THE RAPE AND MURDER OF TEEN AGED KRISHANTI KUMARASWAMY
BY SINHALESE SOLDIERS
The brutal gang rape and gruesome murder of Krishanti Kumaraswamy and her mother, brother and a neighbour on September 6, 1996 by the Sri Lankan army soldiers and policemen shocked the conscience of the civilized world. Although crimes like rape and murder committed against unarmed defenseless Tamil civilians have become common place in the North and East, the naked barbarism displayed by the rapists and killers in this instance surpassed all previous crime records.
Krishanti was aged sweet sixteen plus two years at the time of her murder. She was an Advanced Level student of the prestigious Chundikuli Girls College having earlier passed the Ordinary Level exam with seven distinctions. On that fateful day she went to college to write her chemistry paper. Her mother Rasamma Kumaraswamy (59) was the Vice-Principal of Maha Vidyalayam in Kaithady. Her brother Pranavan (16) was an O/L student at St.Johns College, Jaffna. Her elder sister Prashanti (21) has just moved to Colombo to pursue her studies in Accountancy. Krishanti’s father Kumaraswamy had died of cancer a few years back.
Day with Death
After writing her exam, she visited the funeral home of one her friend who died the previous day knocked down by a military truck. She then cycled back home. At Kaithady Army checkpoint, one of the hundreds dotting the landscape of Jaffna peninsula, Krishanti was detained by the army and police personnel on duty. The time was about 2 p.m. and fortunately a few passersby saw Krishanti taken into custody by the military personnel. They relayed the bad news to her mother Rasamma, who like every other mothers in Jaffna, was nervously waiting for her daughter’s safe return from school. Rasamma, in whose mind nightmarish scenes would have razed through instantly on hearing the bad tidings, decided to go in search of her missing daughter. Her son Pranavan and a neighbour Kirupamoorthy Sithamparam (32) who got married just six months earlier accompanied her. They did not suspect that their ill-fated journey was not only futile but she, her son and neighbour would be strangled, cut into pieces and buried in a little hut within the gates of the army camp the very same day.
The whereabouts of Krishanti and the other three remained a mystery and the army flatly denied any knowledge about the missing persons despite pressure brought to bear by the family’s immediate relatives, Tamil politicians and human rights organizations.
Dead Bodies Exhumed
After 45 days by sheer accident the dead bodies of all the four missing persons were found in crudely dug graves at Chemmani. The highly decomposed bodies were exhumed and flown in two coffins for burial in Colombo. A stubborn and insensitive government denied Prashanthi and close relatives of the family the right to mourn over the dead or perform last rites. To add insult to injury an ultimatum was given to the family by the army higher-ups that the bodies should be cremated within two hours!
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations like Women for Peace launched a sustained campaign to pressurise the Sri Lankan government to arrest and bring to justice the rapists and murderers of Krishanti and her family.
License to Rape and Kill
In the past, flagrant human rights abuses have been swept under the carpet by successive Sinhalese dominated governments and top brasses of the armed forces and police. The unwritten rule was that in the name of fighting a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, security personnel enjoyed a carte blanche license to kill, rape, torture, and maim Tamil civilians. In fact these were effectively used as weapons to terrorise, oppress and subjugate Tamil civilians.
According to AI “ For too long the security forces have been literally allowed to get away with murder and a climate of impunity existed at all levels in regard to grave human rights violations committed by them.” The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in its report for 1995 said, “Sri Lanka ranked second highest in the world total number of recorded `disappearance`.” Added the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) “Torture, deaths in custody, disappearances are wide spread in Sri Lanka. A number of women and children have `disappeared` after being taken by security forces in the Tamil areas. Tamils continued to be held in secret places of detention especially in the Jafffna peninsula, Colombo, and Vavunia.”
Gang Rape of Krishanti
Though sentence of death on six accused persons, out of the nine originally charged, with rape, murder and abduction have been welcomed by local and international human rights organizations and activists, there are doubts as to whether this marks an end to the climate of impunity in Sri Lanka. Also whether this is not a feeble attempt on the part of the Sri Lankan government to wash its sins and polish its image abroad also linger.
During the course of the trial two policemen who turned crown witnesses gave graphic account of the last dying hours of Krishanti. According to their evidence, the army and police personnel pounced on their prey like hungry animals to satisfy their carnal passions. Krishanti fainted and collapsed unconscious when these sex maniacs in khaki uniform raped her in a row. On gaining consciousness the poor girl asked for some water to drink. Thereafter when the sixth rapist was about to take his turn Krishanti pleaded with him. She unsuccessfully begged and pleaded with her tormentor saying, “Let me rest for five minutes.” Finally she was strangled to death and buried.
