The Diwali Massacre

Conflict is a part of our world. But it takes a toll on everyone when brute force and violence takes the lives of innocent, scarring the survivors for years to come.
Wonder what went through the minds of the Indian troops when they fired without care. Image source: the print

Wonder what went through the minds of the Indian troops when they fired without care. Image source: the print

Diwali- the time when of the year when people are busy decorating their homes, preparing for puja, and looking forward to meeting their relatives. However, on 21st October 1987, Diwali celebrations came to a halt. Not because there was an earthquake or tsunami in the serene island nation of Sri Lanka, but firing from the IPKF led to utter chaos and destruction. During the civil war in Sri Lanka (the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict), India and Sri Lanka made a pact- the Indian Peacekeeping forces (IPKF) were used to ensure stability in the region. But in an unprecedented and unfortunate turn of events, the IPKF and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) entered into a conflict.

The residents of the Jaffna peninsula were aware of the repercussions that would follow this clash.

They knew that both forces would try to wrestle control over the Jaffna town. People were cautious. Most of them stayed away from work. But some chose to continue imparting their duties. Those unfortunate few had placed their trust blindly in the peacekeeping forces.

The Indian Embassy at Colombo had repeatedly assured that military action was not expected and the situation was under control. The Indian army would be considerate, and people could continue working regularly.

Little did anyone know that most of those who set out to work that day would never return.

At 11:30 a.m. that morning, a shell was dropped on the O.P.D. There was visible tension and people ran around, trying to understand what was happening. Reports of the Indian forces on the Shanti Lane reached the staff at the Jaffna hospital. And at 1:30 p.m, another shell was dropped killing 7-8 people immediately.

The LTTE members entered the hospital and were escorted out of the premises by the consultant and the doctors. Not knowing if it was safe to step out, the staff chose to stay put- hoping that they'd avoided any dangers.

After inspecting the premises for the presence of any tigers, the staff concluded that it was all clear and they were safe. However, at 4 p.m, the IPKF entered the Jaffna hospital's radiology block and open fired at everyone present there.

Men, women, doctors, patients- everyone was shot at indiscriminately. The forces did not care who was who and were only concerned with the sole objective they had in mind. The horror lasted till 11:00 a.m of the following day.

Those who had somehow managed to dodge the bullets pretended to lay dead amongst the dead bodies of their patients and colleagues. A man who coughed and another man who raised his hands and said that they were supporters of Indira Gandhi had grenades thrown at them, killing more people in the process.

Doctors were afraid, and even as the sun rose the following morning, they were scared of making any movements. The nightmare only came to an end when a female resident doctor asked the live ones to identify themselves. Upon witnessing the brutality of the sudden terror, the doctors and nurses broke down.

They were comforted by a consultant amongst them who reminded them that it was time to fulfill their duties. The hospital staff began treating injured patients, soldiers and picked up the dead bodies. Even after being terrorized by the Indian forces, the doctors tended to the injured army personnel.

The attack was prompted by the knowledge of the tigers' presence on the Jaffna hospital premises. But the question remains, when the Tigers had left before 1, why was there still a need to attack the compound? Why did they have to shoot senselessly at anyone who moved? When the doctors pled innocence and willingness to comply, why were grenades thrown at them to silence their voices?

Even if the IPKF's intention was rightly places, their actions were undoubtedly catastrophic. It clearly reflected that there was no order or clear leadership to respond the LTTE's strategized provocations.

Those who lost their colleagues and loved ones that day will always look upon that Diwali as a dark day that will forever shroud their lives with misery, terrors, and a reminder of the gross violation of their rights.


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