“Did you see the picture of that little boy in The Hindu … he reminds me of my son who is only a few years younger. I am outraged,” thundered a colleague as she barged into my cubicle.
By now, there have been enough pained people in India and abroad seeing the images of a 12-year old munching on a piece of chocolate, biscuit or whatever, little realising that this perhaps was going to be his last meal before being pumped with bullets. And for what reason? Just because he happened to be the son of a world known terrorist. And was it his fault that the dad chose a different way of life?
A picture tells a thousand words. What struck me in the images was the innocent eyes of the kid, perhaps even looking at his killer in the final moments. I don’t have any sympathy for Vellupillai Prabakaran or those of his ilk who have mercilessly slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians, including Tamils, and even gone to the extent of assassinating a former Prime Minister of India. But do two wrongs make a right?
Colombo owes an answer to the world on what has been put out by Channel Four. Trotting out the expected excuses or desperately trying to make the point that there is a political angle to this picture against the backdrop of the forthcoming Geneva session is simply not going to work.
In his heyday, Prabakaran was known to be actively involved in forcibly recruiting children in his war efforts, using women, children and the elderly as human shields and ruthlessly gunning down his opponents even within his own organisation. But killing a 12-year old is not only against all norms of warfare but also begs the question of humanitarianism.
The brutal gunning down of Balachandran Prabakaran reminds many of those tyrants and maniacs who killed people not because of what they were but because of who they were. Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Ta Mok were known for the infamous Killing Fields of Cambodia in the late 1970s; prior to them was Adolf Hitler who gassed millions of people just because they happened to be Jews; and then came Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia and his Generals who let loose a reign of terror in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
As the world awaits a fuller and complete answer from the Government of Sri Lanka, it would be appropriate to recall two persons at this time. Lieutanent William Calley of the My Lai massacre. In March 1968, as many as 500 people — mostly women and children — were killed in a bloody rampage by American soldiers and Lt. Calley, after a court martial, was given the life term in prison (subsequently reduced by President Richard Nixon and he served three years under house arrest) for the pre-meditated murders of 22 civilians. Many were numbed to find higher ranking officers let off.
The other person that comes to mind is Telford Taylor, the Counsel for the Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials and his book Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, a classic work that argued that the principles adopted at the Nuremberg Trials were not applied in Vietnam — a blunt message that the American conduct in Vietnam and Cambodia was as criminal as that of the Nazis. Maybe, this is the time to re-visit the past and remind world leaders that Telford Taylor may no longer be with us but there are still those with a conscience and a memory.
And in all this there is a lesson for Official India as well. Last time, New Delhi extracted a price for going along with the U.S.-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka by watering down the substance. This time round, there should be no such attempts because India will also be shamed if it comes to the rescue of Sri Lanka.
(A former senior journalist, the writer is currently Head, School of Media Studies, SRM University, Chennai and can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed here are personal.)