Terrible truth of the Trincomalee tragedy

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

January second of the new year 2006 was a monday. It was 5.30 in the
evening when 20 year old Manoharan Rajihar set off from home on St.
Mary's road in Trincomalee town. Both his father and mother were
medical doctors jointly running the welcome Medical clininc. He told his
parents that he would be going to worship at  the Pillaiyar temple and the
Pathragali Amman temple. Thereafter he said that he would chat for a
while with friends at the beach and  return.

One of his friends now an undergraduate at the engineering faculty in  
Moratuwa university had come home for the new year and was scheduled
to go back the following day.Rajihar said he would return home by 7. 30
pm.

Trincomalee had been tensed up for quite a while. There had been much
violence along with hartals paralysing normal life. Police and security
personnel along with civilians had been targeted. The civilian killings and
in some cases reprisal killings cut across ethnic barriers.

Though Trincomalee was bustling actively after many years of the
ceasefire the atmosphere had deteriorated in recent times. Life had not
been the same after a large Buddha statue was installed overnight near
the Central bus stand and market.. Tamil organizations had opposed this.
Hartals were staged. It was ruled by the lower courts that the statue was
illegally installed on Urban Council property. In spite of the public
opposition  and court directive the statue remains where it was with
massive security provided.

The protests over the statues had resulted in a lot of additionel security
personnel being deployed in Trincomalee. This brought about another
wave of protests against the increased security presence. With LTTE
backed Tamil resurgence movements stepping up demonstrations the
situation became worse. Sporadic violence continued. An attack on the
security personnel brought about reprisals on Tamil civilians. In some
cases "unknown" people killed Sinhala and Tamil civilians.It was tit for tat.
For instance when a Sinhala businessman was killed on Dec 24th two
Tamil trishaw drivers were killed on Dec 26th.

Against this backdrop people seldom ventured out of their homes after
dusk. Rajihars parents too were concerned about their son staying out till
dark. But they were not unduly worried because they knew their son was
a decent, level - headed boy. He was very punctual and if he said he
would be back at 7. 30 they knew he would keep his word. Besides the
place he was going to was not very far from home. Also they knew his
friends. All of them were quiet, well - behaved youths with little interest in
politics let alone tiger politics. They were youths with glowing  dreams of a
bright future. The parents had no worries about their son or his friends
getting mixed up with the LTTE.

Rajihar was the third in a family of six children. The eldest was a girl now
married and settled in Britain. The next was a son. There were three
younger brothers. An old student of Sri Koneswarar Hindu College
Rajihar had completed his AL's. He was an outstanding sportsman
excelling in Table tennis and Chess. Rajihar was the secretary of the
Trinco Table Tennis Association.He had even conducted training
sessions in TT for the security force recreation. Rajihar had been
thoroughly vetted and given a military approved identity card. The military
ID is the one respected by all security personnel.

Apart from this the Manoharan's were familiar with many security officials
including naval officers who had obtained treatment at the clinic. All this
gave the family a sense of security in troubled times. Being doctors the
parents were after all in the upper strata of Trincomalee society. The
parents had also bought Rajihar a cellular phone as a precaution. He had
strict instructions to call and keep them informed if he was getting late or
held up anywhere.Rajihar left home happily for his rendezvous with
friends blissfully unaware of the fate awaiting him.

Seven young men all of them born in the year 1985 gathered that
evening at the Dutch Bay beach. The spot was near the Gandhi statue
roundabout where the Dockyard road and Koneswarar or Fort Frederick
road intersected.. There was an important checkpost manned by navy.
army and Police personnel close by. Actually there were three more
checkposts manned by naval personnel within a 100 metre radius.There
was also a small boutique selling provisions.

There were stone benches on the beach front where people sat and took
in the sea breeze. The seven friends were now seated on those benches
chatting gaily. They had been frisked and cleared at the checkpost
before coming to the spot.They arrived on four cycles and a motor cycle
with two riding" doubles".. Six of the friends were alumni of Sri Koneswara
Hindu College. One was an old boy of St. Joseph's College. The key
figure in the group was  Thangathurai Sivanantha the Moratuwa campus
undergrad. He had come home on Dec 31st and was returning on Jan
3rd. The seaside chit - chat was like a send off to Sivanantha.

