The Killing of T.M.V.P Leader Shanthan in Kaathaankudi
May 31st, 2008
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The morning of Thursday May 22nd saw a comic scene being enacted in Colombo. Devouring humble “kanji” (porridge) before his excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse was the “honourable” Mohamed Lebbe Alim Mohammed Hisbullah.
The reputed party-hopper from Kaathaankudi was being sworn in as a minister of the eastern provincial council headed by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan.
Becoming a provincial minister would be regarded by many as going up the ladder but for Hisbullah it was a case of coming down as the ambitious eastern Muslim politico had aspired for the chief minister post.
In his unprincipled quest for power , Hisbullah had delved deep into communalism and widened the chasm between the Tamil and Muslim communities of the eastern province.
Blinded by his myopic vision of assuming the eastern province chief minister portfolio “Janab” Hisbullah had for a brief period of time engaged in a vainglorious performance that would have surely made “the angels weep”.
After issuing many threats and making several demands Hisbullah like Orson Welles in “The Magnificient Ambersons” had had his “come – uppance”.
The “Sultan of somersaults” was in Colombo grinning from ear to ear as he took oaths before the President as the provincial minister in charge of Health, indigenous medicine, social welfare,probation and child care services, Women’s affairs,Youth Affairs, Sports, Information Technology education, Co-operative development, Food supply and distribution for the eastern province.
Whatever the power and extent of minister Hisbullah’s portfolios there is no denying that Humpty Dumpty had had a great fall.
After clashing bitterly with the Government for appointing Pillaiyan and not himself as chief minister the chameleonic Hisbullah was now reconciled with the regime and ready to work closely for the betterment of the east with “sahodarar” (Brother) Pillaiyan .
Power hungry, unprincipled politicians like Hisbullah may be prepared to turn and twist readily and speedily but the forces they unleash in their bid for power are not contained or transformed so easily.
The reconcilatory atmosphere in Colombo was not prevalent in Hisbullah’s native Kaathaankudi (K’kudi). All was not quiet on the eastern front.
Basking in the warmth of President Rajapakse’s benevolent smile, Hisbullah was apparently in blissful ignorance of what was going on in his hometown when all hell broke loose there.
There had been a killing actually a double killing in K’kudi of two Tamils. This in turn had evoked violent reprisals in neighbouring Aaraiyampathy (A’pathy). Three Muslims were killed. Around fifteen were injured. Some had been abducted. Buses were stoned. Muslim traders were threatened in Batticaloa town.
A major Tamil – Muslim conflagration was ready to envelope the east.
Within hours President Rajapakse saw to it that Hisbullah was put on a special flight and sent to the east as a trouble – shooter.
Hisbullah together with his chief minister Pillaiyan embarked upon the unenviable task of cooling communal passions.
Both men had positioned themselves as champions of their respective ethnicities during the election campaign.
Both had appealed to primordial feelings in a bid to garner more votes.
After splitting the Tamil and Muslim communities further to enhance their political standing both men had now come together to share the spoils. Both were now “united” and going through the motions of peacemaking.
The fundamental fault however does not lie with Pillaiyan or Hisbullah in “ethnicising” the politics of the east. The blame has to be laid fairly and squarely with the Rajapakse regime.
Instead of forging ethnic amity through a multi – ethnic coalition the United People Freedom Alliance (UPFA)had cynically exploited the ethnic divide by promising both Pillaiyan and Hisbullah the chief minister post if the members of their respective ethnicities voted for them.
Now the chickens were coming home to roost!
The littoral in Eastern Batticaloa district is often referred to in poetic terms as “Eluvaankarai” or shore of the rising sun. Ethnic Tamil and Muslim villages and towns are interspersed along this picturesque coastal strip.
The adjacent existence of Tamil and Muslim villages has often evoked the imagery of a “puttukkulal” or pittu bamboo where the flour and coconut are packed in layers on top of the other.
