Indian peace-keepers turn into brutal oppressors
Posted on February 11th, 2014

Part III- H. L. D. Mahindapala

Between 1987 and 1990 ” the  three years of  Indian military rule in the north  ” the Jaffna Tamils were faced with the most  unexpected turn of events: the Indian Peace Keeping  Forces (IPKF) which came as peace-makers were waging a war against them and they were helpless. Jaffna was reeling under the ferocity of its relentless brutality. The violence with which the IPKF was enforcing their “peace accord” forced even the LTTE to turn to Colombo ” their enemy.

The Indians, of course, were hoisted by their own petard. At first they were putting  maximum pressure on the LTTE to accept the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement (ISLA). Their calculated tactic was to force Velupillai  Prabhakaran to deal with Rajiv Gandhi face-to-face. In a secret mission Velupillai Prabhakaran, Anton Balasingham and a couple of others were picked up by an Indian helicopter from Jaffna and flown to Trichy and from Trichy to Madras and from to Delhi to meet Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi.

In the end the Gandhian maneuver proved to be a miscalculated display of Indian arrogance and power.  India believed that their might could  tame Prabhakaran.  Shortly after the LTTE leadership was flown back to Jaffna Prabhakaran rejected it and announced publicly that he signed the agreement with Rajiv Gandhi under Indian duress.

It was the beginning of the end of Indian power to settle the domestic issues of Sri Lanka. But the Indians, like all big powers, refused to learn the lessons of history ” e.g., Vietnam. They believed that Indian Jawans with Indian guns and bullets could fix the problem. Prabhakaran’s rejection forced the Indian  peace-makers into brutal war-mongers. Confronted by Prabhakaran’s hit-and-run operations the IPKF began to fight Jaffna fire with Indian fire. By November 1987 Jaffna was caught in  the middle of two brutal forces. Prabhakaran’s provocative tactics had trapped the Jawans inside a corner which they never anticipated.  Neither the Indian Foreign office nor  its military high command read the overwhelming forces rising in the south and the north ” forces  spinning  out of Indian control.

Though J. R. Jayewardene signed ISLA under Gandhi-Dixit arm-twisting it was not accepted either by the south or the north. The Indians should have got the message when the Naval rating, Rohan de Silva, hammered Rajiv Gandhi with the butt of his gun at the parade to farewell Gandhi after signing ISLA. Prabhakaran took it to another level and blew him to bits. The  Jaffnaites and the Tamil diaspora more than the south celebrated his death in a low-key because they felt that justice was meted out to the most cruel invaders of Jaffna after the Portuguese.

As usual Jaffna turned to Colombo for their salvation. President Ranasinghe Premadasa not only put maximum diplomatic  pressure on Delhi to pull their barbaric IPKF out but also aided and abetted the LTTE to fight the Indian Jawans. Prabhakaran later boasted that he defeated the world fourth largest army.  This is typical of  Jaffna Tamil arrogance.  In one sense, the entire LTTE movement  can be viewed as the bloated boast of arrogant  triumphalism  based essentially on hot air pumped by its self-serving propaganda machine. Prabhakaran was like Rajiv Gandhi : both believed that their brutal force was the way to  solve the Sri Lankan  problem. One complemented  the other. Both paid  with their lives for their unmitigated arrogance.

It is the crude brutality of both forces that dragged the war for 33 years. Only the na¯ve pundits in NGOs expected Prabhakaran to relent or change his intransigent ways.  His one-track mind turned him into a political idiot who missed all opportunities that came his way to consolidate his territorial gains and bargain from a position of strength. He had no  other strategy than killing. But India was supposed to be an enlightened democracy ” the  biggest one at that — driven  by Gandhian principles, not  to mention its reputation for high thinking.  It was not supposed to descend to the level of Prabhakaran’s subhuman brutality. But  the record reveals that the Indians were as bad, if not worse,  than Prabhakaran.

IPKF’s oppressive violence turned Jaffna against the India in toto. It failed to win the hearts and minds  of the Jaffna Tamil. Even Indian leaders labeled it as “India’s My Lai”. It is the pain and disillusionment arising from Indian atrocities that was recorded by the Old Jaffna  Man in the Tamil Weekly. Here’s the continuation of his testament, the first part of which was serialized in  yesterday’s  edition of Ceylon Today:

 Rape by Indian Soldiers

The IPKF Operation in Jaffna did not stop with massacres of civilians. A large number of women were raped. The following quotation is taken from Prof. Daya Somasundaram’s book Scarred Minds – The Psychological Impact of War on Sri Lankan Tamils. Prof. Daya Somasundararn is the Professor of Psychiatry in the University of Jaffna.

