HUMAN RIGHTS (JAFFNA)*
Date of release: 9th September 2005
Appendix: Article by Sivaram in Memory of A. Sabalingam
The life and death of journalist Dharmaretnam Sivaram reflect the advance of impunity on both sides of the ethnic divide. A number of Sinhalese intellectuals have rightly condemed Sivaram’s murder, pointing out that he challenged them in his writings, not with a gun and that it called for a civilised political response. But the story of Sivaram cannot be told without accounting for the deep-rooted and corrupting character of Sinhalese nationalism, and its equally corrupt Tamil counterpart. Both promote violence in the name of ‘our people’ and have made life miserable for all the people of Sri Lanka.
A crucial event in Sivaram’s life, and the lives of several other Tamil students of his time, was dropping out of the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya) in the wake of anti-Tamil violence and discrimination there. The University, once idyllic and unifying for its students, had changed. The University administration and Sinhalese students embraced the growing intolerance of the mainstream Sinhalese elite. The “Tamil problem” was not one that called for discussion and debate with Tamils in their midst towards a political solution (as would have been becoming of a university). Instead it was viewed as merely a terrorist problem. The university administration collaborated with intelligence arms of the State (to whom any active Tamil was anathema) to identify potential troublemakers. An orchestrated pogrom against Tamil students in May 1983 revealed that even senior Tamil academics had become suspect in the eyes of the administration. (See supplement ‘University of Peradeniya – May 1983: When Majesty Stoops to Folly’ on our web site at http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport19ptIIsuppl.htm )
Sivaram, like the rest of us Tamils, was one way or the other a child of the Tamil nationalist ethos. This ethos was defined by the vituperative hounding from TULF platforms, and finally assassination, of Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah in 1975. This act of callous cowardice, devoid of any sense of responsibility, cast its dark shadow over the emerging youth militancy. ‘I killed Duraiappah’ (a defenceless and pretty harmless man) became the qualification and rallying cry for aspirants to the nationalist vanguard. We are now living with its consequences.
Even behind Sivaram’s dizzying shifts of allegiance over the course of his life, there was a perverse consistency. What mattered most in his assessment was solid power, and not the ethics of how it was forged and sustained. Many educated Tamils silently subscribe to his line of argument: The LTTE may be utterly obnoxious, but would life be less barbarous and more dignified were the dreaded LTTE to collapse and the Tamils placed again at the mercy of louts in the Sinhalese polity – one that has shown little qualitative change over many decades? To this day there is no commonly acknowledged history of the range of atrocities committed against Tamil civilians using the apparatus of the state. Is it not in this historical and political vacuum that the UNP adds insult to injury by thrusting heroes drawn from the rogues gallery of July 1983 for positions of national leadership?
Sivaram himself provided a partial answer to this dilemma that must surely trouble Tamils in search of a human and democratic alternative to the present course of inexorable ruin. Having long been engrossed with military power, in his last days of disillusionment and isolation Sivaram turned in his writings to a new theme – the people. He went back to the ideas of socially committed men and women dissidents in his group – the PLOTE – whom he too in the mid-1980s persecuted from the side of the leadership.
The killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on 12th August raises the question of impunity with added urgency. The ongoing political killings of Tamils in Colombo almost exclusively by the LTTE, its threats against the Minister, the modus operandi, the LTTE media gloating over the killing and proudly citing press references to its killing prowess, and the lack of a plausible alternative theory, clearly point to the LTTE. However, the security forces were unable to find quick and decisive evidence against it. Murder and frivolous speculation had become a sport in this country where what we need are facts.
Readers are by now familiar with the physical details around the murder of journalist Dharmaretnam Sivaram – the time and particulars of his abduction from Bambalapitiya Junction on the night of 28th April; the lonely place where his body was found the next morning near the Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Road. In the days after the murder a wide array of theories were put forth as to the identity of his killers. An NSSP (NLF) leader at a May Day rally and a piece published under a pseudonym in the Sunday Leader pointed the finger at the JVP, the latter piece suggesting it was in league with Karuna; the JVP saw something questionable in the conduct of some journalists close to the UNP trying to pin the blame on them. The TNA accused the EPDP; and the EPDP the LTTE. The LTTE media blamed in turn traitors from the Karuna group operating hand in glove with government security forces and Sinhalese journalists who were jealous of Sivaram. A letter many dismissed as a fake from a previously unknown group calling itself the Therapuththabhaya Brigade claimed responsibility, using language (mischievously?) reminiscent of JHU and JVP statements. And so it went; the game of pointing fingers at political adversaries was in full swing.
Public Security and Law and Order Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake wound up the parliamentary debate on the murder saying some new evidence had emerged into the journalist's killing and there was also useful information that emerged during the debate. He assured the House that justice would be done and the culprits brought to justice, an assurance that now appears as empty as the Government’s concern about the spate of routinely uninvestigated killings in the North-East.
The cacophony of accusations is a sad reminder of the culture of impunity that prevails in Sri Lanka. Each theory put forth is plausible because each party implicated has employed this kind of violence in the past, and got away with it. Political violence in Sri Lanka is not a new phenomenon, or one limited to the unresolved conflict in the North-East. Agents of the State and its armed opponents alike have used murder to settle a wide array of political scores. Given the fact that there has been no real coming to terms with the past, and no real reform of the arms of the State it would be foolhardy to forget the state-linked death squads and “disappearances” in the late 1980s and 1990s. And how can we ignore the LTTE’s murders of Tamil dissenters now numbering in the hundreds, and continuing to spiral out of control? The hard reality is that there has been to date no real political will to stop the killings, and no serious effort to develop the capacity of law enforcement to conduct effective investigations. The violence thus goes unchecked. Impunity, coupled with a political reality that is excludes the vast majority from the decisions being made, almost invites violent forces to revert to old methods and ideologies.
Why was Sivaram killed ? We can only speculate. He was an influential journalist and a controversial character. From the mid 90s he provided invaluable services to the LTTE, whose objectives he clearly supported. But no one had illusions about the LTTE trusting him. Tamils with dissident views thought it too risky to go near him. But whatever he wrote, however exasperating the twists, was informative and worth reading. His connections in Tamil militant circles went deep, and his commentary on Sri Lankan state intelligence was constantly scathing, and it may be this last that proved to be his undoing. One sees parallels in other high profile murders:
Richard de Zoysa was like Sivaram, a high-profile journalist with good international connections, who was killed in February 1990 during the final stages of the crackdown on the rebellious JVP. He too was abducted and his body was discovered later on the beach in Moratuwa. The reasoning then seemed to be that it was less costly for the State to kill de Zoysa than to detain him and invite concerted international pressure. No officer in the security forces would have taken it upon himself to kill de Zoysa, without authorisation from the highest political level – Deputy Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne in this case and carried out by SP Ronnie Gunasinghe. Security officers are fairly cautious government servants and, for a job of this kind, they would expect not only political cover, but also some prospect of reward.
Sivaram’s murder shares a number of similarities with the killing of Kumar Ponnabalam in January 2000. Then too there was the lurking suspicion in the minds of many that despite his close association with the group, his killers could have been sent by the LTTE. But the fact of its being carried out in broad daylight in Wellawatte, with a pick up vehicle having tinted windows in waiting to make the getaway, pointed to the State. As in Sivaram’s case, the LTTE leader conferred on Kumar the title of Maamanithan (Supremely Great Man), which appeared to clarify matters. The risk of such a move backfiring was thought too great, should the Police find evidence implicating the LTTE.
