12 June 2015

There are 600 plus (murdered) police officers inside the one you see today

The men we talk of were all lined up, but for a different reason
There was a farmer who had a terrible, terrible day twenty one years ago (June 11, 1990).  He was not the only farmer and not the only man either who had to live through terrible days, of course, but this was ‘special’, if indeed that word could be used.  This farmer, from a place called Thambiluvil was forced to ‘volunteer’ (yes, words acquire strange meanings in terrible times) to carry out a particularly gruesome task.  That task, however, was quite benign compared to the ‘gruesome’ that came before. His was after all just a mopping up assignment. 

He was one among several farmers who had been ‘volunteered’ to bury some dead bodies. They were charred bodies.  And there were some 600 of them.  Retired SSP, Tassie Seneviratne, in his recently published book ‘Human Rights and Policing’, quotes this unhappy farmer.   Not that quote was needed of course. 

This is what happened.  They were blindfolded, hands tied to their backs, made to lie down, facing the ground in a row that was about 25 meters long. Then machine gun bullets were sprayed from end to end, all targeting the backs of their heads.  Then the bodies were dragged into a heap.  Oil was poured over the dead and dying. A single lighted match created a bonfire. 

This was part and parcel of the Tamil Liberation Struggle.  It was not the first ‘massacre’ and it was not the last either. There were, in total, 240 recorded attacks on civilians from November 11, 1984 (Dollar Farm massacre of 33 civilians including a large number of children and women, some pregnant) and April 12, 2009 (the Mahagodayaya attack where 9 were murdered, including 2 children).Among the dead were people of all communities and belonging to all religious faiths.  This particular act of terrorism was a landmark, though. 

It marked the end of a tenuous ceasefire arrangement between the LTTE and the then Government, that of RanasinghePremadasa.  The why and how of ceasefire-breaking ought to have chastened those who believed ‘negotiation’ was a term the LTTE understood, but mistakes were to be repeated several times thereafter and at similar or greater cost.  This particular ‘infringement’ ought to have chastened those who believed the LTTE represented them, but for two more decades, many Tamils ‘went along’ and indeed did much more than ‘stand by and watch’; they funded, sang hosannas, represented, grieved at defeat and even now spare no pains to glorify the butchers, sorry, ‘liberators’. 

On that fateful day, long before this farmer from Thambiluvil was made to dig the earth not to prepare ground for planting, the LTTE surrounded several police stations in the Eastern Province and prevailed upon Peace-Partner Premadasa to get the policemen to surrender.  Between 600 and 700 surrendered.  I am not saying they all had stellar and unblemished track records.  Still, they were unarmed. They surrendered.  They submitted to the orders of a superior, the then IGP, Ernest Perera, who had been briefed by the President to ask him men to surrender. 

All in the name of liberation.

I closed my eyes. Forgot Sri Lanka.Forgot the police.Forgot uniforms and the names of the assassin and the assassinated.I pictured 600 able-bodied men, all unarmed.  Hands tied behind their backs.  Pictured them being blindfolded by their abductors.  I tried getting into their heads. 

They’ve just realized that their superiors were dumb.  They’ve just realized that their President has been hoodwinked by a third rate thug. They’ve realized that they are going to get killed.  I am trying to think the thoughts they might have thought -- of their daughters and sons, the parents who gave them life, the lovers and wives who taught them the meaning of tenderness, the homes they built, were building or planned to build, and other things that they would not be thinking of a few minutes later. I can’t think.

I think of the apologists. I thought of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, who spoon-fed separatism and gave birth to VelupillaiPrabhakaran. I thought of the TULF and AppapillaiAmirthalingam and his political heirs (i.e. those who followed him after Prabhakaran assassinated him) who called the terrorists ‘boys’. I thought of Father (sic) Emmanuel, whom the Catholic Church never took issue with and who supported the ‘boys’ and believes he is Prabhakaran’s successor. I thought of those who said ‘The LTTE is the sole representatives of the Tamils’.  I thought of those who demanded that the Government come to a negotiated settlement with the LTTE. 

My thoughts return to those 600 police officers. Unarmed.Dead.

I am thinking of myself now and of the people I love. I am counting my blessings.  I feel so privileged that I am embarrassed. 

Twenty one years ago, some 600 plus unarmed, blindfolded and tied up police officers were butchered in cold blood by the LTTE.  If we are glad that it is part of ‘past’ then we should ensure that it does not become part of ‘future’.  And part of ensuring these things include the need to remember.  There are other things to remember, I know.  This, however, was ‘signature’ about what was to follow.  The signatories are no longer around.  Even as we rejoice, we need to understand that ‘return’ is never impossible.  This is why we remember. 

I wish someone had drawn from the hearts and minds of those who were about to be gunned down the last thought and last feeling.  I wish it were possible to string them all together.  Life does not give us such monuments. We need to create our own, each according to his/her slants and anxieties. 

Twenty one years ago, some 600 plus men were taken away from their loved ones. For those they left behind all that remains is the fact that they remained, that they like all of us arrived at a day called June 11, 2011, twenty years later, but that those 600 plus did not. 

Let there be a moment of silence for all those police officers and for all the unnecessarily killed.  

This was first published on June 11, 2011, four years ago in the 'Daily News' for which newspaper I wrote a column called 'The Morning Inspection'.