Terrible Massacre of a Four Member Family in Vankaalai Sixteen Years Ago



(A family of four in the North – western town of Vankalai in Mannar district was brutally massacred on June 8th 2006. The persons responsible for the cruel act are yet to be brought to justice. I wrote a detailed article about the incident under the heading ”Vicious Violence Wipes Out family of four in Vankalai” for “The Morning Leader” of June 13th 2006. I am reproducing the article without changes on my blog to denote the 16th anniversary of the horrible incident- DBSJ)

Vicious Violence wipes out family of four in Vankalai

D.B.S. Jeyaraj

13 June 2006

The on going ethnic fratricide in Sri Lanka has seen brutal violence on several occasions. The savagery shown in the slaying of a family of four in the North – Western village of Vankalai last Thursday (June 8th 2006) was perhaps bestiality at its worst. Even the most hardened eyes would have turned moist at the terrible sight of the four victims killed so cruelly by persons who can only be described as barbarians.

Gruesomely graphic photographs of the four victims have been displayed in various sections of the Tamil media. The father, daughter and son were hanging dead in one room while the mother was dead on the floor in another room. The intestines of the seven year old boy are seen protruding. The vaginal area of the twenty – seven year old mother and nine year old daughter were extremely bloody. It appears that the killers have sadistically tortured their victims including the thirty – eight year old father.

The scene of this terrible massacre was in a village called Vankalai in the North – Western district of Mannar. Vankalai is situated north by north – west on the mainland . It is four and a half miles away from Thallaadi military base.. It is about six miles to the South – East of Mannar town.

In recent times the people of Vankalai had been retiring to the St. Annes and other churches during nightfall. Staying at home during night was not safe due to the security situation. The victimised family too used to do that. The family had been absent from Church on Thursday night. When relatives and neighbours checked on the following morning they found the entire family dead. The victims had been hacked, beaten, tortured and hung. The mother and daughter seemed to have been violated sexually.

The brutal massacre has resulted in much tension. Though there are no eyewitnesses to the actual killing or torture the people of Vankalai suspect members of the security forces as being responsible. The state and its media have denied security force responsibilty . There has been a counter charge that the tigers were responsible. Few people in Mannar believe that. The Catholic Bishop of Mannar Joseph Rayappu has stated that those responsible for security were behind the massacre.

It is difficult to understand how people could inflict such sadistic brutality on their fellow human beings particularly little children.Some background details may help in understanding at least the context in which this vicious violence occurred.

Vankalai is a pre- dominantly fishing cum farming village. It lies along the Naanaattan road with the sea to its west. The historic Saivaite shrine Thirukketheeeswaram is further up to its North. Naanaattan is further down to its south. Towards the east the biggest village is Uyilankulam. All these places have security camps.

Vankalai is a Christian village with Roman Catholics being more than 99 % and Protestant groups comprising the remainder. In earlier times the Muslim area of Erukkalampitty was the village with the largest population in Mannar district. With Muslims being driven away by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1990 , Vankalai has become the largest now. Currently its population figure is a little over 8000. Vankalai and Pesalai are inhabited mainly by members of the Bharatha community. Vankalai is a blend of “Neithal” (fishing region) and “Marutham” ( agrarian lands). Apart from fisheries and farming there is also an educational and professional tradition. There are a number of teachers, government officials , clergymen and professionals from the area. Former TULF Parliamentarian of Mannar P. Soosaidasan is from Vankalai. Even now many top bureaucrats of the district hail from Vankalai.

The past years of ethnic strife have seen Vankalai also being affected like many other Tamil villages in the region. In 1985 the Catholic priest Fr. Mary Bastian a native of Vankalai himself and about twenty others were killed by the security forces. In later years a prominent school principal from Vankalai and some others were also killed and dumped in a well by security forces. There have also been many other minor incidents. The climate of terror compelled many residents of Vankalai to relocate to other places in the Island, cross over to India or go abroad to Western Countries.

The ceasefire that came into force from Feb 23rd 2002 gave the people a much needed respite from violence. Vankalai began flourishing . Many refugees from India began to return slowly. Life was blossoming again.

The victims of the Vankalai massacre were members of one such family that returned from India. The husband was 38 year old Sinnaiah Moorthy Martin. The wife was 27 year old Anthony Mary Madeleine. The daughter was 9 year old Anne Lakshika. The son was 7 year old Anne Dilakshan. The family had re – settled in Vankalai about a year and a half ago.

