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MUSLIMS & TAMIL EELAM

State and Muslims Desecrate Ancient Tamil Village
K.N.Tharmalingam - Northeastern Herald
May/June 2003


“… for my father’s faith
I suffered chains and courted death;
That my father perished at the stake
For tenets he could not forsake;
And, for the same his lineal race
In darkness found a dwelling place…”
– Lord Byron

The above stanza, quoted from the Prisoner of Chillon reflects appropriately the miseries of a race – the Tamils – trapped between state terrorism and the non-Tamil communities inhabiting the Amparai District.

Of the Tamil villages in the Amparai District that were victim to violence unleashed by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the police, home guards and armed civilians, the village of Veeramunai, perhaps, suffered the most. In the final stages, even their civilian non-Tamil neighbours joined in attacks against the Tamils. The state of course failed to uphold the often-quoted constitutional safeguards available to its citizens. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights did not help the Tamils either.

To comprehend the nature of the excesses committed on Veeramunai, a little peep into the history of the region would be an advantage.

Veeramunai is described as the ancient capital of Nandeniya, or, ‘Naadhu-kaadu.’ The Monograph of Batticaloa says Naadhu-kaadu was once very fertile country that turned into jungle in the course of time. A ‘naadhu’ (fertile land) becomes ‘kaadu’ (jungle) and vice versa when fortunes change.

Nandeniya had a pre-eminent place in the history of the east coast where human settlement is believed to have begun nearly 3000 years ago as revealed in the Mattakalappu Manmiyam.

In the concatenation of events as recorded in the history of the Eastern Province, Mattakalappu Manmiyam lends support to the theory that human occupation began in Sri Lanka in much earlier times than recorded in the Pali chronicle Mahavamsa. Nandeniya, according to Mattakalappu Manmiyam, appears to have been a centre of much human activity as early as Kali Era 800.

From what is evident from the Mattakalppu Manmiyam, one is unable to resist the conclusion that a community governed by a matriarchal system (claming kinship through women), existed in the Eastern Province, and Veeramunai was the centre of much activity. The people there were divided according to caste and the leading castes were the Chetty-Vellala Kudy and the Seerpathar Kudy.

The present Veeramunai – a small portion of the extensive Nandeniya – is situated near the lake called Kalappu and now forms the areas of a grama sevaka division within the Sammanthurai Pattu. The region had earlier been known as Veera-munai to identify a place where a warrior clan lived, which fought for the tribe.

During Portuguese times the entire east coast of the present Amparai District was known as Mattakalappu (Batticaloa) and under the rule of three vanniahs. In the beginning of the 20th century the entire region was divided into four divisions called ‘pattus:’ Karavahu Pattu-Nindoor Pattu, Sammanthurai-Naadhu Kaadhu Pattu, Akkaraipattu and Panama Pattu and these divisions were under the charge of C. Chetty Tambiah, C. D. Kadramapody and Nilamai Chinnatamby.

Veeramunai lies three miles west of Karativu adjoining the present Sammanthurai village. To the north is Sorrikalmunai, while to the south and west are lush, green paddy fields.

Sammanthurai derives its name from ‘Sampan,’ the vessel, and ‘Sammankaran’ who were Mohammedans from India who came to Batticaloa during the Portuguese period. When the Portuguese dominated the Western Province, General Constantine de Sa ordered Muslims inhabiting that part of the country to leave. On expulsion orders, the Muslims went to King Senarat of Kandy and sought permission to settle in his capital.

The king persuaded the Muslims to go and live among the Tamils in Batticaloa (Mattakalappu). The Tamils assured the Muslims who had suffered discrimination under the insolent Portuguese of protection as well as hospitality. The Tamils, who had received the ‘pattanis’ as soldiers, accepted the Muslims who were expelled from Portuguese territory.

With the passage of time the two communities established enduring friendship, mutual trust and goodwill and the Muslims succeeded in creating prosperous townships such as Kalmunai, Kattankudy, Sammanthurai, Akkaraipattu, Pottuvil, Eravur and Valaichenai centred round Tamil hamlets where trade was a matter of primacy. The Muslims who were traders when they first settled in the east later took to agriculture and industry and eventually to law, engineering, education, medicine and leadership in politics by aligning with the Federal Party. In the early years of independence, the Sammanthurai Muslim division and Veeramunai Tamil division constituted the local authority called Sammanthurai town council. In 1954 Latiff of Sammanthurai was elected chairman of the council and Manickam of Veeramunai became the vice-chairman.

A private dispute between Manickam and the Muslim village headman Seenithamby Viddan arose during the festive week of the Tamil New Year in 1954. Veeramunai was set on fire. Lives and properties were destroyed. The community of farmers at Veeramunai, prosperous from birth, became paupers in a matter of minutes after the fire. For the first time in the history of the district, people were driven into the adjoining jungles to save themselves from the fury of sections of the Muslim community, which had turned against them. There were of course Muslims who shed tears at the misery of the Tamils and provided relief lavishly.