This geographical proximity along with usage of a common mother tongue and also shared cultural attributes like the “kudi” or clan system have forged strong bonds between the “Tamil speaking people” of the East.
Yet with ethnic relations deteriorating in recent times this very proximity and shared heritage itself has at times caused tensions and strife. An important bone of contention has been land.
While Tamils dominate hinterland areas to the west of the lagoon known as “Paduvaankarai” or shore of the setting sun, Muslims are concentrated mainly along the “Eluvaankarai”littoral..
Their areas of Muslim habitation are less while population density is more. It is said that Muslims are roughly 30 % of B’caloa district population but own only about 2 % of the land.
This leads to great need for more land among Muslims. The escalation of the ethnic problem has virtually cut off Muslims from the fertile paddy fields, coconot groves and lands for animal husbandry in the hinterland.
Muslims are therefore compelled to seek space for expansion among traditional Tamil areas.
Kaathaankudi is a Muslim village sandwiched in between the Tamil villages of Aaraiyampathy (known earlier as Aaraipathai) and Manjanthoduvaai.
Situated to the South of Batticaloa town along the Kalmunai road, Kaathaankudi has now developed into a booming township. K’kudi has the highest population density and birth rate in Sri Lanka. .
The growth and development of K’kudi has often resulted in tensions with neighbouring Tamil villages. The large population confined to a small area is naturally forced to expand beyond its original boundaries.
The Tamil “liberation” struggle has caused many Tamil villages to become neglected and impoverished. Muslim areas like K’kudi have flourished.
K’ kudi muslims have gradually expanded into Tamil territory. In many instances they have bought Tamil properties.
Earlier K’kudi and A’ pathy were part of the same AGA or Pradeshiya division. It was re- demarcated some years ago on ethnic lines.
The demarcation left much to be desired as Tamil and Muslim lands were inter – mingled in border areas.This contributed to much discord and dissatisfaction among both communities.
It is against this backdrop that the recent anti – Muslim violence in the region should be viewed.
It was around 11. 45 am on May 22nd that two stalwarts of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) on a motor cycle stopped briefly at Kaathaankudi (K’kudi).
They were both on their way along the Batticaloa – Kalmunai road to Aaraiyampathy (A’Pathy) from Batticaloa.
One of the men was Sashidaran alias “Shanthan” or “Aaraippathai Shanthan” of the TMVP. He was the TMVP leader for Aaraiyampathy Assistant Government Agent (AGA) division known officially as Manmunaipatru.
The other was Parasuraman alias Tharshan from Nochimunai who was a sidekick of Shanthan and doubled as a bodyguard cum aide.
While Shanthan remained on the motor cycle ,Tharshan who was on the pillion got down and went to a shop near the bus stand. He bought two cigarette packets and a chocolate slab and returned to the vehicle.
Since there were a few other customers there had been a delay of some minutes to complete the transaction.
The motor cycle was about to take off when some youths on motor cycles blocked it. At the same time a few other youths wearing caps started chasing passers – by and by – standers away from the vicinity.
Shanthan then tried to turn his vehicle about 90 degrees and circumvent the obstacles. Tharshan got off the pillion to make the manouevring easier for his boss. Both were unarmed.
Suddenly two youths with T – 56 assault rifles began firing from the side of a small mosque called Zain Moulana Thaikka. As people screaming in fear fled the scene the TMVP’s Tharshan clambered back on the vehicle again. Both were hit.
Despite the injuries Shanthan managed to steer the motor cycle on to the main road and rode off to the South towards A’pathy.
The gun toting youths gave chase and fired away.
Unconfirmed reports say there were at least two bursts of sustained firing near the Masthijul Hasanath Thaikka mosque and the Meera Balika school.
At one stage Tharshan fell off the vehicle on to the road. .
Shanthan went on riding for a further distance almost near the A’pathy border and then collapsed. This was seen by TMVP cadre near the border.
