The murder of “Small Parrot” Maheswari at “Mongoose-Geko” Lane
May 17th, 2008
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The time was about 7.45 – 7.50 pm.on Tuesday May 13th.
Four young men on two cycles were traveling along the intricate labyrinth of inter-connected “Olungaigal” (by-lanes) of Karaveddy in the Vadamaratchy division of Jaffna peninsula.
It was dark as a power cut was on. Electricity is supplied on a rotational basis to different areas of the peninsula. There is a time-table according to which localities are given electricity for specific periods. “power-cut” time for Karaveddy had begun at 7. 30 pm.
The men parked their cycles close to a “mudakku” or turning point near the long winding lane referred to as “Keerippalli” from time immemorial by residents of the area. It had been re-named later but no one used the official name.
“Keeri” is mongoose and “palli ” gecko in Tamil. Keeripalli would therefore mean “mongoose-gecko ” in English. The name’s origin is not kown.
One of the youths stayed behind with the vehicles. Three others walked briskly for a distance of about 55 – 60 metres. They were clad in military fatigues. Two of them wore rubber slippers while a third had boots on.
Flashing their battery powered torch lights, the trio turned into the Velayutham residence on Keeripalli. The house was situated in the Karaveddy locality but in close proximity to the Karanavaai east and Nelliaddy divisions on two sides.
[Maheswari Velayutham-July 17, 1955-May 13, 2008]
The Velayutham residence was full of people. A family re- union of sorts was going on though an atmosphere of sadness was prevalent. The matriarch known as “Eeswari teacher” in Karaveddy was on her deathbed.
Mrs. Velayutham who had taught for many years at Vikneshwara College , Karaveddy was terminally ill with cancer. Her children many of them living in different parts of the world and in Sri Lanka had all come home to spend some time together with their loving mother.
Eeswari teacher had been hospitalised earlier in Colombo and in Chennai. Upon being informed there was no hope she had wanted to go home and pass away peacefully in her own home
Eeswari teacher was now in a coma. Death was impending and the siblings had converged together after many years at the family residence to be united in a time of sorrow and be with their mother during her last days.
As anticipated death did occur in the Velayutham family but it was not the ailing mother but one of her loving daughters who met with death.
53 year old Maheswari Velayutham was the third child in the family. An attorney – at – law , Maheswari was serving as adviser to Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda and also as public relations co-ordinator in the ministry.
It was Maheswari who had a tryst with death on that night.
Several of the family including Maheswari had returned earlier from the Kiraayi Pillaiyaar temple . Apparently a vow or “nerthikadan” was made at the temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh.
There was a reason for this. May 13th was the day on which their father had died years ago. The children felt that something may happen to the mother on that day. So they had gone en masse to the temple
Three men strode into the residence compound. One of them spoke in “Sinhala” and said that they were from the army. They had information that some people from foreign countries were staying in the house. They wanted to check the identity cards he said.
Five of Maheswary’s siblings had come with their families from Britain. Two of her sisters were living in Sri Lanka, one in Jaffna-other in Colombo.
Family members felt something was not right. Though it was dark there was something fishy about these young teen-aged men in slippers and military uniforms. Two of them had a T-56 each
The face of at least one person was familiar. It was that of a youngster aged around thirteen or fourteen. He had been hired earlier to do some manual work in the household and had been hanging around the place. Now he was in uniform and armed.
One of the brothers asked ” them” to wait and went inside to inform “Sinnakkili” of the problem.
Sinnakkili or small parrot was the pet name of Maheswari Velayutham. Being a lawyer fluent in English, Sinhala and Tamil and also having political influence the family members naturally relied on “Sinnakkili” to sort matters out.
Maheswari was inside the kitchen helping to feed her little nephews and nieces. Her own ID card was in her handbag kept in the bedroom near her mother’s bed.
Upon being told of what was happening Maheswari got up and walked to her mothers room to retrieve her identity card and other official documents. She then began walking to the front of the house saying she would explain to the “soldiers”.
