There is perhaps total consensus that religion is one of the major factors that exerts influences on the people: nurturing, moulding, and contributing to the development of their character. But religionby itself is not able to exert this influence. This happens depending on how it is communicated to the people. This religious communication is done by the religious men. Therefore, in discussing the issue of reconciliation, which involves both inter-religion and inter-religious harmony, the role of religious men has to be examined very carefully.
There are many religions in the world, and among them there are a number of world religions. I am not focusing my attention on all religions and all religious men, but on Buddhism and the Buddhist monks. This is mainly because I am a member of the community of Buddhist monks.
Buddhism is one of the world religions. It has influenced peoples of different nations and cultures throughout a very long period of over two and a half millenniums. From ancient times Buddhism has served as a reconciliatory force bringing together different factions divided on various grounds and issues: political, ethnic, social, economic, and so on. Sri Lanka itself bears evidence to this. It is with the introduction of Buddhism that the country became united and commenced its forward march to progress in all spheres of life. The world history shows similar histories in countries like Myanmar, Korea and Japan. This shows that Buddhism is a teaching that unites people. It is very necessary to understand this factor when communicating Buddhism.
There are certain factors that contribute to make Buddhism a unifying force. Basically one has to understand that Buddhism is for the ending conflict and for establishing peace. In Buddhist technical terminology these two objectives are explained as dukkha and its nirodha, which means cessation. Dukkha, usually translated into English as suffering, is in fact a term impregnated with different nuances of meaning. The term ‘Dukkha’ covers all human problems: pain, discontentment, dissatisfaction, dejection, conflict and so on. Hence, Buddhism can by simply explained as a teaching dealing with ‘human problems’. Though nonhumans, including animals, are not left out, the main focus is on the human being and his problems. This has to be born in mind when communicating the Buddhist teachings.
While Buddha claims that his teachings present an assured way of completely terminating and bringing about the cessation of all human problems, he explains how difficult it is to attain this state. This is the highest ideal; yet there are states below this ideal level which are harmonious, peaceful, and satisfying. While Buddha says that he presents an assured way to peace, he does not say that what he says is the only truth. He knows very well that if he said so, that will lead to conflicts and disputes. Such a claim would not be conducive to the peace, harmony, and well-being of the masses for which he urged his clergy of disciples to disseminate his teachings. Such a claim would be very divisive; leading to religious fundamentalism and even leading to destructive wars as evidenced by history.
The Buddha spoke about the separate identity of Buddhism. Yet he never attempted to impose Buddhist identity on other religions. Instead, he strove firmly to keep the masses in the track of religion without using discriminatory methods to veer them away from non-religion, especially pure materialism which denies all morals and ethics. In one of the very well-known discourses in the Majjhima-nikaya, namely, the Alagaddupama Sutta, he makes the following insightful observations:
“Some learn the teaching only for the sake of criticizing others and for winning debates, and they do not experience the good for the sake of which they learned the teaching. Those teachings, being wrongly grasped by them, conduce to their harm and suffering for a long time”.
To explain this wrong grasping of the religious teachings and consequent harm that befalls, he cites the simile of one who wrongly grasps a snake by the tail. When grasped in the wrong manner, the person who grasps it is bitten by the snake which causes his death. This is quite an effective simile to all religious men who wrongly grasp religious teachings, perhaps being inspired and urged by misconceived ideas.
Such grasping nullifies the purpose for which religions are preached. Religions are for unity, harmony peace, understanding, trust, and so on. It is mostly through wrong communication by over-enthusiastic, perhaps, well-meaning communicators of religious teachings that religions turn into destructive forces. The Buddha said in the already quoted discourses, that religion should be considered as a ‘raft’ that helps to tide over the numerous problems of life, or dukkha, as Buddhism puts it. One is admonished not to carry the religion on his head, or to load it on his shoulder, but to use it as a device to solve problems.
It is just blind and dogmatic clinging to religion that makes one veer towards religious fundamentalism, decrying all other religions, and communicating religious teachings in the wrong way, inciting the ‘faithful masses’ to all kinds of destructive and disruptive activities. This is happening all over the world.
Religious communicators have to perform their role with caution and insight, without being tempted and misled by personal considerations. Religion should not be made a political instrument nor should religious men become politicians or tools of politicians. It is true that it is very difficult to be above politics in the present political contexts. All have political views, mental inclination towards a particular political system, political views etc. But such views and inclinations should not be mixed up with religious teachings, especially with Buddhist teachings. The Buddha was never a politician, though he presented a political theory for the good of everyone to assure all the enjoyment of all main human rights and privileges.
Emperor Asoka of India adopted such a tolerant religious policy that was conducive to forge unity among all peoples of different faiths. He explicitly stated in his Edicts that one who disparages other religions is disparaging his own religion. Politicians should not entice religious men to serve their political needs. Such an attitude is very harmful in the long run. This makes the Buddhist monk’s role as communicator of the Buddha teaching a very tricky and a difficult task.
Religious men should realize that their task is to bring about unity among those who are divided. This role of the clergy, communicators of the teaching of the Buddha, has been very vibrantly described in a discourse called the Samannaphala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya. This description explains the proper way such bhikhus should use their speech and says that “he should be one to be relied on, dependable, not a deceiver of the world, …a reconciler of those who are disunited and one whoencourages those who are united, one who is delighting the unity and concord, and speaking up for peace”. Such should be the role of a good religious teacher.
This very clearly shows how Buddhism serves reconciliation and how a monk should work for the reconciliation of the divided if they really wish to be the sons of the Buddha. When the Buddha sent out the first sixty missionaries to communicate his new founded teaching, he requested them to preach the teachings for the good, well-being, and happiness of all.
This, ‘happiness for the many’ does not mean the happiness of the majority. Those who wish to follow fundamentalism and also wish to work under particular political directions could interpret this admonition in this narrow sense. But, the Buddha has made it very clear that all our actions have to be for the good of oneself and for the good of others. This morality goes far beyond the ‘narrow’ political interpretation of democracy. Buddhism is a democratic teaching, but this democracy does not mean the imposition of the majority view on the minority.
There is no question that the Teaching of the Buddha, his Dhamma, should be for the good and benefit of all. Buddha has shown that this could be done by getting hold of the dhamma in the proper manner, not as a political slogan, not as a propagandist cry, but as a message of peace and harmony. The Buddha has intervened not as a political negotiator but as a spiritual teacher to avert war between clans. It is well known that when the two clans, the Sakyans and the Koliyans, arrayed themselves, fully armed, to wage war against each other over the issue of sharing water of the Rohini river, the Buddha intervened and explained the futility and dangers that follow war. His attempt was to drive sense into warring parties and reconcile, and advice them not to act in a partisan manner that would further ignite the issue.
The Dhamma communicators have a duty to protect the Dhamma. But the protection of Buddhism should not be extended to the imposition of Buddhist identity and sentiments on other religions and religious men. Desecrating Buddhism and showing violent disrepute to Buddhism has to be stopped, and the members of the Sangha have a duty to do so. But this has to be done not by using force, violent behavior, and engaging in disruptive activities, but in a Buddhist way; in a peaceful way. If Buddhist clergy takes the law into their hands, totally disregard natural justice, rule of law and such other basic principles, the whole society will gradually break down, plunging the whole country into darkness and into a miserable state. To protect Buddhism is to live according to Dhamma. Living according to Dhamma itself is an inbuilt kind of protection for those who follow the Dhamma.
Religion is not the only factor of conflict and disunity. There are many other factors. So, in a multi- religious, multi-ethnic society beset with such conflicting issues, all are stakeholders in this process of reconciliation.
It is not only the majority population that bears the responsibility of working for unity and harmony. All minorities are duty bound to cooperate and integrate themselves with the majority. And, of course, the majority merely on the ground of the majority, should not try to dominate or impose their will on the majority or deprive the minorities of their due. Extremism and fundamentalism should be shunned by all, including the minorities. The majority should behave in a way that will not make minorities feel that they are being oppressed and deprived of their legitimate dues. Similarly, the minorities should not make undue demands and use their minority positions as a ruse to gain extra mileage.
It is in this state of conflicts that religion and religious men of moderate thinking and views can effectively play their roles. While properly communicating the essence of the respective teachings to devotes, they should specially impress upon the politicians regarding the role they also should play as ‘reconcilers’. If politicians fail to play their role properly, but use religion and religious men to achieve their own ends, then the whole process of reconciliation is bound to fail. With this observation, I conclude.
Thank you very much for your patient hearing.
*Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero, Chancellor, Sri Jayewardenepura University. Speech delivered by Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero at the National Conference ‘the Role of Religion in Reconciliation’ on July 23, 2013.
On the afternoon of 25th July 1983, 35 Tamil prisoners held under the PTA or Emergency Regulations were massacred in a prison riot. What was more remarkable was the second attack on the surviving prisoners two days later, killing another 18 prisoners after strong protests from abroad and measures had apparently been taken to protect the survivors.
Both massacres were documented in the UTHR(J) publication Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power; Myths, Decadence and Murder. It adduced strong reasons pointing to a section of the government of the day as prime mover in the crime supported by some members of the prison staff. Among the latter it identified Jailor Rogers Jayasekere a supporter of the ruling UNP from Kelaniya, the former electorate of J.R. Jayewardene, who was then president. The old Kelaniya electorate was in 1983 represented by Ranil Wickremasinghe (Biyagama) and Cyril Mathew (Kelaniya), who were both instrumental in the July 1983 communal violence, particularly the latter.
N. Thangathurai and Kuttimani Yogachandran amidst prison guards
N. Thangathurai and Kuttimani Yogachandran amidst prison guards
An army contingent stationed at the prison had a direct radio link to Army HQ, where during both prison attacks the Security Council was meeting with President Jayewardene himself present. We are clear that the Army unit at the prison was ordered not to intervene and on the first occasion, Lt. Mahinda Hathurusinghe further prevented the injured prisoners being removed to hospital and ensured that they were killed or died through neglect or suffocation after being piled one on top of another.
Arrogance of Power points to political interference in the inquest proceedings. The Government had armed itself with enough draconian powers to dispose of the bodies without an inquest, although the bodies having been taken to the Hospital mortuary created a problem. Because of international interest Secretary/ Justice, Mervyn Wijesinghe, persuaded the Government to hold inquests in both instances. To this end the reluctant Colombo Magistrate Keerthi Wijewardene was told by Wijesinghe to hold the inquests. The inquest verdicts, while routinely admitting homicide and calling upon the Police to conduct further investigations were also crafted to rule out state complicity and culpability. They long remained the Government’s defence and the last official word on the subject.
The supplementary information here comes from two sources. One is Lalanath de Silva, the son of Alexis Leo de Silva, then Superintendent of Welikade Prison who passed away in 1995. The other is Nuvolari Seneviratne who was the Lieutenant in charge of the army unit outside Welikade Prison during the second massacre on the 27th. But first a note on the ‘Truth’ Commission.
Judicial Censorship of SP Leo de Silva
In July 2001, President Kumaratunge appointed the Presidential ‘Truth’ Commission on Ethnic Violence headed by former Chief Justice Suppiah Sharvananda, with S.S. Sahabandu and M.M. Zuhair as additional members. It was mandated to inquire into the nature, causes and the extent of gross violations of human rights and destruction property in violence between January 1981 and December 1984. With regard to the violence of July 1983, Suriya Wickremasinghe, who had done extensive work on the prison massacres, appeared before the Commission. We give below in her own words her assessment of what was achieved and what it failed to achieve on the question of the massacres:
“Where the Welikade massacres were concerned for instance it did hardly any – if any – investigation of its own. It relied on me (CRM) for practically everything (for instance, even the inquest proceedings were supplied to it by us) and seemed more than happy with just our material. What it should have done is taken our material as a starting point and then followed up from there, with all its powers of investigation and summoning witnesses, which we didn’t have. For instance it could and should have tried to obtain the statements recorded by the police after the 1st massacre. The instructing attorneys in the 35 civil cases filed by dependents of victims (assisted by CRM; it was in pursuance of these that we tracked down and interviewed survivors) called for these time and again in preparation for the trials, but were met with evasion after evasion by the Police. The cases never came to trial because they were eventually settled, state paying some compensation but without admitting liability.
“By the time of the ‘Truth’ Commission, I guess I was exhausted with putting the facts before them and it was probably partly my fault I did not press sufficiently for follow-up, or possibly I thought it would be no use. Welikade was only a small part of the Commission’s whole remit. In its report the Commission did pay CRM and me a handsome tribute, which was certainly gratifying, but we had really hoped that it would investigate further and uncover information which we had not already found out for ourselves.”
When contacted by us Lalanath de Silva told us: “My evidence before the Truth Commission was essentially about what I knew – things I heard and saw for myself – and things my father told me or discussed with me. In July 1983 I was a young lawyer having been admitted to the bar in August 1982. My father discussed many legal and other matters related to his duties and this incident with me.
“If there was one thing he was ever so clear about – it was his duty as a Prison official with respect to all in his custody – namely that under the law they were committed to “safe custody” and that it was his bounden duty to keep them safe and well until they received due process. That is why the Magistrate at the first inquest refused to record his full story – abridged what he said, taking down only what he wanted. At one point my father refused to continue unless his evidence was accurately recorded.”The Magistrate became angry andstopped taking any more evidence from my father.
“In any event, my father told me that the AG’s department counsel called my father outside the room where the inquest was being held and had attempted to persuade my father to go along – his plea was that the truth would place Sri Lanka in a very adverse position internationally. My father refused to cooperate. He wanted it recorded that the Army had been complicit (by commission and omission) in the whole affair, that there were prisoners still alive after the massacre that he wanted sent immediately to the accident service for emergency treatment and that the army had blocked this and that his pleas to higher authorities to move the Tamil detainees away from Welikadeeven before the massacres had fallen on deaf ears. Of course none of this was recorded!”
“At the second inquest, he did not take my father’s evidence because he knew my father insisted on speaking the truth and instead selected some junior officers. It was clear to my father that both the AGs department personnel and the Magistrate had one clear objective – to cover up the incident and return a finding where no one could be identified and prosecuted for the massacre. My father paid for his stance.”
This clarifies the observation made by Suriya Wickremasinghe of the Civil Rights Movement who closely followed this case from the very outset. She observed the lack of continuity in Leo de Silva’s testimony as recorded in the first inquest report and felt that parts of it were missing.
The Magistrate entered a verdict of homicide, from a ‘general state of unrest’ among 800 prisoners housed upstairs in the Chapel Section, ‘which had ended up as a riot’. He further concluded that, “None of the prison officers or the army officers summoned thereafter could have done anything under the circumstances to prevent the attack. They have all been completely overpowered.”
The 2nd Massacre 27th July
Most people, especially Tamils, assumed that the first massacre was planned and executed on behalf of the government of the day and the second followed because the job was incomplete, with about half the PTA detainees remaining alive. Suriya Wickremasinghe, who more than anyone else has painstakingly studied the matter from the start, and tracked down and interviewed most of the survivors in different parts of the world, adds a note of caution. While she formed a strong impression that the second massacre became imperative to cover up the first, she feels the first massacre was not necessarily pre-planned at high level. Her reasoning is that following the inquest into the first massacre, the Magistrate had issued routine instructions to the Police to carry out investigations and the Police did question the survivors and start recording statements which contained some damning testimony. The survivors had become witnesses to the crime. We will return to the question of premeditation towards the end.
Suriya Wickremasinghe added, “Some survivors were circumspect and didn’t say much. Others came out with names – e.g. Manickathasan (of the PLOTE who was killed by the LTTE in 1999), told me he named two jailors. He said their names were written down in inverted commas in his statement. Prison staff were listening while his statement was recorded and one of them, a thin jailor whose name he did not know, advised him not so mention these two names, otherwise the people here will do the same to you. He also told the police when asked that he could identify the two convicted prisoners who had broken down through the ceiling and come into their corridor…. …This would explain why, if indeed it happened, it was felt necessary to import criminals from outside – Lt. Seneviratne’s testimony below – for the second occasion, to make sure the job was properly done.”
While some survivors felt safe after being moved to the Youthful Offenders Block, others felt that they were in even greater danger than ever because they were witnesses. They would not be allowed to live but they would die fighting. Suriya adds, “Therefore they started preparations to defend themselves – improvised weapons by twisting tin plates to form missiles, collected urine and chillie water from their gravy in their buckets, got ready to entwine their canvas sleeping-sheets round the iron bars to hold the cell doors closed. That is why they were able to fight back and why some of them managed to survive.”
During the morning the Chief Jailor informed Acting Commissioner of Prisons C.T. (Cutty) Jansz that another attack on the surviving Tamil PTA prisoners was imminent. (At the inquest, he also added plans for a mass jailbreak to the impending attack on PTA prisoners, which we now have good reason to believe, was prompted into the testimony by the AG’s Dept.) Jansz contacted Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary/ Justice and wanted moves to fly the surviving prisoners out of Colombo, as had been agreed after the first attack, expedited. For this purpose Jansz attended the Security Council meeting at Army HQ that afternoon.
We make some remarks about the layout that are necessary for the account below. The prison has an outer perimeter wall. At the entrance there is an arch fitted with a solid door with a small door built into it to admit visitors. The larger door is opened for vehicles. Inside one is in a covered way, a kind of tunnel. On either side of the tunnel are office rooms and visitors rooms. At the end of the tunnel is a second gate made of metal bars through which one could see into the prison compound. A public coin-operated telephone was on a side of this tunnel. The standard security procedure for vehicles entering the prison is that when they go in through the first door, that door has to be closed and secured before the other is opened.
Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne of the Field Engineering Unit led the platoon that was on duty outside the prison. His unit had arrived in the night following the first massacre and, at midnight, he took over duties at the prison from Lt. Hathurusinghe of Artillery. The latter left in the morning. Some of Seneviratne’s men were at the guardroom at the prison entrance. Lt. Seneviratne told us that the duty of the soldiers at the entrance was to check the papers of the vehicles coming into the prison and ensure that they were government vehicles. The identity checks were the work of the jail guards just inside the entrance. The soldiers communicated freely with the jail guards and passed on to him news of what was going on inside. The soldiers at the entrance told him that they heard from the jail guards that some of the official vehicles coming in were bringing in underworld figures. They did not go back out in the vehicles that had brought them.
Asked who the underworld figures were, Seneviratne replied, “I did not see them myself and there is no way my men would have known them. But the jail guards knew them as persons who had been in and out of jail. They told my men.” Through sensing the atmosphere and what his men learnt from the jail guards, Seneviratne confirms that plans to attack the Tamil PTA detainees were widely known in the morning. Jansz had acted on this, yet nothing was done to ensure security of the prisoners.
Lt. Seneviratne did not communicate the prospect of an attack to Army HQ. He says that his men were well equipped with weapons and riot gear, rigorously trained and they could have handled any riot. During the afternoon he and his men heard a commotion near the Youthful Offenders Block where the surviving prisoners were housed. This was also close to the entrance where they were. It was at this point, Seneviratne says, that he contacted the Operations Room at Army HQ by the direct radio link. This was about 20 minutes before the actual attack began (roughly 4.00 PM). He spoke to the junior duty officer whom he asked for permission to go into the prison and deal with the attack. The junior duty officer gave him a telephone number at Army HQ and asked him to speak to the senior duty officer (rank of colonel).
Seneviratne believes that he was the first to communicate the impending attack to Army HQ, from whence Jansz was then on his way back to the Prison Commissioner’s office. Curfew was declared at 4.00 PM. Jansz was told about the riot about 4.15 PM and he immediately phoned Brigadier Madawala at Army HQ, who as arranged earlier had agreed to keep a squad in readiness in case of attack.
Lt. Seneviratne went to the public call box inside the entrance and in the tunnel. Using coins collected from his men and the Chief Jailor who was at the entrance, he phoned the number giver by the junior duty officer and got hold of the duty officer who was in the Army Commander’s room at HQ. The duty officer told him that they were aware of the riot and were sending a back up team and asked him to stay out. Seneviratne asked to speak to the Army Commander. The duty officer told him that the President was also there and he could not speak to the Army Commander and insisted that he stick to the standing orders, failing which he would be court-martialled. The standing orders were not to go in to the jail at any cost, but to protect the jail from outside attacks only. The orders had nothing to say on the protection of prisoners.
Seneviratne told us that during this time he was in the tunnel with some of his men. They were able to move in and out through the small door attached to the big door in front. The second door with a metallic grill leading into the prison compound was closed but not locked. Jail staff were moving in and out of it into the tunnel. Some of his men who were with him fired at the attackers through the grill. Others had used an army truck and climbed onto the prison wall and fired from there.
The account in Arrogance of Power reflected the general perception that both prison attacks had been planned for just after curfew to prevent other prisoners escaping. There may also be another factor in the second. Arrogance of Power which also used Suriya Wickremasinghe’s analysis of the case, expressed surprise that neither the inquest proceedings nor the recorded testimony of prison staff made any reference to the whereabouts or role of Superintendent Leo de Silva or either of his two ASPs. It wondered if Leo was on the premises.
His son Lalanath said, “My father was in and out of that jail all through this time. I was at home and he spent most of his time, morning, noon and night in that jail. That was not just during this period but that was his commitment to duty – The Prison Ordinance says that Prison officers are on duty 24 hours – he took that literally! He would say to me “Prisoners come and Prisoners go, but I am in jail forever”!
“The second massacre took place minutes after my father had come home to get a late lunch and a quick wash – he had spent the whole night in jail and pretty much the whole morning and noon. He had barely come home (our home is the big house to the left of Welikade gate) when he heard shouting from inside the jail, the alarm siren etc and he ran back to the jail. Perhaps they all waited for him to leave? The timing was incredibly too perfect. My father did tell me that on the second massacre he was pleading with the army to fire tear gas – and that it took him many appeals and even some shouting to get them activated!”
The back up team sent by Army HQ comprised a group of commandos under Major Sunil Peiris. He and his men came through the small door into the tunnel. Peiris inquired about the situation from Seneviratne briefly before rushing in. By the time the commandos took control the attackers had enough time to kill 16 of the 28 prisoners locked up in the cells on the ground floor of the YO Block and Dr. Rajasundaram upstairs. Another died later in Hospital, bringing the total to 18.
Major Peiris in testimony given to us said that fire from his weapon injured a prisoner whom he saw being carried away. Lt. Seneviratne told us that his men too had fired at the attackers from the gate and some were injured. These facts were not recorded by Magistrate Wijewardene who also conducted the inquest into the second massacre at the request of Mervyn Wijesinghe. Nor was any attempt made to identify the attackers whom, as Suriya Wickremasinghe who interviewed survivors noted, could have been identified by them, as they fought off several of them at close quarters. Many survivors told her that they could have identified some of the attackers if seen again. After asking the survivors whether they could identify the attackers, to which the answer was no, since the prisoners did not know the attackers by name, the Magistrate failed to follow up with, whether they could identify the attackers if they saw them again (for example at an identification parade). It was also remarkable that whereas the prison staff, who at the inquest identified with ease the mutilated bodies of the victims, invariably said that they were unable to identify a single of the convicted prisoners who took part in the riot!
Lt. Seneviratne Barred from the Inquest
The presence of underworld elements imported into the prison for the second attack, which Lt. Seneviratne spoke of, had been rumoured for a long time and strenuously denied by senior staff in the Prisons Dept. Also rumoured before and denied by Prisons staff is a hole reportedly made in the prison wall after the second massacre. Lt. Seneviratne said that after Major Peiris arrived, his men alerted him to a hole having been made in the prison wall by the cricket grounds. He said that he personally saw it about 5.00 PM and an Air Force truck was parked opposite the hole, with an air officer present. He did not make an issue of it but simply looked at it and left. He believes this was how the injured prisoners and the underworld elements brought in were taken out, adding that there is a path there that leads to Borella.
Lt. Seneviratne told us that following the massacre AG’s Dept men and men from the Army’s legal department. came to Welikade prison to discuss the inquest. The standing orders and the logbook in which the soldiers logged in the vehicles entering were removed. He said a group of about 20 of them wanted him to tell the inquest that there had been a jailbreak attempt by detainees. He was placed under enormous pressure, but he refused to testify that he was outside the prison controlling a jailbreak.
Seneviratne felt very bad about not being allowed to go into prison and rescue the PTA detainees. He told the others that they refused him permission to go in and rescue the prisoners, but now they wanted him to make some false testimony. He said that he would only speak the truth and say that what happened was sheer murder.
The AG’s dept. men told the army officers present to convince ‘your man’. When he refused repeated pleas to give in, Major Sunil Peiris stepped in and told the others not to harass him and if he won’t, he won’t. Peiris said that if they wanted someone from the Army to testify, he would. Seneviratne told us that he had trained with the commandos and during that time he had become friends with Major Peiris.
Peiris testified at the inquest the following day, but he did not give substance to any attempted jailbreak. He answered what must have been a leading question with, “I did not notice any prisoners attempting to break out… I initially gathered that the mass scale jail break had been contained…”
Seneviratne was hoping that as the officer in charge at the prison, he would be called upon to testify as Lt. Hathurusinghe had previously been, so that he could place the truth on record. But he was not. Major Peiris was presented as the spokesman for the Army’s role and the part played by those on duty outside the jail was ignored. Suriya Wickremasinghe with whom Lt. Seneviratne first made contact adds, “In fact even those who later studied the subject carefully overlooked this omission, or assumed that the army unit outside had been unable or unwilling to do anything as during the first massacre.”
After the awkwardness with Leo de Silva at the first inquest, the AG’s Dept. was very choosy about witnesses. Leo de Silva and his two deputies were not called. The Chief Jailor, fourth in order of seniority, was brought in as though he were in charge. Explaining his position, Chief Jailor Karunaratne said, “Up to this point… to the best of my recollection there were no officers superior to me in office in the compound…” Indeed, Leo had gone for a quick lunch, but had come as soon as the alarm was raised.
It is now easy to see that the combination of officials and lawyers from the Army’s legal unit and the AG’s Dept., along with a willing magistrate, had scripted the inquest proceedings. Having kept Seneviratne out of the inquest, Chief Jailor Karunaratne was given a story to explain why an army unit had to come all the way from HQ when Lt. Seneviratne who was on the spot was not utilised. Karunaratne said: “I was also informed that some… prisoners in the remand prison had obtained possession of fire arms. I am now aware that in view of that situation some of the army personnel placed outside Welikade Prison had to go to the remand section to combat that situation.”
What Karunaratne could not say is that he was at the gate asking help from Lt. Seneviratne’s unit and gave him coins to call Army HQ to get permission, which was refused. He was thus scripted to explain the army unit’s absence with a fictitious riot at the remand section. He rather weakly explained the steps he took to prevent a mass jailbreak, sending his men everywhere except to the scene of attack.
Having failed to substantiate any jailbreak attempt, Magistrate Wijewardene still went undeterred to the scripted conclusion: “Both the army personnel and the prison officers had been hindered in the full utilisation of their forces to protect the victims of the attack by the intended mass jailbreak…However, prompt and efficient steps taken by the special unit of the Army under witness Major Peiris had effectively prevented the jail break referred to.” Major Peiris had been clear that there was no attempted jailbreak.
Post massacre fortunes of SP Leo de Silva and Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne
Despite their large difference in age and having been in two different services, they had something in common. They instinctively respected the spirit of the law and found murder galling. During the fateful 48 hours at Welikade, which scarred their lives and virtually ended their careers, they moved in close proximity of each other, but perhaps never met. If they did, Leo would have been deeply distrustful of Nuvolari.
Leo’s son Lalanath said, “My father was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that the Army set the prisoners up. Keep in mind this was a response to 13 soldiers being killed in the North by the LTTE. Here was a way to kill “LTTE” personnel right in Colombo. My father believed that by commissions (rousing prisoners to revolt) and omissions (refusing to cooperate to quell the riot and blocking emergency treatment for injured Tamil detenues after the first massacre) the Army was vicariously responsible for the events.”
Leo, as he confided to his family, continued in fear of grievous harm from the army units guarding the prison . He took the precaution of swearing an affidavit before his son, an all-island JP. He would leave the truth on record in a situation where the courts found no place for it. After all that happened and the position he took trying to save the lives of injured Tamil detainees and the court scenes where he protested to a rude and angry magistrate that he would speak the whole truth, a further incident related by his son enhanced his fear:
“After the massacres, he was walking to the jail from home once after dark, when he was challenged by an army officer. Upon giving his name and rank, the officer verbally signalled him to pass, but continued to point the gun at my father. Under normal practice the gun is lowered once permission to pass is given. My dad was angry at this insult. He went up to the officer and reminded him that he (my father) was of the rank of a colonel in the army and the correct thing was for him to lower his gun and salute him. The officer did not salute him but did lower the gun and stand to attention.”
In the affidavit, he affirmed his belief that the army personnel stationed outside the prison were instrumental in encouraging prisoners to attack Tamil PTA detainees. According to his son, “It was very clear to my father that during the first massacre, prisoners appeared confident that the Army would not intervene and that the Prison guards themselves neither had tear gas nor other effective means for mass crowd control.”
As the head of the prison, Leo de Silva felt it incumbent upon him to carry out an internal inquiry and identify the culprits responsible. In this he was thwarted by an order from the Commissioner of Prisons, Mr. Delgoda. He was a marked man given that the Government was determined to cover up the Welikade massacres. Leo de Silva was obstructed and finally pushed out at the age of 56. The prisons come under the Ministry of Justice, and Dr. Nissanka Wijeratne, who was then Minister for Justice refused him the extension of service that is routinely given annually after the age of 55. He was denied his pension and promotion as well. As a young lawyer, Lalanath had to file a fundamental rights case for him – and it was in a settlement they got there that his full pension was restored and his back wages were given on the basis of a promotion.
For Leo it was towards the end of his exemplary career, and being thrown out in that manner is a bitter pill for anyone. For Nuvolari Seneviratne, it was but the beginning of his career. He was then only 22 years old. He soon realised that by refusing to play along at the inquest according to the script, he angered many in the Army. Relations between him and his commanding officer Major (later Colonel) Jayantha Jayasinghe plummeted. The latter found himself blamed for not being able to get his subordinate to go along with their story.
Seneviratne and his men felt frustrated and unhappy that they had been prevented from going into the jail and rescuing the prisoners under attack. To many this would seem a very unusual attitude after what people saw from the Army at that time and especially from Lt. Hathurusinghe’s unit that was at the prison during the first massacre. Hathurusinghe was also in touch with Army HQ, but his unit went into the prison and were spectators to the massacre and also, later, prevented the injured from being taken to Hospital.
Generalisations could frequently be unjust. There were many soldiers, including from the ranks, who thought professionally, like in the case cited below. When the officer wanted a soldier to assault a prisoner, the soldier replied that an order asking him to shoot was one he was bound to obey, but not one to assault a prisoner. When a platoon works and trains together, a rapport develops and when the commander sees a task as a challenge to their professionalism, the men are bound to fall in line.