Then the TMVP cadres from the A ‘pathy office streamed out firing in the air. The gun – toting youths from K’kudi fled . The TMVP cadre retrieved the bodies of Tharshan and Shanthan.
Both were then taken to Batticaloa reportedly with protection provided by the Special Task Force (STF). There is a STF camp close to the TMVP office in A’pathy.
Though the incident had upset routine life in K’kudi and A’pathai for a while normalcy began prevailing rapidly.
It was shortly after 1.00 pm that Shanthan was pronounced dead at the B’caloa teaching hospital. Tharshan was pronounced dead upon admission.
When they heard the news about Shanthan frenzied TMVP cadres went on the rampage against Muslims.
According to TMVP sources this was due to the suspicion that Shanthan had been killed by an armed Muslim group from K’kudi. The TMVP suspects that this “Jihadist” group is heavily influenced by Wahabism.
Ironically many Karuna faction cadres themselves helped this group enhance its firepower when they defected from their parent organization the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2004.
Many sold their guns and ammunition to radical Muslim youths. Some even provided clandestine training in firearms for a fee.
The blunder made by the TMVP in seeking revenge against the armed group responsible for the killing was that instead of identifying the perpetrators specifically they were targeting the community at large.
Unleashing violence against innocent civilians under any circumstances needs to be condemned vehemently.
Roughly around 1. 15 pm several TMVP members at Aaraiyampathy came out on the B’caloa – Kalmunai road and started firing at people known to be Muslims.
Since life had returned to normal there were some Muslims from K’kudi in A’pathy. Some were doing business.They were taken by surprise when the TMVP commenced firing.
One of those killed was the highly respected K’kudi businessman Sultan Muhammed Munsoor known popularly as AFRA Munsoor on account of his travel agency AFRA Travels.
42 year old AFRA Munsoor had come to the AGA office in A’pathy and was doing some purchasing at the market when he was shot dead.
Another man from K.kudi , 51 year old M. Abdeen was also shot dead at A’pathy by TMVP cadres. Abdeen was a petty trader who rode a bicycle selling tea.
The TMVP goons also fired at vehicles plying on the B,caloa – Kalmunai road.
One vehicle hit was a lorry (WP PA 9421) belonging to the CEB. Among people injured in this incident were a Sinhala woman and an old Muslim woman.
A van owned by Alli company manufacturing pappadams was also shot at. A Muslim salesman and Sinhala driver were injured.
While this firing was going on another group of TMVP cadre with guns and swords and knives began roaming the neighbourhood in search of Muslims. People living in Tamil – Muslim border or mixed areas fled to other places or kept indoors.
Places like Keechaanpallam, Kaankeyan Odai, Poonochimunai, Ollikkulam, Paalamunai and housing schemes like Karbala nagar and Sigaram were affected as TMVP cadres fired at random.
52 year old T. Farook a fisherman cum labourer from Kaangeyan Odai was hacked to death by TMVP mobs on Kaattumaavadi road.
A shop at Kaangeyan Odai junction was set on fire along with a three – wheeler. The shop was owned by a Muslim , Ansar.
As TMVP violence increased some Muslim youths in K’kudi also formed themselves into groups to protect the community. A few Tamils in the border areas were attacked.
Tamil and Muslim armed groups began stopping vehicles going along the B,caloa – Kalmunai road and assaulting identified members of the other community.
TMVP cadres in white vans began scouring the roads in search of Muslims. Many Muslims escaped by seeking refuge in Police stations and security force camps.
Rumours began spreading that a number of Muslims had been taken off buses at Kallady by the TMVP and killed. The bodies were thrown into the lagoon at Kallady bridge the rumours said. These were proved false.
Two Muslims were abducted by the TMVP at Eravoor when they went to pay their electricity bills. They were 37 year old Cassim Lebbe and 19 year old Abdul Hashim Haneer. Both were supporters of the Muslim Congress.