Meanwhile the men in uniform now switched to Tamil and began shouting out “Maheswari Akka! Maheswari Akka! Veliyile vaango” (Elder sister Maheswari! Come outside).
The family members now got alarmed. They realised something was terribly wrong and that Maheswari was in trouble.Some tried to go in and warn her.
But the two men wearing slippers entered the house and began to move in forcibly despite protests. The man wearing boots hurried out and began jogging fast towards the cycles.
The two assassins were going in as Maheswari Velayutham was coming out. They met face to face.
Even though the light was dim Maheswari realised who the assassins were. “Ivai LTTE aatkal” (these are LTTE people) she cried out.
She instinctively knew the killers had come for her. Her primary concern was for her family members. Instead of trying to run away she only implored the youths “Ivaikku ondum seithu podatheyungo” (Dont do anything to these people).
The assassins whipped out their weapons and opened fired at point blank range.
Even as family members screamed out in fear their beloved Sinnakkili slumped to the floor with injuries to her head, chest, shoulders and abdomen.
She lay in a pool of blood in her own family home surrounded by family members. Blood was pouring out from the wounds and much of it came out through her mouth.
Maheswari was a spiritual person and was a devotee of a particular “Holy” man from India. He had given her an amulet that she wore around her neck. “Swami has assured me that as long as I wear this no harm will come to me” she had often told relatives and friends.
Now the amulet itself was red soaked in her blood.
The assailants ran out and trotted towards the cycles. Their two companions had started pedalling . They hurriedly clambered on to the bar and sped off through the maze of by – lanes. The purveyors of death disappeared into the dark night.
There is an army post on Naavalar madam junction at one end of Keeripalli lane . Housed in the building of what was earlier the business known as Suppiah and sons , it is about 125 – 150 metres away from the Velayutham residence.
Further down the Point Pedro road near the Nelliaddy junction there is a bigger military detachment at the old service station premises and adjacent buildings. Opposite to that in the house known earlier as “Sothy Illam” is the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) office.
Despite the close proximity of the military installations and EPDP camp it was at least 30 – 35 minutes later that official help arrived at the Velayutham residence.
The family was petrified with fear. Some neighbours had seen the assassins coming and going and heard the shots. They realised what had happened and fearfully came over to help.
Phone calls were made to EPDP leader and Social Services minister Douglas Devananda . A shocked Douglas got in touch with relevant authorities and urged immediate action.
It was then that things got moving.
Maheswari was taken to the base hopital at Manthigai but was pronounced dead within minutes.
In Hindu mythology “Yaman” is the god of death. “Chitragupthan ” is Lord Yamans “accountant” who keeps tabs on all beings and determines the day and place of death decreed according to their fate.
It is believed that when the time comes Yaman sends his messengers known as “Yamathoothar” to the house of death and retrieves the soul through the death rope called “Paasakkayiru”.
In this instance Yaman seemed to have sent his messengers to the house of death as expected but it was the death itself which was unexpected. The “time” had come not for the mother but for the daughter to depart.
Maheswari was a trusted aide and respected adviser to Douglas Devananda who is a top target of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE). Maheswari too was on the tiger hit list.
Against that backdrop one would have expected maximum security being given to her while visiting her hometown in Jaffna. Urgent attention should have been shown at least after she was shot. But this did not happen.
There was not even a single policeman on duty at her house when she was shot. Neither did the security personnel rush to the spot despite the army post and camp being in the neighbourhood.
The security personnel apparently regarded the case as one more of the many “murders” occurring regularly in Jaffna. They may have come at their own pace but for Devananda’s intervention.
The bitter irony in this is that many of the killings in Jaffna are attributed to killer squads of the EPDP itself. The security personnel do not rush in because most killings are officially sanctioned unofficial executions.
In this instance the security personnel were extremely upset upon knowing who the victim was.
According to sources close to the EPDP Maheswari had not wanted any special protection while she was in Jaffna. There were two reasons one logical and the other based on belief for this.
