Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Printer-Friendly Version

The War Costs Everybody, But the Tamils More

Reporting from Vanni Part V

by K. Mylvaganam

In the NorthEast an average of ten civilians are being killed everyday now. In addition to this, four to five people go missing daily. People wearing masks come in “Unnumbered White Vans,” mostly in the nights, and take away youngsters at gunpoint. This happens even when a curfew is in force. When there are Sri Lankan military checkpoints for every 200 metres, how can these “Vans” move so freely unchecked? The answer, of course, is obvious.

The ongoing war in Sri Lanka costs the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the people of Sri Lanka; yet, it costs particularly the Tamil Nation more than it does to the rest. One artillery shell costs nearly Rs.30,000.00. Just prior to the Muhamalai attack and during the attack, the shelling by the GoSL forces went on nonstop. Intermittently the Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL) were also fired. The MBRL has 40 barrels and all these barrels are emptied in a matter of a few seconds. I hear that the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) fired 2000 to 2500 artillery shells in one day (24 hours) - almost 100 shells in one hour.. It went on at this rate at least for three days at a stretch at Rs.60 million per day. One armoured tank costs US$100,000.00 or Rs.ten million. At the latest battle at Muhamalai, the SLA lost six of these tanks – three were supposed to have been taken by the LTTE.

Loss of Lives

A large number of lives have been lost since the war erupted in full force in 1983. I am appending a chart giving the total deaths and the number wounded among the forces within the period of August 11, 2006 to October 12, 2006. These are official figures released by the GoSL that appeared in one of the English weekly papers in Colombo.

Officers Killed 49
Soldiers (incl. Navy) 625
Total deaths 674
Officers Injured 118
Soldiers (incl. Navy 2838
Total Injured 2956


The GoSL always plays down on the actual deaths and the injured of their personnel. One could safely add 50% to approximate the real figure.

Unfortunately, the actual deaths and the number injured among the Tamils are not available, except for the figure of 65,000 Tamils who have died since 1983 that the GoSL has been exhibiting for over two years. A safe estimate of the actual number of deaths exceeded 100,000 even at the beginning of this year.

In the NorthEast an average of ten civilians are being killed everyday now. In addition to this, four to five people go missing daily. People wearing masks come in “Unnumbered White Vans,” mostly in the nights, and take away youngsters at gunpoint. This happens even when a curfew is in force. When there are military checkpoints for every 200 metres, how can these “Vans” move so freely unchecked? The answer, of course, is obvious.

The deaths among the LTTE cadre was said to be nearly 18,000 since 1983. Double that number, if not more, could be considered as injured.

Among the wounded, there are four categories. One are the slightly wounded, who can continue to do light work. The second are the “Walking Wounded,” who can do very little physical work. The third are those who are paralysed. Among them, too, there are two groups; first are those partially paralysed and the other totally paralysed. The former manages to move around in wheel chairs and the latter are confined to beds. The fourth category are the ones who have lost their eyesight.

When a civilian dies, his/her dependants or nearest relatives are both mentally and financially affected. If the deceased be the breadwinner of the family, then the entire future of that family gets devastated. The possibility of a higher education of the dependant children is denied.

Loss of Properties

When it comes to the loss of properties to the GoSL or the Sinhalese people, it is a very negligible amount when compared to the losses incurred by the Tamil community. Since the communal riots [pogroms] started in 1958, it is the Tamils who have been the victims of murder,  arson, demolition of their properties and plundering. Even though there are no official figures available to the best of my knowledge, yet one can safely put the figure of properties lost to exceed billions of rupees. When business premises belonging to the Tamils are plundered, demolished and burnt, the owners, if they survive the ordeal, fearing a repetition of the attack, sell their properties at silly prices and vacate the area. There is no compensation paid to the Tamils towards their losses; not to my knowledge. In contrast, when a bus was blown up at Kepetikolawa, the injured and the nearest kith or kin of the diseased were paid compensation. Even President Mahinda Rajapaksha, without paying any heed to security warnings, flew in a helicopter to console the bereaved and the injured.

The indiscriminate bombing and shelling are causing immense damage not only to houses and business properties, but also to hospitals, schools and places of worship. Tens of thousands of families were forced to move out of their houses by the army as the properties are said to come within the “High Security Zones” (HSZ). Many had to leave their business places as well for the same reason. Their future gets blasted due to this unreasonable and forcible ejection. Many had to leave behind their cattle and their fields which were their only source of income.

Actually, the loss to properties cannot be put into rupees and cents alone. Only when we place ourselves in their shoes will we realize the trauma, the heartache, the misery and the uncertainty that go with such losses. Just after the tsunami attack I wrote about a young mother whose husband was swept away in the tsunami disaster. She was on the road with four small kids with the youngest being only a few months old. She did not have a place to go. How awfully miserable it would be even if we were to imagine ourselves in her position.

[There have been several thousand (~ 3,000) Sinhalese civilians killed in the war since 1983 and their economic costs have essentially been opportunity costs, i.e. lost growth that would have occurred if not for the war. -- Editors]

Tale of the Mariathas Family

Last month I visited a camp where I met some refugees who had to flee from the aerial bombardment and the barrage of shelling in the Vadamaradchchi East area. Villagers from Pulopallai, Uduthurai, Sempianpattu and Aaliyavalai were housed in the camp. I spoke to one Mariathas from Uduthurai, which is within the shooting range from the Nagarkovil military camp. He has lived there all his life; even his forefathers are from that village. He, with his pregnant wife and three children aged seven; four and two, had to leave during the early hours one day when shells started falling in the vicinity of their house. He was a well-to-do fisherman, owning a motorboat and a stone-built house leading a comfortable life. They hurriedly packed up whatever they could carry, loaded the belongings on his bicycle; the wife and the seven year old had a bag each on their heads, the four year old was put on the bar of the bicycle and the wife carried the little one. Mariathas pushed his bike and the seven year old gave his father a helping hand by pushing from behind. They did not know where to go, but just followed the rest who were heading towards Vanni.

On the way Mariathas saw his former teacher limping along with the help of a stick. Mariathas could not go past his teacher. Mariathas put his son on his own shoulders, with the son's legs round his neck, and helped the teacher on to the bar of the bicycle. Now it was not an easy task to push the bike even to Mariathas who is a well built person. Luckily, within five kilometers an open truck that drove past suddenly pulled up in front. Two girls wearing Tiger uniforms hopped out and started loading them and his bike on the rear of the truck, but the teacher was left behind. Mariathas pleadingly exclaimed, “Pillaiyal (children), my teacher?” The girls gave a smile, told him not to worry and helped the teacher to the front seat of the truck, and they jumped into the rear along with Mariathas and the rest. They only brought them to the camp where I met them. He said that they are being well looked after by the “Pillayal” and I was told that it was the TRO that funds this camp.

Even though he did not complain, yet I was able to see the primitive state of affairs in that camp, especially for one who has had a fairly comfortable life back at home.

There are many people like Mariathas in Tamil Eelam; wondering when they will see the light of dawn in their life.

This reminded me of the Tamil saying:

“kudai nilal irunthu kuncharam oornthor

nadai melinthakilum nanninum nannuvar”

Meaning: Those who moved around seated on the back of an elephant under the shade of an umbrella may one day have to go by foot.

  • Publication date: