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A real sense of actuality in Rajani Thiranagama commemoration: Dayapala Responds to Dayan.

By Dayapala Thiranagama

Dayan Jayatilleke’s article titled" An absence of actuality at Rajini memorial meeting at BMICH" published on 27th September in "Transcurrents" deserves some clarification and response in order to put the record straight. I believe this would benefit readers and will provide justice to Rajani’s life and her heroism in taking on the neo-fascistic LTTE so boldly in “a meaningful defiance”. In so doing Rajani and her colleagues in the UTHR never hesitated.

I welcome Dayan’s positive comments that it was a good evening. However, his article omitted many of the factors that made it such a positive event. I consider it a very good evening in terms of attendance, young and old, belonging to different ethnic groups, Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims (some Europeans) and multi religious ordinary people who came from the Sinhalese South, North and East and Upcountry from all social classes to remember Rajani and reaffirm her ideals. There were no VIPs or politicians. In terms of numbers it went beyond the organizers’ expectations and some had to be turned away due to the lack of seats. This illustrates the continuing meaning that her legacy holds in the fight for the democratic rights and the right to dissent.

Dayan’s main complaint was that the memorial event did not name the Tigers as Rajani’s killers. Those who did not attend the event may justifiably feel that this diminished the memorial. Most attendants at the meeting came knowing that the Tamil Tigers were responsible for her killing, particularly from the widespread press coverage including articles by myself in the Island on 16 September and by UTHR (J) prior to the event. Dayan seems to have wanted it to be stated as if it were a court of law with a charge sheet to be presented against the Tigers. Many of the items at the event including the songs, poetry and speeches laid responsibility for the killing at the LTTE’s door. If one could not understand that, one did not understand language, context, poetry and more damningly, politics.

The prior campaigning and the commemoration event as well as the work shop that was held subsequently made it very clear that the Tamil Tiger militancy was responsible for many deaths including Rajani’s. Dayan’s problem lies in the fact that he isolated the event and jumped into his conclusion without focusing on the preparation prior to the event and its aftermath. If there was no Tiger bashing at the event it was not because the organizers were unaware of the need to fight the neo-fascism of the Tigers but rather the political urgency at the current moment and the strategy that would be most suitable and effective in fighting the twin problem: achieving democratic rights and challenging Sinhalese triumphalism. The democratic rights in all three communities namely Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims are being eroded under the cover of patriotism and it is being used to frustrate and postpone the devolution of power to the Tamil community.

Even among the most anti-LTTE segments of the Tamils in the country there is fear and tension as to what would be their future in relation to their democratic rights. If you want to talk about the “the titanic struggles for decades against the Tigers” you also need to talk about the historical injustices meted out against the Tamil Community with equal passion and conviction. It is not a one way street and not restricted to the Tamil community. The right to dissent is taken away with speed in the South and the methods applied here at times are reminiscent of what the Tamil Tigers inflicted on their political adversaries in their suppression of the right to dissent in the areas of their control. The IDPs are still languishing in their camps. In order to fight fascism it is required to resolve the genuine grievances of the Tamils. There is a historic opportunity in the country as never before to resolve the issue that has cost so many lives and our social and economic development for generations. It is entirely fitting that an event commemorating someone with Rajani’s concern for the lived reality of ordinary people’s lives would focus on these issues.

Rajani’s family and the UTHR (J) never had any lingering doubts about the LTTE as Rajani’s killers. We had credible evidence. But at the time there was no law and order in the country and it was reported as one of the war casualties. At the time Dayan had joined the UNP government and was working for President Premadasa.I that recall just before I left for London December 1989, Dayan was of the view that Rajani was killed by the EPRLF and that he had had access to the information not available to us. Dayan wanted me to make a statement regarding this information. At the time the Premadasa government had an understanding with the Tamil Tigers against the IPKF and their proxy the EPRLF. That was the crux of the matter. So much for (in Dayan’s words) “the titanic struggle for decades against the fascism of the Tigers” and the “… massive historical truths” which Rajani’s commemoration meeting failed to highlight in its ‘actuality’. What I have to say, quoting Dayan’s own words again, is that “Rajani never countenanced lies in politics and public life”.

Dayan reminds us that the LTTE was not overthrown by the Tamil resistance. I support the historic victory against the LTTE and their neo-fascistic project. He says the Tigers were overthrown not by “non violent dissent” or by “Tamil dissenters”, thus belittling the work that Rajani and her colleagues in UTHR (J) have done in reporting human rights abuses by all the parties involved in this brutal conflict and the decisive role this brave work and reportage has played. I know at times in the recent past it would have proven uncomfortable reading for him.

Dayan says that Rajani believed that Mahathaya would have saved her life and Rajani’s blindness to this historical truth killed her. Rajani never believed that Mahathaya would save her or indeed that he would be able to do so. More than any of us Rajani knew how the LTTE functioned and she had no illusions whatsoever. She knew that she would be targeted, but her commitment and dedication was such that she believed that it was worth giving her life for when the moment came. Rajani wrote in a letter sent to a friend in these words ‘I will not be killed by an outsider but someone who was born out of a womb of this society of a woman with whom my history is shared’. I would say that Rajani had Che’s spirit in relation to her choice between life and death, and was willing to give her life, when the moment came, for her passionate belief in the preservation of human dignity. Such people are rare in politics and the political classes today. That is also why I introduced her as a new revolutionary. In writing a postscript to The Broken Palmyra (page 408) she stated that “Objectivity was not solely an academic exercise for us. Objectivity, pursuit of the truth and the propagation of critical and honest positions, was crucial for the community. But they could also cost many of us our lives.”

Rajani made a choice, one that I respected in spite of the huge personal loss for our family and the children. Rajani’s life and work continues to instill hope and determination in the minds of people who will have nothing to lose except their democratic rights, including the right to dissent in this country. Rajani’s death and her murderers were not the summation of her life. It was her vision for her community, the principles she fought for and the life she lived that we commemorated last week.


Why would any one want to name Rajini's killers? Their identity is a known fact.It is my understanding that Prof. Dayan lives in a country where freedom of expression is cherished and he should start mentioning the names of those who were directly or indirectly involved in the assassinations of Richard,Tharaki,Lasantha and Raviraj.
We do expect a response from this eminent Professor of Poli Science.I do hope that one of the kids in his class would raise these questions.

Posted by: Siva | October 4, 2009 05:14 PM

he's not an eminent anything. he's a craven political animal who would use the anniversary of her death to make hollow points belied by his own actions at the time of her assassination. Che was the butcher of La Cabana--appealing to Dayan's base marxist-loving instincts by comparing a person of her caliber to such a butcher is really counterproductive. Let Dayan worship at the bloody alter of the State and his delusions of influence and relevance. It is Rajani's legacy which will be treated with honor by posterity and not Dayan's. What a jealous old coot.

Posted by: Nayagan | October 4, 2009 09:21 PM

The counter response fully accords and validates in no small measure, the sentiments expressed in the Statement signed by the fifty University Teachers on page 447 of 'The Broken Palmyra' which Rajani co-authored.

It is likely that the ex- diplomat had not read or understood it's message or meaning, hence the inanition in his article of 27th September 09, which deserved the the well founded clarification from Dayapala.

Posted by: R.S.Ganeshan | October 5, 2009 05:21 AM

This is good. I too read DJ's article and was sad about the way it was written. This gives a true picture.

I am yet not sure about the devolution fo power regionally as at present the breed of leadership in the regions of north & east are neofascists. In my opinion its best to rebuild the lives, livelihoods,health & education in these areas affected by war first. Solve the language issue according to the present contitutional provision. have biligual officers at govt. institutions in regions with a mixed ethnicity populations.
I personally wish that all regions of Sri Lanka will be of mixed ethnicity so this will be essential for a pluraristic society.
And as some one once highlighted it will not put one region of being deprived of thier rights due to ethnicity or race. All Sri Lankan citizens should make every effort to learn all 3 languages used in SL and learning should be available freely at all levels and areas. Political solutions on devolving power may not solve the root problems the common man face.

Posted by: TRN | October 5, 2009 05:38 AM

Harping on trivia has been a passion among many. Identifying killers in sensational incidents is also used to advance “one’s cause” and to muddy the image of the other. Whether the bullet came from an LTTE, IPKF or EPRLF gun is somewhat immaterial now – because the enormously talented Rajani is gone. Removed by mindless beasts. But Rajani’s example is an eminently good one to follow in an emotionally divided country. Coming from a Jaffna Tamil family from the upper middle class she breached the racial barrier to marry not merely a Sinhalese – but one of plebian origin. Those who organized the memory of such a humane being and the hundreds who paid homage to her tell the country loud and clear there are many Lankans ready to defy race, caste and class to achieve a just and plural society. At a time when the country, its rulers and institutions have engaged global condemnation Rajani’s work, example and supreme sacrifice lights up a darkened sky where we can all walk with our heads held high. Even in death she continues to serve the country.


Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | October 5, 2009 01:11 PM

"Dayan wanted me to make a statement regarding this information. At the time the Premadasa government had an understanding with the Tamil Tigers against the IPKF and their proxy the EPRLF. That was the crux of the matter".

From the above sentence it is clear that the Ruling party of Sri Lanka is capable of putting the blame on anyone regardless of who the actual criminal is!!! One day it is LTTE the other day it is EPRLF!!! One day Karuna is a Terrorist, next day he is a minister who is being given protection by the same people who called him terrorist!!! Innocent civilians are behind barbed wire, without any freedom,while murderers are roaming the world and representing Sri Lanka!!!!So how could anyone who has not witnessed a crime point fingers at anybody? Has the government ever had any investigation on any of political murders?

Posted by: nandasena | October 5, 2009 02:51 PM

Wow, take that Dayan.

I can see Dayapala, taking the middle ground to bring our people together. The future is yours and ours because you stand for what is just.

And, there is space in the middle for a party or an individual to fight for the common good. Now that will be the true legacy of Rajani Tiranagama.

Posted by: Vishvajith | October 5, 2009 09:07 PM a little patient and wait for the Sunday Island, friends...

Posted by: dayan jayatilleka | October 6, 2009 10:19 AM

Nayagan, I just would not compare Rajani with Che. Her husband did. Read the article above, man. By the way, I may be an old coot, but one who was born years after both Dayapala and Rajani.

Posted by: Dayan Jayatilleka | October 6, 2009 12:59 PM

Nagayan, I forgot say: "posterity"? who's competing? but now that you mention it, in whose country?

Posted by: Dayan Jayatilleka | October 6, 2009 01:09 PM

*** Identifying killers in sensational incidents is also used to advance “one’s cause” and to muddy the image of the other. Whether the bullet came from an LTTE, IPKF or EPRLF gun is somewhat immaterial now***

No, Senguttavan, It is VERY RELEVANT... especially when a significant number of your DELUDED, BRAINWASHED ETHNIC GROUP still don't believe the LTTE killed any TAMILS at ALL... We know who did this, and ven YOU know who did it... you just refuse to believe it... DENIAL is not a river in Egypt...ok Sen? Its time you people woke up and smell the coffee...

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | October 7, 2009 02:13 PM

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