Archive for November, 2007
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
The annual Heroe’s Day speech of Prabakaran, the LTTE leader on 27 November 2007, that was being looked forward to, as LTTE’s assessment of the situation and its future plans, contained many nuances, but no surprises.
The main focus of the speech was directed to the international community with an appeal to cease giving military and economic aid to the Sri Lankan government and accept the right to self determination and the sovereignty of the Tamil Nation.
My observations on the speech are
1. The address has more political content than the earlier ones and the first one after Balasingham’s death whose input could be seen in the earlier speeches but not this time. The first few paragraphs give the historical and the international setting of the Tamil struggle.
2. Indian intervention then was termed as part of one of its ‘regional expansion’. This shows that the LTTE did not understand then nor now of Indian sincerity and its efforts to find a reasonable solution. It is conceded that the security aspects of the Indo Sri Lanka could have been avoided but yet the main accord did provide for the first time Indian guarantees of devolution to meet the aspirations of the Tamils. The 13th amendment was not the best of the document but it could have been the beginning to be built upon. It is true that the implementation of the 13th amendment was “blocked by the chauvinistic Sinhala State” as mentioned in the speech, but the LTTE was equally responsible in preventing its implementation ( recall their booklet- “13th Amendment-an autopsy”). The LTTE took upon India which is not a small power and without whose support there could never be a solution. Many well wishers of the Tamil cause in India were aghast when the LTTE sought support from the very Sinhala nation for their arms, equipment and support in fighting the IPKF! If today we see not much of a stir over the killing of Tamil Chelvan in India, the LTTE should have an introspection and see what had alienated India that it does not want to get involved at all on the Tamil question when the Tamil areas in the east have been ravaged and civilians are getting killed everyday due to aerial bombing.
3. It is good to see the mention of the Tamil Diaspora and its value. The term used should have been “Sri Lankan Tamil Expatriates” who have steadfastly supported the movement and the bulk of them still have faith, admiration and hope that the LTTE will one day bring justice to the Tamils. What I have seen before and see even now is the lack of ‘political finesse’ of the LTTE and their over dependence on the military aspects of their struggle. It is time they let the expats do the home work to bring an end to the war with a solution that could be acceptable to all stake holders. Again the Tamil National Alliance despite doubts about its credibility did try its best to put a political “face” on behalf of LTTE. It was however never allowed to think or work independently and the LTTE leadership is responsible for marginalising this entity which in the beginning showed great promise.
4. It is also true( as pointed out in the speech) that Rajapakse government has shut fast the door for peace and it appears to be confident of a military solution. It is also true that they have been considerably helped by many of the countries in providing equipment, weapons and training that is having an impact on the ground. The LTTE appears to be most vulnerable to aerial attacks and big bombs and high explosives are being used. The lethal nature of the bombs could be gauged from the fact that TamilChelvan and five others who were in a bunker were asphyxiated by a very heavy bomb that hit directly and destroyed the entrance. It is important for both sides to realise that there is no military solution. The seeming military advantage the Sri Lankan Security Forces have now is mainly due to the air superiority and if the LTTE gets hold of a few SAMs, the military balance will be restored!
5. I mention this because, sensing victory, the Rajapakse government is dragging its feet on the recommendations of the Vitharana report, Report A etc etc. The All Party Committee it seems has gone on a “holiday” as the LTTE leader has mentioned. Going back, it should be clear to all that the Sri Lankan government has never specifically put forward a clear and specific devolution package except the District Development councils suggested in the Thimpu I talks and the 13th amendment which at any rate was an Indian enforced one. The Sri Lankan Government never responded to ISGA proposals of the LTTE. The ISGA had many objectionable portions but these were never discussed. Till today there has not been any counter proposal. The international community should note this point.
6. Mention is made of Sinhalisation of the east which all reports indicate are true. Names are being changed and the beautiful area of Sampur and Mutur have been made high security zones. A generally peaceful area of Batticola is now one vast refugee camp as the people there have nowhere to go But does this not indicate the failure of the LTTE to protect its own people? In the Sudumalai speech, Prabakaran indicated that the responsibility of protecting the Tamils had been given to India and yet on a messy and in my view avoidable incident ( the Indian side is more to blame) the whole scenario changed!
7. Three of the four Thimpu principles are once again emphasised and any final solution will have to take into account in some form or other, the issues relating to Tamil Home land, the Tamil Nation and the Tamil Right to self determination. Balasingham’s earlier conceptualisation of “internal self determination” unlike ‘external determination’ has now been given up.
8. The Co-chairs have been accused of having failed in their responsibility. Akashi’s efforts in running from place to place have been in vain and there is yet no coordinated and concerted call for enforcing a cease fire by the international community. Cease fire and Peace Process are dead for all practical purposes.
9. Finally, there is a warning to the Sri Lankan government that it had spread its feet “too wide” and will be forced to face serious consequences of its misguided ambitions.
The LTTE’s position since the loss of the east has hardened with no chance of coming to the negotiating table in the near future. Its tactics will change and more incidents in the south could be expected. Douglas Devananda escaped another effort of a suicide bomber and there was an IED explosion in the outskirts of Colombo killing innocent civilians two days ago This is probably in retaliation to the bombing on the day of the speech when many civilians were killed in the LTTE controlled area.
If the LTTE wants the international community to understand them and help them, they should first stop the politics of assassination. Douglas is just a tiny cog in the big wheel of Tamil nationalism and his elimination is not going make the situation easier even for the LTTE.
Prabakaran has always maintained that the “Sinhala Nation” can never be trusted and will never yield any space to the Tamils to meet their aspirations. The Sri Lankan Government is doing its best to prove this point. It is still not too late for the Sri Lankan government to gives up its military option and go for a generous political package no matter what the JVP or the JHU has to say on this issue.
Till that time, the violence that has now been unleashed will keep spiralling and may get out of hand if saner voices do not intervene. [saag.org]
November 30th, 2007
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Silavaththurai was in the news locally and internationally in August-September 2007.
I was one of the first few journalists who were on an embedded tour with the Sri Lankan Army to Silavaththurai in September 2007. We went to Naanaattan by van, from Naanaattaan to Arippu by Unicorn, crossed Arippu lagoon by boat and then finally from Arippu to Silavaththuari by tractor. We walked through jungles to witness the former territory controlled by the LTTE. The journey from Arippu to Silavaththurai on a red sandy and dry road took almost two hours, because of the condition of the road.
Civilians got displaced as fighting broke out between the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE. People from this area came to Murungan and stayed in welfare camps.
Abandoned LTTE camp in Silavaththurai
A medical camp of the LTTE
Sri Lankan Army solider looking at a Johnny mine
Bombed LTTE sea tiger base in Silavaththurai
Civilians abandoned their boats in Arippu due to fighting and displacement
Soldiers in Arippu
Abandoned bullock cart in Arippu
LTTE bunker in Silavaththurai
Sri Lankan Army soldier walks pass a bunker in Silavaththurai
Houses are sealed to protect the belongings from looting
Soldiers in Arippu
Boats abandoned by the civilians are being recovered by the soldiers and taken for a safe place, and will be handed over to the owners
Another camp used by the LTTE in the jungle of Silavaththurai
Photojournalist of the Sunday Times Saman Kariyavasam taking photos in Arippu
Destroyed monument in Arippu
Divisional Secretariat of Musali
Another bunker used by the LTTE in Silavaththurai
Roman Catholic Vidyalayam in Arippu
Recovered weapons are displayed at the Thallady camp
LTTE flag is displayed at Thallady camp
Portraits of martyrs are displaced among the recovered items
Cut-out among the displayed
Main street in Mannar town
November 30th, 2007
Editorial note: S P Thamilselvan, the 40-year-old leader of the political wing of the LTTE, was killed on 2 November 2007, adding another figure to the bitter separatist war that has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives. Upon international spokesman Anton Balasingham’s death in 2006, Thamilselvan, known for his skill at negotiation and public relations, became the contact point for Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, who rarely appears in public. In Prabhakaran’s stead, Thamilselvan became the affable face of the Tigers. There are perspectives on how a rebel with a hand in violent politics may be remembered when he is killed. We present here a perspective from Colombo, by an unabashed admirer.
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
It was one in the afternoon on 2 November 2007-All Soul’s Day, the day of the dead-when the news of the death of Suppaiah Paramu ‘SP’ Thamilselvan, the leader of the LTTE’s political wing, began to filter into Colombo, the rest of Sri Lanka and abroad. Nobody could believe it. Journalists double-checked their sources and conferred with their colleagues. Radio stations aired the breaking news, and offered regular updates. Archives were rummaged through for suitable photographs and video footage.
The following day’s newspaper headlines confirmed that Thamilselvan had indeed been killed, along with five other LTTE cadres, in an aerial attack in Thiruvaiyaru, near Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka. All five hailed from Jaffna District. A sixth cadre, critically injured in the attack, eventually succumbed to his injuries seven days later. Three of these cadres were also part of the LTTE’s political wing, while three others were Thamilselvan’s bodyguards. One had been Thamilselvan’s official photographer.
As a journalist, I met Thamilselvan on numerous occasions, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. During the course of those meetings, I developed quite a fondness for this remarkably amiable man. We Sri Lankan journalists affectionately called him Suna Paana, derived from the Tamil pronunciation of his initials, while foreign journalists called him SPT. He was a media-friendly chap, with the distinction of being the LTTE cadre who had given the most interviews to local and international media. He was cordial and always cooperative, often helping us get the footage and photos we needed.
Nothing, it seemed, could erase Thamilselvan’s distinctive smile-not even a disagreement with journalists about, say, the Tamil Tigers’ child conscription or taxation. Indeed, one international journalist called him the “man with the cobra smile”. Whenever a question was asked about child recruitment, his response was something along the lines of: “Some children from underprivileged families come and join us voluntarily, but we hand them back to their parents. We have closed down all the recruitment centres.” In fact, Thamilselvan and his affable smile were largely responsible for the generally rave reviews of LTTE hospitality promulgated by the many journalists who visited Vanni after the LTTE signed the 2001 Ceasefire Agreement with the government of Ranil Wickremasinghe. For Thamilselvan, neither language nor the findings of innumerable independent investigations ever seemed to prove a hindrance to extending a warm welcome.
Thamilselvan was born on 29 August 1967 in Mattuvil, Chavakachcheri, in Jaffna, the fifth boy in a middle-class family of six. He completed his primary education at Mattuvil Chandramouleeswarar Vidyalayam and his secondary education at Chavakachcheri Hindu College. His mother, Visalatchchi Paramu, who now lives in Canada, remembers him as a quiet child: “I used to dress him in different dresses, and enjoyed looking at him when he was a baby. He was the pet of the family.”
Thamilselvan joined the LTTE in 1984, when he was just 16, and went to India for training. Though his nom de guerre was Dinesh, he reverted to Thamilselvan, his given name, because it sounded more Tamil. Most recently, he had started spelling his name Thamilchelvan or even Thamizhchelvan, in keeping with the more phonetic Tamil spelling. Thamilselvan was a close confidante of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, serving as his bodyguard for a few years until he was made commander of Thenmarachchi zone of Jaffna District in October 1987, and then special military commander of the whole district in 1991. He eventually became the LTTE’s first brigadier. After being critically injured at the famous Elephant Pass battle of 1991, Thamilselvan was forced to use a cane. As I later discovered in 2001 at Vanni, the sound of his limping gait quickly became a signal for cadres to stiffen to attention.
The hope of Oliventhan
In 1993, Thamilselvan was appointed leader of the LTTE’s political wing, a post that he ultimately held until his death. He became chief negotiator for the party after the demise of Anton Balasingham in December of last year, and travelled widely in Scandinavia, Europe, Africa and Asia, both for peace talks and to study the nature of various federal systems. Indeed, Thamilselvan’s contacts, both in Kilinochchi and abroad, were famously numerous-Western journalists, diplomats, aid workers and others.
Thamilselvan leaves behind his wife, Sasireka (also known as Isaichchelvi, an LTTE cadre from Chalipruam, Jaffna), as well as eight-year-old daughter Alaimagal and four-year-old son Oliventhan. Oliventhan is a ‘peace baby–born in 2003, after the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement-and, as Thamilselvan confided to me, is named King of Light for that very reason. Alaimagal was also the source of much fatherly pride. At Vanni, after our official interview, Thamilselvan took out a photo album of his family, mentioning how bright Alaimagal was in her studies, and how he wanted her to become a doctor. He seemed just as involved in his family as he was immersed in the political movement.
Thamilselvan also counted among his family Anton Balasingham and his wife Adele. Senior cadres called the doctor annai, or elder brother, and Adele akka, or elder sister, or Aunty Adele. Their influence on Thamilselvan and other cadres was regularly visible. Adele, for instance, made sure that all of the cadres had impeccable table manners, a fact that my visit to Vanni made clear. During a dinner with the cadres, I was struck by the formality of the table, laden with the appropriate cutlery, serviettes and even finger bowls with little pieces of floating lemon. Upon my query as to where they had learnt such table etiquette, they told me that Aunty Adele was responsible.
Out in the villages, too, Thamilselvan was immensely popular. In Vanni, whenever he went out, I would watch elderly men and women hugging the LTTE leader. He had clearly won their hearts. His love extended to the people of his birthplace. When he visited Mattuvil in 2002, a senior LTTE intelligence cadre reported that Thamilselvan “was in tears when he saw his hometown for the first time after several years. He could not bear the pain of seeing his village in rubble, and stayed there for a long time before finally deciding to return to Vanni.”
After our 2003 meeting in Kilinochchi, I next encountered Thamilselvan in 2005, at the funeral of Batticaloa-Ampara political-wing leader Kaushalyan, who had been killed in an ambush in Punanai. Thamilselvan had arrived in Batticaloa aboard an official Air Force helicopter, in an effort facilitated by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. I will never forget the scene as Kaushalyan’s wife, Pushpa, who was then seven months pregnant, began wailing and beating both her own chest and that of Thamilselvan. While attempting to comfort Kaushalyan’s wife, Thamilselvan was himself in tears.
My last meeting with Thamilselvan came as a surprise. After participating in the peace talks held in Geneva in February 2006, the LTTE delegation travelled to Norway. I was in Denmark at the time, but had decided to visit Norway by bus. The following month I unexpectedly ran into Thamilselvan and several of his closest aids outside the Norwegian Parliament. “Ingayum engalai pin thodarukireengala?” Thamilselvan jokingly asked, standing there amidst the snow, “Are you following us here as well?”
Coincidently, Thamilselvan was killed during the very month that the LTTE has declared as the Month of Martyrs. In his condolence statement issued upon his associate’s death, Prabhakaran referred to the departed leader as “our peace dove”. Thamilselvan represented the public, worldly face of the Tamil Tigers, and someone who might have helped to bridge the yawning gap that needs to be filled if the Tamils of Sri Lanka are to have a peaceful and self-respecting future. [Source: HimalMag]
November 29th, 2007
Transcript of Speech by Hon. Bob Rae, at the inaugural meeting of Canadians for Peace:
I want to thank the alliance and the new organization very much for inviting me to join you today. I must start by saying I don’t bring any magic solutions. I’m going to do two things in my talk, first, give a public account on my full personal experience in Sri Lanka, and then to perhaps try and point out some things the Government of Canada could do.
