the junction the army would . meet them and they would explain their grievances to the army before getting back. That this was indeed the case was attested by the fact that, when two IPKF vehicles commanded by the Thirunelvely Major, responsible for the previous days actions came past the University towards Kalladdy there was no attempt made to stop them.The students on the road moved, aside and let them pass. Having passed the students the vehicles stopped and the major told the students in strong tones to get back to the University or

else there would be trouble. The vehicles then turned and went along the ­Coomarasamy Road towards the South. More students including girls then joined the procession. The action committee members arrived on the scene 10 minutes of tar several students not to go on to the road. But it was too late to recall those who had left.

The procession went up to Palaly Road and the students consisting largely of female students were seated at the bend of the road where Paremeshwara Road meets Palaly Road. Within a few minutes the same Major’s party came along Palaly Road from the South and called the student leaders to come forward. Soon, a second year physical science student went to him and told him that the protest was against what had taken place the previous evening and that they had planned to have an hours peaceful demonstration and that since already 40 minutes had elapsed they would return to the University in an other 20 minutes. The Major for Thirunelvely district started abusing him and told him that another three minutes would be given for the party to disperse and if not he would not be responsible for the consequences. The student went back to consult his fellow students ant then came forward end asked him to please explain the previous days incident to them. The Major shouted that the demonstrators should get back in 30 seconds. He personally assaulted Soori and his army personnel followed suit, beating up the students with their gun butts, hands and sticks including broomsticks from nearby shops. The students were now backing away fast. More army personnel came forward with pieces of firewoods, broomsticks etc. A senior student was stabbed end many others received slashes drawn with Gurkha knives. The students were about 100 yards away from the main camp. Stones wore then hurled at the students by soldiers who came chasing after them. Some of the students picked up the stones and threw them back at the army. Four army personnel then positioned themselves 60 m away from the students one knelt down, two others were standing  and the three of them opened fire at the crowd.  There were no warning shots but bullets were fired from their guns, some upwards and others straight ahead into the crowd at the same time. The firing lasted about 5 seconds. Some students report having heard an officer issue the order “open fire”.

Twelve fell victim to the gun shots o which two succumbed to injuries later on at the hospital. These who died later were first found lying 27 m away from the main entrance. They bled for nearly 5 minutes. T.Sathiyenthira (22), Jaffna, 1st year in Medicine died of a bullet piercing through his back and entering his heart. S. Jeganathan (23), Purhukudiyireppu, 1st year in physical science died of injuries in the head. 8 others injured had reportedly received gun shots above nee. Two hours later members of the C.V.F(Civil Volunteer Force) and the IPKF went along the lanes in the vicinity of the campus and threatened the lives of those who would continue  to house University students. The body of T.Sathiyenthira was brought to the University at 1.30 p.m. the following day and taken to his house followed by a silent procession of students and staff members.

It was felt that an avoidance of rhetorical gestures would best revere the occasion, and demonstrate that we were capable of honouring our dead with discipline and dignity.

After being brought to the University at the same time as that Sathiyenthira, the body of S. Jeganathan was taken to Mullaitivu by hearse, accompanied by members of the university travelling in a route bus the next morning.

Note:    This account of the events was compiled after interviewing a large number of students, staff, officers of the university security, local residents and shopkeepers; who related what they had witnessed.[Top]

2.1. Note on the killing of University Students (2nd February)

There are several aspects to this event that pertain to the continuing difficulties of this community in its struggle to establish more participant. democratic way of life.

Over several sessions and over several hours of hard talking the University did establish an Action Committee comprising senior representatives of all staff, student and employees unions, together with serious university officials, including the Vice-Chancellor. This body grew out of the process of negotiation an end to a former crisis involving students and non-academic staff. To accomplish such a task in a community brought to the threshold of disintegration requires much effort, imagination and goodwill. To make such a body, work army be even harder.

