Indira Gandhi – a casualty of terror
By K T Rajasingham, ‘Asian Times,’ Singapore, 2002
In January 1984, the leadership of the Tamil United Liberation Front called for a unity conference in Madras, Tamil Nadu, in India. The invitations were signed by A Amirthalingham, the Secretary General of TULF, and sent to all the militant groups, including the LTTE, TELO, PLOTE, EPRLF and EROS. The day before the conference, it became clear that none of the militant organizations would show up. Therefore, the conference was called off with a face-saving argument that Amirthalingham and others of the TULF were to go to Colombo.
The Tamil United Liberation Front gradually became a spent force in the eyes of the young Tamil militant organizations and Amirthalingham began to lose the luster he had enjoyed as the leader of the Tamils. The party began to lose its representative nature too. It became abundantly clear that without the participation of militant youths the TULF had lost its leadership role.
In the fast changing political environment, the TULF, successor to the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi, even after losing its position as a middle class, moderate parliamentary party, continued to play the role of an election organization and not that of a political party to lead and liberate the Tamils.
In reality, the TULF should have led the Tamil militants in their quest for a separate state for Tamils, according to the mandate they had sought and received in the 1977 parliamentary general elections. When Tamil youths were caught up in the violence unleashed by the state and numerous state machineries, the TULF continued with a strategy of non-violence and negotiation, without any pragmatic approach, even after the Tamil peoples’ verdict for the creation of a Tamil state.
Tamil youths began to boldly extend their challenge to the government’s violence. “This youth violence opened up a new dimension in Tamil politics ushering a new revolutionary epoch in the historical struggle of a nation of people for political independence.” Towards Liberation by Anton S Balasingham, pages 43-44
Indeed, the TULF became a woeful irritant for the entire Tamil militant organization which felt that the TULF leadership had advocated the same political culture for the past 30 years, without any worthy political benefits. They felt that negotiations with the Sinhalese leadership were of no benefit to Tamils. They were determined to gain political mileage through a revolutionary struggle and through armed resistance in the very language the government leadership would understand.
Educated Tamil youths took a keen interest in the activities of the Tamil militant organizations. They came forward to join in their hundreds. Students in the universities contributed to the militant activities. The dedication of the Tamil students was such that they even left their academic careers and joined the militant organizations. Gradually, Tamil political leadership passed into the hands of the militants. Thus the TULF became a shadow, a relic of the past. Though the militants wrested political leadership from the TULF, their exposure to politics was not equal to the heavyweight approach of the Sri Lankan and Indian governments.
As the peace talks in Colombo were getting nowhere, Amirthalingham became increasingly pessimistic over the whole exercise. He threatened to resort to non-cooperation with the government. Meanwhile, President Jayewardene declared that the TULF had lost its hold in the northeast and disputed its ability to control the Tamil militants.
By the end of 1983, university students in Jaffna staged a hunger strike against the government’s inaction to provide facilities for the university. According to Adele Balasingham’s account in her The Will to Freedom, “I was informed by Mr Pirapakaran that I would have some company soon, as four girls would be coming to Chennai from Jaffna. But although these four young women were sympathetic to the struggle, none were coming to India specifically for military training by the LTTE. Mr Pirabakaran’s lieutenants had rescued these women from death when they were engaged in a hunger strike at the Jaffna University in protest against the lack of education facilities for Tamil students.
“Mr Pirabakaran was concerned about the well being of these four women students, now without family and friends, and decided they were to be accommodated with us in our ‘secret’ residence in Thiruvanmyur when they came from Jaffna. Under direct responsibility of Mr Pirabakaran and with Bala and I, being a married couple, living with us was seen as the best socio-cultural situation for the young women. But although their coming to Chennai and immediately into contact with the leader of the LTTE was not based on any conception of ‘feminism’ or women’s involvement in struggle, these girls – Mathy, Vinoja, Jeya and Lalitha – created unintended minor revolution in the organization.” – page 78.
Adele Balasingham further explains, as time progressed, how Prabakaran came to know these young women more closely and it became clear that he had developed a special liking for one of them, Mathy or Mathivathani from Pungudutivu. “We were not surprised when we learned of this relationship, because Mathy was not only a beautiful young woman, but she is exceptionally gentle and caring, living a pious life according to the moral dictates of the Hindu religion. Mathy, who caused a revolution in Mr Pirabakaran, and, by implication, the movement, was a student of agriculture science when she was whisked away from the site of the student demonstration in Jaffna into history.” The Will to Freedom – page 80.
P Nedumaran, who was the first to write Pirabakaran – a biography in Tamil, as far as 1988, writes that Mathivathany was from Punguduthievu and her father’s name was Earambu and her mother’s Mrs Sinnammal, and they are not from Prabakaran’s caste.
Adele in her book narrates, “Since Mr Pirabakaran’s relationship with Mathy was in contravention of the organization’s code of conduct, he was aware that he would meet with severe criticism, even resentment amongst his cadres. Mr Pirabakaran turns to Bala for help in not only defending this relationship to the leaders and cadres in the organization, but by providing a courtship opportunity for the couple.
“Mr Pirabakaran’s senior and closest cadres were called to Chennai from Jaffna and informed of his romantic relationship with Mathy and the probable marriage in the near future. Some of the senior cadres who had renounced their love relationships to abide by the code of conduct of the organization were not pleased with their leader’s romantic love. Bala explained that the old moral code of the organization was rigid and puritanical and had to be changed to keep abreast with the time. He also argued that romance and heroism were values upheld in Tamil culture. Mr Pirabakaran’s love relationship had the potential to revolutionize the organization by making available to the cadres the possibility of a fulfilling love relationship, marriage and family life for them also in the future.” – page 81.
Details of the romance and marriage of Prabakaran with Mathivathany were, until recently, simply rumored, as no authoritative and authentic picture emerged, but Adele Balasingham has now revealed the details in her book. According to Adele, the marriage took place at Murugan Temple, Thiruporur, Madras on October 1, 1984. A son was born to them and named after a close confidante of Prabakaran, Charles Anthony Seelan, one of the earliest LTTE cadres to die in confrontation with the Sri Lankan army. A daughter, Thwaraha, was born soon after and given the name of Mathivathany’s bodyguard, who had died in a military operation in Jaffna. The third child was born 10 years later and bears the name of Mathivathany’s younger brother, an LTTE cadre killed by the Indian army – Balachandran.
Meanwhile, on the government front, after 1983 July riots, the Sri Lankan president sent his brother H W Jayewardene on a mission to countries in Asia, including Australia, to rally opinion against the Eelam demands of the TULF and against Tamil militants and India. He visited Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. He managed to get the leaders of these countries to criticize and condemn the Eelam demand put forward by the TULF and backed with violence by the Tamil militants. Only China came up with an indirect criticism of India – “The big must not bully the small.”
J R Jayewardene also sent his foreign minister, A C S Hameed to the United States for military help. America refused to get involved directly, instead it requested Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh provide help to Sri Lanka.
Following the visits of H W Jayewardene and A C S Hameed, J R Jayewardene went on a state visit on June 14, 1984 to five countries – China, Japan, South Korea, the US and the United Kingdom.
On May 20, the Sri Lankan president met Chinese President Li Xian Nan. At this meeting, according to reports, Jayewardene had told him, “In the 2,500-year history of Sri Lanka, we have been invaded, but we never gave in. The spirit of the man was unconquerable. He will fight. Fifteen million people will die unconquered if we are invaded.”
Li said, “There are some twisted people who talk of invasion, but China was sure that Sri Lanka could manage her problem.” Jayewardene said, “China is an encouragement to small countries like Sri Lanka.”
