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Chapter 5

5.0.The General Elections And The Tamil Speaking People

5.1. Implications For Human Rights

5.2. The University

5.2.1. The IPKF And The University: Walking The Tight Rope

5.2.2. Running In Circles

5.3. Prelude To The Parliamentary Elections Deaths Of Students

5.4. The IPKF

5.5. The Indian Political Apparatus

5.6. The Indian Media

5.7. Death of Manivannan: Polonnaruwa: 1st March 1989

A ray of hope amidst despair

5.0.The General Elections And The Tamil Speaking People


Sri Lanka had witnessed one of its long expected, yet undramatic parliamentary elections on the 15th February 1989. After eleven years of blunder and plunder the common people of Sri Lanka were given a chance to paint their little fingers with carbon ink.

The election was a fair and just one in the eyes of the people who wanted it to be so. Even the internationally reputed Election Monitoring Committee had expressed their firm of commitment would be more appropriate. He had said that “this election is a fair and democratic one, just like an English Election”.

The impact of the oncoming Parliamentary Election the Tamil speaking people of the North and East was not very dramatic. For a member of tradition bound Jaffna community the election hinted a way out of political and economic lethargy. For an academic it promised entertainment for their otherwise dull and humdrum lives. And for the more mobilised and activist youth of the North it was only a stumbling block in the path to “absolute freedom”. Although there were mixed feelings about the approaching elections it is true to say that it suggested a hint of enter­tainment for the otherwise bored community. The excessive precautionary methods taken by the IPKF and the present government of North and East too gave an undue importance to the oncoming elections.

The parties which contested in the North and East to capture the seats provided yet another chance to test the mood of the people. Apart from the traditional UNP and ACTC the other parties and their members provided further entertainment to the observers. The EPRLF, ENDLF, TULF coalition was a remarkable example for the changing trends in the Sri Lanka politics.

The pre—election mood of the people of the North and East and the diffi­culties they faced regarding the elections should be taken into account before any type of analysis can be done. It is more explicit that the people of the East faced a more complex and paradoxical situation than the Northerners. The ethnic composition. of the East would have entailed grave consequences in the wake any ill—considered action. The East con­tained a fair share of Sinhalese and Muslims and this multi—ethnicity made it clear that neither the LTTE nor the Indian government could play it cool and safe as they did in the North. Though the cities like Blatticaloa and Trincomaleelee suffered severely under the Sri Lankan government, the IPKF ‘s actions towards this province appear to be more calculated and carefully planned when compared to the North.

With such a background the parliamentary elections were looked upon as a possible means for survival for the ordinary people of the East. For they felt that it would be suicidal not to participate in the elections. To prohibit the people from participating in elections in the Eastern province was interpreted by many as LTTE’s immaturity in politics and lack of strategy. In this regard the warning put out by them by way of posters were simply cast aside.

But the Northerners showed more attention to these posters not because they reject the present political trends, but because they were disturbed by the conduct of the present provincial government and the IPKF. It should be taken into account that the recent fratricide, and homicide committed by all parties concerned had led the Tamils to the end of their tether.

All they wanted was a way out. Though the civilians of the North wanted to take part in the elections it should not be believed that they were very interested in the so called democratic process. Though almost 75% of the people were not keen supporters of LTTE; it cannot be denied that they admire them and still have a soft corner for that movement. It can be said that many parts of the North -were kept in a kind of euphoria because they were protected from the army for a brief period in 1986. Though all the movements did their share in keeping the Sri Lankan army in the barracks, the LTTE got most of the credit, particularly after eliminating the ether groups.

Therefore it can be said that the people were more in sympathy with the LT TE, than with any other movement. The undisciplined and inconsiderate behaviour of the IPKF and groups allied to it had tended to develop pro—LTTE feelings amongst the people of North. Therefore the ban on elections by the LTTE would have been successful for reasons of both consent and fear if its not for the role of the EROS. But to the average man, the EROS and its motives have always been a crossword puzzle.

