Mailgram Study, Stanford Prison Experiment and Hammond Hill to the ‘K’ (Killing) Point
Posted on November 1st, 2015

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge

Sometimes this whole world

is just one big prison yard. 

Some of us are prisoners, 

the rest of us are guards. 

 — Bob Dylan

The Psychologist Albert Bandura once said “Our ability to selectively engage and disengage our moral standards helps explain how people can be barbarically cruel in one moment and compassionate the next.”. Indeed man is capable of committing atrocities and derives satisfaction. Contrary to that man is capable of love and care. But our past experiences in Nanking, Guernica, Gulags, Auschwitz- Birkenau, Buchenwald, My Lai, Killing Fields in Cambodia, Rwanda, Abu Ghraibprison etc indicate the destructive and torturous dynamism inside the Homo sapiens.


In 1929 with the publication of ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’ Sigmund Freud concluded that the conflict between sexual needs and societal mores is the source of mankind’s propensity for dissatisfaction, aggression, hostility and ultimately, violence. Freud saw the savage and destructive part of the human psyche.

Man’s inhumanity to man has been noticed since the dawn of civilization. There have been numerous theories and elucidations to explain why man commits atrocities against another man. In the past few decades researchers like John Dollard, Stanley Milgram , Philip Zimbardo etc tried to find answers to these age old questions.

Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiment countered the participant’s moral beliefs against the demands of authority. His Experiment was created to explain some of the horrors committed by the Nazis during the WW2. Thisexperiment measured how far people would go in electric-shocking others as part of a learning project. After this experimentStanley Milgram stated that a substantial proportion of people do what they are told to do, irrespective of the content of the act, and without pangs of conscience, so long as they perceive that the command comes from a legitimate authority. In 1974Milgram wrote…

It is ironic that virtues of loyalty, discipline, and self-sacrifice that we value so highly in the individual are the very properties that create destructive organizational engines of war and bind men to malevolent systems of authority. The aftermath of the Holocaust and the events leading up to World War II, the world was stunned with the happenings in Nazi Germany and their acquired surrounding territories that came out during the Eichmann Trials. Eichmann, a high ranking official of the Nazi Party, was on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The questions is, “Could it be that Eichmann, and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?”

 Milgram’s experiment explored the degree to which people could be persuaded to obey an authority figure blindly and perform cruel acts although it conflicted with their conscience.

Stanford Prison Study

A world renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted a prison simulation study in 1971 at the StanfordUniversity with his student volunteers. He randomly divided these volunteers into guards and inmates and then placed in a mock prison environment. This study continued for six days and Zimbardo observed radical behavioural changes in guards and prisoners over time. He noticed sadistic abuse in prison guards and abject submissiveness among the prisoners.   Professor Zimbado’s Stanford prison experiment uncovered the manifestation of deindividuation, vandalism and dehumanization when ordinary people were put in to specific authoritative figures with unlimited power and control over others. He showed that ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous. This simulation study demonstrated how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit atrocities.

The Stanford Prison

The Stanford prison experiment narrates the power of roles, rules, symbols, group identity and situational validation of behaviour. When the prison experiment was continuing the prisoners demonstrated symptoms of depression   and extreme stress while the guards had become more and more sadistic. This research revealed the psychological impact of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. Many years after this research Philip Zimbado expressed his thoughts thus.

“It does tell us that human nature is not totally under the control of what we like to think of as free will, but that the majority of us can be seduced into behaving in ways totally atypical of what we believe we are,” 

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

Professor Philip Zimbardo’s 2007 book ‘The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil’ argues that people are not born good or born evil. He gives numerous case examples how the situational forces and group dynamics affect people to commit atrocities.

……..the idea that an unbridgeable chasm separates good people from bad people is a, source of comfort for at least two reasons. First, it creates a binary logic, in which, Evil is essentialized. Most of us perceive Evil as an entity, a quality that is inherent, in some people and not in others. Bad seeds ultimately produce bad fruits as their destinies unfold. We define evil by pointing to the really bad tyrants in our era, such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and other political, leaders who have orchestrated mass murders. We must also acknowledge the, more ordinary, lesser evils of drug dealers, rapists, sex-trade traffickers, perpetrators of fraudulent scams on the elderly, and those whose bullying destroys the, well-being of our children………….