Martin was not a native of Vankalai. He was from Vidathal theevu. He had married Mary Madeleine and settled down in Vankalai. Madeleine also called Chitra was from Vankalai and had many close relatives. Both Children had been named Anne because the St. Annes Church in Vankalai was the family church. Martin was by profession a carpenter.

Several youths from Vankalai had joined the LTTE and other militant movements in the past. Several youths were tiger members even now. The elders of Vankalai had used this “connection” to extract a promise from the LTTE that they should not “camp” in the village or engage in any violent activity there. This was honoured by the LTTE for four years.

With the LTTE not engaging in any hostile action in the vicinity of Vankalai the security personnel also kept the peace. Apart from the Thallady base there was a camp and some security posts in Vankalai too. There was also a Police post. There was very little friction between the people and the security forces in Vankalai. This was the general situation in Mannar district too.

All this began to change after Mahinda Rajapakse became President. Relations between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the LTTE began deteriorating. Soon the tigers commenced a “peoples war” . Members of the security forces were targeted . One consequence of this was the shattering of relative peace in Mannar. The landmining of a naval convoy in Pesalai saw the situation in Mannar changing drastically.

More personnel were deployed in the district and security intensified in Mannar. This tightening of security was felt in Vankalai too with security posts being set up in the junctions and even interior. Friction began increasing between the people and security personnel in Vankalai. The situation got aggravated with the induction of a fresh security personnel batch recently. According to Vankalai residents these security men were an uncouth, indisciplined lot. They reveled in uttering obscenities and engaging in indecent gestures. Their favourite target was the school girl population of Vankalai. One act was to exhibit condoms to the girls.

It was against this backdrop that the LTTE broke its pledge to the village elders and struck in the vicinity. On Thursday June 1st a claymore mine was set off on the border of Vankalai and adjacent Naruvilikkulam. A two wheel tractor was taking food to an army chekpost at Naruvilikkulam from Vankalai camp at about 7. 30 pm when the explosion was triggered. One soldier was killed and two injured.

Upon hearing of the landmine incident soldiers stationed at Vankalai camp began firing indiscriminately for nearly 20 minutes till they were brought under control. 42 year old Arulnesan and his 12 year old daughter Lorenzia were injured seriously and admitted later to the Muringan hospital.

The indiscriminate firing made the Vankalai people panic stricken.Initially most families fled Vankalai. They began returning in the next few days. Thereafter people began expecting massive military reprisals and started avoiding staying at home during night. They slept in churches during night. The Vankalai army camp used to discharge a few rounds of fire regularly in the night.

The situation worsened further when the LTTE threw a grenade on an army patrol near the Eruvittan junction on the Naanaattan – Arippu road on Monday June 5th. There was an exchange of fire for about 10 minutes. One soldier was killed. Later soldiers began assaulting civilians in the area. This caused more insecurity among villages in the region including Vankalai.

The Martin – Madeleine family lived in the 10th ward precincts of Vankalai. Their housing scheme was named “Thomaspuri” or “Thomas township”. It was named after former Catholic Cardinal Thomas Cooray. The adjoining scheme was called “Bastipuri” This was named after the slain priest Fr. Mary Bastian.

The people of Thomaspuri and Bastipuri went to St. Annes Church in the night for security. On Thursday 8th the elder sister of Chitra or Madeleine started out to Church. The younger sibling said that her husband had not returned yet and asked her “akka” to go on . She said she would follow with her family after the husband returned. The family never went to St. Annes.

On the following morning the elder sister returned and tried to find out why Chitras family had not turned up. There was no answer when she called out. Knocking on the door had no response. Fearing the worst people gathered at the house. The door was kicked open. What they saw horrified them.

Mary Madeleine was dead on the floor lying naked in a pool of blood. There were signs of her being sexually assaulted brutally. The bodies of Martin and the children were hanging inside the room. They had been tortured , beaten and hacked to death. Pieces of rope in the house were used to hang the bodies. The intestines of the boy were protruding. The areas around the girl’s vagina were crimson red with blood. It was feared that she too had been violated.