It should be mentioned that the intellectualist image of the EROS too had a profound impact on the people of North and East. The Tamils place a very high value on education arid qualifications and it is said that by manipulating this false value, the EROS had articulated itself as some highly sophisticated saviours of the oppressed Tami1s. Apart from this reputation, the EROS has had an impact on the estate Tamils too. But, above all these it cannot be denied that the EROS had placed its confidence more on tactics than on principles. For in the past the EROS had time and again showed that its main concern was with tactical survival. Some should like to call this type of politics opportunism. Many felt that when the Tamil people needed strong and principled leadership which can stand for truth and justice, even on a superficial level, the EROS had failed them. Not only were they afraid to speak out on specific issues but they were quite diplomatic about their statements too. Whenever there was a well publicised violation of human rights, the EROS had surreptitiously kept silent, or gave out vague statements like we generally condemn such acts which might hinder the growth of the struggle for freedom”. Many activists who faced the brunt of the LTTE’s actions felt in this regard, that they can appreciate the stand taken by the EPRLF on a number of occasions. Because when the LTTE’ embarked on its ‘purifying process’ by eliminating other groups, the EPRLF had raised its voice in protest, but the EROS had almost kept quiet. The recent disappearing of an eminent Tamil human flights activist and social worker, Mr. Kanthasamy of the TRRO, too points an accusing finger at the EROS. Though incriminating evidence pointing at the EROS was made public after Kanthasamy’s disappearance, the EROS did not make any attempt to clarify its role. It is often wondered; in making a virtue of tactical survival, the EROS like many other organisations seems to have failed to ask: Survival for what? For the good of the people?

With such a background it will be simplistic to attribute the success of EROS to its credibility. If we have a closer look at the pre and post election mood of the Tamil speaking people, we can conclude that the success of EROS arose from two different factors. In the North, the rumour that LTTE was supporting EROS s contest in the elections, had definitely left an imprint on the minds of the people. For the public knew that the IPKF and the present Provincial Council administration would ensure that the public did participate in the elections. On the other side the LTT’E had put up posters about death sentences to those who would participate in the elections. But, the last minute rumour of LTTE supporting the EROS had clearly shown a way out of the paradoxical situation. The result was the immense majority of the EROS. [Top

5.1. Implications For Human Rights

For those concerned with human rights, it is relevant to ask what these elections have done for the quality of democratic life, so that there can be public discussion of the pressing questions raised by human rights violations? The answer is that the elections made no impact, except in helping to institutionalise such violations. It is said that a new leadership has emerged, although this claim would be meaningless unless such questions could be addressed. There were well known violations on election day itself; The huts of a community of some of the poorest of people were burnt at Kokkuvil barely a week after the elections, the people having been prevented from rescuing their meagre cash savings at gun point; People are used as shields; They are routinely subject to all kinds of hurt and humiliation; Shelling continues to claim its toll. None of these have been condemned by any section of the new or even the old leadership. The section of the new leadership which was present at the hut burning has even benevolently announced plans for rehabilitating the victims through the press.

The very pressing question of killings of Sinhalese civilians in border areas (nearly 200 in February) is being treated as a none issue. The editorial dismissal of the issue by a local daily could only serve to blunt public sensibilities on the matter. It quoted an allegation attri­buted to the JVP that Sri Lankan forces were themselves responsible and left it at that. The fact remains that no Tamil political force and no Tamil group with a record of killing Sinhalese civilians, apart from denials, has come forward to condemn such killings and take a moral stand on the matter. All human experience  which motivated consciousness of human rights, declares unequivocally that there can be no dignity, freedom or self—determination for the Tamils, unless the Sinhalese are treated as fellow beings deserving of the same. Such irresponsibility, coupled with reprisals against Tamils even on a minor scale, would only ensure the need for foreign protectors at a heavy, and morally debilitating price.

The inability to voice concern for human rights is a pitiful comment on the utter debasement of Tamil political life. Perhaps, given their past records, none of the Tamil groups wish to rock the boat by talking about human rights. It also represents the extent to which they have, been compromised by their past. The EROS which the elections brought into prominence is yet to explain the outrageous public killing of Kathiramalai, consi­dering that people have generally attributed higher standards to them. for is it explained how the ‘Murasoli’ published on its front page on 12th July 1933, an alleged statement by the ‘Pasrai’ group in which it accepted responsibility for the disappearance of K. Kanthasamy and for the threatening of the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna. The Pasarai was a defunct group whose former members were unarmed and were living in fear. These are the vicious methods of our new democracy where ordinary people are accorded neither respect nor credit for intelligence.

This brings us to the bizarre nature of General Elections in the North, which is undoubtedly a reflection of its political life. Any party which wanted to give credibility to the elections as a means providing a new leadership should have demanded that they be free and fair, as the Opposi­tion in the South had done. Killings of candidates and intimidation of contestants by the LTFE should have been condemned. The EROS did nothing of that kind. It even went through the motions of withdrawing from the contest. Then it reappeared three days before the polling under an aura of mystery, and walked away with the mantle of a new leadership. Local wags have likened it to a pupil walking away with the attendance prize after coming to school just on the last day.