………… War engenders cruelty and barbaric behavior against anyone considered the, Enemy, as the dehumanized, demonic other. The Rape of Nanking is notorious, for the graphic detail of the horrific extremes soldiers went to degrade and destroy innocent civilian “enemy non-combatants.” However, was it a singular incident and not just another part of the historical tapestry of such inhumanities, against civilians we might think it an anomaly. British troops executed and raped civilians during the U. S. Revolutionary War. Soviet Red Army soldiers raped an estimated 100,000 Berlin women toward the end of World War II and between, 1945 and 1948. In addition to the rapes and murders of more than 500 civilians, at the My Lai massacre in 1968, recently released secret Pentagon evidence describes 320 incidents of American atrocities against Vietnamese and Cambodian, civilians. (The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil )

The Untold Story of the Hammond Hill Prison

The Stanford Prison experiment immensely helps us to understand the dynamics of the Hammond Hill Prison in Sri Lanka. Originally Hammond Hill was not a prison and it was a fortress that was under the control of the Archaeological department. With the 1971 youth uprising it was converted in to a prison. The prisoners were young Sinhala youth and the guards were mostly Tamils. The prison guards had no prior experience of handling the Sinhalese rebels and they never had any training. It became a form of an unplanned massive experiment under intense situation.

In 1971 a rebel group known as the JVP attacked the democratically elected Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s regime in Sri Lanka. The rebel group was mainly consisted of unemployed Sinhalese youth. Soon the insurrection was crushed and a large number of young rebels were taken as prisoners. The authorities decided to send hundreds of hardcore members to the JaffnaHammond Hill Prison Island.

The Hammond Hill fortress was built by the Dutch in the late 17th Century and they had large nine dungeons to store gunpowder. These dungeons were turned in to prison cells in 1971. At the Hammond Hill prison, the prisoners had to face inhuman conditions. The dungeons had no ventilations and it was infested with rats. The air inside the dungeons was not breathable. The heat was intolerable and due to poor ventilation almost every prisoner became sick. Many prisoners had anxiety and panic reactions. A number of claustrophobic attacks were reported within the first few weeks of their arrival.

After nearly 37 years a former prisoner recalled the situation thus: It was like living in hell. We had a feeling that we were trapped inside a huge concrete barrel. We could not breathe. We could not move. We were jam-packed inside the dungeon. This experience was like Pinocchio Inside the belly of the whale. But it was not a fun, extremely horrible. We slept on each other and at night rats freely walked over us. We had no human contacts. No visitor came to see us.  We were locked up most of the time”

The condition became worse when a 16 year old prisoner named Arnuna Shantha Lamahewa died as a result of savage beatings by the Police and poor sanitary facilities in the prison cell. He was a school boy who was arrested by the Police and then transferred to the Hammond Hill. We was sick for a number of days and never received any medical treatment. The inmates were helpless and sadly observed his worsening condition. Although they cried for help no guards came to open theprison doors. When the boy died the guards took his body and later buried near the Elara Naval base.

The Hammond Hill Prison was not suitable for human habitation. This small island had no fresh water supply. There was no waste management system and dungeons were filled with urine and excrement. The sanitary condition was extremely poor and most of the prisoners suffered from skin diseases. The Hammond Hill prison had no medical facilities. The food rations were limited and it was almost impossible to eat unpalatable food with low nutrition. Often the prisoners starved. Malnutrition and chronic dehydration were common among the prisoners.

The prisoners of the dungeon number 6 made an unsuccessful attempt to dig a secret cave. They knew it was impossible to penetrate the thick and hard lime stone. But they kept on digging the dungeon wall with primitive tools. As revealed by a former Hammond Hill prisoner, although this attempt was insane this effort gave the detainees some hope and preserved their sanity.

The Hammond Hill experience reminded them Dostoevsky’s the house of the dead. The prisoners had no way of getting any information from the outside world. They were totally cut off from the civilization. The relatives were not allowed to visit them. For a long period they had no legal representatives. Without knowing what’s happening in the outside world the prisoners believed that their comrades were fighting the government forces and they would be victorious and soon the Red guards were coming to release them from this awful prison. Most of the inmates believed this myth for a long time. Eventually they realized the truth about the uprising. When the hope was lost the prisoners became more and more depressed and aggressive.

After a few months the prisoners started analyzing their situation and ideological differences emerged. The friendly bunch of comrades who fought the government forces together risking their lives began to criticize each other. The comrades found traitors among their inner circle. It was an excruciating experience for them who were ready to sacrifice their lives for each other.