Maheswari thought that having bodyguards etc would attract unwelcome attention. She also felt that her family members would be uneasy by the security detail. So too would people visiting her mother.
Also she had excessive faith in the Indian Swamy. Irrational as it may seem to some she had firm faith in the amulet given by the Godman. She would re-iterate that nothing would happen to her because of the amulet.
Maheswari had been warned not to go to Jaffna for security reasons. But she was adamant to go for sentimental reasons.
She wanted to be together with family members by the deathbed of her mother. Maheswari had taken special care of the mother when she was hospitalised in Colombo and Chennai.
“How can I be away from her when she passes away” she told trusted friends. It is considered a great blessing to be with one’s parents at the time of their death.
Ms. Velayutham had been expected to inform the authorities and get special security after she flew into Jaffna. But she refrained from doing so.
Initially she was scheduled to stay in Karaveddy for only two days.
But after seeing her family members particularly the children Maheswari wanted to prolong her stay.
[Relatives of Maheswari Velayudam mourn at a public cemetery during her funeral procession in Colombo May 15, 2008-Reuters via Yahoo! News by Buddhika Weerasinghe]
“We have never seen Akka so happy in recent times. She was always with her nieces and nephews” One of her brothers told a friend in Canada.
Maheswari reached Karaveddy during the week – end and maintained a low profile for three days. Even the local EPDP office was not informed.
But news did spread that she had come. It was further confirmed when she went to the temple. Apart from the Pillaiyar temple she also worshipped at a nearby Vairavar kovil. Maheswari herself had procured much state assistance for renovating this temple.
Whether Maheswari was too sentimental, rash or careless is a matter of opinion. The stark reality is that Ms. Velayutham is now dead.
One of the assassins who had done some manual labour was from the LTTE. After confirming that she was there the tigers had come after nightfall to kill her.
It was only after her death that the security forces got into action. An extended curfew was announced. The area was cordoned off and a house to house search was conducted.
There was however no sign of the suspected LTTE assassins. The area was quite porous and it was very easy to get in and out through by – lanes, footpaths and ridges despite the security maintained on the roads and key junctions.
The LTTE had engaged in quite a few attacks in the Nelliaddy – Karaveddy area during the past weeks.Most of them were done by teen – aged youths.
Some persons have been arrested on suspicion. Vehicles going in and out of the area are being checked but it seems a case of shutting the stable door after the horse bolts.
Maheswari’s body was taken to Jaffna city where the magistrate conducted the inquest. Thereafter the body air-lifted to Colombo hastily. The post-mortem was conducted in Colombo.
Family members were also flown to Colombo. The ailing mother was taken to Chennai and admitted to Apllo hospital. Maheswari’s elder sister is with the mother.
Maheswari’s mortal remains were kept at the EPDP office in Park road and later at Jayaratne Florists for people to pay their respects.
A large number of political leaders from different political parties as well as a cross section of human rights and peace activists expressed condolences..
The funeral held on May 15th according to Hindu rites was attended by many people.
Devananda was associated with family members in performing the last rites.
In reporting her death the media refers to Maheswari as a key EPDP official or adviser /aide to Douglas Devananda.
It would however be incorrect to assume that she was only an EPDP activist and nothing more.
The media is not to be faulted as Maheswari at the time of her death was indeed a close confidante and trusted deputy of Douglas Devananda.
Devananda’s one time adviser and ex-MP Dr. K. Vikneswaran has left the EPDP and formed his own party the Akila Ilankai Tamil United Front. When Vikneswaran was adviser to minister Devananda Maheswari was functioning as consultant.
It was after his departure that Ms. Velayutham became adviser and later public relations co-ordinator.
In recent times she has become a tower of strength to Devananda. It is said that the right and left hands of Devananda are his brother Dayananda and Maheswari.
After Thavarajah’s departure to Britain Maheswari was appointed the EPDP representative to the All Party representative committee chaired by Dr. Tissa Vitarane.