In this instance Seneviratne and his men saw it as their duty to rescue the prisoners. And their frustration must have increased when after a crucial delay, Major Sunil Peiris was sent in to do the very job they were both trained and eager to do and could have accomplished expeditiously. Where the public was concerned, Seneviratne and his platoon were cast in a poor light and left there for reasons of state. It appears that Army HQ was taken aback when Seneviratne asked for permission to go into the prison and do his job. They strictly ordered him to keep out of the jail, unlike they did with Hathurusinghe and his men, who were allowed in on a sight-seeing expedition.
Seneviratne says that three years after the massacre, knowing that there was no future for him in the Army, he put in his papers. He was refused and by this time the talk among several officers was that it was better to keep him in the Army, rather than let him go out and talk. He kept on putting in his papers to leave the Army. His promotions were also stalled, but he was posted to the battle zones in the North. Some called him a Tiger, claiming that those killed at Welikade were all Tigers. (In fact an overwhelming majority of those killed did not belong to the LTTE, but Tigers had become a generic name for Tamil militants.) Seneviratne argued that many of those like Rajasundaram were in fact intellectuals.
Finally, Seneviratne says, General Kobbekaduwa in 1992, understanding his position was sympathetic and signed his release. But just afterwards, in August 1992, he was killed and Seneviratne’s release was withdrawn. At this time Seneviratne, who by then held the rank of captain, was in Weli Oya. Whenever he was with his commanding officer Jayantha Jayasinghe, tempers tended to flare up and sometimes they almost came to blows. The area was one where there was constant LTTE infiltration and Seneviratne felt that he was being sent on missions from which he was not expected to come back alive.
At one point Colonel Jayasinghe had his salary stopped although he continued on active duty for a further seven months. When he went home on leave, Jayasinghe sent a message telling him not to come back. Without making a further issue of it, Seneviratne simply went away. It was in the year 2000 that he appealed to the Army Commander for a review to regularise his discharge from the Army. An inquiry was held, where some of his former brother officers supported him. The Commander regularised his departure and called for the payment of his arrears. Seneviratne says he was told unofficially to forget his back pay as the termination of his pay was improper and touching the matter would involve the Army in legal controversy.
The Standing of Seneviratne’s Testimony
A striking remark made by Seneviratne in the course of our conversations is that he would not be speaking out now, had he not seen the account of the prison massacres in Arrogance of Power, which concluded that there was no attempted jailbreak during the second massacre, contrary to what the Magistrate maintained. For, Seneviratne said, “No one would have believed me”.
One would soon realise that his fears were very real. Senior Prison Department staff have maintained over the years that there was no presence of outsiders during the second massacre and they dismiss the claim that a hole was made in the wall. The infirmity in their denials is that a proper inquiry was never held and the culprits were not held to account. And after the kind of disaster that occurred, one would have expected some open accounting. On the other hand Commissioner Delgoda blocked Leo de Silva’s attempt to hold an inquiry and he alone appears to have paid dearly for his independence.
On the other hand Leo de Silva’s assessment has been that the Army was mainly to blame. His son told us, “I recall (and I said so to the Truth Commission) an army truck with soldiers cheering “Jayaweva” (Victory) speeding around the perimeter road of the jail even as the massacre was happening (I cannot remember if it was the first or second). I saw this myself through the rear window of our house – where my sister, mother and aunt were and prisoners could have heard this as well.” This incident we believe took place after the first massacre. Seneviratne vigorously denies that this happened on his watch.
The first day of widespread communal violence, July 25th, was soon after the killing of 13 soldiers in an LTTE mine attack in Jaffna. Besides, Leo de Silva’s personal experience with the Army too would have strengthened his assessment of the Army being the main instigators with tacit government support. However, the evidence we advanced in Sri Arrogance of Power points to both the communal violence and even the prison massacres having been planned well in advance.
The countdown in July, the President’s Daily Telegraph interview on fighting terrorism without impediments of the law and the orchestrated belligerence were pointers to the coming menace. Leo de Silva had even before the massacres called for the Tamil prisoners to be transferred, having sensed something nasty in the offing.
Evidence that Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne was indeed a conscientious objector to what his superiors wanted him to do, is the fact of the AG’s Dept. shunning his testimony. Arrogance of Power had found this remarkable and in need of explanation.
We found Lt. Seneviratne’s evidence eminently credible, not jarring anywhere, but adding to our understanding of events. His answers to questions regarding difficult points in his testimony came across convincingly without hesitation. A second massacre had been anticipated. Acting Commissioner Jansz wanted the transfer of prisoners expedited. The President and the Army Commander knew the gravity of the situation at the prison. Whether or not Seneviratne’s advance warning to the junior duty officer was communicated to them, they sent a back up team after Jansz communicated with them. One finds it strange for an army that the junior duty officer should have asked Lt. Seneviratne to go to a public call box and phone the senior duty officer in the same HQ premises.
While the army unit at the entrance had been kept idle, the Magistrate was anxious to conclude that there had been an attempted jailbreak. Seneviratne affirms that his pleas to go to the aid of the prisoners were turned down and he was asked to do nothing and pretend that there was an attempted jailbreak, so giving the attackers more time. All this makes perfect sense if the Army HQ had connived in the crime. If not Seneviratne could simply have been ordered to go in.
We come to the controversial elements of his testimony. One is about outsiders getting into the prison since the morning in official vehicles and the hole in the wall. Lalanath de Silva who shares the skepticism of senior prison officials at that time, says of outsiders getting in, “It is also highly unlikely that this could have happened under my father’s nose. He was an extremely alert man and was fully conscious of this possibility. Whether this happened when my father was not in the jail, I don’t know.” He suggested that blaming goons and thugs from the outside might suit the Army to deflect the searchlight from themselves. It is however well to remember that in the situation prevailing after the first massacre, Leo de Silva’s authority had been grievously undermined.
A strong indication of political machinations in the second massacre that Arrogance of Power has drawn attention to is a cabinet meeting that same (27th July 1983) morning reported in Sinha Ratnatunga’s ‘Politics of Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience’. The question of transferring the survivors of the first massacre out of Colombo to Jaffna prison had been raised. The author, who wrote the Migara column in the Weekend and was reputed for excellent inside contacts with President Jayewardene’s circle, reported that Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Ranil Wickremasinghe objected to the suggestion on the grounds that it would ‘furtherinfuriate’ the Sinhalese. From what Lt. Seneviratne’s men told him, it would appear that even as these words were being uttered, underworld elements were being inducted into the prison in official vehicles.
We contacted S. Manoranjan editor of the Lake House Tamil monthly Amuthu from 1999 to 2001. In July 2000 Amuthu published an investigative report on the Welikade prison massacre. It said that a group of underworld figures led by Gonawela Sunil, a UNP thug from Kelaniya, had been brought into the prison to lead the second massacre.
Manoranjan told us that there were three journalists working on this piece. They had approached Mr. Ganeshalingam, a long time UNP stalwart in Colombo and subsequently mayor of Colombo, for help. He directed them to a former member of the UNP trade union JSS which earned notoriety at the time of the communal violence under the leadership of Minister Cyril Mathew, also MP for Kelaniya. It was this former JSS member who told them that goons from Kelaniya under Gonawela Sunil were brought into Welikade Prison to carry out the second prison massacre. This story had been in the rumour mill for a long time.
We may also note that at some level there was apparently unhappiness with leaving the Welikade Massacres case to rest with merely the highly publicised inquest reports of Magistrate Keerthi Wijewardene as the last word. Or perhaps this was simply the result of the internationally expressed outrage. The Appendix gives the copy of a letter provided to us by the Civil Rights Movement where A.R.B. Amarasinghe, who had by early 1984 succeeded Mervyn Wijesinghe as Secretary/Justice, requests the Chief Justice to nominate a judge of the Supeme Court to inquire into matters pertaining to the massacre. One question notably concerned the possible presence of outsiders who were neither prisoners nor prison officials.
The attempt to hold an inquiry did not get off the ground. The reasons must for the moment remain a matter of speculation. It does however tell us that the possibility of an unauthorised presence of outsiders was taken seriously in the aftermath of the massacres.
Seneviratne’s support for this charge of the involvement of outsiders in the second massacre comes totally independent of any other report and without frills. He did not know about the affiliations of the underworld figures, but reported the mere fact of what his men learnt from the jail guards they worked with. His report of the hole in the wall had also been previously rumoured and adds nothing to his verifiable and damning testimony about the massacre itself.
Other Dissidents in the Saga of Welikade Prisoners
Cases of other dissidents who come out with credit in the story of the PTA prisoners were given to us by Suriya Wickremasinghe. She was told of these during her extensive interviews with survivors and we give them as related by her:
– The jail guard who successfully stood guard at the entrance to one of the wings in the Chapel building during the first massacre, blocking the doorway with his arms and legs spread out so that he formed an X. (Recounted to me by one of the survivors, who demonstrated how the guard had stood). Other survivors spoke of a jail guard, presumably the same one, who put his foot on the lock of the entrance to the corridor and said if you break this you have to cut my foot. It is correct that one of the wings housing Tamil prisoners in the Chapel Building was not broken into at all during the first massacre and all its inmates were thereby saved.
– Even more significant, the soldier in army camp (Panagoda if I recall right) before the prisoners were transferred to Welikade, who told his superior, when refusing to assault a prisoner, that he can order him to shoot, but that he cannot order him to beat a prisoner.
– Another survivor spoke very emotionally of a prison officer who was kind to them in Welikade and wanted me to convey to him his good wishes! This same survivor told me that if he ever sees again those who tortured him, he just has to kill them. This tale of regular assaults in army custody was a feature of almost all the testimonies, and they were very relieved when they were transferred to Welikade, where life was a comparative paradise until the 25th of July 1983. When interviewing these survivors, I was always in a hurry to hear about the massacres, but invariably first let them get off their chest the account of what they had undergone up to then. It was also a standard feature that admiration at times indeed amounting to love for those who treated them humanely was as strongly expressed as hatred for those who did the opposite.
The Question of Premeditation in the Massacres
We mentioned earlier that to most of us who in 1983 were politically alive as Tamils, and to the community having been placed at the cross roads by the infamous events, nothing we read or heard ever caused us to doubt that both the prison massacres were planned and executed by elements in the government of the day. It happened after the Tamil PTA detainees had been transferred from military custody and other prisons to Welikade prison.
Premeditation is hard to prove as no proper investigation was conducted and some of the key witnesses have since died. Many would still argue after extensive research that the transfer of prisoners to fiscal custody had been demanded by the main Tamil parliamentary party, the TULF, because of complaints of assault and ill-treatment in army-custody. The first massacre could also be explained as a result of purely local instigation in response to the upsurge of anti-Tamil emotions outside, granting that some jailors (persons of officer rank in the prison service) were also involved.
Many of these questions were dealt with in Arrogance of Power. We summarise the essential points and add a few more. Arrogance of Power could not have been written, but for an exceptionally conducive environment prevailing under the early years of Chandrika Kumaratunge’s presidency. There was a war and there were serious ongoing abuses, but for all her shortcomings as a leader, she stated unequivocally that there was an ethnic problem and genuine political grievances among the Tamils that needed a federal settlement. She repeatedly spoke of July 1983 as an outrage that needed to be come to terms with. One cannot readily see that her appointment of a ‘Truth’ Commission to go into the events of July 1983 was calculated to derive political mileage. Given the quagmire into which local politics had entered, her position as a leader was a major step for this country, as seen by the ease with which her successor has slipped back into primordial Sinhalese nationalism, leading to much uncertainty.
The atmosphere prevailing in the latter 1990s gave unprecedented access to material and to serving and retired officers in the security services, who believed that the ethnic problem had been badly mishandled and were willing to talk frankly about their experiences. An especially important group of contacts was journalists who had been active during the mid-1980s and had informally hobnobbed with key ministers.
Not only were a number of them convinced that the a section of the government was behind the prison massacres, but also that Jailor Rogers Jayasekere was the key linkman. Senior members of the Prison Dept. confirmed this to us obliquely. The journalists knew Jayasekere, whose father had worked for President Jayewardene when he contested Kelaniya earlier in his political career, as a UNP hatchet man, who provided behind the scenes support when the party wanted to play rough. In the prison he was polite and English speaking but his party affiliations to the UNP – the ruling party then – were also well known.
Citing Gamini Dissanayake, a leading minister who was then being overtaken in importance by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, a leading journalist told us about Jayasekere’s involvement in establishing Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas – Weli Oya in this instance. Jayasekere, he learnt was picked for the job of arranging for selected Sinhalese prisoners in Anuradhapura prison to be moved to Manal Aru in Mullaitivu (Weli Oya in Sinhalese) to pioneer a Sinhalese settlement. (This first group sent by Jayasekere was massacred by the LTTE in November 1984.)
Given Jayasekere’s background, it was eminently credible that the Welikade massacre was entrusted to him by leading members of the Government. Former detainees named two other prison officers who played a leading role in the massacres. They are Jailor Samitha (Rathgama) and Location Officer Palitha. There were also other reasons that added weight to the contention of premeditation.
A former prisoner in Welikade, now living abroad, told us that their being moved to Welikade had nothing to do with the request by the TULF. He said the TULF request was made 1½ years earlier and the prisoners themselves launched a hunger strike several months before to press this demand. This prisoner was moved to Welikade from Panagoda Army Camp as part of the movement to Welikade, which began on 3rd June 1983 and ended 11 days later on the 14th. The context of this movement was also the Public Security Ordinance, which was brought into force on the same day the movement began – 3rd. The former prisoner was among four who were released around 9th June. He believes they were released because there was nothing against them. Looking back he feels quite certain that the fate of the rest was already sealed. He points to the following, which seem to him significant in retrospect:
Of the 72 Tamil PTA or ER detainees concerned in the massacre drama, 63 were concentrated in one place – in three wings on the ground floor of the Chapel Section – irrespective of status. Some had been convicted, some had court hearings in progress and there were those against whom charges had not even been formulated or whose offences, if any, were not even of a criminal nature and should have been released. [The remaining nine prisoners of standing were held at the Y.O. Block to which the survivors from the first massacre were then moved. There were also Tamil suspects held in other parts of the prison.]
During the same period some criminal elements were moved from other prisons to the Chapel Section. Among them were Sepala Ekanayake and Akuna Santhre (Hemachandra) who were in Magazine Prison. The first took a prominent role in the second massacre and the second was a notorious killer.
This former prisoner suggested that A. Varadarajaperumal who was in Magazine Prison might have more information on this. At our request Mr. Varadarajaperumal sent us some notes. From his testimony, we gather no evidence that any prisoners were moved to the Chapel Section in preparation for the massacre. Akuna Santhre remained at Magazine. Sepala Ekanayake was transferred to the Chapel Section. His trial for hijacking commenced on 30th June 1983.
Varadarajaperumal was interrogated by an ASP from the CID on the 4th Floor around 1st April 1983. This police officer kicked him onto the ground, screamed at him that one day Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte (Colombo suburbs with a large Tamil population) will burn, as happened the coming July, and kicked him again.
Concerning Sepala Ekanayake, Varadarajaperumal said that at Magazine he used to be notably uncommunicative with Tamil prisoners and was also known to express strong anti-Tamil views among other prisoners. This was in marked contrast to his disposition towards the Tamil prisoners at the Chapel Section, where he cultivated a cordiality that was about excessive – greetings in Tamil and expressions of solidarity with their cause. Several Tamil survivors of the massacres refused to believe that he played a leading role in the second massacre. It is quite possible that those planning the massacre in the Chapel Section had recruited him and he was enjoying the deception of bogus cordiality with the intended victims. Appendix II gives a translated extract from Varadarajaperumal’s notes.
