Fourth International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies
(10 January 1974)

It is twenty-seven years today since the 4th International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies took place in Jaffna, on 10 Jan 1974.

The whole of Jaffna peninsula was in a festival mood throughout the period during the conference. All roads and lanes were decorated with Banana plants, coconut trees, Casuarina branches etc. Pandals were erected on the roads, and the traditional Thoranams were hung along the roads for miles and miles. People behaved as if a wedding was taking place in their own homes. I would call it a period of Tamil awakening.

The seminar was conducted mainly in the Veerasingam Hall and Tamil scholars from all over the world were presenting papers at the conference that lasted almost ten days. On the last day a public meeting was arranged by the organisers to enable the public to listen to the speeches by the scholars.

A massive stage was erected in front of the Veerasingam Hall and over fifty thousand people congregated on the Jaffna Esplanade. It was a great experience to listen to the speeches by the scholars, as their utterances were very informative. For example we felt proud to hear that Tamil is one the three oldest languages of the world we live in. Every Tamil who listened to the lectures felt utterly proud to be born a Tamil.

While Professor Naina Mohamed from India was delivering his lecture tragedy struck.

Several vans and jeeps filled with armed policemen drove in and started shooting at random and hitting people with their batons and riffle butts. People began to run aimlessly. There was a stampede.

I saw the policemen chasing innocent people, and trampling over those fallen on the ground. I put my youngest son on the ground and tried to safeguard him by crouching over him. At that time one policeman hit me on my left elbow that hurt me for months thereafter.

I have five children out of them two of our sons went missing in the crowd. There were some youngsters trying to lower down girls and ladies into a ditch surrounding the Jaffna Fort to safeguard them from police attack. And another set of our boys, were helping these girls and ladies to climb out of the ditch near the Muniyappar Temple. I told my wife and my two daughters that I would pick them near the Temple and crawled along with my youngest son to my car.

I put my son in first and crept into the car - an old Ford Anglia - and started driving on the esplanade towards the temple. I felt sorry that I had to drive over abandoned bicycles. My eldest son (12) who was hiding under a truck saw my car and ran behind it and caught up at the temple. It was a big relief to see him alive. But we were terrified to hear that our other son, who was only 10, had gone missing. We loaded the car with four more girls known to us, and drove home after dropping the girls at their respective residences. When we arrived home we were overjoyed to see our second son had already found his way home.

While at the esplanade I saw the police shoot at the electric wires that fell on the crowd and nine innocent lives were lost on that night. This included a good friend of mine Mr. J.F. Sigmaringham (St. John's College), a great teacher, social worker and an outstanding co-operator. Earlier on the same day two more civilians died of electrocution during a procession on the Hospital Road. These two deaths were attributed to the non co-operation on the part of the then mayor of Jaffna, who was a stooge of the government - a Quisling.

All together eleven lives were sacrificed on that day.

I would consider that day the 10th of January 1974 was the day when the Tamil Eelam struggle became the struggle of the Tamil people. Even though the name ‘Tigers’ was not known at that time, I saw a few youngsters standing up to the policemen, and fighting them by throwing aerated water bottles and stones. I can still visualise those bottles crashing the windscreens of the police jeeps. It was touching and encouraging to note elderly men collecting empty bottles and stones and handing them over to the youngsters who were attacking the police. I take it that it was the birth of the Ellai Padai and Uthavuppadai of today.

A struggle that started with empty bottles has grown to the extent of using 152mm calibre artilleries, T56 riffles, Basukas, RPG launchers, Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL) etc., etc.

The few hand full of youngsters of the 10th of January 1974 are now transformed into a conventional army facing the might of the 125,000 strong Sinhala army.

Let us resolve that we extend our support unreservedly to establish peace, safety, security and dignity to our people back in Tamil Eelam.

I request all readers of this article to devote a few minutes in silence today to pay our respects to the eleven Tamils, who sacrificed their life on the 10th of January 1974 for our cause.

They are among our MAVEERAR. May their souls rest in peace.

K. Mylvaganam

Courtesy: Circle Digest [11 January 2001]