To the present generation of students elected student unions are n n concept, after these had been of officially banned from 85-88. Again securing votes is very different from representing student's interests responsibly, without becoming cornered by one becoming partisan or the other. This is a process that -requires continuous interaction with responsible and concerned members of the

staff. In our experience, the student leadership had been responsible and moderate. Despite confusion and calls for a stronger form of protest, a consensus was secured to protest near the university entrance The Action Committee decided that all unions would join the protest.

These structures are nascent in their functioning and technical lapses could be pointed to in retrospect. The gravity of the situation was not anticipated because students had been on peaceful demonstrations earlier without having  problems with the IPKF.

Several occurrences were unforeseen. After the student meeting the student leadership went to attend to other tasks, such as placards bearing slogans and the Action Committee meeting Several students wanted to await the leadership to begin the protest, but variety of forces wanted it to begin immediately. Some would have been simply high spirited.  Some may have simply wanted to discredit the new elected leadership and there may have even been agitators with deeper political motives. Once the protests began the same combination of forces would have urged a section of the students to go towards Plaly Road, against the counsel of the larger body.

Again, had the Action committee meeting been fixed earlier instead at 10.00 am or if the Action committee had joined the protestors just 10 minutes earlier, the situation would have been control. Even after the students had started marching towards Parameswara Junction, their conduct towards the IPKF

Was moderate and conciliatory. When the IPKF party under a major approached them, a student had explained to the Major that the protest will be over in 21 minutes. Notwithstanding the Mojor’s rude reply, the student again, a second time, pleaded with the Major to address the students while soldiers assaulted then. The Major’s approach consisted of arrogant abuse and, no doubt, his men took the cue from him.

If the IPKF was trying to restore a political process and was even a little sensitive to the approach of elections where it wanted a certain pro-Indian groups to win, there should have been some attempt to brief the officers to alter their conduct. Many; incidents in recent times suggest that the IPKF’s attitude is one of contempt for the people and their approach is one of blunt force with an attempt to immediate. Had the manor politely told the students, that the had orders to clear the road and had negotiated for the students to leave a earlier time, there would have been no incident. When asking civilians to call at an IPKF camp for a chat, messages may come in very Grammatical English: “So and

so wants to see you at such and such a time at such and such a place. You are advised to stick to the times”. When such officers deal with students, the resulting situation is bound to be explosive as it turned out. Had officer been polite in the first instance, the students may have left. For young persons, the natural reaction to his hectoring and abuse, would have been: “ Who is he  to order us about in our country?”.

Just after 5.00 p.m. on the evening of the incident, Brigadier Kahlon, the Town Commandant came to the University with Brigadier Gill (Operations ) and Colonel Sashikumar (Gurkha Regiment). The initial thrust of Brigadier Kahlon was to try to  floor us: It was your fault. You should have telephoned me at  the first incident. An army camp is not the place to protest. A soldier is only trained to do one thing, which is to shoot. Your students surrounded the army camp. Of course soldiers will shoot when a crowd comes near them. Who will guarantee that the students will not grab the guns from -the soldiers and shoot at them? etc.

The student who had spoken to the Major then gave the version of the story, which we have presented after checking and rechecking. This was not challenged by the military officials who at times went as far as to say that they accepted it.

ft was clear that the students had not surrounded any army camp. They had been mainly on a public thoroughfare north of the Parameshwara Junction camp and separated from it by a row of shop houses. The students were not fired upon with automatic when they moved towards the army, but when they were in full and sullen retreat from the junction towards the University, after being assaulted and had gone 50 yards from the junction. One of the students killed was near the University about 80 yards away. Moreover the students had been fired upon by soldiers who had followed in pursuit.

The key questions were dodged by the officers. Why were warning shots’ not tired? Why was not teargas tried? Did the soldiers fire upon being ordered to do so? One answer given was that soldiers were only trained to shoot and that firing of teargas was a police affair.