All of them had completed their A levels in 2004/5. Apart from Sivanantha
another too had gained entry to Katubedde. The others too were hopeful
of higher education or at least a good job in Colombo. Some had ideas of
going abroad. They were good all round students in both studies and
extra - curricular activities. They were computer proficient too.Time just
flew as the friends swapped stories and teased each other in all good fun.

It was about 7.15 when a green three - wheeler coming along Dockyard
road slowed down. A grenade was thrown from the vehicle. It exploded
yards away from where the seven friends were seated. The three -
wheeler then sped away on Koneswara road towards the Fort. The dazed
friends realised the situation was taking a turn for the worse and cut short
their conversation. They speedily mounted their cycles and motor cycle
and prepared to get away from the spot. That was not to be!

Almost as if on cue a security force truck  trundled in quickly . Instead of
giving chase to the three- wheeler the occupants of the truck zoomed in
on the seven Tamil youths. They surrounded them and forced them to
kneel down.Rajihar took out his mobile phone and called his father Dr.
Kasipillai Manoharan. The call was not answered. Rajihar however left a
quick message saying they were being made to kneel down by security
forces. The phone was snatched away by one of the assailants

They started checking their ID cards. Thereafter they began assaulting
them. They were then put aboard the truck and assaulted again and
again. Their explanations and protests were ignored.

At this point some more security vehicles arrived. There was excited
duscussion in Sinhala among the new and old arrivals. The youths could
only hear the noise. Suddenly they were kicked and pushed out of the
truck. Even as they fell they found that the entire area was now pitch
dark.The lights in the vicinity had been turned off. The youths were now
hit again and forced to kneel down again.

After some more bickering among themselves one group of security
personnel began leaving the spot. It was still dark and lights were out.
Only the vehicle lights tore through the darkness of the night. After one
group of security men left the other group began getting really mean.
Then it became really terrible.

After some more rounds of assaulting the youths were forced to kneel
down again. Firearms were taken out and brandished. The youths were
told that they were going to be killed as a warning to the tigers in
Trincomalee. The innocent youths began wailing and pleading. Their
pathetic cries were heard far and wide.

Listening to the faintly audible cries was Dr. Manoharan. Finding that he
had missed a call Rajihar's father had checked the phone to find it was
from his son. Thoroughly agitated Dr. Manoharan began calling his son's
cell again and again  and again. There was no answer. Esxtremely
perturbed the father then mounted his scooter and set off for the spot on
the beach where his son said he was going to. Besides it was close to the
Amman temple too.

When Dr. Manoharan came near the spot he found all lights including
street lights were turned off and darkness all around. He was shocked to
find that security personnel had sealed off the particular area and were
refusing to let anyone go through. Upon inquiring he was told that some
tigers had attacked the security forces and no one would be allowed to
pass. He was curtly ordered to turn back. Manoharan refused saying his
son was in trouble and that he would not go back without him.

As Dr. Manoharan  stayed put stubbornly despite the danger he heard
the cries of the youths pleading with the assailants. He thought he
recognized his son's voice among them. He kept on pleading with those at
the checkpost  to let him through. The personnel refused but were
becoming increasingly nervous and jittery. And then rang out the shots
followed by the screams.More gunfire and more screams. It took just four
minutes from 7. 51 to 7.55 pm.. A few minutes later an explosion was
heard and then it was all over.

After playing cat and mouse for a while the assassins now began firing.
Two of the youths were shot behind the ear. One was shot in the back of
the head. The other four then scrambled to their feet and made a
desperate attempt to escape by running away. They were mowed down
by gunfire. They were shot in the chest, abdomen. shoulders, thighs etc
and collapsed . A little while after the firing was over  two grenades were
thrown at the still bodies. One exploded but the other proved a dud.

The assassins were in no mood to take their victims to hospital. They
delayed for nearly half an hour. The calculated delay presumably was to
let the youths bleed to certain death. Finally an ambulance was called
and even the lights came on"miraculously".

Dr. Manoharan raced to the Trincomalee hospital. His heart leapt when
told that two of the youths were alive  still. His heart sank when he found
that his son was not in the Intensive Care Unit. Later he was allowed to
check out the morgue where he  found his favourite son lying dead. He
broke down and wept.

News began spreading and the parents of the victims began converging
at the hospital notwithstanding the security situation. Their long night of
sorrow was made unbearable by the deliberate attempt to twist the truth.
The security forces who had brought in the youths to the hospital had
made a Police entry that some tigers plotting to attack the security forces
had suffered casualties due to some grenades exploding accidently.