The carpentry tools of Martin like the “uli” or chisel had also been used to prick, cut and torture the victims. In addition heavier and sharper weapons like knives or bayonets too had been used to hack the victims. Some sado – masochistic persons with a bestial nature had been at work in the house. No firearms were used . The cold – blooded barbarity of a brutal nature defied description. Only people crazed with callous hatred or those whose senses had been distorted through narcotics could have inflicted such gruesome cruelty.

As news of the massacre spread people of Vankalai began gathering at Thomaspuri. They were sad and bitter. The youths in particular were in an angry mood. Their mindset reflected the overall agony and frustration of the Tamil people over an uneasy peace where innocent civilians were getting increasingly victimised. The climate of impunity under the Rajapakse regime was resulting in security personnel and their Tamil para- militaries getting away with murder and mayhem easily and effortlessly.

The preponderant opinion among Vankalai residents was that some security personnel were responsible for the massacre. Besides the general obnoxious conduct by the security men in Vankalai there was a more specific reason too for the suspicion. Apparently three soldiers had been in the neighbourhood on the 8th morning.

According to one woman they had shouted out to her at about 10. 30 am. When she came to the door they had asked her whether she knew Sinhala and whether she was living alone. She had replied in the negative and said her parents had gone to the market. They had asked her for her identity card. She went in and returned with her IC. But they had gone. She alleges that they were at the entrance of the Martin home. She had shut the door and waited inside.

It is suspected that the security personnel had “eyed” Mary Madeleine in the morning and returned later in the night. People of the area say they can identify the three. The reality is that even if the three are identified there is no proof to show they were responsible for the massacre.

Despite the lack of concrete evidence or unavailability of reliable eye- witnesses the people on the whole began pointing their finger at the security forces. When the Police and Army arrived an enraged crowd in its hundreds refused to let them proceed. People also began shouting slogans against the Vankalai army camp. Fearing a heavy breach of peace additional troops from Thalladdy and Riot Policemen were deployed in Vankalai.

An ugly situation was averted due to many members of the Catholic clergy and senior Government officials arriving at the scene. The Vicar – General for Mannar Rev, Fr, Xavier Crusz was himself from Vankalai. So too was the Mannar AGA Ms. Stanley de Mel. TNA Parliamentarian from Wanni district Vinothaharajalingam also arrived on the scene. The Mannar Bishop Joseph Rayappu also came to the scene of the massacre.

Thanks to the eforts of these persons the passions of the people were contained. Bishop Rayappu was visibly moved. When questioned by the BBC Tamil Service the Bishop said that people whose duty was to ensure the protection and security of the people were allegedly responsible for this violence.

Mannar additional magistrate TJ Prabakharan arrived on the scene and conducted preliminary inquiries. He ordered an autopsy of the bodies and recorded initial statements of some people. He directed that some pieces of evidence be sent for forensic analysis. Mr. Prabakharan scheduled a judicial inquiry and inquest for June 23rd. He ordered the Police to apprehend suspect sand conduct an identification parade on that day. He also directed the army and Police chief of the area to be present on the 23rd.

The bodies of the victims were released on Friday evening. They were kept at the Vankalai school for the public to pay their respects. On Saturday 10th the bodies were taken in procession to St. Annes Church for funeral mass. About 5000 people were in the funeral procession. The Bishop and Vicar – General of Mannar conducted the service with about 25 priests assisting. The four bodies were then taken to the Vankalai burial grounds and laid to rest in a single grave. One more Tamil family had been wiped out in a vicious campaign of violence.

Defence Ministry Spkesperson Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe when questioned by the media denied that the army was responsible. “The security forces have never done such a thing” he said. He said the tigers were responsible. Some newspapers quoting Police sources also said the LTTE was responsible. According to this version the victims were army informants. The LTTE had taken revenge in a brutal way due to this.

The cycle of violence continues in Sri Lanka. The violence committed by the LTTE is dutifully recorded and branded as terrorism by the authorities, media and International Community. The violence perpetrated by the state and its organs both official and unofficial are not condemned in equal manner. Unless the Sinhala people, responsible media sections and the International community realise that unadulterated state terror is being unleashed on innocent Tamil civilians by the Rajapakse regime no end seems to be in sight .

Meanwhile the wheels of justice would begin to grind slowly on June 23rd in the case of the Vankalai killings. With all due respect to the Mannar judiciary there seems to be absolutely no chance that justice would be done. From the Bindunuwewa massacre to this Vankalai violence the people responsible have got away and will get away. This is the past, present and future as far as the Tamil civilian victims are concerned.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com