I hope by the end of it you realize that I won’t make everyone happy, and I won’t make anyone completely happy. I’ve learned over the years that honesty is the best policy. So what I have to say may not please everyone but I have to speak the truth as I’ve seen it over the last several years. I was asked to visit Sri Lanka in my role as Chairman of the new organization created in 1997 called the Forum of Federations.
In that role, we were contacted in 1998 by Mr. G. L. Peiris, who at that time, was the Minister and part of the Government of the day in Sri Lanka, who said he would like to come to our conference in Quebec, because he felt he had much to learn about the federal idea, and because he felt that it was important for him to come and say something to both, in the direction for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Mr. Peiris came to the conference and gave a talk, in which he indicated that some kind of plural solution was the only way that he saw to end the conflict. At that time the war was still on and it was before the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).
I next attended a few conferences in Switzerland. One of them before the CFA, and the other one after the CFA, with a number of individuals, some who were closely associated with the LTTE, some who were closely associated with civil society, some who were closely associated with the Government of Sri Lankan and each of the main political parties in Sri Lanka. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka many times. I’ve met with government leaders, with political leaders in the south; I’ve travelled to Kilinochi on three occasions, I’ve visited the headquarters in the Vanni of the LTTE; I’ve spent several days meeting with their local cadres and their leadership. I’ve met with Tamil Chelvan several times. And I’ve met with Nadasan, who’s their new political leader. I’ve met with Puli Devan, who’s the head of the Peace Secretariat. And I’ve met with each of the leaders of the political parties in the south. And I’ve participated in several of the peace conferences, or so called peace negotiations, as they were called, the ones that were held in Bangkok, in Oslo, and in various capitals in Asia and elsewhere. And I also attended the last meeting that took place in Japan before the peace process ended. And I’ve visited Sri Lanka since that time.
Bob Rae visits the Church Wellesley Village, Mar 16th 2007 – bobrae.ca
So what I say to you will be very much based on that experience. I’ve come away, first of all, with a great love for the country. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve been made welcome in every part of the country that I’ve visited. My wife and I spent 10 days just travelling by car, going around to see the country just to meet with people in a non-political way. And I don’t have to tell people here, it’s a very beautiful country. I’ve seen much devastation as well, devastation by war. Many villages destroyed, many homes destroyed. I’ve been in Jaffna and visited many houses which are in ruins. I could tell you a funny experience that I’ve had in Jaffna. I was getting out of the plane someone threw a bag at me from the back of the truck, that greets you as you get off the plane in Jaffna. He looked at me and said “You’re Bob Rae”. “That’s right, how do you know me?”, I asked. He said, “I’m from Scarborough, so I know who you are.” It was a reminder to me of how small our world is, and how connected we are as people.
I’m going to be very candid with everyone here, I felt very strongly, and I feel as strongly today as I did then, that there is no military solution to this problem. To think there is a military solution on either side is a delusion. There is no military solution. And I know that obviously, in the south today, in the Government, there may be those who think ‘well, we’ve been able to kill one of the leaders of the LTTE. We struck a mighty blow, and therefore we can win with a military solution. And on the other side, there may be people who think, ‘well, we’ve developed. There’s no part of Sri Lanka which is safe from our own counterattacks. We can inflict so much damage on the Government of Sri Lanka that we can force the solution that we want, by military means.’ I am convinced that is wrong. There is no military solution.
We know why it is that people took up arms many years ago, and we have to recognize that people take up arms for a reason. They don’t do it because they enjoy it; they do it because they feel that they have no other way to get a message across. And that has to be understood. We will not find a solution that does not deal with the grievances that are underneath this conflict. I was very interested to hear Mr. Kumarasamy’s speech, in which he made the point that, there are some people who think that peace is just the absence of conflict. That if people stop fighting there will be peace. That will be the solution. But, in itself it is not, the solution because you have to deal with the underlying conditions that give rise to the grievance.
Now you know, I’ve got several messages this week from people, saying don’t come to this meeting because it is not representative of the feelings of the Tamil people in Canada, and does not reflect their feelings. But I have to say to those people; never try to keep Bob Rae from coming to a meeting. It’s not a good idea to try that, because I don’t respond well to that kind of approach. I am not here to endorse any one position, or any one view of what needs to happen. I am here to simply give you my assessment as a Canadian who’s been involved a long time, for nearly a decade now, to say what it is I think we need to do as a country.
We have to deal with the underlying conditions. And I can say very directly to you, that the LTTE is a guerrilla organization that recruits children, that engages in violent activity, and it is not activity that I either approve of, or condone or support. I wouldn’t be deluding anyone, if were I to say that. But I’ve said it to Tamil Chelvan, I said it to Puli Delvan, I’ve said it to every LTTE leader that I’ve met, do not ask or expect any Canadian political leader, or Canadian mediator, or anyone with a Canadian role, to look you in the eye and say “we approve of what you are doing, or we believe you when you say that you are not engaged in violent activities, or you are not engaged in being a fighting army.” You are a fighting army, you are an insurgent army, and you are engaged in violent activity that we cannot condone or approve. I don’t say this lightly, I don’t say it because it’s what people want me to say. And the response comes back, “we are only doing what we feel we have to do. We’re doing, what we are doing because we feel we have no choice to do it, and we’re doing it because we felt there was no other avenue for us to carry out our activities.” To which I can only reply, if you look at the example of the IRA, in Ireland, if you look at the example of the African National Congress in South Africa, at some critical point in their lives, at some critical point in the struggle, wiser souls realized that there was not victory, victory did not lie through the military route. And it did not lie through the military route, because the pain and suffering inflicted on the civilian population was not worth the price, it was not worth it. If the purity of the struggle required that level of human sacrifice, then everyone has to look again at their hearts, and say how else can we achieve a legitimate recognition of our rights, and a legitimate political solution to our problem.
On the other hand, there are those people who think that we have to find a solution that does not involve the LTTE. To which I say, everything in my experience tells me, that as much as I disapprove or dislike the tactics that have been used of the LTTE, I do not believe we are going to find a solution that does not include them, because unless they are included in the solution, we will not find a basis for a solution. That has to be understood. Now, does this require a change of behaviour on the part of the LTTE? Of course it does. Of course it does. Does it mean that we expect or ask the government of the day to simply sit down and say “we are simply going to discuss with the LTTE without any pre-conditions”? No. Do I believe that the LTTE is the only voice of the Tamil people? No, I do not believe that. But do I believe it to be a voice of the Tamil people? Absolutely.
Its not for an outsider to say exactly what is the route that must be followed to get to a solution, but it is for an outsider to say, that based on our experience of human history, based on our experience on how these insurgencies develop, ultimately they lead to tragedy or they lead to a solution, we have to offer our best advice. So at the risk of repeating myself, by far the advice we’ve consistently given the involved parties is this: there has to be a ceasefire, the ceasefire has to be carried out by the people who are involved in the conflict. But the creation of the solution, the long-term political solution, requires the presence of more parties than just the parties of the ceasefire. The ceasefire is between the combatants, between those who are fighting. That is what a ceasefire is. You don’t ask somebody who is not engaged in the fighting to be involved in the ceasefire? No, because they are not involved in the ceasefire, or in the fighting.
But once the fighting is over, you are looking to create the basis for a broader solution, there has to be broader participation. Now we’ve seen how by the Up-country Tamils coming to the table how the grievances of the Tamils have been presented in ways that they were never presented before. We’ve seen the Muslim population, whose leadership I’ve met with many times, in the east and in Colombo, and in the north. Wherever we can find Muslim leaders who come forward, we’ve met with them. Clearly there are issues which need to be resolved, to be dealt with. During the ceasefire negotiation process we did have meetings between the LTTE and the Muslim leadership. There were discussions, and there was a recognition. Even Balasingam recognized that things happened during the conflict that should not have happened. And injustices were caused which should not have been created. And there needs to be recognition of that, an honest recognition. A recognition that there is no purity on anyone’s side in these conflicts. Mistakes are made, terrible things happen and terrible tragedies occur, and we have to have the honesty to recognize that, that’s what happens in a war.
War is a terrible thing and nobody should glorify war and nobody should glorify death and nobody should glorify a conflict. There is nothing glorious about it. It’s a terrible, terrible thing that inflicts huge pain and suffering and ends the life of thousands of people who should not have died and should not be held hostage to this kind of conflict.
I can tell you that I’ve been criticized very heavily by the Government of Sri Lanka who say why don’t you realize that what we have to do is win a military solution to this problem and the LTTE is a terrorist organization and that’s the beginning and the end of it. The answer to that is to say to the Sri Lankan Government, and we have to be very emphatic again and again and again, “There is no military solution to this problem”. That is why I must say that the statement made in the earlier speech that, for the next step, the ball is in the court of the Government of Sri Lanka, is correct. I can tell you, as an observer and as somebody who has been watching and listening, we have been waiting, the world has been waiting for a long time for the Government of Sri Lanka to tell us what are the ways in which they believe this conflict can be ultimately resolved outside of a military solution. What is the plan? What is the plan that will recognize human rights? What is the plan that will recognize not just individual rights, but the collective rights of the people? And how do you intend to go about changing the internal constitution of a country in such a way that it will contribute to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We’ve been waiting and we are still waiting. We are still waiting because such a plan has not been forthcoming.
We all know the reasons, the political reasons why it hasn’t happened. I’ve observed this. One party is in and the other party is critical. Them saying why are you giving in, why are giving in and the other party gets into power and all of a sudden it’s a switch. One day you know a federal solution might be possible, the next day federalism is the f word. The f word; you’re not allowed to say. I don’t care what the word is.
The one thing I believe very strongly is the constitution does not have to contain the words either federal or unitary. It doesn’t, these are just words. The emotion, the value, the passion that has to underlie the future of the country is mutual respect. This means respect for identity, respect for language, respect for religion, respect for pluralism, and which recognizes that there cannot be simply the dominance by the majority. That does not recognize the legitimate rights of all the people and of all the nationalities that make up Sri Lanka.
As I said I have no magic solution. There is no magic wand to be waved. I think the government of Canada has to be one of the countries, not the only country, but one of the countries that continues to be as present as we can be in insisting that these are the things that need to happen to get us to peace.
To me it is amazing. And I feel this so intensely, the news is very selective. If there is a bomb that goes off in one country in the Middle East it’s a big deal. And it’s on the news and everybody is preoccupied, everybody is focused, everybody is thinking. In the last two years in Sri Lanka, we’ve had over two hundred thousand people displaced from their homes, displaced from their homes. We’ve had more people killed in the last year than in most other countries that have the attention, the full attention of the Security Council of the United Nations. We have very little international attention being paid to Sri Lanka. It’s disgraceful. The eyes of the world need to be on Sri Lanka just as much as any other place in the world where there is a conflict that we need to understand better.
Now, the United Nations is going to look at the human rights situation. We have people beginning to, again put pressure back on to say this is something which has to be dealt with. And I can tell you the world should not be silenced. And I will not be silenced. I will not be silenced by people who say you can’t express sadness or regret at the death of the leader Tamil Chelvan. I will tell you when a leader like Tamil Chelvan dies, it isn’t a good thing for the world. It is not. I also say to you that I do not condone and I do not support and I will not be silenced in saying that the atrocities that have been committed, have been committed on both sides. And the evidence of that is overwhelming and anybody wants to say, well they have done this and we have done nothing wrong, I can tell you the evidence for that is just not there. The evidence is that terrible things have been done that should not have been done and they have been done by all sides to the conflict. Unless a lot of people face up to that fact and recognize the cost of the conflict and what it is meant in human terms, then we will not succeed.
So I think Canada should be playing a leadership roll and frankly, I don’t see Canada there. I see Canada, just going through the motions, going through the motions of expressing concern. I don’t see any leadership at the moment coming from our Government and it should be coming from our government. We are home to more people of Sri Lanka in origin, Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim, than virtually any other country outside India. Therefore we have a stake.
Having said that we have a stake, I want to put back a challenge to the community in the Diaspora. And that is, those of you who are here, and frankly those of you who are not here because many people who say that they will not come to meeting like this because they are too attached to one side or the other to come. I understand that. We have to recognize that people who take that stronger view, but I can say to you very emphatically, very emphatically; it is frankly in the Diaspora that a lot of the momentum for peace is going to come. I mentioned that Ireland was an example. A little known fact about Ireland, the Irish conflict in the past twenty years is as much a part of Canada as it is part of any other country. When the people came to Canada from Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland in the last twenty to twenty five years, they came here and they said, “that was there, here we’re Canadians; here we’re trying to find a solution. I don’t care whether this guy is a Protestant or a Catholic. I don’t care what part of the country you came from, we’re going to work together.”
We are going to work on building an understanding and go back to Sri Lanka saying this is crazy. We should not be perpetuating this conflict in Canada. We should be trying to solve this conflict in Canada. And the Diaspora has the responsibility to do that. We have to break down those barriers that still exist among Canadians of Sri Lankan origin. Now we’ve seen signs of this among younger people going back to their homeland and coming back and learning lessons and taking lessons and trying to share experiences. We have to continue to do that, but we have to do it more effectively and with more support. And so, I don’t come with a magic solution and if, somebody said, “do you support the Canadian’s Peace Alliance Solution?” I’ll say I’m not taking a position.
I’m not here to say one thing or another, but wherever Canadians come together and look at a conflict which has caused such heartache, such hardships, such pain, such suffering and such loss; loss of life, loss of culture, loss of work, loss of jobs. The economy in Sri Lanka has been devastated because of this conflict. Anything that contributes to changing that is something we should all support; all political parties should support.
Please call Mr. Carry Johnson here to participate in this discussion because he to has been to Sri Lanka many times and knows as much about the conflict as anyone. So I’ll stop there Mr. Chairman, I thank you very much for your introduction and your kindness and inviting me. I appreciate it.
I hope you will accept some of my very direct observations. They are not made lightly and they are made with the greatest of respect and I will continue to make them in whatever way I can. A solution is not going to be easy. The killings last week could well, it’s fair to say unless people take a deep breath and look hard into the mirror, lead to yet another spiral escalation of battle to retaliation and to counter retaliation and on it goes. It has to stop.