Like De Zoysa and Ponnambalam, Sivaram had very good connections with the influential embassies in Colombo and had been travelling in the West. Assuming the State is involved, we may infer that the authorisation to kill Sivaram came very likely from someone at cabinet level. Why choose to kill Sivaram at this time? He had been doing something quite routine for the last 12 years, defending the LTTE’s cause and editing TamilNet. There is absolutely no indication that he was doing anything illegal, as distinct from immoral. Indeed, the killers did not even interrogate him. There are even strong indications that Sivaram may have been rebelling against the LTTE’s attempts to control his journalism. But security minds schooled in impunity do not have the discernment for such things.
Sri Lanka’s peace process has degenerated into a ‘shadow war’ – an expression Sivaram used a few times since March, with much of warfare being played out by intelligence operatives and hit squads. When a suicide bomber made an attempt on the life of EPDP leader Douglas Devananda in Colombo last July, the presidential spokesman dismissed its significance as Tamils settling scores (Special Report No. 18). Norway and the international community gave tacit support to the LTTE Vanni faction’s campaign to neutralise Karuna’s breakaway forces, thus propping up the LTTE’s position as “sole representative”, while the Government tried to keep up the appearance of going along with its donors. It turned a blind eye to LTTE killings of government servants, civilians and intelligence personnel; but secretly sought to benefit from the split through its intelligence services. It was an ugly strategy that only served to up the stakes, and potentially alienate the intelligence community. After the high profile abduction of Police Inspector Jeyaratnam of the Terrorist Investigation Division, did someone in the establishment pull out of mothballs some of the darker elements in the security apparatus and place them on the prowl?
By the early 1990s Sri Lanka had earned international notoriety for impunity. When reflecting on the very plausible theory that Sivaram was in fact abducted by a police intelligence unit as suggested by the particulars of his adbuction, Kumaraguru Kugamoorthy’s “disappearance” in September 1990 comes to mind. It was one of tens of thousands perpetrated against suspected sympathisers of militant causes and the governing United National Party’s political opponents in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His case also illustrates how long it can take to get at the truth where the State is determined to obfuscate.
In 1994 there was widely shared hope that Chandrika Kumaratunge, the newly elected President, would dismantle the official structures that facilitated human rights abuse. Instead institutions carried on as before. The most notorious war criminals were mothballed – not punished. Such was the fate of military intelligence operative Richard Dias (alias Captain Munas) whom the authorities projected to local Tamils as the public symbol responsible for massacres and “disappearances” of hundreds of Tamils in Batticaloa in 1990 and also Suresh Cassim, who earned similar notoriety in Trincomalee. Indeed, even as Tamils were encouraged to direct their wrath at these shadowy figures with purportedly non-Sinhalese or Christian names, there were tell-tale signs that the actual responsibility for these outrages went right to the top, a matter to which we will return in the last section. Even after 1994 state agents with horrendous records remained in positions of authority. We give below some cases of impunity under Kumaratunge’s presidency that we think are also relevant to Sivaram’s case:
Far from being exceptional, these cases are parts of a persistent pattern of murder to which we may now add Sivaram’s killing. The culture of impunity has continued until today we are in a situation of anarchy, with no credible state to speak of. The question is often asked on first impressions: ‘The Tigers kill and get away with it, and whenever they find it useful, politicians in the South too kill and get away with it, so where’s the difference?’ It is an impression that affects Sri Lanka’s security and its future as one nation.
Politicians in the South and non-Tamil newspapers see institutions like the Counter-Subversive Unit and the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) -- whose personnel are interchangeable, only as security assets. They do not recognise that these forces have helped to alienate whole communities with their brutal and indiscriminate methods, and that the justice system in Sri Lanka has completely failed to check the abuse. The long-term damage done to the nation is incalculable. One effect is that a large number of these cases are being filed in claims for asylum abroad. Where local courts are of no avail, foreign judges examining these claims are passing judgment on them. Each judgment granting asylum is a nail in the coffin sealing the credibility of Sri Lanka as a nation. As an example:
The Terrorist Investigation Division of the Police cracked terrorist cells and apprehended several key LTTE operatives in Colombo in the past. But its methods were brutal and unsophisticated and many innocent Tamils underwent torture and other bad experiences at its hands. Following the ceasefire, the LTTE used the access given to the South to target members of the TID, who suffered a number of ceasefire casualties. Three officers in particular have been targeted by the LTTE for elimination: Inspector Nilabdeen, who survived suicide bombing in 1999, Inspector Thabrew who was killed by the LTTE in June 2003, and Inspector Jeyaratnam, who was abducted by the LTTE on April 20, 2005, just days before the abduction and murder of Sivaram.
Inspector Jeyaratnam was a Tamil member of TID. He feared for his life and was, according to his wife, desperate to leave the country. The LTTE progressively built up its intelligence infrastructure in Colombo and now reportedly has four teams operating the capital. Among their activities was to screen Tamil civilians, especially those of middle age and below who may have a militant past. A number of them had been asked to report to Vavuniya for interrogation. Failure to answer repeated summons could be fatal. The onus is on the person being interrogated to prove that he is not a police informant. Some have been sounded out to help the LTTE target persons, especially TID officers, to prove that they should not be punished.
Jeyaratnam was, as is now well-known, cultivated by an LTTE agent posing as a former PLOTE member, invited with his family to dinner at a posh hotel on 20th April, with the promise of a job in London. His wife and children were driven home, but Jeyaratnam is missing since then.
By sheer coincidence, Sivaram had written in his Daily Mirror column that day on the subject of intelligence, with particular reference to another abduction in Colombo to emphasise the lengths to which the LTTE goes in intelligence matters. He wrote, “Here too the LTTE waited and schemed patiently to take [Mano Master] who held the key to a valuable store of information about the ENDLF’s involvement in the Karuna affair”. He concluded, “In the final analysis it is information that matters in this war”. The article would have rubbed in the Police’s incompetence in protecting their assets.
It is a reasonable guess that police intelligence operatives had grown very angry over the Government turning a blind eye to the LTTE killing off (mainly Tamil) operatives and that the Jeyaratnam affair may have been about the last straw. Report (e.g. Divaina) indicate that the matter was discussed at a high level of the Police, and a decision was taken to increase their resources, granting them some licence to act in the way they had been used to. According to a report coming from sources connected to the TID, hundreds of operatives posing as auto-rickshaw operators had been posted around the city.
Deputy Defence Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said at a Naval function in Trincomalee on 22nd April, “Do not provoke us, do not tickle us and do not cause another war by using intimidatory tactics…If the LTTE wants a war they can start the war, but we don't want to start it, we will observe the ceasefire as well as the peace as much as we can, but if we are attacked we would be compelled to retaliate.” These are not words of a Government conscious of an obligation to deal with its countrymen according to the rule of law. They come against growing pubic unease over the Government’s appeasement of the LTTE, and when these wild, anything but law abiding, honeymoons ended in ‘retaliation’, governments have been very incapable of making distinctions between the LTTE and the Tamil people. They are a reminder of the infamous ‘war or peace’ speech of Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene in Parliament in August 1977, while mobs were mauling Tamils on the streets.
