The Sri Lankan Interlude



The last units of the IPKF came back in March 1990. They were received by representatives of the Union Govt although the local Govt of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi stayed way. To their credit the IPKF did not scramble to get out like the Americans in Vietnam. Still it was a sense of dejection, tiredness and disappointment. The IPKF had sacrificed so many of its officers and jawans to set a professional and secular example to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and a sense of democracy to the Tamils. All this to no avail. The palm fringed towns, farms, placid lakes, beaches and lagoons soon descended into chaos. Within months the NEPC and CVF were in disarray.

The LTTE marched back in. And soon the peace between Colombo and the LTTE collapsed and bitter fighting resumed. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are being put through the meat grinder again. Many prominent Tamils who had so vociferously protested against the IPKF on the LTTE's behalf were gunned down at the first hint straying from the path. The supreme irony is that man who led the LTTE's brilliant fight against the IPKF Mahathayya was branded a RAW spy and tortured to a state of near death. He has not been seen since. It is believed that Mahathayya was done to death on Prabharkaran's orders. Voices now ask for the return of the IPKF but there is no one to listen to them.

IPKF Troops during the final withdrawal from the Island.

The Sri Lankan Armed Forces were in retreat for the first half of the 90s. But since then they have regrouped and driven the war into the LTTE's camp. Jaffna is now back again in Colombo's hands and the LTTE back to the jungles. As this is being written at the end of this century the war is in a stalemate, for a brief period in early 2000, the LTTE hit back with spectacular gains in the Island. Erstwhile strong bastions like Elephant Pass and Chavakacheri in the Sri Lankan army's hands fell in quick succession to the LTTE. For a period, the fate of 22,000 soldiers of the Sri Lankan army seemed to hand in balance. This situation renewed the calls for India to intervene. Wisely, the Indian government stayed out of the conflict.

The Sri Lankan forces have since then, consolidated their positions. The stalemate continues. For the families of the 1,157 Indian Soldiers who died in Sri Lanka, it has been a life of bitter memories. Though the government has done its best to rehabilitate those affected by the conflict, It is pretty clear that unlike the Kargil conflict, where the entire country's population rallied behind the armed forces and the families of those who died defending Indian territory, there has been little or no awareness among the Indian public about the sacrifices made by these families. In short as one correspondent wrote "They died fighting someone else's war, remembered only by their families."

Unlike the Kargil war where the bodies of the dead soldiers were shipped back to their homes and the funeral rites were carried out with full military honours, the families of the martyrs in Sri Lanka received only the ashes. The practice then was to ship the bodies of the officers home, but the bodies of the other soldiers were cremated on the Sri Lankan soil itself. Amongst the Indian Army their is a marked reluctance to talk of the Sri Lanka episode. Only a couple of books have been written by officers who served there. The College of Combat did study the conflict and accordingly rewrite many of the tactics. But what is needed is an effort understand and highlight the political, military and intelligence bungling to the general public so that the sacrifice of the many men would not go in vain. This website is hopefully a small part of that process.