Many who fled shook the dust of Veeramunai from their feet and opted never to return. They developed into smiling new villages in the jungles where they had sought refuge. The villages now known as New Town, Ganapathipuram and Veeracholai are some of these jungle-turned-villages. The residents of the new villages sold their properties in Veeramunai to Muslims and part of Veeramunai thus passed into Muslim hands. The few who returned to Veeramunai began a new chapter in their lives. Since their homes were destroyed together with their possessions, they had a penurious start. But time healed the scars of violence.

Amidst the challenges of the emerging order, with militancy of the Jihad and SLMC on the one hand, and the Tamil groups – TELO, EPRLF, PLOTE and LTTE – on the other, Muslims and Tamils at Sammanthurai and Veeramunai continued to exist side by side despite strains in their relationship until 1990, when a spate of violent incidents was to flare up.

The armed forces arrived at the Tamil villages of Sammanthurai Pattu in the third week of June 1990. It was explained the military was sent to destroy the ‘enemy.’ When innocent Tamils were killed and their homes looted and burnt it was understood who the ‘enemy’ was.

A resident of Ganapathipuram, who was a witness said, “When the army entered the limits of Malwattai, the soldiers shot people at sight, while houses were looted and burnt. We, on hearing gunshots and seeing flames rising from burning homes, fled with our family to save the women and children. We reached the Veeramunai kovil on foot and found people from other villages had arrived at the kovil earlier. Subsequently, people from Amparai, Mallikaitivu and Sammanthurai Tamil division joined us.”

A resident from Veeramunai said, “We found the soldiers were creating a climate of terror. People were picked up from their homes, on the road and their paddy fields. To escape from possible arrest and death, we went to the kovil that was made a refugee camp. I am aware that persons in the employment of the government on their way to work were seized, killed and burnt at a place called Aandhi junction.”

While Tamil civilians suffered death, a government news bulletin said the state was at a war with terrorists and not against the Tamils.

Contrary to the Geneva Convention (1949) declaring, “Neither civilian persons or properties shall be the object of attack,” the armed forces going on the rampage in 1990 were a reminder of the state’s brutality. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims to the world, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” but the army went on a killing spree, destroying lives and properties, which were later justified as necessary. It was also a violation of Article six of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that states, “Every human being has an inherent right to life.”

From the remarks made by the late General Ranjan Wijeratne, the then deputy minister of defence, targeting civilian life and property at Veeramunai appears to have been given official sanction. When he visited Tirukovil, he told me that he continued to receive enquiries from the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances and Amnesty International about alleged enforced involuntary disappearances from Veeramunai. “I throw their letters into the wastepaper basket and collect the foreign postage stamps,” he said.

The operation of the army at Veeramunai was described by a mother who said, “On 20 June (1990) at 2.00 p.m. a number of army vehicles drove into the Veeramunai temple, where thousands of people (Tamils) had taken refuge. The soldiers made an announcement through the loudspeakers requiring all males over the age of 15 to assemble in the temple courtyard. People were agitated since the refugees had left their homes because of fear of the soldiers who had gone on a killing spree there. One by one the men went out into the open space opposite the temple and stood. Women were the most disturbed and stood watching.

“The soldiers entered the temple and examined the inner sanctum to ascertain whether anyone was hiding inside. They found none and began to inspect the youths standing opposite the temple. Of the number surveyed, the soldiers began picking some youths and able-bodied children and got them to board a CTB bus they had brought. The women went before the soldiers and asked them what they were trying to do. One of the officers said they were being taken for questioning and would be released after interrogation. The women pleaded with the soldiers stating that their children were never associated with any form of terrorism and that every one picked up by the army was an innocent youth. The soldiers ignored the tears of the women and started to leave the temple premises with the youths.

“We fell in front of the vehicles and worshiped the soldiers to leave our boys. The officer who led the raid spoke harshly to us wailing women that he would order his men to shoot every man and women who was obstructing. The women fearing the worst, retreated and the army carried away our children. A few returned later – battered and bruised, following severe torture.”

A youth who had a narrow escape from sure death after arrest, made the following statement. He said, “I was one among those arrested on 20 June from the Veeramunai temple. The soldiers having picked up a number of young men, who were refugees at the kovil, took us to the Sammanthurai Al-Marjan Muslim school where we were beaten severely without any reason. The soldiers first attacked us with gun butts and thereafter kicked us and boxed our faces.