Jayewardene also met Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Zi Yang, who said, “No foreign country has the right to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. We firmly support your endeavor to protect your integrity and independence. We are glad to note that there is an improvement in the internal situation in Sri Lanka. We have no doubt that under your leadership you will find a equitable solution to the problems in your country. Once again I wish to reiterate our manifested position that China stands with Sri Lanka in promoting the integrity and independence as well as the sovereignty of Sri Lanka.”
Jayewardene responded, “There are many projects in which you have assisted Sri Lanka in and all these projects have been fruitful to our country. The position of our internal security causes considerable problem for us and here again you have been helpful to us in the gifting of six patrol boats for our navy. We would like some more of these boats because they are useful in interdicting illegal immigration and also terrorist activities in the North.” The Chinese premier agreed to help Sri Lanka on this sphere.
When Jayewardene met Deng Xiaoping, the strongman, the chairman of the Military Commission of the Communist Party of China, Jayewardene appealed for the same request of patrol boats, “Provide some gun boats to protect us from the terrorists, as you have done in the past, which will help us to prevent illegal immigration from the Indian coast which is only 20 miles away from our Northern boundary.”
Though the Chinese president and prime minister spoke about the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the independence of Sri Lanka, there was no doubt that secret talks were conducted about the supply of arms. China began to supply arms to Sri Lanka after the visit of H W Jayewardene, in September 1983. China very strongly indicated when the Sri Lankan president visited that it opposed any foreign interference, as well as the partitioning of the country. After the president’s visit, a delegation of Chinese air force officers visited Colombo in July 1984 and Lalith Athulathmudali, the Minister for National Security, visited China in July 1985.
Jayewardene’s visit to United States was arranged along with state visits to China, South Korea and Japan. Apart from Jayewardene’s call on Ronald Reagan at the White House, at the customary speech on the South lawn, the Sri Lankan president presented a baby elephant to the American president. Jayewardene discussed the possibility of American military assistance to fight Tamil militancy. On June 18, on the request of Reagan, the Sri Lankan pPresident explained the background of the ethnic conflict to George Bush, the vice president, George Shultz, the Secretary of State, Donald Regan, the Treasury Secretary and to M Peter McPherson, USAID administrator.
At a breakfast meeting hosted by Katherine Graham, chairman of the Washington Post, on June 19, the Sri Lankan president said:
“We cannot carry out a political campaign in the Tamil-speaking areas. So we must eliminate terrorism. I do not care what India thinks, we have to maintain our unity and stability. A discredited politician whom Mrs Gandhi did not like, M Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister, is trying to come back to power through the Sri Lankan Tamil problem. The present Chief Minister, Mr M G Ramachandran, who was a good friend of Sri Lanka, but as a result of this, is now trying to out do Karunanidhi. Our complaint is that the Tamil Nadu government is helping terrorists. It has become an internal political issue for them. They, the terrorists, want to create a Marxist state. I have no proof of Soviet involvement. As for India, why do they not take a more helpful attitude. What I am saying to Mrs Gandhi is that the terrorists come secretly into Sri Lanka from South India. I want to ask Mrs Gandhi not to encourage the different terrorist groups to get together and not to give hem assistance.”
While in America, the Sri Lankan president met Charles Z Wick, the director of the United States Information Agency and discussed the Voice of America’s radio station in Chilaw, Sri Lanka. Jayewardene, prior to his departure, had sanctioned 250 acres of land to for the VOA station. The groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the technically-advanced broadcasting station was scheduled for September 1984.
It seems that, during the president’s visit to US, some form of a base facility for the US Navy was discussed and agreed to, but later he denied this. Apart from the president’s visit, Prime Minister Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister for National Security, also visited America, separately, to procure military assistance. It is believed that the arms supplied by Pakistan, China and Singapore to Sri Lanka were actually from the US, which did not wish to be seen to be directly involved. It was reported that at least 100 gunboats and 50 helicopter gunships were supplied by the US through Pakistan and China.
On his way back to Sri Lanka, Jayewardene visited New Delhi and met Indira Gandhi. She asked him why the Regional Councils could not be granted. Jayewardene replied, “I cannot carry the people with me on that. We, as a party, will lose the entire base, if we give this.” He also said that terrorism by the Tamil militants was making the Sinhala people adopt a harder stand.
India accused Jayewardene of going back on his word on granting autonomy to the Tamils. On June 28, the LTTE in a statement said about the TULF, “Ignoring us [LTTE] and having negotiations with the TULF cannot have any impact as the confrontation would continue, if in case, any settlement reached with the TULF is not satisfactory from the point of view of our struggle.” On the same day, a powerful bomb planted by EROS exploded in the Lanka Oberoi Hotel, located in Colombo, killing a woman employee.
Amirthalingham was seen as a prisoner of circumstances and could not commit his party towards any form of political solution in the sharply deteriorating political circumstances. In the meanwhile, in a bid to recover lost ground politically, he announced a day of mourning, fasting and prayer to mark the first anniversary of the 1983 July anti-Tamil program. The fast was to be held on July 25, 1984, at Veeramakaliamman temple in Jaffna.
M Sivasithamparam, the president of the TULF, in explaining the need to observe the fast on that day, said, “It is now patent that no political solution acceptable to the Tamil people will ever be worked out at the APC. The Tamil people in their overwhelming numbers have placed their faith in us to win their rights. This is a sacred task of us. We have tried to do our duty in different ways. We have tried dialogues; we have tried bi-partite talks; we have tried persuasion in parliament; we have canvassed world opinion. But all have proved fruitless. Mahatma Gandhi has shown a way of action to the weak of the world. We shall go along that path on July 25. We shall be truesatyagrahis. But if this causes sufferings to the Tamils, we offer ourselves as the first to suffer.”
The Tamil militants branded the satyagraha and the day of mourning, intended to be adhered by the TULF, as a farce and said only force would work. They said, “All your policy of cooperation and dialogue has failed and we strongly believe that only force will yield results.” They distributed leaflets, urging the public not to participate in the TULF campaign.
Tamil militants exploded bombs at the proposed venue, on July 25, very early in the morning to scare people away from participating. When Amirthalingham, Sivasithamparam and other TULF stalwarts came to the temple at 7am, there were a handful of volunteers, and the number grew by about 200 as the day went on. But about 300 young men who congregated around the satyagrahis began to heckle and abuse the TULF leaders. This was something new to Amirthalingham. Normally, he was the one who organized such heckling campaign to break down the anti-TULF meetings. But now he was the target.
The young men asked many embarrassing questions. They asked, “Where were you all these days?” “Were you not having a comfortable life in India, leaving the Tamils in the country to face the Sinhalese army all alone?” They further asked, “Do you want the Tamil people to be deceived by the Sinhala politicians over and over again?” A few of them asked very pointedly, “We the Tamils elected you as our representatives with the mandate for a separate state of Tamil Eelam. But, what you have done? Who asked you to take up the post of the leader of the opposition? If you find that it was impossible for you people to work toward a separate state for the Tamils, why you did not resign your membership in the parliament?” When Amirthalingham and Sivasithamparan tried to reply, they were not allowed to speak. The youths said, “You all have spoken enough and we have heard it enough. Now it is time for the people to speak and let them speak.”
As the heckling continued, a majority of the hunger strikers sensed the mood and gradually left the venue. Then the youths began to distribute food parcels. When a small section of the youths came forward to force-feed Amirthalingham and Sivasithamparam, they were prevented by another section of Tamils youths.
By noon, only 18 people, including the leaders of the TULF, were seen fasting despite the comical circus staged by the Tamil youths. They called off the fast two hours before the schedule when a powerful bomb was detonated in the vicinity.
Meanwhile, the TELO called for a two-day strike to mark the first anniversary of the death of their founding leaders – Thangathurai and Kuttimani. All shops, schools and other institutions were closed in the Tamil-dominated regions of Jaffna, Killinocchchi, Mullaithievu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The strike paralyzed the life in those regions.