I guess the last thing I’d say is, from my experience I have often wondered what is it that leads us to peace and it’s very ironic today; just before coming here tonight I was late was because I had a meeting at three o’clock with Mr. Jerry Kelly who was a member of the Irish Republican Army and who is now a junior Minister in the newly formed Government in Northern Ireland. He works everyday with E.N. Paisley Junior who is the son of E.N. Paisley. And E.N. Paisley Senior is the joint first minister with Martin McGuinness who was also in the Irish Republican Army. I was telling Mr. Kelly a story in which he initially didn’t believe. He was quite incredulous but I’ll tell it to you too. In 1974 I was a young student in England and I went over to Ireland to look at what was happening, just as a curious observer, an interested observer. And was coming back from Belfast to London on a plane in 1974 and the plane made an emergency landing and we were held in custody for twelve hours at the Magistair airport. Because they discovered that a bomb was on the plane. It turns out that on that plane there was a police chief who was going down to London to be knighted by the Queen and there was an attempt to assassinate him. I later discovered on reading a book on the history of the conflict that somebody had painted the pin which was to carry the charge between the timer and the bomb, which was 2 seats behind the seat I was sitting on the plane and I said to Mr. Kelly that my life was saved by a single coat of paint. And he looked, I started the conversation and he didn’t know what I was talking about and so I told him the story and he told me that he was going to check it and tell me if it was true or not and I said well I was on the plane and I know there was a bomb on it. I know that we were interviewed for 12 hours and I read the story that gave the account of when this story happened. But I said but here we are, thirty years later and he said well you know it’s amazing. He said you know if you’d told me thirty years ago, I was in jail thirty years ago, that in thirty years time I would be sitting in a cabinet meeting next to E.N. Paisley, I would not have believed it.
And so I really think we have to learn these conflicts; to say that it’s not enough just to say that we have to defeat terrorism. Of course we have to defeat terrorism. But we also have to recognize that we have to get at the underlying causes of this violence and we also have to recognize that people change and people learn and frankly we have to learn that nothing is hopeless. I must confess that a level of frustration that some of it is cultural and you know I’m a western guy, and there is a different pace of time in Sri Lanka, right, and there is a different sense of how things emerge and unfold in the discussion. I was watching this discussion about people saying how are the negotiations going and I used come back to Canada and say that I don’t know if there were any negotiations. People are in the same room for a long time and they were giving speeches to each other but nothing was going on that I would have called a negotiation. But it wasn’t end of a conflict. So there were times now that I must confess upon hearing the news last week, where you know you can throw up your hands and say that it’s hopeless and the conflict is just unbearable and its going to continue and we don’t know what next step is going to be taken, which will be, which could take place. But I guess our experience should tell us, as I said this happens, this happens in this connection of this meeting that I had today, is that things can change.
All I can say is let’s hope that things change and lets work together to make sure things change. Let us at least do what we can to make it happen. Having said that let me thank you once again for having me here.
[Inaugural meeting of Canadians for Peace was held on 10th November 2007 at the Scarborough Civic Centre, Canada]
November 29th, 2007
A Field Visit to Puttlam:
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Puttlam district is situated on the coastal belt of North Western Province of Sri Lanka. Its total population is 8,14,000. Sinhala population is 5,85,000, Muslim population is 1,49,000, and Tamil population is 80,000. There are currently 75,000 Internally Displaced Persons from Northern Province in Puttlam. These statistics are from a survey carried out by the District Secretariat of Puttlam.
The Muslims of Jaffna were forced to leave by the LTTE in October 1990. LTTE made announcements over loud speakers that, Muslim should assemble at Jinnah Grounds of Osmania College by twelve noon on October 30th 1990. And the LTTE went from house to house, and made sure they attend the meeting. The message was conveyed to the Muslims of Jaffna by the then LTTE commander of Jaffna Anjaneyar (who was also known as Ilamparithy), all the Muslims in Jaffna peninsula have to leave in two hours. This was an order by the high command, and neither more explanation was given nor questions were answered. Any Muslim who fails to leave Jaffna will be punished, said clearly by the LTTE.
Muslims lived in Pombaiveli, Sonakaththeru, Beach road and Chavakachcheri. The Muslims who were living happily in Jaffna have started to pack and leave. But they were stopped and checked by the male and female cadres of the LTTE during their journey. The Muslims were allowed to carry only Rs. 150/=. Other items were confiscated by the LTTE. Muslims from Jaffna district were given only two hours to leave the peninsula, whereas the Muslims from Mannar, Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi districts were given few days to leave. They left their houses and moved to Puttlam by boats, buses, tractors, and lorries. As a result there were approximately 85,000 Muslims who were expelled by the LTTE from Northern districts.
Most of the Internally Displaced Persons are living in thatched houses, and are frustrated about staying there for more than 17 years. They lack the normal living standard of an average Muslim. They are very frustrated about the ration, which is irregular. The dry ration per person includes 5kilograms of rice, ½ kilogram of dhal, 1 kilogram of flour, 1 kilogram of sugar and a cake of soap. They complain that, these are not given at regular intervals. Sometimes they get the ration in every two months, and some other time in every four months.
The Internally Displaced Persons say that, they cannot depend on the ration. Women go the agriculture fields and earn Rs. 200/= per day. They need Rs. 40/= as up and down bus fare. They have to manage the balance Rs. 160/= for their family. The men go for fishing or day labourer, but they are not paid well either. And they have to compete with the host community.
The older generation of course is dreaming of going back to their home towns. But the younger generation does not want to return, because they have adopted to a new lifestyle, and unable to adjust if they go back.
Many voices were heard during the visit. The largest concentration of Internally Displaced Persons from Jaffna district are living in Thillaiyady. It is a small village occupied by the Muslims from Jaffna district. It’s called “Little Jaffna”. Everybody in Thillaiyady spoke typical Jaffna Tamil. Nobody wants to say that, they got displaced; instead they want to say that, they were evicted. They continued to languish in abysmal conditions.
Muslims from other three districts are spread out in Nuraichcholai and Katpity. The resettled villages have separate small houses made of hard board or wood or mud. Very dark inside; they pay Rs.20,000/= to get electricity. Cadjan fences give a village touch to the houses.
The Internally Displaced Persons say that, the Politicians make a lot of promises during their election campaigns, but once the election is over, they always become broken promises. And they have no hope; they have learnt to live with what is available.
Youngsters have no nostalgia for Jaffna
“I was two year-old child when I left Jaffna in 1990. I can’t recall anything. I went back to Jaffna in 2005 by bus on A9. I was happy to see my parents’ birth place. My father is currently in Jaffna, who does business. I got used to a different lifestyle, and very difficult to go back to Jaffna and live there. I have finished my G.C.E. (A/L)- General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level), and awaiting results. I have almost settled down here, will not go back to Jaffna to live” said Rameez Sajath (19), who lives in Thillaiyady- Puttlam.
I met few women who got expelled from Jaffna in October 1990. These women are from Moors Street in Jaffna, now living in Sathamiyapuram in Thillaiyady. There are 365 families-1,825 members are living in these temporary shelters. They find it very difficult to manage, because of language barrier, and cultural change. Some shelters have more than family. Toilets are shared; wells are common.Children complain about discrimination at school among the children from host community and IDP community.
Pushed to poverty
“This is not my land. My land is Jaffna. I like to go back to Jaffna to live, if the situation improves. I have three sons, and two daughters. I went to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi as a house maid to earn a stable income for my family. I worked abroad for eight years. My husband died a year ago, and after his death I could not leave my children and go back to earn. I live in a thatched house, and have no way to settle my daughters, who are 17 and 19 years old. Because the groom side demands a huge amount as dowry. And I do not have any money or belongings to give my daughters in marriage” lamented Fareena Fariz (41)
Ameera Iyub Khan
“I went back to Jaffna during the peace time. But most of my Tamil neighbours have already left the area because of fierce fighting. My house was in rubble. I gathered nothing, except anger, desperation, frustration and hatredness. If my house was intact and the neighbours were there, I would have thought to stay there” said Ameer Iyub Khan (40)
“My family lost everything due to displacement. We have hidden the jeweleries in a thermos flask, and in the folds of clothes, which we were wearing during the journey. But all were confiscated by the LTTE cadres. I was 17 year old, when displaced. My parents managed to send me to school in Puttlam, and I have finished my education. But most parents found it difficult to let their children to continue their education. Because they were pushed to poverty after displacement; forced to stay in camps; and they were jobless; and could not afford to send their children to school.
The children who were displaced had to face discrimination at schools. I was not allowed to take part in any sports or extra curricular activities. Our talents were wasted” said Nazreena Fowzy (34) who is pre-school supervisor.
“I was eight year -old, when we had to leave. I was crying throughout the journey from Jaffna to Puttlam. My other family members tease me about it even now. I will not go back to Jaffna, because I am used to this place and people, and it’s very hard for me to go back and adjust. The Internally Displaced Persons are still called “Agathi” or refugee by the host community. We did not choose to be Internally Displaced Persons. Even the National Identity card has house number and camp address instead of our home town address” said Hasana Farwin (24).
I met another set of females in a resettlement village known as Karambai A Camp. They got expelled from Mannar in October 1990. There are 450 families-2250 members living in this village. They are faced with similar problems as Sathamiyapuram people.
We have no hatred feelings
“I do not hate Tamils. Tamils and Muslims lived in harmony before 1990. Even after we got expelled, we have no hatred feelings towards the Tamils. They were not responsible for the expulsion. We gave refugee to Tamils from Periya Kadai, Sinna Kadai, Ezhuththoor, Thaalappaadu and Pallimunai during the heavy shelling and bombing in 1989 and 1990 in Mannar. They stayed with us. We gave them food and accommodation. Tamils and Muslims have had a very good understanding” said Ramzia Muththalif (38), who got expelled from Thaaraapuram in Mannar.
“I will go back to my home town, if the LTTE gives a guarantee internationally that “Muslims will be safe in North, and we will not hassle them in the future”. I used to live in fear, while the fighting was going on between the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE. During the war I used to manage with one kerosene lamp to cook, then keep it off, and light the lamp again only while eating. Because kerosene was at scarce. We were caught in the middle. If any incident happened near our house, we would be targeted. I did not allow my children to shout, laugh, play or cry. Whenever I heard the noise of someone walking outside the house, I immediately clung and closed everybody’s mouths and asked them to keep quiet. Because if any noise was heard, the warring parties would come to my house to ask questions and search. I have suffered enough during the war” mentioned Kasina Umma (55). Her frustration was visible in her voice. She left Silavaththurai in 1990.
“I am very worried about the relationship between the Tamils and Muslims. Before the displacement, Tamils and Muslims shared a lot and had a lot in common. But the displacement made a huge gap, which is growing. I wonder who is going to fill the yawning gap between these two communities. Muslims attended the weddings, funerals, house warming ceremonies, age attaining ceremonies and various other ceremonies of the Tamils before displacement, and Tamils attended similar function of Muslims. Now we hardly attend any ceremonies of this nature. I am very saddened about the current trend, which will lead us nowhere except for more misunderstandings between the communities.
Muslims from the North spoke the same Tamil which is spoken by the Tamil brothers and sisters. I called my father “Appa”, like the Tamils call their fathers. I never called my father “Vaappaa” just like Muslims call their fathers. We lived like own brothers and sisters. I am looking forward to a day, when Tamils and Muslims will forgive each other and forget the bitter past, and live as one family. That will be the most happiest day in my life” tearfully said Juwariya Uvais (39). She got expelled from Erukkalampitty.
Loss of identity
“I was 13 year-old, when I was expelled along with my family from Thaaraapuram in Mannar. I have lost my cultural identity due to displacement. Women were not allowed leave the house and go on their own in Northern areas. Women are allowed to go out on their own here. I think that, it has been the tradition for several decades in the North, and I find it quite difficult to accept it and change myself accordingly” said Nusra Shariff (30).
Future of children
“I have three children, who were born in Puttlam. They do not know anything about the ancestral house. I wanted to take them to Mannar to show the culture I followed. But the situation does not permit to take them and stay there for a while. These children will grow up without knowing the values of our culture and tradition. And on the other hand I do not want to take any risk, and go and settle in Mannar, because of their education” said Thaslima Sajun (32), who also was expelled from Thaaraapuram in Mannar. She is Montessori school teacher.
I met a woman who was expelled from Mankumbaan Islet in Jaffna. She now resides in Karambai A camp.
Afraid to return
“I was expelled from my house with my husband and two children-1 and 1/2 year old and 3 and a 1/2 year old. Someone arranged a vehicle for us to go. We came to Puliyankulam, Vavuniya and Puttlam. It took three days for us to reach Puttlam. Initially I was in a camp along with the others. Food and immediate needs were met by various organizations. I went back to Jaffna in 2005. But my house was in debris; and surrounded by the military. I am too frightened to return and settle down in Jaffna” said Jemila Sherifdeen (43)
Kids in Karambai
Kids play in the by-lanes; there is not enough space in their houses
Kids at play in Thillaiyady
Mohamed Sajan (5) at his house
Hasana Faiz (9) wants to become a teacher
Women returning home after dress making lessons
Kids watch while their parents meeting the journalists from Colombo
Women complain that, there is no privacy in the houses as there are extended family members
Kitchen utencils are washed and kept to dry in sunlight
Space is very limited
They wonder when they will get the permanent houses
Journalists and Internally Displaced Persons are engaged in discussion
[This article is written based on the information gathered during a field visit to Puttlam, organized by the Sri Lanka Women Journalists Network]
[HumanityAshore - Email: email@example.com ]
November 27th, 2007
Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V PirapaharanToday called upon the international community to stop supporting Sri Lanka and ‘take a new approach in relation to our freedom struggle’.
‘Our people firmly expect that at least from now on the international community will take a new approach in relation to our freedom struggle,’ Prabhakaran said in his speech.
‘On this sacred day, it is the hope of our people that the international community will cease giving military and economic aid to the Sinhala regime and accept the right of self determination and the sovereignty of the Tamil nation.’
Full Text of Annual Heroes’ Day statement on 27 November 2007 by The leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V Pirapaharan:
Propping up the genocidal Sinhala State is counterproductive-International community should change its approach:
The 21st century began as the ‘Asian century’ and the world is looking towards Asia. Many countries in our region have grown in leaps and bounds in social, economical and scientific fields. They are researching space, moon and atom. The whole human race is taking up new challenges and has embarked on a united path, seeking answers to many of nature’s mysteries and looking for remedies to incurable diseases. It is seeking to protect the entire globe and its plant and animal lives. Sadly, the Sinhala nation is moving in exactly the opposite direction, on a path of destruction. It is trying to destroy the Tamil nation and, in the process, it is destroying itself. This beautiful island continues to soak in blood.
Buddhism is a profound spiritual duty. Its philosophy emphasizes a life without desires, a life of love and justice. The Sinhala nation, claiming that it has followed this path for more than two thousand years, has in fact remained immersed in the poison of racism. It is unleashing unthinkable violence against another people. During the long history of the Tamil struggle, first through non-violence and later through armed struggle, the Sinhala mindset has remained unchanged. The Sinhala nation did not change even after so much destruction and lost lives. It continues on the path of violence. It only desires to find a solution to the Tamil question through military might and oppression. It cunningly evaded efforts to seek peace and is boldly taking forward its military plan. The international community’s economic and military aid, its moral and political support, its diplomatic efforts, and its one-sided involvement directly aided this turn of events.
