(Actually I was not dating Ajith then, but can’t a girl dream?)
Published in my column in The Nation ‘The Painted Goose’ on January 22, 2012
By Darshanie Ratnawalli
In the afternoon of 10 October 1987, sound of shelling was once more heard in Jaffna barely three months after India enforced peace in Sri Lanka with the Indo-Lanka Accord. Most Jaffnese (records UTHR) couldn’t believe that it was the IPKF shelling them and thought it must be the SL army. But it wasn’t. It was the IPKF. On 4th October, 17 tigers travelling in a fishing trawler to or from Tamil Nadu were apprehended by the SL Navy. On 5th October, 2.00 p.m., those 17 men, who had been taken by the IPKF from the Naval base to the Palaley air base, were visited by Balasingam and Mahattaya. At the exact same time, Major General Harkirat (Harry) Singh, Commander of the IPKF, who was in Trincomalee (under orders to ‘deny the airport to the SL forces’), was getting a message; “At 2 o'clock I get a message, why is the G-o-C IPKF interfering in the 'constitutional activities of Sri Lanka? These were the exact words. This message came all the way from the force headquarters in Madras. And, 'Please lift your siege in Jaffna, let the Sri Lankans do what they want to.'”
By late evening that day, the message bore fruit; “Our troops withdrew, the Sri Lankan troops charged, and these fellows swallowed cyanide. Those who chewed, they died on the spot, those who swallowed were saved.” According to General Harry, 13 chewed that day. Only 4 swallowed. That night the LTTE started avenging those who chewed. During the night of 5th October, the LTTE liquidated one Sinhalese baker (poor, elderly, forced to leave Jaffa in ‘83’, had come back with the dawn of the ‘87’ peace to restart his only livelihood in Chunnakam), two Sinhalese cement makers (the GM and deputy GM of Lanka Cement Ltd., come to restart the cement plant at KKS ), 8 Sinhalese soldiers (been in LTTE captivity, hopeful appeals had been made to the LTTE for release with the dawn of the ‘87’ peace) and one Sinhalese cop (serving in the VVT police station re-opened with the advent of ‘87’ peace, beaten to death with a wooden pole by Soosai and another while having a drink in the local bar). The liquidating just continued in the following days until a civilian (Sinhalese) death toll of around 200 was achieved according to BBC reportage. This included 4 Rupavahini crew members, who having been abducted in Jaffna went AWOL presumed dead, 35 long term Batticaloa (Sinhalese) residents who were gunned down, Chief of STF, Batticaloa, Nimal Silva and GA Batticaloa, Mr. Anthonymuttu killed in a landmine explosion while travelling in the same vehicle.
Meanwhile, in yet another part of the forest, J.R was urging the Indian Defense Minister and the Indian Army Chief of Staff to act. Some say he even dared to articulate the possibility of re-deploying the SL army in the event of no action by the IPKF. On 7th October the IPKF had been issued directives defining their operational parameters. On 10th October 1987, ‘the war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted’, though now the LTTE was fighting the peacekeepers instead of the government troops. I have paraphrased Niromi de Soyza to show up the other worldly relevance of her 2009 Telegraph statement.
“The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.” may indeed have relevance and drip with truth in some world other than this one. The bit about Prabhakaran predicting the resumption of war however, has relevance even in this world. To every 100 inept astrologers, who wait passively for their predictions to come true, there is one enterprising astrologer who predicts something and immediately proceeds to kick destiny into shape to make that prediction happen. Prabha was one such.
When he predicted in the early days of the Accord, that the war would resume, did he also envisage the government troops joining in? It’s possible. Prior to October before the war resumed (just as Prabhakaran had predicted) there had been scenes that were simply throbbing with potential. On 18 September 1987, the IPKF looked on while a mob attacked and set fire to the Point Pedro police station. The festivities ended with the policemen being made to walk to the nearby camp with their belongings on their heads, trailed behind by a crowd shouting abuse. That same day, the abusive crowd scenario had been duplicated in front of the SL Army camp in VVT and a single drunk soldier had stood in front of the crowd returning the abuse before being dragged inside by an officer.
Given this latent, simmering hostility to the Sri Lankan Forces and given that in a very real sense the SL state and the SL forces were the ultimate enemy of the LTTE, the IPKF being just an interlude and a fling, could it be…isn’t it possible that…of course that’s it! Eureka, Niromi de Soyza’s Telegraph statement and the Throsby statement can totally be justified!
Look at them statements; “The war resumed, just as Prabhakaran had predicted, though now we were fighting not only the government troops but the peacekeepers, too.” and “when I joined, the Indian forces had arrived and the tigers had chosen to fight the Indian forces as well as the Sri Lankan forces”. When Niromi joins the government troops with the IPKF in a single harness via the ‘not only-but also/as well as’ construct and subjects these two harnessed entities to the common verb ‘fight’, she is merely trying to convey the ultimate and enduring adversarial equation between the tigers and the SL forces while at the same time expressing the new equation with the IPKF. Whew, what a relief!