As we all know by now from the copious reporting in the press, Sivaram was abducted at 10.30 PM on 28th April after having drinks with 3 others at Bambalapitiya Junction. He had moved away from the bar with one companion to board a bus when he, fighting back, was pushed into a vehicle by ruffians and driven away. His body was found in the morning across the strip of water from the Parliament, along the Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Road. He had been killed with a blow on the head and shot at. According to the post mortem report he was not tortured.
Following the discovery of Sivaram’s body even spokesmen from leading political parties seemed less interested in a thorough professional investigation than in scoring political points, and appeared to take it for granted that the Police were incapable of doing it. If we were serious about impunity, would not many leading politicians be behind bars, and what then would happen to peace with the LTTE?
Several parties were treated as likely suspects in Sivaram’s abduction and murder -- most notably , Karuna’s forces, Military Intelligence, the LTTE Vanni Faction,and the Sri Lankan police themselves (with or without the help of Sinhala nationalist groups). All were plausible suspects; circumstantial evidence pointed more strongly to the involvement of a section of the state intelligence.
Persistent rumours of the LTTE in Vanni suspecting Sivaram of having encouraged Karuna to raise issues against the leadership, and accusations along these lines by persons close to the LTTE, made many convinced initially that it was the LTTE that killed Sivaram.Further his brother in law a acedemic from Eastern University was taken in by the LTTE and interrogated and released. He had seen many others in chains in the LTTE prison. The academic decided to leave Batticaloa. But in the current context, there were good reasons for not regarding the LTTE the prime suspect.
Nearly all LTTE actions in Colombo indicate that the hit squads engage in careful monitoring over a period of time to find out the intended victim’s habits and movements, and where the victim would be at a given time. The place and time of action are pre-ordained. The attacks on Lakshman Kadirgamar, Neelan Thiruchelvam, C.V. Gooneratne (though intended for G.L. Peiris), President Kumaratunga, Douglas Devananda (miscarried), President Premadasa, A. Thangathurai, Mayor Sivapalan, Rajiv Gandhi, and Rajani Thiranagama all fall into this category. A close similarity in modus operandi over many years is evident.
Unlike these others, Sivaram’s presence at the bar in Bambalapitiya was not pre-planned. His movements and the meeting were spontaneous. The possibility of Military Intelligence involvement cannot be ruled out. Given Sivaram’s position as a well-connected veteran military analyst, it is not unlikely they knew something was up.
If killing Sivaram was the only objective, Police intelligence have the useful Tamil scapegoats and the ‘expertise’ to carry it out without involving such a politically problematic force as Karuna. The Sri Lankan security forces have used Tamil militants from groups hunted by the LTTE for nearly 20 years. Take for example the following report ‘Death at noon creates crack in Sri Lanka's defences’ from TamilNet about the group around PLOTE Mohan, who was killed in Colombo on 31st July 2004:
“Mohan was also a key person in counter intelligence operations against the Tigers in Colombo. As such he worked with the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Police in Colombo. That his death is a serious blow to Sri Lanka's military and intelligence establishments was quite evident from the number of apparently anxious senior Police and military officers who rushed to the spot where Mohan was shot dead at noon on Saturday.” The report by someone familiar with Batticaloa, evidently Sivaram, described Mohan as one protected and used by the security forces (lately the TID) having a notorious record, and an association with other operatives such as the notorious Captain Munas. (See UTHR(J) Reports 7 to 11 of 1991-1993.)
TamilNet’s evolution since Karuna’s split, from a biased, but informative news provider to an overt propaganda tool made Sivaram’s position with the intelligence forces more tenuous amidst the continuous spate of killings. Many came to believe that Sivaram worked closely with LTTE intelligence. A particular instance was the drugging and killing of about 8 cadres from the Karuna group in a house in Kottawa during the night of 24th July 2004, supposedly by a mole. The identity of Karuna lieutenant Kuhanesan, the leading victim, was first broken in the morning by TamilNet citing ‘Batticaloa sources’, when the Police denied knowledge of the incident. TamilNet’s reference to Batticaloa sources in breaking the story is journalism, whatever those sources are. At the same time here was a security culture used to acting on impressions with considerable impunity, becoming increasingly impatient with what was in effect a one-sided ceasefire, while suddenly given the nod to loosen up.
Shortly after Sivaram was killed, there were rumours in ex-Tamil militant circles that friends of PLOTE Mohan were involved in the killing. In June the Police produced a member of the PLOTE for an identification parade, but the result was negative. On the subject of Sinhalese speaking persons witnessess identified with the abduction of Sivaram, the authorities have maintained a complete silence. Four months after the killing and stalled investigations, it appears very likely that the killing was done by the state intelligence services, assisted, as is widely believed in Tamil circles, by a section of the PLOTE having links with them. It can be predicted that the case will be dragged on for some time and dropped, as is the norm in Sri Lanka.
Many who have lavished praise on Sivaram since his murder knew him at arm’s length and communicated with him in English. To them he was an articulate and erudite companion and a worthy sparring partner. This carried also the danger that in the cultural milieu of Colombo where acceptance of the LTTE is seen as the way out, to say ‘Sivaram is my friend’ was also an easy means to ignore the inconvenient side of the Tamil experience. It would however be very wrong to ignore the other, more intense, side of Sivaram’s life. One way or the other, Tamil militancy, its beliefs and goals consumed the bulk of his life. Some were awed by his intellectual prowess, others by his deep knowledge in Tamil National history and especially this knowledge of Eastern history. Many Tamils who were concerned about the direction of the Tamil Struggle had taken felt that he failed the Tamil Community by becoming an opportunist.
The role of an “intellectual” is always a complex one and more so when a society is in crisis. Survival instincts often lead people to make grave moral compromises. But unlike ordinary people who face mainly personal dilemmas, a person with greater societal influence, like Sivaram, may concoct “theories” to explain his own character failures that have far-reaching consequences. In Germany during the Nazi period there were extreme examples of esteemed intellectuals who sold their souls to the Nazi regime.
Although the people and mass struggle were major themes in the early days of many Tamil political movements, they could not withstand the rapid militarization of the struggle after 1983, brought on in part by Indian patronage. The LTTE also played a unique role as an active agent determining the intensity of each phase of the conflict by engaging in military actions calculated to invite large-scale retaliation by the State against the civilians. Predictably, the state complied. Reacting instinctively to the violence, Sivaram (like many others) embraced Tamil Nationalism and looked for effective military means to promote it. The role of the people and broad-based politics in advocating their rights began to lose the battle. Still, many intellecutals recognised the true nature of the LTTE and its fundamentally anti-democratic thrust.
Anyhow, militancy was an intense life, full of experiences, danger, hope, and, worst of all, betrayal. Friendship was far more demanding than beer and wit. It frequently meant life or death, and the fate of the loved ones of those fallen. Many felt betrayed by the ideological pretensions and totalitarian terror of the LTTE and the failings, sometimes as grave, of their own leaders. Even when they fled the country, many could not regard their hard earned money their own. Their energies became consumed by the welfare of their friends, their families, and in doing justice to the memory of the dead. From such quarters there are grave misgivings about Sivaram’s role. It would be arrogant to ride roughshod over such feelings, which are seldom expressed in English. Sivaram began as many Tamil youths of his time.