” Although the total number of rapes during the Indian army operations are not known, it seemed to reach epidemic proportions. It has been verified that quite a large number, ranging from young girls who had just attained puberty to old women well past the menopause stage, were brutally raped.

Rape became common in the context of total war as it obtained in the months of October to December (1987), when all the customary discipline and restraint
operative in the army disappeared.
The public was seen as being too sympathetic to the Tigers, harbouring and helping them against the Indian army. Thus terror became an instrument of control, a punishment for the lack of support and a lesson to the public.

But rape was much more gruesome as it was aimed specifically at women. It was carried out with considerable brutality and impersonality, where the victims were publicly defeminised and destroyed.

The screams and pleading of a young, attractive girl, whom three soldiers were trying to rape at gun point, still echoes in my ears. She fell at their feet and begged, ‘Please, brother, shoot me, but don’t do this…’ Fortunately for her, her pleading got through to an officer who took pity and let her go, after slapping her. A young rape victim in Tinnavelly immediately attempted to commit suicide by jumping into a well.

Inside our village temple, where people had gathered as refugees, young village girls were molested by the Indian soldiers. Dr. W. Paramanathan, great
grandson of Proctor V. Casipillai who had rebuilt the temple in 1900, after its destruction during the Portugese occupation, was an eye witness. “My blood boiled; but I was helpless” he told me. In fact, being a young man, he was taken out twice to be shot as a Tiger and only the strong pleadings of his aunt Miss K. Charavanamuttu, retired Principal of Vadamarachchy Hindu Ladies College saved his life. Dr. Paramanathan has migrated to the United States and is living there.

Plunder

The 21 day curfew proved to be a golden opportunity- to the Indian soldiers. They broke into every house, broke open every almyrah and stole the valuables inside. As everyone knows, all Jaffna Tamil Hindu women wear a lot of gold jewellery. When they had to flee at half an hour’s notice, they could not remove all their valuables. When the families returned, they found their gold jewellery, imported watches and Parker pens missing. In 1987, India was still a closed economy and these imported items were not available in India. Not merely the soldiers, even the officers
helped themselves. This is what the Island of 22 Feb. 1988 reported.

“IPKF Major Returning to India Apprehended – Alleged Contraband Jewellery:

A Major of the IPKF who is said to have returned to India from Jaffna on a month’s holiday is alleged to have been apprehended at Chandigarh airport with having carried jewellery believed to be contraband.

A news report appearing in the “Rani Weekly” of January 31, 1988 published in Tamil Nadu state that this Major serving in Jaffna had flown to Madras by plane and then to Chandigarh in Punjab on a month’s holiday. The Police there had searched him like any other passenger and found in his possession 100 sovereigns of jewellery consisting of bangles, broken chains, necklaces etc”.

The story states “The Police suspect that he might have snatched them from Sri Lankan Tamils. But he says they were bought by him. The magazine asks, “if they were bought by him, could the jewellery be broken in pieces?”

India’s My Lai – the Valvettiturai Massacre

On 2 August 1989, the so called Indian Peace Keeping Force deliberately killed over 50 Tamil civilians in Valvettiturai in the Jaffna Peninsula in a massacre that was later described as India’s Mylai.

David Housego reported in the London Financial Times on 17 August 1989:

“On… Tuesday I was the first western reporter to visit Valvettiturai, a small coastal town near Jaffna, where Indian troops carried out reprisals on August 2 after the Tamil Tigers, the -Tamil guerrilla movement, ambushed one of their patrols close to the main square, killing six Indian soldiers and wounding several, others.

After 4 1/2 hours of walking around the town and questioning many people, it becomes clear that angered soldiers deliberately shot dead unarmed civilians, burnt a large number of houses, and brutally beat many of the boys and men they caught.

The local Citizens Committee has identified 52 bodies and says that over 120 houses were burnt – making it by far the worst atrocity alleged against Indian troops in the two years they have been in Sri Lanka.

Most of the killings took place in the hours after the ambush, but the burning and ransacking continued , for another two days while Valvettiturai was under curfew and surrounded by Indian troops.

