Sunday, 10 April 2016

His Royal Highness,The Tamil Tiger - FICTION

Kathir Bala Sundaram

Chapter 5
Injured Tigers

The brand new, green Mitsubishi Pajero flew down the A9 Highway at speeds often exceeding 100 kph. It was returning to Kilinochchi along the same route it had already traveled earlier that day. The Minister stared moodily out the window as they raced through the small village of Meesalai. He hardly took note of the beautiful coconut groves, mango trees, and palmyra palms as they flew by. Most of the houses sat in small compounds, surrounded by tall fences and covered with coconut leaved cadjans* to keep prying eyes from peering in.

A bit further on, they passed through the small town Mirusuvil. On both sides of the highway, the miles and miles of coconut estates showed the horrible effects of war before the Cease Fire Agreement had come into effect. More than quarter of the coconut palms had no fronds, many little more than shattered trunks looking like cannons pointed into the sky. The destruction of the air force didn’t stop there, however, and the hundreds of maimed individuals who roamed the streets giving mute testimony to the magnitude of the devastation the war had caused.

  None of it even registered to the Minister whose mind continually turned over the events at the girls’ college.

He saw in his mind’s eye the lithe figure of the girl who had merely named herself Miss Vembady. He ground his teeth in seething rage. The girl’s double braids had bounced so innocently, full of life and youth—and defiance! Not in the Tamil Tigers’ entire prestigious history beginning in 1976 had they suffered such a shameful challenge by their own people. It was preposterous! How could he face His Royal Highness with this knowledge? He would be demoted at best, he feared, and at worst thrown into his famous torture chambers where he would learn the price of failure.

He knew well His Royal Highness’ disposition and character. The man had little patience for explanations when all he wanted was results. The Minister had witnessed many instances of His Royal Highness’ rage and anger at the failure of others. Often, the man would put a bullet into the head of the offender, or if he was lenient, he would throw the man into his famous dungeons and order that the prisoner be denied food and water eighteen hours. The Minister wasn’t sure how that last worry could be construed as lenient. Chewing on his lower lip, the Minister decided the best course was to tell the truth, the whole truth.

He turned to the man sitting in the rear seat. “Lieutenant, you’re returning to Jaffna early tomorrow to carry out a special assignment.”

The man blinked and scowled slightly. “Sir, I’m on leave for two weeks starting tomorrow.”

The Minister snorted at the absurd notion. “You’re the head of political affairs on the Jaffna peninsula. You know what His Royal Highness will do to us once he hears of our failure. Going on leave won’t save your hide, Lieutenant. You need to get on board with me or we’ll both be stripped of our ranks and imprisoned.”

The reminder of their leader’s cold wrath and impatience quickly changed Earless’ mind. He nodded. “Count me in, Sir. What do you plan to tell His Royal Highness?”

“I’m going to tell him, exactly what happened. By this time, I expect, His Royal Highness would have received some indication of the girls’ upheaval and our failure. The intelligence service no doubt sent word ahead of us.” The Minister paused to reflect on that. No one knew who was in the intelligence service, so keeping secrets from His Royal Highness was a sure death warrant. “Also, I’m going to tell him what steps I’ve taken so far.”

“Sir, do you think His Royal Highness will excuse us? Won’t he shoot you or both of us for not eliminating that troublesome girl?” Lieutenant Earless eagerly looked at the Minister for his reply. The question made the Minister think twice. “He’s not as stupid as you think; he knows the consequences of the Cease Fire Agreement; he knows the people of Jaffna have totally changed, and as long as the Cease Fire Agreement is in force, we cannot show any overt action within Jaffna. I’m going to inform him that I’ve already ordered the principal to report to Kilinochchi along with the student who challenged me. We can mete out severe punishment—the death penalty or prison life—to them.” The Minister looked out of the window as they passed a cart loaded with paddy straw being pulled by a pair of white stout bulls with long horns. He turned his head and said, “In addition, I’m waiting for an accurate intelligence report so we can abduct some teachers and students and finish them off in Jaffna itself. Teams have been already deployed.”  He gave the Lieutenant a stern look. “Lieutenant, I will soon release to you the names of the teachers and students you are to abduct and execute.” He paused rapping his fingers on the jeep door. “By the way, did you notice the short, lean teacher wearing the blue sari?”

“Not really, why?”

“I’ve seen her somewhere before, but I just can’t remember where.”