More pertinently, it must be remembered that the transfer to fiscal custody coincided with putting the PSO into effect with talk of getting tough on terrorism. Barely three weeks earlier, in May, sections of the Government had had unleashed communal violence against Tamil students at Peradeniya University (Supplement to Special Report No.19 Part-I).
On 12th June 1983, just as the movement of prisoners to Welikade was being completed, a report in the Island revealed that some in the Government were obsessed with these prisoners and proposed changes to the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Criminal Procedure Code giving the Army as part of routine law powers they already had under the PSO and various Emergency Regulations. The proposed amendments empowered the army personnel to use lethal force in respect of ‘terrorist suspects attempting to break jail or making a bid for freedom’. In the event of a suspect’s death, the only legal obligation was to make a report to the Attorney General’s Dept. on the circumstances of the death. This was the thinking reflected in the standing orders given to the army unit posted outside the prison.
A strong piece of evidence of premeditation comes from the fact that the communal violence of July 1983 was meticulously planned with the collection of electoral lists and assignment of UNP hit men to areas, behind the rhetoric of dispensing with the law to defeat terrorism. The attention the Government devoted to the PTA detainees in the run up to the violence (which was largely independent of the incident in Jaffna where 13 soldiers were killed) would make it highly remarkable if they were left out of the planning. The behavior of the army hierarchy during both massacres when the President was at Army HQ and the termination of the services of Superintendent Leo de Silva after he tried to hold an internal inquiry are further pointers.
The Curse of a Generation
To SP de Silva, Lt. Seneviratne and their families, it has been many years of pain living under a cloud of suspicion for crimes they tried to prevent, their honour tarnished. For the country itself it has been a steady erosion of values for a generation, taking a heavy toll on the honest and honourable. In the journey in time from Welikade to Mutur and Pottuvil, we have seen a host of crimes that would have been easily dealt with if our Courts, the Police and the AG’s Dept. were geared to bringing out the truth. With obfuscation having become the norm for these institutions, those committed to the truth need to go through a painful process of trial and error.
A more perfect account needs to stand on the shoulders of imperfect accounts. But the sanity of a society demands that the truth must be placed on record and those guilty understand the feelings of the others. Imperfect accounts have their place. It is through them that others feel motivated to respond and improve the stock of information.
For a generation we have been locked into a regime of crimes and counter-crimes. While those of governments may come to light, many years later perhaps, through conscientious objectors, such persons stand no chance in Tamil society. Crimes of the LTTE are far more likely to come to light in psychiatric clinics. Placing the truth on record has a necessary curative purpose, so that if not we in our time, another generation could at least see the light of dawn.
Acknowledgement: The Welikade Prison Massacre remains a live issue largely because of the Civil Rights Movement and Suriya Wickremasinghe. They have been the chief repositories of its memory and we hope Suriya’s book on the events would be published before long. The reader would see that much of the information contained here and what appeared in Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power…owed critically to resources provided by her and CRM. Her editorial suggestions to this account were such as to help it stay within the bounds of evidence as against extrapolations and what we have taken for granted. We might add that she holds reservations about some of our conclusions. On a further note, Nuvolari Seneviratne who was at the time of the massacre a lieutenant in the Sri Lankan Army made contact with Suriya Wickremasinghe after seeing the account of the massacre in Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power… on our web site. We invite readers to send any further information to us at [email protected]. This would be passed on to Suriya Wickremasinghe.
Letter from Secretary, Justice, Amarasinghe to Chief Justice Samarakoon
3rd January 1984.
The Hon. N.D.M. Samarakoon, Q.C.,
Chief Justice’s Chambers, Hulftsdorp,
Dear Chief Justice,
Further to our discussion this morning, I shall be grateful if you would assist us by nominating a Judge of the Supreme Court to investigate and report to the Hon. Minister of Justice on or before March 15th 1984 on the following matters:
1. What were the significant and relevant incidents leading to the deaths of certain persons at Welikade Prison on 25th and 27th July 1983?
2. What were the significant and relevant incidents and events which took place at Welikade Prison on the 25th and 27th July 1983?
3. What were the significant and relevant incidents and events after the 25th and 27th July 1983?
4. Did the prison authorities sufficiently discharge their duties and if not, who were the officers to blame and in what way?
5. Were the physical facilities and security arrangements adequate, if not, in what way were they deficient?
6. At the time of the incidents in question, were there any persons within the prison who were neither prisoners nor prison officials? If so –
(a) who were they?
(b) how did they gain admission?
(c) Were they armed and of so, in what way?
(d) were they directly or indirectly responsible for the incident in question and if so, in what way?
7. What steps if any, should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents?
Dr. A.R.B. Amarasinghe
Ministry of Justice.
A Note from A. Varadarajaperumal
Annamalai Varadarajaperumal (Varathar), along with Maheswararajah, an MA student at Jaffna University, and 10 other members of the EPRLF were arrested by the Police in Batticaloa on 31stMarch 1983, at what was essentially a political meeting. What the Police found were innocuous political materials. They were all imprisoned in Magazine Prison, Colombo, under the PTA and their detention was prolonged by the CID periodically reporting to the Magistrate that there was a delay in obtaining translations of their materials. Varathar was in Magazine prison nearby when the massacres took place in Welikade. Some of his experiences are described below:
Four days after our arrest we were taken to Magazine Prison. Maheshwararaja and I were kept in solitary confinement. A little later we were joined by Vamadevan from KKS, who was S.J.V.Chelvanayakam’s driver. I came to know him during the famous 1975 parliamentary by-election in KKS. He was arrested in Batticaloa in connection with the Chenkalady bank robbery in which he was involved with Paramadeva. Having been in prison long, he knew the other prisoners and the prison officials, whom he introduced to me. There were near us two prisoners held in maximum security conditions. They were Akkuna Santhre (Hemachandra) and a Muslim who was involved in several robberies in Maradana. Also held with us was Thanga Mahendran, a founder member of TELO in 1975.
The hijacker Sepala Ekanayake was separated from us by a tin fence. He hardly ever spoke to the Tamil detainees. A few days before the July 83 incidents a rich Tamil from Colombo was brought there in connection with foreign exchange fraud. It was he who gave us much information about Sepala and said that he used to vomit communal venom among the Sinhalese detainees.
It was customary for the prison superintendent to meet us on our first or second day in prison. When it was my turn to see the SP, I was in for a shock. He was Ratnayake, the Chief Jailer when I was imprisoned in Welikade H ward during 1975 to 1977. We then knew him as an arch Sinhalese communalist. But this time he struck me as a decent man. My impression was that there had been a genuine change.
I could sense that the events of July 1983 were planned and unleashed on the Tamil people and, by early April, plans were already known in intelligence circles. Two days after my arrest, 1st or 2ndApril 1983, I was taken to a room of an ASP on the 4th flour of the CID building. When I answered his questions about the Tamil struggle, he instantly abused me in filthy language. From where he was seated on the table, he kicked me and I fell against a corner. He screamed at me that one day Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte will burn and kicked me again while I was on the ground.
In Magazine Prison there were Sinhalese communalists among the prison staff and also some very decent people. When the violence began on 24th July, one jail guard told me with deep feeling that this country has been pushed back 50 years. On the 25th when the first Welikade massacre took place, we were locked up earlier than usual. It was on the radio that we heard of what had happened. When we were let out the following morning, Vamadevan warned me that Akuna Santhre, who was friendly with us until that day, was gritting his teeth and looking at us with a twisted face. He told us not to talk to him. Communalism had got even into this veteran prisoner, notorious murderer, robber and social outcast. Sensing the situation was bad we asked SP Ratnayake to move us to where the other Tamil detainees were. A few hours later Maheshwararaja, Vamadevan and I were joined with the other Tamil political prisoners.
There was curfew on the 26th. No new restrictions were placed on the prisoners, but the prison officers were alert and maintained control of the prisoners.
On the 27th of July we were all suddenly locked up a short while after lunch. We were afraid that a massacre might be unleashed in our section. We requested a jail guard to allow us all in the lobby. This was refused and we were unable to contact the SP. When we were locked up in our cells in threes and fours in the evening, a jail guard who was a communalist searched the cells carefully and took away all objects that could be used in our defence. We heard the sounds coming from the Welikade during the 2nd massacre. About 10.30 or 11.00 PM, the doors were suddenly opened and senior prison officials came into the lobby. We were asked to collect our things. We were taken to the office and our properties were returned to us. It was like a dream. We didn’t know what was happening.
As we were being taken out Superintendent Ratnayake came to me and was visibly very upset. He apologised for what had happened to Tamil prisoners and added that we were being moved to a safe place. One prison official told me that there had also been plans to use Sinhalese prisoners in a similar massacre at Magazine prison on the 27th, and we should be grateful to SP Ratnayake for being alive up to this moment. We were taken to the office of the Commissioner in charge of Welikade and Magazine prisons. There were military vehicles around. I saw Deputy Commissioner H.G. Dharmadasa issuing instructions to prison officials. I knew him as the Superintendent of Bogamabara prison, Kandy, when I was there 10 days 1976. Tamil political prisoners who had spent several years there regarded him a gentleman. When I saw him I felt comforted.
Finally we were taken to Katunayake airport in a closed vehicle. We sweated and some among us urinated inside. It was hours before soldiers took us out one by one to urinate. We had been through an agonising time with much uncertainty. It was when finally the aircraft touched down in Batticaloa that we cried and hugged each other. We felt we had come home. I related this to H.W. Jayewardene at the 1985 Thimpu talks, when he would not accept the idea of a Tamil Homeland. I pointed out that they had themselves sent Tamil people to Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna after every instance of communal violence.
What happened on July 23, 1983 was not the event of a single day in history. The impact of that day lives on and with each passing year the situation of the rule of law in the country has become worse.
The 1978 Constitution was quite incompatible with the rule of law and democracy. Since then there have been several events which challenged the law as well as the traditions that had prevailed up until then. There were the cases brought against Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the former Prime Minister and her close collaborators. There were constant physical attacks on opposition political meetings, including the physical attack on the late Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, one of the county’s best known intellectuals. Then there were the constant attacks on the trade union movement which culminated in the sacking of all the workers who participated in the nation-wide general strike of 1980. Relentless attacks on the freedom of the press continued. And then there was the 1982 referendum to prevent the election for the parliament so as to allow the Members of Parliament elected in 1977 to continue for another term of six years.
All this and many other moves on the part of the J.R. Jayewardene regime shook the foundations of democracy and the rule of law. However, the older traditions did not die easily. The people still believed that the earlier framework of the law and democracy was still valid and there was strong resistance to Jayewardene’s scheme.
When the news of the ambush and killing of 13 soldiers in the north came to the ears of President Jayewardene he was shrewd enough to see that, “another great opportunity has come for him to push through his scheme”. The request to have all the funerals in Colombo was an invitation for a riot. He knew it and anyway, his Prime Minister, R. Premadasa, paying him a visit with the then Mayor of Colombo, Sirisena Cooray, had warned him that if the funerals were to be held in Colombo that day riots would break out all over the country. Their request was that he, as the president, should take action to prevent this. This, Sirisena Cooray records, was agreed to by the president. However, President Jayewardene was never known to be a man to keep his word. He let the funerals take place in Colombo and as predicted, riots did break out. However, no one was able to predict the extent to which the riots would spread and that Sri Lanka would never be the same again. Perhaps a simile is what the attack on the Twin Towers did to the United States.
This riot was no spontaneous event. The head of the state himself played a key role in letting the riot take place in his country. This is the very opposite of the notion of the role of a head of state in that it was his job to maintain peace. And when there was a threat of an extraordinary nature it was his task to take whatever measures necessary to maintain peace. But here in Sri Lanka the head of state did all he could to fan the flames.
Besides this, it was then, as it is now, the task of the police and the military to stop any breach of peace. However, in this instance it was the military that initiated the riots. Later investigations revealed the extent to which the military was involved in spreading the violence. The police complied with the requests to look the other way and took no steps to put out the fire.
Naturally the attack on Tamil business premises, homes and individuals spread, literally, like wildfire. The smoke arose from the capital city itself and the pictures of the houses burning and of the wounded people was seen around the world.
It is not necessary to go into the details of the horrors of the day which are quite well documented and which are also written in the memories of those unfortunate enough to witness the events. What is essential from the point of view of assessing the impact of what happened on that day on the rule of law system and democracy is that this violence was initiated with the blessings of the head of state and with the participation of the military and the support which was a result of the passivity of the police. Besides this the ruling party actively participated in attacking the business premises, houses and Tamil individuals. Therefore the claim that this was a riot initiated by the ruling regime with the full participation of state agencies may be fully substantiated.
It was the events of the day and the subsequent steps taken by the government to prevent any kind of measures to ensure accountability that resulted in the loss of faith in the capacity of the rule of law system to survive in Sri Lanka. Accountability of course was impossible when the head of state himself and the military was deeply involved in the causing of the riot and the violence that followed.
Ever since then, no government has taken any significant steps to restore the rule of law system from its collapsed state. Neither has the country’s judiciary made any decisive intervention to safeguard the rule of law system despite of the fact that their own legitimacy and their very survival depended on their ability to protect the system when challenged.
All subsequent events have, as is only to be expected, worsened the situation. Perhaps the only significant action that was taken to revive the rule of law system was the passing of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution with a rare consensus within the parliament. However, this attempt was thwarted in many ways and finally the passing of the 18th Amendment ended even the possibility of making a change for the better.
Thus, the requirement of the survival of the 1978 constitutional scheme, which is the complete displacement of the rule of law system, has been achieved. The executive president, whoever he may be, can take advantage of the situation without any fear that there is any law to stand against him.
I think it is not inappropriate to reproduce one of the poems which I wrote as the events were taking place then in July 1983.
There are in Sri Lanka two main websites which give the opportunity for members of the reading public to participate in debate. Both publish high quality articles by distinguished contributors which shed light on many issues relating to Sri Lanka. Very often, great enlightenment is to be gained from a reading of the exchanges in the comment threads.
Commenters are allowed to participate using pseudonyms. Many claim that they must use false names because they fear for their own safety or the safety of their families. Many use the cloak of pseudonymity as license for frivolity or vicious abuse.
Moderation among moderators
The guidelines of Groundviews state: “The tone we seek in our online discussions is closer to the kind of collegial exchange you’d share with someone from your workplace, group of friends or home. That means focusing on the substance of arguments as opposed to their presenters. It also means avoiding insults and other forms of ad hominem comments…” They say they will not tolerate: “comments that are off topic, defamatory, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy”.
Reactions to Marga Institute
I recently posted an article on Groundviews.
My main theme was the depressing nature of comments on what seemed to be a well-intentioned initiative by the Marga Institute. “Why should a plea for atonement, remembrance, mourning, accountability, reconciliation be met with anger? The Marga Institute itself was smeared, without any substantiating evidence, with being ‘sleazy’ government apologists.” I mentioned that Rwanda had achieved some measure of reconciliation, through, among other things, suppressing hate speech. However, I concluded: “Vicious verbal battles similar to those on Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph between Tamil separatists and Sinhala chauvinists would not be allowed in Rwanda. Censorship for the maintenance of ethnic harmony is a quagmire. It should not be tried in Sri Lanka whatever happens in Rwanda.”
Protect your identity
The very first comment revealed that my real name is Michael O’Leary. Several commenters who persistently attack me pounced on this “revelation”. “A man with multiple identities hiding behind multiple names!” I asked GV editor Sanjana Hattotuwa about this. “I cannot recall when you asked me to keep it secret?” In a more recent e-mail, he seemed to be saying that, as I had made no secret of my real name in correspondence with him and others, and as others had subsequently commented on Groundviews “that your multiple identities are in fact well publicized on the web through your own blog”, it was perfectly legitimate to “out” me. Notice the smear implicit in “multiple identities”. I write under two names. My identity is consistent.