Scholar-Nationalist and Exit from Peradeniya: Though from school in Batticaloa, Sivaram’s wide reading and English proficiency placed him in the English stream in the Humanities at the University of Peradeniya. His batch-mate Qadri Ismail wrote that a first class degree was his for the asking. For a brilliant and ambitious student, his dropping out in the second term of his second year in 1982 has been shrouded in mystery. We received testimony from one of his batch-mates that Sivaram thought it wise to go underground either because Army Intelligence had required him to report for an inquiry at Gurunagar camp in Jaffna or he feared that they would soon arrest him.
Sivaram was then a nationalist but as far as we could make out had no active militant links or affiliation. He absented himself from lectures for periods and was making or trying to make contact with active nationalists but had, as far as we know, neither carried a gun nor done anything against the law. He may also have at this time in Batticaloa developed contacts with the brothers Paramadeva and Vasudeva and the persons associated with the Cobra Group. Inspired by these contacts, he also visited rooms of his Tamil batch-mates and talked about the need for Tamil Eelam. We also now know that the intelligence services had informants within the University passing on names of Tamil students whose conduct manifested leadership capabilities – even in such matters as stopping the ragging of freshers. The University was not only unable or unwilling to engage with the Tamils in the realm of ideas, but it rather isolated them and, as it were, aided the intelligence services to deal with them (see supplement University of Peradeniya – May 1983: When Majesty Stoops to folly, on our website at http://www.uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport19ptIIsuppl.htm).
It was almost certainly after leaving Peradeniya that Sivaram sought a vocation in the militancy. There was no highly organised militancy in 1982 – only sporadic attacks in the North and the beginning of internecine killings. Dayan Jayatilleke wrote in his appreciation: “[Sivaram] translated my lecture on the Nicaraguan Revolution to the Marumalarchik
Kalaham, the pro-LTTE Renaissance Society at Jaffna campus in late 1982, pausing to stress to the audience that
the harsh criticisms of LTTE tactics that I was making were mine and not his!” This too very likely took place after
Sivaram left Peradeniya and ties in with D.B.S. Jeyaraj’s claim that Sivaram tried to join the LTTE, but its leaders were scared off by his erudition. Theirs was too simple a programme: - viz.provocation, army reprisals and mass mobilisation.
The aftermath of July 1983 led to mass recruitment into the militancy, superimposed on an incipient culture of internecine killing, against the loss of mature figures like Dr. Rajasundaram and Thangathurai who had been killed in the Welikade Prison Massacre.
In the PLOTE: According to former PLOTE members, it was as late as mid-1984 that Sivaram joined the group. He had a personal audience with its leader Uma Maheswaran, when the latter visited Jaffna (Dec.1984-Jan.1985) and sojourned in Chulipuram. Evidently, Maheswaran identified Sivaram as a man after his own heart. This was also the time Maheswaran’s problems with dissidents under the patronage of the political wing leader Santhathiar were growing in intensity. Internal killings proceeded in earnest.
Among the greatest lacunae in the history of the militant struggle are critical biographies of Dr. Rajasundaram and Santhathiar. Both came from a tradition of mass mobilisation at the grass roots through the work of the Gandhiam in the rural North-East. After Prabhkaran ordered the killing of the able PLOTE leader Suntharam, Uma Maheswaran dominated the organisation and took extreme measures against dissidents, originally at least in the name of security. Santhathiar and others like Nobert who were influenced by Marxist ideas and stood for a disciplined mass-based organisation, with a clear political vision, led the protest against internal killings. The first cracks appeared with the Theepori (Sparks) group leaving the organisation in early 1985 and becoming hunted.
About this time, a group of Theepori dissidents was on the run in Jaffna. Moving from Gurunagar to Navanthurai they ran into Sivaram and Theepanesan of the PLOTE mounted on a motorcycle at Gurunagar Junction. Sivaram alighted, pulled out a sub-machine gun from a bag, loaded the magazine and pointed it at the dissidents. One dissident sprang at Sivaram, grabbed the gun and pointed it at him. A crowd gathered there and settled the matter, ruling that there should be no fighting, the gun should be returned to the owner and each party should go its own way. Interestingly, Karuna was then following a parallel career in the LTTE as Prabhakaran’s lieutenant. Karuna tried to abduct the LTTE dissident Ahilan in Madras. Ahilan screamed and held tight to the bar just above him in the auto in which he was travelling. A crowd gathered and sent Karuna packing.
A second incident is more revealing. Santhathiar’s influence in Trincomalee was strong, led by Nobert and Jan Master who were native to that area. Selvam was political leader based in Mutur and was a student of dentistry also at the University of Peradeniya, who had dropped out after July 1983. Santhathiar had also pressed for Selvam to be included in the Central Committee. Trincomalee came under the East in the PLOTE structure. Although there are different stories about how it happened, Selvam was marked as supportive of dissidents. He and another, Ahilan, were killed by a group sent from Batticaloa and it has long been said that Sivaram was part of that group. A contemporary student of Jaffna University said that when he questioned Sivaram about it, without admitting he was involved, he defended it as something common in liberation struggles.
After questioning contemporary sources, who asked around to correct lapses in memory, the following is the account that emerges: Uma Maheswaran sent a letter from India in the spring of 1985, ordering strong measures against a dissident group in Trincomalee. The letter was delivered to Jaffna leader Mendis, who passed it onto Ashok, a senior figure from Batticaloa, who was at a political seminar in Killinochchi. Ashok delegated the task to Sivaram, who was also in Killinochchi. Sivaram went to Batticaloa, collected a group, which included Vengat, a notorious killer, and proceeded to Mutur and to a house used by the political wing. Sivaram and Vengat entered the house and called out Selvam, Ahilan and Caroline who was in charge of the women’s wing. They dismissed Caroline and took Selvam and Ahilan and went away with others who were outside and have not been identified. Selvam and Ahilan were killed and buried in the paddy fields. In whatever manner the charges were framed, others in the PLOTE are clear that their links to Santhathiar was the only real issue. Santhathiar was killed in India by Uma Maheswaran’s thugs a few months later, in September 1985.
Unlike the LTTE, whose more authoritarian structure prevented internal violence from becoming an issue, PLOTE’s surviving democratic traditions forced the issue out into the open. In early 1986 the cadres in the field forced a conference in Jaffna to discuss internal killings. Sivaram was called upon to answer personally for his complicity in the execution of Ahilan and Selvan. Sivaram attempted to evade responsibility by citing a letter from the Eastern leader Easwaran, indicating that he carried out the latter’s orders. Other sources maintain that Easwaran’s letter was not specific and only asked leaders in Trincomalee to cooperate in Sivaram’s mission. Later PLOTE’s leadership admitted to executing 36 persons for security reasons. One section left the PLOTE and formed the ENDLF. Easwaran and Ashok too left the PLOTE after the meeting. The LTTE subsequently banned the PLOTE along with all rival groups and killed several of their leaders and rank and file.
Opinion differs among former PLOTE members as to whether Sivaram was a willing stooge or had his own agenda for power. Some point out that Sivaram would not have acted on Easwaran’s bidding as he was much smarter and had his own line to Uma Maheswaran. After the LTTE banned the PLOTE and EPRLF in December 1986, Sivaram became PLOTE’s contact man in Colombo. When the LTTE went to war with the Indian Army in October 1987, Uma Maheswaran kept the PLOTE out of it and courted the LTTE. The JVP also started its insurgency, attacking in particular the traditional Left. Qadri Ismail, a batch-mate from Peradeniya who gave Sivaram an opening into journalism, was dumbfounded by Sivaram’s ability to court simultaneously a dangerously incompatible set of actors.