Unresolved Rapes and Murders
Unfortunately a swallow does not make a summer nor a single tree a forest. The prosecution of the thugs in khaki uniform who abducted, raped and murdered Krishanti is an exception rather than the norm. The extraordinary publicity given to Krishanti case had taken the focus off the hundreds of unresolved rapes and murders of other young Tamil women. The cases filed against security forces personnel in the rape and murder of 22 years old Rajani Velayuthapillai of Urumpirai and Koneswary Murugesapillai, aged 35 and mother of 4 children of Central Camp at Batticaloa are moving in snail’s speed in the courts.
On March 17, 1997 two sisters, namely Velan Rasamma (38), a widow and her sister Nalliah Dharshini (28) were raped by 4 soldiers at Thannamunai, a village 6 km north of Batticaloa. A plaint has been filed against a single soldier , but the accused is out on bail.
The case against 22 Special Task Force (STF) personnel accused of strangulation and murder of 27 Tamil youths whose floating bodies were recovered from Bolgoda, Alawwa and Diyawannawa lakes is still worse. The proceedings commenced at the Chief Magistrates Court, Colombo on September 15, 1995. After four consecutive postponements, the case was struck off the roll since both the Crown prosecutors and CID officials repeatedly failed to appear in Court. The government has now stealthily dropped the case entirely and the perpetrators are back in active service!
On June 22, 1991, 67 innocent Tamil civilians were massacred by the Sinhala army at Kokkaddicholai in the Batticaloa district. A Presidential Commission that probed the massacre found only Captain Kudilegama guilty. He was dismissed from the army but two months later he was given a higher position in a state corporation by the government!
Two Different Standards of Justice
The foot dragging and the lethargy displayed by the government in these cases is in sharp contrast to the diligence and speed with which graves in the South are excavated and how bodies of victims of 1988/89 army terror meticulously counted. So far a total of four Presidential Commissions have been appointed to probe into about 11, 000 cases of involuntary disappearances /extra-judicial killings between 1988 to 1994. But President Chandrika has brushed aside all appeal by concerned Human Rights organizations and Tamil parliamentarians to extend the terms of reference of the latest Presidential Commission to include period after 1994. This should cause no surprise since the human rights record of President Chandrika’s government is far worse than that of the UNP. During UNP rule it was a home and home match between the armed Sinhalese youths and the Sinhala armed forces. But now it is different- a Pan Sinhalese army raping and murdering innocent Tamil youths. Apparently President Chandrika has two different standards of justice system, one for the Sinhalese and one for the Tamils for identical crimes!
Mass Graves at Chemmani
In Krishanti’s rape and murder trial, the first accused Lance Cpl. Dewage Somaratne Rajapakse when asked by the court whether he has anything to say before sentencing said, ” We did not kill anyone. We only buried bodies that were sent to us by our superior officers.” He went on to drop the bombshell which even the Court could not have anticipated “We can show you where 300 to 400 bodies have been buried at Chemmani.” Other co-accused persons corroborated the first accused statement from the dock.
Lance Cpl. Rajapakse’s statement simply confirms the report issued by Amnesty International after a fact-finding mission to Jaffna. Amnesty International in its report dated November 27, 1997 stated categorically that “ nearly all of them are likely to have died under torture or to have been deliberately killed by (Sri Lankan security forces)”.
Amnesty went on to state that approximately 540 people `disappeared` in the Jaffna peninsula within the middle six months of 1996 alone. Over 60% of the 540 disappearances occurred in the two months after the LTTE overran the Sri Lanka’s Mullaitivu army base killing over 1,300 soldiers on July 18, 1996.
Amnesty further added “ Hundreds of others were victims of torture at the hands of the security forces” and it has received “several reports of rape by members of the army.”
President and Ministers Keep Mum
Thus far there has been no reaction from President Chandrika or her Ministers for the appointment of a Presidential Commission to probe into the alleged mass graves at Chemmani. Even Foreign Minister Kadirgamar who has been of late in an unholy mission to re-polish the image of the Sinhala army as a disciplined force is keeping mum. So is the leader of the UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe and other Sinhalese politicians.
Sinhala Hegemonic Rule should end
The fate that befell Krishanti, albeit not the only one, should not be allowed to recur henceforth. The root cause of the problem is the occupation of the Tamil Homeland by the Sinhala armed forces to establish hegemonic rule of the majority Sinhalese over the Tamil people. As long as the enemy is in illegal occupation of Tamil Homeland, so long our sisters and brothers will face the same fate as Krishanti, her aged mother, brother and neighbour.
So let us resolve and re-dedicate on this Black July 83 Remembrance Week our resolve to help our country to gain political and economic freedom so that our people could live in peace and security.
“EVERY HUMAN BEING HAS THE INHERENT RIGHT TO LIFE. LAW SHALL PROTECT THIS RIGHT. NO ONE SHALL BE DEPRIVED OF HIS/HER LIFE.”
-Article 6.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights