"The IPKF were given strict instructions not to use tactics or weapons that could
cause major casualties among the civilian population of Jaffna, who were hostages to the
LTTE. The Indian Army have carried out these
instructions with outstanding discipline and courage, accepting, in the
process a high level of sacrifices for
protecting the Tamil civilians". (Indian Prime Minister
Rajiv Gandhi the Lok Sabha, 9 November 1987)
"...this massacre is worse than My Lai. Then
American troops simply ran amok. In the Sri Lankan village, the Indians seem to have been
more systematic; the victims being forced to lie down, and then shot in the back..".
London Daily Telegraph quoted by George
August 1989, the so called Indian Peace Keeping Force deliberately killed 63 Tamil
civilians in Valvettiturai in the Jaffna Peninsula in a massacre that was later described
as India's Mylai.
David Housego in the London Financial Times
Rita Sebastian reported in the Indian Express
George Fernandez M.P.
David Housego reported in the London Financial
Times on 17 August 1989:
"... On Tuesday I was the first western reporter to visit Valvettiturai, a small
coastal town near Jaffna, where Indian troops carried out reprisals on August 2 after the
Tamil Tigers, the Tamil guerrilla movement, ambushed one of their patrols close to the
main square, killing six Indian soldiers and wounding several, others.
After 41/2 hours of walking around the town and questioning many people, it becomes
clear that angered soldiers deliberately shot dead unarmed, civilians, burnt a large
number of houses, and brutally. beat many of the boys and men they caught.
The local Citizens Committee has identified 52 bodies and says that over 120 houses
were burnt - making it by far the worst atrocity alleged against Indian troops in the two
years they have been in Sri Lanka.
Most of the killings took place in the hours after the ambush, but the burning and
ransacking continued , for another two days while Valvettiturai was under curfew and
surrounded by Indian troops.
What is also certain is that the official Indian explanation for the deaths - that
civilians were caught in crossfire in the wake of the ambush - has no credibility. Mr. S.
Selvendra, the president of the Citizens Committee and a chartered accountant, is calling
for a public inquiry.
Almost a fortnight after the event, a smell of charred remains hangs over
Velvettiturai. Of the 15,000 people perhaps half have left in fear or despair. Many who
remain are distraught over the loss of relatives or belongings, and uncertain how to begin
again or where. What seems to have happened an August 2 is that two patrols of Indian
Peace keeping Force (IPKF) troops about 30 men in all approached the centre of the town on
foot in parallel columns at about 11.15 in the morning. This was market time, when the
streets were most crowded. They were ambushed by firing from the roof and the street. Six
soldiers were killed and 13 injured, including an officer...
What follows are abbreviated eyewitness' accounts of four particular incidents that
occurred after the ambush.
Mr N Senthivadivel, 50, was in his photographer's shop overlooking the square when the
firing began. He threw himself to the ground. Later he was taken out and made to sit cross
legged with about 25 people on the square. From there he saw soldiers set fire to some of
the shops and throw kerosene to add to the flames.
At about 2pm a soldier came along and said in broken English that he was going to
shoot them. Two jeeps arrived and firing began. The soldier then turned round to those
seated and fired on them. Two people, Mrs K Sivapackiyam, a washerwoman, and Mr K
Thangarajah were killed and 10 more injured.
S Rajeswary, 52, is the wife of the head of the divisional land survey office. After
the firing about 50 people sought shelter in her house well over 200 yards from the square
- because it has a concrete roof and thus offers protection against shelling.
About 1.30pm, four soldiers broke into the house. She came out of the kitchen into
the hall with her husband; they were holding their hands up. She pleaded with her husband
not to step forward but he advanced to speak to the soldiers. They shot him. They then
called for the other men and shot four of them.
After that they sprayed bullets killing four more people and injuring nine. Apart from
her husband, Mrs. Rajeswary also lost her eldest son, 28, who was trapped in his shop
which had been set on fire.
Mr A R Sivaguru., 68, a retired postmaster. With some 70 other people - he took shelter
in the house of Mr Sivaganesh which also has a concrete roof. About 4pm, some six soldiers
climbed over the back wall of the house and entered the courtyard. Women fell it their
feet crying and pleading with them not to shoot but were kicked aside.
A sergeant then separated off the young men ages ranging from 18-35 and told them to
sit in front of the cow shed next to the house. The soldiers then fired on them, killing
four. When one woman screamed at her husband's death she was told to be silent otherwise
she would be killed.