Ismail wrote (Mourning Sivaram, Lines Magazine, May 2005): Others will say that he was simply an opportunist. That is, that he never really changed. Sometimes, I think so too. (After all, he wooed Vijaya Kumaratunga and his killers, the JVP; he hated India – and yet informed the High Commission about his comrades during the Maldives coup.) But it takes guts to promote the LTTE openly, in print, from the south. Opportunism cannot explain that.
As a Journalist: Sivaram survived the LTTE’s purge, emerging in 1989 as a defence analyst writing in the Island under the pseudonym Taraki. In May 1994 he even wrote a bold article on the occasion of the LTTE’s murder of A. Sabalingam in Paris touching on a sensitive question in Prabhakaran’s history. Sivaram argued that Prabhakaran’s key reason for ordering the assassination was to secure a monopoly over history (see Appendix for a translation).
Subsequently, he began looking at that the LTTE’s transformation from a guerrilla group to a conventional military force and another shift was in the offing. He tried some channels to make contact with the LTTE. Finally, in 1995, he managed to accompany to Jaffna BBC’s Ananthy, a well-known LTTE propagandist, and his writings took on pro-LTTE leanings. He started the TamilNet web journal in 1998, which featured detailed daily reporting on events in the North and East. The tone was generally supportive of the LTTE and grew more so with time.
Sivaram upset people by his changes of allegiance from active opposition to the LTTE to vocal and articulate support. But these were widely shared by Tamil nationalists in the East. Easterners supported the integrity of the Tamil Homeland as their political goal. This was a reaction to the Sinhalese supremacist goal of demographic transformation through colonisation, which became very violent in the 1980s. Easterners had supported the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord and when the LTTE took on the Indian Army (which the South was generally happy about) they feared it was playing into the hands of the Sri Lankan government and Sinhalese hegemonist ideologues. When the Indian Army withdrew, fears about the goals of the State were revived, particularly because of its conduct in the ensuing war with the LTTE.
With considerable reservations the same nationalists aligned with the LTTE as the only force powerful enough to deliver on the Tamil Homeland goal. This would explain why Sivaram who at one time reportedly wanted PLOTE to ally with the Indian Army and fight the LTTE, became in time its supporter, and in many ways its prisoner; and he was far from being alone.
Sivaram was among the most potent of Eastern voices against the division of the North-East. The Karuna split placed many Tamils in Batticaloa close to the LTTE in a difficult situation. As an articulate Easterner, a number of northern LTTE-backers instinctively suspected Sivaram of having instigated Karuna. Two testimonies from independent sources suggest that Sivaram initially threw in his lot with Karuna. One from an insider in a Tamil political party in Parliament said that it was Sivaram who first contacted them on Karuna’s behalf. The other from a former PLOTE associate confirmed this. Sivaram had evidently told this associate that when Karikalan and Ramesh jumped Karuna’s ship within a short time of getting on board, he too did the same judging that Karuna could not survive.
It was to some former associates from his PLOTE days that Sivaram spoke his mind without reserve. His casual cynicism was almost disarming. He told one such associate, “Why are you chaps wasting your energies fighting the LTTE? Even leading Buddhist monks are going to Killinochchi to pay homage to them!” His experience of post-tsunami Batticaloa was an eye-opener that threw into question the LTTE’s capacity to deliver on the Homeland question. Long identified a Sinhalese chauvinist outfit, Sivaram was struck by JVP’s appeal to the poor among Muslim and Tamil youth in the East.
Sivaram’s last articles suggest that intellectually he may have been moving away from the LTTE. In fact these articles evince growing frustration with that group. If Sivaram’s Daily Mirror article ‘Sleeping Tigers and hidden agendas’ of 20th April provoked an angry reaction in security circles, the Tigers would have been no happier about it. Their websites dropped it.
During the last months of Sivaram’s life he was moving about post-tsunami Batticaloa, talking to people and seeing the devastation for himself. He was isolated and most of his former friends were now his enemies. He could easily have gone abroad into a research position. But all that seemed to mean anything to him was to assert his identity with Batticaloa, come what may. Given Sivaram’s vulnerability after the split in the LTTE, what came from his pen in both English and Tamil called for enormous courage. In these latter writings, which are tactically crafted, he harks back to the lost early values and goals of the Tamil struggle to which he dedicated his life.
To simply say that Sivaram was a courageous man who articulated his belief in Tamil nationalism is too simple. To get a better reading of the man we must take account of what he wrote, especially in Tamil, before 1995 and also in his last days. It would be a fair guess that when he expressed himself in cast iron certainties, he was in fact plagued by grave doubts. Some of these appeared to surface in his writings towards the end. We shall attempt to do justice to Sivaram by sketching what he was trying to get across in his latter days, which would have been largely lost to his detractors as well as admirers.
Sivaram wrote in the Virakesari of 13th March 2005: “A Marxist analysis is essential for understanding what the JVP is doing. Using the ideology of Sinhalese-Buddhist supremacy as a tactical weapon, the JVP hopes to set up a leftwing government in this country. Against this, a Tamil Nationalism will lose its driving power, which has no programme to socially vitalise people who are continuously driven to poverty by the disabilities of gender inequality, economic exploitation, imperialist alignment and the development policies that ensue. Here is the lesson we must learn. It is not enough for Tamil Nationalism merely to mobilise behind the cause of Sinhalese hegemonism alone. Only when it upholds all facets of liberation can it build up a committed base among the people.
Sivaram returned to this theme in his Daily Mirror Article of 13th April, ‘The writing is on the wall, and it is in red’: “People cannot live by ethnic politics alone. There are many pressing social issues, which the average money making politician is not intellectually or ideologically equipped to handle. The farmer is more worried about getting a good price for his rice than splitting hairs over Wahabi fundamentalism or Sufi mysticism. The JVP's message of social emancipation strikes a chord with the poor and marginalized classes…The JVP's opposition to federalism does not automatically translate into a Sinhala hegemonic position, as it normally does in the south.
“This is what makes it attractive to the JVP’s potential recruits among the Muslims and the Tamils in the east and in the plantations. Their social deprivation makes them eager to change the system. They think the system is exploitative because it has been made servile to US imperialism. Increasingly, as these youth gain greater insight into the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Wijeweera, they come to believe that only US imperialism stands to profit from the ethnic conflict - that American capital is promoting the conflict to perpetuate the system of neo-colonial exploitation here.”
Three days earlier, Sivaram in his Virakesari article of 10th April titled ‘Is Tamil nationalism in Crisis?’ moved to explore questions about Tamil nationalism in the same train of thought.
“In a conversation with a TNA MP about a variety of things, he told me, ‘Whatever happens, I am on the side of Tamil nationalism, that is something we can never surrender.’ I asked him what he meant and understood by that, but circumstances prevented me from pursuing it further. I pondered the question during the loneliness of my peregrinations, which yielded more questions and thoughts.
“Is Tamil nationalism an idea, a consensus or is it a communal experience that could indwell in all those who regard themselves Tamils? Or, is it an inner conviction of all those who regard Tamil their mother tongue, transcending categories such as geographical particulars (country) and religion? Is it then a political motive force coming from the inner conviction of Tamils living in the North-East?
