In The Island of 21 September 2016, Thivanka Perera posed the question “How about the widows of the 600 policemen?”. The rest of the article does not merit a response, but this question does. In the course of the decades of violent conflict in our island, there have been many terrible atrocities committed by several of the parties to the conflict, including the LTTE, the State and other militants. I will not attempt to assess the relative magnitude of the culpability of the different parties; these vary from atrocity to atrocity, but in the case of the nearly 600 murdered policemen, the primary culpability lies indisputably with the LTTE, second with the State for even unwittingly facilitating that massacre and then failing to follow up, and third with all of us for not pressing for a comprehensive inquiry.
A curious feature of the litany of violence through the war years is the flux of changing opportunistic alliances that facilitated many of the worst atrocities, followed by opportunist pollution to cover up between parties that were on opposite sides in other atrocities (and in the above case the same atrocity). Another curious feature is the seeming apathy and passive acceptance of the violence on the part millions of our people. These atrocities, too numerous to list, include:
- Violent ethnic cleansing of Tamils in several locations, mostly in the East, by the armed forces or by Muslim Home Guards sponsored by the state.
- The massacre of Muslims by the LTTE in several locations in the East including Kaththankudy, Eravur, etc with no intervention or subsequent inquiry by the state.
- The ethnic cleansing of the entire Muslim population of the North by the LTTE around 1990 with the collusion of the state.
- The case of, to quote Thivanka Perera, “600 policemen who were murdered in cold blood by the Regional Tiger Commander at the behest of the leader, a megalomaniac. Yes, Karuna Amman was lucky to hold Ministerial office later in the last regime and also be a Vice President of the SLFP”. (In fact it was not luck but callous opportunism.)
- There were also murderous attacks on Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim civilians, including several desecrations of places of Buddhist worships. An extraordinarily wide ranging listing and analysis of such crimes is contained in Dr.Rajan Hooles, “Palmyrah Fallen: From Rajani to War’s End”, UTHR (Jaffna) 2015.
A remarkable feature of the murder of the nearly 600 policemen is the fact that even though they were mostly Sinhalese and had surrendered to the LTTE on the orders of the state before they were killed, there has yet to be a public inquiry in to this unprecedented crimes. The reactions of even the families of those murders has been subdued. This is a sad reflection of the state of democracy and human rights in our country.
The story of one injured policeman who narrowly escaped being killed in that massacre is worth retelling. In that incident he received a bullet wound that grazed his head and he fell down among many dead policemen at Refus kulam. He avoided a second lethal bullet by pretending to be dead. After a long, agonising wait till all the Tigers had left, he got up and wandered around to seek help. He stumbled into a Tamil farming family home nearby. Though fearful of their reactions, he told them his story. Happily, they were extraordinarily kind, courageous and very helpful. They gave him first aid, and helped him to bathe and changed into civilian cloth that they provided. They also helped to burnt hid police uniform. That family gave him food and shelter for two days and then directed him to the Army checked point at Wellasse. He told his story to those in charge of that check-point.
Fortuitously, a lorry with a Dutch Missionary, Ben Bavinck, came by. He was on his way back to Colombo after delivering some essential goods across the battle lines. Ben agreed to take the injured Muslim policeman with him towards Colombo. The policeman told him also his story and got off at Balangoda. Ben told me the full story but makes only a passing reference to this massacre in the edited English translation of his diary (kept in Dutch), presumably to safe guard the policeman as well as the Tamil family that sheltered him. This edited English translation of his diary, containing a wealth of other information relating to the conflict has been co- published in 2011 by Vijitha Yapa and the Rajani Thiranagama Memorial Committee in two volumes under the titled Of Tamils and Tigers: a journey through Sri Lanka‘s war years. It is not too late for a presidential commission of inquiry to be appointed to investigate this massacre.