Mr Nadarajah Anantharaj, principal of a local school and secretary of the Citizen's
Committee, still bears the mark on his face of wounds he received. This account of his
treatment at the Udupiddy IPKP camp nearby is taken from his sworn affidavit. "There
(at the camp) I saw many people who came along with me bleeding and crying. Four Sikh
soldiers then started beating me with heavy wooden rods and with their fists.
"One soldier dashed my head against the wall One soldier pressed a wooden rod
on my throat and was standing on the rod which was preventing my breathing. At that time I
heard a voice shouting "Kill him, kill him." I was almost losing consciousness
when I managed to push the rod on my throat away, toppling the person who was standing on
"The next day, the Commanding Officer of Vadamaradchi (region), Brigadier Shankar
Prasad, the Deputy Commander, Col Aujla, and the Udupiddy Commanding Officer, Colonel
Sharma, met me and expressed their apologies ... The Brigadier told me I had been
ill-treated by mistake . . ." .....
.Why did the Indians respond so brutally? Part of the answer is that their troops have
been under great strain in the Vadamaratchi region, with isolate patrols coming under and
the Tigers firing rockets into the IPKF camp. This has left officers and men with nerves
Were the killings and the brutality the result of soldiers running amok or did they
have the approval of their officers? With substantial reinforcements brought into
Velvettiturai in the wake of the ambush, officers were certainly present in the town
during the shooting and the burning of homes. Some inhabitants believe that senior
officers gave their tacit approval to the reprisals, if not more.
One of my informants claimed that he had heard a senior officer say in anger not long
before "I will burn Point Pedro" (a neighbouring town where there has also been
trouble). "I will kill everybody.' This may have been ill chosen words of
intimidation not meant literally..."
Rita Sebastian reported in the Indian Express on 24
August 1989: [also in
"There were many males and females in addition to children inside the house. We
confined ourselves in a room. At about 2.30 pm somebody knocked at the door of the h6use.
The Indian Peace Keeping soldiers who came inside the house first shot Mr Subramaniam and
ordered the males and females to stand separately.
They shot the males and then shot the females. I fell on the floor along with the dead
and pretended to be dead and got up after the armed forces left. I saw my mother and
brother dead, all totalling nine people.
Later I left for the Madanthai Pillaiar Kovilady in search of my brother and sister.
Since curfew was clamped I could not come back.
Later, on 4.8.89 at about 2 pm curfew was relaxed. When we went to Surveyor
Subramaniam's house, we found the dead bodies of nine people, putrefied, with offensive
smells and could not identify them. I identified my brother and mother from the clothes
they wore. At about 5.30 pm, with the help of the neighbours, we cremated the dead bodies
of these two together with other seven dead bodies in a pit in the adjoining land."
This is 18-year old Rajeswaran Pushparaja's affidavit, sworn before the temple
priest in his capacity as a Justice of Peace. (J.P.)
Mr Subramaniam, in whose house Rajeswaran and his family sought refuge, was a retired
Superintendent of Surveys and a respected member of the community.
Another affidavit, signed by Arunadathy Sivalingam, married and 49 years of age reads:
"About 1.20 I heard gunshots coming from the direction of the 'junction. I also
heard the very loud noise produced by the firing of shells. This noise went on for about
25 minutes. Then there was silence. I had cooked our lunch and was waiting the arrival of
my husband. At about 2 pm some IPKF soldiers rushed into my house and started damaging all
At this time there were only two males in the house - my husband's brother, Nadarajah,
aged 62, a retired postmaster and my husband's nephew, Arudsothy, an employee of the
Kankesanturai cement factory, both of them were shot dead by the soldiers despite our
appeal to them that they were honorable citizens. We even showed their national identity
cards to them."
These are just two of the many affidavits sworn eye witnesses to the massacre in
Valvettiturai, a village on Sri Lanka's northern coastline on August 2, when the Indian
Peace Keeping Force retaliated against the killing of six of their men in an LTTE ambush,
by gunning down over 50 defenceless civilians.
Even today, more than a month after the incident, grief, bewilderment and a growing
anger are visible. The village is eerily silent and deserted save for the lone cyclist
riding past the cluster of homes, shops and boutiques reduced to rubble. Here and there
you see patches of scorched earth where the dead were cremated, since the putrefying
bodies could not be moved.
"It was the worst crime perpetrated against the people of Velvettiturai,"
says, a senior citizen of the village. "For three days, from August 2 to 4, a curfew
imposed by the IPKF prevented people from burning their dead. And when the curfew was
lifted, with so many of the men dead or missing, it was women who had to burn the bodies
which traditionally no Hindu woman would do."