Further evidence of the poverty of placing tactics before principle follows from the EROS’s manifesto. It said in effect that the main enemy remains the Sri Iankan government, which through its wiles had tricked the LTTE and India into enmity. Apart from being a poor comment on both India and the LTTE, it is a charming formula for being nice to both of them at the same time. But, it does not touch on the predicament of the Tamils. It could however lead to campaigns of boating dead horses which could tickle hearts. The EROS has demanded the repeal of the Sixth Amendment as a condition for its members sitting in parliament. The truth is that the amendment which banned politics of separatism as a means to safeguard the country’s sovereignty is a non—issue after the arrival of Indian forces. Even if one grants that the issue has symbolic value, the EROS has failed to take up far more pressing matters.

Unless the political forces amongst Tamils find the courage to come clean before the people on past errors and make a firm commitment to human rights, the desultory show will go on. They will continue to exude a false sense of power, giving out false hopes which vanish like bubbles. The. people will deteriorate confused and volatile. Their accredited leaders having no base in a robust community will in the final analysis remain mere actors whose roles are interchangeable or even dispensable. All the skeletons in their cupboards will be rattled to keep them in thrall. (The IPKF did take a keen interest in the Kanthasamy affair).

In conclusion, it could be said that the Provincial and Pcrliar1entary elections did throw up persons into positions of leadership. It is better not to talk about 1egitirncy, because it is a loaded term, and the condi­tions for its use do not exist. They can choose to do something construc­tive if they wish. Their performance so for does not give this confidence [Top

5.2. The University

 In the aftermath of the October war amidst the feeling near complete collapse (structurally, functionally and spiritually), the University community was ready to clutch at any straw. Thus, unlike in the past the university community was ready to listen to arguments for non partisan attitudes and collective action. The first moves to assert institutional self-will, and collective activity started against the currents of the external situation of IPKF’s pervasive presence and terror, LTTE’s boycott campaign and the internally debilitating culture of patronage. It was also felt that the University should not only put forward its case, but also the case of the larger community, especially in instances of human rights violations. Though at first these suggestions were viewed with antipathy, the reality of the entwined destinies bf the University as a community and the voiceless of ordinary people convinced the majority.

Moreover, the realisation of our position became clear when we started regular sessions. The problems that our students and employees faced became part of everyday life of the institution. This led the University community to organise and act with its limitations of its members. This process led to much disagreement. as well as debate. It was held by many that the principal aim of the University was to survive, and must therefore desist from getting involved with problems of the wider community. Concentrating only on problems specific to the University. The view that finally held sway was that: Survival for its own sake was meaningless unless it was survival for the good of the community. We could not therefore separate ourselves from it. Moreover, outside our narrow walls we too were ordinary citizens.

Discussions also took place with the officials of the IPKF to insist on some procedures in the event of detention of persons from the University: for example, communication with University authorities, the right of the University to represent and to be listened to. Though the IPKF officials agreed, their compliance with the procedure was somewhat capricious and in many instances grudgingly done. Even the little hearing given was due to our continual insistence on these rights, arid persistent representations. These efforts helped in creating an atmosphere or dignity for the institution and the University community.

Concurrently we strove to strengthen our unions, tried to organize our energies to approach problems in a wider context. One could not say that the going was easy. Past experiences, mistrust, in built frustrations and prejudice were in the way of coming together. Again reality proved that moves in this direction were our only hope of survival.

On another but complementary direction we started a process of self criticism through  dialogue and discussion and tried to re-examine our past and look into future — not directed by fear, but by fundamental principles of justice to the people. Thus we were critical of local       militant groups, both with regards to their
terror and murder as well as of the actions that create the conditions resulting in wanton, purposeless sacrifice of ordinary people. [Top

5.2.1. The IPKF And The University: Walking The Tight Rope

It is within such an atmosphere one- should view life in the University. One would not be wrong in surmising that the IPKF in its bid to portray a return to normalcy and democracy would try to preserve a semblance of cordiality in it's relationship with the University. Contrarily, our students and employees when arrested were always beaten up, and invariably tortured. Sessions of detention and torture running into- clays were instituted on the basis of charges that ranged from pcssessionotRe.2,5OO/ to dust and oil marks on their shifts. Though there are an infinite number of possibilities& for such impressions of culpability, the IPKF seemed to cling onto simply on concept-— that is, all University students are one of tigers, potential tigers or potential sources of information; and thus-torture paid.