Following these ideological clashes some inmates were branded as traitors and violently beaten by the hard core members. There was an assault team that consisted of hard-line members. This team was called ‘Poriyal Hamudava (assault brigade). They instigated physical beatings of their fellow comrades. The victims pleaded the prison guards and the Naval Officers to save them from savage beatings.

Severe restrictions were imposed on so called the traitors. They were excommunicated by the other prisoners. When the prisoners had no control over their situation they tried to control it by using an ideological framework. The hardliners proclaimed that communist rules prevail in the Hammond Hill prison island and later this was known as Hammond HillSocialism. They abolished the ownership of private property although they had very limited personal items. Even the prisoners were not allowed have their own pair of slippers as private property.

Following the ideological confrontations some victims became detached from the main group and lived in isolation. They renounced the common ideology that made unit cohesiveness before the uprising. Some collaborated with the prison guards and their interrogators. Mistrust and culture of silence could be observed among the inmates.

Many of the prisoners had negative feelings about their future. The young inmates had no outlet to reroute their biological needs at the Hammond Hill Island. Most of the detainees were in their early twenties and unmarried. They were dedicated to a political cause. But when their revolution became a fiasco and some of the trusted comrades collaborated with guards and the Police many became desolated, confused and disconnected.

According to Mr. Wilfred Peris (alias Kegalle Peris) a former Hammond Hill prisoner, homosexual relations began to emerge among some of the young prisoners. These heterosexual young men who dedicated their lives to a Marxist philosophy now found a bizarre emancipation in gay relationships. Stress anxiety and unpredictability totally changed their sexual orientation. There were graffiti of naked females on the toilet walls and some prisoners used to achieve temporary satisfaction by observing these images and performing masturbation. Despite all these drastic changes some hardliners did not trade their ideology and stayed unchanged. They constantly discussed Karl Marx’s theories and the Communist Manifesto.

Hammond Hill Prison Guards

Most of the rebels were arrested after their unsuccessful attack on the April 5th 1971 at the Jaffna Police station and theprison complex. Several of the prisoners were shot by the security forces during the attack and some Sinhalese Police officers had an urge to kill the Sinhala rebels who surrendered to the security forces. But their attempt became ineffective when the Assistant Superintendent of Police Mr. R. Sunderalingam (who was a Tamil Officer) intervened. Mr. Sunderalingam ordered the men to disperse and to give medical treatment to the wounded suspects. Even today the former Hammond Hill prisoners remember this Tamil Police Officer who saved their lives with absolute respect.

Before transporting the prisoners to the Hammond Hill Prison they were savagely beaten at the Jaffna Police station and at the Jaffna prison. They were then taken to the Hammond Hill island by boats.

The prison guards were very harsh on the prisoners at the Hammond Hill. There was no supervision by senior officers. For long hours the prisoners were locked inside the dungeons that filled with extreme heat. It was so dark inside the dungeons even during the day time.  The prisoners had no sense of orientation. Even for a life-threatening medical emergency the guards never opened the doors. The tension went up to such a point on one occasion the inmates broke the iron doors and set themselves free. The prisoners gathered under a Bodhi tree that was near the dungeons. But they had no intention of fleeing the island. Soon the Naval guards surrounded the prisoners and ordered them to surrender. The Naval guards said that they would open fire if any prisoner tries to escape. One of the educated and respected prisoners among the group explained the Naval guards that the inmates had no war with the Navy and they were only fighting injustices committed by the prisonguards. Their aim was not to escape but to have fresh air which is a basic human right. Later this prisoner was identified as Mr. S. D Somarathna.

Although the prison guards of the Hammond Hill were cruel to the inmates on most occasions the prisoners still recall some guards who had humane qualities. Mr. Vallipuram and Mr. Pasupathi were two Tamil prison guards who were very sympathetic to the young Sinhalese rebels who were held at the Hammond Hill prison in 1971. Mr. Vallipuram felt exceedingly sorry for these youth and often told the prisoners that one day they would be released and never to abandon the hope. Within several years his prediction became a reality and the Government released all of the Hammond Hill Prisoners.

