Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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The Indo-LTTE War (1987-1990)

An Anthology, Part VIII

Taking Stock One Year After the 1987 Accord

“It was interesting to read your exchanges with Robert Pape! Could I ask you a  question? My father wrote an article where he quoted passages from Pape's book to the effect that some of the actions of the Indian army in Sri Lanka such as rape of women was partly responsible for the blowback that resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In particular, that the suicide bomber Dhanu was herself a victim of such an attack. This version was aggressively challenged by a brigadier who happened to be part of the Indian force there. Were there atrocities including rape on a substantial scale by the IPKF forces in Sri Lanka, and if so, where could one find accurate documentation on this? Thanks.”

Part 1 of series

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

When July 1988 ended, one year had lapsed after the signing of the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayewardene Accord. How the Sri Lankans and Indians took stock of the first anniversary of this ill-fated Accord can be assessed from the two newsreports of that period; one from Colombo and the other from New Delhi. I reproduce these two unsigned items.

Sri Lankans Tense on Pact Anniversary [Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo, July 28, 1988]

Colombo, July 26 (AP): An island-wide security alert was ordered Tuesday to counter possible violence on the first anniversary this week of the Indian-brokered peace accord. The accord, signed last July 29, was aimed at ending the

Asiaweek November 6 1987 mother & child
Asiaweek, November 6, 1987

Tamil ethnic war that has taken 8,000 lives in the past five years. The security alert was ordered after the government learned that the People’s Liberation Front was urging Sri Lankans to protest the pact starting Friday, said Ernest Perera, a senior police official.

The Front, made up of nationalist Sinhalese, has vowed to kill anyone who supports the Accord and has been blamed for more than 400 killings in the past year. The Front contends the peace pact makes too many concessions to the minority Tamils. Front members began distributing handbills and hanging posters in Colombo on Tuesday to urge Sri Lankans to join two days of ‘national resistance’ Friday and Saturday. The handbills said people should not go to work and should stay off the streets on both days. State-run radio announced that school examinations scheduled for Friday and Saturday were being postponed because of security threats. Earlier, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam called for a strike on Friday to protest the pact.

In a speech on Tuesday, President Junius R. Jayewardene rejected calls from the People’s Liberation Front and Opposition parties to abrogate the Accord. In Madras in southern India, an Indian military official said Tuesday that 39 Tamil militants were killed and 29 apprehended in a 10-day sweep in northeastern Sri Lanka.

India Takes Stock of Sri Lankan Casualties [Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, July 30, 1988]

New Delhi (AFP-Jiji): Parliament on Thursday took stock of India’s military losses in Sri Lanka one year after the signing of a peace accord designed to end the island’s ethnic crisis. Defense Minister Krishna Chandra Pant told Parliament’s Lower House that 511 Indian soldiers had died since Oct. 10 in battles with Sri Lanka’s dominant Tamil guerrilla group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Another 1,526 had been wounded in operations as of July 17 in Sri Lanka’s north and east, Pant said, adding that 49,000 Indian soldiers were now deployed in the island under the July 29, 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord. The defense minister said 107 soldiers and officers had been killed since May of this year when the peacekeeping force intensified military operations to flush out remaining LTTE rebels. India had spent 970 million rupees since Oct.10 upto May 31 on the Sri Lankan operation, Pant said in the first official statement of India’s military spending in Sri Lanka.

Sexual Abuse of the Indian Army on Eelam Tamils

One sensitive issue which has failed to receive due recognition in the report to the Indian Lok Sabha by Defense Minister K.C. Pant was the sexual abuses committed by the members of the Indian Army on the unarmed Eelam Tamil civilians, especially in late 1987. The newsreports, commentaries, editorials and interviews in the newsmagazines also didn’t focus appropriately on this delicate theme. As such, I have to provide some documentation, so as not to ignore this human rights violation issue. Another valid reason for me to touch on this theme was a query I received early this year from one Indian academic (currently working in a European Country). His query was as follows:

“Dear Sri Kantha,

It was interesting to read your exchanges with Robert Pape! Could I ask you a  question? My father wrote an article where he quoted passages from Pape's book to the effect that some of the actions of the Indian army in Sri Lanka such as rape of women was partly responsible for the blowback that resulted in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. In particular, that the suicide bomber Dhanu was herself a victim of such an attack. This version was aggressively challenged by a brigadier who happened to be part of the Indian force there. Were there atrocities including rape on a substantial scale by the IPKF forces in Sri Lanka, and if so, where could one find accurate documentation on this? Thanks.”

The reference to Robert Pape in this correspondence relates to my interaction with Prof. Robert Pape of the University of Chicago and his quality-challenged inferences on the LTTE suicide bombers, which received highlight a few years ago. To this query of the Indian academic, I sent the following response, after satisfying myself on the bona fides of my correspondent. To quote the relevant component of my response,

“Assertions and denials by accusers and perpetrators fly in the air in any war. Since I was not physically present in the theater of war during 1987-90, I cannot vouch for the veracity of assertions and denials. But, I have heard of killings and rapes from my kith and kin (who were living in the North and East of Sri Lanka) who had been at the receiving end of the atrocities of Indian army soldiers. The number of Tamil commoners killed during the IPKF operations alone had been counted and validated in the range of ~7,000. For obvious reasons, the news of killings and rapes committed by the Indian soldiers went unpublished in the servile Indian media (the worst offender being the House of Hindu publishers).