Moreover, the experiences of University delegations that represented the interests of the detained gives a grasp of the attitude of the Indian army. [Top

5.2.2. Running In Circles

Though the procedure negotiated with IPKF should have enabled the University to obtain information regarding detention and the location of detention without much difficulty, the reality was exactly the opposite. Hardly ever were we informed, moreover, when we tried to locate the detained we were sent from pillar to post. We have faced the extremely frustrating process of circulating among the various camps in the Jaffna district before hitting the correct target. These detention camps invariably would be ones we had visited before, but on our first visits the officers, suppressed or denied knowledge of detention. And when a visit to the camp where the individual is confined is made, the delegation is made to hang around for hours together; meeting with a responsible official to make our case known - one of the most difficult tasks. Furthermore some times, while still holding on to the person, (either in the camp or after transferring to another camp ) they would even claim that the person had been released. It is our past experience with IPKF which made us wary of such stories and this made us continue to insist on information.

This process of running round in circle starts in the morning and goes well into the evening and usually for two, three days continuously. And when the person is ultimately released we know the entire saga is ridiculous, and while we were being warded off and moved around those detained were being tortured, often information of the delegation’s visits are given to those detained.

The tactic of non-cooperation along with withholding of information, and duplicity in dealings seem nothing but a ploy to exhaust our energies and frustrate our efforts. This shows the lack of regard for the University. If such a key institution is treated thus the suffering of ordinary civilians in such situations need not be explained.

The approach of elections brought about a sharp increase in the arrests and torture of students. [Top

5.3. Prelude To The Parliamentary Elections Deaths Of Students

During the period preceding the parliamentary elections the entire community experienced an escalation of tension, e.g. incident at Hindu College etc. The University and the area around experienced a worsening of relations and intensification of tensions. One could sense the anger in the army as the University became the only institution that had not buckled under their intimidation or smooth talking.

The internal politics of the. community was also becoming more brutal. The frustration and vindictiveness brought forth a rash of desperate. actions which did not take into account the life of ordinary people. 1st of Feb. incident at the University (see report) was typical of IPKFs attitude. The incident on the 2nd of Feb. occurred because it was a university. A peaceful sit-in became adhoc demonstration, but still peaceful. The two students died and 10 were injured because IPKFs tactics never changed and their attitude towards people did not even motivate them to genuinely construct institutions and procedures to handle civilian situations such as protests.

 The days following the deaths revealed the attitude of Indian Government and its agencies to the situation in Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. [Top

5.4. The IPKF

Discussions with the top brass of IPKF, revealed their total lack of thought on matters relating to civilian situations. Furthermore, the indiscriminate reprisals on the civilian population following disturbances were not cay acknowledged as a permissible routine, but blamed on the civilians as a consequence of the ingratitude of the population. Though, the Brigadier in charge gave us permission to publish our statement on the incident, it was surreptitiously suppressed. Therefore our statement had to be produced illegally. The statement of the University students teachers and employees is an impartial and critical of the IPKF as well as being self-critical. . It had been hailed by everybody concerned as an important and courageous document for its critical attitude not only towards the IPKF but towards all militant groups, the LTTE inclusive. But the IPKF banned it. The irony is that no meeting of the IPKF with the civilians population goes without expressions of reprimand and bitterness about the non committal attitude of the population to the LTTE’s provocation. When a public document, airing the voices of the community is produced, which is honest and impartial - it gets suppressed. How can one dream of democracy with such ignorance?

5.5. The Indian Political Apparatus

The Vice - Chancellor of the University after his investigations, sent a report to the High Commissioner of India. The reply to it by the first secretary was a curt dismissal. Not only of the protest but the Vice - Chancellors account of the incident itself. First secretary letter claimed that it had its own investigation and from it, it had found the IPKFs conduct satisfactory.

However, the worst part was the lack of even a note of sadness in the letter, and the discourtesy displayed to a letter by a highly respectable public official from one of the highest seats of learning in this country. [Top

5.6. The Indian Media

The Indian radio which reported the incident gave a twisted version and changing story day by day. However, its report on the day of the fast by the University students held to commemorate the dead students was a classic. The radio announced that the Jaffna University students were fasting in a dispute with the University administration and that the secretary general .of EPRLF Pathmanabha was negotiating between the parties !

These attitudes convinced the University community of the Indian Government’s contempt for this community; It also showed the arrogance with which India took for granted the Tamil peoples’ passive and subdued acceptance of any kind of position taken by India vis--a vis the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.

Ever since then, there has been a growing sense of ugliness in IPKF’s dealings with the University. It was one of animosity, with charges of the university being a second golden temple and with accusations of its harbouring the Tigers. They seemed adamant in holding the simplistic view of the entire student community as supporters of LTTE. Though the IPKF continued to say that they would keep their word by staying clear of the premises, they mounted a campaign of insidious harassment, and detention of students - most of the occasions of detention being for 2 - 3 days and torture seemed to be administered on very flimsy charges. The rationale seemed ultimately the fact that they were Jaffna University students nothing less, nothing more.