Hammond Hill After 40 Years

The Hammond Hill is not a prison any more. It has become a tourist detonation. The Sri Lanka Navy is running a tourist hotel in the island with all the luxuries. It has become Sri Lanka’s Alcatraz prison attracted by locals and foreign tourists. People have forgotten the 1971 insurrection and the former prisoners of Hammond Hill.

All the 1971 prisoners were released by the President J.R Jayawardene when he came to power in 1977. Although theHammond Hill prisoners became free many are still trapped in their ruminations. Some were able to move on with their lives forgetting the emotional wounds. But for some Hammond Hill has become a nightmare.  Today these men are in their sixties and a large percentage is still hounded by the reminiscences of the Hammond Hill Prison.

It is evident that majority of the former inmates had abandoned their radical political ideology and now lead politically inactive lives. Vasantha alias Mabole Rexy was one of the very few remaining members of the JVP who stayed with the movement. He was an active JVP member from 1971 to 2005.

Mr. Atlas Bandara who was a wealthy businessman in 1971 and volunteered to rescue Rohana Wijeweera from the JaffnaPrison now living his life in poverty. He has severe disappointments about the 71 events. He spent a number of years at theHammond Hill facing copious difficulties. His driver Sirisena Alwis alias Baldhi Sira too had to spend several years at the Hammond Hill with his master. After his release Sirisena Alwis started drinking heavily and died several years ago.

Young Lal Somasiri was attracted to the movement as a school boy. He abandoned his higher education and joined the 1971 uprising. Lal Somasiri had a tough time at the Hammond Hill when he gave his statement to the Criminal Investigation Department revealing the rebel leader Rohana Wijeweera’s message after his arrest at Ampara on the 13th of March 1971. At the CJC (Criminal Justice Commission) Rohana Wijeweera denied delivering such a message to Lal Somasiri. Soon the hardliners at the Hammond Hill prison denounced him as a traitor. Today he is politically inactive and for a number of years he was forced to spend an undercover life.

Mr. Wanigabadu now a practicing lawyer has repressed his memories of the Hammond Hill saga. He does not want to remember about the events that occurred at the Hammond Hill Prison. I saw the real human nature at the Hammond HillPrison, Mr Wanigabadu says

Mr. Jayathilaka once an active and dedicated member now runs a small business and living a simple life. He has no connections with his former radical political party. Mr. Piyumasena Kannangara who participated in the Jaffna prison attack no longer connected with any political party and does not believe in political movements.

Mr. Birty Ranjith masterminded the Jaffna prison attack in 1971. He organized the attack to rescue the rebel leader Rohana Wijeweera who was held under tight security at the Jaffna prison. The attack went for several hours but ended in failure. Birty Ranjith was arrested and then severely beaten. His attackers broke his leg. He suffered heavily physically and mentally. At the Hammond Hill Birty made an unsuccessful attempt to reanalyze the events that occurred on the April 5th 1971. The JVP leaders refused to accept his conclusions. After sometime Birty became disappointed in the 71 events. He felt that he had been used and then betrayed. He left the movement while he was still at the Hammond Hill. Today Birty Ranjith lives in exile in Germany. He is a political writer and had published his experiences in 1971 uprising and subsequent prison life at theHammond Hill.

Mr. Wilfred Peris (alias Kegalle Peris) remained a loyal member and worked with the Movement for a number of years. However ruminations of the 71 saga impacted him profoundly. He has had suicidal ideations and sense of foreshortened future. During 1988 he left the party and worked with paramilitary groups. He later documented his 71 experiences and disturbed political events that occurred in 1988 2nd JVP Uprising. According to these disclosures Wilfred had helped the Government and Paramilitary forces to capture the undercover JVP activists. He writes that he had participated in interrogations and witnessed a number of killings. Today he is living overseas under  political asylum.

The psychological impact of the Hammond Hill prison was never been studied although it was a dark part of Sri Lanka’s political history. Hammond Hill signifies a beginning of a gloomy era- political detention system and gross violation of human rights. Although Hammond Hill was an eye opener the society never learned anything from this tortures experience. The young generation who witnessed the social violence in 1971 launches another uprising in 1988 causing deaths of nearly 60,000 people.

Despite all odds Hammond Hill shows us human behaviour in extreme conditions. Unusual human relationships under extreme circumstances. It narrates the wickedness of the prison guards and also humane qualities that some possessed.Hammond Hill story described sadistic hearts as well as the kind warmth feelings under the uniform.