If a person is missing suddenly and if anyone have identified the missing person's dead body and found life-threatening injuries, then the killing can be nominally inferred. But how can one verify rape? especially in a conservative culture, where women  and families don't want to make a formal complaint and fuss about their plight. Even if the victim has the courage to make a complaint, in the chaotic war environment, to whom one can make a complaint? - the Indian army officers? to the Indian high commission in Colombo? to the Sinhalese officials? And how to account for the women who have been raped and subsequently killed? Only a few daring folks who had survived the tragedy in the North-East Sri Lanka and who escaped to Colombo, and who were in the proper mental frame had openly complained to the international media folks, and it is safe to assume that those who have talked about their travails could be less than 5% of the total number of victims. So, searching for recorded evidence for those years is akin to searching the proverbial needle in the haystack.”

Then, I did search for recorded evidence on the sexual abuses of Indian soldiers and located two reliable books from opposite poles. One (Adele Balasingham, the wife of LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham) has to be considered as a pro-LTTE source. But the second source (Rajan Hoole and his colleagues) is definitely not a pro-LTTE source. Both sources satisfy the criterion of having lived in Eelam during the period of IPKF operations. For record, I provide the relevant citations below.

Source 1: Adele Balasingham, The Will to Freedom – An Inside View of Tamil Resistance, 2001.

“In their advance towards the Jaffna town [during the ‘Operation Pawan’] the jawans left a trail of grisly deaths and random killings of Tamil civilians by trigger-happy troops. Behaving like a foreign army of occupation the Indian troops exacted their booty. Countless number of Tamil women screamed in terror and disgust as the gangs of jawans from the invading Indian columns subjected them to brutal sexual violence; their cries of anguish echoed repeatedly in the air when the ‘peace keepers’ violated what Tamil women consider most sacred – their modesty, dignity and pride.” [p.145]

“Once inside the households the Indian jawans transformed into merciless brutes violating the basic norms of human decency. Rape, theft, thuggery, assault of innocent people became a regular procedure of the so-called Operations. To identify one suspect, entire villages were uprooted and thousands of people were marched off to public grounds on massive identification parades. Several elderly persons have told me that the Indian jawans marched them out of their houses and forced them to kneel along the roads for hours in the hot sun. Irrespective of age, all civilians underwent experiences of utter humiliation. Those who were arrested on suspicion were held incommunicado in various detention centres. Torture under interrogation was a routine practice. Women were vulnerable and defenceless when confronted by armed jawans, and despite their please for mercy, many were molested and violently gang raped. Indeed a sixty-year old lady friend of ours secretly confided to me her humiliation when three young, armed jawans barged into her house, forcefully separated her from her sick and disabled elderly husband, dragged her into a room and gang raped her. This reserved and dignified elderly lady choked back tears as she unburdened herself of her painful experience to me.” [pp. 168-169]

Source 2: Rajan Hoole et al., The Broken Palmyra, 1990 Revised version.

Hoole et al. have inserted the following details under subsection “4.9. Rape”, in the events in Jaffna by the “End of 1987”. The dots and details within the parenthesis in the quoted passage are as in the original.

“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 Thirunelvely attempted to commit suicide by jumping into a well.” [pp.298-299].

After a few sentences of general nature, the following description appears in the text.

“In one case a girl had been taken in on suspicion because she had been in a school group photograph with a known militant and been threatened by the Captain with rape, assault, etc. (Perhaps the Captain probably meant it only as a threat). Later, when she was released, a couple of Jawans had followed the family to their home, separated the parents and raped the girl. As she had started bleeding after the first had deflowered her, they had left saying they would come back the next day at the same time and that she should be in. It is worthy of note that in two cases where the victims braved both social ostracism and army intimidation to complain, the Indian investigating the case made out that the victims had to have some militant connection to be so bold as to complain. Although there was lack of action initially by the commanders, probably because they had to maintain troop morale in a difficult situation during the first two months, in later incidents disciplinary action was taken with identification parades and punishment, usually in the form of public thrashing and transfer to another unit. After December the Jawans were more discrete and circumspect. By 1988, the higher authorities showed much sensitivity on the issue of rape, probably due to the wide publicity outside Jaffna.” [p.299]

In this part of the anthology, I have transcribed 8 newsreports, commentaries and interviews that first appeared during June-July 1988. Among the 8 items, only two describe the war scenario, as it appeared during this period. Three items report on the chaos induced by the JVP in the southern Sri Lanka, linked to the presence of Indian army in the island. In chronological order, the 8 newsreports, commentaries and interviews are as follows:

Anonymous: Hitting the Tigers Again. Asiaweek, June 10, 1988, p. 18.

William E.Smith: Ballots Against Bullets – Sinhalese extremists try to disrupt the latest round of voting. Time, June 20, 1988, p. 8.

Anonymous: A Clean Sweep. Asiaweek, June 24, 1988, p. 21.

Rajendra Sareen: The Moral Majority – Naïve Congress loses election to a rebel crusader. Far Eastern Economic Review, June 30, 1988, p. 15.

Manik de Silva: Unruly schoolboys. Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-33.

Rajendra Sareen: The Whodunit Continues. Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-34.  

Anonymous: What We Learned in School Today. Asiaweek, July 22, 1988, p. 25.

India Correspondent: The Tigers dig their claws in. Economist, July 30, 1988, pp.33-34.