Susheela Devi and Mahalakshmi were among the women who had to do this. We came upon
them behind the bullet-riddled gate of one of the houses, where on that August morning
they were widowed within minutes of each other. The men they were married to were
brothers. Forty-year-old Mahandraraiah was a driver, and his brother Velummylum a
labourer. Susheeladevi weeps as she tells you her story.
"When the soldiers came into the compound they fired at the house, set fire to the
car and then came into the kitchen, into which we had all run. As one of the soldiers
pulled my husband into the yard, his mother and I held on to his hands and tried to drag
him back, pleading with the soldier to let him,go. The soldier just didn't heed our pleas,
and pushing us aside shot my husband dead. They did the same to Vellummylum. We pleaded,
we begged on our knees, even my 75-year old mother-in-law Valliammal did so."
Valliammal was injured in the shooting because she refusd to let go her sons. She is
now in hospital. In a neighbouring house, five sisters watched their 31-year-old brother
Nadarajah Ravindran, being brutally gunned down. Fourteen-year-old Umadevi was witness to
yet another scene of horror:
"The IPKF soldiers ordered the men to kneel down and opened fire. Four died on the
spot and four were seriously wounded."
The dried bloodstains in the shed outside are the only evidence of the killings. As we
walk down the sandy lanes of Velvettiturai, now largely deserted since almost half of its
population has fled to neighbouring villages, we meet Leela Soundaraiah. When she heard
the firing she and her five children jumped over the wall and sought refuge in a home
further down the lane. What she returned to when the shooting was over was the burnt down
shell of her house. A few yards away, the documents and money in the safe of the Rural
Bank had been burnt to cinders.
At the home of Sabaratnam Selvendra, a chartered accountant who fled Colombo after the
July 1983 communal riots and went to live in his ancestral home in Velvettiturai, where he
took over the chairmanship of the Citizens Committee, we see documented evidence of what
really happened in Velvettiturai, that August day:
Fifty two bodies have been identified, 12 persons are still on the missing list and
presumed dead, 43 injured, 122 houses and 45 shops burnt, ten cars, 50 bicycles, 175
fishing nets and fishing gear destroyed.
The Valveltiturai Citizens Committee is one of the very few Citizens' Committees
Peninsula, although its membership has come down from the original eleven to three. In the
last three to four months, there were no incidents in the area," says Mr Selvendra,
"one of the reasons being that with the village identified as the home of LTTE, no
rival groups have been operating."
However, seven IPKP camps ring the village like a noose, and that fateful day, after
the LTTE ambush of the IPKF patrol, the noose tightened with reinforcements arriving. Once
the IPKF reprisals began there was no escape for the villagers.
"The crossfire syndrome has become the convenient excuse for civilian
casualties, but in this case it wasn't so." says a village elder. "
As the firing started people in the streets rushed into the buildings and nobody was
killed at that time. It was later. when the reinforcements arrived, that the enraged
soldiers dragged people out of the buildings in which they had sought refuge and shot them
dead. Young ,men who were almost a kilometer away from the scene of incident were dragged
into the area and were seen being rolled on the ground with the soldiers kicking them with
their boots and hitting them with their rifle butts.
"They poured something on the walls of the houses before setting them on
fire," says a retired government servant, in whose house two rooms were completely
burnt down. With the help of neighbours, he managed to salvage a part of his house.
Sivamoneydevi Thalayasingham lost two of her sons that day.
Twenty-one-year-old Sivakumar and 18-year-old Jeyamohan were at the village cinema
hall. from where they were dragged out and taken by the IPKF, she told me. They were among
35 people who were detained that first day. Only seven of them returned to tell their
terrible tale - the rest were doused with petrol and burnt.
Valvettiturai is not an isolated incident of IPKF atrocities
on innocent civilians. In recent weeks, two other such massacres took place - on July 26
and on August 21.
We go down to Pt Pedro, seven miles away. We travel the same way as we did on most of
our journey, avoiding the main roads and IPKF sentry points, and taking bylanes and tracks
no more than dirt roads. Most of the time, we are guided by some helpful villager who
rides ahead of us on his bicycle.
At the base hospital in Point Pedro we are just in time to see Dr. John Louis,
anaesthetist, and Dr. Richard Casey, surgeon, of the French team, finish their operations
for the morning. Since July 10, they tell us, they have handled 80 gunshot cases.
"Things are getting worse, not better," says, Dr Louis.