TMVP cadres also ran riot in B’caloa town. There is a small Muslim colony in the heart of B’caloa town along Sinna Lebbe Street and the area known as Aameen corner. Most of them are businessmen and their families.
Shortly after 2. 00 pm TMVP cadre armed with batons and rods began attacking these helpless , innocent people. Calling them derisively as “Kaakka” the TMVP cadres ordered them to quit B’caloa town.
Many people including elderly persons were mercilessly assaulted. An owner of a grocery sustained serious injuries in the neck and had to be hospitalised.
The Muslims shouting “Allah, Allah” ran for safety to the Jumma Masjid mosque. Some TMVP cadres continued to beat them.
The STF and Police had been strangely inactive for about an hour or so in the initial stages. But the security personnel became active after 2 .30 pm. It was as if some “time” had been given unofficially to the TMVP to retaliate for the killing of Shanthan and Tharshan.
The situation began improving rapidly after the Police and STF got into action. A Police curfew was declared at 3. 30 pm.
Innocent civilians were given protection. Security escort was provided to vehicles. Stranded people of both communities were taken safely to their homes.
Rampaging TMVP cadres were brought under control. Security personnel began patrolling streets and roads. TMVP cadre were prevented from venturing outside their offices and camps.
Five persons comprising two Tamil TMVP members and three innocent Muslim civilians had been killed on Thursday. Around 50 – 60 persons had sustained injuries.
Fifteen of these required hospitalisation at B’caloa and K’kudi. Eleven were Muslims, two Sinhalese and two Tamils. An overwhelming number of those with minor injuries were Muslims.
Meanwhile the newly appointed eastern chief minister Pillaiyan was under strong pressure to take appropriate action. Muslim Congress chief Rauff Hakeem telephoned Pillaiyan and urged him to bring the situation under control.
A group of prominent Muslim clergy and Laity from K’kudi converged late afternoon on 22nd at the Methaipalli Jumma mosque to discuss ways and means of rectifying the situation.
This was followed by a peace conference later in the evening at the residence of the most Rev Kingsley Swampillai the catholic Bishop of Batticaloa-Trincomalee. Several Muslim dignitaries from K’kudi and top Police officials attended.
[From the war front to the the Political table: Eastern province chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan listens to the speeches at the 24 th Chief Ministers, May 31-pic:Sundaytimes.lk]
Chief minister Pillaiyan sent some TMVP representatives. These included Pillaiyan’s personal assistant Ragu, media spokesperson Azad Moulana and two senior TMVP members Seelan and Jeyanthan.
An agreement was reached by both sides to stop all violence and discuss the issues involved with a view to resolving them peacefully.
The Bishop was also a signatory to this agreement. Jeyanthan was nominated as liaison officer between the TMVP and the K’kudi mosque federation.
There was however some violence in the night at B’caloa town. A muslim owned wholesale provisions shop on Pansala road was ransacked of about 12 lakh rupees worth of goods and set on fire.
Attempts were made to set fire to two Muslim owned textile establishments “Sattar tex” and “Marliyas”. Concerted action by the owners and security forces prevented the fire from engulfing the shops.
The arrival of Hisbullah and constant pressure from Colombo saw a refreshing development on Friday 23rd. In a commendable gesture Hisbullah brought Pillaiyan and some of his deputies to the Meera Jumma grand mosque.
This was the same mosque where 103 Muslims were massacred in cold blood while worshipping by the LTTE in 1990. After Prayers Pillaiyan addressed the gathering where he tendered a public apology for the violence unleashed by his TMVP cadres.
He promised that there would be no violence against Muslims in the future. The arch political rivals Hisbullah and Pillaiyan then embraced each other in an act of rapprochement.
However on that night many Muslim dwellings in the Sigaram housing scheme were set on fire.
The funerals of the three Muslim civilians were held at Kaathaankudi and Kaankeyan Odai.
