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Sivanayagam of Tamil Eelam -

A wreath from a Sinhalese ‘traitor’

by Brian Senewiratne, December 4, 2010

The Tamil Sivanayagam and Kanthasamy, and the Sinhalese Wijemanne, are hard acts to follow, but it must be done, it has to be done. A dreadful Sinhala junta, drenched with the blood of thousands of innocent Tamils whose only crime was that they were born Tamil in the North and East, cannot be allowed to succeed.

This is not an account of one of the greatest Tamils I have had the privilege of knowing – ‘Aiyah’ to countless Tamils, ‘Siva’ to me. It is not even a tribute but just ‘a bunch of flowers’ picked from ‘my garden’ and belatedly sent for Siva’s funeral on 2nd November 2010, in blood-drenched Sri Lanka, where this disarmingly quiet and unassuming man chose to spend the closing years of his extraordinary life. It is belated because I was working in a remote part of Australia, away from home and my books when the news reached me by ‘bush-telegraph’.

S Sivanayagam Tamil journalist 1930 - 2010
S. Sivanayagam (1930-2010) photo courtesy TamilCanadian

In the 79 years that I have been on this globe, I have had the good fortune to meet and work with some inspiring people – not all of them Tamils – but all of them totally dedicated to the entirely justifiable cause of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity and safety (and now live at all), in the country of their birth.

These shining lights in a world of darkness include C.J.T. Thamoderam, Father of British Tamils, an unassuming visionary man, who set up so many organisations for Tamils in London, whom Siva described as “the eminence grise of the Tamil expatriate community in Britain”, Professor C.J. Eliezer, a brilliant mathematician from the Jaffna Peninsula whose work was commended by Einstein, and later became the Father of Tamils in Australia, and who chaired so many meetings across the world at which I spoke, Adrian Wijemanne, an extraordinary Sinhalese, who has been the sole sane Sinhalese voice, my mother’s brother Edmund Samarakkody, lawyer turned Marxist politician who campaigned all his long political life for the Tamil people and predictably died penniless, Anglican Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe, the Christian ‘light’ that could not be extinguished, his Roman Catholic counterpart in Jaffna, the rock-solid Bishop Bastiampillai Deogupillai, who refused to flee Jaffna when the Sri Lankan murderous regime under Chandrika Kumaratunga decided to carpet-bomb Jaffna with half a million people, David Selbourne, the British journalist, who challenged J.R.Jayawardene’s despotic regime for years, was arrested in Colombo, deported and banned from returning, who now lives a penniless life in Italy, the seemingly everlasting Fr S.J.Emannuel, the current head of the Global Tamil Forum, the quiet achiever Kandiah Kandasamy, a corporate lawyer who sacrificed a 5-star life in Colombo to return to Jaffna to work for the Tamil cause, and then to London to head the Tamil Information Centre, and, of course, Subramanium Sivanayagam, the daring Tamil journalist who used his pen far more effectively than those who wield AK47 machine guns, multi-barrel rocket launchers or dispatch Kfir bombers.

Siva knew all of them and has described their contributions in his monumental 683 page tome, Sri Lanka: Witness to History. A Journalist’s Memoirs 1930-2004. In it he also described his voluntary exit from a secure job in Colombo, to a dangerous life in Jaffna as the Editor of the Saturday Review which achieved international fame, his near- arrest by Sri Lanka’s first (but tragically not last) dictator, J.R.Jayawardene, his midnight escape by a speed boat to India carrying just a gold bangle given to him by his wife to enable him to survive in India, his arrest and imprisonment in India chained to a bed, and then his life as an international fugitive in Europe.

As someone who has been deeply involved in the struggle of the Tamil people for the past six decades, I am more than familiar with Siva’s journalistic contribution over the years. Amazingly, I had never actually met the man. This finally occurred in June 2001 when I was invited by C.J.T.Thamoderam to address his ITF (International Tamil Foundation), another of this amazing man’s creations. Rather than deal with the Tamil struggle, as I had intended to do, I was asked to speak on “The Abuse of Democracy in Sri Lanka”.

This I did, and invited questions from the packed hall. In an attempt to prevent mini- speeches under the guise of a question, they had to be sent as a note to the podium. One of them read, “You do not need to answer this if you do not want to. Is it true that your cousin’s daughter is about to marry a Tamil? S. Sivanayagam” (The reference was to the daughter of the then President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga).