We know very well that the military, economic and geo-political interests of the world’s powers are embedded in our region. We understand their concern to take forward their interests. We also recognize the concerns of the international community to bring about stability and good governance to this island for these reasons. At the same time the chauvinistic Sinhala State is attempting to exploit this interest in our region of the international powers. It is trapping the international community in its chauvinistic project and turning the international community against the Tamil freedom struggle. Our people are dismayed and disappointed that these countries, trapped in the deceptive net of the Sinhala State, are being unhelpful in their involvement to resolve our problem.
These one-sided involvements of foreign powers are not new in our prolonged struggle. India intervened in our national question then as part of its regional expansion. India signed an accord with the Sinhala State without the consent of the Tamils. The Indo-Lanka Accord was not signed to meet the aspirations of the people of Tamil Eelam. In fact, India then attempted to force an ineffectual solution on our people – a solution which did not even devolve powers to the extent of the Banda-Chelva pact signed in the 1950’s. India tried to enforce that accord with the strength of more than 100,000 Indian forces, with the power of the agreement between two countries and with the assistance of treacherous Tamil paramilitary groups. However, even this ill-considered solution, which did not even address the basic national aspirations of the Tamils, was blocked by the chauvinistic Sinhala State.
We are intimately familiar with the Sinhala State and its deceptive politics. Our people have a long history of bitter experiences. That is why we explained to India on many occasions, at many locations and at many levels about the implacability of Sinhala chauvinism. We explained to India then that the aim of the Sinhala State was not to find a solution to the Tamil question and bring peace; but to occupy the Tamil homeland, destroy its resources, and enslave the Tamil nation. India refused to accept this reality. As a result our land witnessed great sorrow and destruction.
Today, the international community is making the same mistake that India made many years ago. Even the countries that are the guardians of the peace efforts succumbed to the deception of the Sinhala State and listed our freedom movement as a terrorist organization. What we find most incomprehensible is the fact that these same nations, which labeled us terrorists, not so long ago fought in defence of their own freedom.
The Sinhala nation is unable to stomach the support of our Diaspora for the Tamil freedom struggle; it is unable to accept the humanitarian help and the political lobbying by the Diaspora to end the misery heaped on our people. That is why the Sinhala nation is trying hard to shatter the bond between our people in our homeland and our Diaspora. Some countries are also assisting this amoral effort of Sinhala chauvinism. These countries are denouncing, as illegal activities, the humanitarian actions and political protests of our people abroad-actions that are carried out according to the laws of those countries. These countries have imprisoned and humiliated Tamil campaigners and representatives. These countries have ridiculed their protests and their efforts to seek justice.
This partisan and unjust conduct of the international community has severely undermined the confidence our people had in them. And it has paved the way for the breakdown of the ceasefire and the peace efforts. Furthermore, the generous military and economic aid they have given to the Sinhala State and their diplomatic efforts to prop up the chauvinistic Sinhala State has encouraged the Sinhala nation further and further along its militaristic path. This is the background to the confidence of the Rajapake regime in continuing with its unjust, inhuman war of occupation of our land.
Overconfident of its military victory over the Tamil freedom movement, the Rajapakse regime has shut fast the door for peace. The desire to oppress the Tamils has intensified as never before. With the entire world giving support, the Sinhala State, using the ceasefire as cover, and exploiting the peace environment, prepared its war of occupation. The SLMM that was monitoring the peace covered its eyes, tied its hands behind back, and went to sleep in Colombo. The exhausted Norwegian facilitators remained silent. The countries that preached peace to us also went silent and refused to speak out. The Sinhala State started its war and justified it with slogans like ‘War for Peace’, ‘War against terrorism’ and ‘War for the liberation of the Tamils’.
The Rajapakse regime assembled its military might and let loose a massive war on the eastern region of our homeland. This part of our homeland became a wasteland after incessant bombing and shelling. Trincomalee, the famous Tamil capital, was destroyed. Batticaloa, an ancient cultural city of the Tamils, became a land of refugees. Jaffna, the cultural centre of the Tamils, was cut off from the rest of the world and turned into an open prison.
The Sinhala State’s war of genocide destroyed the peaceful life of the Tamils. It turned the Tamils into refugees in their own homeland, ruined their nation’s social and economical infrastructure and plunged them into unprecedented hardships. While our motherland, caught within gruesome Sinhala military rule, is destroyed, Sinhalisation of our historic territory is going on under the pretexts of High Security Zones and Free Trade Zones. This naked Sinhalisation proceeds by the hoisting of Lion flags, the erection of Sidharthan statues, the renaming of Tamil streets with Sinhala names, the building of Buddhist temples. Sinhala settlements are mushrooming in the Tamil homeland.
The unjust war, the economic blockade, the restrictions on our people’s freedom of movement, the killing of thousands, the displacement of hundreds of thousands, have all deeply wounded the Tamil psyche. The Sinhala nation is celebrating this tragedy as a victory. It is lighting firecrackers believing it has defeated the Tamils. The Sinhala military leadership believes that its occupation of the east has been completed and the barbed wire noose around the neck of Jaffna has been tightened. The Sinhala nation arrogantly believes it has manacled the eastern coast from Pothuvil to Pulmoddai. The Sinhala leadership thus believes it has won great victories against our struggle.
The Sinhala nation has always misunderstood our freedom struggle. It consistently underestimates us. Only after carefully scrutinising the global situation and external conditions; only after accurately estimating the strengths and weaknesses of the adversary; only after gauging the enemy’s goals and strategies; only after ensuring that we remain focused on our own strategy; only then did we implement our plans to take our liberation struggle forward. We have strategically withdrawn from the east while launching defensive attacks. The Sinhala nation could have learnt the dangers of putting its feet too wide apart in our land as it did during past battles. But the Sinhala military has fallen yet again into the net we spread and it is now forced to commit large numbers of troops to rule land without people. Caught in a territorial trap, it will soon be forced to face the serious consequences of its misguided ambitions.
Operation ‘Ellalan’, the very first combined Black Tiger and Tamil Eelam Air Force attack was a massive blow to the Sinhala military. It has disrupted the daydreams of the Sinhala nation. The Sinhala nation has not emerged from this massive shock delivered by our beloved fighters. The immeasurable dedication and sacrifice of our Heroes is delivering a message to the Sinhala nation. Those who plan to destroy the Tamil nation will in the end be forced to face their own destruction.
The Rajapakse regime is never going to realize that the Tamil national question cannot be resolved by military oppression. The Sinhala leadership is not going to shed its desire for military supremacy or the Sinhalisation of the Tamil homeland. The Rajapakse regime is working hard to import more and more destructive weapons from all over the world without care for the cost. Therefore, it is not going to give up its war of genocide.
The All Party Representative Committee was appointed by the Rajapakse regime to spread a smokescreen over the misery that its military adventures are creating in the Tamil homeland and to deceive other governments to get their aid and support. We clearly predicted this would happen one year ago. We have been proved right. After dragging on without putting forward any solution, the committee has gone on holiday.
The past sixty years have proven beyond any doubt that no political party in the South has the political honesty or firmness in policy to find a just solution to the Tamil national question. It has been also proved beyond any doubt that none of the Southern parties are ready to accept the core principles for a lasting peace: the Tamil homeland, the Tamil nation and the Tamil Right to self determination. The ruling party is adamant on unitary rule; the red and yellow parties are calling for no solution at all; and the main opposition party, somersaulting from its earlier position, is, on the one hand, saying nothing concrete and using evasive language to support the military actions of the government and, on the other hand, saying it supports peace efforts. All this clearly clarifies our point and proves beyond doubt that all the Sinhala political parties are essentially chauvinistic and anti-Tamil. To expect a political solution from any of these southern parties is political naivety.
The Sinhala nation showed eagerness in the peace talks only when we shattered their ‘Operation Fireball’ military action and made them realize that the Tigers cannot be defeated. It was only when we proved our military prowess and only when we were militarily in a position of strength that the Sinhala nation signed the ceasefire agreement. Now, with abundant monetary and military aid from several countries, it has rehabilitated its destroyed military and has prepared itself for war again. It is yet again walking the military path having abandoned the peace path.
The Rajapakse regime, after unilaterally abrogating the ceasefire agreement, is ruthlessly implementing its military plan to remove the contiguity of the Tamil homeland. It has killed and disappeared thousands of our people. It reprimands and controls the Norwegian facilitators. It vehemently criticizes the SLMM. It even dares to brand senior UN officials as terrorists in order to hide its own terrorism. It is obscuring the ground reality in the Tamil homeland by striking fear among journalists and NGO workers.
The world’s powers, even while taking forward their own geo-political interests, respect human rights and democratic institutions. Be it this universe, human affairs or international relationships, they all revolve on the wheel of justice. That is why nations like East Timor and Montenegro broke free of their subjugation and gained their freedom with the help and support of the international community. Even now, the international community continues to work for the freedom of nations like Kosovo.
Yet the actions of the international community with respect to our own national question are unjust. The confidence our people placed in the international community has been eroded. By only paying lip-service to peace the international community has contributed to the killing of an extraordinary son of our nation, Tamilselvan. It has stopped the heartbeat of a light that walked the path of peace. I will be lighting the lamp for my dear brother, Tamilselvan, who until last year was with me every time we, with a burning desire to reach our goal, lit the lamps for our fallen Heroes. The international community has made the entire Tamil world drown in its tears. Had the international community firmly and unambiguously condemned the anti-peace activities and the war mongering of the Sinhala regime, Tamilselvan would be alive today. A huge blow would not have fallen on peace efforts.
The Co-chairs, acting as the guardians of the peace process, have failed in their responsibility. If the Co-chairs do not have a moral obligation to protect peace efforts, what exactly is the purpose of their meeting from time to time in different places? Is it their intent to assist the Sinhala regime to wipe out the Tamils? Questions like these have arisen in the minds of our people. Our people firmly expect that at least from now on the international community will take a new approach in relation to our freedom struggle. On this sacred day it is the hope of our people that the international community will cease giving military and economic aid to the Sinhala regime and accept the right to self determination and the sovereignty of the Tamil nation.
My beloved people,
We are an ancient people with special qualities. We have a unique national identity and national foundation. We have been struggling non-violently and by armed struggle for a very long time against national oppression. We are not terrorists, committing blind acts of violence impelled by racist or religious fanaticism. Our struggle has a concrete, legitimate, political objective. We are struggling only to regain our sovereignty in our own historical land where we have lived for centuries, the sovereignty which we lost to colonial occupiers. We are struggling only to reestablish that sovereignty and rebuild our nation. The Sinhala nation is continuing to reject our just and civilized demands for freedom. Instead, it has declared a genocidal war on our land and our people. Behind the smokescreen of fighting terrorism, it is creating immense human misery.
Despite our people enduring injustice and oppression, facing death, destruction and massive displacement, no country, no nation, no international organization has raised its voice on our behalf. We face this situation alone because, although 80 million Tamils live all around the globe, the Tamils do not have a country of their own.
On this day, when we remember our Heroes, I ask the entire Tamil speaking world to rise up for the liberation of Tamil Eelam. I wish to express my love and gratitude to you for your past participation in the building of our nation, bringing together your abundant intellectual, material, monetary and many other resources in the service of our nation and ask that you stand with us in the coming years of our freedom struggle .
Thousands of our fighters are standing ready to fight with determination for our just goal of freedom and we will overcome the hurdles before us and liberate our motherland. On this day when we remember our Heroes who sacrificed themselves for this sacred goal, let each one of us carry their dream in our hearts and struggle until it is achieved
November 27th, 2007
by SHANIKA SRIYANANDA
Confronted with a serious accusation levelled by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) that the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF) have a hand in a secret plot to supply ‘Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) to the LTTE terrorists, the government has commenced investigations to probe into the allegation.
While urging the government to send the LTTE-friendly UNICEF officials home, the JVP also insists the government to shut down the UNICEF office in Kilinochchi temporarily to put a stop to all communication between the two of its offices in Colombo and Kilinochchi.
In an interview the ‘Sunday Observer’ Gordon Weiss, UNICEF spokesman said that the allegation was baseless and the MRE, in question were not just snacks, but for their staff consumption in an emergency. ” The UNICEF is confident that the government would not close the Kilinochchi office as that is the only link to provide humanitarian assistance for children trapped in uncleared areas.
Following are the excerpts:
Q: The UNICEF is facing a serious allegation that it had brought food for the LTTE. What have you to say about this accusation?
A: It is not true. And they are not combat rations and the MRE is convenient because of its packaging which helps to keep the food for a long period of time. These are commonly used by humanitarian agencies around the world. These should be kept in every UN office in Sri Lanka, whether it is in Colombo or Galle or Jaffna. There should be enough food for every UN staffer in an emergency such as tsunami, earthquake or flood or a some sort of man made disaster. It is a standard operational thing and we have been practising this because we have to abide by the guidelines stipulated by the UN Security Services in New York. According to certain guidelines we have to have enough food in all our UN office premises to face an emergency.
It is a baseless allegation. This allegation is that the UNICEF purchased combat rations to supply the LTTE. This is wrong. Even we maintain an emergency stock of MRE in our Colombo office.
Q: For how long the MRE is sufficient?
A: Every UN office need to have a stock of food, enough for three days. It is a security measure. No one would eat MRE when they can eat rice and curry. So we do not consume them unless there is an emergency.
Q: Who is Jannifer Taylor and her involvement in bringing MRE?
A: She is the Operations Officer of the UNICEF. The UNICEF purchase MREs on behalf of the 12 UN agencies including ILO, FAO, UNDP, OCHA, WFP, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. All these agencies have dry rations in their offices around Sri Lanka. The UNICEF’s job is on behalf of those UN agencies to purchase MREs for them and not only for UNICEF alone.
Q: Are there MREs in the North and East? What is the necessity of sending these food items for them?
A: These are not snacks. It is only in the event of an emergency when the food become scarce we need to have something in reserve. These are not food for soldiers. This is the normal procedure of all the humanitarian agencies throughout the world.
This is a part of the security measures as we travel long distances and work in combat areas often. The UN is extremely strict about its security because of a very costly insurance scheme.
If we get killed its costly for the insurance company; so these companies insist on a whole series of requirements – the MOSS requirements – stipulated by the UN Security Service. We are working in Wanni and we are strict about our security.
Q: To which UNICEF office are these MRE schedule to be distributed?
A: The whole consignment is for the 12 UN agencies and I am told that the portion of the REM of the UNICEF is to distribute in Colombo and Galle UNICEF offices but not our offices in the Wanni.
Q: Why are UN tags not seen on these MRE packets in this consignment?
A: These are commercially purchased. So there is no special requirement to have a special tag as these are for the UN offices and not humanitarian aid. If we are going to distribute these we would stamp them. These are simply the food stocks that should be kept in UN offices.