Posters were pasted all over calling for the remembrance of Thangathurai – Tamil Eelam – National Father. Nadarajah Thangathurai was one of the first Tamil freedom fighters to be captured by the Sri Lanka government. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on February 24, 1983. On March 1, 1983, he made a statement from the dock which to this day remains one of the best testaments to Tamil sentiments in Sri Lanka. (The full text of his speech is given at the end of this chapter as an annex.)
Meanwhile, an announcement in The Guardian, a British newspaper, appeared on July 28, 1984, with the headline “Remembering the July 1983 violence against Tamils” signed by 80 Members of the British parliament. The announcement read as follows, “The ethnic violence which erupted in Sri Lanka in July 1983 brought untold misery to the Tamils. They were beaten, hacked and burnt to death in a frenzy of racial hatred. Their houses and businesses were selectively looted and destroyed. The Sri Lankan government had admitted that the violence was pre-planned and well organized and that even sections of the security forces joined the attacks against the Tamils. Fifty-three Tamil detainees held in a maximum security prison in Colombo were brutally killed on July 25 and 27. Yet, to date, no impartial inquiry into these violent attacks has taken place.
“Amnesty International [AI] recently reported a number of cases of extrajudicial killings and secret disposal of bodies without inquest or post mortem. The AI and the International Commission of Jurists [ICJ] have also reported on a number of cases of torture and death in custody, of persons detained Incommunicado for periods of up to 18 months under the Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act. No legislation conferring remotely comparable powers is in force in any other free democracy … such a provision is an ugly blot on the statue book of any civilized country.
“The sixth amendment to the constitution virtually disenfranchised the country’s 3 million Tamils by reason of the ban imposed on their political parties. This amendment according to the ICJ, ‘constitutes a clear violation by Sri Lanka of its obligations in international law’. The 1 million Tamils working in the tea plantations, who were deprived of nationality, citizenship and franchise in 1948 continue to remain stateless persons.
“We are of the opinion that:
- “An impartial international commission should be set up to inquire into the violence against the Tamils in July 1983, including the killing of 53 Tamil detainees held in custody by the government.
- “The Prevention of Terrorism Act should be repealed and the powers given to the security forces which facilitate arbitrary killing of civilians and disposal of their bodies without inquest or post-mortem should be rescinded.
- “The use of torture and incommunicado detention in violation of Sri Lanka’s obligations under International Covenants should be discontinued.
- “The rights of nationality, citizenship and franchise to the Tamils working in the plantations should be restored.
- “The Sri Lankan government should repeal the sixth amendment to the constitution and take meaningful steps to arrive at a political solution to the country’s ethnic problem by the granting of the legitimate rights of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.”Signed by: David Alton MP, Paddy Ashdown MP, Norman Atkinson MP, Tony Banks MP, Prof John Barrett, Kevin Barron MP, Gerry Berningham MP, Alan Beith MP, Sydney Bidwell MP, Prof Tom Bottomore, Malcolm Bruce MP, Dale Campbell-Savours MP, Dennis Canavan MP, Alex Carlile MP, Tom Clarke MP, Bob Clay MP, Anne Clwyd MP, Harry Cohen MP, Jerome Corbyn MP, Ron Davis MP, Eric Deakins MP, Alf Dubs MP, Prof Michael Dummett, Darek Fatchett MP, Mark Fishery MP, Martin Flannery MP, Michael Foot MP, Roy Hattersley MP, Simon W H Hughes MP, Lord Jenkins, Russell Johnston MP, Robert Kilroy-Silk MP, Ted Knight, Sir David Lane, Terry Lewis MP, Bob Litherland MP, Ken Livingstone, Tony Lloyd MP, Weddle Loyden MP, Max Madden MP, Joan Maynard MP, Willie Mckelvey MP, Bill Michle MP, Dr Paul Noone, Bob Perry MP, Alan Roberts MP, Ernia Roberts MP, Allan Roberts MP, Aubrey Rose, Ernie Ross MP, Steven Ross MP, Clare Short MP, Dennis Skinner MP, Prof Peter Townsend, Jim Wallace MP, Garath Werdell MP, Dafydd Wigley MP, and many others.
Meanwhile, a tragic drama unfolded on August 2, 1984, at the Meenambakam international airport, located in Madras, Tamil Nadu. A passenger named Kathiresan, checked in two bags to Colombo but as the bags were excess in weight, the passenger paid excess charges and the two suitcases were tagged to MAA-CMB-Madras-Colombo. This meant that the passenger’s intention was to fly from Madras by an Air Lanka flight to Colombo. But after check-in, the suitcases were tampered with and the tags were changed to send them to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and the another to London’s Gatwick.
However, the bags were never loaded onto these flights and they were taken to the left baggage counter. It appears that Kathiresan was watching events and he panicked, and he frantically telephoned Madras airport authorities, warning them about the suitcases. No one took the calls seriously, believing it was a hoax. But when he called for a third time the duty officer took it seriously and arranged to remove the suitcases. But at 22:52 a massive blast occurred, killing six men and 24 women. Eighteen of the women were Sri Lankans returning from Gulf countries who were waiting in the Madras transit lounge for a flight to Colombo.
M G Ramachandran, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, blamed “cruel-minded persons” for the blast. Indira Gandhi informed the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, “I condemned the outrage as much as you do.” Tamil groups in Madras immediately blamed the Sri Lankan government and Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad for the attack.
It became clear that the bombs were timed to go off at Colombo International Airport. Tamil Nadu police did not think in terms of the Tamil groups in Madras. According to K Mohandas, the director general of police, Tamil Nadu, “The first major danger signal was a bomb blast in Madras airport on the night of August 2, 1985, [The year is wrong – it is 1984 and not 1985.] which killed 30 persons. There was a disinformation campaign, including planted stories in obliging newspapers, to the effect that the blast was the work of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, with the view to discredit the Tamil militants, at the behest of the Sri Lankan government. The story was put into my ears even officially. But the Crime Branch/CID sleuths, working overtime under my direction, detected the case within a week. The investigation revealed that it was the work of a small group called, TEA [Tamil Eelam Army]. Involved in the conspiracy were: (1) The TEA Chief, “Panagoda” Maheswaran [so-called, because of his daring escape from the maximum security prison at Panogoda, in Sri Lanka] who was a chemical engineering graduate from London University.] [Actually he was a university drop-out]; (2) Vigneswara Raja, [Vigneswararajah of Thunnalai, Karaveddy] retired collector of customs in Sri Lanka; (3) Thambi Rajah [It should have to be Thambirajah], a Sri Lankan national [from Batticaloa]; (4) Vijayakumar; (5) Loganathan both of whom were Indian nationals working for Air Lanka; and (6) Chandrakumar, a police constable attached to the airport police station.
“The objective of the conspirators was, however, not to blast the Madras Airport, but to plant the time bomb on an Air Lanka plane leaving Madras for Colombo, with the timing so adjusted as to have the bomb exploded in Colombo airport. Vigneswara Rajah, Thambi Rajah, Vijayakumar, Loganathan and Chandrakumar were arrested immediately while Maheswaran absconded.
“From a suburban house in Madras, a similar timing device was seized, apart from 100 kilograms f gelatin sticks, detonator wires, chemicals like red phosphorous and sodium metal, crystal capacitors, 1 kg potassium cyanide and currency worth Rs2 lakhs [both Indian and foreign]. It was apparent that the time bomb used at the airport was manufactured in this house, and this was corroborated by the arrest of Sri Lankan nationals.” M G R: The Man and The Myth by K Mohandas, pages 117 to 118.
Colombo accused India of harboring, training and arming Tamil militants. The Sri Lankan government made full use of the incident to accuse India and the TULF.