“Maybe she came to our headquarters to inquire about something.”

“No, it’s more than that. It’s something much more important.” The Minister continued to drum his fingers as he tried to think.

“Forget her, Sir. You’ve got more pressing problems to worry about.”

The Minister frowned, unsure. “You ordered the gate sentry, Raman, to come to Kilinochchi for investigation?”

“Yes, Sir. He should be taught a lesson for the lies he said to me.”

“He’s just a common labor employee, isn’t he? You shouldn’t have ordered him to come to Kilinochchi. He knows nothing. That is one group we dare not lose their support. Remember, high class* only.”

Their conversation was not quiet enough to go unnoticed. The youngest soldier stood up in the back and leaned over the jeep’s roll bar. “Minister, sir, shall I go with the Lieutenant to Jaffna? I want to shoot that idiot girl and teach those foolish Vembady girls a lesson about who we are! Please sir? Please!”

The Minster waved the young man to sit down. He didn’t have time for him anyway, not with the Mhuamalai sentry post just ahead. The check point served as the border between the Tamil Tiger’s realm and the government controlled Jaffna district.

Two sentry towers flanked the road protected by sandbags and fortified with black palmyra trunks—strong enough to stop a barrage of AK-47 bullets. More sandbags surrounded the open tops of the sentry posts to protect a gunner’s nest perfectly situated to command the road for a hundred yards in either direction. Small holes had been cut into the sides of the wooden structure to provide those within a clear view to shoot from. A massive red and black iron bound gate spanned the road between the two towers, strong enough to withstand a great deal of punishment.

Three Sri Lanka soldiers moved into view from within one of the guard towers. Two of them came to a halt just outside the door and stood at attention, their eyes wary and fixed attentively on the Pajero. The other solider marched up to the driver side window trying to peer into the darkened windows of the back seat.

The sentry nodded politely to the Minister who sat waiting in the front seat. The Minster stuck his head through the window. “I’m the Minister of Political Affairs for His Royal Highness, the Tamil Tiger,” he announced haughtily. He smiled grotesquely, and the smile alone slowed the sentry’s approach. Not waiting for the sentry to respond, the Minister opened the door and stepped out. He carried a cane topped with a silver crown.

The sentry eyed the cane and then the leg it was obviously meant to support. The guard wondered if the Minister’s leg was a prosthetic one or if it was simply lame. He looked past the minister to the men piled in the vehicle. He counted seven all together and one that didn’t even look to be past thirteen years old.

“Honorable Minister, I must examine the men inside the jeep.”

“Yes, yes. Go on, then.”

The sentry pulled himself up and into the jeep to better see. He noticed that the men wore civilian style clothing as per the treaty between Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers. He thought that a good sign. “Identification, please,” he said, holding out his hand.

He checked the papers, silently shaking his head at the young man in the jeep. He finally looked over at the Minister. “Okay, Sir, Sorry for the inconvenience. You may go.”

The sentry watched as the Minister opened the door to the jeep. He spotted something that put him on immediate alert. Squaring his shoulders in determination, he pulled out a copy of the Ceased Fire Agreement and pointed to a particular passage about transporting munitions and armaments across the border. He cleared his throat until the Minister looked back at him curiously.

“Is there something wrong?”

“You know what the Agreement says about guns, Sir.” He pointed to the object near the driver. “I see a gun.”

The Minister smiled broadly, his teeth shining and large in his mouth. The Sentry blinked, wondering if the man’s huge smile somehow helped him in his diplomatic efforts. “Give the man the gun,” he ordered the driver.

The rat eared driver jumped out of the jeep and presented the AK-47 for inspection. The Minister continued to smile inanely, irritating the sentry who didn’t see anything humorous about a violation of the Cease Fire Agreement. He studied the weapon minutely. As he examined the weapon, his eyes grew round as he realized the AK-47 was nothing more than a toy! He was unaware that this same scene had played out earlier that day when the morning shift had stopped the Minister on his way into Jaffna.

His face tightened in anger, and his teeth clenched at the trickery. He was about to say something in retaliation when the Station Commander, in full uniform, arrived by jeep. The bull of a man jumped from his vehicle and marched towards the Minister, his posture and bearing shouting his irritation. The man’s bald head flashed in the afternoon sunlight nearly as much as the buttons on his uniform did. The man had seen action that was clear. At some point in the war he had stepped too close to a claymore mine at Pallai. The commander had no palm on his right hand, just a bandage to hide the grotesque wound. His face bore a crisscross pattern of scars from the same explosion.