Hammond Hill recounts group dynamics, collective behaviour of youth who became united under one political ideology. They were ready for extreme sacrifices in the name of this ideology. When the political attempt became unsuccessful disagreements surfaced. The comradeship was shifting to the opposite pole – the traitor. The rebels denounced their fellow comrades in a tiny isolated island. Those who fought for one common political aim started fighting with each other. For some detainees the prison guards and interrogators became their new saviours. Some had radical behavioural changes at the prisonsometimes accepting changes in their sexual orientation. Some sustained permanent emotional scars after facing horrors of the Hammond Hill.

The inmates at the Hammond Hill prison underwent severe environmental and manmade stressors. Apparently a large number of prisoners suffered from depression and anxiety   related ailments that were never diagnosed or treated. Perhaps time healed many emotional wounds. But for some victims time didn’t. Two of the former inmates Rev Morawaka Badhhiya and Susil Galgamuva committed suicide less than 15 years after their release from the Hammond Hill Prison. Therefore posttraumatic impact of the Hammond Hill prison cannot be underestimated.

The Devipuram Torture Chamber 

The LTTE or The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had their torture chambers in a secret location at Devipuram in the North of Sri Lanka. For many years the outside world had no clue about this slaughter house. The Devipuram torture chamber was the Tuol Sleng (or S-21) of Sri Lanka. This torture chamber was under the direct command of Pottu Amman (Shanmugalingam Sivashankar ) who was the chief of TOSIS (Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service). He was also known as the Heinrich Himmler of the LTTE.

Many of the Devipuram Torture Chamber guards were LTTE child soldiers who were trained in torture.  Often the prisoners were viciously beaten, humiliated and sometimes killed. The senior leaders constantly taught the child soldiers not have compassion or show no mercy to the prisoners since they were traitors and the enemies of the people.

The LTTE child soldiers had power and authority over the elders in their community just like the Pol Pot’s Khemer Rouge child soldiers. These young soldiers could arrest or detain any civilian if they though he or she was against the LTTE.

When the Sri Lankan armed forces advanced in 2009 the prison guards of the Devipuram Torture Chamber killed all the prisoners and burnt their bodies to hide the evidence. The buildings and chambers were dismantled or set on fire. Still the little information is known about Devipuram Torture Chamber and its victims. But according to the reports thousands of LTTE opponents were made to suffer and eventually killed at the Devipuram Torture Chamber. The escapees and the other witnesses coincide that brutal methods such as forced starvation, controlled drowning, electrocution, vicious beatings were frequently used by the guards at the Devipuram Torture Chamber.  According to the official estimations the LTTE killed over 20,000 Tamil civilians who they thought as traitors. Many perished at the Devipuram after undergoing unspeakable horror.

The POWs of the Eelam War

The psychological impact of being taken as a prisoner of war is devastating. Former POWs of the Eelam War still undergo a range of mental health problems. The words can hardly explain the physical and mental agony experienced by the former POWs. For instance Lance Corporal P’s story would be a distressing narrative about war captivity.

Lance Corporal P joined the Sri Lanka Army in 1991 as a signalman. After his basic training he was sent to the operational area. In 1993 he was posted to Welioya Senapura camp and he was employed in the signal room. During this period the LTTE launched a massive attack against the Senapura camp. He was wounded and captured as a prisoner by the LTTE in 1993. For nearly five and half years he spent his life in the LTTE prisons. During this period he was physically and mentally tortured.

Lance Corporal P reveals his horrendous experience thus.

When the LTTE attacked our Camp I was in the signal room with a Lieutenant. We wanted to send an urgent message and call for reinforcement. The signal room was attacked by a RPG. Our radio and other equipment were destroyed by the attack. Then a group of LTTE members broke in to our signal room. They grabbed the Lieutenant and killed him with a mammoty. His eyes were taken out in front of me. They attacked me too.

I was wounded and lost my consciousness. When I opened my eyes I was in a LTTE vehicle blindfold and my arms and legs were tightened. Then I realized that I was a prisoner. I was anxious about my future. A number of times I asked from myself are they going to kill me? I could not escape and I was helpless.

The first few weeks they interrogated me. They thought that I was an officer in disguise. They wanted to get our classified signal cords. They tortured me and threatened to kill me. The first few months I was unbreakable and told them nothing. Then they put me in isolation. For seven months I was in a small dark room. My biological clock was disrupted. I did not know it was day time or night. I was given food three times a day. That was the only time I saw a human being. I was sleeping on the dirty rough prison cell floor fearfully waiting for my tormentors.