Wherever they appear, either dots or words within parenthesis/in italics and in bold fonts are as in the originals.

Hitting the Tigers Again

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, June 10, 1988, p. 18]

Sri Lanka’s Tamil guerillas took to the bush after Indian peacekeeping troops

flushed them out of their strongholds in the northern Jaffna peninsula last October. The Indians, 72,000 of whom are in Sri Lanka to enforce the Indo-Lankan accord aimed at ending the fight for a separate Tamil homeland in the north, hit the Tigers again last week. They launched a massive attack on May 23 against their bases in the jungles of Alampil in the northeast. The first week of fighting left 35 rebels and eleven Indian soldiers dead. The offensive was seen as an attempt to make a clean sweep of Tamil strongholds before a partial Indian troop withdrawal later this year.

LTTE fighter Asiaweek November 6 1987
LTTE fighter, Asiaweek, November 6, 1987

The Indians claimed that the attack had broken the Tigers – who had at first appeared to agree to the terms of the July accord, including a ceasefire and provincial elections, but then went back on the warpath. ‘We are now holding low-level talks with the Tigers in Madras, attempting to persuade them to surrender their arms and return to the political mainstream,’ an Indian officer in Colombo told Asiaweek. ‘They believed that they were in a position to dictate terms to India. After this I don’t think they can make that boast.’

On another front, the trouble-plagued Sri Lankan government is faced with an escalating terrorist campaign in the south by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a militant Sinhalese leftist group that opposes the Indo-Lankan accord. The JVP has stepped up its assassinations of politicians who support the treaty. Those killed in recent weeks include the general secretary of the ruling United National Party, Nandalal Fernando. In frustration, President Junius Jayewardene even challenged JVP assassins to a duel. The JVP was undeterred. Posters put up in towns in Southern Province warn that the first five persons at each polling station to vote in the upcoming provincial election would be earmarked for death.

*****

Ballots Against Bullets

[William E. Smith; Time, June 20, 1988; p. 8]

WARNING: The provincial councils are part of a plot by India to divide the country. Those who participate in them in any way are traitors. The first five who vote in these elections will be killed.

Signs bearing that chilling threat from the extremist Sinhalese People’s Liberation Front, or JVP, were posted on walls, culverts and trees throughout much of Sri Lanka’s Southern province last week. They were quickly removed by security forces, but not before people got the message. Thanks to the front’s intimidation, the turnout in the current series of provincial elections, which began in April, has been far below normal. In last week’s balloting, voter participation was no higher than 25%.

The provincial councils were established under last year’s agreement between Sri Lanka and India as part of a strategy for reducing the country’s three-way, four year-old civil warfare. President Junius Jayewardene, 81, knew that the accord with India would not be acceptable to the JVP, though he hoped the Tamil minority, which seeks greater autonomy, would be satisfied with a limited measure of local rule within the Sinhalese-dominated state. But the main Tamil guerrilla group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, turned down the proposals and renewed its struggle, directing much of its fury against the 70,000-strong Indian peacekeeping force.

Because of the unrest, Jayewardene has been unable to hold provincial-council elections in predominantly Tamil constituencies in the north and east. Elsewhere, the main opposition group, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, boycotted the balloting. Nonetheless, Jayewardene went ahead with the elections in Sinhalese-dominated areas, achieving generally unimpressive majorities for his dispirited United National Party. In the Western province, which includes the capital city of Colombo, the party gained only 52 seats, compared with the combined opposition’s 50.

When the balloting was held in the Southern province last week, JVP supporters tried to disrupt the proceedings by blocking roads with fallen trees and setting fire to buses and government offices. Complained one voter: ‘The security forces will tell us to open the polling places and will leave in their jeeps – and then the JVP will arrive on motorcycles and shoot us.’ Over the past year, JVP operatives have killed more than 100 political opponents, and in August they nearly assassinated Jayewardene. As it turned out, the UNP won 37 of 53 seats in the Southern province, but many of the votes appeared to have been cast by gangs of men who were transported from one polling place to another.

Hoping for an improvement in the political climate, the President tentatively lifted the ban on the JVP last month. Eleven days later, the organization gave him its answer. Two of its gunmen murdered the UNP’s general secretary, Nandalal Fernando, as he was leaving his Colombo home to go to work. In desperation, Jayewardene told a public rally that he and JVP Leader Rohana Wijeweera, 45, should settle the dispute in a fight between themselves. In that way, said the aging President, no more innocents would lost their lives. [Reported by Qadri Ismail/Colombo].

*****

A Clean Sweep

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, June 24, 1988, p. 21]

Weeks before provincial polls were to be held in Sri Lanka’s deep south, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, an extremist Sinhalese group, began a campaign of sabotage. Posters were put up in towns in Southern Province, a JVP stronghold, warning citizens that the first five people at each polling booth would be slain. JVP activists also set fire to high tension power transformers, thus cutting off electricity to towns and villages. They blocked roads with massive trees and blasted culverts with dynamite. Despite the violence, the government went ahead with the elections on June 9. Fear of JVP retaliation kept most voters away, but those who did turn up cast their ballots largely in favour of the ruling United National Party. With the major opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) boycotting the polls, the UNP easily won control of the province, clinching 69% of the seats.

