“Scenes off the Operating Theatre” Part 2 (IPKF)

“Scenes off the Operating Theatre” Part 2 (IPKF)

IPKF Battle Tank

The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF)

In Sri Lanka – July 1987

Indo- Lanka Peace Accord- IPKF enters Sri Lanka

The signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Pact paved the way for the Indian Army to enter Sri Lanka in July 1987. It was an “invasion” by invitation. While Indian aircraft were bringing in Indian troops to Jaffna, Sri Lankan troops were returning back to Ratmalana close to the capital city, Colombo. In the South of the country there were massive protests against the Pact, and curfew was declared by the government. Mayhem reigned throughout the South. Pylons were brought down blocking main roads, telephone and electric wires were all over, buses were burnt as were other government property. The weapons were stones, bottles and brickbats.

IPKF Military Vehicles on the Road

With all the ongoing protests, the Indian army entered Sri Lanka. I was living in Polonnaruwa at that time and had the opportunity to witness the movement of the IPKF troops in long, impressive mechanized columns consisting of Armoured Vehicles, Tanks and so on, from Trincomalee to Batticaloa via Polonnaruwa. Cold as their steel Armour and weaponry were, they were militarily ruthless and were regarded as one of the best trained and equipped armies in the world. People feared the Indian Army and not a single Sri Lankan pedestrian, cyclist or motorist ventured on to the main road till the troop convoy had long passed.

(Photograph taken from a distance to avoid “friendly fire”)

“Weird Tales”

Some weird tales were already being related about the primitive behaviour of the ‘javans’, which I discovered later, was the term used to describe the ordinary Indian soldier. There were stories of them devouring whole bunches of ripe plantains that hung in the little boutiques along the way. Cigarettes, boxes of matches, soap, biscuits and so on were pocketed. They went inside the houses of people living by the roadside and took even the food being cooked on the fire-places. What’s more, they had even drunk gallons of coconut oil neat from their casks in the same wayside markets. The goats in the village farms were not spared. They were slaughtered with impunity and the dead carcasses were bundled into their huge vehicles, to be roasted perhaps and consumed later in their camps. Complaints were pouring into the local Police Stations and Army Camps manned by our fettered-by-decree troops in those areas. These were extremely grave causes for concern.

IPKF goes Berserk

The IPKF arrived as ‘peace-keepers’, as friends invited by the President of Sri Lanka. However, a section of the ‘javans’ had gone berserk not only in the North but in the East as well. People were living in fear. They went inside houses, molested and assaulted people. The ‘javans’ were like animals, mad for sex. There were also stories of rape, but these could not be confirmed. Some elderly people died in the jungles as they searched for ways and means to escape. Villagers who were suspected of supporting the Tigers were assaulted resulting in thousands fleeing their homes to end up in refugee camps in Polonnaruwa.

Such were the tales we heard about a force invited to maintain peace among two warring factions in Sri Lanka. I was ashamed! I had never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would see foreign troops in any part of Sri Lanka after 1948. There was one consolation. Sri Lankan troops were confined to their barracks and as a result they were spared the fighting with the Tigers and thus escaped injury and death. I was able to take a well-earned rest as there were no military casualties to be treated at the Polonnaruwa Hospital.

“Operation Pawan”

However before long, a confrontation took place between the IPKF and the Tigers. It was exactly on 10 October 1987, that the IPKF launched ‘Operation Pawan’ to liberate the Jaffna town. Fierce offensive and defensive battles were fought on the models of classical guerrilla warfare, both in the North and the East. These went on till 1990. The terrorists did not withdraw but fought the “peace keepers” now their enemy valiantly. The IPKF lost many of their soldiers in battle and were buried in Sri Lanka soil or cremated.

IPKF Withdraws from Sri Lanka – 1990

Following the election of the late President Premadasa, both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) wanted the IPKF to withdraw from Sri Lanka. By the end of March 1990, the entire contingent of the Indian Army amounting to over one hundred thousand withdrew from Sri Lanka. The talks between Premadasa’s regime and the Tamil Tigers which started with positive hopes ran into serious trouble and by 10th June 1990 hostilities resumed with the so-called Ealam War 2.

Indo – Lanka Peace Accord and IPKF attracted much International Attention

The presence of the IPKF in Sri Lanka drew much International attention as well as condemnation from several quarters. There are two significant incidents related to the Indian Intervention and the IPKF which are commemorated annually not only in Sri Lanka but also internationally each year, even many years after the end of the North- East conflict in Sri Lanka. I had the opportunity of visiting the two sites where these two incidents took place during war time, obtain more information about the two events and also take photographs to enrich my album. I can now relate these two incidents and display the photographs for the benefit of the readers who have not heard about these two incidents. This is History!

Incident 1

A Tamil Revolutionary goes on a Hunger Strike

Rasaiah Parthipan nom de gure Thileepan, was a 23 year old member of the LTTE and a Tamil Ealam Revolutionary. At first he was in the LTTE “Military Wing” and was injured in a Military operation in the North code named “Vadamarachchi operation”. Later on Thileepan was appointed the LTTE political wing leader for Jaffna and worked relentlessly to mobilize Tamil people. He had also gained admission to the University of Jaffna. With India intervening in the internal conflict of Sri Lanka in July 1987, the LTTE handed over a letter to Dixit, the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka on 13th September 1987 requesting five demands to be met by India within 24 hours. As the LTTE demands were not met within the stipulated period, Thileepan started a hunger strike in front of the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple in Jaffna on 15th September 1987. He died on the 26th September while on hunger strike. After a “martyr’s funeral” in Jaffna his body was handed over to the Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna. A monument was erected in his memory behind the Nallur Temple when the LTTE was in control of Jaffna. This and all the other LTTE monuments were destroyed by the Sri Lanka Army later on.