Sanjana clearly knows how to get in touch with me when it suits him. Would it have been so difficult for him to send me a message saying: “I have just received a comment which mentions your real name. How do you feel about that?”
Whatever about the ethics of “revealing” my “real” identity, my identity had nothing to do with the topic under discussion. At the last count there were 35 comments. Not a single one dealt with the subject matter of my article.
Comments continue to be made. However, two comments that I was informed about privately have still not appeared. The first was from someone I have met in real life. The second was from someone I have only encountered through comment threads. This is what the latter said: “I left a comment on GV asking why these people commenting under pseudonyms want you shut out from GV when they really don’t mind reading Veluppillai Thangavelu, Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah, E A V Naganathan, etc.
However, the comment got moderated out! Seems Sanjana Hattotuwa doesn’t want me questioning the hypocrisy and intolerance of “Dev”, “J Fernando”, “Pubudu”, “Inoka Karu”, etc. My comment was not slander, not racist, not irrelevant and so on. It was just two sentences of very good English! Anyways, I have little trust in men like Sanjana and Uvindu. I don’t think they practice the ideals they preach. I think they too seek power but not for the people they claim to speak for but for themselves. Please do keep writing.” Sanjana’s response was: “Given the sheer amount of comment spam the site gets daily (a common problem on the web, and unrelated to any specific individual), I cannot and do not check the Spam folder anymore. Legit comments do end up as tagged as Spam, for any number of technical reasons (e.g. the most common being an IP addressed associated with Spam. This does not mean said individual is a spammer, rather, that the IP range – which could be an office or even an internet service provider – has a history of originating spam comments).”
I leave it to readers to interpret that.
I told Sanjana, that I no longer wanted anything to do with Groundviews. However, I felt that I needed to rebut the slurs against my integrity. “Allow me a valedictory coda. Most of the commenters here do not discuss the article but engage in ad hominem attacks. This nicely illustrates the point I am trying to get across.”
Sanjana’s reaction to this was: “‘For someone who petulantly said he was ‘finished with Groundviews’ is there any reason to publish your comment?’” I said I felt I had the right to a final reply. He responded: “I see no reason to at all. You unilaterally and unequivocally said you are finished with Groundviews. The matter ends there for me. The web’s an open place – and you can follow the example of so many others over seven years and choose to raise your concerns in other web fora and channels. Good night and good luck”. There is a very important distinction between me saying I do not intend to write for Groundviews anymore and Groundviews continuing to allow hostile off-topic comments while denying me the right of reply. The latter is censorship. A distinguished person reacted to this fiasco by saying: “It is a sad day for Sri Lanka when a civil libertarian and crusading agency decides to display pique, throw away etiquette and gag arguments that do not suit its leanings.”
*The Nation is aware that both GV and CT are considered ‘controversial’ websites which tend to favor commentary by those who are regarded by some, especially those branded as ‘nationalists’ by the operators of the two sites, as being ‘traitors’ and ‘regime-haters’. However, The Nation is of the view that argument should be bested by arguments. The Nation futher believes that it is erroneous to adopt a ‘black-white’ position on anything. While there are websites that are one-sided, these are found on both sides of the broad political divide. While Sanjana Hattotuwa has contributed views for The Nation, we have used material mined off Wikileaks by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya. The ‘multiple identities’ is not an issue for us. We focus on content first, author later, if at all.
Shivshankar Menon, National Security Adviser of India, visited Colombo from 8 – 9 July, 2013 to participate in the 2nd NSA-Level Meeting on Trilateral Cooperation on Maritime Security between India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Although security conference was the main purpose of Shivshankar’s visit, he also took the opportunity to convey India’s concerns about attempts made by the Sri Lankan government to dilute 13 A by robbing provincial councils powers over land and police. 13A came about through the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987. India is insisting that the 13A was part of a joint agreement and any changes being made should be first discussed by both countries.
At present, Provincial Councils have certain powers over State land. Under paragraph 1:3 of Appendix II of the Thirteenth Amendment, alienation or disposition of State land within a Province to any citizen or to any organisation shall be by the President but only on the advice of the relevant Provincial Council. It may be recalled that in the case filed against the former President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, for transferring state land to Water’s Edge Golf Company, one of the grounds on which the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Sarath Silva held that the transfer was illegal was that the advice of the Western Provincial Council had not been given. The Government is now considering deleting the requirement of advice and also taking back many other land powers devolved.
Although Police powers have been devolved to a certain extent by the Thirteenth Amendment, Provincial Councils are unable to exercise those powers as the Police Commission Act, No. 1 of 1990 which provides for the establishment of a National Police Commission and a Provincial Police Commission for each province has still not been brought into operation by successive Governments. The government wants to completely take back Police powers.
On 14 November, 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka. It was certified on 14 November, 1987. The Act recognized Thamil an official language and English a link Language and established Provincial Councils. Provincial Council Act No 42 of 1987 laying down the procedure to be followed in Provincial Councils was also passed.
Under the Thirteenth Amendment, if a Bill on a subject devolved on Provincial Councils is to be passed by Parliament, the Bill has to be referred to all Provincial Councils for their views. If all Provincial Councils agree, then the Bill can be passed by a simple majority. However, if one or more Provincial Councils do not agree, then the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the provinces which did not agree. If passed only by a simple majority, the Bill will be law only in the provinces that have agreed.
The government now wants to amend Article 154 (G) 2 and 154G (3) of the constitution that sets out the procedure for making any amendments to the provincial council’s list of powers. If this is affected, it would make devolution completely meaningless and a mockery.
There are 11 sections to the 154G and most relevant in this respect are Sections (2) and (3). Section (2) reads as follows:
Article 154G (2) – this provision requires a Bill to amend or repeal any provisions of the 13th Amendment to be referred by the President “to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon”. If “every Provincial Council agrees to the amendment or repeal” such a Bill could be passed with a simple majority. On the other hand, if “one or more Councils do not agree to the amendment or repeal” such a Bill needs to be passed by a 2/3 majority.
Article 154 G (3) is similar to 154G (2); it deals with the Provincial Government List. It is couched in the same mandatory and prohibitive language as Article 154 (G) 2.
Under the heading “Statutes of Provincial Councils,” Section (1) says “every Provincial Council may, subject to the provisions of the Constitution, make statutes applicable to the Province for which it is established, with respect to any matter set out in List 1 of the Ninth Schedule (hereinafter referred to as “the Provincial Council List”). This statute making power is important and without this power the Provincial Councils are not institutions of devolution of power.
The demarcation between devolution and decentralization rests on this matter, if otherwise or without this power the Provincial Councils would be mere instrument of decentralization only.
After holding talks with the government, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon is apparently returning home empty handed like others before him. The government is in no mood to give any concessions although President Mahinda Rajapaksa during and after the war promised full implementation of 13 A plus. However, he never spelt out what 13 A plus means. While domestically playing the “patriotic card” he continues to dupe the countries that helped him to win the war against the LTTE on devolving power to Thamil people.
Now a concerted campaign of disinformation is carried by the Sri Lankan government to create a fear psychosis among the Sinhalese about provincial council system that has been in existence for 26 years. The LTTE spectre is also resurrected by ultra-Sinhala chauvinists who claim that a Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Thamil National Alliance (TNA) will lead to separation. And what Prabhakaran failed to secure Thamil Eelam through bullets the TNA will do so by the ballots. It is also claimed that the Provincial Council system is a white elephant. All these objections are raised only after the government was forced to conduct elections for the Northern Province Council after a lapse of 23 years!
Hard-line Sinhalese racists also claim that Sri Lanka was forced to sign the agreement under duress without consulting the people (read Sinhalese) following dropping of dhal bombs over Jaffna by the Indian air force fighter planes!
Both during and after the war ended India has repeatedly stressed its expectations that the Sri Lankan Thamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens. And India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect. But those expectations appear to be in ruins.
According to news reports Mahinda Rajapaksa categorically told Shivshankar Menon that he will proceed with his own agenda. He has told Menon the Parliamentary Select Committee PSC) will deliberate on the proposed amendments, if any and he will abide by the recommendations of the PSC. As for his earlier promise to implement 13 A fully, he said that promise was for the people (read Sinhala) and not for India, UNO and the international community.
In the meantime Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, has spoken his mind in an interview to the government mouth piece the Daily News. Unlike others he does not mince his words. He has rejected devolution and wants the total abolition of 13 A, of course for the wrong reasons. Below is some extracts from his interview:
“…It is nothing but true and correct that in the North and East there must be the same percentage of the majority community. When 78% of this country comprises Sinhalese how does such a vast landmass in the North become 98% Thamil? Isn’t this unnatural? This was forced. Natural growth was prevented.”
“…No I don’t believe in devolution because of the above points I mentioned. If devolution is for administrative purposes that is of course legitimate. But if one thinks that devolution would provide an answer to the national problem that is something that I don’t agree with…I think that’s [the complete repealing of the 13th amendment] the way forward…”
“This again I see as a reaction to some of the claims and things done by the minorities. We shouldn’t let these things come out. Remember the majority community is 78% but if some 8% or 10% of the community tries to bring various issues all the time it creates a suspicion among the majority community. It creates insecurity within the majority community and obviously there will be sections reacting to that. This is what happened…” (‘I Deplore Any Form of Extremism’, Daily Mirror July 4, 2013)
In any other country the open exhibition of such blatant racism by any state functionary would have earned him outright dismissal. But, in Sri Lanka Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is adored as a Sinhala hero by Sinhala extremists! The UNP has openly accused him of financing outfits like the Bodu Bala Sena.
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his much publicised interview is openly calling for the structural genocide of the Thamil people. Racists like Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are unable to stomach the domination of Northeast by Thamils and Muslims who together form more than 80% of the population. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa wants to change the demography of Northeast. It is he who is behind the accelerated Sinhala colonization of both the North and East, especially the Northern province. To carry out his genocidal grand plan the functioning of the Northern Provincial Council is an obstacle. Hence his call for the total abolition of 13 A.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has stacked the PSC with his puppet Ministers who have openly made statements in support of diluting 13 A. Those Ministers who were against truncating 13 A have been left in the cold. That includes Tissa Vitarana who chaired the All Party Conference (APC) Rajitha Senaratne, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and SLFP strongman and MP Reginald Cooray. These Ministers boldly called the move to dilute 13 A a blatant attempt to scuttle devolution and assert Sinhala political hegemony over the people of the North.
The PSC is being boycotted by all the main opposition parties – the UNP, the JVP and TNA. Even some of the partners of the UPFA coalition like the LSSP, CP and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) are opposed to the exercise. Now, the PSC is largely a cabinet subcommittee of ‘yes men’ appointed to rubber stamp changes to 13A.
The UNP has decided against joining the Parliamentary Select Committee since the government had not clearly set out its stand on the future of the 13th Amendment. Unlike in the past UNP is taking a principled stand on the ethnic issue. It wants full implementation of 13 A.
J.R. Jayewardene is called an old fox for his cunningness. But, Mahinda Rajapaksa is more cunning than J.R. Jayewardene. After finishing the LTTE with Indian arms, radars, intelligence, training etc. he is now biting India’s hands! He thinks he does not need India’s help anymore since China is at his feet! He has signed a defence agreement with China and apparently he perceives India as the enemy country.
It will be interesting to see the next move by New Delhi. India cannot keep on parroting the mantra that “Thamil community should lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect” without concrete action.
It is time India acts decisively and backs words with deeds. Soft diplomatic approaches, mostly behind the scenes engagements have failed to domesticate Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is determined to follow his own agenda to impose Sinhala hegemony over the Thamil people and reduce them to the status of third class citizens.
There are many options open to India. One option is to announce boycott of the CHOGM scheduled to be held in Colombo in November this year. That will send a message to Mahinda Rajapaksa that India means business. It can also take over Kachchatheevu ceded to Ceylon in 1974. It must be very clear to India by now that Sri Lanka never understands sane advices.
Prime Minister Mrs. Indra Gandhi understood the mindset of Sri Lankan politicians and read the riot act. But, sadly her successors have failed to follow her bold diplomacy and no nonsense foreign policies.
On July 05, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has issued a proclamation reconstituting the Northern Provincial Council. He had asked the Commissioner of Elections to hold elections for the Northern Provincial Council. The Commissioner of Elections has fixed July 25 – August 01 for receiving nomination and election is likely to be held in September 27, 2013.
As I write the TNA has not nominated its candidate for the post of Chief Minister, but ex-Justice C.V. Wigneswaran is likely the choice. (This article was written two weeks ago)
Mahinda Rajapaksa true to form will use the entire government machinery to win votes. The Sinhala army is already engaging itself in canvassing votes for the ruling party. Appointment of graduate teachers put on hold for years is taking place now. In June this year 1,300 Samurdhi Development Officers have been recruited for all districts in the Northern Province. One hundred Samurdhi Development Officers selected for Jaffna District were given appointment letters by Namal Rajapaksa who is the unofficial MP for Kilinochchi district. A few IDPs also will be resettled in their homes during coming weeks. Other carrots will also be dangled before the voters. However, these gimmicks on the part of the ruling party are bound to fail. There are thousand reasons for Thamil voters who live like slaves under a military dictatorship to vote against the openly racist government. They have been treated like dirt by the Sinhala army of occupation. Their self-respect, dignity and fundamental freedoms have been flagrantly violated.
Sri Lanka never understands sane advices. Late Mrs. Indra Gandhi understood this very well and took appropriate actions. It appears India is running out of ammunition to deal with Sri Lanka.
As stated above, JR was called a wily old cunning fox, but Mahinda Rajapaksa is more cunning than his predecessors. The UNO let him go scot free not once but twice! Not only did he benefit from LTTE’s unofficial boycott to win his election, but also finish the LTTE with Indian help! Now that he has signed a defence agreement with China, Mahinda Rajapaksa calculates he does not need India any more!
After listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long, in the morning, who will ask : “What is Rama’s relationship with Seetha?”
Those who have studied deeply and listened diligently will never speak Foolish words, even when they have wrongly understood a matter. – Thirukkural 417
The title of this article is a Tamil expression. Years ago, the late Sivaram Taraki wrote an article in Tamil, under the same title, explaining how every Singhalese politician since 1948 has viewed the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and gradually changed their position to deny Tamils’ rights. In fact, this popular article was translated and became available in English as well.
The armed struggle started in 1983, came to a complete halt after Mullivaghzal in May 2009.
Since Mullivaighzal, when we look at websites, especially those published in Tamil, we find news items covering – arrests, torture, killings, rape, disappearances, Sinhala colonisation, new Buddhist temples, military camps and also destruction of churches, temples and mosques.
Former combatants and the people are in detention centres and internment camps
Majority of the Singhalese in the South and the Rajapaksa regime publicly say that there is no ethnic conflict as such, in Sri Lanka. They don’t want even a Provincial Council governed by the Tamils.
The international community continuously reminds us that they are in favour of a solution within a united Sri Lanka.
Presently Tamils are divided into many organisations and groups. Therefore, there is clearly no unity.
Ignoring all these realities – certain diaspora organisations and some individuals say that they will not accept anything other than a separate or independent state. This is like asking in the morning, “what is Rama’s relationship with Seetha?” after listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long.
Considering the realities and facts given above, every Tamil should earnestly realise their duty to do something to save our people and our hereditary land. If we fail to do this at the earliest, in another few years, there will be neither an ethnic group nor a nation known as ‘Tamil’ in the island. We will end up like the Tamils completely eliminated in Burma! Is this our intention?
What is our position today?