Meanwhile, New Delhi summoned the Tamil Nadu police director general Mohandas for discussions about the case. With the Chief Minister’s approval, he went to Delhi. According to Mohandas’ account, “I presented myself before the senior policy maker and his constitutional adviser in New Delhi, the next day. It was the latter who did most of the talking. Beating round the bush, he indirectly indicated that we had a duty to protect the Sri Lankan militants and that if we continued along the known line of investigation in the airport blast case, the Sri Lankan government would take advantage of it and proclaim to the world the existence of the militant training camps in India which had ‘officially been denied’ by New Delhi. He added that there was also the danger of the Tamil chauvinist political parties in Tamil Nadu taking advantage of the situation and joining hands with the militants with the objective of establishing a bigger Eelam, including Tamil Nadu.” M G R: The Man and The Myth by K Mohandas, pages 118 to 119.
It was leant later that, the retired customs collector Vigneswararajah jumped bail and took off to New Delhi and managed to acquire a forged passport and landed in London. Mohandas subsequently alleged, “This quick movement would not have been possible without official support. He made broadcasts over the BBC personally accusing me of being insensitive to Tamil sentiments, attributing it to the fact that I was a non-Tamil. The case against him and Maheswaran was split and the remaining four accused were sentenced to life imprisonment. The case against the two absconding accused is still pending. The last I heard was the extradition proceedings had been instituted against them, but this is a time-consuming process.” M G R: The Man and The Mythby K Mohandas, pages 119 to 120.
In the month of August, violence in the Jaffna district escalated. On August 4, for the first time the LTTE attacked a Sri Lankan naval boat off the coast of Valvetiturai, killing six personnel. On August 5, Tigers (LTTE) attacked a police station at Mullaithievu, killing two policemen. According to a government communique, several LTTE cadres were also killed, but the militants managed to acquire four machine guns and 20 rifles and a large amount of ammunition when they fled after the attack.
On August 8, a group of militants belonging to the TELO faction attacked a police station at Chunnakam. Firing went on until the next day, the 9th. On the 10th, authorities decided to abandon the Chunnakam police station and the policemen there packed their things and left. Curious civilians entered the abandoned the two-storey building on the Jaffna-Kankesanthurai Road. Suddenly, a massive explosion ripped through the building and nearly 20 people died instantaneously, and 30 more were injured. It was later reported that Inspector S Rajalingham, a Tamil, who was the officer in charge of the police station, before abandoning the station, set up a time bomb on the ground floor.
Meanwhile, J Herath, the Superintendent of Police, Vavuniya, was killed by a time bomb and the security forces hit back by killing 22 suspected militants in the Jaffna peninsula.
According to an Amnesty International report for 1985, “The government stated on November 17 that between January 1977 to October 31, 1984, 96 members of the armed services and 182 civilians had been killed by the Tamil extremist groups. Dozens more such deaths were reported later in the year.”
According to another report, the Tamil militants had murdered 167 civilians, 13 politicians, 55 police personnel, 34 army personnel, three navy personnel and four air force personnel. In August 1984 the orgy of violence continued unabated. On August 11, six army men died in Mannar when their jeep hit a land mine. The soldiers retaliated and the Mannar Roman Catholic Bishop complained, “It is like an army of occupation flattening everything in its path.”
Against the killing in the Jaffna peninsula, on August 13 hundreds of students in Madras took to the streets protesting against innocent Tamils being killed in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Nadu government, sensing the mood, closed down schools for a week. TULF leaders appealed to Indira Gandhi to “intervene and save millions of Tamils in Sri Lanka from total extinction in the hand of the Sri Lankan armed forces”.
On August 15, on a nationwide address, Indira Gandhi said that India could not remain silent in the wake of the killings. But while the military offensive continued the TULF reversed its stand and decided to attend the renewed All Party Conference convened by J R Jayewardene.
The All Party Conference met on August 17. Premadasa, who headed the Committee on Devolution, presented his committee’s report and said that it had left the question of the unit of the devolution open. Again the plenary session met on September 3. Amirthalingham flatly rejected both district and provincial councils and insisted on the regional council proposal. “If the regional council request is denied,” Amirthalingham cautioned, “then the TULF has no option but to carry on its struggle for the liberation of the Tamil people, for the preservation of the integrity of the traditional homeland and for justice and human rights by all non-violent means”. Kumar Ponnampalam of the Tamil Congress and S Thonadaman, the Minister and the leader of the Ceylon Workers Congress, backed the regional council demand.
Meanwhile, the LTTE announced that it was switching over its war tactics from hit and run to a new phase of a sustained guerilla campaign. Again, on September 1, 1984, five police commandos died in an explosion at Thikkam, a coastal village in Point Pedro. Enraged army colleagues set fire to shops at the Point Pedro market square, which was located three miles east of Thikkam village, and attacked pedestrians. Two days later, a Sri Lankan Navy patrol shot and killed eight fishermen on a fishing boat off the coast of East Point Pedro. On September 9, nine soldiers were killed and four wounded when their convoy was blasted by a landmine at Kokilai, located nearly 15 kilometers from Mullaithievu.
Amnesty International in its 1985 annual report rightly pointed out, “During 1984 there were increasing reports of unarmed Tamil civilians being deliberately shot dead in reprisal for attacks by Tamil extremist groups on security forces personnel.”
The Sri Lankan security forces began to take cold-blooded revenge on Tamil civilians when, on September 11, a private bus from Colombo on its way to Jaffna, which halted at a tea shop in Vavuniya town, was intercepted by a group of army men from the Vavuniya camp. They hijacked the bus to a lonely jungle spot on the Vavuniya-Mannar road, near Poovarasankulam, and they shot and killed nearly 28 civilians.
The known names of those killed were as follows:
Somalingham Ehathayaparan alias Babu – 28 years old; Ravi Kandasamithurai of Nallur, 23-year-old final year law student; K Sinnathurai from Karaveddy, 60 years old, a driver; N Nazeer of Colombo; Saravanamuthu Thiyagesar of Oddusuddan; M Siva of Colombo; Ratnsabapathy Kirupaharan of Vaddukoddai; Mohamed Jaiyavudeen of Colombo; Sebamalai of Kochchikade, Colombo; Veersaingham Murugiah of Chunnakam; Nadesu Murugavel of Chullipuram; Bernard of Naranthanai, Kayts; S Paramanathan of Uduvil; Sinnathamby Jeyaentharan of Kaithady; S Jeyasingham of Vaddukoddai and E Rajendran, 24 years old.
Another noteworthy incident happened on October 21. “The next day [October 21] Colombo was rocked by series of blasts – blamed on EROS – which killed three people. The first explosion around 5am, took place near a church, killing a Tamil young man. It was followed by at least nine other explosions in the next three-and-a-half hours, spreading panic in the city. The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation [SLBC] went on the air at 10am appealing for calm. Explosions were reported from a Colombo suburb where two people were killed when they opened a box lying on the road, the Fort railway station where scores were injured, near the state-owned SLBC and TV stations, near the Home Ministry office and at four other locations. The main bus station also suffered an explosion, while army experts defused a second bomb at a crowded Fort Railway station.” Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Narayan Swamy, pages 133 to 134.
As the Tamil militants were getting bolder and were growing increasingly intolerant, the fear of possible Indian intervention continued. India’s position was mystifying.
After the 1983 holocaust, India came forward to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal problem – the ethnic conflict. Knowing very well that the Tamils of Sri Lanka had been given a resounding mandate in the 1977 parliamentary general elections for a separate state for Tamils, Indira Gandhi told the TULF leaders that she was against the separation of the country. But at the same time, she arranged the training and arming of Tamil militants, even without the knowledge of the TULF, and maintained an official position that there were no bases of Sri Lankan Tamil militants in India. The reason for adopting such a duplicity, a contradictory posture, was never explained by Indira Gandhi. There remained contradiction between the goals of Indian policy and the means used to achieve those goals.