On July 26, following the killing of an Indian soldier in an LTTE ambush in the
area, 13 people were found dead within a radius of one mile. "Two or three were
killed in their homes, others on the road, old men and young men."
The most recent incident was on August 21 significantly, the day after the visit of the
Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence, Ranjan Wijeratne to Velvettiturai on a
fact-finding mission... It was after the minister left, and the soldiers from the Point
Pedro camp who had provided security for the minister at Velvettitirai were returning to
their home bases, that a third "massacre" took place.
Nobody seems certain what triggered it off, but the general feeling is that an Indian
soldier had been fired upon by the LTTE, which sent the IPKF on th' rampage again. The
death toll this time was 13, although only 11 bodies ended up at the Point Pedro base
hospital. Around 6.30 on the morning of August 21, the IPKF visited the home of
65-year-old Murugar Sinnathurai, a retired government servant.
He was drawing water at the well when the IPKF surrounded the house, threw grenades
and shot at random at the (walls and the roof of the house, say his wife and daughter.
Then, they pushed him into the compound. While his family pleaded with the soldiers and
Sinnathurai himself begged them to let 'him go, a soldier shouted "fire" and
another fired. "The bullets went through his heart," sobs his wife as she shows
us where he fell dead. In a nearby rubbish dump the bloodstained lungi he wore that
morning is all that remains of the man. About a mile away, we watch the last funeral
ceremonies for 19-year-old Arulanatham Sudharan, cremated the day before.
His mother is too distraught to talk to us. It is his father who takes me into his
son's bedroom, his study, throws open his Cupboards points to his books and his notes. and
"Do you call him a Tiger? My son was at his 85-year-old grandfather's for the
night and had just wheeled his bicycle out onto the road to return home when the Indian
soldiers returning to their camp dragged him away and shot him dead just a short distance
He had four bullet wounds, two in the heart and two on his thighs, says a visitor to
the house. We drive on to another house, where another family mourns their dead. A father,
a son and a brother-in-law shot dead while their wives looked on. "We have had
nothing to do with any kind of militancy, and they shoot us down like dogs," says a
man in the house.. "Not even the photographs of India's great leaders like Gandhi and
Nehru and Subbash Chandra Bose, hanging on the walls of the homes here deter them."
Driving back to town in the late evening, I remember what an Indian army captain
said to me some months back about army excesses: "When a soldier is slapped by a man
and he cannot find the man who slapped him, he slaps any man who looks like him." And
that was what the IPKF massacre of innocent civilians at Velvettiturai and Point Pedro was
all about. "
George Fernandez, Indian Opposition M.P. and one
time Cabinet Minister commented a few months later:
"When in early August, 1987, I had said that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi's military adventure
in Sri Lanka would be India's Viet Nam, I had not anticipated that India's Viet Nam would
also have its own My Lai. Of course, I was aware and I had also said repeatedly that
soldiers everywhere alike, their training and the rigours of their life, not to speak of
the brutalisation caused by war, making them behave in the most inhuman ways when under
That is why when in the early days of India's military action in Sri Lanka, stories of
rape and senseless killings by Indian soldiers came to be contradicted by the India
government publicists I joined issue with everyone who came to accept that our soldiers
were cast in the mould of boy scouts who went around the fighting fields of Sri Lanka
looking out for opportunities to do their day's good deeds, particularly for damsels in
Now, in Velvlettiturai, the Indian army has enacted its My Lai. London's Daily
Telegraph commenting editorially on the barbarism exhibited by the Indian army in
Velvettiturai says that, if anything "this massacre is worse than My Lai. Then
American troops simply ran amok. In the Sri Lankan village, the Indians seem to have been
more systematic; the victims being forced to lie down, and then shot in the back".
But that is not the only contrast. My Lai was brought to the notice of the world by
American journalists. The fight against the American army's atrocities against civilians
in My Lai was led by the American people, particularly the American press and the youth
uncovered by David Housego, the
Delhi-based correspondent of London's Financial Times who visited the scene of the
massacre 13 days after the black deed had been done on August 2.
His report appeared in his paper on August 17, though London's Telegraph had carried
on August 13 a story on the incident from its New Delhi correspondent, Jeremy Gavron,
based on the information that was already circulating in India's capital.
The Indian press - a miniscule section of it - caught up with it only on September 3,
with a report by Rita Sebastian in the Indian Express. In
fact, there was a planned black out of the news of Velvettiturai by the Indian government,
in which a large section of the Indian press was only too happy to collude. The armed
forces are India's most sacred cow -at the best of times, but when they indulge in
atrocities, they are more so..."