What is also certain is that the official Indian explanation for the deaths – that civilians were caught in crossfire in the wake of the ambush – has no credibility. Mr. S. Selvendra, the president of the Citizens Committee and a chartered accountant, is calling for a public inquiry.

Almost a fortnight after the event, a smell of charred remains hangs over Velvettiturai. Of the 15,000 people perhaps half have left in fear or despair. Many who remain are distraught over the loss of relatives or belongings, and uncertain how to begin again or where. What seems to have happened an August 2 is that two patrols of Indian Peace keeping Force (IPKF) troops about 30 men in all approached the centre of the town on foot in parallel columns at about 11.15 in the morning. This was market time, when the streets were most crowded. They were ambushed by firing from the roof and the street. Six soldiers were killed and 13 injured, including an officer…

What follows are abbreviated eyewitness’ accounts of four particular incidents that occurred after the ambush.

Mr. N. Senthivadivel, 50, was in his photographer’s shop overlooking the square when the firing began. He threw himself to the ground. Later he was taken out and made to sit cross legged with about 25 people on the square. From there he saw soldiers set fire to some of the shops and throw kerosene to add to the flames.

At about 2 p.m. a soldier came along and said in broken English that he was going to shoot them. Two jeeps arrived and firing began. The soldier then turned round to those seated and fired on them. Two people, Mrs. K. Sivapackiyam, a washerwoman, and Mr. K. Thangarajah were killed and 10 more injured.

S. Rajeswary, 52, is the wife of the head of the divisional land survey office. After the firing about 50 people sought shelter in her house well over 200 yards from the square – because it has a concrete roof and thus offers protection against shelling.

About 1.30 p.m., four soldiers broke into the house. She came out of the kitchen into the hall with her husband; they were holding their hands up. She pleaded with her husband not to step forward but he advanced to speak to the soldiers. They shot him. They then called for the other men and shot four of them.

After that they sprayed bullets killing four more people and injuring nine. Apart from her husband, Mrs. Rajeswary also lost her eldest son, 28, who was trapped in his shop which had been set on fire.

Mr. A R. Sivaguru., 68, a retired postmaster. With some 70 other people – he took shelter in the house of Mr. Sivaganesh which also has a concrete roof. About 4 p.m., some six soldiers climbed over the back wall of the house and entered the courtyard. Women fell at their feet crying and pleading with them not to shoot but were kicked aside.

A sergeant then separated off the young men ages ranging from 18-35 and told them to sit in front of the cow shed next to the house. The soldiers then fired on them, killing four. When one woman screamed at her husband’s death she was told to be silent otherwise she would be killed.

Mr. Nadarajah Anantharaj, principal of a local school and secretary of the Citizen’s Committee, still bears the mark on his face of wounds he received. This account of his treatment at the Udupiddy IPKP camp nearby is taken from his sworn affidavit. “There (at the camp) I saw many people who came along with me bleeding and crying. Four Sikh soldiers then started beating me with heavy wooden rods and with their fists.

“One soldier dashed my head against the wall. One soldier pressed a wooden rod on my throat and was standing on the rod which was preventing my breathing. At that time I heard a voice shouting “Kill him, kill him.” I was almost losing consciousness when I managed to push the rod on my throat away, toppling the person who was standing on it.

Why did the Indians respond so brutally? Part of the answer is that their troops have been under great strain in the Vadamaratchi region, with isolated patrols coming under fire and the Tigers firing rockets into the IPKF camp. This has left officers and men with nerves on edge.

Were the killings and the brutality the result of soldiers running amok or did they have the approval of their officers? With substantial reinforcements brought into Velvettiturai in the wake of the ambush, officers were certainly present in the town during the shooting and the burning of homes. Some inhabitants believe that senior officers gave their tacit approval to the reprisals, if not more.

One of my informants claimed that he had heard a senior officer say in anger not long before “I will burn Point Pedro” (a neighbouring town where there has also been trouble). “I will kill everybody.’ This may have been ill chosen words of intimidation not meant literally…”

George Fernandez, Indian Opposition M.P. one time Cabinet Minister and later Defence Minister commented a few months later:

“When in early August, 1987, 1 had said that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s military adventure in Sri Lanka would be India’s Viet Nam, I had not anticipated that India’s Viet Nam would also have its own My Lai. Of course, I was aware and I had also said repeatedly that soldiers everywhere alike, their training and the rigours of their life, not to speak of the brutalisation caused by war, making them behave in the most inhuman ways when under pressure.

