Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Jaffna: Beseiged by Terror

by N. Malathy, March 20, 2008

Such military orders are obeyed without question because there is no other authority to which appeals can be made. What an individual military person orders must be obeyed or else...

There is one more shocking experience that Jaffna people are put through while on the road. The activities of military death squads have been reported. When someone is shot and killed, no one dares to go and assist them for fear of military reprisals. The body will lie on the spot until the judge arrives and clears it for removal to the hospital. This can take several hours during the daytime. School children, workers and shoppers must just walk past the dead body as if it is not there. Close family members could be seen sitting on the road wailing near their loved one, but no one, not even those known to them, dare to go near to console them or offer them any assistance.

Jaffna, a peninsula surrounded by sea, except for a narrow strip of land joining it with the rest of the island of Sri Lanka, has always had a special history of its own. For more than one and a half years now, this peninsula has been cut off from the rest of the island, after the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) closed the only land route through the narrow strip of land, thus isolating its more than 400,000 residents. This one and half year history of isolation adds to the already unique history of this peninsula in a spectacularly terrifying manner.

Jaffna Peninsula

People have been "marked, stalked and hunted for pleasure" in this period as described by one writer. The other aspects of this one and half year history are what ought to be studied, for it gives not only staggering lessons on how to "manufacture consent," it also exemplifies how the world can turn a blind eye to such staggering "consent manufacturing."

An understanding of this life in the Jaffna peninsula can be gleaned through what the Jaffna residents face at home, on the road, through their vehicle ownership, and how they can contact their relatives elsewhere.

At home

The concept of home being a person's own castle is well and truly abolished in Jaffna. The military will enter homes at anytime of the day. They need not enter by knocking and waiting for the door to open. They could just break open the door. They jump the fence from front or back. It is just called "checking."

Locations of High Security Zones (HSZ) in Jaffna Peninsula 2003, courtesy Tamil Centre for Human Rights

The military often orders people to cut off or break down the fence surrounding their homes so that it is easier for the military to observe their homes.

Such military orders are obeyed without question because there is no other authority to which appeals can be made. What an individual military person orders must be obeyed or else.

The vast majority of homes in Jaffna are supplied by water from wells in their own yard. The residents bathe at their own wells. The perimeter fence provides privacy as there are no "bathrooms" as such for most homes. When the perimeter fences are cut down, the women in the homes lose their privacy even during bathing.

All residents at every home must take a group photo and have it ready when the military comes to "check." If there is a person in the home who is not on the group photo, that person immediately becomes a suspect and is arrested. Thus, even close relatives cannot stay overnight at other relatives' homes. The acute problems faced by people, in the context of arbitrary curfews as described below, is easy to gauge.

On the road

There are three aspects to people's lives on the road: the military checkpoints every 100 meters, the randomness of curfews, and the convoy time. The military can stop anyone they fancy at any of these checkpoints. People are totally at the mercy of the military personnel.

The randomness of curfew causes untold hardships to travelers. If one takes a bus destined to a location, the different curfew times at these various locations must be taken into account. As if this is not enough, these curfews can be suddenly changed. It is common for people to be stuck on the road in the bus throughout the night because they can neither go to their destination nor to the starting point because of sudden changes in curfew times.

It is a common sight to see small business people waiting with their stocks at junctions early in the morning, waiting to take their stock to the market. These people are used to starting work very early in the morning, and the curfew forces them to delay their business activities. They come and wait at junctions to start their business activities without delay and are held back at the junctions by the military.

Perhaps most interesting is the introduction of new terminology to describe how people can get stuck because all traffic is blocked for military convoys even outside curfew time. "Konvoyapochchu" has become part of the Jaffna lingo to say how people were delayed for hours due to this phenomenon.

There is one more shocking experience that Jaffna people are put through while on the road. The activities of military death squads have been reported. When someone is shot and killed, no one dares to go and assist them for fear of military reprisals. The body will lie on the spot until the judge arrives and clears it for removal to the hospital. This can take several hours during the daytime. School children, workers and shoppers must just walk past the dead body as if it is not there. Close family members could be seen sitting on the road wailing near their loved one, but no one, not even those known to them, dare to go near to console them or offer them any assistance.

Ethnic Tamil women walk past the site where thirty-three-year-old ...

Ethnic Tamil women walk past the site where thirty-three-year-old Sellaiyah Ramesh, who disappeared overnight in Vavuniya, about 254 kilometres (158 miles) north of Colombo, was slain March 21, 2008. Police said Ramesh was killed by unknown gunmen. AFP, March 21, 2008

Owning vehicles

All vehicles, including bicycles, must be registered with the military with the owner's photo. This is in addition to the usual civil registration of vehicles. Only the owner can use the vehicle and must carry this military registration. Relatives can be registered to use the vehicle, but their photos are not included. Therefore, if a relative is caught using the vehicle, he/she can immediately become a suspect.

The military will commandeer a vehicle from anyone for their own use. Motorbikes are commandeered while very old people with heavy items are traveling on them, leaving the old person in the middle of the road with their heavy items. After commandeering the vehicle, the owner will be told to come and collect it in a week at a specified military camp. This camp could be very far from the vehicle owner's residence. Besides, a visit to the military camp itself is a blood-curdling experience for the Jaffna resident.

Contacting relatives

If Jaffna residents have close family members living in Vanni, they better forget making contact with them. This can be a serious source of danger to them. Those who dared to defy the military to contact their relatives have been warned to stop the contact. Even if it is their own child or spouse, they are barred from contacting those living in Vanni.

Young families have remained separated and the military has refused to let those in Jaffna rejoin their family in Vanni. People in Vanni have sought to stop their names appearing even in purely civilian news, fearing for the safety of their families living in Jaffna.

VIPs

Local VIPs like the Government Agent of Jaffna, Jaffna University Vice Chancellor, and the Bishop of Jaffna have been warned by the military not to speak out about the conditions in Jaffna.  There have been many international VIPs who have visited Jaffna during these one and a half years. They are not permitted to meet people in private where they can hear their views unmonitored by the military.

This, then, is the context in which the death squads are killing people on a daily basis, rapes are occurring regularly and ransom demands are being made with death threats. The situation is so staggering that most readers will find it difficult to believe what is said here.