"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA

THE MASSACRE IN TIRIYAI -
THE VILLAGE THAT DIED IN A DAY
15 JUNE 1985

An extract from a report by Simon Winchester in 'The Sunday Times Magazine' of August 18 1985:

"The village of Tiriyai a few miles north of the famous old Royal Navy base at Trincomalee, is in normal times a contented and pretty little place, best known for its market where local farmers come to trade cashew nuts and cattle. Eastern Sri Lanka is dry and sultry, and the farms there are not especially prosperous, so none of the 2,000 villagers of Tiriyai has much money. But nobody starves. Everyone gets along. The village, in spite of its poverty, has an undeniable dignity, and serenity about it.

Once in a while, tourists arrive, although the drive is long and bumpy and there are enough stray elephants around to make a lone driver rather nervous. ...But no tourists visit Tiriyai today, and nor will they for many years to come.

And since the terrible morning of June 15 last, hardly anyone lives in Tiriyai either. The village has been almost totally wrecked. Nearly every house, shop, farm has been burned. Cattle have been butchered in the fields. Such carts and motor-cycles as the villagers once owned lie rusting on the sandy roadsides, smashed to pieces, useless. Just a few people - old-women, bedridden men and young children - remain, some still whimpering with the memory of what happened on that fateful Wednesday morning.

Just before eight, when the farmers were already out in their fields and the women were attending to their domestic routines, two army helicopters appeared in the sky. They flew low over the village, and, without any warning, opened fire with machine guns. Villagers ran, in wild panic, into the low scrub that passes for jungle in these parts. But as they did so, a convoy of army trucks and buses appeared on the road from Kuchchaveli town that in normal times is a seaside resort well known to German and Dutch holidaymakers but during the past year has been deserted, except for a monstrous new army base.

Infantryman, fully equipped for battle, spilled from the vehicles. Some were carrying jerrycans, others held flaming torches. Systematically, they went from house to house, pouring paraffin on to the grass roofs, lighting them, moving on. They set animals free, and shot them down. They stormed into the tiny library, pulled out all the books - no more than a couple of hundred at the most and made a bonfire of them. They wrecked the half dozen International Harvester tractors, and set fire to their wooden trailers.

And all the while, the villagers looked on from the security of the jungle, watching with stunned amazement as their community was destroyed. Many of them started running, and ran and ran, deep into the forests, and have not been accounted or since. Fewer than a hundred waited until the marauders had gone at dusk and then crept back to see what they could salvage. There was not much A few sacks of paddy had escaped the inferno. A dozen houses were hat table, though burned. But the school had gone' and the post office. There was no food left in the two shops which had in any case been utterly wrecked. And, most terrible of all, the Hindu temple had been sacked, and the images of Vishnu and Shiva had been mutilated and broken....

Today, Tiriyai is almost wholly peopled by Hindus - and specifically by the people of ancient Dravidian stock who are known by the name of the language they and their three million fellow Sri Lankans are wont to speak - the Tamils. The soldiers who attacked the village on that blistering morning were members of the island's majority ethnic and linguistic group, the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese....."

 
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