There is no doubt that since 1948 about 80-85% of Eelam Tamils have supported the idea of an independent state. Like other oppressed peoples, it is not necessary to give up this ideology. For nearly three decades, we had parity with every Sri Lankan government. We were in negotiations on an equal basis, cease-fire agreements and other documents were signed as a legitimate party in various peace processes. But today, does the Sri Lankan government recognise us as a people or as a nation? or even as an ethnic group? On the so-called victory day speech on 19 May 2009, President Rajapaksa clearly said that there is no minority in Sri Lanka!
No-one can deny Sri Lanka’s formidable ‘diplomacy’, allowing President Rajapaksa to remain in office successfully, even without granting the so-called home grown solution to the Tamils, promised to the international community.
The Parliamentary Select Committee – PSC is an eye wash, designed to deceive the international community. It was well predicted that this time-buying tactic would continue until the successful completion of fully fledged Buddhisation, Sinhalisation and militarisation in the Tamil hereditary land.
This is where some of the diaspora organisations and individuals are making mistakes. Statements they make about political solutions are widely circulated to the international community by the Sri Lankan embassies with the intention of proving that Tamils reject any form of reconciliation other than independence.
Presently, there is no genuine socio-economic, cultural or political empowerment for the people who have been living in the North and East for generations, centuries and millennia. The people are managing their lives without any institutionalised help from the diaspora.
Those who are for independence should understand that we are at the edge of a mountain. If we don’t act wisely or don’t call on our neighbour to help us, it will be the end of our political struggle which lasted for more than six decades.
Security Council and the referendum
In the past, I have explained and written a lot about the referendum that some of us are demanding. Once again, any referendum for independence, especially within a country in conflict has to be decided by the UN Security Council. This was the case with Eritrea, East-Timor and South Sudan. We should also remember that China and Russia are two permanent members of the Security Council. Do any of us believe that China and Russia will support our demand to have a referendum?
Scotland and Quebec are two completely different issues. The Scottish referendum is going to take place in accordance with the British government and Quebec had two referenda, both conducted by Canada itself.
Therefore we should not waste time and energy on something sprouting from our ignorance. There are some people who claim to be strong supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE and its leader Pirabaharan, but who never paid attention to his speeches, statements on the Indo-Lanka accord, his respect and friendship with both India and the international community. If they wish, they can still find these speeches, especially what LTTE leader Pirabaharan stated in the Suthumalai declaration of 4th August 1987 and in Heroes’ Day speeches on 27th November 2002 and 2008. Also his press conference of 10 April 2002.
Those who are familiar with Palestinian issues will not gamble our lives and the land. The Palestinians are openly supported by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – OIC which consists of 57 Islamic states. There have been numerous resolutions in the UN Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council and various other Inter-governmental bodies supporting the Palestinians. Despite this massive and widespread support, Palestinians have been unable to achieve their goal as yet.
Consider the Palestinian question – do we have the support they have, of any single state? On the contrary, we have disastrous disunity among us.
LTTE on the Provincial Council
If anyone has doubts about the LTTE’s position on the Provincial Council, I advise them to read the book, “Will to Freedom”, written in 2001 by Adele Balasingam, wife of the LTTE advisor Anton Balasingham. The subject is clearly mentioned on pages 256 to 258 (“LTTE Strategy and Premadasa’s agenda”). Indeed, it is true that the LTTE had a pre-condition within their stance towards the Sri Lankan government, that the 6th amendment should be withdrawn. This should not deter anyone from seeing the positive value put on the Provincial Council.
Also we should consider the reasons why the LTTE registered a political party known as “People’s Front of the Liberation Tigers – PFLT” in 1989 and took part as an observer in the All Party Conference – APC organised by the Sri Lankan government.
Those who do not know these realities and facts are misleading the innocent people. These individuals promote their own selfish thinking as the political aspiration and policy of the people of the North and East. This is opportunism, taking advantage of a political vacuum.
Those who eliminated LTTE
During the recent “Delhi conference”, I got a chance to understand more realities about the present politics of the Tamils. This is really interesting and provides food for thought. However we cannot gamble our present situation.
It is obvious that the LTTE was successfully eliminated by a well co-ordinated and calculated strategy engineered and operating from various corners in different colours and shapes. One important factor was the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations, leaders, academics and intellectuals. These organizations have colluded and collaborated closely with successive Sri Lankan governments. They helped create the reality today : the LTTE is no more on the scene and Rajapaksa says that ‘there is no ethnic problem’ in the country, humiliating the international community and India, who recognize the existence of the ethnic problem.
Some diaspora Tamils say that those who collaborated with the Sri Lankan government in eliminating the LTTE should convince Rajapaksa’s regime of the need to respect equal rights and obtain whatever is possible for Tamils. This position may be based on emotions, anger and frustration.
The crisis proves that the Tamil National Alliance – TNA, should be strengthened and internationalised. No-one but Rajapasa’s supporters will be against this idea. For further objectivity, the TNA should extend their invitation to important personalities like retired Judge Mr. Vigneswaran and other Tamil intellectuals and academics.
When we talk about the TNA, some people panic and over-react. Some say that the TNA should be registered immediately. Even this appears to be a difficult issue, if we consider the circumstances in which the TNA was established. The TNA is an umbrella body, however those who stood in the elections used the ‘house’, which is the election symbol of the Federal Party (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi).
Is it necessary to register TNA?
The majority of the people who want the TNA to be registered as a political party, were not initially members of the TNA. In fact those members or organizations were with the Sri Lankan government, notably, the TULF – Tamil United Liberation Front and the PLOTE – People Liberation Organisation of the Tamil Eelam. Now it is believed that these two parties which never won any elections in the recent past, are eager to contest future elections on a TNA ticket.
It is obvious that the TNA was born due to the reluctance of the TULF. The LTTE which co-ordinated the forming of the TNA, wanted to have a multi-party organization, rather than registering the TNA as a single political party.
Therefore the present dilemma is that, if the TNA is to be registered, those parties who were with the government in the past may become office bearers of the TNA. Then there is no guarantee that these members will not twist their position and rejoin the government.
In such a scenario, what is the way forward? At the time of the “Delhi Conference”, we were able to gather another piece of valuable information. When the diaspora organizations and some individuals were invited to participate in this conference, they told the organizers that, if the TNA participated in this conference, they too would participate. This shows the popularity of the TNA among the people locally and internationally.
These facts further prove the urgent necessity of internationalising the TNA. The TNA has to materialize this at the earliest. There are more than 700,000 Tamils from the North and East abroad. The TNA could bring unity among the majority of the diaspora Tamils.
As a first step, the TNA should establish branches in every country and give the responsibility to the right people with the right qualifications – popular figures among the people with wide experience in politics. This will enable the TNA to hear the voice of the diaspora Tamils and have close contacts with Ministry of Foreign affairs in each country. This will give an opportunity to the TNA to feed the right information on local politics and the realities of the people, to the international community. This will also prevent every Tom, Dick and Harry giving false, unrealistic and confusing information to the international community.
Internationalising the TNA doesn’t mean isolating the diaspora organizations which are already in existence. They can continue their usual tasks that they have mastered for years – lobbying, demonstrations, solidarity, Tamil education, cultural programs, sports meets and observing Heroes’ Day and other important days.
Once the political task has been started through the TNA, elected by the people, it will prevent brain-washed individuals who are under the surveillance of the security forces, from harming our political aspirations, locally and internationally.
Also we should be acutely aware of the present task undertaken by the Sri Lanka government representatives. Presently, Prof G. L. Peiris travels around the world, working hard to ban the LTTE in countries where it was not banned and recruiting propaganda experts and companies in an attempt to counter the Tamil lobby.
This shows that there is no guarantee that the year 2007 will not be repeated among the diaspora. Here I recall that in 2007, many Tamil activists were arrested and tried in Europe and other countries.
Considering all these factual and impending realities, the TNA should take the leading role locally and internationally. Activities led by other organisations will be easily countered by Sri Lanka.
In conclusion, since 1948, we Tamils have been gradually losing our fundamental rights, land and properties. This erosion has been systematically carried out by all Sri Lankan governments, and to some extent with the help of Tamils. Let us not make the same mistakes again and again.
“When wicked dogs bark at the luminous Moon, what can the Moon do?”
The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about press accreditation procedures for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in November. At past meetings, the Commonwealth’s Communications and Public Affairs Division has been responsible for issuing permission to journalists to attend the meeting. And, as you know, the visa application process will soon be under way.
But press reports from Colombo have indicated that the Sri Lankan government intends to enforce stringent background checks on any foreign journalists covering the meeting, with the apparent intention of denying them permission to enter the country. A document recently released by the Sri Lankan government said that the authorities reserve the right to “exclude any person … and impose additional conditions of entry to Sri Lanka … regardless of whether or not that person is accredited.”
Journalists will be issued accreditation by a task force, which is a division of the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry has stated that credentials may be “withdrawn, suspended, or deactivated for any reason at any time.”
Ceylon Today reported that on Saturday, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said authorities would be “cautious about who is coming” because some journalists have attempted to tarnish the country’s image under the “pretext of media freedom” and that they were a threat to the “national security of the country” and would be scrutinized before they are issued visas.
You are well aware, of course, of Sri Lanka’s abysmal press freedom record and the high level of impunity for those who attack or kill journalists. Even though the number of deaths under the current government has subsided, many Sri Lankan journalists have told us of continuing intimidation, and many admit to self-censoring their work in order to not fall afoul of the authorities. Others have told us of coming under threat because of their ethnicity.
Secretary-General Sharma, you have resisted calls for the Commonwealth to change the venue of the November meeting. You said in a June 29 letter published in the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that the question for the international community was whether to criticize the lack of progress in Sri Lanka from afar or to make a practical difference. The paper quoted you as saying that the Commonwealth had opted for the latter option. You said, “We are active in Sri Lanka in advancing Commonwealth values, including human rights, the media, the judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding in communities.”
While we understand the value of engagement, if the Commonwealth cannot assert its own authority in asking for full media access to such an international event, the future for positive engagement looks bleak.
We ask you to ensure that the Sri Lankan government, which is widely known for its aggressive anti-press stance, does not prohibit access to foreign and local journalists who seek to cover the events surrounding the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Such an effort on your part would go far to show your commitment to advancing Commonwealth values of media freedom.
With best regards,
Commonwealth Director for the Communications and Public Affairs Division Richard Uku
Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris
Minister of Mass Media and Information Keheliya Rambukwella
It is a pleasure to be back in my alma mater on its 190th anniversary. All old boys will agree that we owe a lot to St John’s College for all that we have achieved here in Sri Lanka and abroad in our personal and professional lives. I want to start with two brief stories to demonstrate how the foundation provided by St John’s has helped me in my academic career. I hope that these stories show our students how a strong and meaningful early education is important for our success.
When I went to the US for graduate education from University of Jaffna, I was worried that the knowledge there would be so advanced that I won’t be able to follow the courses. For one particular course, I thought I should talk to the professor before the class to see if he would recommend that I delay following that course. Professor John Baugh spoke with me for about ten minutes and asked me what books I had read in my field and which scholars I knew. Half way through the conversation, his eyes widened, and he said, “Do you realize that you are one of the most widely read students in this department? You obviously have good reading skills and academic training. Where did you get this educational foundation?”
My mind immediately went to my training at St John’s. From my early grades here, St John’s has always reserved time for the library. Students were taken to the Handy Library for a whole class period, to learn how to search for books, get familiar with the cataloguing system, and read quietly without talking to others in the silence of the library. That experience trained me in many things. It developed an appreciation for books, it disciplined me to focus on the reading, and it inculcated patience to read without distractions. It is this training that helped me to cultivate my reading habit. When I went to the US, I found that I was not only ready for my graduate education, I could also overcome the new academic challenges I faced there because of the reading skills St John’s had developed in me.
My second story relates to the skills of public speaking and memory. The college has always reserved time for literary associations, speech competitions, and concerts. Particularly challenging to me was the Tamil Oratory competition in upper school. We were provided a choice of topics, given a few hours to prepare, and then expected to stand before three judges and the audience to deliver the speech. This competition required good skills of thinking, planning, memory, and spontaneous delivery. This is because the time given was not enough to write a whole speech and read it. The skills I developed from this experience still remain with me. I still prepare the outline of my talk mentally, organize the points effectively, and speak without writing down the whole speech. This skill sometimes surprises my listeners. Recently, a senior professor from the US took me aside after I gave the keynote in a major professional conference and whispered: “That was a great talk. But tell me the truth: you wrote the talk and then memorized it, right?” She was surprised by my memory (that I can speak for an hour without notes), organization skills (that the talk was still very coherent), and delivery (that it was done with confidence). I had to explain that the talk wasn’t written or memorized. I had developed all the skills she mentioned during my early education at St John’s.
What is interesting about both examples is that these skills of reading, speaking, thinking, and planning cannot be developed on a single day or in a short time. You can’t develop them simply before an examination or a lecture. They take time to develop. It is for this reason that a solid educational foundation is important. The habits and practices we develop in childhood support us in the challenges we face later in life. They develop further and help us achieve even more complex and demanding tasks. Many scholars think that some of these skills are dying today. Young people are losing the discipline of reading consistently for a long period of time because technology offers them instant and disconnected messages from multiple media. Memory is impoverished as students depend on readymade sources for information and are not expected to remember them for future use. I would suggest that the skills St John’s developed in me are still valuable and have helped countless former students succeed in their education and professions.
These skills are part of the tradition of St John’s. From its very beginning, the college has given a high place for these skills. The first school library association was started in 1890. There are other Johnian traditions everyone in Jaffna and even in Sri Lanka talks about. The college is well known for developing a solid background in English, cultivating a good discipline, and providing a balanced education that includes spirituality, sports, and extracurricular activities. However, we cannot remain satisfied with these traditions. When we have profound social changes around us, both locally and globally, we have to reconsider what new traditions we have to develop to serve our students and communities better. So, I want to focus in this talk on five changes we need in education to respond to the changes around us. To make it easier for students to remember them, each of the changes I propose starts with the letter C. Let me see if you can remember them after this talk!
The first change to consider is orientating to learning as creative. We have to focus on creating new knowledge rather than repeating old knowledge. There has been an observation that while western communities are good in inventing new things, eastern communities are good in applying and implementing them. Is there something in the culture of the western people that values novelty, while eastern people value tradition and orthodoxy? This attitude to knowledge could also be because we in Asia give so much importance to examinations, which cultivate a focus on established knowledge and the ability to repeat it. However, learning involves more than passing an examination. Our students have to also produce new findings, discover new knowledge, and invent new technology. If not, we will always be followers of other communities rather than leaders. We will also not be able to develop our own communities in the ways that are relevant for us.
Consider how students are encouraged to be creative in the United States. Every year, there are nationwide science competitions for school students to display their new inventions. One of the winners in this year’s competition was Eesha Khare from California, whose parents come from India. She produced a supercapacitator, a gadget that will fully charge cell phones in 20 seconds, in extremely short time. She won a prize of 50,000 dollars, which she is going to use to attend Harvard. These inventions are not playful. They actually lead to industrial production and make real changes in people’s lives. Eesha is already courted by major high tech companies. They say “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In our community now, we have a lot of need. We have experienced a lot of destruction during the war. You can invent things that make a difference in the lives of our people.
Change number two: learning should be critical. By critical, I mean that we should have a questioning attitude towards knowledge and facts. This is connected to the previous change. We cannot be creative without questioning old knowledge. Asian communities don’t always encourage a questioning attitude because they believe that authorities such as parents, teachers, and leaders know what is right for everyone. Questioning is discouraged because it is considered a challenge to those in authority. I think the tragedies of our community in our recent history have resulted from our inability to question our leaders. Eventually, such an unquestioning attitude led to destructive policies and actions.