The officers talking in smooth English, while outwardly proposing to defuse the situation, were actively or deliberately building up an irrational fear about the University and creating a generalized attitude of suspicions and hatred regarding students. Sadly such feelings were building up when the University as a collective body was taking a courageous stand not only regarding the IPKF but also concerning all the militant groups, inclusive of LTTE. While the misconception by the IPKF can hardly be understood it could only result in fostering a situation of crisis which would result in inordinate violence.

As alluded to in the earlier part of this account, the University community as a collective body made a determined effort to clarify issues at community level. Questions of building for legitimate freedom, importance of a long term perspective, self dependence, in contrast to short term goals, propaganda coups subjugation were all openly discussed. Arising form these positions there were pleas for greater commitment to the people and their institutions as well as social accountability from the internal forces. But to date we see little progress in any direction from IPKF and the local militant groups.

Therefore at present, we know we are standing at the edge of a precipice. The authority of a university cannot stern from compulsion. Particularly in an environment that has experienced much social and physical destruction, it remains the task of the University to offer honestly and courageously alternative ideas that can alter the destructive trend. If this long term goal is lost sight of and the University is treated as an embarrassment on one hand as a security risk on the other, it betokens ill for everyone concerned. [Top

5.7. Death of Manivannan: Polonnaruwa: 1st March 1989

A ray of hope amidst despair 

K.Manivannan(22+),a 2nd year Agricultural Faculty student of the University of Batticaloa and a resident of Navaly, was battered to death off Polonnaruwa on 1st March.

He had set of f from Trinco, where he had gone to. visit his kith and kin, by CTB bus to Batticaloa. The bus did not go beyond a certain point as a hartal had been declared at Polonnaruwa in observance of the death of Sinhalese villagers who had been slaughtered a few days earlier, allegedly by Tamil militants.

Instead of turning back to Trinco, Manivannan got into a private lorry which was proceeding to Batticaloa. The others in the lorry were 2 Muslim youths and a young Muslim girl, all from Trinco, proceeding to Batticaloa, but not known to each other.

Of f Polonnaruwa, the lorry was stopped by a gang of thugs. Tamils were asked to get down. Manivannan got down. He  was surrounded by the gang who started hitting him with clubs. He was answering in English and they dubbed him a Kottiya(Tiger). The Muslim youths jumped out of the lorry and boarded a private mini which was passing by at that time. Manivannan also broke away from the gang that was belabouring him and managed to cling on to the footboard of the mini which by now, was gathering speed. The Muslim girl came running behind and appealed for help. Manivennan got off the footboard to help her get in. But the driver of the mini fearful of the gang which had gathered. drove off leaving Manivannan and the Muslim girl stranded.

The gang hit the Muslim girl on the head and she fell down. Manivannan started running into a lane, unfortunately a lane where the bodies of some Sinhalese victims of the militant slaughter were being kept, prior to burial. He was assaulted there too, He ran into a house and asked for water. This was refused on the grounds that he was a Kottiya(Tiger). Some doused him with petrol and attempted to set him on fire.

In the meantime, a Police patrol had picked up the injured Muslim girl, who was taken to Polonnaruwa hospital. There she had given information about what had happened to Manivannan. The Police patrol rushed back and was just in time to put out the flames and rush Manivannan to Polonnaruwa hospital. He was alive for about 8 hours, but lack of blood transfusion facilities led to his death. If he had been transferred to a major hospital, he may have had a chance of survival.

The news of his death was conveyed to the Batticaloa University: the students contacted Peradeniya Medical Faculty and a group of medico (both Tamil & Sinhalese) rushed to Polonnaruwa hospital and embalmed the body. The parents went to Trinco and appealed to long — standing Sinhalese friends to help them to get back the body. Two Sinhalese volunteered, went to Polonnaruwa and brought back the body, despite some objection from a section of Sinhalese in Polonnaruwa. The IPKF too was helpful and the body was brought back to Navaly for cremation on the 5th.

In his unbearable grief, the father of Manivannan was not blaming the Sinhalese. He put it down to fate. He took a balanced view and said that he was able to understand the feelings of Sinhalese in that area when their women and children were butchered while sleeping. Few can own up to such nobility.

Help rendered generously by Sinhalese friends and medical students, together with the medical and police services, must be taken as a ray of hope. Manivannan's father had also commended the helpful attitude of the IPKF.   [Top]



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