“The young men picked up at the refugee camp were later paraded before a fair, fat youthful stranger. When I was produced before him, he said “No,” and I was taken aside. I found that the stranger saying ‘Yes’ to most of the young men produced before him that evening. The people to whom he said, ‘Yes’ were taken into another building. Those who were taken aside on the pronouncement of ‘No,’ were produced before another officer who made a speech in Tamil. I was in no mood to grasp what he said. The torture I had suffered a little while before had robbed me of my strength and vitality. I could hardly keep standing as around 15 men assaulted me simultaneously.

“The officer told us to get back to the kovil from where we were picked up. The others who were separated from us, we learnt were carried to a place called Malaikadu – a rocky place in shrub jungle – in army trucks and killed. Of the many picked up from the refugee camp at the kovil, only around 20 returned.

“We learnt that half burnt human bodies were rotting at Malaikadu and the Muslims, unable to bear the stench of decomposing human flesh, carried several tractor loads of paddy husks to cover the rotting bodies and burnt them.”

Sixty-nine persons, all civilian youths, disappeared from Veeramunai kovil, In spite of the numerous complaints made to authorities about the illegal arrests and subsequent disappearances, the state did not take any meaningful steps to identify the perpetrators or to hold an inquiry into the complaints.

If the army was acting under provisions of the Emergency Regulations, they could have arrested only those who had committed an offence under ER and not innocent people. And at any rate they should not have been summarily executed.

The distressing events at the Veeramunai kovil made the refugees very depressed. Eight days after the first raid, on the 29 June, the army made a similar raid on the temple at Veeramunai. Having surrounded the temple and school they ordered the men to line up at the temple courtyard. The women wept and wailed; fell at the feet at the feet of the soldiers pleading the LTTE had not infiltrated the refugee camp. But the army, regardless of their entreaties carried away 60 men in a CTB bus to Kondawattuwan army camp. The day following the second raid, the late General Ranjan Wijeratne made another hurried trip to the Amparai District, this time to Sammanthurai, accompanied by the service chiefs and police.

The only Tamil member of parliament, who was representing the Tamil constituency, whom the people of Veeramunai supported at the parliamentary elections held the previous year was also present.

About 125 women whose children, spouses were among the disappeared attempted to meet the deputy minister to complain about the raids on their camp, abduction of their children, and the failure of the army to follow established procedures of arrest and to know about the fate of their loved ones taken into custody from refugee camp. The women could not meet the deputy minister without the intervention of the MP on their behalf. The women approached the Tamil MP but were very disappointed when the MP was reluctant to take up their cause. Thus a good opportunity went by default. The protagonists of the crimes against the Tamils gloated over the powerlessness of the peoples’ representatives to protect the unfortunate community.

Everyone felt depressed, frustrated and helpless. Some families from Malwattai, New Town and Veeramunai thought their proximity to Sammanthurai village and Kondawatuwan army camp was a threat to their security and that they could save their children from arrest if they moved to Karativu.

They left Veeramunai and found accommodation at Karativu Maha Vidyalaya refugee camp. On the 4 July, two days after they were relocated at Karativu, the armed forces raided the refugee camp and carried away 11 youths.

They were never seen again. The mothers who thought that they could save their children by change of location from Veeramunai to Kraitivu found to their bitter dismay that Tamils were not safe anywhere. They returned to Veeramunai after losing 11 young men.The army from Kondawattuwan headquarters made a fourth raid on Veeramunai camp in the much-dreaded ‘white van’ without number plates. It was on a warm day at noon when four persons who were resting under the shade of a tree near the camp.

The army raided the Veeramunai camp once again on the 10 July and took away another 11 youths as the women wailed and wept. None of the persons were seen again.Eight women left Veeramunai refugee camp on the 16 July to inspect the homes they had abandoned a month ago consequent to the army entering the area. The women never returned, but there was evidence to show that the army at Malwattai seized them.On the 26 July the army raided the Veeramunai kovil once again and carried away several youths. Once again the government failed to account for all those whom the army took into its custody.

Records maintained at HHR reveal carried away 32 teenagers, of who 23 were school going and nine school dropouts on that particular day. Nothing was ever heard of them. Eight highly qualified schoolteachers from Veeramunai also disappeared after being taken into custody by the Sri Lanka army. The army picked them up on the road while they were journeying with their families, including little children, according to statements recorded. No action was taken on the complaints made and the police too could be considered as aiding and betting the enforced disappearances.

Speaking about disappearances of school children, one is reminded of a similar occurrence at Embilipitiya in 1989 during the height of the JVP insurrection of the late 1980s. Political leaders, the press, human rights activists and even members of parliament brought intense pressure to bear on the government on the disappearance of 32 school children and those responsible for the abduction were brought before the law. However, when the disappearance of schoolchildren at Veeramunai was reported together with eight teachers, the state took no action, nor did civil society.

Apart from discrimination, it goes to prove that an arm of the state, which should provide safety and security to the citizens, engaged in acts of genocide.