He brushed by the startled sentry and spoke quietly with the Minister. After a short time, the two shook hands and the Commander wished the Minister a good day and allowed him and his men to proceed without further interference.                  
*          *          *          *          *

As soon as the Tamil Tiger’s jeep pulled out of the campus, the Principal, Mrs. Vasantha, jumped into her Honda Accord and raced northwards. She was hardly aware of her speed, sometimes nearing 100 kph along the main road through the middle of the City of Jaffna. So caught up was she in her anguish and fear that she hardly noticed the railroad crossing guard closing the gate in front of the road as a warning to travelers of an approaching train. She barreled through the crossing sending the guard diving frantically for cover and clipping the gate as she flew by. A piece of the gate flew away to land twenty five meters further down the road. Terrified Vasantha didn’t even notice. She didn’t even realize she had nearly run over the poor gate guard.

The Principal skidded to an abrupt stop under a large margosa tree that adorned the front lawn of the Department of Education. She jumped out, and without even closing the door to her white Honda, dashed towards the building entrance. Her flesh jiggled grotesquely as she huffed her way along the lengthy veranda of the building. 

A clerk, observing the scene with a mixture of amusement and concern, leaned over to his supervisor sitting next to him. “Something is wrong with the Principal of Vembady Girls’ College. She’s running like crazy to see the Director of Education.”

“She thinks she’s beyond the reach of ordinary people,” the supervisor grumbled, hardly looking up. “When our department officials visit her college, she barely gives them the time of day. I don’t really like her. She’s a bit too proud for my taste. I even tried to get my daughter in her school this year for her Year 6. Mrs. Vasantha denied the application because my daughter had not won a scholarship. Stubborn woman.”

“It’s not stubbornness,” the clerk disagreed. “She just repeats what her Vice Principal tells her to say.”

The two shared a knowing look as the fat principal disappeared through the Director’s door.

The Director of Education, a tall man, lean and balding waved for Mrs. Vasnatha to enter when he saw her standing in agitation outside his door. “Come in.”

The Director recoiled slightly in surprise at the principal’s appearance. Always before, the woman had arrived with a beaming face, well dressed, and with a queenly bearing that seemed to heighten her image of superiority. She was the only principal in the Jaffna district who never addressed him with the honorific ‘sir.’ Now, however, her wild eyes, sweaty face, and heavy wheezing almost made her unrecognizable. He wondered if the portly principal had had a falling out with the science teacher again and was here to demand the teacher’s transfer. He decided right then that he would not transfer the teacher! That’ll teach the old hag, he silently added to himself.

“Sit down, Mrs. Vasantha Velautham,” he invited, running a hand over his bald head. For some reason he couldn’t take his eyes off her obese nose. Whatever had agitated her so badly had caused her nose to swell slightly and turned red. Sweat caused it to shine weirdly. 

She collapsed into a chair as if all strength had fled her. “Mr. Director! Danger! Danger at the college…” She trailed off trying to find her breath.

“What? Did you have another argument with the science teacher?”

“No…she’s okay. For now, anyway.”

The Director took better stock of his guest and revised his first opinion. This woman wasn’t agitated, she was downright scared. “Then what? You look as if something has frightened you out of your mind.”

“The students! In the auditorium! They—”

“What happened?”

“A riot. They started a riot.”

“What riot?”

“With the Tamil Tigers!”

Those words hit the Director like a solid blow from a freight train. “The Tamil Tigers? Oh no. Oh no.” The Director looked as if he just realized that a Bengal tiger had succeeded in snaring him by his neck. His eyes grew wide as duck eggs, and his eyelids refused to blink.

“The Tamil Tigers came to the college. They demanded a meeting with all the older students in the auditorium—”

“And you refused them!” the Director interrupted with a shout. “That’s why you’re here! You think you’re better than anyone else because you’re the principal of one of the most prestigious girls’ colleges. You created a mess and you’ve run here for me to fix it!”

“No, Director, that’s not what happened. I gave permission for them to have their meeting.”
The man calmed visibly. “Then what’s the problem?”

“The students revolted against them. They started a riot!”

It took a moment for the full impact of that statement to sink into the Director’s mind. When it did, he nearly exploded from his chair, almost coming right over his desk. “You stupid woman! I’m going to see you hang for this! It’s your job to control those students, and because of your stupidity, you’ve endangered us all! I’ve got children. My wife is an asthma patient. How dare you let this happen?”