The ruling party’s convincing victory in Southern Province followed similar triumphs in local elections held over the past two months in six other provinces. The leftist United Socialist Alliance, which came second, made a commendable showing. Groupings such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Liberal Party, however, failed to make much impact. But the UNP’s victory was marred by allegations of poll-rigging.

The setting up of provincial councils fulfils part of last year’s India-Sri Lanka peace accord aimed at awarding autonomy to regions torn by ethnic clashes between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. Ironically, however, elections in Tamil-dominated Northern Province and multi-ethnic Eastern Province have been postponed indefinitely. The opposition SLFP, led by former prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her son, Anura, has rejected the elections on the grounds that creating provincial councils in the north and east would mean a de facto partitioning of the country.

Aware that JVP intimidation would affect voter turnout in Southern Province, the government permitted candidates to employ goon squads to escort supporters to polling stations. People were transported in buses, each with an armed escort of shotgun-wielding thugs. ‘With guns sticking out of the windows, [the buses looked] like centipedes scurrying somewhere to sting some one,’ recalls lawyer Tennyson Edirisooriya, who stood as an independent candidate.

In what seemed another attempt to appease voters, Colombo persuaded Indian armed forces trying to keep peace in the island’s troubled north and east to stage a partial pullout. Although the Indian authorities refused to disclose how many troops departed on June 7, observers counted only 320 soldiers and 8- paramilitary personnel boarding the naval ship bound for India. That figure hardly dents the pre-withdrawal total of 72,000 Indian soldiers stationed on Sri Lankan soil. ‘Not many vehicles were taken out either,’ notes a Sri Lankan military official. ‘In all they took three armoured personnel carriers and an assortment of other vehicles in a state of disrepair.’

Not long after balloting ended in the south, the corridors of power in Colombo were abuzz with talk about an upcoming general election in September. State-run media, including the television and radio corporations, were apparently ordered to get ready for the polls. Certain journalists were also told in confidence by UNP stalwarts that the lokka or ‘old man’ – as colleagues fondly call President Junius Jayewardene – was determined to call a snap election before his term expired next January.

Observers say one decisive factor in parliamentary hustings could be the once-outlawed JVP, which has vehemently denounced the India-Sri Lanka agreement and, consequently, the provincial council polls. In the past year, the Sinhalese extremist group has assassinated more than 200 UNP and USA supporters. Among those killed in well-planned JVP operations were charismatic USA leader Vijaya Kumaratunga and UNP chairman Harsha Abeywardene.

For the SLFP, boycotting the provincial polls might prove to be a major disadvantage in the long run. By gaining control of local councils, the UNP has a firm grip on development, education, law enforcement, taxes and a host of other politically important departments in the provinces. A provincial council thus wields immense power, which it can use to batter a weak Parliament, if it so wishes. ‘Under the proportional representative system of election, the SLFP may win a general eletion with a very narrow margin,’ notes Colombo-based political analyst Sarath Gunawardene. ‘But unless the SLFP forms a parliamentary alliance with the USA, one can imagine the political chaos that would result when UNP-dominated provincial councils and a weak Parliament clash.’

*****

The Moral Majority – Naïve Congress Loses Election to a Rebel Crusader

[Rajendra Sareen; Far Eastern Economic Review, June 30, 1988, p. 15]

The massive win by former Cabinet minister turned moral crusader V.P. Singh in a 16 June by-election has robbed the ruling Congress Party of a seat in the Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament – and damaged the credibility of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Although Gandhi had declared that the seat in Allahabad had to be won ‘at all costs,’ The Congress’ strategy was poorly conceived and some hold him responsible for its campaign transgressions.

Congress won two of five Lok Sabha and five of 10 state assembly by-elections held simultaneously. It trails in counting for another seat and a re-poll has been ordered for one other seat in the Lok Sabha. The results of one state assembly seat have been held up. Gandhi has said his party is satisfied with the results, but Singh has described the Allahabad poll as a ‘referendum’ on Gandhi’s performance, and the Janata Party leader Ramakrishna Hegde has said it is a vindication of Singh’s ‘emphasis on principled politics and clean public life.’

Singh, a former finance and defence minister in Gandhi’s cabinet, was forced to resign last year after attempting to investigate allegations of corruption involving the purchase of weapons from foreign countries. Another reason for Singh’s resignation was his relentless pursuit of rich Indians who have acquired undeclared wealth. He created a Jan Morcha, or People’s Movement, which he said was more a social reform movement than a political party.

There had been some doubt that he was going to stand for election in Allahabad. He had said he would only if the Congress put up film actor Amitabh Bachchan, a personal friend of Gandhi’s, who had resigned the seat in the wake of allegations that he had illegally amassed wealth abroad. The Congress tried to out-maoeuvre him by refusing to pick its candidate until Singh had committed himself to stand. Then, it named Sunil Shastri, the son of a respected former prime minister. Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad claimed that Singh had been trapped and that he would be humiliated and destroyed. The opposite happened. Singh went on to poll 203,167 votes to Shastri’s 92,221 and 68,836 by the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party which champions the poor.