The funerals of the two slain TMVP members were held in their own villages Araiyampathy (Shanthan) and Nochimunai (Tharshan).
They were buried at the “Meenagam” grounds.
TMVP cadres tried to enforce a hartal on saturday in honour of the Slain TMVP members. But Police and STF personnel got the shopkeepers to open up for business.
TMVP cadres stopped vehicles at Thalankudah on May 24th and assaulted Muslim businessmen.. This led to Muslim businesses being closed in protest at K’kudi and B’caloa.
Tension was also building up over the abducted Muslims from Eravoor. B’caloa’s TMVP mayor Sivageetha Prabakharan revealed that the abducted Muslims were safe and that they would be released on Sunday May 25th.
When this did not happen as pledged the Muslims of Eravoor declared a hartal in protest on Sunday May 25th.
When vehicles continued plying on the roads , three buses from the Vaazhaichenai depot bearing the numbers NA 4581, NA 1367 and NA 4984 were stoned by Muslim youths at Eravoor.
Two conductors and seven passengers including a mother and daughter were injured.
In a separate development two Muslim traders SH Mustapha (44) and Sinna Lebbe (43) from the Muslim area of Meerankerny were abducted by TMVP cadres in the Tamil area of Iyankerny.
The TMVP abductors were in a white van and on three motor cycles.
This led to reprisals from the people of Meerankerny.
An armed mob moved from Meerankerny to Iyankerny to unleash violence on the innocent Tamil civilians as revenge for the TMVP abductions. This caused the Tamil population fleeing to Chenkallady.
The situation may have deteriorated further but for prompt action by the Eravoor Police. A police curfew was imposed at 2 pm and the armed mobs were dispersed after firing in the air.
[Pillayan and Hisbullah in a friendly handshake on Friday May 17th morning before the 'split' in the evening:Pic-sundayTimes.lk]
A special security conference was held where Hisbullah, TMVP representatives and senior Police officials participated.
Acting on a tip – off the Police also raided the TMVP office at Kommathurai and rescued the abducted Muslims from Eravoor. They had been assaulted and bore injuries. The TMVP official in charge of the office was taken into custody.
As the week progresed the situation began to improve and gradually an uneasy state of normalcy was ushered in.
The prospects for durable peace remain dim because the fundamental grievances of the TMVP and K’kudi Muslims have not been redressed.
The TMVP cadres responsible for killing Muslims and engaging in anti – Muslim violence have not been charged.
Likewise those responsible for the killing of Shanthan and Tharshan have not been identified and penalised.
Though the LTTE has been blamed in certain circles the TMVP has not accused the tigers openly.
This is because the TMVP firmly believes an armed Muslim group was responsible. There may have been a tiger connection but the actual act seems to have been planned and executed by Muslim youths.
Police sources also believe a Muslim group was responsible.
This columnist also spoke to some residents of Kaathaankudi by telephone . According to these sources Shanthan was hated in K’kudi as a notorious anti – Muslim person.
There had been a long history of animosity.
39 year old Shanthan whose real name is Palanithamby Sashidaran belongs to a socio – culturally backward community from Aaraiyampathy. He had at one time worked as a labourer for a rich Mudalali in K’kudi.
This experience had embittered him and thereafter he nursed a grievance against Muslims. This feeling was exacerbated by the general mood of Aaraiyampathy vis a vis Kaathaankudi.
Sashidaran had joined the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and functioned under Robert (different to the EPRLF Robert from Jaffna) who also hailed from Aaraiyampathy. Later he had joined the splinter group under Varathan.
The Varathan group of the TELO like that of the EPRLF – Razeek group and PLOTE – Mohan group worked closely with the security forces against the LTTE in the east.
Varathan was killed by the LTTE after the ceasefire of Feb 23rd 2002. Thereafter Sashidaran alias Shanthan was drifting.
When “Col” Karuna of the LTTE revolted and formed the TMVP Shanthan was encouraged by the intelligence apparatus to team up with the TMVP.