“It’s not you, Director,” Vasantha whispered. “It’s me. They want me.”

“You?” The Director sat back down heavily. “You. Very well. Tell me what happened.”

“The Minister of Political Affairs came.”

The man put his face in trembling hands. “The Smiling Minister? Do you know what you have done? It’s not just you that will suffer. You’ve put a target on all of us.”

Vasantha could only nod at the obvious logic. “The Minister wanted our students to participate in the protest rally this Friday against the murder of M.P. Joseph.”

“You refused his request? You didn’t allow the students to participate?” He slammed his hand on the table, causing the fat principal to flinch, startled. “They’re going to order me to Kilinochachi too, you useless woman!”
“No, it wasn’t me. The students did it. They challenged the Minister in front of everyone. It was like an interrogation!”
“Do you think I’m an idiot?” he snarled. “No one will believe that story. Not Britain, France, India—” he threw his hands out wide “—not even George W. Bush would believe that a bunch of teenage girls would defy His Royal Highness’ right hand man!”

“It’s worse,” the poor woman whispered. “The students bleated like sheep, and howled like the fox mocking the Minister.”

The Director’s mouth fell open in shock. For long minutes he could only gape at his principal. “You’ve doomed me. Get out. Get out of here! Don’t tell anyone that you came here. Don’t tell anyone that you spoke with me!”


“I’ve got children! Get out of here!”

“Just listen, please! I beg of you!”

Agitated, the Director looked around as if looking for a way to escape. “Two minutes. I’ll give you two minutes, and then you must go.”

“The Honorable Minister ordered me and Monitor Sendhoory—she’s the one who headed up the riot—to report to Kilinochchi.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Please put it on record that I came to see you. If it is a matter of public record—”

“Absolutely not! If I do that, it’ll get back to Kilinochchi like the wind. They have spies everywhere, even in the Colombo Ministry.”

The fat lady pulled at her cheeks in dismay. Her eyes turned wildly like a wounded animal looking to escape a trap. “Then give me some advice, I beg. I don’t know what to do!”

“Go to Kilinochchi as ordered. That is the only thing you can do. You know what will happen if you don’t.”

“But I’ll be tortured! You know this! Only a few have ever returned from Kilinochchi!”

“Maybe,” the Director demurred. “But you are the principal of a famous college. They wouldn’t dare mistreat you. The media will have a field day of it if they do, and the Tigers will lose even more support. Just tell them that you will make the students attend the protest rally. Tell them that you will ensure that they go peacefully and humbly.”

The principal thought it over, a flicker of hope kindled in her breast. “Thank you for your advice.” She licked her lips. “Will you record my presence here today?”

“Don’t drag me into your mess. Just leave. There are others waiting to see me.”

The clerk watched as the Principal of Vembady moved slowly back to her vehicle. He shook his head and glanced over at his supervisor. “The Vembady Principal moves like a lioness that lost all of its teeth. I wonder what the Director said to her.”
    *            *          *          *          *

The Honda rolled to a slow stop before Principal Vasantha’s office. The car, a gift from her daughter living in Australia, idled steadily as its spiritless driver slumped heavily in the driver’s seat. She gazed with water filled eyes at the various buildings of the college compound. Everything seemed to have lost its color, its brilliance. Everything looked dull and plain to her now.

Students and staff filed out of the buildings to surround her car. They had heard about the order to report to Kilinochchi, she guessed. Indeed, many of them were crying openly, each and every eye fixed on their Principal. These were her students. This was her place. For fifteen years she had served as principle, and before that she had taught for twelve years as a zoology teacher. This couldn’t be happening! Not to her! She held a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge and an education degree from the University of Colombo.

She turned off her Honda and stepped slowly from the car. A group of twenty teachers followed her to her large office. She found her chair and sat heavily in it where she buried her face in her hands, her body shaking with sobs. For a long time no one spoke. Pandit Manka stood behind her, giving her a light backrub, but her own sobs disrupted her rhythm. Hot salty tears graced the faces of everyone in the room.

At length, the Principal raised her head and stifled her sobs. “I had hoped that the Education Director would come to Kilinochchi and speak on my behalf. That’s why I went there. I thought if this became a matter of public record, the Tami Tigers would have to let me go. But as soon as I told him the story, he panicked and threw me out. I didn’t even get the chance to ask him to accompany me.” The Principal looked around and her eyes settled on her Vice Principal. “Sit down, Priya,” she ordered softly.