Singh’s campaign focused on Gandhi, though in keeping with tradition the prime minister did not campaign and kept aloof from the by-election. Singh’s supporters made much of the Bofors gun scandal -  in which an arms deal negotiated by the Indian and the Swedish governments had resulted in a US$ 16 million commission being paid into the Swiss bank account of an Indian middleman, though the two sides had agreed that there would be no middlemen in the deal. Singh’s followers erected a ‘Bofors gate’ in Allahabad, harking back to the 1970s Watergate scandal in the US. They also trooped around the streets in a ‘Bofors van’ with a wooden replica of the Bofors gun mounted on it. Another telling opposition ploy was a campaign float depicting a wooden submarine to remind the voters of yet another scandal involving the purchase of West German submarines by the Defence Ministry.

The Congress suffered primarily because of its strategy of attempting to mobilise support on a caste and communal basis – a strategy it used in the Haryana state assembly polls last year when its cobbling together of caste leaders ended with its being routed. This time it went further, trying to play on the emotions of devout Hindus by getting Arun Govil, who plays Lord Rama, the god of virtue, in a popular TV serial on the Ramayana, to campaign for them. He depicted the election as a religious war with the Congress on the side of right and justice, and promised his ‘blessing’ to those who voted for the party. The tactic turned out to be totally naïve.

The Congress fared badly as a whole in the Lok Sabha polls where, apart from the Allahabad seat, it was also ousted in the Sirsa seat in Haryana by the Lok Dal and trailed behind another opposition candidate in the Udhampur seat in Jammu and Kashmir. It only retained the Pali seat in Rajasthan and the Tura seat in Meghalaya.

The opposition’s jubilation at the perceived humbling of the Congress should be tempered by the fact that in the by-elections for state assemblies, spread over Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir, the ruling party retained two seats, snatched one each from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajasthan, the Communist Party of India-Marxist in West Bengal and the Janata in Gujarat. It was ousted from two other seats by the BJP and the Lok Dal. This was a reversal of previous polls when the Congress swept Lok Sabha elections in December 1984 but did not fare as well in the state assembly polls three months later.

Singh himself has some hard decisions to make. It is unlikely that the many opposition parties will be able to form an alliance against the Congress that will last until next year when the general election is due, and to get some measure of unity he will have to abandon his stance of skirting round hard political choices by adopting a loose platform of undefined moral issues. During the Allahabad campaign he found that getting the support of some well known people in a bid to woo Muslim voters resulted in estrangement with a founder member of Jan Morcha, Arif Mohammed Khan, a former minister who resigned in 1986 on the issue of the government surrender on Muslim women’s rights. Unless Singh can put together a workable policy acceptable across the board, it is highly doubtful that the opposition will be able to confront the Congress as united as it did in Allahabad.

The results of the by-elections have shocked the ruling party and the party leadership in several states is expected to come under severe scrutiny. Gandhi will have to act quickly to reorganise his party if he is to stave off restive veteran political leaders whom he has sidelined so far. How he plays his cards at this juncture could be critical to his political future.

*****

Unruly Schoolboys

[Manik de Silva; Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-33]

The indiscipline and unrest in Sri Lanka’s campuses for the past several months has now spread to secondary schools with student demonstrations and class boycotts reported almost every day. The government accuses the militant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the organisation responsible for much of the instability in the majority Sinhalese south of the country, of using school children to achieve political objectives.

The problem came to a head on 20 June when a solider opened fire at a group of student demonstrators the government alleged was throwing stones at passing vehicles. A 15 year-old schoolboy was killed and four others injured. Among the vehicles was a bus used to withdraw a group of state auxiliary police after they had been deployed for security duties at provincial council elections in the south earlier in the month. A small escort detail of airmen and soldiers were returning to their base in the same bus after dropping the auxiliary police when the vehicle was attacked.

According to the servicemen, the bus driver had been hit on the head by a stone and he and the conductor had ducked for cover. One of the troops had been hit also and the soldier had opened fire. President Junius Jayewardene ordered an immediate inquiry and statements of several witnesses have been recorded. No official finding has yet been published and it is not clear whether the soldier had over-reacted. But what is clear is that the implications of the incident and its possible fallout have not been lost on Colombo, and police and troops have been ordered to be most circumspect in future dealings with student demonstrators.

Recent travellers on the southern highway have seen student groups armed with catapults, clubs and wooden poles, stopping mostly state-owned buses and what they believe are government vehicles and pasting crudely scrawled posters on them. A Colombo journalist and a photographer who were stopped on 23 June at Hungama, 48km south of Hambantota, an area where the JVP commands considerable support, offered Sunday newspaper readers a graphic account of their experience at the hands of what they called a ‘kiddie mob’.

They reported that despite a police station being just a few metres across the road, nothing was done to bring the students under control. It was clear that the police were under strict orders not to interfere with schoolchildren as any more shooting would aggravate an already tense situation.

Government MPs have been pressing Jayewardene to do whatever possible to reopen the universities quickly. Jayewardene, who holds the higher education portfolio, is on record as saying that the question of whether the universities should be opened or stay closed was a matter for the vice chancellors. Due to the situation on the campuses, most vice chancellors had recommended closure, he told a meeting of government MPs. The president is convinced that the vast majority of university students are keen on getting back to their books but are being held to ransom by a small group of activists. The government’s dilemma is whether or not to step in and get rid of the trouble makers, which would mean a direct conflict.

Most United National Party (UNP) MPs believe that if the universities can be reopened, much of the sting in the current secondary-school agitation could be removed. Some of them feel that university students are responsible for sparking the demonstrations in the schools, while others have complained at a government group meeting that secondary-school teachers sympathetic to the JVP have been responsible for the agitation in many areas. Some MPs have even charged that the appointment of teachers by open competitive examination, without consulting the MPs on the political allegiance of the appointees, had created this problem. There is little doubt that the opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its supporters find the anti-government agitation useful in an election year and has been lending at least tacit support to the JVP.