However, questioning doesn’t mean rejecting everything that our community holds as important. A critical learning can actually help us understand and appreciate our traditions and values. It can also help us understand our limitations and work towards formulating new values and traditions. Questioning can start from what goes in our schools and go all the way to what goes in our country and even in the world. Consider how students in a school in the United States, Wilcox County High School in Georgia, engaged in critical thinking. Their school had a tradition of holding two year-end parties—one for white students, the other for colored students. This April, some students thought this tradition was flawed. They wanted to establish a new tradition in which students from all the races can have one unified party. A group of four students from different racial backgrounds organized a committee to plan this party. There was considerable opposition from their town. There was talk that these students will be punished or ostracized. However, these students didn’t give up. Eventually, when they held a successful party for all the racial groups, their story was in the national news media. They were applauded by the whole country for inventing a new tradition for their school.
Change number three: learning as civic. Civic means relating to the community we live in and being good citizens. Do we see our learning connected to making a better living condition for our community? Or do we engage only in learning for the sake of learning? If our only objective in going to school is to get all A’s in the AL examinations, learning is not civic. It is selfish. Our competitive examinations have made us focus only on displaying our own mastery of knowledge, rather than considering how this knowledge can be used in the service of our community. The civic attitude can enhance learning rather than distracting students from education.
Consider the example of civic learning from a school in the United States. In the city of Madison some years back, teachers in a high school divided their students into small groups and gave them projects relating to some burning issues in their community. Students had to study the problem and write a report on how to solve it. One group focused on the increasing rates of asthma in their town. The four students divided the responsibilities among themselves. One student visited local communities and talked to parents and leaders about their view that pollution was causing asthma. Another student interviewed the municipal authorities in the town on sanitary conditions. The third student did library research on news reports and scholarly research on the connection between asthma and environmental pollution. The fourth student interviewed scientists in the local university to understand how pollution caused asthma. As they conducted this project, the students were sharpening their learning skills—they were reading advanced research and news material; they were developing interviewing skills; they were writing reports on what they observed and learned. Their motivation to solve the problem in their community made all this learning interesting and engaging. Eventually, they wrote a combined final report on their recommendations on how reducing environmental pollution can reduce the rate of asthma and submitted it to the mayor. When they connected their education to solving a problem in their community, the students found learning motivating, meaningful, and enjoyable.
That example also illustrates the fourth change I wish to propose: learning as collaborative. What we see in the Madison example is how students work together, pool their collective strengths, and collaborate in solving a problem. There is more strength and more knowledge when four people put their heads together. More importantly, collaborative learning develops a new attitude and value towards learning, based on cooperation. The examination-based learning in our community has developed in us a lot of selfishness. Each student for himself or herself, seems to be the guiding principle. We are expected to show how we can outsmart the other students. However, in the adult world of work, we need to collaborate with others to solve problems or implement changes.
While collaboration between students is important, another sort of collaboration now involves teachers and students. Even teachers are adopting the attitude that they are not there to lecture to students, pretend they are the sole authorities on all kinds of knowledge, or give the right answers that have to be accepted uncritically. Teachers now think of themselves as facilitators of learning. They arrange the class, texts, and assignments in such a way that students can collaborate with each other and with teachers to learn creatively and critically. In my teaching in the US, I am always open to the possibility that some students might know more about certain areas or topics than me. When I am asked a question for which I don’t know the answer, I immediately confess that and promise to find it out in the next class rather than giving students a false answer simply to save my honor. I am open to being challenged by students on some of my positions, and engage in a dialogue with them to move to a higher understanding. Rather than portraying me as a weak teacher, this collaborative attitude actually shows that I am strong and confident. I know what I know that I can be humble about my limitations and be open to learning new knowledge from others.
This attitude is going to be difficult for Sri Lankan teachers who are treated like Gods. I want to discuss a particularly controversial practice in our teaching in this country that is drawing a lot of attention these days: Caning, or corporal punishment. Recently, I have received many email messages from Tamil people living abroad. They tell me: Teachers in Sri Lanka seem to have no limits on how they can use either the cane or their own hands in hitting their students. In some cases, this goes beyond punishment to physical abuse. Students end up with marks all over their body. We have to start a discussion in our community on the relative effectiveness of caning versus non-physical punishment.
Physical punishment has been banned in many countries. It has been absent from French schools since the 19th century. In 2008 a teacher was fined for slapping a student in France. In UK, in state-run schools, and also in private schools where at least part of the funding came from government, corporal punishment was outlawed by Parliament with effect from 1987. The Supreme Court of Canada outlawed caning in 2004. In the US, it is left to each state to develop a policy for schooling. Majority of the states have banned caning in public schools. New Jersey was the earliest to ban it in 1867. Physical punishment has also been banned from many socialist countries because they believe that it is contrary to socialist values. From the 1917 revolution onwards, corporal punishment was outlawed in Russia and the Soviet Union. Other socialist countries have followed this practice. In all these countries, if a teacher hits a student, he or she will be taken to the courts.
However, not caning or hitting the student doesn’t mean not punishing. Punishment is important for cultivating discipline. But certain non-corporal forms of punishment can be more effective. For example, my 11 year old son is very talkative in the class. He is very naughty and gets punished a lot. But he has never been slapped or caned. Teachers have many other good options. They can detain him after school or keep him in the class while others are playing during the interval. When other students earn reward points for being good, he will lose his points. These points are used at the end of the school year to buy things donated by parents. In the worst case, the parents can be called up (which my wife and I did once) or he can be suspended from school (which hasn’t happened to him yet: Thank God!). Some of these forms of punishment are very effective because they motivate my son to be good on his own recognition. He has the choice of either earning points or losing them, and suffer the consequences at the end of the year. So, caning motivates students negatively through fear and pain, rather than positively by encouraging students to do better.
I know that many parents and teachers in our community feel “aTiyaata maaTu paTiyaatu” and feel that caning is the only form of effective punishment. But soon we have to come to terms with the changing orientations to punishment and schooling around the world. We are living in a connected world where events and practices in one community are relayed to others in a matter of minutes. If a student in Jaffna gets beaten this morning, his uncles, aunts, and cousins in UK, Canada, Australia, and the US know within minutes how many times he was beaten, how many marks he has on his body, and which doctor he was taken to. So many Tamil people abroad have started asking: “Why is this primitive practice still continuing in our community? Why are teachers so abusive, angry, and out of control with their students? Are teachers taking out their own frustrations on their students? Is caning a legalized form of cruelty in our community? Is caning a reflection of how our community has become comfortable with violence after many years of war?”
That brings me to the final point: learning as cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan means being a global citizen. Today we cannot separate ourselves from developments in other communities. As I just mentioned, we cannot think anymore that what we do in Jaffna will remain isolated in Jaffna. Within minutes it is known all over the world. More broadly, our fate is interconnected with the fate of other communities. Think of the global economic crisis, climate change, nuclear arms, and environmental pollution. What one community does affects all of us. So, it is important for our students to develop the attitudes, values, and orientations to consider other cultures and people. However, being cosmopolitan doesn’t mean losing our own values and identity. A better approach is to be proud of who we are, as we engage with other cultures. This is a two-way process. We can evaluate the things we learn from others from the point of view of our own culture and society. But we should also be open-minded so that we can be self-critical and change our values and traditions. In fact, when we engage with other cultures and learn new perspectives, we might in fact rediscover the secrets and wisdom of our communities that we may have forgotten over time.
Let me apply cosmopolitanism to my talk this morning. Are the new traditions of learning I am proposing influenced by my engagement with other cultures? To some extent they are. I am now a teacher educator—that means a person who trains others to be teachers. What I have shared with you are the principles that guide my teaching philosophy when I teach students from US and many other countries to become good teachers. However, remember that I started this talk by appreciating some of the traditions St John’s shaped me with—i.e., reading, speaking, thinking, and planning. I criticized many trends in the western world—such as instant communication and multi-tasking—that are leading young people to losing these important skills. St John’s should continue to develop the positive traditions in its history. However, there are other ways in which St John’s should develop a new educational tradition—namely,learning as creative, critical, civic, collaborative, and cosmopolitan. Even these are not new to our culture. My engagement with other cultures helps me rediscover elements in our culture that we may have forgotten. So think about Auvayaar’s saying “kaTRatu kai maNNaLavu kallaatatu uLakaLavu” (i.e., What we know is a fistful, what we don’t know is a world full.) This verse reminds us why we have to think of learning as creative, collaborative, and critical. No one can be satisfied with what we already know. We have to constantly critique what we accept as truths. Or think of Puranaanuuru: “yaatum ooree yaavarum keeLir” (i.e., Every place is our village, every person our kin). This verse reminds us of the importance of cosmopolitanism and engaging in civic learning that is useful to all people.
The changes that I spell out this morning have also been present in the missionary history of our school. Just think of the founder of our school Joseph Knight. When he came to Sri Lanka in July 1818, he was a representative of the Church Missionary Society. This society opposed the practice of treating Africans as slaves. They thus displayed critical thinking. Before he started classes for local students in Nallur, he first learnt Tamil language with the help of a local Hindu priest. It must have been difficult for both parties to engage in such learning. Knight would have thought of the Hindu priest as a heathen, and the priest would have thought of Knight as unclean. It is said that the Hindu priest used to stop by at a village well after these classes to cleanse himself before he went home. Despite their cultural differences, both people collaborated in learning from each other. That was not only collaborative learning, it was also cosmopolitanism. Both didn’t change their own systems of belief; but that didn’t prevent them from cooperating and learning from each other and enriching their world view. Knight went on to lay the foundation for the first Tamil/English bilingual dictionary. When the Winslow’s Comprehensive Tamil and English Dictionary was published in Madras in 1862, the preface acknowledges how Rev. Knight had started and contributed to this project. That was civic learning—i.e., knowledge that was useful to other people. There is also creativity, because Knight sought new knowledge. He started a comparative exploration of Tamil and English that we are still continuing today. Knight went on to start lessons for 7 students in his house in March 1823, before renovating the decaying Old Dutch Church at Nallur and getting permission from the government to start a school there. Motivated by a vision and sprit of service, Knight established a new institution and invented new traditions that have gone on to be a blessing to thousands of youth in our town.
Today there is a similar challenge for all of us to be missionaries, path breakers, tradition-builders in our community. With one history of our community coming to an end, we are in the beginning of another. We are almost starting from scratch. Buildings have been demolished, community leaders killed, families displaced, students orphaned. The question for our school is: what kind of education is going to address the changes around us. The task of slowly rebuilding our community is starting. Old boys have been sending money to St John’s to put up new buildings and support displaced and orphaned students. But an important question everyone is asking now is this: St John’s is proud of the new buildings it has put up; but is it paying enough attention to building the moral, spiritual, and intellectual life of its students? Should the school be more interested in building up the quality of education needed for the new age?
This is the time to initiate new traditions of learning and education for St John’s College. Though we may be materially disadvantaged, we are still culturally, spiritually, and intellectually rich. Buildings may be destroyed; but nothing can destroy our mind and soul. Nothing can stop someone’s mind from growing, influencing others, shaping the environment around us, conquering disadvantages, and achieving great things. This is the story of Johnians from the past. We grew up in a disadvantaged community, with less buildings than you have now. But that didn’t stop us from achieving impressive things on the global stage. It was not about what material resources we had. It was about what cultural, spiritual, and intellectual resources we developed in our community. You students can still achieve all that. You can develop to be powerful inventors, thinkers, and leaders, though now you may not have a house over your heads, family to care for you, or enough things to provide a comfortable life. Remember our school motto: “Light shineth in darkness”. It is precisely at this time in our history that we are called upon to shine. And the only thing light can do, something that comes naturally to it, is shine! I wish the staff of St John’s college, the parents, the local community, and especially the students the very best as they work towards building more meaningful educational traditions for the future.
Speech by Prof. Suresh Canagarajah,Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Applied Linguistics and English, Pennsylvania State University, USA, at the THE ANNUAL PRIZE GIVING was held on Saturday 6th July, 2013, at St.John’s college Jaffna in Sri Lanka
H.E. Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General, The Commonwealth, Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House,
Pall Mall, London SW1-5HX, UK
CHOGM – 2013
I am writing to you with reference to a news item published in the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror of 29th June 2013. The story, captioned ‘Commonwealth wants to make practical difference in Sri Lanka’ quotes a letter you have reportedly sent to an unspecified recipient . In the absence of any contradiction or clarification from your organisation, I assume that the remarks are accurate. You are quoted as saying:
“The LLRC report was a home grown roadmap for achieving peace in a multi ethnic nation.The question for the international community is whether to criticise the lack of progress from afar in implementing that report or to offer and to make a practical difference. The Commonwealth has opted for the latter and the Sri Lankan government even now is identifying the areas where we will help. We are active in Sri Lanka in advancing Commonwealth values, including human rights, the media, the judiciary and building mutual respect and understanding in communities.”
The Commonwealth wanting to make a practical difference in Sri Lanka is indeed most welcome. However, for many of us who are living not afar but in Sri Lanka, we find it rather difficult to share your optimism as Sri Lanka seems to be moving away from the values which you claim that the Commonwealth is advancing even now. The day to day practical reality is that Sri Lanka continues to violate with impunity all 16 values of the Commonwealth Charter in varying degrees and we in Sri Lanka experience first hand the present Sri Lankan government’s contempt for democratic values, the rule of law and the sanctity of life.
In fact, Sri Lanka has slipped down to the 29th position in the ‘Failed State Index‘ compiled annually by the Fund for Peace and the Foreign Policy magazine. This year this drop is due to the deterioration of performance in 7 out of 12 categories, notably in the areas of human rights, rule of law, delegitimisation of the state, poverty and economic decline.
The human rights situation in Sri Lanka shows no signs of improvement and as ‘Lawyers for Democracy‘ stated in April, ‘the spate of deaths of persons while in Police custody is alarming. The casual manner in which the death of persons in police custody is being treated by the authorities is an insult to our system of administration of justice.’ The independent inquiry into the cold blooded execution of over 27 prisoners in November last year has also yet to materialise.
While hundreds if not thousands of complaints of serious human rights violations gather dust at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the commissioner announced a few days ago that the commission will be probing into rail tragedies at unprotected railway crossings in the country! In the face of such cynicism, the workshop being conducted by the Commonwealth and the HRCSL in Colombo at the moment with the participation of your deputy, I feel, is an useless exercise in mutual deception. By conducting a workshop with the HRCSL you are conferring legitimacy to a human rights institution which has become yet another appendage of the executive since the 18th Amendment of September 2010 . This is in direct contravention of the Paris Principles, which relate to the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. As the Paris Principles stipulates, ‘ the key elements of the composition of a national institution are its independence and pluralism. In relation to the independence the only guidance in the Paris Principles is that the appointment of commissioners or other kinds of key personnel shall be given effect by an official act…..’ However, all commissioners of the current HRCSL have been appointed by the President.
Lattimer House Principles are also being consistently and continuously violated. After the President forcibly excluded the legal Chief Justice, Mrs. Shirani Bandaranayake from her chambers and installed someone else in her place in January, the executive with his hand picked set of judges proceeded to scrap the violated court of appeal order. This order was ignored by the President when he removed the legal Chief Justice after an hurried impeachment trial more akin to the witch trials of the dark ages. The witch hunt against Mrs.Bandaranaike continues and she has been summoned several times to the Bribery Commission which has also now become yet another appendage of the executive arm since the 18th Amendment came into operation.
Today, it is a well known secret that all Judicial transfers and appointments are decided at ‘Temple Trees’, the official residence of the executive, in violation of the Latimer House principle which states that ‘ Judicial appointments should be made on the basis of clearly defined criteria and by a declared process.’