India, it was said, was committed to ensure that Sri Lanka did not disintegrate. Indira Gandhi must have been harboring a fear that the emergence of a Tamil Eelam constituting the North and Eastern provinces as a separate state might stimulate and encourage a separatist movement in India, specially among Tamils in Tamil Nadu. There was, by then, already agitation for Khalistan among Sihks in Punjab. There was a school of thought that Indira Gandhi felt that to negotiate with the Sri Lankan government leaders, the Tamils should have to negotiate from a position of strength and power and not in the way earlier adopted by the moderate Tamil political leaders.
Also, it was explained that though India was not prepared to support a separate state, it trained and armed Tamil militants to defend their Tamil people against the ruthless and brutal attacks of the Sinhala supremacist Sri Lankan army.
On October 27, the US Secretary of State Richard Murphy visited Sri Lanka. When speaking about the ethnic conflict, he said that it should be solved by the Sri Lankan government and not by outsiders
On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was shot down while walking from her house to her office in New Delhi. The fatal shooting was carried out by two Sikh men, who were members of her personal bodyguard. The shooting marked an abrupt and tragic end to the lengthy political career of the woman who was not only India’s first female prime minister, but also the daughter of the very first prime minister of India. Her assassination was indicative of the deep unrest in India, brutally forcing to the surface problems that had been simmering in the country for decades.
She was the only surviving child of Pandit Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru and was born on November 19, 1917. She was educated at various institutions, including Tagore’s Santiniketan (1934-35) and Samerville, Oxford (1936-41). She did not had any formal academic degree, but was a voluminous reader and a good speaker. She was married in 1942 to Feroze Gandhi, a Parsee, hailing from the middle class family and no relation to Mahatma Gandhi.
She took a prominent part in the freedom movement, was baton-charged by the police in 1942 at Lucknow and suffered imprisonment for nine months in 1943. Mother of two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay, she became a widow in 1960.
Indira Gandhi had a unique practical training in politics and experience of men and affairs, as the president of the Indian National Congress (1959-60) and as the understudy and official hostess of her father Jawaharlal Nehru during his premiership (1947-64) and as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting (1964-65) in Lal Bahadur Shastri’s ministry before she was elected by a large majority as the leader of the Congress parliamentary party in 1965, and became the prime minister of India on January 24, 1966.
Her assassination was directly linked with the Sikh uprising in Punjab state and the subsequent campaign undertaken by the Indian army, code-named “Operation Blue Star”. Earlier, frustration began to set in within the Sikh community in Punjab, due to the betrayal and threatening behavior of the Indian government, giving way to a small-scale armed insurgency calling for the implementation of what the Sikhs had been agitating for since India’s independence. The leader of this armed movement was a preacher from an orthodox Sikh institution called Damdami Taksal, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Bhindranwale encouraged his followers to arm themselves and fight violence with violence. He took shelter within the Golden Temple complex, and soon emerged as an unchallenged leader of the Sikh movement, with considerable influence, by the early 1980s.
The Indian government, led by Indira Gandhi, who had once tried to use Bhindranwale against the Sikh political party, Akali Dal, began to infiltrate the ranks of Bhindranwale and orchestrated acts of terrorism across the state of Punjab. Refusing to concede to the modest demands of moderate Sikhs, Indira Gandhi escalated the tension between the Indian government and Bhindranwale by labeling him as a terrorist.
The climax of the Indian government’s campaign against the Sikhs came on June 4, 1984, when the prime minister ordered a full-scale military assault on the Golden Temple complex, where Bhindranwale and a few hundred followers took residence. Over the course of a three-day period, the Indian army pounded the holiest Sikh shrine with tanks, artillery and weapons, later described as a full-scale war. In the Indian government’s undeclared war against the Sikhs, a military operation, codenamed “Blue Star”, it was alleged that thousands of innocent Sikh devotees trapped in the Golden Temple complex perished. Bhindranwale and a couple hundred of his armed followers died defending the Golden Temple.
This episode left a permanent wound on the Sikh psyche. After Indira Gandhi was assassinated, it was followed with the massacre of thousands of Sikhs across India by organized criminal mobs. In Delhi, it was again alleged that local politicians directed these mobs to Sikh-owned businesses and homes where innocent Sikhs were beaten, doused with gasoline and burned alive. To this day, no more than a dozen people have even been charged with the murder of an estimated 10,000 Sikhs.
For the Sikhs, the traumatic events of 1984 prompted a vast majority of them to struggle for full-fledged independence. The movement for a separate Sikh nation, Khalistan; a poorly-organized guerrilla movement, was brutally crushed by the Indian government in 1994. Human rights groups estimated that nearly a quarter of a million Sikhs, mostly innocent people, were killed at the insistence of the Indian government on suspicion of sympathizing with the armed separatists.
The sudden death of Indira Gandhi had a telling effect among Tamils in Sri Lanka. A general hartal was observed in Tamil areas. Shops, business establishments, schools and other institutions were closed. Black flags were hoisted in almost all Tamil homes. The slain leader was respected among Tamils. Amirthalingham said that Indira Gandhi was, “the only shield the Tamils had against the genocide”.
Gandhi’s death removed lot of pressure on the Sri Lankan government. She had died so suddenly, no one was able to grasp her political ideology, she adhered to with regard to the Tamils of Sri Lanka. She did not leave behind a program of action or her political philosophy with regard to the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
Amirthalingham sent a telegram to Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother as premier, “The Sri Lankan people have lost their mother.” In a press statement he said that the Tamils who were in a state of uncertainty were now full of anxiety regarding their future in the absence of the slain leader.
The Sri Lankan government declared November 3, a public holiday as a mark of respect to the official cremation day of the revered Indian leader. Thousands of Sri Lankans, including Sinhalese, patiently lined up at Indian House – the official residence of the Indian High Commissioner, to pay their last respects.
According to M R Narayan Swamy, the author of Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas, the Sri Lankan armed forces were happy at the news of the death of Indira Gandhi. He writes that Sri Lankan soldiers danced and were happy that Indira Gandhi was at last dead. “In Jaffna, Sri Lankan soldiers danced in the open on receiving the news of Gandhi’s death, taunting Tamil passers-by: Amma Enge? Amma Enge? [Where is your mother? Where is your mother?] Some soldiers also performed baila, a dance of Portuguese origin, on the streets. The grief in Tamil areas was real and intense since Gandhi has been widely seen as a savior vis-a-vis the Sri Lankan government. On the day of her funeral, militants detonated an explosive every 30 minutes. Amirthalingham called Gandhi ‘the only shield against genocide’, while the Tamil Information Center moaned ‘Never since the death of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were the Tamils of Sri Lanka sunk in such genuine grief.’ At least 12 girls born in Jaffna in the first five days of November were named Indira.” Pages 134 to 135.
On November 1, 1984, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as the new prime minister of India. Until the death of Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash on June 23, 1980, Rajiv had kept himself aloof from politics. On August 12, 1980, he said in an interview with the editor of New Delhi magazine that he would consider entering politics only if he was convinced that it would “genuinely help” his mother. He was thus a reluctant entrant to politics but once he entered the arena, he fully entrenched himself in the world of politics.
Rajiv Gandhi, born in 1944, served as the prime minister of India from 1984 to 1989. He attended Cambridge University, where he met and married Sonia. He was not a man of any unusual academic achievements or other distinctions, and appears to have had few ambitions until the death of his brother Sanjay in 1980. The following year, his mother appears to have induced Rajiv, an airline pilot, to enter politics. He stood successfully for election in 1981 and became a political adviser to his mother. After her assassination in 1984, Rajiv succeeded her as head of the Congress party, and was sworn in as prime minister of India.