Not only-but also/as well as
But is it? All you Niromi defenders on the web, who genuinely bought into this explanation need to catch the earliest time machine into your pasts and get your younger selves better English teachers (who can correctly lay down the parameters of the not ‘only-but also/as well as’ construct) together with memberships in good libraries (where you can read those parameters demonstrated in living language across the whole gamut of human experience). Or, alternatively you could look at the model situations below and savour the existential absurdities and the internal contradictions caused when the above parameters are deployed by the linguistically challenged.
“Ajith was the ultimate love theme in my life. I have always loved him and probably always will.. But then suddenly we were …drawn asunder by outside forces. Not that I ever stopped loving him but we were not an item anymore. I was lonely and Ajay was …there. He was Ajith’s friend, reminded me of Ajith and I dare say, I even saw him as a stand in for Ajith. I dunno, whatever, the inevitable happened.
My love life resumed just as my mother had predicted though now I was dating not only Ajith but Ajay too.”
“The cancer in my rectum was in remission. But I was smoking a lot. I couldn’t seem to get through the day without twenty cigarettes. My doctor was expressing grave doubts about my ability to continue in a state of wellbeing while smoking so heavily. And so it came to pass.
My physical sufferings resumed, just as my doctor had predicted, though now I was fighting not only the cancer in my rectum but emphysema, too. Thankfully my cancer was still in remission and did not contribute to my physical sufferings. I don’t think I could have managed to fight emphysema of the lungs and cancer of the rectum at the same time.”
Someone who says ‘When I joined, Monica had arrived and my boss had chosen to date her as well as Jane’ is unmistakably painting ‘my boss’ as a minor Casanova. Protesting much later that boss was no Casanova, that Jane was his steady girl friend who was temporarily unavailable/estranged when the Monica thing was on, will only make you look silly. Similarly the 2009 Telegraph and the 2011 Throsby statements unmistakably label Niromi as an IPKF war virgin who has no awareness of the most unique aspect of that unique episode in our country’s history.
Between 1987 and 1990, for the first time after the British left, part of this country was under a foreign Force. It was a palpable reality. When president Premadasa presumed to order the IPKF about in December 1989 with his ‘please be confined to your lines or else we will consider you an occupational force and deal with you’, Lieutenant General Kalkat had flashed this reality at him in the same way a cop flashes his badge; “So when the ultimatum was conveyed to me, I conveyed back that as per the Accord, the North-Eastern province is under the IPKF. I am responsible here for the safety of the entire region and if there was militant activity by anyone, any force I would respond. And that if my forces are attacked by anyone I would respond. That is as far as you can go, but it conveyed the meaning of what it meant.”. Even much earlier on in his tenure, Lt. General Kalkat had been compelled to flash his badge when he discovered unscheduled SL army presence in his territory; “…Israeli assistance was for the Sri Lankan special force. Their training camp was on the edge of Batticaloa district, my soldiers had discovered it. And I straight away took up the matter, if they don't leave in 24 hours, my soldiers will deal with them. And in 24 hours they left the place lock, stock and barrel, both Israeli trainers and Sri Lankans.”
Defining the side
It is into this occupied landscape that Niromi de Soyza blunders in with her Telegraph and Throsby statements, her weird pre-publicity blurbs raving about the Sri Lankan Army 'ruthlessly ambushing small platoons of young girls' two days before Christmases of 1987, her book with ‘government forces’ enticingly emblazoned on the back cover and her one-on- one interview accounts carrying tales of playing ‘catch me’ with government forces in the jungles of Wanni and having to deal with the viciousness of the Sri Lankan armed forces together with the brutality of her fellow Tigers in the course of the violence she’d become part of by picking up a gun.
Among a sea of web comments trying hard to insist that bull-shit is icing, there was one commenter called Vijayaraghavan Sakthivel who said; “…Is this what all that academic achievement, all that culture and all that poetry described by DBSJ has produced? A 40 something individual, who would go in front of the world and say things about a highly documented period even a kid would be able to prove wrong? Where is the intellectual sophistication, the general knowledge or the good sense education is supposed to produce?” Ageist and sanctimonious perhaps. But bracing and refreshing too.
The overwhelming impression I have of Niromi de Soyza is as someone who urgently needs some robust good sense shaken into her. When she cries in public(as she is reputed to do without fail), ‘get a grip’ are the words demanded by a context where there are tigresses who lost limbs much more recently than 23 years ago (one such is now playing disabled volleyball for Sri Lanka). So Niromi, it has been fun doing research on and around you. We will be watching your future career with considerable interest. No one expects you to play ball for Sri Lanka, but whichever side you play for, it’s imperative to ‘get a grip’.
• India’s Vietnam. The IPKF in Sri Lanka: 10 Years On