It was announced last week that a task force to co-ordinate administration and develop the north would be set up under Douglas Devananda. Rishard Badiudeen and Basil Rajapakse were to be the other members.
It was widely speculated that Maheswari would play an important role in the administration and development of the North in the days to come. Indeed her assassination may have been hastened due to this.
Some tiger media organs operating abroad within the Tamil Diaspora stated that Maheswari was in Jaffna to oversee matters concerning the proposed task force.
The fact that this woman was in Jaffna without any security to be with her ailing mother along with family members was conveniently suppressed.
Under these circumstances it is but natural for the media to focus on Maheswari’s EPDP links alone. Likewise the pro – tiger media gloats that an accomplice of EPDP ’s Douglas has been eliminated.
While it is correct to say that Maheswari was of the EPDP at the time of her murder it would be a gross injustice to the praiseworthy past and dedicated calibre of the woman if only the EPDP dimension in her life is highlighted.
Maheswari Velayutham has been involved with human rights and the Tamil cause from the seventies of the 20th century.
Ms. Velayutham had been through various trials and tribulations but not wavered from the original task of restoring lost Tamil rights and uplifting the community.
She was of the fast dwindling old guard in this respect and it is is with immense sadness that I recall the life and times of Maheswari Velayutham.
I came to know her in the seventies when she was a law student.Thereafter I was in touch with her occasionally but not regularly until the mid – nineties when I lost contact..
Maheswary who was born on July 17th 1955 hailed from a middle – class family in Karaveddy. Her father was attached to the CTB of old and was a popular figure among school children. Her mother was a school teacher at Vikneswara College.
There were ten children – three boys and seven girls – and Maheswari was the third. After studying at Vadamaratchy Hindu Ladies college she entered university and did her LLB.
She was the first student from that school to enter varsity for an LLB degree and received a special gold medal.Maheswari excelled in studies and sports and was head prefect.
She apprenticed under TULF president Murugesu Sivasithamparam who was also from Karaveddy.
The 1977 anti – Tamil violence saw some Tamils setting up the Tamil Refugee Rehabilitation Organization (TRRO) which is different from the present TRO linked to the LTTE.
Maheswari volunteered her services to the TRRO and also towards the legal work related to the Sansoni ommission inquiring into the 1977 violence. I came to know her better during this time.
The well – known human rights lawyer K. Kandasamy was closely involved with the TRRO and Sansoni Commission then. He was instrumental in starting the Jaffna based “Saturday Review”.
Maheswari used to travel frequently to Jaffna then to help with the TRRO and Saturday review.
That was a period when most printing presses in Jaffna were reluctant to publish pamphlets and leaflets related to the Tamil struggle for equal rights.
Maheswari used to display great courage and initiative by getting them across clandestinely to India through friends from Valvettithurai and getting them printed for distribution in Jaffna..
Actively engaged in human rights work , she was greatly concerned with the pathetic plight of Tamil youths being detained without trial on charges of alleged terrorism.
Several Tamil lawyers used to visit the Tamil detenues then. Maheswari was the only woman among them
A former Tamil detenue now in Canada told this writer with tears upon hearing of her demise “I will never forget how she used to visit us then and inquire after our well – being. She was the only ray of hope for us then”.
One of Maheswari’s brothers Satheeswaran ,a second year engineering undergrad was among those arrested unfairly and incarcerated for many tears for alleged links with the PLOTE. After his release he went to India and then to Britain where he obtained a doctorate.
The 1983 July anti – Tamil pogrom was a defining moment for many Tamils. Youths flocked to the militant movements. Most youths from Karaveddy – Udupiddy joined the TELO.
Maheswari’s younger brothers Vigneswaran and Ganeswaran also joined the TELO. Vignes who went under the nom de guerre “Kamban” was killed years later amidst mysterious circumstances in Colombo
Another sister and brother in law died amid tragic circumstances. She was electrocuted due to fall-out from an artillery shell while hanging out clothes to dry. The husband died trying to save the wife. Maheswari took the sister’s children under her wing.