This then was the version hastily disseminated by the security
propagandists. Given the tense situation in Trincomalee and the vain
boasts of the LTTE that the people were rising up against the armed
forces there were many takers for this story.Many newspapers and news
agencies also carried the security version initially.The defence ministry
spokesperson as well as other army and Police officials also stood by this
story.

The truth however became known when the post - mortem and judicial
inquiry was conducted. The Trincomalee Judicial Medical Officer Dr.
Gamini Gunatunga conducted the post - mortem and ruled that all five
dead victims had died due to gunshot injuries. Three had died of head
injuries while the other two had succumbed to abdomen and chest
injuries. The JMO however observed that some of the victims had injuries
other than gunshot wounds too. But the fatal ones were from gunshots.

With the JMO report the explanation provided by the security forces was
blown to smithereens. The Trincomalee Magistrate Mr. V. Ramakamalan
recorded an interim verdict of gunshot injuries and instructed the bodies
be handed over to the families. But there was a hitch. The Police at the
hospital refused to release the bodies. They insisted that the parents sign
letters accepting that their children were tigers. Otherwise the bodies
would not be handed over they threatened.

The parents of the victims however were not prepared to do that. They
had lost their innocent children. They were not prepared to sacrifice their
reputations. They were not prepared to let them be stigmatised as
"terrorists" when they were not. They simply refused to budge.

One parent said"  if you dont give the body I will have a funeral with an
empty coffin and a picture of my son but I will never admit to this untruth
of calling my son a terrorist.I have lost my son but I wont lose his
honour".TNA Parliamentarian from Trincomalee district
Thurairatnasingham also arrived at the hospital and exerted
pressure.Finally the cops relented and the bodies were released without
any letters being signed

Trincomalee was overwhelmed with sorrow. On the 3rd there was a
spontaneous closure of schools and boycott of classes by students.
Students of all communities and faiths expressed solidarity with the
victims. Realising the public mood was turning bitter the authorities
withdrew security personnel from checkposts and sentry points in the
Tamil neighbourhoods of Trincomalee. Some enraged people destroyed
a few of these deserted places.

On the following more organized efforts were made by Tamil youths to
continue the hartal. The element of genuine spontaneity prevalent on the
first day was lost.

On Wednesday Jan 4th the bodies of the five victims were lying in their
respective homes.They were all born in the same year on different dates.
They had schooled together and now had died on the same date.

Shanmugarajah Gajendran born on 16th  September was  living on
Vidyalayam lane;  Lohitharaja Rohan born on 07th  April was from Sivan
Kovil road; Thangathurai Sivanantha born on 06th April was a resident of
Vanniya lane; Yogaraja Hemachandran  born on 04th March lived in
Customs street;  Manoharan Rajihar born on the 22nd of September lived
in St, Mary's road.

Trincomalee town was grief stricken. People flocked to the houses of the
victims. Again those condoling with the families were not Tamils alone but
many Sinhala and Muslim families. Everyone knew what had really
happened and of the innocence of the victims.The student population
turned up in large numbers. The certificates, cups and medals won by the
victims were laid out by the coffins.

On Thursday the 5th of January the funeral was held at the Srikonewara
Hindu College generally known as Trinco Hindu. The institution had a
grand tradition of over a hundred years. Among its distinguished former
Principals was the great Tamil scholar Swamy Vipulananda who went on
to become the first Tamil professor of Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu.

The current principal was Mr. M. Rajaratnam. He was distraught by the
developments. A special dais was constructed on the day of the final
farewell at the College grounds. The bodies were brought in individual
processions to the College. Religious leaders of the Hindu, Christian and
Islamic faiths addressed the mourners. Student representatives and
Principal Rajaratnam also made speeches. They were emotional but
eloquent. One thing rankling was the unjust charge that the victims were
tigers.Every speaker refuted the accusation and condemned those
responsible.

Finally the five bodies were taken in procession through the streets of
Trincomalee to the Hindu burial grounds near Ehamparam road. Once
again a few checkposts were attacked on the way. Security personnel
were pointedly absent. At Madathady some lumpen elements close to the
JVP started throwing stones. They were quickly checked by the Police
providing security. Trincomalee had not seen such a large funeral
procession after the one for former Federal Party MP Rajavarothayam.
After last rites were performed the five friends , inseparable in life and in
death,  were laid to rest.