“Whether victories, setbacks or defeats in the struggle for our rights, these are all the manifold consequences of Tamil nationalism. For example, the cause of the tumult created by former Batticaloa-Amparai Special Commander Karuna must be traced chiefly to his understanding of Tamil nationalism.
“The foundational belief of Tamil Nationalism for the last 56 years has been that the Northern and Eastern administrative provinces of Ceylon, together, comprise the indissoluble traditional motherland of the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka. By demanding the separation of the North and East, Karuna has made himself exceptional. Never has any one of the leaders of the alternative groups billed as traitors by the LTTE, whom it banned and hunted, called for the separation of the North and East, not even Razik, whose group fully integrated with the Sri Lankan Army. (Although some may argue that by integration Razik in effect furthered the cause of division, what concerns us here is that he did not issue statement after statement calling for division.) Even when some of us pioneered a militant group in the East (the Cobras), its policy was to preserve the integrated Tamil Homeland. Karuna thus today personifies the conceptual crisis of Tamil nationalism.
“At the same time, we must face the reality that over the last quarter of a century we have been reaping the consequences of our failure to build a nationalist consensus, which transcended the internal differences of the Tamil speaking people such as caste, region or religion.
“Our intellectual climate today is characterised by barrenness and the absence of debate. This is the sole reason for our alienating the Muslims and allowing the Sinhalese hegemonists to use them in their divide and rule stratagems, and also for the rise of a figure speaking regionalism.
“We must examine the [frequently repeated] contention that in the face of military aggression, all our differences will vanish and Tamil nationalist unity would arise spontaneously. This contention holds only as long as the enemy remains a fool. Should the Sinhalese hegemonists make a minute study of our differences and contradictions, and formulate their military strategy accordingly, we will be in deep trouble. It is not practical policy to hold that our differences will vanish in the face of military aggression. Today, Sinhalese hegemonists are making a concerted effort to discern our weaknesses. Following on the heels of the Karuna split, someone organised a research seminar to study the caste and ‘kudy’ system in Batticaloa, and how it differed from the caste structure in Jaffna.
“If we neglect the task of rebuilding a Tamil nationalist consensus that transcends inner contradictions, it would amount to empty rhetoric slipping off the tongue of opportunists. Even a genocidal threat that would come our way directly or indirectly in the future would fail to unite us.
(Note: In the Daily Mirror of 20th April, Sivaram qualified the allegation against Karuna: “He or somebody in his name has been putting out statements that the east must be severed from the north”. We have not seen such a statement.)
Sivaram then describes his experience as a young [PLOTE] activist in Jaffna during 1983 and his shock at how pockets of oppressed caste villagers, who functioned as landless labour, were thoroughly alienated from the urban nationalism of the middle class. He described how state-sponsored Buddhist monks had converted them and established Sinhalese schools for their children. Even the state-instigated violence of 1983 failed to elicit a spontaneous response from them. Sivaram points out that questions were raised and debated towards a reevaluation of Tamil nationalism. It was such reevaluation that saved Tamil nationalism and mobilised people irrespective of caste, region and religion to resist Sinhalese hegemonism. (Note: The reference here is obviously to the politically oriented groups such as PLOTE, EPRLF, and NLFT, and not the LTTE, which lacked a definite ideology beyond nationalism.)
Sivaram concludes the article by pointing out that Tamil Nationalism is now hostage to a westernised class subscribing to ‘Sun TV culture’, more interested in preserving privileges than fighting for rights. Assertion of region, caste and religion accompany this debasement of nationalism. Sivaram observes the sorry state of affairs in which a book released by an LTTE supporter advertises his caste. He observes in conclusion: “The time has come for us to make a rigorous reevaluation of Tamil nationalism. Should we fail, history would derail us.”
It does not require much subtlety to discern that the criticism in the Virakesari article above is directed mainly at the LTTE. One cannot discuss Tamil nationalism today without reference to Tiger ideology. The bankruptcy of the Tigers is underlined by pointing to the absence of debate and the work of groups the LTTE crushed brutally.
The criticism of Karuna becomes less personal if one asks how a person so allegedly deficient in political understanding came to be appointed chief of Batticaloa –Amparai..
In his article ‘Sleeping Tigers and hidden agendas’ in the Daily Mirror of 20th April, Sivaram begins by recapitulating some of the themes in the Virakesari article above:
“Isolating the East is the fundamental tenet that underlies all forms and varieties of opposition to the notion of a ‘traditional Tamil homeland’ in Sri Lanka. A very insightful editorial in the Lankadipa noted recently that the Tigers made the greatest contribution to this objective by attacking Muslims of the East”.
This made the article anathema to pro-Tiger websites although it goes on to give credit to the intelligence prowess of the LTTE, while being unflattering in its description of Sri Lankan state intelligence capabilities.
Sivaram’s final Daily Mirror article ‘JVP’s war on NGOs and fears of neo-colonialism’ of 27th April returned to an exploration of the JVP. However the JVP did not appear to understand Sivaram’s articles as complimentary, judging by their hostility even after his death. A week before this article appeared the JVP met visiting US Undersecretary of State Christina Rocca. The contents of the letter the JVP handed over to the US authorities are hardly convincing about its opposition to neo-colonialism.
Sivaram wrote: “The JVP's political philosophy is still fundamentally posited on anti-imperialism. As I pointed out in these columns earlier, the JVP is opposed to the Eelam movement because it is convinced that the US is covertly stoking Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict to gain a foothold here. The JVP-Patriotic National Movement campaign against Non Governmental Organizations is based on the premise that NGOs are one of the chief instruments by which the US and its strategic allies undermine the sovereign political will of countries which they want to subject to neo colonial domination.”
Sivaram goes on to cite documents pointing to the nature of USAID’s involvement in conflict situations. This gave him a new direction of thought concerning Norway’s role in the Sri Lankan peace process. This was given voice in his final Virakesari article of 24th April under the title ‘Erik Solheim’s coming and the crisis of Tamil nationalism’.
Sivaram’s thesis is that Solheim makes regular trips publicly raising hopes that differences between the Government and the LTTE such as with regard to the Joint Mechanism for post tsunami reconstruction will be resolved soon: There is much press fanfare with pictures of smiling Tigers shaking hands with Solheim and company and the people’s hopes are raised. But in reality nothing of substance moves. The displaced remain displaced and the deprived, deprived. The Government has no intention of giving anything. Solheim’s comings and goings are in effect conditioning us to living in a unitary state. Don’t blame Soleheim. That is his job. If people know that they are being fooled they will have the will to resist. But here, all the media fanfare (to which even TamilNet is no exception, Sivaram reminds us) and the smiles make the people lose interest and become inert.
The case he said is similar to that of the New People’s Army (NPA) in the Philippines. While the US designated the NPA a terrorist organisation, it encouraged Norway to keep the NPA talking to the Philippines government. The NPA’s base began eroding. Sivaram added: “Whether one takes Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya or Batticaloa, it can no longer be concealed that the number of people coming to [LTTE] political meetings has fallen. The people have the desire for liberation, but the motivation for them to mobilise is absent.” Concluding, he said in effect, stop the media hype, smiles, and the photographs, until something tangible is in hand. Until then it is wise to tell the people not to expect anything.
