They Can Take Sivaram Away From Us...

Can They Extinguish the Fire of Tamil Nationalism He Ignited in Our Hearts?

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

For the last few days we all have been battling to come to terms with the fact that "Mamanithar" Sivaram Dharmeratnam is no more with us.  But when we all read more and more details about the events leading to his murder, our resolve to expose those who try to silence the voice of freedom by threats and intimidation gets only stronger and stronger.

I have been reading Sivaramís contributions to the media from the time he started writing under the pen name "Taraki" in "The Island" newspaper published out of Colombo, Sri Lanka.  In those days when the Internet was not there, I used to wait impatiently for the Tuesday of the week to get the Sunday edition of "The Island" in Sydney to read his analysis.

In April 2002 Sivaram went to Jaffna with one of my friends along the A9 highway to go through Vanni.  During this trip, unexpectedly, he had the unexpected opportunity to meet the Tamil National Leader Velupillai Prabakaran.  When my friend returned to his home country, he introduced Sivaram to me for me to use him for my radio interviews.  I interviewed Sivaram for the first time for "Thamil Muzhakkam," the Tamil radio in Sydney, Australia on Saturday, April 6, 2002 to share what he found during his trip north with our listeners.  The same night I e-mailed him the web link of the interview for him to listen to the interview.  The next day I received an acknowledgement from him with a special greeting.  I would like to share the pride he showed to me through this "greetings from E. Pass" with as many Tamils around the globe as possible.

Sivaram at Elephant Pass, April 2002

I still vividly remember what Sivaram wrote in an analysis in "The Island" paper soon after the LTTEís first failed attempt to overrun the Elephant Pass garrison.  To prove that he has visited the area before he wrote the analysis, he publicly challenged to the readers to go and check on the wall of a partly ruined Hindu temple in the vicinity, for which he gave the name, where the name "Taraki" is written.  This shows the risk he has been taking in gathering information for his analysis.

Sivaram was one of those rare journalists who are intellectuals and well read.  His knowledge ranged from Tamil literature to the technical details of military hardware.  He was excellent in military as well as political analysis.  Through his writings he stimulated political debate, raised a voice for human equality and justice and fearlessly criticised authorities in power whenever they misused the same.  He took a lot of risk to bring out the truth about an oppressed people and to tell the world how the authorities in power were misusing their power to oppress these people.

We all knew very well that Sivaramís life was under threat for the last few years.  First, he was injured when his newspaper office in Batticaloa was attacked by a Tamil paramilitary group operating under the protection and guidance of the Sri Lankan security forces.  Later, twice, the police searched his house in Colombo, allegedly for suspected hidden weapons.  The first search was on World Press Freedom Day while he was away in Batticaloa and the second 3 months later.  These could be taken only as warnings given by his enemies to silence him.

Sivaram has been exposing the Sri Lankan governmentís duplicity in dealing with the peace process from its inception.  He has exposed more specifically the JVPís desire for capturing power and the way they have been deceiving the poor Singhalese masses.  When Karuna revolted against the LTTE, Karunaís schoolmate and former friend Sivaram abandoned him and publicly condemned him for his traitorous adventure.  More damage was done to Karunaís reputation when Sivaram exposed the details of the businesses Karuna started in Colombo with the money Karuna collected from the public in the East.  Therefore, it is clear that Sivaram had gathered at least 3 different enemies during his recent journalistic career, namely the Sri Lankan security forces, the JVP and the Karuna faction.

Considering the fact that he was abducted just in front of the Bamabalapitya police station in Colombo and within 2 hours Sivaramís body was dumped behind the parliament house building which is guarded by the security forces as a "high security zone", there is no doubt that the abduction and murder of Sivaram could not have been done without the knowledge/sanction of the law enforcement arm of the Sri Lankan State.

Less than 24 hours before Sivaram was abducted, his last article appeared in the Colombo newspaper, the "Daily Mirror," in which he criticised the JVPís craftiness.  When I was reading this article I felt that Sivaram has breached the safety zone the enemies have assigned to him the same way Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam did by publishing his last open letter to President Chandrika Kumarathunga.  Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam was a veteran Tamil politician, who used his pen to a limited extent like Sivaram did to declare the truth.  Kumarís assassination is alleged to have been masterminded by the Presidential Security Division, another arm of the law enforcement authority of the State.

Sivaramís assassination has been condemned by an array of people ranging from the common, down-to-earth Singhalese journalists to the UNESCO chief.  This shows the respect and credibility Sivaram earned through his genuine and high-calibre journalism.  The only people who failed to condemn Sivaramís murder are those who belong to the ultra-Singhalese nationalistic parties, the Janatha Vimukthy Peramuna (JVP) and the Sihala Urumaya.  Some of these people have even implied that Sivaram should have been locked up a long time back for supporting the LTTE.  Others have even called him a terrorist.  Some bankrupt journalists have tried to fool themselves by interpreting Sivaramís assassination as a result of the internecine fight among the Tamils themselves.  Some have even gone to the extent to interpret it as a warning given by the Tamils to the Tamil National Leader, Velupillai Prbakaran.  They are only trying to hide the truth from the public and cover up the misdemeanours of the State security forces.  They are trying to equate the killing of an unarmed journalist on a Colombo street to that of a militant Tamil fighter in the troubled east of the country.

Many times when I contacted Sivaram for interviews, I have caught him travelling in areas in the east, which are hot beds of internecine killings.  Whenever I raised my concern for his safety in these areas, he did not seem to consider it as a big issue.  He was very confident that he knew what he was doing.

Although Sivaram had strong feelings about the lack of development in the east of the country, he was not prepared to embrace regionalism at the expense of Tamil nationalism.  He spent a lot of time and energy to explain this to the eastern Tamils when Karuna tried to mislead the eastern Tamils with his newly invented regionalism slogan. 

Sivaram took up arms to establish Tamil nationalism and continued his campaign through his pen after he gave up the violent path.  He has contributed much more through his pen to this noble cause than he contributed through arms.  As a result, he has captured a permanent place in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people living all over the globe.  Sivaram, who used the worldwide web for disseminating his ideologies efficiently, will never disappear from the face of this earth, as his killers would have hoped for.  Sivaram had a fine mind and, as people often say, his fine mind can never really die.  His fine mind can only be reborn.  Sivaramís assassination will inspire more Sivarams to appear among those who use the worldwide web for expressing their views.  This only could deter the cowardly acts of killers like Sivaramís assassins.

We all will miss Siva when we need explanations for the complex phenomena in Sri Lankan politics in the future.  However, we only cannot pick up the telephone and talk to him.  We all can, instead, hope a google search would help to find those answers buried in what Siva has already left for us.

Let his soul rest in peace!

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Posted May 6, 2005