Feature Article

Udumbankulam survives mass murder, forced eviction

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 19 February 2003, 21:30 GMT]
In Udumbankulam, a minor Tamil hamlet in the little known interior of Sri Lanka’s southeastern coast, the fields are densely green where 17 years ago on February 19, 1986 the Sri Lankan military hacked and beat to death 128 farmers on the village’s threshing floor. The area is being gradually retrieved from the clutches of the jungle. A handful of intrepid former residents who returned to the village five months ago are eagerly looking forward to a bumper crop of rice. But Feb 19 remains an indelibly bitter day for them.

As often is the case, the Sri Lankan government did nothing to investigate the mass murder of Udumbankulam.

Udumbankulam survives mass murder
Kanapathipillai Sivanesarajah, 58, looks over his field, standing near the Udumbankulam reservoir's spill.
“I escaped the massacre because I was out on business that day. Everyone was scared. We were able to get here only the next day. The threshing floor was full of burnt and half burnt bodies. It was an unbearable sight. A boy who escaped and hid in the jungle told us that some of the victims were alive when the soldiers set them on fire. Exactly five months later the military came here again and shot dead two men from the village, on 19 July 86”, said Nakamany Kandasamy, 48, the local headman.

Three years after the gruesome massacre, those villagers who dared to remain in Udumbankulam were driven out en masse by the elite counter insurgency arm of the Sri Lankan military the Special Task Force (STF).

Udumbankulam survives mass murder
Krishnan Sivajothy beating a sheaf of paddy on the threshing floor of a field in Thangavelauthapuram.
“STF commandos burnt our house and shop in 1990. They destroyed the village school and co-operative society building too. The STF set fire to our harvested paddy and destroyed 25 thousand manioc plants in our farm which we had planted for the season. My husband and I barely escaped death. We hid in the jungles for many days. We have come back here after 12 years. But starting life all over again is very hard”, says Kumarakulasingham Thangeswary, 45.

“But worst of all is that the STF blew up the bunds of water reservoirs here. The reservoirs have remained breached for almost a decade. The Tamil Eelam Economic Development Organisation (TEEDOR) has helped repair the bund of the Udumbankulam reservoir. Other the breached bunds of the other minor tanks (reservoirs) have also been repaired in recent months”, said the President of the Rural Development Society for the area, Mr. Murugesu Varatharajan, 33.

He said families are reluctant to resettle on a permanent basis because even the rudimentary infrastructure needed to sustain human habitation has been systematically and ruthlessly destroyed in the STF’s counter insurgency operations in the region.

Udumbankulam survives mass murder
Nakamany Kandasamy, 48, on his way to Udumbankulam at dusk.
“To many of our people who go about in luxury vehicles, discussing the reconstruction of our homeland with foreigners, we are just an inconspicuous dot on the map. Pregnant women have to walk more than eight kilometres from here to get a bus to Thirukkovil”, he adds bitterly.

“We had to break granite stones for a living. We could not cultivate the lands here and my family is still sunk in poverty. Three meals a day is a luxury for my family”, says Krishnan Sivajothy, 38, as she beats with a stick a sheaf of paddy she and her friends had been allowed to collect from the floor of a harvested field in Thangavelauthapuram, a village near Udumbankulam.

“A hard day’s work gets us enough grains of rice to give the children a square meal”, she said.

Sivajothy and her colleagues are from the village of Thandiady, about 94 kilometers south of Batticaloa, on the main road along the island’s southeastern coast.

The STF held the village for more than decade, like an open prison, human rights activists in Batticaloa say.

Indiscriminate arrest, detention, torture and disappearance were rampant here. No journalist has been to the area since the STF took control more than 18 years ago.

Thousands of families which were driven out almost overnight as part of the STF’s counter insurgency strategy designed according to western manuals on the subject, lived as refugees for more than 12 years in the villages of Thirukkovil and Thambiluvil, 76 kilometers south of Batticaloa. Many were driven to destitution and despair as the STF continued to deny access to their fertile lands and cattle herds.

Those who dared to go back were shot dead by STF patrols in ambush.

However, the STF’s decade long counter insurgency measures, successfully tested and honed over the years in other parts of the world, neither curbed the military activities of the Liberation Tigers nor succeeded in scaring the population away from the Tigers.

Instead, the scorched earth policy which successive government’s tacitly promoted in the region evolved into a cover to the STF for a perpetuating a comfortable way of corrupt life, which the terrorized population was forced to pay dearly for.

“We had to lose a few people. But public protests here since the signing of the ceasefire have shown the STF that our people cannot be treated like slaves for ever”, says Vivekanandan, a social activist and journalist in Thirukkovil.

Udumbankulam survives mass murder
Twilight over the Udumbankulam Tank.


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