Rajiv, rather keen on preparing India for the 21st century, collected his buddies and cronies around him and sought to increase Indian investments in modern technology. His “vision” of India, insofar as he had one, was that of a technocrat, and his policies did little to eradicate or diminish poverty and the vast inequities of power and wealth which are to be found in Indian society.
Rajiv formed his full cabinet on November 4, 1984, and inducted almost all those in his mother’s cabinet, a total of 38 ministers. In the parliamentary general elections held in December 1984, the Indian National Congress under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership won overwhelmingly. Amirthalingham and the TULF leaders were quick to congratulate him on succeeding his mother. Thus they tried to re-establish a friendship similar to that which had emerged with Indira Gandhi.
Adele Balasingham in her The Will to Freedom writes about the new prime minister of India as a novice to politics, and that he could not come to grips with geo-political strategies. “Mrs Gandhi made a bold decision to militarily train and arm the Tamil militant movement to create a powerful force of resistance to compel Jayewardene’s regime to adopt a rational political path renouncing the military options. The new Indian prime minister was a novice insofar as the intricate and complex manners in which foreign policy determinations were charted by the wise old lady. The young inexperienced Rajiv could not immediately comprehend the geo-political and strategic motivations behind India’s covert involvement in actively assisting Tamil armed resistance in Sri Lanka. His poverty of knowledge with regard to the history of the Tamil political struggle and his lack of understanding of the enormous suffering faced by the oppressed Tamil people led him to adopt a more rigid interventionist policy. Subsequently, Rajiv’s administration felt that the time had come to suspend military assistance to the militants and to persuade them to effect a ceasefire and seek a negotiated political settlement to the ethnic conflict.” page 92.
Comments of this nature were written and published in 2001, and this reflected the candid view that prevailed and lingered among the LTTE in those days.
Meanwhile, on November 19, Colonel A Ariyaperume, the chief of the Northern command, was killed at the Tellipalai junction, Jaffna, when his jeep hit a landmine. On November 20, TELO successfully attacked a police station at Chavakachcheri. A young boy went to the secured entrance of the police station and told the policeman on duty that he wanted to report the loss of his national identity card. When the unsuspecting policeman opened the gate, nearly 35 men in military fatigues, rushed in from across the road, firing their guns. A second group followed them. Meanwhile, a truck loaded with explosion was driven into the police station compound and when the last of the raiders vacated the compound the detonator was set off, igniting tons of explosives, which brought the concrete structure of two-storey police station crashing to the ground.
Nearly 24 policemen died in the attack, the weapons in the police station was stolen and the entire operation lasted just 15 minutes. After the attack, when army detachments tried to reach Chavakachcheri, the militants set off dozens of land mines, causing huge craters and virtually blocking almost all roads to the devastated police station.
The attack on the police station was followed by an attack on Sinhalese boarder villages by the LTTE on November 24, 1984. They raided a resettlement farm at Padaviya (Pathavikulam in Tamil) on the border of the Mullaithievu – Vavuniya district – killing some 60 Sinhalese. It was told later that those who were killed were civilians, and it was a most gruesome attack. This was followed by another group of gunmen raiding a second resettlement farm eight kilometers away, where 20 Sinhalese villagers were massacred.
Those two farms, called Dollar and Kent, had been Tamil-owned before being procured by the Prison Department for the rehabilitation of prisoners. Earlier, after the 1977 riots, plantation workers who were Tamils of Indian origin had settled on the two farms. After the procurement of the farms the government arranged to get rid of the Tamils and settled some 450 Sinhalese ex-convicts on the two farms. It was also later brought out that other than the prisoners to be rehabilitated, there were some Sinhalese settlers from the dry zone. The Tamil militants position was that that these were the places where trained Sinhala ex-convicts were settled to eject the Tamil villagers from the are. The Pathavikulam is considered the heartland of the Tamil Vanni region.
On November 25, LTTE guerrillas, including women fighters, attacked the two fishing villages of Nayaru and Kokilai in Mullaithievu district, killing 59 Sinhalese civilians. The killing of nearly 120 Sinhalese civilians led to an unprecedented exodus of Sinhalese settlers from areas bordering the embattled northeast, leading to a Sinhalese refugee problem for the first time in Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam claimed responsibility for the attacks on Kent and Dollar farms.
Subsequently on December 2, nearly 30 armed soldiers from the Padaviya army camp went to the village of Othiyamalai where they reportedly rounded up and shot 27 Tamils early in the morning in a reprisal for the attack on the Kent and Dollar farms. Othiyamalai is a Tamil village in Nedunkerny in the Mullaithievu district. After the attack the Sri Lankan soldiers took away with them five Tamil men who are still missing.
According to an Amnesty International Report, it has received detailed accounts from persons who have made statement about the killings. Witness have stated that on the night ofDecember1, 1984, between 30 and 40 soldiers came to the village, camped for the night at Malaikadu Temple, and early in the morning of December 2 entered the village houses and took away one or more men from each, most of them in the 15-35 age group. According to these reports, many had their hands tied behind their backs and were taken, some of them in the trailer of a tractor, to village community centre hall, where 27 male villagers were shortly afterwards shot dead. Five others, all around 50 years of age were said to have been kept apart, put on a trailer of a tractor bearing No: 25 Sri 6511 and are believed to have been shot dead by the same army personnel near the Dollar and Kent farms after having been taken outside the village. Burned bodies have been found, leading to the tentative identification of two of the five men by their clothing.
The names of those who were shot dead at the Village Community Center, Othiyamalai are as follows:
Kanapathipillai Chinniah, a 32-year-old farmer with four dependents.
Kanapathipillai Sivapatham, a 29-year-old farmer with five dependents.
Kandiah Sivasithamparam, a 34-year-old farmer with five dependents.
Kandiah Tharmalingham, a 36-year-old farmer with four dependents.
Kasipillai Selvarasa, a 38-year-old farmer with four dependents.
Krishnapillai Rajalingham, a 28-year-old farmer with two dependents.
Krishnapillai Paramalingham, a 30-year-old farmer with six dependents.
Manickan Mohanadas, a 32-year-old farmer with five dependents.
Naharatnam Kartheeswaran, a 22-year-old farmer with 1 dependent.
Nalliah Navaratnam, an 18-year-old farmer with 11 dependents.
Ponniah Thavarasa, a 23-year-old farmer with three dependents.
S.Alagaiya Yogarasa, a 16-year-old washer-man with five dependents.
S. Nadarasa, a 29-year-old farmer with one dependent.
Sangarapillai Sabaratnam, a 35-year-old farmer with six dependents.
Sangarapillai Shanmugasundaram, a 28-year-old farmer with one dependent.
Shanmurasa Raveendran, a 19-year-old farmer with six dependents.
Sinniah Rajendran, an 18-year-old farmer with ten dependents.
Sithamparapillai Rasiah, a 35 year old farmer with two dependents.
Suppiah Gengatharam, a 25-year-old farmer with three dependents.
Thambiaiyah Kassipillai, , a 42-year-old farmer with eight dependents.
Thambiaiyah Sivangnanam, a 20-year-old farmer with four dependents.
Thambiaiyah Subramaniam, a 27-year-old farmer with three dependents.
Thambiaiyah Velupillai, a 37-year-old farmer with seven dependents.
Thamothari Sathasivam, a 45-year-old farmer with thirteen dependents.
Veerakathy Thillainadarasa, a 29-year-old farmer with two dependents.
Velupillai Chandran, a 22-year-old farmer with six dependents.
Velupillai Sithamparapillai, a 36-year-old farmer with six dependents.