This Shanthan did and soon became the TMVP area leader for Aaraiyampathy. Recently when local authority polls were held to the Manmunaipatru Pradeshiya Sabha , it was Shanthan’s wife Christina who topped the TMVP list and was elected chairperson.
Given Shanthan’s hatred towards K’kudi Muslims there was always simmering tension. Muslim traders were intimidated into paying “kappang” to the TMVP.
Apart from extortion, Shanthan also tried to evict Muslims from border areas and supplant them with Tamil settlers.
Shanthan began inciting Tamils of A’pathai against K’kudi Muslims. Many of the shops and market stalls in A’pathy were owned by K’kudi Muslims. Besides there was this feeling that the growth of K’kudi was slowly strangulating A’pathy.
Adjacent Tamil areas like Paalamunai, Kaankeyan Odai, Ollikulam. Keechaan Pallam etc had a strong Muslim presence now. Kankeyan Odai for instance had become 100% Muslim.
New Muslim colonies like Karbala nagar and Sigaram housing scheme etc were strongly resented by the TMVP.
There was fertile ground for mobilising Aaraiyampathy Tamils on grounds of ethnicity against Kaathaankudi. It is always easy to whip up hatred against the “other”.
It must also be remembered that the TMVP is an off – shoot of the LTTE. The LTTE mobilises Tamils against the “Sinhala” state. The TMVP mobilises Eastern Tamils against Northern Tamil hegemony.
Since the party is now the lapdog of Colombo the TMVP cannot whip up hatred against the Sinhala people. But it is always possible to target Muslims . It is even more easier in A’pathy which is both resentful and fearful of neighbouring K’kudi.
The tsunami of Dec 26th 2004 and the military activity in re-taking LTTE controlled territory in the east resulted in a large number of internally displaced persons.
Shanthan re- settled many such Tamil IDP’s in the border areas of Aaraiyampathy – Kaathaankudi. This led to much friction with the K’kudi Muslims.
Violence escalated and there was a crisis early last year. Finally the 23 – 3 commander at that time Col. Subasinghe had to intervene. He promised Muslims that Shanthan would be transferred out of Aaraiyampathy.
After lying low for a while Shanthan returned to his old position in A’pathy. Once again there was Tamil – Muslim friction.
This state of affairs reached a nadir on Jan 12th this year when Shanthan fired at Muslims returning after evening worship at the Karbala nagar mosque. Three persons including a Moulavi were injured.
Complaints were made to the Police and eye – witnesses identified Shanthan as the perpetrator. Yet no action was taken and Shanthan was a free bird.
This led to strong resentment in K’kudi among Muslim youths. A plot was hatched to assassinate Shanthan when possible.
Such an opportunity presented itself on May 22nd when Shanthan stopped at K’kudi with Parasuraman alias Tharshan.
Given the enmity towards him in K’kudi it was a foolhardy or exceptionally brave act on Shanthan’s part to have lingered there without any firearms.
His assassins succeeded in killing him though the operation was somewhat amateurish and clumsy.
Yet the killing at Kaathaankudi is viewed as an act of provocation by the TMVP .
One cannot see the TMVP rest until it gets its revenge.
Also innocent Muslim victims of TMVP violence must gain justice.
Thus the chances of a durable peace seem flimsy at the moment.
It would be appropriate to end this piece with an extract from an article written to “The Sunday Leader” last year. It is applicable in the current context too.
“The socio – political situation of the East can lead to more Tamil – Muslim friction in the future. Kaathaankudi and Aaraiyampathy may be the future flashpoints of tension. The TMVP could deliberately promote anti – Muslim feelings to consolidate its hold on the Tamil people. Muslim politicians could incite Muslims for short term gain.In a worse case scenario the security forces with their familiar divide and rule tactics could encourage divisive communal trends.”
What was written a year ago sums up in a nutshell the current situation also.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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