Another Latimer House Principle states that the ‘ interaction, if any, between the executive and the judiciary should not compromise judicial independence.’ Yet the new Chief Justice prefers to demonstrate his devotion and servility to the executive by being a frequent visitor not only to the President but to his brother, the defence secretary.
The judiciary is not the only victim of the erosion of law through disempowered institutions. Even the university administration has been made into useless appendages of the executive. For example, the University Grants Commission has now abdicated its powers and responsibilities under section 34(1) of the act to select and recommend one person for appointment by the President. It has now unlawfully clothed the President with authority to make his own choice of Vice Chancellor.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Sri Lanka as the 4th most dangerous place in the world for journalists to work in. The Criminal Investigation Department continues to raid newspapers which highlight corruption linked to the first family and two days ago,the Editor of ‘Janarela’ – a weekly Sinhala tabloid , was grilled by the CID regarding an article published last year. In the north, un identified militia men have continued their attacks on several independent newspapers. Several media personnel at MTV, a leading private television network, were threatened again recently.
Also, the government which purportedly claims that it values Commonwealth principles, has sought and received Chinese expertise to monitor, hack and block websites which expose human rights violations and corruption. In fact, the Defence Secretary, recently identified social media such as Facebook and Twitter as a serious threat to national security and plans are afoot, according to reliable sources to ban social media as well as to introduce the draconian code of ethics for the media, recently approved by Cabinet, after the summit in November.
Despite the predominantly Chinese funded ‘show’ development in the North, at vastly inflated costs, the plight of the Tamil people has deteriorated and the militarisation continues unabated. A special unit under the Commander of the area has been formed to suppress democratic activities: during a visit to the area some months ago, even a meeting attended by the Leader of the Opposition was attacked by this squad. While the government is reluctantly preparing to hold Northern Provincial Elections thanks to intense international pressure, there are reports that members of this squad are intimidating and threatening candidates who are hoping to seek nomination from opposition parties.
Even other religious minorities are now being persecuted with impunity. There have been over 15 Incidents during this year where Mosques as well as Muslim owned businesses have been attacked in broad daylight while the Police looked on. Two weeks ago, a beef stall owned by a Muslim was vandalised and destroyed while the Police and the PSD (Presidents Security Division) guarding the Presidents Tangalle residence, just a stones throw away, looked on. Many Christian places of worship have also been attacked in recent months. The fact that these fanatical groups can take law into their hands with total impunity is proof enough of the unholy alliance between these purveyors of terror and the powers that be.
Also in violation of yet another Commonwealth value, the government is continuing its witch hunt against members of civil society. The much respected local representative of the Ferdrich Ebert Stiftung was recently apprehended at the airport and questioned about funding a book written on Buddhism and Governance by the Leader of the Opposition seven years ago. She was also questioned by the CID for two days in May after hosting a workshop on Campaign management for Members of Parliament of the UNP. Another woman from an Indian NGO was deported last week for being critical of some development activities in the North. Many other key human rights activists are also subjected to harassment and the bank accounts of some of them have been frozen without a court order.
Emboldened by its apologists in the International community, the regime, continues with arrogance to violate the core values of the Commonwealth Charter. It is in the context of these continuing violations that I cannot share your enthusiasm that the “Commonwealth soft power and behind the scenes contribution’ can lead to “real progress in the long term”. From the daily occurrences, some of which I have mentioned above, it is clear that the government is unable to mend its ways and that there is a vast discrepancy between the values of the Commonwealth and the values of its incoming Chairman.
It is certainly true that certain recommendations of the LLRC report need a longer period to implement but if the government of Sri Lanka is sincere and genuine in its commitment to the Commonwealth Charter, there are some changes which could be implemented immediately prior to the Summit in November and in time for the Northern Provincial Elections.
For example, the notorious 18th Amendment to the Constitution, introduced as an Urgent bill in 2010 abolishing the independent Judicial, Elections, Public Services and Police Commissions can be repealed immediately with yet another urgent bill restoring all the independent commissions. This could well be the litmus test on the governments commitment to the core Commonwealth values.
Free and fair elections are an integral part of the Commonwealth charter. In addition to the independent elections commission and independent police commission been in place before the Northern Elections, it also imperative that a civilian governor be appointed to the North and that the army be confined to the barracks , if the election is to be truly free and fair.
If such changes are to be implemented prior to CHOGM in November, all Sri Lankans, I am sure will congratulate and thank you for the ‘Commonwealth soft power and behind the scene contribution’ in restoring the credentials of one of Asia’s oldest democracies. However, holding of the summit without such a proven commitment to the values and principles of democracy would not only call into grave question the value, credibility and future of the Commonwealth, it will also be the granting of the Commonwealth seal of approval to an emerging dictatorship in Asia.
As the CHOGM summit is of immense public interest, I am taking the liberty of releasing this letter to the media.
JR invited, Rajiv Gandhi invaded and Tamils paid the price. The cost of political unrealism at over 1,500 dead on either side was exacting. The invasion had a twin motive. To make the North safe for the TULF – read moderates friendly to India – and the South safe for the UNP – read a regime amenable to India. JR heaped victory on his country. The invitee was treated to ignominy by Tamil militants. It rankled in India’s mind from 1987 and most particularly since 1991 and was avenged in 2009. Lessons of the misadventure are not learnt yet by any of the parties complicit to it.
Firstly a brief look at the precursors to India’s intervention. Tamil militancy and the state military were reaching a point of a major collision. Events moved in quick succession in mid-1987. May of that year was rife with talk that the capture of Jaffna by the Sri Lankan military was in the offing. Either rumour or inspired leak had it, that execution of the plan would involve heavy casualties. Jaffna was gripped with fear. What lent credence to it was the feeling that the militants were not strong on ground and their ammunition supply was limited. The native intelligence of the Jaffna man helped in this discernment.
The Vadamaratchchi Operation launched on 26th May and the ease of capture in 4 days, confirmed the forebodings. Extension of the operation to reach the heart of Jaffna was therefore anticipated. The first three days of June saw movement of people going in all directions away from their homes with no clear idea where. News of the food convoy from India moving towards Jaffna was comforting to the Tamils. But that noon itself it was stopped at mid ocean by the SL Navy. Euphoria for the South and disappointment for the North were only for a while.
The following day a little before 5 pm, there was an unprecedented roar of low flying jets, fighter planes and cargo planes dropping food items. It was revealed subsequently and quite credibly that the air drop was scripted even before the food convoy set sail. Within minutes everybody figured out what it was all about. The youth lit crackers. Not a soul bothered to say food has come. No one stopped to debate the legality or otherwise of airspace violation. Their obsession was that SL army with air cover was going to honeycomb the Peninsula. This had now been foiled by India. They were ecstatic only about what the drop signified. INDIA IS COMING was their perception. This was enough to dispel all gloom.
The following morning, Thursday, I asked an officer working with me what his clairvoyant friend will say. He said that he had already met him who after prayers and meditation had said that “the next day – Friday, the army will get out of Pt. Pedro and march towards Jaffna. BUT midway, it will turn back and go, for reasons he was unable to know.” On Friday morning the army did break out. At Atchuvely much to the surprise of all Tamils it reversed course. This turning back is the now well-known handiwork of DN Dixit who was forceful enough to get New Delhi to intervene and stop any further advance beyond Atchuvely.
From this date after a seeming lull, there was a spate of activity among three groups. The Indian Government, Sri Lankan Government and the militants with civilians as spokesmen. To bring about some settlement and to avoid confrontation was the concern. As these went on, a few weeks later a food shipment arrived in KKS harbor. To receive it Mr. Hardeep Puri, Political Secretary was at the harbor. He was taken to Jaffna town in an open vehicle by the Tigers. On either side of the road there was a massive, happy and enthusiastic crowd, wanting to convey its gratitude. Again, not for food but for the prospect of INDIA COMING. In charge of arrangements were Tigers. The vehicle could only inch along. All the way he was profusely garlanded, feted and treated to food and drinks. It was a reception which is reserved for the rarest of personalities for an exceptional occasion. In an earlier time only Nehru could have got it. Now Puri had it. To Jaffna he symbolized India and honouring him was honouring India. The whole event was televised by local TV managed by Tigers. Such was the emotional bond between India and the Tamils at that time. The Tigers did their arrangements well, but it was clear that it was formal and ritualistic. Their heart was not in it.
The month of July saw again a flurry of engagements among India, Sri Lanka and the Tigers ending up with the Indo Lanka Accord in July 1987. The Tigers had no say about it, no hand in the draft and did not so much as have the occasion even to read it. Within an hour or two of it being signed, massive Antanovs and other planes flew continuously for two days or more. They ferried men and material from India to Palaly. Alongside, was the movement of SL troops to the south by air as well. Soon after, there was a formal handing over of weapons by the Tigers. Those who were knowledgeable were certain that it was a mere token of what they possessed.
To the war weary, there was peace in our time. To the percipient signs were ominous. From August1987, they were fueled by India’s proclivity to unsettle, not by error but by design. The relationship between India and Sri Lanka in the period 1977 to 1987 needs to be understood to fully discern developments at that time.
When JR won the elections in 1977 and became President in ’78, his alter ego Morarji Desai was Prime Minister of India. In 1980, Indira Gandhi unseated him scoring a resounding victory. This was irksome to JR who had earned her ill will and wrath. Ideological differences apart, there was personal antipathy and even temperamental incompatibility. He prided himself over the thought and made it public that he was of Nehru’s vintage. Implicitly, Indira was but a trifle. Can it go well with a lady of aristocratic lineage and bearing, who was styled by the West as Empress of India? She was a personality cast in the mould of Patel and not of Nehru. JR hated her and her hatred was no less. Once in the early eighties a friend of mine while talking to her in Delhi, said “Madam, JR hates India”. She leaned towards him and said “Me also”. It was such a leader of a great nation that JR had to deal with.
To a Prime Minister poised to deliver a lethal punitive blow, the 1983 pogrom against the Tamils provided the occasion. Even more important was the emergence of motivated Tamil militants straining for training in India. Tamil Nadu of the same ethnic identity was a suitable hinterland ready at hand. As factors moved favourably in Delhi’s calculation, Tamils had their own ideas that history would move as they wished. If India could be persuaded to the strategy of partition, then Cyprus Solution of the north for the Turks and south for the Greeks could be considered a precedent for the Sri Lankan situation. Whatever the viability of this thought, it lost its sheen with the demise of Indira Gandhi. There was little realization among Tamils that the world had moved much from Palmerstone’s Opium War against China, at the whim of the PM of England 130 years back. Such whimsical intervention was no longer possible. Partition became even less practicable without a fearless and resolute Indian leader. When an overnight change in strategy was required we harboured the same views from November 1984, ie after the death of IG, to October 1987 when war broke out.
Does history run its course as per some destiny or is the path altered by a powerful leader? This has been a dilemma for historians to interpret. Arthur Koestler invokes a picturesque analogy. A small stone is washed away by a river. Not so a boulder, which makes its impact for 200 yards or years. In recent times Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin, Mao and Deng left their mark in altering world history. Nehru, Margaret Thatcher, Gorbachev and Lee Kwan Yew too made a striking contribution through their force of personality. In that line was Indira Gandhi as well among the great world leaders. The void created by her demise was well assessed by Sri Lanka’s political leadership and the sails were freshly set to gain direction. Distressingly the same did not hold with the Tamils and we floundered, yet fortified in the belief that when we are in a soup, either India or the International Community is obliged to retrieve us.
From late 1984, Tamils were caught up in a drift that lacked purposive direction. Indira’s reputed Advisor G. Parthasarathy was marginalized for no reason by Rajiv Gandhi, and he relinquished his duties. The respected and competent Foreign Secretary A P Venkataeshwaran, fully conversant with the Tamil problem was dropped unceremoniously. His predecessor was one Romesh Bhandari and he enjoyed the confidence only of President Jayawardena. His handiwork was the miserable Thimpu Talks in mid-1985, which took nobody anywhere. The objectives as discerned by Tamils were two. (1) Force march all militant groups to the conference table, thereby asserting India’s supremacy. (2) To cut V. Pirapakaran (VP) to size, proclaim that all the militants stand on an equal footing and to din into VP that he is not primus but all are pares. (No first but all are equals). By Christmas 1976, Tigers had eliminated all other groups and VP proclaimed that he was just primus and there were no pares. This was the only dismal effect of India’s efforts for two years.
By early 1987 VP’s stay in India had become untenable. When he asserted his independence increasingly, relations with his benefactor MGR soured. Can a chick remain till eternity under the wings of the mother? Will not an eaglet fly off from the cliff one day? When the day comes the baby kangaroo gets out of the pouch. When the hour struck, VP got out of Tamil Nadu and came over to Jaffna. From January to June Jaffna experienced constant warfare, aerial bombing, shelling, power outages and shortages of food. The people had braced themselves to circumstances however trying.
To connect with where I digressed, may I say some movement was observable now. After hectic activity in July 1987, VP was flown to Delhi under duress from Suthumalai Amman Temple premises by helicopter to Chennai and thence by plane to Delhi. Nothing was known as to why. It was only speculated that the trip may have something to do with an Accord. When VP did not return for more than two days there was agitation among the people and more among the cadres.
On his return a mammoth meeting was held at Suthumalai where VP read out a prepared speech. It then transpired that he was not given enough time even to read the contents. Wrath and determination to undo the so called Accord were explicit on his face at the event that was televised. If VP was not considered the leader and spokesman of the Tamils, why was he flown to Delhi in the first instance? If he was so considered, why this cavalier treatment? The implacable discord that came about, his spurning of the Accord, the violent incidents that followed, the outbreak of war with the Indian Army and consequent unfortunate happenings even after its withdrawal have their origin in this highbrow behavior of the Indian establishment in Delhi. India reaped the whirlwind.
Events that flowed subsequent to the Accord, cast unforgiving shadows and confirmed misgivings. Happenings seemed to flow in a well scripted coherent sequence. Very soon on display were India’s sinister intentions. From the rump of anti-Tiger elements resident in India, was cobbled together a rag tag called ‘Tri Star’. It was to serve as a fifth column for the Indian Army. What a way to keep peace and win over the people! Each time small batches landed on the Mannar coast, they were mowed down by the Tigers. News used to seep to the people immediately. In the book by Lt. Gen. SC Sardesh Pande, written with transparent honesty by an officer of character, there is reference to it. He speaks of VP losing credibility about India on this score. A war was coming became clear to the Tigers.
I do not use the acronym IPKF because it is a misnomer. Keeping the peace was not the mission of the Indian army. Peace between Tamil and Tamil? Between Muslim and Tamil? They were not at war. Then what was the justification to heap 60,000 troops or more within the confines of North-East? Why keep in and around the Jaffna fort alone, some 19 tanks? When war broke out on 10th October, did any rumble along to the Sinhala-Tamil border to keep ethnic peace if it was ever feared?
My adoration for all what was good and great about Tamil Nadu and of India, made me purblind to reality. In the early eighties a certain lady from Delhi used to come to SL. In 1984, about 12 of us had a meeting with her in Jaffna. Her patriotism was never in doubt. But she said all the Tamils she met wanted the Indian army to come. She continued, “I don’t know why they are saying that. The Indian army is as brutal as any in the world, if not more brutal”. A senior officer from India who spent nearly a month in November 1987 and who had had discussions with me told me “I am getting back next week and after that I will not return because the Indian army is behaving like an army of occupation.” My experience at close quarters from October 1987 to February 1990, knocked off the scales clouding my vision. Before that I wondered how Bangladesh could turn against India, her deliverer and benefactor. Now I knew why.