Now, in Velvettiturai, the Indian army has enacted its My Lai. London’s Daily Telegraph commenting editorially on the barbarism exhibited by the Indian army in Velvettiturai says that, if anything “this massacre is worse than My Lai. Then American troops simply ran amok. In the Sri Lankan village, the Indians seem to have been more systematic; the victims being forced to lie down, and then shot in the back”.

Valvettiturai was uncovered by David Housego, the Delhi-based correspondent of London’s Financial Times who visited the scene of the massacre 13 days after the black deed had been done on August 2. His report appeared in his paper on August 17, though London’s Telegraph had carried on August 13 a story on the incident from its New Delhi correspondent, Jeremy Gavron, based on the information that was already circulating in India’s capital.

The Indian press – a miniscule section of it – caught up with it only on September 3, with a report by Rita Sebastian in the Indian Express. In fact, there was a planned black out of the news of Velvettiturai by the Indian government, in which a large section of the Indian press was only too happy to collude. The armed forces are India’s most sacred cow at the best of times, but when they indulge in atrocities, they are more so…”

(End of quotation)

If India does come in (again), I for one will feel-the need for some meaningful action, not mere words. Perhaps a ‘fast unto death’ may be in order….” (Tamil Weekly November 13 ” 19, 2005)

After reading this abbreviated account of the Indian My Lai in Sri Lanka can UNHRC, USA, UK, INGOS, Tamil diaspora and other assorted moralists skip the Indian chapter and focus only on Sri Lanka? On what principles of international humanitarian law can they justify their action of moving a resolution only on Sri Lanka excluding India ? Are these moralists after justice or are they out to cover-up Indian atrocities?

Can the addition of hypocrisy and selected morality to Indian horrors save international humanitarian law and the UNHRC?

To be continued

7 Responses to “Indian peace-keepers turn into brutal oppressors”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    GOSL should have kept IPKF LONGER in SL. Then Tamils would better REMEMBER their atrocities.

    Particularly Jaffna Tamils who suffered MOST under IPKF. They are the biggest enemies of SL.

  2. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The contents of this article must be addressed by the UNHRC. They include whole scale murder, rape, vandalism, theft, etc. by the Indian peace keeping force. This alone is an issue that needs international attention. Failure to address this issue will only reflect on the failure to punish the Sri Lankan military on supposed human rights crime and only addresses the last few months of the war.

  3. aloy Says:

    I view the Northern Terrorism as attempts by two invading forces to get hold of NE initially and the whole country subsequently. One is the South Indian Chola and the other North Indian govement. If President Premadasa did not get rid of the Indians we would have been under them even today. Mahinda Rajapaksa got rid of the other with the help of Gota and SF. We should be eternally grateful to them. A Sinhala NCP farmer who has two sons in the army, the other day told me that if we did not defeat Tigers, the Sinhalas would have to wash the backs of the Tamils.
    It is now clear that the westerners are trying to get hold of this land again with the help of Tamils and we need a honest and dedicated ruler to save it.

  4. Nanda Says:

    “I view the Northern Terrorism as attempts by two invading forces to get hold of NE initially and the whole country subsequently.”

    Sure . As Ratnapala said “No Limits” , they will then fight for TN to annex , followed by whole of Endia. Even more , may be. Wonde r whether “NO LIMITS” in Colombo is owned by LTTE.

    Aloy,

    If our leaders do not act bravely , without fear , Lanka will be a west bank occupied by Sakkilis. Then they will eliminate all Sinhalas. This is serious.

  5. thurai Says:

    I know IPKF asked the Jaffna Tamils why do you want own country (Tamileelam) you have better life than us
    in India under GOSL. Only some Tamils beliving the words of Tamil Politicians are against GOSL
    in Tamilnadu.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    thurai,
    Nice to have you back ! Stay with us.

    ———

    Sri Lanka is getting the blame and flak for all the misdeeds of Colonists, Cold War players as well as Tamil Caste based mind binding ! Do NOT accept this blame – shove it back to where it came from. We respect only the truth. We respect only justice.

    Lankans ! Shake off these false shackles and move forward. Develop ALL of Lanka. Modernize & mechanize ALL of Lanka.

  7. Sooriarachi Says:

    Any investigation must include India’s despicable role in creating and supporting this conflict for so long.

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