Maheswari herself went over to Tamil Nadu after July 1983. Lawyer Kandasamy now in London set up a Tamil information centre in Madras and another in Madurai. Veteran journalist S. Sivanayagam ran the Madras TIC while Maheswari ran the one in Madurai.
This period was perhaps the finest phase of her life. She established contacts with a human rights organization run by Catholic priests from Tamil Nadu and began working with dedication.
She frequently visited the refugee camps and catered to the needs of the people. She also established wide contacts with the media and helped propagate the Tamil cause.
She was also helpful to many Tamils stranded in Tamil Nadu without a place of refuge or money to eat.
The Madurai TIC was also a forum where members of all Tamil armed groups used to meet. Maheswari was a friend to all the groups and acted impartially. This was a time when Maheswari Velayutham had become a popular personality in Madurai.
I remember a remark made by Kuppusamy of the United News of India when both of us were on the way to meet Maheswari at the Madurai TIC.He quipped then that more people flocked to see Maheswari than Meenakshi. .The Meenakshi temple is the most famous one in Madurai.
If this jovial crack was an indicator of Maheswari’s popularity another acidic comment by TULF President Sivasithamparam illustrated her growing clout.
The veteran lawyer was miffed with Maheswari over some issue and in my presence told former TULF Jaffna MP V. Yogeswaran sarcastically” Maheswari Velayutham will be the Attorney – General of Tamil Eelam”.
Maheswari Velayutham was a frank and fearless woman who spoke her mind out regardless of consequences. She quarrelled with TELO leader Sri Sabaratnam over the manner in which he handled the Bobby – Das factional feud.
She criticised Umamaheswaran and Jyotheeswaran of the PLOTE over the Santhathiyaar issue.
Maheswari also fell foul of the LTTE when she argued with Shankar and Ragu of the LTTE about the internecine warfare waged by the tigers.
The Madurai TIC began gradually folding up after the Indo – Lanka accord of 1987.
Maheswari then re-located to Chennai and began working with SC Chandrahasan who was running organizations like the PROTEG and OFERR that were catering to the needs of Sri Lankan Tamils.
It was on June 19th 1990 that Padmanabha and several other EPRLF members were killed by the LTTE in Chennai. It was Maheswari who raised the issue with then chief minister Muttuvel Karunanidhi and attended to the resultant problems.
Eventually Maheswari realised that the political situation had changed. She felt there was an urgent need to look after and fight for the inalienable human rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka itself.
She returned to Colombo in the mid – nineties and started a Human Rights organization called the Forum for Human dignity. She focussed mainly on the issue of many Tamils being detained under the PTA
One of her achievements was in securing the release of many Tamils detained in Anuradhapura. This she did without charging a cent from the detenue families unlike many tiger lackey lawyers who parade as true Tamil patriots
It was Maheswari’s organization that devoted itself to cases of persons detained in Negombo under the immigration act. This she did for free and incurred the wrath of many colleagues charging exhorbitant fees.
It was also Maheswari who initiated legal action on behalf of some innocent persons arrested in connection with the Chandrika Kumaratunga assassination attempt.
Douglas Devananda used to help her organization financially and it was this that drew her to the EPDP gradually.
In fact Douglas was among those who persuaded her that she could be of more service to her people than in India.
It was however an act of callous brutality by the LTTE which made Maheswari throw in her lot firmly with Devananda.. This was in 1997 when she was concerned greatly with the detenues at Kalutara prison.
Some of the detenues had gone on a protest fast and endangered their health. Maheswari persuaded them to call of their fast. A few requested that Devananda visit them and formally end their fast.
Maheswari agreed and called Devananda who readily consented. But when they went to Kalutara they found themselves facing grave danger.
Another group of LTTE prisoners had crafted makeshift weapons and set upon Devananda when he went to their cell.