This was the worst part of my POW experience. That was a frightening and disorienting event.  After seven months I was daily taken for interrogations and every day they asked same set of questions. For any slightest incompatibility I was savagely beaten and sometimes electrocuted. They crushed my genitals, also used to put Chili powder in to my foreskin. I was in pain and agony. No one was there to save me. I was abandoned by my people and I knew this was my end.

They threatened to kill me a number of times. Each time I was oozing with fear and helplessness. I was praying for my life. Several times I was taken for mock executions. Each time I was in shock. Once they took me to a deserted area where they execute prisoners. They shot an EPRLF prisoner who was belonged to a different militant group. But they did not kill me that day perhaps they wanted to bargain my freedom with the Government.

The Guards were extremely brutal in their handling of prisoners of war. Interrogators as well as the prison guards administered torture. I was tied up for interminable periods into painful positions. The tormentors used to beat me with clubs. Sometimes the senior LTTE cadres encouraged the child soldiers to beat us.

I was a POW for nearly five years. All these years I was tortured and humiliated continuously. I underwent horrifying physical and psychological pain. All these years I was by myself and there was no one to comfort me.

Every single day I prayed for my life. Finally my freedom came unexpectedly. I was released in 1998 September after the intervention of the ICRC. I came home. There was no welcome ceremony. I went on leave for a few weeks. My family members were happy to see me. But I could not feel the happiness. I was always on guard. I had fear feelings that the LTTE might capture me again. Some nights I was troubled by nightmares and I could not sleep”

Lance Corporal P was deeply traumatized and his psychological wounds were a direct result of his being in the LTTE prisoncamp. He is a casualty of war, strained by the emotions that had haunted since 1993. Following the long term repressive conditions, the torture and degradation under which Corporal P suffered resulted PTSD.

Lance Corporal U became a POW in July 1991 during the Balawegaya operation. He was wounded during the battle and taken as a prisoner. Until his release in March 1995 he was subjected to inhuman treatment. He was deprived of sanitation, light and proper medical treatment. He was kept in a small cell with 40 other prisoners. They had no enough space and practically every prisoner developed skin infections. The sick and wounded were left in their own excrement for many days. Some days they were given rotten food and while they were having meals the guards used to disturb them with loud noises etc. They were not allowed to take baths for months.

Lance Corporal U describes the nature of the LTTE Prison Guards in a distinctive manner. Some guards were extremely brutal and poisoned with racial hatred. They used to administer torture on the POWs. They maintained authoritative status and often humiliated the POWs. In addition they were suspicious of the POWs and their movements.

After a few months of his captivity Lance Corporal U decided to do physical exercises to regain his muscle strength. One of the guards became apprehensive when he saw a POW was doing exercises and lashed him.

Lance Corporal U states that there were LTTE Prison Guards with kind nature. Some of them taught him Tamil words and even gave extra food. They spoke to him kindly. But when the Sri Lanka Army or the Air Force attacked the LTTE targets these guards became hostile towards him.

The K Point alias the Eliyakanda Torture Chamber

In 1988 the JVP launched its 2nd insurrection against President Premadasa’s regime. The rebels and the security forces were responsible for gross violation of human rights during this period. The JVP insurrection claimed more than 60,000 lives. A large number of youth were arrested in connection with anti-government activities. The suspects were kept in numerous detention centers.

Eliyakanda camp (in Matara District) became one of the detention centers and it was well-known for its inhuman handling of the detainees. It was also known as the K (killing) point. Mr. Rohitha Munasinge’s book titled ‘Eliyakanda wada kandawura (Eliyakanda Torture Camp the Killing Point) published in 2000’ gives firsthand narration of torturing methods and merciless behaviour of the K point guards. Mr. Rohitha Munasinge who was a detainee in this center underwent torture and also witnessed horrific events. He is now living in France.

According to Rohitha Munasinge the guards of the K point unleashed extreme brutality on the suspects. They used sledge hammers to beat prisoners. When a prisoner was hit on the head with a sledge hammer he falls down and then goes in to seizure with violent body movements says Rohitha Munasinge who witnessed such events. For sadistic amusement the guards named two of such sledge hammers as ‘Loku Molaya’ (Large Brain) and ‘Podi Molaya’ (Small Brain). If a detainee was found with a relatively minor offence he was hit with the small brain or the small sledge hammer on the occipital region of the skull. For a big offence they used Large Brain or the big sledge hammer to hit on the parietal region of the skull. When a victim falls and starts convulsions the guards became very excited and gathered to observe it. They called it ‘break dance’.

