Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Spies, the Poor and Unconnected

by Raveen Satkurunathan

I read the article by F. Justitia of Canada with so much pain in my heart. During those days, as well as now, a mere suspicion was enough for someone to get the death penalty. It is true of many war situations. If the war is short, such deviation from human decency then stops,  but the longer the war continues, such deviations become the norm and the entire society is brutalised to become suspicious of 'outsiders' and the slightest whispers are enough to justify the death penalty.

My comments are related to the time frame of post 1983 in Jaffna. Most of the people who were killed as potentially being spies happened to be those who knew Sinhalese, thus had come from outside Jaffna after a prolonged period of stay in Sinhalese areas, Indian origin domestic workers or labourers, and refugees from Batticaloa and the rest of the east who did not have any connection in Jaffna, but wanted to get away from the troubles. Another group was mentally unstable people. Of course, regular Joes and Janes were also knocked off.

First, these people did not have strong local connections, secondly,being from outside, were scapegoats when the local militants could not control the war situation (such as indiscriminate bombing by the SLA) and were looking for scapegoats to blame as an answer to the local population. Or, they simply belived their own worst demons about outsiders.    

In 1984/85 for the Sri Lankan Intelligence to recruit a woman "Muslim" agent and set her up with 3 "siblings," of which one of them had her menstrual periods start while acting her role, is the most far fetched situation one can imagine. Eastern women, in general, and Mulsims, in particular, are the most conservative, uneducated group in Sri Lanka. To get a Mulsim woman to act as an intelligence agent in 2005, unless she has a personal grudge against Tamils or LTTE in particular, is very difficult indeed...I would say impossible. My heart says that this poor Batticaloa girl, who had come to Jaffna to escape from her terrible plight, paid the price for not being a local with connections under these circumstances. It is also probable she told lies to the local people to survive.

My wife's neighbour was a mad woman (named Sakthi)  who was killed as a spy because she would travel around Jaffna without any reason. (Some even whsiper she was raped before being shot, by which millitant group no one knows)  Another neighbour, who had an Indian boy from the estates as his help, was roused in the middle of the night and told to hand over the boy, just 12 years old. The boy was shot outside the house as a collaborator because he had been seen to talk to an EPRLF operative in the shop.

This list is endless, and those who died mostly were the dispossessed and poor outsiders without the right connections.

Just like F. Justitia, most of us live with these painful memories of dear and near ones taken for the sake of someone else's mere suspicion without due cause.  

If you study what happens in Kashmir now or Punjab before, most of the killings by the Militants (Punjabi or Kashmiri) were usually targeted against the poor or the socially dispossessd. During the heyday of the Punjabi rebellion, most people killed were the Dalits or untouchable Sikhs. So this phenomenon is not restricted to Sri Lanka. The sooner this war situation comes to an end the better for the civil society to resume its place as a 'civilised' people.