We Tamils in Sri Lanka--a largely Hindu minority in that country--had always looked to India for protection. If not for India's diplomatic activities, the Sri Lankan army would have decimated the Tamil population long ago. Vacationing last summer in Jaffna, my wife and I felt privileged--nay, elated--to watch a great moment in the history of the Ceylon Tamil Nation: the Indian food drop, followed by the stationing of Indian Tamil troops on Tamil soil and the disarming of the militant Tamil Tigers, who seek a separate state on the island. We were sure that the deeply rooted Indian traditions of democracy, nonviolence and tolerance would in time get implanted in Sri Lanka to the benefit of both the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Tamils.
We Tamils had developed a contradictory relationship with the Tigers. They were militarily brilliant and the only check on the berserk Sri Lankan army, giving them as good as we got, to use an old expression. Ours was a sense of gratitude. On the other hand, the Tigers have consistently exhibited fascist tendencies. In areas under their control, loudspeakers used to proclaim that discussion of certain topics was taboo. Every newspaper had a Tiger representative as censor. The Tigers had their own "courts," which were arbitrary in meting out punishment, and anyone acquiring some measure of political influence was a marked man. So we feared the Tigers.
Thus when the Indo-Sri Lanka accord last August called for their disarming and their inclusion in the political process, we were happy that we were removed from their control without our having to go against them.
It was not to be so easy. The accord included no timetable for achieving its goals, a major flaw. Consequently, both the Tigers and the government have begun to cheat on the agreement, and urban guerrilla warfare has resumed, this time involving the Indian force, the supposed peacemakers.
Letters from home now tell a very sad story of a golden opportunity for all having been dashed by sheer ineptitude, bordering on viciousness, on the part of the Indians.
Every textbook tells us that winning the hearts of the civilian population is winning the war. This would have been easy for India, with the fraternal Hindu population in Sri Lanka looking to her for spiritual and cultural leadership. But faced with heavy losses from her army--"the boys," as they are called in Jaffna--India reacted with wounded pride. Indeed, the Indian government stopped thinking. How else to explain what the Tamils have suffered from their rescuers?
My 22-year-old sister-in-law, who had to bear a great deal and was later evacuated to Colombo, writes:
"The Indian army is in Jaffna, just destroying the place, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians and raping girls. Most of the girls are fleeing. . . . Please do not ask me to go back to Jaffna. I would rather die.
"On Oct. 8, the Tiger mad fellows murdered 29 Sikhs near our house and Indians shells practically rained on us. Most houses in our area got damaged. From that time we had no lights or water and hardly any food for the next three months. Because of the shelling I left for Grandmother's (in Pandatheruppu) on Oct. 22, even though I did not have my ID (identity card).
"I went through Suthumalai where there was heavy fighting between the Indians and the Tigers (whom I dislike now because they are only bothered about their power and their selfish ends and don't care for the poor civilians; 90% of the people are against this fighting). I saw dead bodies being eaten by crows and dogs. I'll never forget that.
"We had to hide at Pandatheruppu because the Indian soldiers go mad when they see girls. When something happens to them elsewhere, they come into houses and harass and rape. Most of them are Maratis, Gurkhas, Sikhs and Rajasthanis and so we cannot explain things to them.
"We had a narrow escape on Dec. 8 when they surrounded our area on hearing sniper fire. Hefty, fully armed and frightful looking Maratis came charging through the back fence and three fellows turned their guns on me. We started crying aloud and they left. Later some came back without their captain's knowledge and one of them pointed his gun at our aunt and asked her to go to the bedroom with him. Luckily some army officers came by and he went away. Later more soldiers came to catch the hens next door and rushed into our house on seeing us and asked to see all the girls. Since there were men in the house then, we got away with body checks. I cried so hard that day that I got high fever and fainted. Because of my prayers, the Indian colonel got friendly with us (when we went to the camp to complain about three fellows who tried to rape the girl next door) and he dropped me in town where the Indian regiment is good."