Another teacher asked, “Are you really going to do it? Are you going to Kilinochchi?”
“She has to go,” another asserted. “If she doesn’t they’ll just abduct her, torture her, and then kill her!”

“And throw her body in a ditch somewhere,” someone added callously.

“They only order the high class citizens to report to Kilinochchi,” another disagreed. “They’ll make her pay an outrageous fine. That’s what I think will happen.”

“If they do,” the first speaker chimed back in, “we’ll help pay for it. If we all pitch in, we can cover most of the fine. Don’t worry, madam, we’ll be here for you.”

“Someone must go with her.”

“I think Vice Principal Priya should go. Madam, take her with you. She can speak on your behalf and cut some sort of deal with them.”

“What deal?” someone asked.

“That we, all of us, are wholeheartedly in favor of taking our students to participate in the protest rally. In fact, tell them that we’ll all go, not just the students. The principal and teachers will lead the parade! We’ll shout with the students ‘long live His Royal Highness the Tamil Tiger,’ and we’ll carry his picture. If we do that, they’ll let her go.”

Many of the teachers nodded in agreement, thinking that to be a good plan. Many felt better instantly, feeling as if many of their worries were overblown. And so it was unanimously agreed that the Vice Principal would accompany the Principal to Kilinochchi.

“And Monitor Sendhoory too,” one of the older teachers recalled. “She must go. But I wouldn’t worry too much about that. The student population is important to the Tamil Tigers since most of their recruits come from them. If anything untoward should befall the girl, the students will revolt against them.”

Pandit Manka shook her head. “The tiger never eats grass,” she warned. “We are all intimately familiar with its character. Even if we all hope it will come to an agreeable deal, I think that Madam should contact the International Committee of the Red Cross. They may be able to bring suitable pressure to bear just in case.”

“That’s a good idea, Madam,” Priya Shan agreed. “Let’s go right now and see them.”

The white Honda sped through the city and soon entered its outskirts where a large compound, proclaiming itself to be the office of the ICRC, stood overlooking the road. The courtyard of the compound was filled with mango, coconut, and jack-fruit trees that shaded the lawn from the sun’s hot rays. A crow sporting a large beak sat on a papaw tree pecking enjoyably at a ripe fruit.

Vasantha Velautham and Priya Shan got out of the car and approached the small iron worked gate. The two women were well known in the City of Jaffna being such prominent figures. The employees, upon seeing them, began to gather around, chattering to each other and wondering why the two women had come. A few even had children who attended their famous school.

“Madams, welcome. What can we do for you?” asked one, the head clerk.

“We need to see the Officer in Charge, Mr. James Jacobs,” replied Priya.

The employee nodded and motioned them forward. “Come with me then, Madams.”

The head clerk led them along a lengthy veranda and ushered them through a door to where the Officer in Charge awaited. Jacobs, a white man from Switzerland and a graduate of the famous Sorbonne University, stood up from his desk and looked inquiringly at the pair. Normally the man never stood when guests entered his office, but upon seeing the renowned women, he graced them with a warm welcome. “How do you do?” he inquired politely.

“Fine, thank you. And you?” asked Priya.

“Not bad, thank you.”

They shook hands.

The man towered over the shorter women, his more than six foot frame well built and solid. He sported a brown goatee and long hair tied into a knot at the nape of his neck. “I’m James Jacobs,” he introduced himself.

“This is the Principal of Vembady Girls’ College, Mrs. Vasantha Velautham,” Priya introduced smiling. “I am her Vice Principal, Priya Shan.”

“Please, take a seat ladies,” the man offered, waving his hand to a pair of sturdy chairs in front of his desk. The man had extensive experience with problems that people brought to him, so he correctly identified the older woman, the Principal, as the reason for the visit. “Mrs. Vasantha Velautham, please tell me what I can do for you?”

Before Vasantha could respond, Priya spoke. “We have a problem with the Tamil Tigers.” Jacobs jerked as if someone had kicked him hard in the shin. Priya raised an eyebrow in surprise at the unexpected reaction. Just to be sure, she repeated her statement. “We have a problem with the Tamil Tigers.”

“Okay, what is the exact nature of this problem?” The man looked nervous and wary, but he settled back down as if trying to cover up his discomfort.