The five men who are missing are: Thamothary Kanapathipillai – 52 years; Kandiah Ponnampalam – 45 years; Kandiah Kanagaiah – 55 years; Govinthar Kanapathipillai – 53 years (a snakebite doctor); Nagamany Sinnaiyar – 58 years. All are farmers.
There was no stopping the violence. On December 18, eight policemen and a civilian driver died when their jeep hit a landmine in Batticaloa. The next day, two army officers and two soldiers died when two army trucks were blown up at Padaviya.
“The same day [December 19, 1984], more than 1,000 young men were rounded up in Jaffna in a fresh crackdown. The government, alarmed at the sudden escalation in fighting, announced in Colombo its decision to put into use rockets, bombs and small-caliber artillery against Tamil guerrillas. The death toll in just one month, beginning the last week of November, was put at more than 400. By the end of 1984, Sri Lanka was waging a full-scale war against Tamil guerrillas, whose strength was estimated at several hundred and who enjoyed secure bases across Palk Strait. The militants also held the initiative, and military officials privately acknowledged.” Tigers of Lanka: From Boys to Guerrillas by M R Naran Swamy, page 138 to 139.
On December 14, 1984, the Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene presented draft legislation for a five-tier administrative framework for the districts and provinces. Accordingly, Grammodhya Mandalayas, chosen from the voluntary societies in the villages, would be the basic administrative unit.
Pradesheeya Sabhas – elected bodies; one for each 250 Assistant Government Agents divisions. District Councils – elected bodies; one for each 25 districts. Provincial Councils – the inter-district authority. Provisions were also made for District Ministers and Provincial Ministers.
Council of States – this is on the national level for the creation of the second chamber.
After presenting the draft legislation, the session of the All Party Conference (APC) was adjourned on December 21.
Jayewardene defending his draft proposal, launching a campaign to gain support of his party members in parliament. He met his MPs in three batches. Meanwhile, Buddhist monks started a campaign against the proposals.
Ven Madihe Pannaseeha Nayakka Thero convened a meeting at Naga Vihara, located in Sri Jayewardhenapura, Kotte and told Buddhist priests that the proposed arrangements posed a threat to the country, the Sinhala race and Buddhism. He appealed to the Buddhist priests to oppose the proposed provincial council system, and urged them to stage a satyagraha campaign.
The TULF politburo met in Colombo and finally decided to give the proposal a chance. But, when the APC met on December 21, Jayewardene surprised the participants by inviting the delegates to send to him their views in writing. He also requested the Maha Sangha to examine the proposal very carefully. He further said that the government was ready to go before the people by way of a referendum or an election. He further expressed hope that his proposal would bring, peace, unity and stability in the country.
Amirthalingham and TULF were unhappy, but when he wanted to make a statement at the APC he was not given the opportunity to do so. The TULF met that night and castigated Jayewardene. Based on the TULF resolve, Amirthalingham issued a two-page statement. In it, he pointed out that in his very first statement to the APC in January 1984 he had expressed very clearly that the TULF mandate at the 1977 parliamentary general elections was for a separate state for the Tamils.
The party had agreed to accept the formation of an autonomous Tamil linguistic region comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces and had undertaken to recommend such alternative to the Tamil people, because it had accepted the good offices of India.
In conclusion, Amirthalingham stated, “A careful study of the provisions of the draft bills placed before the conference will convince anyone that they fall far short of the regional autonomy indicated above. When we accepted the scheme of District Development Councils in 1980 it was clearly understood that it was not meant to be an alternative to our demand for a separate state.”
Immediately, Srimavo Bandaranaike issued a five-page statement. The SLFP party leader said, “The people of this country will be well advised to reject the draft legislation clearly and categorically.”
Cyril Mathew, the Minister of Industries and Scientific Research in J R Jayewardene’s cabinet, released a letter addressed “Reverend Sirs, Honorable Ministers, Honorable Members of Parliament and Dear Friends,” in which he said that he was “unable to advise anybody to agree to the proposed legislation”. He appealed to the government to drop it entirely.
Jayewardene then sacked Cyril Mathew from his cabinet, which was said to be a long overdue action. “Contentious issues relating to the Indian mediation effort and the eventual failure of the APC on the one hand, the worsening security situation in the Eastern province and an unauthorized effort to settling Sinhalese peasants on the right bank of the Mahaveli saw J R part company with two of his closest associates in political life, Cyril Mathew, a friend of many years and a long-standing political associate, as well as controversial Minister of Industries and Scientific Research and N G P Panditharatne, the chairman of the UNP, who also served as the administrative head of the Mahaveli Development Board. J R’s decision to sack Mathew taken in the last week of December 1984 was the direct result of the latter’s public criticism of J R’s policies on the devolution. Mathew had prepared a memorandum setting out his views on these matters. If this had been restricted to members of his cabinet there was little J R could have done. When Mathew decided to distribute the document on a virtually island-wide basis, roneoed or Xeroxed, he breached one of the cardinal principles of cabinet government and J R had no alternative but to dismiss him from the cabinet.” J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka: A Political Biography Volume Two: From 1956 to His Retirement (1989) by K M de Silva and Howards Wriggins, page 600.
Buddhist clergies in the meantime started to exert pressure. Jayewardene felt the overwhelming pressure and he was told that if he insisted on continuing with his proposals the Sinhala Buddhists would brand him a traitor.
On December 26, 1984, the cabinet decided to discontinue with the All Party Conference. A communique to that effect was issued that evening: “Some of the proposals which represented the views of the majority of the delegations of the All Party Conference, were placed before the cabinet of ministers on Wednesday December 19, 1984 for discussions. They were discussed again on December 26. In the meantime, the Tamil United Liberation Front, which until December 21 was discussing the details of the system of government and decentralization of authority outlined in the proposals with the government delegation, had publicly proclaimed that no useful purpose could be served by discussing them further. The cabinet has therefore decided that no useful purpose could be achieved in discussing or arriving at a decision on these proposals. The cabinet requested His Excellency the President to continue his efforts to find political solution while taking all measures to eradicate terrorism.”
Thus ended an year-long exercise of a search for a peaceful resolution at the All Party Conference. In finding a solution to the ethnic problem the meeting dragged on until the very end of December 1984, without any definite outcome. The TULF was tired of the whole painful exercise. It was felt that the government was now bent on a military solution to the ethnic issue.
On December 4, Sri Lankan army personnel shot and killed at least 90 Tamils unarmed civilians including, old men, women and children. They were all shot in cold blood by army personnel in reprisal for the killing of one of their colleagues in a landmine explosion on the same day.
On December 13, Reverend George N Jeyarajasingham, a Methodist priest, his driver Abdul Cader Sulaiman, and a police constable named Jesuthasan Roche attached to the Murunkan police station, while traveling from Mannar to Murunkan were stopped by army personnel in civil. They subsequently shot and killed the three occupants of the car and it was reported that they burnt them with the vehicle.
On January 2, 1985, the TULF secretary general A Amirthalingham sent Rajiv Gandhi a letter wishing him well again, “on behalf of the Tamils of Sri Lanka”. Amirthalingham stated that “the problem of the 3 million Tamils in Sri Lanka has reached an impasse during the last two weeks, with President Jayewardene suddenly announcing the winding up of the All Party Conference and his cabinet deciding six days later to drop the proposals which he placed before the conference, and this decision brings to naught all the efforts of India for over one-and-a-half years”.
Amirthalingham concluded his letter, “The hope of a political settlement, which may bring the present state terrorism in the Tamil areas to an end, has receded completely. It was the offer of offers of offices of the late prime minister and her continued good concern in working out a final solution that ensured the security of the Tamil people from genocide and encouraged the negotiatory process. We are deeply thankful for the firm statement you were pleased to issue in December and the speeches you made indicating India’s concern at the atrocities perpetrated against the Tamil in Sri Lanka. The present impasse calls for a new initiative by India whose good offices have been accepted by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil people. We have no help but India, and the helpless Tamils look up to you for their redemption from oppression and genocide.”