This piece is couched in sarcasm, pointing indirectly to the LTTE’s political bankruptcy. The solution Sivaram advocated was already covered in the previous Virakesari article cited – reevaluate Tamil nationalism, allow open debate and reach a consensus that everyone could identify with. What these latter articles reveal is not a ‘terrorist journalist’ he has been accused of being, but a thoughtful, disillusioned Eastern nationalist, walking a tight rope while saying best as he could the thoughts arising within.
Sivaram leaves behind his wife Yogaranjini, and children Vaishnavi, Vaideki and Seralathan. Yogaranjini being a Methodist from Kallar, a Christian service was first held at her Batticaloa home on the morning of 2nd May. She had turned down a request by the LTTE leadership to send Sivaram’s body to Killinochchi so that the Leader who had conferred on Sivaram a posthumous peerage, ‘Supremely Great man’ – ‘Maamanithar’
could pay his respects. In a compromise arrangement the body was taken to Karadiyan Aru for a local ceremony by the LTTE, before burial in Batticaloa.
The family and mourners were undoubtedly conscious of the irony of the LTTE commemorating one victim, while engaged in a killing spree in Batticaloa that has claimed hundreds. For Yogaranjini and her elder sister Yogarani it must have been particularly painful. Yogarani was married to Vasudeva from Mahiladitivu, one time deputy leader of PLOTE and an intimate companion of Sivaram. Vasudeva’s brother Paramadeva was a pioneer LTTE member from Batticaloa, who was killed about December 1982 in an attack on Kaluwanchikudy police station. In September after the Indo-Lanka Accord formally disarmed militant groups and there was an air of peace in Batticaloa, Vasudeva and PLOTE companions set out on a picnic to Pasikkudah beach in a van, not knowing the LTTE had hatched plans to massacre its disarmed rivals. Vasudeva and companions were killed.
Vasudeva’s mother, indignant over the hypocrisy of the LTTE, which flattered her for being the mother of a ‘martyr’ and yet acted so inhumanly, stormed into the local LTTE camp, pulled down their flag, shredded and trampled it. Here now was the LTTE, parading Sivaram’s corpse, insensitive to the pain they were causing by their vacant solemnity. Sivaram’s calls for a nationalist consensus that united rather than divided, meant nothing to this group that cleaved countless families into traitors and martyrs.
Sivaram wrote after the murder of Sabalingam in 1994 that Prabhakaran would kill as many as it takes to assert his monopoly over the annals of the Eelam struggle, so as to be its sole victorious hero. (See Appendix.) Sivaram, who thus showed himself a potential threat to Prabhakaran’s version of history, overlooked another possibility. Thugs protected by the Government of Sri Lanka may murder a custodian of awkward history, while Prabhakaran would appropriate this history simply by conferring on the deceased the posthumous honour of ‘Supremely Great Man’ – ‘Maamanithar’.
Protecting the integrity of the merged North-East has been at the centre of Sivaram’s latter writings: “Isolating the East is the fundamental tenet that underlies all forms and varieties of opposition to the notion of a ‘traditional Tamil homeland’ in Sri Lanka”. Sivaram’s voice would have carried far less weight, were he merely an LTTE propagandist ‘doing his stuff’.
The agenda of asserting Sinhalese hegemonism through land colonisation reached its violently active heights in the mid-1980s with the Ministry of Lands and Mahveli Development as its chief vehicle. It was supported by an influential clique among the Colombo elite led by Ravi Jayewardene, the President’s son, and academics turning out historical research to legitimise the exercise. Its effect was the planned massacres and displacement of Tamils from Mullaitivu, and southward through the East, and reprisal massacres of Sinhalese by the LTTE. These characterised the mid-1980s until the Indian intervention. (See Ch. 19, 20 of the UTHR(J) publication, SRI LANKA: THE ARROGANCE OF POWER: Myths, Decadence & Murder)
The game had been invested with so much emotion and played for such high stakes that it did not disappear. The actors went underground in the system, nursing their anger and biding their time. A section of army officers too made it their pet project, a sorry monument to which is Manal Aru, Weli Oya or Mahaveli System L (our Special Report No.3.) These actors obsessed with saving their Sinhalese-Buddhist land from the Tamil menace lobby and do their work quietly. Every cabinet has had ministers who have their ear, who listen and keep their options open. Why for example did Ranil Wickremasinghe, as prime minister of peace with the LTTE, pick Ravi Jayewardene as a security advisor?
It is noteworthy that no Southern leader had addressed the question of land frankly even where the wrongs are glaring as with Weli Oya. But Southern leaders have been clear about keeping the North-East Provincial Council dissolved, once it was dissolved at the LTTE’s behest in 1990. It was the only attempt at a political settlement to see the gleam of day in half a century of burgeoning ruin. Institutions steeped in impunity remain unchecked because there is unanimity on that score between the Southern polity and the LTTE, and it serves both in the short term.
Why for example are Southern leaders (and the Norwegian peace makers) utterly indifferent to the LTTE’s killing off by the scores committed, thinking Tamils essential to the future of the community? It suits them if the LTTE would emasculate the community and leave it defenceless. Moreover, for every hundred LTTE killings recorded by human rights monitors, a couple of well-chosen killings by the Government carries only a small price. By mutual agreement the killers will forever remain ‘unidentified persons’.
This appears to us the most promising light in which to view the killings of Sivaram, LTTE political wing leader for Batticaloa-Amparai Kausalyan last February, and of the journalist G. Nadesan. The role of Military Intelligence in the latter two has been strongly suspected. All three of them from the East have been identified with the LTTE, but were not Prabhakaran’s stooges. Kausalyan was the only credible Eastern figure left in the LTTE. When opportunity permitted, there was good likelihood of their emerging as independent voices for the East and that time was not far away. There were deep reservations within the LTTE about Prabhakaran’s handling of the Karuna split, as witnessed by the effective demotion of Soosai.
The involvement of the international a community was an opportunity to clinch a political settlement. The LTTE could have cornered the Government soon after the December 2002 Oslo summit. Being what it is, this was never the LTTE’s priority. It continued with killings and child conscription. In her study of the SLMM, Ingrid Samset (Lines Magazine, August 2004) quoted a Nordic monitor: “I wonder whether they [the LTTE] are taking us seriously. When we confront them with violations, they will sometimes look the other way, pretend that they don’t hear, or even close their eyes”. European tours imbued the LTTE with a false sense of complacency. Sivaram saw the writing on the wall and started sounding the alarm.
Perhaps the greatest misfortune that befell Sivaram was his quitting Peradeniya and missing his true vocation as an academic. A good leader of freedom fighters must have a decent measure of altruism that academic life can well do without. A healthier political climate a generation earlier, which offered a more constructive programme than waiting for the demise of Duraiappah would have averted the tragedy for which we have only ourselves to blame.
It is right that we remember Sivaram as a part of this tragedy; a tragedy where thousands of young with talent, ability and dedication for the deliverence of their people placed their fate in the hands of leaders steeped in rapacity and crime. Robbed of their human potential and dignity, most were killed by their own or were turned out into the four winds as wild geese.
It is also well to remember some of the finest flower of that generation motivated by Marxist ideals and disillusioned by what they experienced, whose testement is given voice in the book Puthiyathor Ulakam – A new (redeemed) world. The ideas in the book, which are fresh and relevant to this day, came from a dissident section of the PLOTE. Though once party to their persecution, Sivaram expressed similar ideas at the tail end of his life. Although the LTTE leader made copious use of the book to discredit the PLOTE, he made sure that the main authors of the book did not live to trouble him.