Taking as little time as possible, the Vice Principal related the story to the Operations Chief. When she finished she waited patiently for the man’s reply. He squirmed a bit uncomfortably. “So what is it you want me to do?”

“I mentioned about the order they gave Madam Vasantha and Monitor Sendhoory to report to Kilinochchi for investigation, correct?”

“Yes, yes. Go on.”

“I was hoping you would talk to the Tamil Tigers on our behalf.”

“And say what? What do you want me to say?”

“Tell them to withdraw their order!”

“Me? No Priya Shan, not me. I’ve got no jurisdiction in this. I can’t interfere.”

“Please? Just speak with the Minister of Political Affairs.”

“Sorry. Like I said, it is out of my jurisdiction. I have no power in this.”

“What jurisdiction are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

“Like I said, I can’t interfere.”


The officer rubbed his nose vigorously. “Please don’t ask again. I can’t go outside of my jurisdiction. Surely you, being the Vice Principal of a well known girls’ school, must understand that there are rules and regulations that I have to abide by.”

The man didn’t want anything to do with the Tamil Tiger terrorists. He spent the last four years in the Jaffna peninsula and had learned a lot about this particular insurgency group and their penchant for violence and mayhem. He didn’t want to get caught in their crosshairs. Once the Tamil Tigers set their sights on you, they were relentless.

Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, and the former Sri Lankan Opposition Leader Appappillai Amirthalingam were all assassinated by the Tamil Tigers. How could he, being merely an Operation Chief of the ICRC, hope to escape if they decided to kill him? No, he didn’t want to go to Kilinochchi to end his life like a rabbit thrown to the crocodiles. He knew that many people supposedly ordered to report to Kilinochchi never returned home.

Mr. Jacobs, I don’t know much about these rules and regulations you speak of, but the 1949 Geneva Convention and the additional protocols of 1977 and 2005 give a mandate to the International Committee of the Red Cross to protect civilians from internal armed conflicts. The ICRC has a humanitarian mission in this regard does it not? Is it not your duty to try to protect Mrs. Vasantha Velautham and Monitor Sendhoory from these terrorists?”

Jacobs squirmed some more under those relentless truths. It didn’t matter, though; he didn’t want to put himself in danger. The Tamil Tigers didn’t respect anyone. “Priya Shan, please understand the position you are putting me in. The Tamil Tigers are one of the most feared terrorist organizations in the world. If America is wary of them, and Europe fears them, and India trembles to hear their name even mentioned, what do you possibly think I can do? They’ll kill me in a heartbeat! They don’t care about the Geneva Convention! They don’t care about our humanitarian mission! Priya Shan, it is a suicide mission you ask of me!”

Priya’s anger grew with each passing word. Finally she could take it no longer. “Mr. Jacobs, why are you here then? You have this luxurious office with expensive furniture and new cars! You even have native employees working for you, yet you won’t do your job in this war torn country! Are you just showing off? Are you just trying to look good to the world while you actually do nothing?”

“Enough!” Jacobs practically shouted. “I didn’t expect such harsh words from the Vice-Principal of one of the most prestigious colleges in Sri Lanka. I will kindly ask you to temper your words.”

“I am only reminding you of your duty, sir. Nothing more. But your words are only showing you to be the coward you really are.”

James Jacobs stood to his feet, his face livid with suppressed anger. “That is quite enough. I will ask you to leave now.”

But Priya wasn’t quite finished. She too rose to her feet and faced the man. “You are not acting like the Officer in Charge of the Red Cross. What’s your real purpose then? Just to sit around in your fancy office and waste a lot of money? Is the extent of your services to our people nothing more than to write up a report when Mrs. Vasantha Velautham and Monitor Sendhoory are killed by the Tamil Tigers? Do you wash your hands of our blood when you turn your reports over to Human Rights Watch groups? Is this what the Geneva Convention says? Is this the regulations you follow?” Having said her piece, she helped her Principal to her feet and turned to leave. “Thank you for sharing your precious time with us, Sir. We of Vembady Girls’ College are overwhelmed with your attention and effort to help. Thank you.” Her sarcastic parting left the Officer in Charge speechless as the two women stormed out of his office.

Leaving the ICRC buildings left a sour taste in Priya’s mouth and a feeling of hopelessness in Vasantha’s heart. “Priya, I’m an unlucky creature,” the Principal muttered despondently. “I feel like jumping out of this car.”