‘For every one JVP [supporter], there are at least 10 SLFP sympathisers. Those against the UNP, most likely the armed youth, will be encouraged by the political elements against the UNP,’ Health Minister Ranjith Atapattu said at a recent meeting of UNP branches in his constituency in the deep south. Exhorting his supporters to come forward and work for the reelection of the government, he predicted that a poor showing by the UNP at the next elections would result in a bloodbath.

In what appeared to be a reference to the dismal voter turnout in the provincial council elections, Atapattu said: ‘If we go on being frightened and do not come forward and vote, if by some chance the UNP performs poorly at the next election, the whole of the UNP cadre will be eliminated and a government hostile to us will take no notice.’

Among the measures the government is contemplating to get the universities reopened is increasing scholarship and bursary payments made to students. Between 75% and 80% of the country’s 20,000 undergraduates are either on scholarships or bursaries ranging from Rs 250-400 (US$ 9-14) a month. A parliamentary select committee which recently reported on the ‘grave and unsettled conditions’ prevailing in all the country’s universities, said it was difficult to imagine the economic hardships the students would endure but for these scholarships and bursaries. It urged the government to give whatever aid possible.

The main demand of the university student activists, who in May were able to disrupt efforts to hold final examinations under unprecedentedly tight armed security, is that students in custody for suspected subversive activity be freed. Originally as many as 77 undergraduates were in custody. Pressure mounted that they be either indicted or released and the government deputed Foreign Minister Shahul Hameed to look into the matter. Eventually 24 of those held were released. But the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) recommended their rearrest saying that they were again back in the centre of the agitation.

The NIB also warned against freeing nine others whose release the students are trying to secure. The vice-chancellors have now agreed to stand surety for students offered bail and a committee of government MPs, chaired by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, is going into this among other matters relevant to reopening the universities. The police are not at all happy about releasing student activists they are convinced will begin stirring fresh agitation.

Jayewardene told a recent meeting of editors and publishers he summoned to discuss the reporting of subversive activity, that the back of the JVP would have been broken by now but for the small number of automatic weapons they hold. Jayewardene also revealed that many of the firearms issued to candidates at the recent provincial council elections and others considered at risk, have been reported missing. According to figures tabled in parliament recently there were as many as 43 ‘political murders’ countrywide during the month ending 14 June. The month also saw the killing of four policemen by subversives.

The security authorities have noted that the JVP, which attacked a large number of police stations nationally during its abortive 1971 insurgency has, during its current agitation, avoided as far as possible direct confrontation with the police. But late in June they attacked the homes of two police guards who had shot and killed two men who attempted to torch the provincial courthouse at Bandarawela, in Uva Province. The revenge killings cost the lives of five people in the policemen’s homs, including the fathers of the constables, both of whom were over 80 years old.

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The Whodunit Continues – Bofors may have lied after all on arms scandal payment

[Rajendra Sareen; Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1988, pp. 32-34]

The Bofors arms scandal has erupted afresh with the publication of documents which appear to indicate that Bofors, the Swedish arms manufacturer, lied to the Indian Government and a parliamentary committee in saying no commission was paid for winning a US$ 1.1 billion contract in 1986. The contract was to supply India with 400 FH77B 155mm towed howitzers, ammunition and production technology.

The documents, published by The Hindu newspaper, contradict the 26 April report of a joint parliamentary committee, which was boycotted by opposition parties. The report concluded that there was no evidence a middleman was involved in the sale, backing Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s earlier assertion that he and the then Swedish Prime Minister, the late Olof Palme, had come to an understanding that no agents would be used.

The procedure for selecting the guns had been objective and the technical evaluation of the weapons systems ‘fair, thorough and flawless,’ the report said. There was no evidence that commissions or bribes had passed hands. It did go on to say: ‘Bofors paid 319.4 million krona (US$ 51.5million) to three companies not domiciled in India as winding-up charges for terminating agreements but [Bofors] refused to give details of these payments and their beneficiaries [to the committee] on grounds of commercial confidentiality.’

But, according to The Hindu, Bofors did pay a commission for winning the contract, and the beneficiaries were Indians. The payments were made through elaborate channels designed to conceal their true nature and ‘constituted a massive fraud on the Indian people and the decision-making process.’ In other words, the newspaper said, Bofors had lied to both the Indian Government and the parliamentary committee. The ‘winding-up charges’ was a cover-up phrase for the commission, said the newspaper. A former local agent of Bofors, Win Chadha, was linked to the payments ranging from less than 1% to 6% on items delivered to India.

Although there is still no evidence as to who the ultimate beneficiary was, the fact that payments were made does not seem to be in dispute anymore. The payments were made to three companies which obviously served as conduits for slush money and investigations should now focus on who the final recipients were. At present there is no evidence that Gandhi is linked with any of the three companies which received money, and the newspaper’s documents do not indicate any irregularities in the decision to award the arms contract to Bofors.