A senior IPKF official confided privately that he disagreed with the manner in which the affair was handled and that the IPKF was equipped with a teargas unit. Perhaps they had gone by a handbook on crowd control and had made the standard procurements. But in a general situation where firing and assault are resorted to all too readily  it is hardly surprising that officers would be mentally conditioned to think of things like teargas as superfluous nuisance.

When asked about the shooting of school teachers at Jaffna Hindu College one of whom was killed, when an LTTE cadre was pursued into the school on 25th January; a reply was: " I have told the school principal several times to keep the gate closed.”

It was pointed out that the IPKF treated the civilians as though they were trained at a military academy, conducting themselves according to very stringent  norms; while no questions ware raised about whether there were corresponding rules for the lPKF, and whether normal military rules were enforced.

The Town Commandant followed his usual tactic of being conciliatory after being tough. Arrangements were agreed upon for the conduct of funerals. He also agreed not to disallow the publication in the press of a statement by the University. One assurance given was that they would do their homework.

The following morning a delegation from the University met Major General Sardeshbande on invitation. There was no hint of remorse. Instead there was a lecture on the psychology of a soldier. This was followed by a story that the LTTE bad sent letters to members of the IPKF in Tamil Nadu, threatening to kill them and rape their wives. To those in delegation, it was clear that there Was a refusal to listen, to understand and to take measures of reform. They were up against a force whose conduct has less to do with psychology than with arrogance.

It must be said that these talks led to some limited accommodation on the matter of funeral arrangements and. on fear spread amongst students after some landlords were warned by soldiers not to keep students. The IPKF’s message was:

‘We will help you with problems pertaining to the running of the University. You do your job inside, and let us do ours outside.”

The consensus within the University is that it did not wish, at any cost, to separate itself form the community of which it is pert, and from which it draw strength and legitimacy. It could not wish to be in ivory tower enjoying dubious patronage.[Top]

2.2The Town Commandant’s Office

It retrospect one may feel that the tragedy could have been avoided if the Town Commandant had been contacted soon after the first shooting incident in the evening of 1st February. This was said so by the Town Commandant, who also added that he came into the picture only after the killings had occurred. If this was a lapse, amongst many other incidental factors which contributed to the tragedy, it owed much to the diffidence that has grown upon the civilian population over months of experience in dealing with the IPKF. Though under a senior Brigadier, the Town Commandant’s office has come to be seen at best to be well—meaning, but only of limited effectiveness.

One would have expected that the IPKF would routinely keep its own Town Commandant informed of serious incidents, such as the firing in the University on 1st February. But this does not seem to be case. When the Town Commandant’s office was informed of the disappearance of Mrs. Sangara1ingam and her 3 daughters after being, retained by troops from the 6th Guard Unit, under an  officer named Ramanujam, on 19th November 1987; their reaction was that they had no jurisdiction over the matter since this elite unit had moved to Vavuniya.

When a large number of LTTE sympathisers started getting killed from October 1988, sources from the Town Commandant’s office indicated that they were helpless in the matter, as the initiative was now with operations, rather than with the civil section. Up to the middle of last year the University had approached the Town Commandant’s  office on a number of occasions,-including one where a number of student’s were detained and beaten, and help was duly rendered.. But the current practice when students were detained, is for University officials to go direct to the camp concerned, rather than  telephone the Town Commandant’s office. The impression that grew was one of inter—force rivalry in the process of which the Town Commandant's office had lost authority. Confidence building is a two way process.[Top]

2.3 The Media

On the evening of the incident, the BBC quoted the Indian embassy in Colombo to say that the IPKF had opened fire when the students rioted, and that two students died. All India Radio said the following morning that two students were shot dead by unidentified  persons. The AIR said in the afternoon that two hard core LTTE men were shot dead at the University by the IPKF. Even if there was no intention to lie, it is easy to believe that the Indian Embassy, the AIR and the Prime minister of India are no bettor informed than the Town Commandant in Jaffna.[Top]


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