I read out the question aloud and said, “Yes, I will answer it if S.Sivanayagam stands up so that I can see him”. With no visible response, I asked again, “If Mr Sivanayagam wants the question answered, will he stand up?” Someone in the audience spoke up, “He is standing”. I asked, “Where?” “Right there, next to that pillar”.

Siva, 5ft 1inch (155 cm) in his slippers, (as he informs us in his book), was, indeed, standing. Addressing him I said, “Mr Sivanayagam, I will answer that question as best I can, if after the meeting I can give you a great big hug for all that you have done for our Tamil people.” Answering his question, I said that I really did not know because my family had decided to give me a miss, a lost cause.

Leaving the podium, I did what I had wanted to do for years. Having recovered from the bear-hug, in his soft, whispering voice, he asked me whether I would ‘honour’ him (!) by spending the day, two days later, when I was to address another meeting, “Democratisation. Time for Radical Change”, at the Sivayogan Hall, Tooting, where I had just been appointed as the Patron of the Truth and Justice Committee, by that live wire, Nagaratnam Seevaratnam and his group of Tamil activists. Deciding to cancel all the appointments made for that day, I decided to spend the time with Siva. Would anyone have done otherwise?

Siva picked me up from Tooting station, and took me to his ‘one-room-shared-toilet- shared-kitchen’, one bed, one chair and a table, apologetically saying, “There is not much room, but it is OK for me”. I stretched out on Siva’s bed, he sat somewhere. Having discussed everything from the past to the present to the future, we decided to head for the meeting. Then came a request from Siva, “I wondered whether I could ask a favour?” I responded, “Siva, I am so indebted to you that I will do whatever you want.” It was a rash offer since I did not know the bombshell that was coming. “Would you write the Foreword to the book I have just completed ‘The Pen and the Gun. Selected writings 1977-2001?” I said that I would be honoured to do so, but that I felt he should find someone more suitable.

Returning to Australia, and increasingly worried that my Foreword would be a kiss of death for his book, I expressed my concerns to Siva. He replied with typical Sivanayagam-defiance, “Damn those who refuse to go through the book because your name appears in it. Posterity is on our side, Brian”.

It is of interest that the Foreword for both of Siva’s books have been written by Sinhalese ‘traitors’, “ Witness to History” by the incomparable Adrian Wijemanne, the ”The Pen and the Gun” by me. It was not because he did not know enough international celebrities who would have been delighted to do so. But that was Siva.

Soon after the ITF address, I was asked what I wanted to do. I said, “To meet the ailing Adrian Wijemanne whom I have never met”. That was arranged. Thamoderam and Siva decided to come with me. The car arrived to collect me sooner than I expected. I grabbed the first shirt that came to hand, a ghastly one, as you will see.

We zoomed off to Cambridge where Adrian’s wife had made patties and asparagus rolls. I pulled out my ancient camera to record this unique meeting – two Tamils and two Sinhalese, all of them thoroughly committed to the Tamil struggle for justice. It was the first and last time that the four would meet. Siva wanted a copy which I sent him, forgetting to mention that it was not for public viewing. I was shattered to see it published in Witness to History, opposite page 493. There you can see the late Adrian Wijemanne, the late C.J.T.Thamoderam, the (now) late Sivanayagam, and me in my ghastly shirt.

Before I too become ‘late’, I intend to publish Adrian’s writings, taken off his computer by his daughter, and forwarded to me by his close friend, another sane Sinhalese, Neville Jayaweera, a former Government Agent of Jaffna, whose thinking is very much like that of Adrian.

When Siva decided to return to Colombo to spend the closing years of his life in that dangerous country (for Tamils), I telephoned him from Australia frequently, but not frequently enough, to see how he was going in that barbaric and unpredictable country. When I heard that he had a potentially fatal illness, our talks drifted from Tamil Eelam to his own survival - “Ðon’t worry, Brian, I really am O.K.” - an optimism that I, with my medical knowledge, did not share.

I told him that I would love to pay a one-day visit to Sri Lanka just to give him one last hug. With wit and humour that never left him, he said, “I am sure you will be most welcome, but I fear that your visit will only increase the number of ‘disappeared’ by one more. I would much rather that you continue to be alive and a pain in the neck to the Sinhalese regime, as you have been for so many years”.

Literally days before he died, I had arranged for a friend of mine who had just gone to Sri Lanka from Australia to fit up a dvd player in Siva’s home so that he could see the dvds I had recorded. I have just called Sri Lanka to say that, alas, it is too late.