The Bofors scandal has dogged Gandhi’s footsteps since Radio Sweden first reported in April 1987 that bribes had been paid to senior Indian politicians and key defence figures in landing the contract. Opposition parties in India picked it up as a case of corruption in high places. New Delhi immediately denied the report and Defence Minister K.C. Pant told parliament that ‘if any evidence is produced involving violations of the law, the matter will be thoroughly investigated and the guilty, whoever they may be, punished.’ Gandhi then said he and Palme had agreed no agents would be used and he assured parliament ‘that we will see that nobody however high up is allowed to go free.’

But as more information on the affair came out of Sweden, allegations of corruption at the top level of government and suspicions of a cover-up swelled in India. This coincided with a worsening of relations between then president Zail Singh and Gandhi, with Zail Singh telling some political leaders last year that documents existed to prove corruption. If they did exist they never came to light, and an application to prosecute Gandhi for corruption similarly came to nothing for lack of prima facie evidence. Then the joint parliamentary committee of inquiry was set up and was boycotted by opposition parties.

Why did Bofors lie? Part of the answer lies in Sweden’s domestic politics where the scandal is just as big as in India. The opposition conservatives are using it as a handy stick with which to beat the ruling Socialist Democratic Party. Bofors has been exporting arms through third countries to various parts of the world. Swedish law prohibits arms sales to areas of conflict and as many of these sales would have been illegal, commissions would have had to be camouflaged.

New Delhi has said its agencies will resume its investigations in the light of the new information and it seems almost certain that the inconsistency between the published documents and the Bofors’ statements will be examined. Over and above that is the public and opposition demand for the identity of the beneficiaries of the commission. It looks as if the Bofors whodunit will continue to dominate the Indian political scene over the next few months.

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What We Learned in School Today

[Anonymous; Asiaweek, July 22, 1988, p. 25]

 ‘We are on strike,’ grins Ranjith Sumanasekara, his white shirt and trousers blotched with red mud. ‘That,’ he explains gleefully, ‘means we don’t go to school. Very good.’ Ranjith is 10. He is supposed to be a primary grade four student in Walasmulla, a town in the centre of Sri Lanka’s strife-ridden Southern Province. But as the violent battle there between the Colombo government and the outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has escalated, teachers and pupils have been drawn into the fray.

‘There is absolute indiscipline in school,’ confesses H.A. Rupasingha, director of education for Southern Province. ‘Principals can’t enforce order because teachers with political connections are more powerful than they are.’ Student agitation across the province has caused principals to close up to 70% of schools in recent weeks. The unrest is said to have been largely organised by teachers allied with the Marxist-cum-Sinhalese terrorist JVP. Politics is not their only motive, however. ‘Teachers who run private tutorials would like to see schools closed so that they can get more students,’ says Rupasingha.

Caught in the middle, school authorities are bullied by JVP militants and rogue teachers, who send them death threats. ‘Recently, a principal received a letter, purportedly from the JVP, asking him to close advanced-level classes,’ says Rupasingha. When he complied, he got another letter saying he shouldn’t. When he reopened classes, he received a third letter asking him to close. The correspondence went on in this fashion until the unhappy administrator realised some of the letters were coming from a tutoring outfit nearby.

‘The teachers are unruly, so what can you expect from students?’ asks Don Charles Kiriella, a former principal who now runs a village store near Wiraketiya, 130 km southeast of Colombo. Armed with catapults, teenage truants spend their time stoning vehicles on country roads or putting up anti-government posters. ‘Young people are angry,’ observes Kiriella. ‘They’re taught about democracy in schools. Then they see how it works. Now they have no trust in anything.’

Polls were held in Southern Province last month, part of a plan to reduce ethnic strife by providing greater autonomy through nationwide provincial councils. Determined to sabotage the scheme, the JVP threatened to kill voters. More than 75 people died, mainly supporters of the ruling United National Party. The UNP won, but there were widespread allegations of poll rigging. Journalists reported seeing UNP supporters, guarded by heavily armed local militia, being taken in state-owned buses from one voting booth to another. ‘Students accuse us of creating this mess, and think we can’t be trusted to clear it up,’ says Kiriella. ‘So they want to do it their way.’

Not all truants are politically motivated angry young men. ‘Most of these boys are simply enjoying themselves,’ says Kiriella. ‘It’s a game for them. Little do they realise the implications.’ Last month, the fun stopped for schoolmates of 16 year-old Nishantha Jayawardana in the coastal hamlet of Dickwella, 190 km south of Colombo. According to official accounts, students had set up roadblocks in front of their school and were stoning passing vehicles. A bus carrying air force personnel and home guards came under a volley of stones. An air force member opened fire, killing Nishantha and injuring six people, one of them a 14 year-old girl inside a classroom well away from the stone-throwers. The unrest quickly worsened.

President Junius Jayewardene’s security council is studying confidential reports outlining how the militants extend their influence into the classroom. Young teachers, members of the JVP’s military wing, form a core group and work through the country’s ‘cluster’ school network to dominate institutions in an area. In Matara region alone, there is a base of 176,000 students, 7,160 of them between the ages of 18 and 20. One submission suggests that senior students, including trusted prefects, could be members of the movement and recommends disbanding the prefect system in the province.

Other politicians are also said to be abettng the agitation. Dayananda Wickramasingha, UNP district minister for Matara, claims the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, led by former premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike, is using students as ‘cannon fodder’. Charges he: ‘They shed crocodile tears about school children being killed, while their people incite innocent children to go into the streets.’