Meanwhile the Trincomalee magistrate began his judicial inquiry. He
spoke to the two  youths receiving treatment at the ICU. One was
Yogarajah Poongulalon and the other Pararajasingham Kokulraj. Though
conscious the condition of one has not passed the critical stage yet. Dr.
Kasipillai Manoharan and the woman lawyer Subashini Chitravelu also
made statements before the magistrate. Subashini is the sister of Mrs.
Thangathurai the mother of Sivananda the Moratuwa undergrad.

Incidently the Tamil students at Moratuwa Varsity wanted to mourn the
death of their fellow undergrad but were fearful because he had been
branded a tiger terrorist. But thanks to the praiseworthy professionalism
of Dr. Gamini Gunatunga an ethnic Sinhala person the attempt to frame
the victims as tigers was failing. The security propagandists who said the
grenades had exploded accidently revised their position and said  now
that there was a shoot - out.

Slowly,  open minded people were beginning to realise the terrible truth
behind the Trincomalee tragedy. Pressure began mounting on the
Government with even Amnesty International commenting on it. A TNA
delegation made out a strong case in a meeting with Mahinda Rajapakse.
The President pledged firmly that he would probe the incident and punish
the culprits.

On the other hand attempts were being made to suppress the truth too.
The witnesses who testified at the inquiry were subject to several
threatening calls in Sinhala. The families of the victims were also
intimidated. They also began suspecting that they were being watched.
The JVP sponsored hartal in Trincomalee included a new demand that no
inquiry should be held into the Trincomalee deaths. Interested parties
were also pressuring the President to let go or face demoralisation
among the forces.

Mahinda Rajapakse faces a difficult situation. He is a man who has
championed human rights for decades. As he himself said once "Mahinda
is a man of human rights". Now he is challenged to prove that his
commitment to human rights and justice is non - negotiable. Mahinda also
announced after his victory that henceforth he would not belong to any
ethnicity or group in the discharge of his duties. The time has now come
for Mahinda to prove his mettle.

President Rajapakse must realise that protecting the riff - raff in the
armed forces would not raise its morale. Punishing the guilty, criminal
elements would not de - moralise the armed forces. On the contrary every
self - respecting member of the armed forces would only be happy that
these vermin bringing the entire security forces to disrepute are identified
and punished. The onus then is on Mahinda the man of human rights to
take the correct decision.

The entire truth behind the terrible tragedy in Trincomalee can be
uncovered only through a genuine inquiry. For this the two injured
youths, families of the victims and other knowldegeable people have to be
protected. Moreover the guilty ones should not only be identified but
penalised effectively. This takes moral and political courage but let us
hope that the "Weeraketiya Sinhaya" has what it takes.All fair minded
Sinhala people who comprise the silent majority in the Country  will
definitely support him.

Let me conclude with an excerpt from an editorial in "The Island" on the
subject.

"President Mahinda Rajapakse has rightly ordered a probe into the
incident. And no stone should be left unturned in getting at the truth. He
will have to ensure that the probe will be thorough and independent. If
any members of the armed forces are found to have had a hand in the
deaths of the students, they should be brought to justice irrespective of
position. Let the armed forces be told in no uncertain terms that we don't
need them to unleash terror: the LTTE is doing it much better than
anyone else. The raison d'etre of the Security Forces is to ensure the
security of the citizenry and not to engage in wanton killings.
The memories of the Bindunuwewa massacre are still fresh in the minds
of the Tamil community as well as that of every right thinking man and
woman irrespective of ethnicity. Nothing hurts a parent more than the fact
that the killers of his or her child have got away with it.

Children, or all civilians for that matter, must be free from harm, be it in
the South, the North, the East or the West, especially during a truce.
Enough of them have already perished in two insurrections in the South
and in the on-going conflict in the North and the East.

We have no way of disciplining a terror outfit or teaching it the value of
human life. But that we can do to the armed forces and this is why probes
into allegations of criminal activity by the security personnel are
necessary"

So says the Island editorial. Amen to that!
The Place of the
Tragedy
[Click to Enlarge]
"Anybody can
come and go,
but nobody can
bring back my
gorgeous son to
me " says
Dr.Thevakunchar
ambal
Manoharan
"I can still hear
my son's voice
screaming for his
life, while he was
being executed"
says Dr.Kasipillai
Manoharan
Rajeehar
Manoharan was
a champion of
chess and table
tennis. His niece
Thirushika
Thirubavan plays
with her late
uncle's trophies,
who came from
London to attend
his funeral
Students