Q: But if these MRE are for UN officials and not combat rations, why they are in camouflage cover?
A: I have not seen the packets yet but they come via a military supplier. We buy utensils and tents from military suppliers.
Q: Is this supplier supplying MRE regularly?
A: They come from a different supplier. This particular supplier was used because he happens to be used by the Department of Peace Keeping operations in New York. So we are using their purchasing guidelines with this particular company because they were purchasing their stuff through the same company. It’s a matter for us to purchase things easily.
Q: Are there any UNICEF officials, whose service is withdrawn from the North and the East?
A: No. Why would we withdraw the UNICEF staff. We are working in all sort of conflict areas around the world. That’s when we are required.
Q: How does the UNICEF see the ban on TRO?
A: We have stopped working with the TRO from early 2006 and we do not have any association with the TRO. We are not working with the TRO and the ban will not affect our humanitarian work in the North and the East.
Q: Do you have any details about the children in Wanni?
A: There are still children recruited by the LTTE. The LTTE earlier this year said that they were not going to recruit any children were born after 1st January 1990. This means that still they have 17-year-olds, who we regard as children, in their armed forces. So the LTTE as far as we are concerned is contravening the domestic law and international law by still having under-aged children in the organisation.
Q: Does the UNICEF taken this situation about children into the international agencies?
A: Well, we have done the only action that the UNICEF can do. It is the negotiation with the LTTE to release these children and we have been doing it for many years with a greater and lesser degrees of success. But there had been instances where children had been released. But the fact is that still there are children, under 18-years, in the LTTE.
At the Oslo round of Peace Talks in November 2002, UNICEF was given a mandate to monitor child rights violations of the ceasefire agreement. As part of this mandate UNICEF compiles and verifies data on child recruitment, as reported usually by family members, and makes this information available regularly to partners, working with them to advocate against child recruitment.
According to UNICEF data-bases, as of 31 October 2007, there were 1448 outstanding cases of under-age recruitment by the LTTE. Of these, 290 were under the age of 18, and 1158 were recruited while under 18, but have now passed that age.
As of 31 October 2007 there were 223 outstanding cases of underage recruitment by the Karuna group. Of these, 169 are under the age of 18, and 54 were recruited while under 18, but, have now passed that age. UNICEF continuously checks its database on underage recruitment to ensure its accuracy. UNICEF only withdraws recruits from its database when it is able to verify their release through an official letter of release, or by establishing that the child is reunited with his or her parents. UNICEF estimates that its database only reflects a third of the actual number of children recruited.
Q: Are you going to negotiate with the LTTE in the future to release these child soldiers? What was the respond from the LTTE earlier?
A: The response from the LTTE and the TMVP with regard to the issue of underaged soldiers are just promises. Promises being broken and deadlines were passed without being fulfilled. We have stated publicly that the UNICEF consider when a deadline passes or promises are not fulfilled that is a bad sign. We have said quite insistently. But we are a humanitarian organization and are not empowered to into the LTTE camps and take the children out. We rely on negotiations. There are lots of actions in the Security Council these days on child recruitment.
Q: The JVP insists on the closure of the UNICEF office in Kilinochchi. What is your comment?
A: Whatever happens in Kilinochchi we will continue to fight to release the children in the LTTE regardlessly. Regarding shutting down the UNICEf office there, I am doubt that the government is in favour of that because we work with the Government Agent there in very specific programs to reach children. Otherwise we would not be able to carry out humanitarian work for children in Wanni if we do not have an office in Wanni. We usually work in conflict areas in 160 countries but never withdrawn our offices due to dangerous situations in these countries. Under humanitarian principles the UNICEF is there to provide humanitarian assistance when they need.
Q: How far is the UNICEF confident that your officers are not helping the LTTE?
A: We are confident that our officers are not helping any terrorist organisation in the country. When taking about helping it is channelling money and supplying goods to the LTTE. We are confident that our system is secure.
Last week at the CCHA, where the Ministry officials and the UN agencies get together to discuss our work we informed the government about our decision to carry out a full audit on our programs and the relationship with the TRO. It will begin next week and will present the outcome to the government soon.
Q: But in some occasions the military has found some equipment with the UNICEF logos in the LTTE camps, which were captured by the armed forces. How these stuff went to the LTTE’s hands?
A: Well. It is quite normal when shifting lines of confrontation. The humanitarian assistance given to civilians are forced to move as a result of fighting and they are crossing the frontlines.
We cannot stop the armed people taking humanitarian assistance given to civilians. This is the issue of every humanitarian organisation.
November 27th, 2007
The past week witnessed the birth and death anniversaries of Murugeysen Tiruchelvam the eminent Queens Counsel who played a prominent role in the politics of this Country during the sixties of the last century. The former Solicitor-General, Senator, Local Government minister and political strategist of the Federal Party was born on November 19th 1907. He passed away on November 23rd 1976.
A collection of his speeches at the Senate and tributes paid by dignitaries to M. Tiruchelvam have been compiled into a book by his former private secretary , the Lawyer R. Balasubramaniam. The book titled “Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy”-published by Vijitha Yapa Associates-was released on Nov 23rd.This article is to commemorate M. Tiruchelvam on his birth centenary.
I was sixteen years old when I first saw Murugeysen Tiruchelvam. Though I had seen Tiruchelvam in newspaper photographs and film news reels, it was at Chavakachcheri that I first saw him in the flesh. He and his wife Punitham Tiruchelvam were the chief guests at the ceremonial opening of the re- constructed Central bus stand in Chavakachcheri town. The year was 1970.
Tiruchelvam was not a minister then. The bearded Federal party MP for Chavakachcheri V. N. Navaratnam had invited him to be honoured and thanked for services rendered during his ministerial tenure in helping to develop the electorate.My family had relocated from Colombo to the North that year and I was eagerly re-discovering my roots.
I recall that I attended this “dull” opening function only to see M. Tiruchelvam in person.My curiosity was due to all what I had heard and read about this man called Tiruchelvam. Most of it was not complimentary. There were reasons for this.
[Senator M Tiruchelvam with Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1967]
He had been the only Tamil minister in the United National Party (UNP) led national government formed in 1965. A Tamil had assumed ministerial office for the first time since 1956. Moreover Tiruchelvam was Local Government minister and was actively involved in efforts to restore the lost rights of the Tamil people.
For this he and the UNP led Govt were savagely attacked by the opposition triad comprising the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Lanka Sama Samaaja Party (LSSP) and Communist Party (CP). Seven parties formed the national government then. The opposition dubbed it derisively as “Hath Havula”.
These opposition parties shamelessly whipped up communalism against the Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and his multi – ethnic Govt. Senanayake was accused of being partial towards Tamils and betraying Sinhala interests. “Dudleyge Bade Masala Vadey” was the slogan.
The visible embodiment of “Tamilness” in that cabinet was M. Tiruchelvam. Moreover he was playing a key role in trying to seek justice for the Tamil people.Naturally the mainstream opposition attacked Tiruchelvam.
Besides ,Tamil stalwarts of the LSSP and CP went to town with the anti-Tiruchelvam line. He was reviled on a class basis also and described as “Karuvaakkaattuth Thamilan ” (Cinnamon Gardens Tamil). Tiruchelvam was living in Rosemead place. But this was not all.
The FP’s traditional rival, the All – Ceylon Tamil Congress led by GG Ponnambalam was also criticising the FP for political reasons.Again the chief target was M. Tiruchelvam. He was condemned as the Tamil minister who could not do anything constructive for the Tamils.
The Tamil Congress contrasted this with the “great” deeds of GG Ponnambalam as cabinet minister in the DS and Dudley Senanayake Governments.
Then there was the former Kayts MP and FP dissident V. Navaratnam.He had broken away in 1968 and formed a new Tamil party agitating for “Suyaatchi” or self – rule. Navaratnam an erstwhile confidante of FP leader SJV Chelvanayagam , was now bitterly opposed to the Tamil political Patriarch.
He too was viciously critical of M. Tiruchelvam and blamed him for allegedly misleading Chelvanayagam and betraying the Tamils.
Worse still was the conduct of many FP politicians. The FP had lost some of its lustre by its participation in a “Sinhala” government. They were assailed by political opponents on this count.
These FP politicians on their part shifted blame on to Tiruchelvam. SJV Chelvanayagam was a sacred Cow above reproach. But Tiruchelvam was vulnerable and easy prey.
In retrospect , I think VN Navaratnam’s gesture of inviting M.Tiruchelvam as chief guest was commendable. Many FP politicians had gained benefits for their electorates through Tiruchelvam’s efforts.
Apart from whatever he could do as Local Government Minister ,Tiruchelvam had also used his relationship with other cabinet ministers to extract welfare and development projects.
But few Federal MP’s were acknowledging this fact during election year (1970) and were now distancing themselves from Tiruchelvam.Gratitude has for long been a dwindling virtue in Tamil politics. VN Navaratnam was a rare exception.
It was against this backdrop of M. Tiruchelvam being the target of criticism that I went to see him that evening at the Chavakachcheri bus stand. Of course, I did not at that time , comprehend his political role well or understand the context in which he was being criticised.
I was only curious to see him in person as even an ex – minister was a rarity in those times when cabinets did not exceed twenty. He had been a Tamil minister. Also the attacks on him had projected a sinister impression of Tiruchelvam in my mind.
The Tiruchelvam that I saw for the first time was a fair, small made man by Sri Lankan standards. On that evening he was clad in verti. He spoke briefly in his mother tongue as befitting the occasion. . He did not speak Tamil fluently and so spoke haltingly and sparingly. He spoke softly.As an orator in Tamil he made a poor impression then.
Years later I was to see him in his element as the brilliant lawyer that he was. It was the trial at bar case against Appapillai Amirthalingam for sedition. Attorney – General Shiva Pasupathy was prosecuting.The three Judges were JFA Soza, Siva Selliah and Ananda Silva.
Seventy-two Tamil lawyers including Six Queens Counsels marked their appearances in court for the defence.It was an impressive sight that day when Tamils flocked at the court house to see this impressive turn out.
Shiva Pasupathy represented the state and Amirthalingam as accused symbolised Tamil resistance then.Ironically the tigers who killed Amirthalingam after calling him a traitor went on to embrace Shiva Pasupathy – now retired – as an International Constitutional adviser.
Amirthalingam’s legal defence was the high water mark of Tamil politics then. Those were the times when Tamils were proud of their education and professional skills rather than their ability to kill and destroy. Those were the times when Tamils believed in non – violent protest, rule of law and Constitutional politics.
[GG Ponnambalam, SJV Chelvanayagam & M Tiruchelvam]
It was also an occasion where Tamils sank political differences and rallied around a common cause. The scene that captured the mood of the times was that of SJV Chelvanayagam, GG Ponnambalam and M. Tiruchelvam posing together for a photograph. They were regarded then as the “Trinity” or “Trimoorthigal” of Sri Lankan Tamil politics.
But within a year this triumvirate was no more. Tiruchelvam the youngest of the trio passed way in November 1976. GG Ponnambalam died in February 1977. SJV Chelvanayagam departed in April 1977. Their deaths marked the end of an era in Tamil politics.
The Trial at bar case where Tamils “fought” the oppressive state legally was symbolic as it was politically explosive.The protracted trial at bar proceedings continued at Bullers road. I was then a law student and used to spend hours watching.GG Ponnambalam and M. Tiruchelvam conducted the case.
It is said that Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s address on “Our Political Needs” in 1917 was the “Bible” of the Ceylonese movement for Independence from the British. Likewise I would say that Murugeysen Tiruchelvam’s address to court provided an intellectual basis for the cause of Tamil freedom in Sri Lanka.
He argued in depth about the right of self – determination and of Tamil sovereignty. He spoke of the Tamils as a distinctive people with their own language, territory, history and common heritage and consciousness. He also referred to the Jaffna Kingdom in detail and pointed out with facts that the Tamils had lost their sovereignty on the battlefield to the Portugese.
This sovereignty had been transferred from the Portugese to the Dutch and from the Dutch to the British.The British had then transferred it to the “Sinhala” rulers who enacted the 1972 Republican Constitution without the Consent of the Tamils.
While arguing that the 1972 Constitution was imposed on the Tamils, M. Tiruchelvam observed that Tamil Sovereignty had not been ceded to the Sinhalese on the battle field. At that point Justice Siva Selliah remarked “Yes. We were not a militarily conquered people”.
Apart from seeing M. Tiruchelvam the lawyer in courts, there were only two occasions when I had a chance to interact with him. These were in the mid – seventies when I was a member of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Colombo branch and also the Colombo Tamil Youth front branch. I was not a Journalist then.
On both occasions a small group of us youths was asked by the TULF leader SJV Chelvanayagam to meet with M.Tiruchelvam and clarify certain doubts. Tiruchelvam was charmingly gracious and answered our heated questions with cool detachment and a disarming smile.
Those were times when Tamil youths including this writer were becoming greatly enamoured of Tamil Eelam. M. Tiruchelvam was not in favour of separation but most sympathetic to the reasons leading to such a demand. He was diplomatic and did not refute or dismiss our arguments but conveyed his contrary thoughts carefully with reasoned logic.
He also spoke in detail to us about issues like the Palestinian cause , Bangla Desh independence and the Dravidian separatist demand etc. On the second occasion we departed with an invitation from M. Tiruchelvam to visit him again soon. But this was not to be! On November 23rd 1976 he was studying a case at home and passed away peacefully late at night..
This writer has not moved closely with M. Tiruchelvam and does not possess insights which others who did so would have. But over the years I have discussed about M. Tiruchelvam with many others who knew him well like former Senators M.Manickam and S. Nadarajah.
I have also done so with people like ex-TULF parliamentarians Amirthalingam, VN Navaratnam, V. Dharmalingam. I have also heard many negative things about M. Tiruchelvam from people like former Kayts MP V. Navaratnam and Kumar Ponnambalam.
Among others with whom I’ve spoken about M. Tiruchelvam are Prof. AJ Wilson and KC Nythiananda. There have also been a number of lesser known people who interacted with M. Tiruchelvam who have told me certain things about his political past.
With the wisdom of hindsight I began realising that M. Tiruchelvam was a man who was more “sinned against” than who had “sinned”.
But above all these , the reason I venture to write about M. Tiru , is because he was Neelan Tiruchelvam’s father. M. Tiruchelvam was a great man in his own right and fully deserves being written about. As for myself, I write this mainly due to my relationship with Neelan.
To those of an older generation Neelan was Tiruchelvam’s son. But to those of my generation M. Tiruchelvam was Neelan’s father.
It was as a journalist on “Virakesari” that I came to know Neelan Tiruchelvam. My relationship with him grew over the years and he has had great influence over me in imparting knowledge, stimulating thought, shaping my career and moulding my beliefs. I always recall with grief the last 50 minute telephonic conversation I had with him just 35 minutes before he was killed.
This birth centenary article on M. Tiruchelvam is therefore an indirect tribute to Neelan also
In the beginning of this article I wrote about how M. Tiru was perceived and criticised by his political opponents as well as sections of his own party .