The second raid made with a white van on Veeramunai camp was on 22 July, where the police and home guards allegedly carried away Jayenthiran (20) N. Wigneswaran (36) and N. Kopalan, father of five.

The raids forced inmates of the refugee camp to be confined like prisoners for the sake of security. They could not go out and any person who ventured out paid the price with death. Several more disappeared (presumably killed) in July 1990. On 26 July, Arumugam Kandasamy (23) disappeared. On 29 July Sinnathurai Kaalikutty (47) and Masilamany Dharmalingam (43) who went to inspect their houses disappeared. Kaathamuthu Shanmuganathan (41) who visited his home was found dead inside with gunshot injuries. Maruthanis Selvarasa (42), a farmer, Thangarasa Kaneshan (22), a farmer, Arumugam Theiveindran (34), a carpenter and a father of three and Alagiah Siva (34), a farmer, disappeared on 8 August after the army took them into custody. On the 11 August 18 persons, including four women and one child went along Chavalakade road to Navithanvelly to collect food.

The soldiers, police and home guards seized them, while they were going through Chavalakade. The 18 were attacked with knives, dismembered and burnt inside the temple at Chavalakade. The home guards are accused of desecrating the place of worship. On the 12 August, around 10 o’clock in the forenoon, an armed gang, carrying guns, knives, swords and crowbars broke into the refugee camps in the kovil and school and began attacking the inmates. One group opened fire at a section of the camp’s inmates that included women and children, while another group attacked other refugees with knives and swords.

The refugees told me they never anticipated such brutality from the Muslims of Sammanthurai. When victims were felled by gun and sword, the injured and the others raised cries rather than fight back. Despite the sounds of gunshots and cries of the hapless, the police did not respond.

Females A. Sinnapillai (50), A. Valliammah (52) A. Shubashini (17), a GCE student; males U. Nadarajah (5), K. Vellayan (7), both children, S. Manickam (35), R. Mylvaganam (50) K. Sivalingam (48) and Tambimuthu Sinthathurai (52), a VIP of the area who was also the chief trustee of the temple were among those killed on that fateful day.

The refugees allege (and there is strong evidence to corroborate this) that the law enforcement authorities and other government officers were biased favourably towards the attackers and did not respond to the cries of alarm from the refugees. It took nearly half to one hour for the STF to arrive at the scene of the tragedy.

The witnesses named the persons who attacked the refugees killing 10 and injuring several. However the police have failed to take appropriate action up to now.The injured were rushed to the Sammanthurai hospital but the hospital refused to admit them on the grounds the injured were Tamils and the perpetrators Muslims.

When Sammanthurai hospital refused to admit the injured, despite imminent danger to their lives, a risk was taken by the relatives of the wounded to have the victims admitted to the Amparai hospital. Of the seven admitted to that hospital, three injured persons disappeared from the hospital wards, apparently with the connivance of the armed forces. When stories surfaced that the injured had been abducted and burnt alive in the Amparai cemetery, the remaining four sensing the danger to their lives fled from the hospital stealthily at night and reached Veeramunai. The injured who disappeared from the Amparai hospital include Kandiah Nadarajah of Malwattai, and Vallipuram Kandasamy of Veeramunai.The Department of Health failed to inquire into the involuntary disappearances of the three injured persons.

The dead were buried and the people of Veeramunai, Malwattai, Mallikaitivu, New Town, Ganapathipuram, Walathapitty, and Sammanthurai were taken to Tambiluvil in STF trucks and a refugee camp was established for the displaced at the Tambiluvil Madhya Maha Vidiyalayam. The STF based at Tirukovil provided food and medicine to the affected people until the government issued them dry-rations.

Tamils of Veeramunai were expelled from their homes. They lost their houses, their possessions, their livelihood, their children and their breadwinners. In the course of expelling the Tamils from Veeramunai, 600 houses were destroyed; an estimated 1352 houses were destroyed in the neighbouring villages. The people of Veeramunai were thus forced to leave the village where their forefathers founded a kingdom and a capital 3000 years before.

In his ‘The theory of Force’ spelt out in 1080, Pope Gregory VII describes, “The subjugation of the weaker by the stronger through wars… brings power to the triumphant. Kings and Lords, ignorant of God, by arrogance, rapine, perfidy, slaughter, by every crime with every devil … have contrived to rule over their fellowmen.”

By arrogance, rapine, perfidy and slaughter did government forces and the Muslims of the area contrive to impose hegemony over their Tamil brethren in Veeramunai, while slowly and systematically destroying the livelihoods and homes of those unfortunate people, which are the bases of civilised community, for a second time in the space of 40 years.

A woman who lost her son told me, “We left our home in Malwattai to save our skins. But the hope of our life is lost, our home is lost and our goods looted by the army. We have actually lost everything.”

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