“Madam, don’t lose your confidence. We’ll go meet the Superintendent of Police. He’s a bold one, I hear, and we can depend upon him to help. Please, let’s go see him. Drive to the Police Headquarters.”

Vasantha, without replying, turned her Honda around and complied with Priya’s wishes.

Priya watched the rubble of buildings and bullet ridden houses pass by on both sides of her. It was a stark reminder of the ferocity of the war that raged before the Cease Fire Agreement. They passed the Regal Theatre, the Jaffna Public Library, and the Muniappar Hindu Temple. All showed signs of the war. They turned at the tall memorial statue of Thanthai Chelva.

Ahead, Priya could see the rubble of the old Portuguese fortress built in the 17th century and subsequently destroyed by the Tamil Tigers eighteen years previously. The car turned left and entered the Police Superintendent’s compound. The offices served as the Head Office for the Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts.

A Sinhala constable inquired in broken English after their reason for coming. “Here come why?”

“To meet with the Superintendent,” replied Priya.

“Me show. Come.” Struggling with the English, he asked, “You speak Sinhala?”


“Speak little maybe?”


Sighing, the constable fell silent as he led the women to the Superintendent’s office. Once there, Priya made the introductions, the Principal remained in a stunned stupor simply following her Vice Principal’s lead. The Police Superintendent, Juwan Hathuru, had owl like eyes and elephant ears. He knew of the Principal, as most people in Jaffna did, and he wondered what could be bothering the obviously distraught woman.

After hearing their story, he shook his head sadly. “Mrs. Priya, I’m sorry, but the Cease Fire Agreement prevents me from going to Kilinochchi to help you.”

“But doesn’t Kilinochchi fall under your administrative jurisdiction? Why can’t you go there?”

“On paper you are correct, and long ago it was true. But the Tamil Tigers rule that region now. The rules of the Cease Fire Agreement have reduced my power in this region significantly. If I violate it, I could be responsible for escalating hostilities.”

“I understand the logic, sir. But the Tamil Tigers can come here to do political propaganda work. Why can’t you do the same thing in Kilinochchi?”

“You’ll have to ask the former Prime Minister, Ranil, to answer that question. He is the man who enacted the Cease Fire Agreement. Now Vanni is controlled by the Tamil Tigers. I can’t violate that.”

“I don’t understand,” Priya growled in frustration. “Your government pays salaries of governmental employees there. The government pays for doctors and other hospital employees and supplies in Vanni. The government pays retirement pensions to people living there. Your government still carries out appointments, transfers, and promotions of government officers in the region—even the postal service there is run by your government! You maintain their roads! Why can’t you go there?”

Mrs. Priya,” the Superintendant replied gravely, his face sad. “I completely understand your argument, and to some extent I agree with you personally. But my hands are still tied.”

“Fine. Forget it.” An idea came to Priya. “Could you do Madam Principal a favor?”

“It depends on the favor.”                
“Can the Principal make an official record of her situation and file it with your government?”
“Of course.” The Police Superintendent called in Sergeant Pereira and asked him to take a dictation of the situation. Priya did most of the talking while Vasantha Velautham sat by hardly listening. She could only think of her fears.

On their way back to the college, they passed many of their students heading home. Each student paused when they spotted the Honda and watched the vehicle until it was out of sight. Their white uniforms and yellow and black ties hardly moved in the still air as they watched.

At the college itself, not a soul stirred except for Raman, the gate sentry, and Pandit Manka. Raman seemed agitated and lost in thought as he continually searched for something in his pockets. The image of his cute, teenage wife, Ganga, filled his mind, and a tear would, from time to time, find its way down his cheeks. He knew the typical fate of those that were ordered to Kilinochchi. He worried about being tortured, but he also worried about what would happen if he didn’t go. They would most likely abduct him if he tried to hide. No one knew that he had been ordered to Kilinochchi. He decided he wouldn’t tell anyone, not even his wife.

The Vice Principal spotted the agitated and muttering man when she helped her Principal out of the car. She was astute enough to read something serious in the man’s face, but she was in no mood to inquire into his distress. She had her own problems to deal with. She wasn’t aware of that Raman had his own problems with the Tamil Tigers and was seriously considering a more dramatic reply to the Tamil Tigers.

Neither Priya nor Vasantha knew the utter misery their distinguished Girls’ College was heading towards. It would engulf them like a tsunami the following day.

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