In later years as my knowledge and understanding of Sri Lankan politics deepened and broadened I began realising that many politicians tarnished as “devils” were really not so devilish and that many depicted as “angels” were far from being “angelic” in reality.
This is very true in the cases of Murugeysen and Neelakandan Tiruchelvam. They were both people who tried to help the Tamil people through political settlements and Constitutional arrangements.
But these efforts were either misunderstood or deliberately distorted. As a result they were unfairly vilified.Neelan was assassinated.
Years ago when I was in Colombo I began detecting signs of Neelan becoming a target because of his involvement in Constitutional politics. Being aware of how his own party let down his father I used to caution him about history repeating itself.
Usually he would listen intently but not say anything. But once he told me that he was fully aware of the situation and the fate that might befall him. But he would not stop what he was doing till the problem was solved and the people got their rights.After that I stopped talking on those lines with Neelan.
I realised that Neelan felt immense pain about the way in which M. Tiruchelvam had been treated by political contemporaries. But to Neelan his father’s political mission was an unfinished task that had to be completed.
To me Senator Tiruchelvam’s legacy is not this newly released book but his son Neelan. M. Tiru had four children but Neelan was his political heir.
Later from Canada I would caution Neelan about the tigers. But he would not stop what he was doing because of a death threat. This was because he knew that he was on the correct path. It was an example of quiet courage.
St. THOMAS’S COLLEGE
The senior Tiruchelvam’s father Murugeysen hailed from Vaddukkoddai in Jaffna district. He got a degree from the Calcutta University and served as a Post master and also a station master in Malaya during British colonial rule. Tiruchelvam was the eldest child. The mother came to Jaffna during her early pregnancy. After Tiruchelvam was born in Jaffna she returned to Malaya with her 3 month old son.
Murugeysen sent two of his sons , Tiruchelvam and Rajenda (later to become a top civil servant) to the home country for their secondary education after the end of the 1st world war.. They studied at St. Thomas’s College that had shifted in 1918 from Mutwal to Mount Lavinia.
SJV Chelvanayagam whose father Velupillai was also a Malayan resident was a friend of Murugeysen. As a result Chelvanayagam was made guardian of the two boys.An old boy, he was teaching at STC then. But he left STC because of a dispute with Warden Stone and joined Wesley College. The Brothers remained SJV’s wards.
Apart from Rajendra who was a former permanent secretary, Tiruchelvam had two other brothers and a sister. One of these brothers was a lawyer and the other a teacher. They settled down in Malaysia and Singapore. The sister Mrs. Mahadeva lives in Australia.
Tiruchelvam remained close to Chelvanayagam. In later life he drew close to Chelvanayagam politically. He was the most trusted deputy and adviser to Chelvanayagam. As a result Tiruchelvam became the chief political strategist of the FP. This affinity with SJV was resented by many. Chief among them was V. Navaratnam of Kayts who nursed a life – long hatred of Tiru.
Alfred Jeyaratnam Wilson , Professor of Political Science and the son – in – law of SJV Chelvanayagam writes thus about this special relationship. Wilson says:
“Senator M Tiruchelvam QC was in every way, but in name and blood relationship, the son of my father-in-law, the late S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. I came to know him in 1952 and was his close and admiring friend throughout this phase of his life until his sad and premature demise in 1976.
My father-in-law regarded him with love and affection, chided him at times as if he were his own child, and implicit father in him. Tiruchelvam for his part reciprocated this confidence and trust and never ever uttered a word of criticism against my father-in-law. Such was the bond that held these two men together.
In part, the close ties were due to the fact that as a boy Tiruchelvam was sent to Ceylon to attend secondary school at St. Thomas’s by his parents, and his ward, guardian, and foster father from then onwards was Chelvanayakam.
He learned his law and imbibed his nationalism from his mentor but he was also in his own right a civilised and cultured man – he learned history and completed his degree in that discipline at the then University College.
It is difficult to write about Tiruchelvam without the feeling of intense emotion. He had the capacity to evoke such attachment and it was principally due to his humane and lovable ways; he could strike the right chord in certain human beings.
He had the will to survive and to triumph, to outmanoeuvre adversaries, and as my father-in-law once remarked in a different context, to display that rare quality of good generalship in times of adversity.”
Murugeysen Tiruchelvam entered University College and completed an honours degree in History. He then pursued legal studies and became a lawyer in 1935.After practising for a while at the bar , Tiruchelvam served as the Magistrate in Negombo, Panadura and Galle up to 1945.
He was subsequently appointed Assistant Legal Secretary to the then Legal Secretary Sir Alan Rose. Later Tiruchelvam became Deputy Solicitor-General and then Solicitor-General in 1957.
He was in his early thirties when “Manmathan” or Cupid struck. Punithavathy Canagaratnam known as Punitham was an undergraduate when Tiruchelvam first saw her. Her mother was a teacher at Driebergs College Chavakachcheri. Her father was V. Canagaratnam,a Proctor,. one of her brothers was former district judge C. Manohara.
It was apparently love at first sight. They were married soon after and she abandoned her tertiary studies.
Punitham Tiruchelvam was a dynamic personality in her own right. She was involved with the Tamil Refugee Rehabilitation Organization (TRRO) set up by the lawyer K. Kandasamy after the 1977 anti-Tamil violence. The TRRO is not to be confused with the controversial TRO of today. I did some “volunteer” work for the TRRO in the early days of its existence.
It was then that I witnessed Punitham’s humanitarian commitment and selfless service. She had an amiable disposition but would stand firm on certain issues. She passed away a few years after her husband.
Murugeysen and Punitham Tiruchelvam had four children. They were Hindus but had a secular and liberal outlook towards life. Three of their children got married to spouses from Muslim, Christian and Buddhist families.
Tiruchelvam being in the service of the crown did not involve himself directly in politics during the Colonial period. But he did participate in helping formulate the Dominion Constitution known as Soulbury Constitution. Sir Ivor Jennings is credited with the drafting but Sir Alan Rose too contributed extensively. Rose was ably assisted by Tiruchelvam.
Prof. Wilson once told me that Tiruchelvam’s role in protecting minority interests in Constitution making had gone unrecognized.According to Wilson, Tiru played a significant role through Sir Alan Rose in gettiing Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution included as a minority safeguard.
When Independence dawned on Feb 4th 1948 the Union Jack came down. In a pointer to the future the flag that went up was the Lion flag identified with the majority community. The minorities resented this.
Tiruchelvam in his own way defied the powers that be. He flew the” Nandhi “or crouched bull flag in his vehicle. The Nandhi flag was the standard of the Pallava dynasty in India as well as that of the Jaffna kingdom. When the Jaffna Youth Congress demanded “Poorana Swaraj” or complete independence from the British they hauled down the Union Jack and raised the Nandhi instead.
The Solicitor – General was deeply troubled by events of the fifties. He prematurely retired as S-G in 1960 and reverted to the unofficial bar. He also entered politics in support and by the side of Chelvanayagam. Given his personal relationship with Chelvanayagam and also his politico – legal acumen, it was soon apparent that Tiruchelvam was the new “Saanakkiyan” (Chanakya) in the FP.
He participated in the Satyagraha campaign of 1961 and was detained at Panagoda for six months. The man who had spent most of his life in Kualalumpore and Colombo was exposed to what the people of the North – East were thinking during this incarceration. Tiruchelvam gained much insight into Tamil political consciousness as a result.
1965 elections saw the UNP getting 66 seats and the SLFP – LSSP – CP combination 56. The FP with 14 seats held the balance of power. Both sides wooed the FP and Chelvanayagam was content to let Tiruchelvam handle the intense negotiations. It was decided that the FP would throw in its lot with Dudley Senanayake.
An agreement was reached at the house of Dr. MVP Peiris. On the suggestion of JR Jayewardena the agreement reached was documented. It was signed by Senanayake and Chelvanayagam and became known as the Dudley – Chelva pact. Agreement was reached on a number of matters including the use of Tamil Language and the establishment of district councils.
Senanayake also offered three ministerial portfolios to the FP but the party in condemning GG Ponnambalam for accepting a post earlier had declared consistently that no Federal MP would join a cabinet before Tamil rights were restored.
Thus none of the 14 MP’s could become ministers.There was however a need for someone to be in cabinet and help push things through.So the party decided to accept one ministry.
The only choice was to appoint a non – MP as minister. He could be made a Senator to be eligible. So Tiruchelvam was made minister and appointed Senator. While this certainly had its merits, politically, Tiruchelvam had to bear the brunt of attacks from all sides.
Tiruchelvam became Local Government minister so that he could help usher in the District Councils. His first task however was to draft the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act known popularly as Reasonable use of Tamil act.
Using his legal dexterity to the maximum M. Tiru interpreted the provision “specific administrative purposes” as to mean that Tamil “shall” be used “for all administrative puposes” regarding the North-East.
This created a furore in Parliament and JR Jayewardena who presented it in the House requested Tiruchelvam to change “shall” to “may” but the Local Government minister stood firm. The bill was passed.Tiruchelvam was elated.
Chelvanayagam summed up the Tamil mood when he said in Parliament “The Sinhala only Act deprived the Tamil speaking people of their self – respect in this Country.By passing these regulations and implementing the act, this lost respect is restored in some measure”.
The next objective was the District Councils. The Government dragged its feet. An impatient Tiruchelvam wanted to resign on many occasions but Chelvanayagam urged patience.
Also many Federal MP’s were tasting access to power in a Government for the first time. They did not want to come out of the govt but when questioned by the radical elements within the party chose to blame Tiruchelvam’s lust for office as the cause. Isolated in Colombo Tiruchelvam did not realise what was happening.
A case in point was the nationalisation of Trincomalee harbour. Tiruchelvam found himself unable to prevent it and was prepared to resign as a last resort. But the party did not back him. Even Trinco MP Manickarajah was reluctant. Ultimately M. Tiru was made the scapegoat for all these matters.
Finally in 1968 the green light was given by Senanayake for the District Councils. A White paper drafted by Tiruchelvam was presented. Clause 74, if implemented magnanimously and intelligently could have made the district units virtually autonomous over a period of time.
But the D C’s were bitterly opposed by the SLFP – LSSP – CP and a backbencher “ginger group” within the UNP.Dudley got cold feet and backed out. He offered to resign his premiership. Chelvanayagam ruled that out as an option.
Meanwhile a dissappointed Tiruchelvam wanted to quit the cabinet in protest. Once again the party prevailed upon him to desist. But predictably , FP leaders spread a snide whisper campaign that Tiruchelvam was defying party sentiments and opting to stay put for perks of office.
The final break came in 1969 when Fort Frederick in Trincomalee was to be declared a Hindu sacred precinct by the Local Government minister because the famous Koneshwaram temple was within. When Buddhist monks protested to Senanayake the Prime minister intervened and rescinded the order over the head of the LG minister.
This was a gross insult to Tiruchelvam’s self – respect. This time he did not wait for the party to decide and handed in his resignation. His friends in the cabinet like JR Jayewardena and VA Sugathadasa tried hard to change his mind but Tiruchelvam was unshaken.
Soon a reluctant FP followed suit by pulling out from the Government formally. A point conveniently overlooked is that Tiruchelvam came out of the Govt first and not the other way about.
After his exit several party members distanced themselves from him . He was blamed for all the ills of the FP. With Chelvanayagam ailing and many of the old guard passing away,Tiruchelvam too was slowly sidelined. He did not play any role in the drafting of the FP memorandum to the Constituent Assembly of 1970 – 72.
A project close to Tiruchelvam’s heart was the setting up of a Tamil university in Trincomalee. The Tamil university movement had bought much land in Uppuvely for the purpose. These plans could have succeeded when Tiruchelvam was minister but the stumbling block was GG Ponnambalam who demanded a Hindu University in Jaffna. Neither projects were fulfilled as Senanayake was able to “shelve” both by exploiting the rivalry.
[M Tiruchelvam & M_Karunanidhi, in 1968]
Tiruchelvam like GG Ponnambalam went to Chennai in 1976 to appear for DMK leader Muttuvel Karunanidhi when the ex – chief minister of Tamil Nadu was charged for corruption by the Sarkaria Commission. Likewise both of them were engaged together at the Amirthalingam Trial at bar which was their grand politico -legal swansong.
Years later in an interview to Roshan Peiris , Neelan related an amusing anecdote about the trial – at – bar case.This is what Neelan said then
“My father had an impish sense of humour. During the 1976 Trial-at -Bar when Amirthalingam and three others were tried before three judges of the High Court, there was realization that the case could prove to be a political trial of far reaching constitutional importance.
My father decided that it would be important to retain G. G. Ponnambalam, who had retired from active practice.
My father had spoken to GG who agreed to appear for Amirthalingam. He however demanded a letter of instruction from an instructing attorney. He wanted it placed on record that his services had been sought by his bitterest political adversaries.
The FP leadership was in a quandary. They were nervous that GG would publicise the letter and steal a march on them. In the twinkle of an eye my father devised a solution. He summoned. R. Balasubramaniam who was instructing in the case to draft a letter. The letter read as follows:
“I have been instructed by my client A. Amirthalingam to retain you in the Trial-at- Bar case. Your senior Counsel would be Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, QC.”
The letter was duly signed and sealed and I was entrusted with the unenviable task of delivering the letter to Mr. Ponnambalam. Mr. Ponnambalam received me with extreme courtesy. However, he read the letter, and exploded angrily.
Next morning, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, who was technically senior to Ponnambalam, arrived in Court (stricken by Parkinson’s disease), and stubbornly marked the name of 78 lawyers who appeared in the case. Ponnambalam had been out-manoeuvred, but he graciously appeared in the case, and performed brilliantly.”
Another aspect that has gone unnoticed was Tiruchelvam’s performance as Local Government minister. I have come across many local government officials from the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities in the districts of Kurunegala, Batticaloa and Amparai referring to Tiru in glowing terms about his ministerial tenure.
Ranil Wickremasinghe , minister of Education and Youth Affairs in 1979 said in a radio talk ” During the period, Mr. Tiruchelvam served the country as a Minister, he proved his mettle as a political leader on a national level. The Ministry of Local Government under his stewardship received applause from every quarter. He looked at every problem with a determination to embark on the correct approach. He won confidence as a Minister because he helped everyone who sought his help irrespective of race or creed”.
As a lawyer he went to the aid of both the high and the low. When JR Jayewardena was having intra – party differences with Dudley Senanayake Tiruchelvam was at hand to help him. He defended Jayewardena when threatened with expulsion.
Likewise it was Tiruchelvam who took up the case of a Tamil journalist dismissed by the management for trade union activity. He did not charge a cent and appeared free despite the displeasure of the newspaper owners who were all well – known to him .
NEELAN ON TIRU
Neelan in the interview to Roshan Peiris also talks about his father. They provide an up, close and personal view of M. Tiruchelvam. Here are some excerpts
“Growing up in the shadow of such a person whose agility of mind, devotion to duty and capacity for work, was legendary, I wondered could I measure upto his standards?