When Maheswari remonstrated and tried to stop the cowardly assault the LTTE mob began attacking her too. Both were rescued and Devananda was in critical condition. Emergency surgery was done and Douglas was saved but lost an eye permanently.
It was after this incident that Maheswari forged closer relations with the EPDP. The shared experience of facing treacherous death together may have established a bond.
When close friends queried her about her EPDP connections she used to tell them that nothing was perfect and that she was involved with the EPDP because she could be of service to the people.
Maheswari like Devananda was of the opinion that Tamil Eelam was a lost cause and that the need of the hour was to struggle peacefully for Tamil rights within a united Sri Lanka.
She also concentrated on the plight of Sri Lankan women exploited as housemaids in middle-eastern countries.
Later she contested the Jaffna district on the EPDP ticket. She would go campaigning without any security in the Vadamaratchy area. She was not elected but enjoyed much support among the socially oppressed Tamils of Ganpolla in Karaveddy.Sadly one of her assassins was a youth from this area.
In recent times she became more involved with the social services ministry and the EPDP. She used her position and influence to help poor, innocent Tamils facing many problems.
She also accompanied Devananda in his many meetings with foreign dignitaries. In addition she herself met with a number of people and sought assistance for the betterment of Tamils.
Her detractors from the LTTE camp relished calling her a Douglas acolyte.Those who knew her well realised that this was far from the truth. She was an independent ;free spirit who could not be dominated by anyone.
Knowing Maheswari’s sincerity and commitment to human rights I have always wondered how she could tolerate the killings done by EPDP hit squads in the North.
The only explanation seems to be that she was in a state of blissful ignorance. Her involvement with the party was about its positive aspects. The sordid , negative side remains a dark secret to many EPDP stalwarts in Sri Lanka and abroad.
It was this “ignorance” perhaps which impelled her to declare publicly that she was always a human rights activist and would never be involved in an organization committing human rights violations.
In spite of being on a tiger hit list she was quite careless about her security often travelling alone in trishaws in Colombo without any escort. This was due to her courage bordering on stupidity as well as her belief in divine providence.
She used to tell friends that no harm would befall her because she had not harmed anyone.
She became increasingly spiritual and was a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda. She also took to Yoga in a big way and helped establish Yoga centres.
Later on she became a devotee of another Indian Godman and had faith in the amulet given y him.
Maheswari also immersed herself in the rehabilitation and re-integration of former Tamil militants. This included members of several groups including the LTTE.
She remained unmarried.
There was only one true love in her life. Their romance was well – known in Karaveddy and everyone expected them to get married. But the man who later became a Police officer broke off the relationship and married his own cousin.
Thereafter Maheswari remained single and involved herself with human rights activism and fighting for Justice. She was however a truly liberated woman and lived her life as she wanted to on her own terms.
Given her ability and talents she could have minted money as a practising lawyer. She could also have gone abroad and made a new life for herself.
Instead of that she kept going on with the struggle to emancipate the Tamil people. Her dedication was sincere and absolute and certainly does not deserve the diatribes by tiger elements.
It was only last month that Fr. M.X.Karunaratnam, known as “kili” was killed. Now Maheswari called “Sinna Kili” has been killed in Jaffna. Both “kili” and “sinna Killi” were from Karaveddy. While LTTE supporters protested vehemently over the “kili Father”, but now the tigers have killed “sinna Kili” Maheswary.
Maheswari Velayutham belonged to the pioneering group of Tamil human rights activists. Whatever the ups and downs in her life she remained steadfast in her commitment and conviction.Her death is a great loss to the Tamil people.
The cowardly murder of Maheswari Velayutham must be condemned vehemently. My condolences to her family members.
The fascist terror enveloping the beleaguered Tamil community continues to snuff out the lives of intellectuals with leadership potential.
One by one the leading lights are extinguished. Darkness prevails everywhere. Will this cycle of violence diminishing the Tamil people ever cease?
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com
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