Education director Rupasingha believes the problem is more complex than merely the infiltration of classrooms by political groups. ‘All of us have played a role in letting the situation deteriorate,’ he says. In an attempt to bring back order, he recently told principals to close schools at the first sign of trouble and suspend any student whose parents refused to guarantee the child’s non-involvement. Results were disappointing, however. One administrator scheduled a meeting with 120 parents; only two turned up. They claimed that without police protection against the JVP for parents and students, they could not stop their children from cooperating with classroom agitators.

Meanwhile, Jayewardene has ordered an inquiry into the incident at Dickwella. Police and security forces have been told to stay away from schools, says Matarage Sirisena Amarasiri, the province’s new chief minister. ‘I want the principals to handle the situation,’ he declares. ‘They are responsible for discipline.’ However, the principals remain uneasy. Says one: ‘We can’t control outsiders who come in and organise demonstrations. We need police guards.’

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The Tigers dig their claws in

[India Correspondent; Economist, July 30, 1988, pp. 33-34.]

A year after India sent its soldiers into Sri Lanka, that unfortunate country is still in the grip of civil war. For India’s prime minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, this is a disheartening comment on his long and patient pursuit of a peacemaking plan based on a mixture of force and negotiation. For three months, while the Indian troops have kept the Tamil guerrillas under pressure, Indian intelligence officials have held talks with Mr Sadasivan Krishnakumar, the Tigers’ representative in Madras, the capital of India’s Tamil Nadu state. The aim of the Madras talks has been to find a formula that will induce the guerrillas to surrender their arms and allow elections to be held in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

In early July it looked as if Mr Gandhi’s strategy was going to succeed. Many of the Tigers’ arm caches had been seized, the main channels through which they used to obtain weapons had been blocked, at least 200 of their best fighters had been killed or captured, and intercepted messages revealed low morale in their ranks. Meanwhile, the negotiators in Madras were already discussing the duration of a ceasefire, the number of weapons and guerrillas would hand over, and the deadline by which they would be handed over. And on June 30th Sri Lanka’s President Junius Jayewardene had renewed his offer of an amnesty for Tigers who laid down their arms.

On July 10th, however, the Sri Lankan government issued a statement repeating that the proposed merger of the island’s Northern and Eastern provinces would become permanent only if the people of Eastern province (where Tamils are a minority) approved it in a referendum to be held not more than a year after the election of a joint council for the merged provinces. This statement touched on the most sensitive element in the India-Sri Lanka agreement of July 29th last year.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil had long demanded the creation of a single ‘Tamil homeland’ comprising both provinces. Until last year the government in Colombo had refused to consider the merger, fearing that it would be a stepping-stone to secession. When Mr Jayewardene accepted its inclusion in the July agreement, he insisted on making the permanence of the merger conditional on ratification by a referendum in Eastern province. The Indian government was not happy about this, but it hoped Mr Jayewardene would postpone the referendum and let the issue fade away.

However, the Sri Lankan president was left with little room for manoeuvre when the Tamil guerrillas proved intransigent and the island’s Sinhalese majority began to react angrily to the presence of the Indian troops. The statement issued on July 10th was evidently meant to reassure the Sinhalese, on the eve of four by-elections in which the ruling United National Party was to face a challenge from Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Freedom Party. On July 13th the Tigers said they did not accept this condition for the merger of the two provinces. At the same time their London office accused India of betraying the Tamils’ interests.

Officials in Delhi say the Madras talks have merely ‘hit a snag’. However, in talks with The Economist in Madras, the Tigers’ spokesmen have made it clear that the merger issue is not the only one on which they want changes. They are unhappy about an amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution that was adopted in April.

This 13th amendment empowers the president to declare an emergency, in any part of the country, for a wide range of reasons. In the past, Mr Jayewardene has made much use of emergency powers. The Tamils fear that the 13th amendment will make Tamil autonomy permanently subject to a Sinhalese veto. They have made it clear that, unless India puts pressure on Sri Lanka to revise the 13th amendment, it would be suicidal for the Tigers to surrender their arms to the Indian army.

Hitherto, the Indian government has been inclined to see the Tigers as gunmen who was afraid to lay down their arms because they do not know how to face the uncertainties of peace. Guerrillas often prefer to bite into cyanide pills rather than be captured, and remain unswervingly loyal to their leader, Mr Velupillai Prabhakaran. So Indian spokesmen tend to treat the political issues raised by the Tigers as attempts to rationalise what is primarily an attitude of mind. This may have been true a year ago, but is less clearly true now: the guerrillas may have some rational cause for fear.

So the most that the Jayewardene government will concede still falls short of the minimum the Tigers will accept. Mr Gandhi faces a difficult choice. He can order an all-out assault on the Tigers; or he can concede the validity of their objections to the present scheme of devolution, and put pressure on Mr Jayewardene to introduce safeguards. He seems to have chosen the first course. Operation ‘Checkmate’, the latest of the assaults on guerrilla bases in the north, has been intensified and several Tiger commanders have been killed.

In the long run, however, a policy of bashing the guerrillas has its limitations. The fears the Tigers voice are shared by many non-combatant Tamils in Sri Lanka. The more the Indian troops succeed in weakening the guerrillas, the more India will make itself morally responsible for the future welfare of Sri Lanka’s Tamils. That could mean a long involvement in the island’s affairs. The Indian government may find satisfaction in a great-power role; but not all Indians find the prospect attractive.

Continued...

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