For instance in his law practice he gave of his professional best, but I as a youngster found he was deeply emotional and personally concerned with the welfare of his clients, if they suffered injustice. He used all his legal skills, legal integrity to devise a remedy.
Though my father was deeply affectionate with us, it was my mother Punitham who was responsible for our upbringing and nurtured an interest in religion, humanism, history and music.
My father was secular, his interests were history and the law. He and his brother M. Rajendra, a civil servant read a lot and built up formidable libraries.
I used to listen to their intellectual talks at family gatherings which were like mini-seminars. There were always scholars and diplomats and others active in public life.
When he was a Minister, I did accompany him on a few occasions on some of his tours and was deeply impressed by his ability to relate to people. He would switch from his elegantly tailored suits, to a spotless vershti. He moved with great ease and acceptance amongst ordinary people although he was never a candidate for elective office.
From 1973 to 1977, I worked as his junior. He was a very severe and demanding senior. He had a substantial amount of appellate and trial work. He specialized on questions of public law, and more specifically administrative remedies. He had a nimble mind and quick grasp of ideas. He was totally absorbed in his cases and in every sense a lawyer’s lawyer, one whose judgement and knowledge of the law and legal acumen was valued by his colleagues.
He had this great capacity to persuade. In Courts his voice was soft and sometimes hardly audible, yet he commanded complete attention by the skill with which he marshalled his facts and presented his case on behalf of his clients. He had the capacity to think on his feet, and would suddenly change his legal strategy, much to the exasperation of his juniors.
While he was Solicitor General, his colleagues were Victor Tennekoon, Rajah Wanasundera, H. L. de Silva and V. S. A. Pullenayagam. They worked closely, and formed a formidable team in taking on the best in the unofficial Bar. In many a complex case on constitutional law and administrative law, they outdistanced the unofficial Bar.
My father always maintained an affectionate, though exacting relationship with his juniors, whom he normally addressed as ‘Sonna’. He was supportive of their careers and encouraged them to take an interest in the study of current legal developments. In the Senate during late evening debates, he was often found reading the latest issue of the Modern Law Review. Even as a law officer of the state, he took every opportunity to speak, very seriously.
I recall the trouble he took to speak to a small YMCA gathering in Panadura on Administrative Law and kept the people spellbound for over two hours. He had brought with him copies of All England Law Reports and referred to the most recent judgements.”
FATHER AND SON
Neelan was named a Presidents Counsel in 1998 the equivalent of the Queens or Kings counsels of an earlier vintage. It was only the fourth occasion in Sri Lankan legal history that a father and son had received Silk. Neelan’s father was a Queen’s Counsel.
[Father & sons]
The other members of this elite father and son combination are EW Jayawardene KC and HW Jayawardene QC, HH Basnayake QC and Sinha Basnayake PC, as well as Nariman Choksy QC and Kasi Choksy PC.
Unlike in the other cases, both Tiruchelvam senior and junior were legislators. Not only did they receive the highest honour that lawyer is eligible for, but they were both law-makers.
The Tiruchelvam father-son duo impacted greatly on the “constitutional” struggle to win back the lost rights of the Tamil people. Their commitment to the “Just and legitimate” cause of the Tamil people was immense. Sadly some pseudo-nationalist Tamils chose to condemn them.
In one instance an ardent FP activist was made Special Commissioner of a dissolved local authority in the North by Tiruchelvam. The man was full of sycophantic praise then.
Nowadays the man is living abroad and paying pooja to the tigers. His favourite targets of attack as long as Neelan was alive were the Tiruchelvams , father and son.
But this does not mean that the roles played by Tiruchelvam senior and junior in their different times are unacknowledged or unappreciated. The megaphone is hogged by a vociferous, fascist minority now but the voice of reason and sanity has not been drowned totally.
Let me end this article with a quote from Saleem Altaf on both the Tiruchelvams:
“With the countrys appalling descent, the idealism of the Tiruchelvams, father and son is the need of the hour. However, opportunism is plentiful and leadership is in short supply. Both protagonists in the civil conflict, the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers are given to ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. If the idealism of the Tiruchelvams should come to the countrys rescue, it will have to be in a very high dosage.”
November 24th, 2007
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
In recent times the most important event for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been its annual “Maaveerar Naal” or Great Heroes Day held each year on November 27th . Various observances are held in Sri Lanka and abroad to commemorate the tiger cadres who have died for the Tamil cause. “Puligalin Thaagam Thamil Eelath Thaayagam” (Thirst of the tigers is for a Tamil Eelam homeland) is the motto of the LTTE.
An important feature of the Great Heroes Day (GHD) has been the ceremony where LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakharan pays homage to the fallen cadres. The centrepiece of this ceremony is his address to the Tamil people in his capacity as the self-styled national leader of the Tamil Eelam nation. Since his speeches indicate the future course of the LTTE this address is keenly scrutinized by observers of the Lankan ethnic conflict. What will Praba say on great heroes day? is an intriguing query.
Against that backdrop the evolution and growth of the Great Heroes day event makes an interesting study. This writer has in the past written several articles on the topic. This article is an updated and abridged version and therefore draws liberally from earlier writings. This is however the first of its kind to appear in the “Nation” newspaper! Let me begin by tracing in brief the history of this event.
The first ever Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) member to embrace death in battle was Sathiyanathan of Kambarmalai a northern village adjacent to Valvettithurai, the birthplace of Velupillai Prabakharan its leader. Sathiyanathan alias Shankar was also known as Suresh died on November 27, 1982.
Incidently the sea tiger special commander Thillaiambalam Sivanesan alias Soosai is married to Shankar’s sister. Soosai is from Poligandy a coastal village in Vadamaratchy sector.
Shankar like Raveendran alias Pandithar-also of Kamnarmalai-was a childhood friend of Prabakharan and one of his earliest recruits. Shankar had gone to the Nithiyanandan residence in Navalar Road, Jaffna to warn them of a military crackdown on Tamil professionals and intellectuals suspected of being sympathetic towards the LTTE.
Even as Shankar was communicating with Jaffna University Lecturer Muthiah Nithiyanandan and his wife Nirmala an-ex-varsity lecturer now teaching at a leading Girls School, a posse of soldiers surrounded the house. Shankar managed to shoot his way out of the military cordon but sustained serious injuries in the process. The Nithiyanandans were arrested.
Later Shankar’s condition deteriorated and another senior LTTE member Sivakumar alias Anton who later represented the Tigers at the Thimphu talks undertook a perilous and clandestine journey by boat along with Shankar to Tamil Nadu to procure urgent medical assistance for the latter. This was in the pre-1983 period when the LTTE consisted only of around 25 to 30 full-time activists and had very few resources including even wireless communication equipment.
Leaving the grievously injured Shankar in a safehouse at Kodiaakkarai, Anton went up to Madurai where LTTE chief Prabakharan and some others were staying then.
This was the time when Prabakharan was confined by court order to Madurai because of his involvement in a broad daylight shoot out with Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) chief Umamaheswaran at Pondy Bazaar in Chennai (then Madras). Thanks to the help rendered by Pazha. Nedumaran who was then a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative assembly representing Madurai West, Shankar was brought to a farmhouse belonging to Nedumaran for medical treatment.
The people nursing Shankar in the coastal hideout had ignorantly given a lot of water to quench his thirst. This worsened his condition to a point of no return. Shankar died on Prabakharan’s lap mumbling “Thambi, Thambi” (thambi was the endearing term by which Prabakharan was known in the old days) while the visibly shaken and weeping LTTE leader kept stroking his hair. This was one of the few occasions when the LTTE leader ever wept in public. Death in combat of a cadre whether immediate or subsequent was a new phenomenon to the LTTE on that day.
Seven years later in 1989 around six hundred LTTE cadres assembled at a secret venue in the Mullaitheevu district jungles of Nithikaikulam on November 27. The occasion was the newly proclaimed Great Heroes Day or Maaveerar Naal as known in Tamil. This was the time when the Indian army was fighting the LTTE as a proxy of the Sri Lankan government. Thanks to the understanding arrived at between the LTTE and then President Ranasinghe Premadasa a cease-fire had been declared on September 21, that year.
A withdrawal of troops had been announced in principle. The Indian Parliamentary elections scheduled for December would determine whether Rajiv Gandhi would be re-elected or not. That verdict would in turn decide the fate of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka. The LTTE leader had in the meantime thought of honouring his dead cadres by observing a unique ceremony called Maaveerar Naal or Great Heroes Day.
The LTTE leader was justifiably proud then of the performance of his organisation in having withstood the onslaught of 132,000 troops of the Indian army. When the Indo-Lanka accord was signed and hostilities ceased the LTTE had lost 632 cadres in battle. When a cessation of hostilities with the Indian army was enforced the LTTE had lost a further 711 cadres.
Prabakharan wanted to recognise their contribution, honour their sacrifices and pay tribute to their memory in a collective manner. What better way than promulgating a special day? Which better day than the date on which the first LTTE member laid down his life? So November 27th it was. The first Great Heroes Day was a restricted affair of which the highlight was a highly emotional address delivered extemporaneously by Prabakharan to his enraptured followers.
It was at this meeting that Prabakharan uttered his historic pronouncement “If ever Prabakharan betrays the Tamil Eelam cause you all must kill me”. This writer saw the video cassette in which the event was recorded. Prabakharan was tracing the history of the LTTE while enraptured cadres listened. At one point he stated that Amirthalingam was killed by the LTTE. “Amirthalingam had supported Tamil Eelam at one time but later betrayed it. That is why we killed him. Tomorrow if Prabakharan betrays the Tamil Eelam cause then you all must kill me. Whoever betrays Tamil Eelam must be killed” the tiger leader pronounced
The nineties of the last century saw the LTTE controlling the greater part of the northern province and substantial pockets in the eastern province. During this period the LTTE developed to a great extent, the ceremonial aspect of paying homage to its fallen heroes.
[Elephantpass Heroes Day Memorial 2005, along A9 Road]
There exists in the martial tradition of the Tamils a concept known as Nadugal Valipaadu which literally means worshipping the planted stone. Until the influence of Aryan-Brahminism pervaded the Dravidian people, the custom in South India had been that of burying their dead. Tombstones were erected at the graves of great heroes fallen in battle. These were honoured regularly through special Panegyrical rituals.
The classical Tamil literary works of the Sangham era are replete with references to this Nadugal Valipaadu concept. The aftermath of the Hindu renaissance period saw Brahminism becoming dominant and altering a way of life drastically. The decline of Tamil dynasties along with the advent of Moghul, Nayakkar and European colonialism saw the martial tradition among Tamils becoming debilitated. The custom of paying homage to heroes fallen in battle became non-existent in an environment where war was virtually unknown for generations.
Now the LTTE went back to the roots of the Tamil martial culture and revived its most potent symbolic and ritual form. From 1991 the entire week from November 21-27, was declared as Great Heroes Week. Interestingly the birthday of LTTE leader Prabakharan was November 26. Since this day was now within the Great Heroes Week more importance was attached to it. An outpouring of emotion both genuine as well as sycophantic emerged. The focus shifted from Great Heroes Day to the leader’s birthday.
Some even thought that Great Heroes day was to celebrate the leaders birthday. Soon Prabakharan acted firmly and clamped down all festive activity connected with his birthday. The week was for the fallen heroes and the red letter day of that week would only be November 27, the Great Heroes Day. Nevertheless various religious observances are undertaken by followers and well wishers on November 26, seeking divine protection and blessings on the man who supposedly personifies Tamil resistance to Sinhala chauvinist hegemony.
Utilising its control to the maximum of the north and parts of the east during the 1990-1995 period the LTTE conducted elaborate demonstrations and events as part of observing the Great Heroes day.
[Sinthamani Visvalingam from Kilinochchi, weeps as she saw a photograph which looks like her son, but she says there is no name or age or place of birth mentioned. She says that her son Sivakumar Visvalingam went to Thirunelvely in 1990 with food parcels to the LTTE cadres,who were fighting to capture Elephantpass.Since then she had no information about him and she believes that he is a martyr today: Picture: HA-Year 2005 Heroes Week]
The week culminated in a grand function on the 27th at a special location attended by Prabakharan himself. With the passage of time Great Heroes day ceremonies became decentralised. Several observances would be conducted simultaneously but pride of place however was naturally awarded to the one in which Prabakharan participated.
The LTTE also established several cemeteries called Maaveerar Thuyilum Illangal (abodes where the great heroes slumber). While the departed cadres were laid out in neat rows of graves marked by single tombstones a pavilion commemorating them collectively with names and relevant dates was also constructed.
The most touching spectacle of the great heroes day observance was the mass participation of family members at these cemeteries and memorial pavilions. Later G. H. D. ceremonies were observed in foreign cities where substantial concentrations of the Tamil Diaspora lived.
The security forces have demolished many of these “abodes” when seizing territory from the tigers. The latest was in Batticaloa where cemeteries were destroyed in Vaakarai, Tharavai and Thandiyadi. Coconut palms were planted on top in some places and Police stations erected in others. These actions caused much heartburn among Karuna faction cadres as most of the dead cadres were at one time their comrades at arms.
These types of action by the security forces deserve to be condemned. The dead must be respected notwithstanding they were enemy fighters. It is indeed barbaric to defile the dead. Besides it is politically counter – productive as the Tamil people on the whole resnt such activity. Even the die hard opponent of the LTTE will not subscribe to this. Also the families of the cadres and relatives will be hurt and angered.
[Elephantpass Heroes Day Memorial 2005, along A9 Road]
As the ethnic conflict kept continuing the casualty rates also increased. When the first G. H. day was observed in 1989 there were only 1343 martyrs. The tally in 2000 was 16,591. In 2005 the figure was 17,903; This year on November 20th the acknowledged losses were 19,887; 15,691 males and 4,196 females. This means that more and more Tamil families are suffering the losses of their loved ones and becoming grief stricken.
The event is now mass oriented. This column has witnessed Great Heroes Day ceremonies held overseas as well as films of functions in Sri Lankan Tamil areas. There is no doubt that the sight of grief stricken emotional outpourings over their loved ones by family members is a profoundly moving one. The families of fallen LTTE cadres are called Maaveerar Kudumbangal and are often given preferential treatment in spheres coming within the ambit of LTTE control.
The LTTE by nurturing this cult of martyrdom is achieving many things. It provides those cadres among the living a bond of affiliation with their departed comrades. The cadres get a feeling of reassuring comfort that he or she too would be honoured in similar fashion when dead. The LTTE cadres are fighting and dying in the belief that posterity will remember and honour their memory and martyrdom.
The Great Heroes Day observances provide them with the feeling that by sacrificing their lives they would grasp eternity and ensure immortality. Likewise the kith and kin of the departed souls too are gratified that the loss of their loved one has not been in vain. The emotive content of Great Heroes Day observances also motivates other youths to join the LTTE. The spectacle also inspires the general population in continuing to appreciate the LTTE sacrifices and render support.