Body at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna


This is what happened.

The body was taken over by the Department of Anatomy. The staff in this Department did a perfect anatomical dissection to demonstrate the muscles of the human body. This was for the purpose of teaching the medical students of the Jaffna Faculty. After the anatomical dissection of the muscles, the body was preserved in a huge glass cabinet. This was on display in the Department of Anatomy of the Faculty of Medicine, Jaffna.

How did I get to know this story and see the specimen?

In November 1994 I visited the Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna. This was on the invitation of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Jaffna. During this time Jaffna was under the control of the LTTE. I was taken on a guided tour of the Faculty by the staff. When I entered the Department of Anatomy this specimen of a human body in a glass cabinet with the muscles dissected beautifully attracted my attention immediately. I could not resist the temptation to take a photograph as I had not seen such a specimen of a human body before. On inquiring from the staff of that department the details were divulged to me. Like that human body, I have preserved that unique photograph for nearly 26 years. The rest is history!

The readers may ask

⦁ Why did I visit Jaffna in November 1994?
⦁ How did I enter the city of Jaffna which was under the control of the LTTE?


Incident 2

Massacre of the Jaffna Hospital Staff during “Operation Pawan”

Operation Pawan (wind) was the code name assigned to the operation by the IPKF to take control of Jaffna from the LTTE better known as the Tamil Tigers, in late 1987 to enforce the disarmament of the LTTE as a part of the Indo- Lanka Accord. In brutal fighting lasting about three weeks, the IPKF took control of the Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE. The IPKF which came as a peace keeping force later became the enemy of the LTTE leading to bitter battles and massacre of rebels and civilians residing in Jaffna.

One such massacre occurred within the Jaffna Hospital, where 68 civilians were killed on 21st and 22nd October 1987. IPKF soldiers advancing from the Jaffna Fort had entered the hospital and opened fire and thrown hand grenade at the staff inside hospital killing doctors, nurses, other staff members and even patients who had surrendered with their arms raised. Children too were not spared. Twenty one members of the hospital staff were killed and the list included three senior consultants. In all 68 were massacred within the hospital premises. The IPKF claim that they were fired upon by the rebels within the hospital premises and the civilians were killed in the crossfire that ensued between the IPKF and the rebels. The bodies were later collected and burnt at the back of the hospital mortuary.

“There is no flag long enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people”
Howard Zinn

Dear Reader, you might also be interested in my next story, were I would have lost the battle concerning limb salvage on occasions, but won the battle with regard to SAVING LIFE : “THE SURGEON’S DILEMMA AND A PATIENT’S WORST NIGHTMARE’

11 thoughts on ““Scenes off the Operating Theatre” Part 2 (IPKF)

  1. Thanks gamini, very interesting. I know how you must be feeling after being in the midst of all the chaos. Saint Mother Teresa’s are very relevant, but politicians will never take it seriously.

  2. Dear Gamini. The stories about the LTTE and the IPKF are really new to me. They did not appear in your book. Why not gather them all and the photos and publish another book? R
    eally gripping reading and you write very well too.

    1. Dear Max
      Thank you very much for your comment and advise. There are many untold stories that will be posted on line. Once I finish I hope to produce an e – book with a few books printed . That will be more accessible for the readers worldwide.
      Best wishes

  3. Thank you Sir for a wonderful voyage to the weird past, of “operation” within and out of the Theatre! How well have your finger dexterity adopted to pen from surgical tools. I and my wife admired the family album.

  4. Dear Doctor
    Have you published a book about the ipkf? Is it possible to get a copy of the book for our English Library at the English Language campus, Viswamadhu?
    The purposes of this library are to promote English education in the country and to have a comprehensive history of the country for future generations.
    We are collecting books with these goals in mind. If anyone has or knows any title please let us know. Thanks


  5. Dear Sir

    I thank you for your contribution ‘then’ and for sharing your perspective of the events ‘now’, which I take pleasure in reading and seeing the pictures. I hope these articles will find its way to Defense Services Command and Staff College (DSCSC) SriLanka and Defense Services and Staff College (DSSC) Wellington, India for the betterment of Next Gen Military Officer Corp. All the best on your endeavors..!

    1. Dear Sidath
      Thank you very much for your comment. Much appreciated. I am ever willing to share my experiences with the future generation of Military Officer Corp. It is to educate and inspire the next generation of young Doctors and Military Officers that I created this blog. I hope I can get the stories in my blog to reach the DSCSC and DSSC. Your help will be much appreciated.
      Best wishes

  6. Dear Sir, our salute for putting the history in to letters which is only known by few personnel . This may be a inspiring for putting the hidden stories of latter part of war in to words too.

  7. Dear Sir, as always I thank you for writing these stories and for giving an opportunity for all us readers to have a look into the past of our country. It is important that we don’t forget the occurrences of our past to ensure it doesn’t repeat in the future. Patiently waiting for more amazing content

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