Translation of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram’s article in the Canadian Tamil journal Thayagam of 20th May 1994 to mark the assassination in Paris of A. Sabalingam, pioneer of the Eelam movement, social reformer and man of letters – 1st May 1994
In 1991 Sabalingam published a well-finished volume of articles I had written for the Sunday Island. From then on he pressed me to write a thoroughly researched, authoritative account of the beginnings and development of the Tamil militant movements. I could not oblige since my energies were taken up by my weekly updates on Tamil politics and the Eelam war. I subsequently heard that Sabalingam had personally taken on the task of writing a history. It is now amply evident that his inquiries into the frightfully sensitive episodes of the early Eelam militancy were the cause of his fate. For the Tigers to assert a monopoly right over Tamil politics, they must logically affirm a monopoly over its history too. If anyone from Prabhakaran’s era was the first to take up his pen to have his say, it was Sabalingam. Now he is dead.
An influential group in London blamed the Tigers for this murder and called upon European governments to take appropriate measures against them. Those supporting this demand for action are writers, intellectuals, social activists and journalists with whom Sabalingam had close links. They are from Europe, India, Sri Lanka and North America. They knew Sabalingam as a straight and fair-minded man who incurred considerable financial sacrifice in order to pursue his literary and research undertakings.
Sabalingam’s colleagues in France have pointed to an article he wrote in the Thayagam as the key to his assassination. The article dealing with the early stages of the Eelam movement raised two searing questions about Prabhakaran’s role. One concerns the arrest of Kuttimani and Thangathurai by the Police; the other, the Neervely bank robbery.
Sabalingam not only discredited conventional stories in circulations about these incidents, but also promised to bring out the whole truth soon. To put it differently, Sabalingam accused Prabhakaran of treachery in these two incidents.
Kuttimani was arrested, while awaiting a boat to transport him to Tamil Nadu. It was widely believed that someone had betrayed details of his escape. One version held that a boatman having a grudge against Kuttimani gave the information; the other, that the betrayal was to do with Prabhakaran himself, in a bid to get rid of Kuttimani. The latter version has been strongly articulated by TELO. However, the Tigers brutally killed the boatman in 1986. Thus that particular line of inquiry was closed and no one knows what lay behind it. Moreover, Kuttimani himself was killed in the Welikade prison massacre.
The questions raised by Sabalingam about the Neervely bank robbery and his explanations are truly remarkable. The LTTE broke up in 1979, and Prabhakaran was devoid any resources. He and some of his friends joined the TELO, which was then led by Kuttimani and Thangathurai, and for a time worked for them. During that period Prabhakaran took part in the Neervely bank robbery. Oberoi Thevan, one of the pioneers of TELO, also took part in the robbery. Sabalingam pointed out in his Thayagam article that all those who took part in the robbery are no more. They were all murdered, either through the agency of the State or by the Tigers themselves. Sabalingam pointed out that Prabhakaran benefited by the removal of all these persons from the land of the living.
The Neervely bank robbery is a black mark in Prabhakaran’s career. According to the rules of the Tiger movement anyone joining another movement was automatically subject to a death sentence. It is to conceal this awkward history that Prabhakaran killed many of his contemporaries. We observe here that Sabalingam was collecting evidence in this regard for the book he was writing.
Before returning to this theme, a word about Thayagam. During the two wars involving the North-East, this journal has been the most severely critical of the Tigers. By comparison the Military Intelligence pundits have been nursery kids. After Thayagam appeared as a newspaper for 2 years, the LTTE broke its sales by threatening its sales outlets and by floating Senthamarai as its rival. This resulted in Thayagam becoming a magazine. George Khrushchev, a young writer from Jaffna residing in Toronto, is today editing it. While Khrushchev remains determined and unshaken as an arch critic of the LTTE, many are surprised why the LTTE should have gone to such apparently futile lengths to kill Sabalingam. Unlike many critics who are uncompromisingly scathing of the LTTE, there must have been something very special about Sabalingam. What he was saying with the authority of a surviving founding pioneer of the Eelam movement, must have greatly vexed those who killed him. It was from this Eelam Movement that a boy named Prabhakaran emerged as a guerrilla.
Soon after the JVP was crushed in 1971, it was Sabalingam along with Sathiyaseelan that started the Thamil Maanavar Peravai. This movement, which opposed standardisation introduced by the SLFP government, emphasised armed struggle.
In 1972 Prabhakaran joined Sathiyaseelan’s secret organisation. During 1973 the Police detained Sabalingam who was a student at Katubadde Technical College (Moratuwa University), along with Sathiyaseelan, Poopathy and several others. Although the movement was disrupted, Prabhakaran escaped. While Sabalingam was detained at Anuradhapura Prison, three other prisoners escaped. They were Rathinakumar, Kannadi Pathmanathan and Chetti Thanabalasingham. The latter started the Tamil New Tigers with Prabhakaran. After the escape, Sabalingam and the remaining prisoners were transferred to Bogambara prison in Kandy. Sabalingam had an accidental fall from the 2nd floor, which permanently affected his left hand.
Released in March 1975, Sabalingam found employment at the Paranthan Saltern. Varatharajaperumal and Pushparajah, who were two key members of the Eelam movement, later joined the EPRLF. Since Sabalingam was closely associated with Pushparajah, many mistook him for a member of the EPRLF.
One night while Sabalingam was working at the Saltern, the boy who was in Sathiyaseelan’s group knocked on his door and sought refuge. Sabalingam kept this boy Prabhakaran in his quarters for several weeks until the security situation eased.
If the Tigers committed this murder, it carries a powerful warning to the pioneers of the Eelam movement now exiled in the West: The fiat of the victorious hero Prabhakaran alone shall determine the written word of history. Short Bala who saved Prabhakaran from arrest in Inuvil, and Sathiyaseelan, are both living in Germany. Iyer, the Jaffna Brahmin, who was the LTTE’s first treasurer, now lives in Europe. Raghavan who was Prabhakaran’s equal until they clashed in 1985, lives in London. However, all of them have remained tongue tied to this day. Sabalingam was planning to meet all of them. And by doing so, to present us a hitherto suppressed history.
To Prabhakaran, who regards himself the ultimate glorious hero of the Eelam movement, any challenge to his monopoly of history is intolerable. No matter how many lives he must sacrifice to assert this self-given right: It is the core of his being.
– Courtesy, Thayagam
Appendix, item 66, should read:
4th July 2005: Thangararajah Rajavarothayam succumbed to his injuries on his way to Kandy Hospital after being shot by the LTTE while travelling in an auto in Trincomalee. The victim was a former member of the EPRLF and used to work in the NEPC HQ. The victim is a brother of Sakuntala, the wife of George Thambirajah, EPRLF leader in Trincomalee in 1989. Thambirajah was shot dead by the LTTE in 1989 and Sakuntala disappeared after being abducted by the security forces in September 1990 (Section. 6.7, Rep.No.12). Rajavarothiyam’s wife is a Sinhalese woman police constable.
We had said inadvertently that Sakuntala (Shanthy) was abducted by the LTTE.
 Richard Dias was last sited at the Ward Place STF camp in November 1995; Cassim was killed by the LTTE in late 2000.
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