The annual great heroes day address by the LTTE leader began to assume great significance and importance over the years. Since Prabakharan is quite reclusive and shuns direct media exposure the great heroes day appearance has become one of those rare occasions where he interacts with the public. The speech is also considered to be something akin to a policy statement by the LTTE.
It is dissected by analysts to ascertain what the LTTE leader envisages for the immediate future. With Prabakharan being the determining factor of Sri Lankan politics for nearly fifteen years, his G. H. D. address is awaited eagerly. At times it is interpreted according to the specific agenda of propagandists. At times the address has turned out to be a damp squib without any new dimension in thought but nevertheless it remains an oration of tremendous importance. Nowadays Prabakharan does not deliver extempore but reads from a carefully prepared text.
After the relocation of the LTTE to the northern mainland of Wanni, Prabakharan makes his annual address from places within that region. The setting up of the LTTE’s own radio station Puligalin Kural (Voice of Tigers) enabled it to be relayed out. With the development of information technology the speech is now relayed simultaneously via Internet. Nowadays the LTTE has its own “Nitharsanam” TV and GHD proceedings are telecast to the world at large from the Wanni.
The emergence of several Tamil broadcasting stations in the western world has created a situation where the speech is heard in Tamil homes throughout Europe, Australia and North America. Likewise the acquisition of various television stations by pro – tiger Tamils enables wide televised coverage too.A noteworthy feature of Prabakharan’s speeches in recent times is his resonant delivery in well modulated tones. The usual highpitched voice that tends to be squeaky at times is totally absent.
The Great Heroes Day observances are as usual multi-faceted and diversified. The highlight of these ceremonies is the lighting of candles and torches by those assembled. While people holding these flickering lights line up and form an illuminated corridor, a glowing torch is brought in relay form by LTTE cadres in similar fashion to that of the Olympic games. The flaming torch is then given to the chief guest who then lights a large eternal flame known as Eegai Chudar (Flame of sacrifice) at the Memorial monument. This is followed by the lighting of a myriad lamps and torches making the occasion a festival of lights. Several senior LTTE figures are chief guests at different ceremonies.
The flames at various memorials are lit by senior tiger stalwarts. All the ceremonies are attended by members of great hero families who are taken by procession to the various memorials from different spots. Music is played by troupes from different LTTE formations. The different venues are also decorated with pandals.The red and yellow flags are hoisted widely.
The primary ceremony however is at the site in which Prabakharan himself participates. A newly constructed memorial is the usual venue.After the LTTE flag is hoisted a display demonstration by selected squads from various units of the LTTE is held.
A march past is held after which Prabakharan accepts the ceremonial salute. Prabakharan then begins his address at 6. 05 pm the time that Shankar breathed his last.. The speech is usually about 30 to 40 minutes. Prabakharan thereafter accepts the flaming torch brought in relay form and goes on to light the premier flame of sacrifice. After observing two minutes of silence along with the massive crowd in attendance, the LTTE leader goes on to garland a picture of Sathiyanathan alias Shankar the first great hero.
Thereafter the LTTE leader accompanied by other tiger members also light the small lamps and place flowers before the pictures of martyrs. The visual dimension does not however diminish the importance and significance of the LTTE chief’s address.
The LTTE leader’s Great Heroes address is quite concise and precise with some interesting nuances. It encapsules effectively and vividly the LTTE position and what it hopes to do in the future.
In recent times there has been a sideshow in London where the political adviser and chief negotiator Anton Stanislaus Balasingham known affectionately as “Bala Annai” addressed a large Mavveerar Day meeting. The highlight of his speech was an amplification and clarification of the salient aspects of Prabakharans address. What was of interest here in this was that Bala Annai himself wrote the speeches for the LTTE leader. Thereafter Bala expanded on his own creation and interpreted it to listeners.
Balasingham died last year. He wrote his last GHD speech for Prabakharan then. Though he tried to address the people for the last time in London , Balasingham’s deteriorating health prevented him from doing so.
Who will be writing the speech this year is a big question. Most probably a group of advisers in the Wanni who comprise a tiger think tank will do so. It would be translated in advance into English and sent to the media. Prabakharan will read his speech in Tamil
Due to security considerations , Prabakharan did not participate in a public ceremony last year. The ceremony was observed in a fortified secret location.
This year security precautions are likely to be elaborate as the LTTE political Commissar Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan was killed in an aerial bombardment. Even certemonies conducted by other LTTE leaders will most probably be done without much fanfare preceding it.
Meanwhile the armed forces have been regularly shelling and bombarding the Wanni. This no doubt will be a dampener. There is also much speculation that the security forces may step up activity in the next few days so as to prevent ceremonial observances. Since this is a matter of prestige the LTTE will go ahead with their plans on a limited scale at least.
[Female cadres disperse after their morning duty at the Elephantpass memorial site in early morning on Martyr's day, in 2005-Picture By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]
The important question is what the LTTE leader is likely to state. There is an undeclared war going on now. The death of Thamilselvan has saddened and angered Prabakharan. At the same time it is no secret that the LTTE is becoming increasingly beleaguered both nationally and internationally.
Against this backdrop what will the LTTE leader say on Great Heroes Day?
November 24th, 2007
The roots of LTTE’s militarism and political culture
by Rajan Philips
As I argued last week J.R. Jayewardene helped put the Tiger in the saddle and let it ride the Tamils, but there were other factors that were crucial for the rise of the LTTE. My point though is that things could have turned out differently and for the better if Mr. Jayewardene had had the foresight to include the provisions of the 13th Amendment of 1988 in the 1978 Constitution itself. It was so easy for him at that time to offer the TULF and the Tamils the viable constitutional alternative to Eelam that the TULF was looking for. He had a five-sixths majority in parliament and even Rohana Wijeweera was calling for a settlement of the Tamil question soon after JR let him out of the jail.
That is all now water under the bridge, and the Sri Lankan State is still stuck with the problem of the LTTE. To my mind, the present government’s persistence with the military approach only confirms President Rajapakse’s personal refusal, except in his speeches in New York or New Delhi, to understand and address the political grievances of the Tamils. He does not even recognize that these issues were there before the arrival of the LTTE and that they are the main reason for its continued being. The military approach also betrays a lack of understanding among his advisers and among most of the Southern political class, of the symbiotic ties that bind the LTTE to Tamil society.
[First female martyr Malathi's statue, Kilinochchi junction: Picture By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai]
The LTTE is often described as a politico-military phenomenon. But it has always been more militaristic than political and this uneven duality is personified in the posthumous elevation of Thamilchelvan, the Political Wing Leader, to the rank of Brigadier. The LTTE’s militarism is partly the result of Tamil political desperation, given the failure of the Tamil parliamentary leadership to obtain anything worthwhile from successive Sri Lankan governments. Equally the LTTE militarism is seen by most Tamils-including the late, lamented Lakshman Kadirgamar-as a response to the violence and humiliation that unarmed Tamils were periodically subjected to by politically organized Sinhalese gangs, and the steady intrusion of the mostly Sinhalese Sri Lankan army into Tamil areas.
The communal violence against minorities in Sri Lanka has been more political and much less social. The difference is crucial and it should be one of the positive premises for a politically reconciled future Sri Lanka. Unlike conflict situations in other parts of the world, Sri Lanka’s ethnic groups are not perpetually at each other’s throat at every street corner. The Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims in compatible economic circumstances and living interspersed do socialize with one another, and they even enter into happy marital, and, god knows, extramarital relationships. The tsunami experience showed that Sri Lankans are capable of rising above their ethno-political differences and of being united by their mutual humanity in the face of a common adversity. The social sinews have remarkably held firm despite the language-based segregation in education, the marginalization of the minorities in state institutions, and sustained war mongering that is now going on. But the same amiable social nature also left the Tamil middle classes in the South and the East easy preys for politically organized gangs and thugs from 1958 onward. The LTTE’s militarism therefore came to be seen by the Tamils as a long overdue payback for past humiliations and an effective deterrent against their recurrence.
1961 Satyagraha: High-water mark in Tamil politics
The military violence against the Tamils began with the deployment of the Sri Lankan army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to quell the unexpectedly successful mass Satyagraha campaign launched by the Tamil Federal Party in 1961. The campaign was the response to the insensitive and pig-headed decision of the newly elected (in July 1960) Sirimavo Bandaranaike government to ram through the implementation of Sinhala Only in the Northern and Eastern Provinces disregarding the understanding her late husband had reached with Chelvanayakam and the Federal Party, and the commitment given to the Federal Party by the more senior SLFP leaders before the July 1960 elections. The Satyagraha campaign avalanched into a genuine mass movement of heightened and restive consciousness the like of which has not since been seen in Tamil society. Colvin R. de Silva, writing in 1975, fully recovered after his short constitutional amnesia and reminiscing on the 40th anniversary of the LSSP, compared the mass mood of the Tamil Satyagraha to what he had seen during the independence struggle in India and poured scorn on the parody of a Satyagraha that J.R. Jayewardene tried to stage in Attanagalla in 1975. More pertinently, the violent campaigns of the LTTE and its erstwhile competitors and the Tamil people’s deliberate distancing from them are in even starker contrast to the 1961 Satyagraha campaign and the people’s spontaneous involvement in it.
The government of Mrs. Bandaranaike was given every opportunity by the leaders of the Federal Party and worthy intermediaries like S.D. Bandaranaike and leaders of the two Left Parties to reach a settlement based on four requests put forward by the Federal leaders. The requests were to recognize Tamil as the language of administration and the Courts in the North and East, address the language requirements of Tamil public servants, and address the language situation of Tamils living outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The government refused to concede even these measly requests and decided to send in the army to terminate the Satyagraha.
A now forgotten footnote to the history of this period was the political countermanding of the military decision to send Colonel Abraham, a Tamil Catholic, and his unit to deal with the Satyagraha campaign in Jaffna. Instead of Abraham, the political leaders directed Lt. Colonel Richard Udugama, a Sinhalese Buddhist from Matale, to lead the Jaffna operation. Abraham and his men were at the Anuradhapura Railway Station to take the special military train to Jaffna when they received the new order from Colombo. The soldiers, mostly Sinhalese, got aggravated and sat down in protest, in a mini Satyagraha, on the Station platform. Colonel Abraham had to plead with his men to give up their protest and obey orders. This blatant political interference in military affairs, according to Donald Horowitz’s study, was the immediate trigger for the unsuccessful coup in 1962 against the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government by high ranking military and police officers. Colonel Abraham was one of the accused coup leaders and he died in jail, in 1964. All the other accused men, all Christian Sinhalese, were acquitted on appeal two years later.
I am not suggesting that it would have made a whole lot of difference if Abraham had gone to Jaffna, in 1961, instead of Udugama. Perhaps, Colonel Abraham was unwittingly spared the ignominy of being remembered as a traitor in the Satyagraha saga that is part of Tamil political memory. But the Abraham affair and the coup de’tat were precursors to changes in the structure and culture of the armed services and police which had crucial implications for the transformation of Tamil politics from the non-violence of the Federal Party to the militarism of the LTTE. Recruitment practices that restricted the intake of minorities transformed the armed forces from being ethnically neutral and representative into being almost totally Sinhalese in composition. The erosion of ethnic neutrality was accompanied by the emergence of a markedly coercive culture among the armed forces.
New political culture
In his wartime memoir, the late Regi Siriwardena makes insightful observations about the change in police culture from colonial times to the present-from being considerate, forbearing and accommodating, the police culture and attitudes towards the public became inconsiderate, unforgiving and coercive. Regi attributes this degeneration and the culture of torture against political prisoners to the erosion of the liberal ideological tradition that was shared by the state and the (LSSP) rebels of the colonial era and the emergence of a new political culture. The children of this culture, the JVP of 1971 and 1988, and the LTTE, have been sharing an illiberal ethos with the state. I would add that the erosion of liberal ethos went hand in hand with the erosion of ethnic neutrality and the emergence of an anti-Tamil ethos in the police and the armed forces. The Tamils in the North and East were the first guinea pigs to suffer the new brutality of the Sri Lankan state before it came of age to put down the 1971 JVP insurrection.
The forbearing culture and ethnic neutrality were evident during the 1958 riots when the behaviour of the police and the armed forces was impeccable. By 1977, they were part of the problem. Between 1971 and 1977, Tamil politics became the willing victim of two ‘demonstration effects’: the liberation of Bangladesh provided the validating inspiration to the Eelam demand, while the JVP experience in the South was the cue for political violence in the North and East. Remarkably, the JVP, just like the state it rebelled against, organized itself exclusively among the Sinhalese and left out the Tamils. The Tamil youth were left to organize on their own the Tamil protest and political violence. Early Tamil political violence targeted mostly Tamil politicians who supported the governing parties in the South. All hell broke loose in 1979 when President Jayewardene placed Jaffna under Emergency rule and ordered Brigadier Weeratunga and his army to “to eliminate the menace of terrorism in all its form from the island and more specially from the Jaffna District.” Nothing has been the same since, either in Jaffna or in the rest of the island.
It is one thing to explain the roots of LTTE militarism, but quite another to enquire what it has achieved for the Tamils and to where it has led them. Although the goal of Eelam is more unattainable than ever, there is no denying that the LTTE militarism is the main reason why major reversals have occurred in previously contested areas, namely, the citizenship of the Plantation Tamils, equality in language rights and the recognition of territorial rights. It is inconceivable that the Thirteenth Amendment would ever have been contemplated if the LTTE had not become a military and political force to contend with. Ironically, the LTTE’s rejection of the Thirteenth Amendment in collusion with Sinhalese leaders who were opposed to it prevented its implementation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces which the Amendment was primarily meant for,
The LTTE’s intransigence is also a product of its militarism, but there are other negative effects as well. We could call them the ‘externalities’ of the liberation project-meaning, the negative impacts on Tamil society caused not by the Sri Lankan State from whom liberation is being attempted but by the process of liberation itself. Thus the Tamils have become double victims of the oppression of the State, on the one hand, and the externalities of liberation on the other. It is this helpless state of being double victims that has given rise to the competing claims by the LTTE and the government that each is trying to liberate the Tamils from the other. While the LTTE justifies its being as a liberator and the defender of the Tamil nation against the Sri Lankan State, its detractors, including a good number of Tamils, condemn the LTTE as fascist and brutally undemocratic.
The LTTE phenomenon does carry aspects of nationalism and some of the fangs of fascism, but they are not the main reasons for its resilience and its support among large sections of Tamil society. To my mind, the LTTE’s resilience and support are better explained by the processes of adaptation of the traditional social structures, namely, caste, extended family and the village community, to suit the new circumstances in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora. [to be continued]
Part I: Thamilchelvan and Tamil Politics-I
Part III: Kinship, caste and the Diaspora in Tamil nationalism
November 24th, 2007