By V. Kanthaiya –
Sri Lanka is rich in culture. We have a history over 5000 years. Majority of the people in the country practice the teachings of Buddha which itself is rich moral principles.
Fine! This is the typical introduction a “true” Sri Lankan would give about his/her country. Interesting irony is that We Sri Lankans talk quite a lot about our 5000 years long history and the heritage, but hardly discuss about the past fifty year history of the country. Perhaps there is nothing to be proud about the period.
It is said Sri Lanka gained sovereignty from the British without shedding a single drop of blood. But an objective version would be that British didn’t need any drop of Blood to give the sovereignty back to the Sri Lankans. But later, the same so called sovereignty needed a gruesome bloodbath of Sri Lankans.
This column is not about the Sri Lankan history. This is about two women whom the Sri Lankan state has barbarically massacred in the name of protecting its sovereignty. The women share more similarities than their differences, yet the present Sri Lankan society conceive the fate of these women in two completely different perspectives.
First one is Premawathi Manamperi, from the southern tip of the island. In 1971, she was arrested by the Sri Lanka armed forces for her alleged participation in the JVP insurgency (not terrorism??). Her torturers stripped her naked and paraded her along the streets of Kataragama. She was shot and buried alive that night. Later her tormentors returned to finish off their “duty” with a bullet through the skull. Mannamperi was just 22 years old when she met her gruesome death.
38 years later, another woman met the same gruesome death at the hands of the Sri Lanka armed forces. Her name was Shoba a.k.a Isaipriya. She was born in 1982 and attended Manippai Green Memorial School till her fifth grade and later attended Veampadi Girls High School. She joined “Nitharsanam”, the media division of LTTE in 1996 where she mainly worked as a news reader and took part in the movement’s propaganda activities.
Soon after the end of the “humanitarian operation” in May 2009 conducted by the state armed forces which caused the complete wipeout of the LTTE, the Nitharsanam news reader herself became the news. The horrific photos released by channel 4 showed her murdered in a cold blooded manner with signs of sexual assault. The Sri Lankan state was amazingly fast to deny the allegations and say that all the photos were fabricated, even without conducting a proper investigation. Later in 2013, channel 4 released footage of Shoba surrendering to the security forces who mistook her for the daughter of the LTTE supremo. The footage also shows Shoba denying that. Channel 4 has stated that Shoba’s siblings have positively identified the visuals and the voice.
Despite the graphic evidences and the widespread condemnation they have made all over the world, tarnishing the image of the country, Sri Lanka never attempted to investigate the incident through a transparent impartial inquiry. The State’s stance is clear, as always. The videos and photos are fabricated, part of a conspiracy by the remnants of LTTE and the Tamil Diaspora to tarnish the image of the security forces. The State also doesn’t reveal how it has arrived at this conclusion. In 1972, Sri Lanka Government prosecuted the perpetrators of Manamperi’s death and later one was killed by the JVP in 1988, thus the barbaric torturers faced both the Sri Lanka legal system and the “natural justice”.
Both Manamperi and Shoba share the same association and the same end. Manamperi was alleged to be a JVP activist, which led an armed struggle as the Sri Lanka government continuously failed to address the grievances of the rural Sinhalese people. The movement was on its own was ruthless, massacred a large number of civilians whom it considered pro government.
LTTE is more or less a Tamil version of the JVP, which emerged to fight for an independent Tamil state, after the failure of the non-violent protests led by the popular Tamil leaders demanding the ethnic sinhalese majoritarian government to address the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. Unlike the JVP, with the experience curve effect, the LTTE specialized large scale military operations and also in child recruitment, suicide bomb attacks and targeting civilians. This eventually led the organization banned by over 30 countries.
One common element in the last 50 year history of Sri Lanka is that all the parties of the armed conflict, the government, LTTE, other Tamil militant groups, JVP, and also Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) carried out same atrocities against the civilians in the name of liberating them from the other party. They all killed the civilians in the name of punishing perceived traitors, spies, and informers, because it was much easier to kill someone who doesn’t possess any weapon, than someone carrying a firearm. They abducted children and forcibly engaged them in their violence. They raped the women. They carried out shelling and ariel attacks even on Kovils, mosques and churches killing thousands indiscriminately. The stark irony is that even the IPKF (also interpreted as the “Innocent People Killing Force” by the Tamils) which landed in the country to protect the civilians, engaged in large scale atrocities against the civilians in the name of wiping out LTTE. One such was at the Jaffna Teaching hospital where 60 innocent civilians including doctors and patients were massacred on October 21st and 22nd,1987.
Following the end of the war, many of the atrocities carried out by the LTTE are investigated and the perpetrators are being prosecuted in the court of law. But how many atrocities against the Tamils are being investigated? The state effectively gave the impunity and adequate protection to the racist elements which committed atrocities against the Tamils. For instance, does anybody remember how many were prosecuted by the Attorney General Office and brought to justice for the 1083 Black July pogrom?
The general mindset of most of the people in the south is that Shoba was subjected to this unimaginable brutality mainly due to “being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, the LTTE”. Perhaps Most of them also may just shrug off this question citing the number of teenage children sexually abused in our society. Does that justify her rape and murder? What about the other women who were subjected to the same even though they did not associate with the LTTE. Shoba a.k.a Isaipriya is not the first to be sexually assaulted and murdered in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, and obviously not the last. She is just a single victim in a long list which also includes Krishanthi Kumarasamy, Ida Camalita, Koneswary, Sarathampaal ,Tharshini Muruguppilai and the list continues to go on. Only the army personnel, who were involved in Krishanthi Kumarasamy and her family’s murder, were prosecuted who later revealed the world about the “Semmani mass grave”. This could also be a reason why the State is hesitant to prosecute the perpetrators of these horrid acts. Once they are prosecuted there is a greater chance they may blow the whistle about the other large scale atrocities by the state itself. These incidents of sexual violence cannot be brushed away as isolated incidents. From the case of Mannamperi, it is evident that the state use rape as an effective counter insurgency measure, which would spread the fear psychosis among revolting population.
It’s not only the Tamils who face the injustice, now the Muslims in the country also face the same bitter treatment. The recent trend is that instead of prosecuting the suspects of mob violence (no need to mention the BBS and the Aluthgama Violence) the Sri Lanka police are actively engaged to “amicably solve the issues” through talks between the alleged perpetrators and the victims rather than taking legal action. This is a clear message to the victims from the state.”No action would be taken against the ones who destroy your business, loot your belongings and kill your beloved ones”.
This writer has a question for the so called patriots who say that all the allegations about the atrocities against the minority communities are fabricated. If it can happen to Premawathi Mannamperi at the southern coast of the island, Couldn’t it have happened to Shoba at the eastern coast? If it can happen in Sooriyakanda, Couldn’t it have happened in Mulliwaikkal? If all Tamils who were killed by the Sri Lanka armed forces were terrorists, would you say that the school children and the family man who were killed in Weliweriya are also terrorists, just because they were killed by armed forces? If people of Weliweriya can have legitimate grievances which the state ignored, and if the people of Weliweriya were right to take it to the streets, Shouldn’t Tamils have the right to do that?