The inmates were kept for long hours without giving water. When they were given food the detainees had to eat everything within ten seconds. If any food were remained on the plate after the 10th second the victims were beaten with clubs.

The Guards of the K Point

The K point guards were under educated youth who joined the Army low ranks during the height of the Eelam War. In 1989 the JVP issued an announcement to the armed forces members to resign from the military and they further said that those who disobey the order would suffer heavily. Several family members of the soldiers were killed after this notification and the soldiers became extremely hostile towards the rebels. They hated the JVP suspects and tortured them repeatedly.

Mr. Rohitha Munasinge says that many of the K-Point guards sexually molested the under aged suspects mostly the school boys those who were arrested for pasting JVP posters. Some guards openly talked about their atrocious acts and killings and boasted in front of others. However he describes on one remarkable guard who was kind to the prisoners. He had a minor disability in his right arm following a burn injury and he was less cruel to the suspects. When he was on guard he allowed the prisoners to have their meals without pressing for time. Once another guard tried to torture the prisoners unnecessarily he became so annoyed and pointed his gun at him. But on one occasion when he saw prisoners were talking to each other disobeying orders he became angry and flogged the prisoners with his leather belt.

According to another detainee there was a senior K –Point guard who was fond of cutting throats of the prisoners with a sharp razor blade. Often he behaved like a savage and inflicted pain on prisoners. When he was in a joyful mood he used to play music and dance.

The K Point Guard Who Suffered from Malignant PTSD

Private xx2 worked as a guard at the K -Point during the 88/89 insurrection period. He used to physically beat the inmates, used to burn them with lighted cigarettes, pushed the genitals of the victims inside the drawer of a table then close the drawer causing them enormous pain, and sometimes conducted executions. He worked in the K -Point for about a year and half then got a transfer.

From 1992- 1993 his mental health started fading. He could hear the voices of his victims, their shouting in pain. Private xx2 had intense rage and as a result of repeated physical abuse, his wife and children left him. Several times, he tried to commit suicide. In 2002, he was diagnosed with PTSD after a series of psychological assessments and detailed clinical interviews.

Private xx2 had intrusions, nightmares, phobias, ideas of reference, hallucinations and various other trauma related symptoms. He was severely abusing alcohol in order to forget the events that occurred at the K -Point.  His recollections of the K -Point concurred with many descriptions given in the book ‘Eliyakanda Wada Kandawura (The Eliyakand Torture Camp)’ by Mr. Rohitha Munasinge. When Private xx2 was asked the color of the double cab vehicle in which they disposed dead bodies he gave the correct answer. This yellow color vehicle was vividly described in the book by the author.

The story of Private xx2 and his brutal experience as a guard at the K -Point recounts that the torture is a doubled edged sword that can harm not only the victims but the perpetrators too.


Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, Philip Zimbardo‘s Stanford Prison study demonstrated how average people could be turned in to evildoers. We ought to understand the power of social situations that can work as catalysts for ordinary people to rise above others and then perform cruel acts. From Stanford Prison study to Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Hammond to the K -Point we see the situational dynamics, deindividuation, dehumanization, anonymity, diffusion of responsibility etc played as crucial roles. These experiments and factual situations showed that human psyche is not totally pure or evil. Perhaps good and evil are part of the human condition.

Today the societies are full of religious, ethnic and racial tensions. Politicians like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot etc and religious fanatics like Jim Jones, Asahara   could bring extreme carnage in to the society once again. Therefore people are not totally safe from evil. Economic recessions, mass unemployment, social unrests always welcome pseudo Messiahs and forcing people to find scapegoats. As Professor Zimbardo states all evil begin with an ideology. We have to find the root causes and social vectors of these social evils and how decent educated people turn in to un-empathetic monsters and banish their fellow human beings due to ethnic, religious or ideological differences or do nothing when wicked people are initiating gross human right violations.

Talking about good and evil the Great Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky once said “nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer: Nothing more difficult than understanding him”. Dostoyevsky was absolutely correct.

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