Siva sent me a copy of The Pen and the Gun with a note, “Brian, With the warmest regards and tons of thanks. S.Sivanayagam”. This book will be left in my will to the Library of Tamil Eelam, when it is established, as it most certainly will be, the murderous Rajapaksa junta notwithstanding.

The Tamil Sivanayagam and Kanthasamy, and the Sinhalese Wijemanne, are hard acts to follow, but it must be done, it has to be done. A dreadful Sinhala junta, drenched with the blood of thousands of innocent Tamils whose only crime was that they were born Tamil in the North and East, cannot be allowed to succeed. To get into bed with this murderous regime that has attempted genocide of the Tamil people, have committed extensive crimes against humanity, and violated international laws and even Sri Lanka’s own Constitution, now linking hands with a similar regime in China, is not an option.

Tamil Eelam is not going to be a walk in the park. To simply run around shouting “What do we want? Tamil Eelam”, will not deliver Eelam. No country has ever voluntarily surrendered territory. This is not about to change.

That said, the assertion by an LTTE spokesman in a speech on 13 November 1983 in Madras, reported in the Weekend Sun, was pathetically simplistic. Here is what he said:-

“The fight for Eelam will be by bullets and not by words across the table. For this we are raising a national liberation army… the Indian government is riding the wrong horse.”(The reference was to Indian discussions with the elected parliamentary representatives of the Tamil people – the Tamil United Liberation Front.)

What was said, which also reflected LTTE thinking, indicated a serious lack of appreciation of the reality of the international geopolitical agenda for the control of the Indian Ocean that had nothing to do with the rights of the Tamils, the self-seeking Chinese military and economic interests, the critical importance of India and the absolute need to do nothing to put India off-side, the possibility, indeed probability, of a Sinhala regime that would be prepared to shed however much Tamil civilian blood as was necessary to establish its political ambitions in the South, the absolute impossibility of Tamil military might to counter such a massive military assault, and the impotence of the expatriate Tamil community or international bodies, in particular the UN, to prevent such a disaster.

The time is overdue to rethink the strategy, and this I will set out in a separate article.

To get back to Siva, what can we do to commemorate this exceptional person?

    1. The expatriate Tamils should re-publish his unique and authoritative book, Sri Lanka. Witness to History, (or finance the reprinting of this book by those who are supposed to make it available). There is no book about which I have had so many inquiries as to where a copy could be obtained. This book, the finest of its kind, cannot be allowed to become a collector’s item. It must be readily available in every bookstore. It must not only be published in English but must be translated into Tamil and Sinhalese, and more.

    2. An annual Sivanayagam-Wijemanne-Kandasay Memorial Oration must be launched. Since this cannot be delivered in Rajapaksa’s ‘Democracy’, or even in Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Tamils which today is a Police State, it will have to be (temporarily) delivered in London. The Oration should focus on Justice for the Tamil people and the way forward.

What these three have said of each other is best put by them, rather than by me.

Kandasamy has said nothing that I can remember. He thought precisely, spoke little, ate little, led a Spartan life, and worked like a beaver. He was a visionary who simply acted, delivering what had to be delivered. He was a man who breathed life into any venture. When I asked him for a copy of a book on human rights that was unobtainable, he simply photocopied the 500 page book and posted it to me with a note, “I hope this will help”. It did. That was Kantha.

Siva was different. Acknowledging Adrian Wijemanne’s contribution, he wrote in his Witness to History, “To Adrian Wijemanne whose reasoned advocacy of the Tamil Eelam cause has been unmatched by any Tamil”.

Wijemanne in his Foreword to the same book, said, “One must hope that Mr Sivanayagam will not lay down his pen and will continue to dazzle us with his brilliant exposition of the great cause to which he is committed”

Dedicating his The Pen and the Gun to Kandiah Kanthasamy, Siva wrote, “To the memory of the late K.Kanthasamy. A silent, giant achiever in the Tamil cause, martyred at the hands of his “own people”. With journalistic brilliance, he went on to quote Albert Camus’ “The Fall”, “Martyrs, cher ami, must chose between being forgotten, mocked or made use of. As for being understood, never!”.

I am not going to conclude this with the usual “May he rest in Peace”, because I know he will. His was what life is all about.

Brian Senewiratne
Brisbane, Australia
4 December 2010