Amnesty International in its annual report released on 1985 recorded, “Amnesty International received many reports of torture and ill treatment of detainees in army custody or in police stations, the majority of whom had been arrested under the PTA. There were frequent reports of such detainees being beaten, in several instances with plastic pipes filled with sand. Released detainees stated that they had been beaten while hanging upside-down, had had needles inserted in various parts of the body and had been burned with cigarettes. One person reported witnessing soldiers shooting a fellow detainee through the hands; the victims subsequently died in army custody. Among the places where torture reportedly occurred were Elephant Pass Army Camp, Palaly Army Camp, Vavuniya Army Camp and Jaffna Fort. There was also allegation of torture by special interrogators at the newly established Boosa Army Camp in the south. Members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and a number of JVP members or suspects were also allegedly beaten and ill-treated after the arrest.
Mayan Vije, in his Militarization in Sri Lanka, published by the Tamil Information Center in London, clearly listed the tortured methods adopted by the Sri Lankan security forces.
Beating, mainly on the buttocks, with plastic pipes filled with concrete.
Hanging by the feet over a fire.
Hanging by the feet over a fire with the head covered with a sack.
Pushing pins down fingernails and toenails.
Burning with lighted cigarettes all parts of the body, including the tongue.
Slitting the skin and packing it with chilly powder.
Slitting the skin and pouring in salt water.
Thrusting a live python into the mouth.
Forced to carry corpses.
Inserting spikes into the body.
Applying chilly powder to sensitive parts of the body.
Beatings with gun butts, iron rods and batons.
Hanging by the feet and beating.
Deprived of food for many days and given salt water to drink.
Deprived of food for many days and given rice mixed with small stones.
After assaults causing injury, forced to lie on wet ground. Handcuffed throughout the night.
Not allowing to sleep in the night.
Kept nude for many days.
Forced to kneel on hot sand for many hours.
Forced to sleep in a room with corpses.
Forced to lie on a hot tin sheets.
Inserting needle-like wires into the urethra.
Inserting iron rods covered with chilly paste into the rectum.
Pulling out pubic hair with pliers.
Forced to drink human blood.
Forced to drink urine.
Forced to drink toilet water.
Pages 80 to 81.
On February 24, 1983, Nadarajah Thangathurai, one of the first Tamil freedom fighters captured by the Sri Lanka government, was sentenced to life imprisonment. On March 1, 1983, he made a statement from the dock of the court which to this day remains one of the best testaments to Tamil sentiments in Sri Lanka. The full text of the statement reads:
“We have already objected to a court in Sri Lanka subjecting us to an inquiry. Despite that objection a case has been fabricated against us, and the trial has gone on for nearly four months.
“Our senior counsel, Nadesan Satyendra, has exposed the somersaults of the Sri Lanka police witnesses both by his cross-examination and by his concluding submissions. He has also exposed the various acts of torture to which we were subjected at the hands of the Sri Lankan authorities. Our respected senior counsel has said that he bows his head in humility in front of us who have been willing to give our lives for the liberation of our people. May I only say that his dedication and sustained effort and the many faceted legal skills that he has employed from the day that he took on the responsibility for this case to this very day is a duty that he has nobly discharged for the Tamil people and is in no way less than what we have done.
“His skill can be seen in every aspect of this case. His two-day address on the question of the admissibility of the statements made in custody served to further the cause of truth and will find a place of honor in the history of our struggle. It is my deepest wish that such legal expertise and noble dedication will not be confined simply to a court of law, or to the cause of a particular people but will shine on behalf all oppressed peoples in the world in the years to come.
“When the British government entrusted the fate of the Tamils to a group of Sinhala politicians, the Tamil people did not clamor for freedom for themselves. They did not suspect that they would in course of time be made second-class citizens of this country. But some Tamil leaders did perceptively ask for bigger representation for the Tamils in the legislature. This was justified by later events when the plantation Tamils were deprived of their franchise. What the next 25 years saw was not only the erosion of Tamil rights but also the erosion of the Tamil homeland. For 25 years, the Tamil leaders expressed their protest in parliament and outside, adopting the principles of ahimsa andsatyagraha. But what happened?
“In 1956 the Tamil leaders sat down to a peaceful protest on Galle Face Green. Sinhala thugs were unleashed on them. Later, in 1961, when the Tamil leaders and the Tamil people sat in peaceful satyagraha in front of the Jaffna Kachcheri, the Sri Lankan army did not fail to react with inhumane violence.
“In which chapter of your long history of democracy are you going to incorporate these events? Not one, not two, but there have been a continuing series of thuggery and violence inflicted on the Tamil people over a period of 25 years. How many chapters will you need to record this 25-year villainy? How many Tamils have been robbed of both their lives and their material wealth? There have been Tamil women whose chastity has been offended in the very presence of their family members.
“Tamil cultural wealth preserved for generations has been put to flames. What a mockery to think that these could be compensated by a few lakhs of rupees! Have all these acts of hurt and humiliation made the Tamil people lose their determination? Have they gone back on their ideals? These acts of hurt and humiliation have only strengthened their resolve. We have never missed an opportunity to make the Sri Lanka government conscious of our mind. Twice in two elections the Tamil people have recently re-stated their aspirations.
“Is it not ridiculous for a government that promotes race hatred and race killings to look at us and call us ‘terrorists’? While on the one hand celebrations were going on to mark ’50 years of Parliamentary democracy’, [in 1981] Tamil members of the same parliament were subject to midnight arrest and the house of one member of parliament was set on fire. These are not acts that you can do in a civilized world and then hold your head high. You talk of terrorism and robbery. Has this country seen anything to compare with the state terrorism and the race hate carried out with state weaponry? We have even heard of influential Sri Lanka government politicians terrorizing people with revolvers!
“Allegations are made that we are asking for separation, that we are trying to divide the country. When were we undivided after all? Our traditional land captured by the European invaders has never been restored to us. We have not even mortgaged our land at any time to anyone in the name of one country. Our land has changed hands off and on under various regimes, and that is what has happened. We have yet to reach a stage when we can have our land for ourselves.
“What we ask for is not division but freedom. Why we ask this is not because of narrow [minded] thinking. What we hope to achieve is not only the emancipation of the Tamil people but the greater good of the Sinhalese people themselves. Why? Because, thereafter, the so-called Tamil problem will cease to be a livelihood for opportunist Sinhalese politicians. That will provide a chance for the Sinhalese people to free themselves from the political, social and economic shackles that bind them today and realize where their true slavery lies.
“There is no testament in the world that declares that a people who fight to recover their own rights or work for their self-determination are guilty of sedition or terrorism. Had you endorsed our basic human rights at the very beginning this situation would not have arisen. You had not only not recognized our rights but for the purpose of clinging on to political seats of power you had been injecting into the poor innocent Sinhalese people hate and venom over the past 35 years. That not all the Sinhala people have fallen victims to your racist poison has been proved by the fact that many of them during the time of race riots, have time and again rescued Tamils from armed thugs and complete extermination. It has been customary for every opposition party in Sri Lanka that wants to come to power to obstruct any settlement of the Tamil question and rouse the Sinhala people for that purpose.
“As against that, for a ruling party to permit racist violence as it has done during the past six years is more reprehensible. If the relationship between the Tamil people and the Sri Lanka government has reached the present deplorable state, that responsibility lies squarely with the present dispensation.
“For the past quarter century, the ruling governments have like parrots kept on repeating the same threadbare statements ‘we will solve the Tamil question’. Whether we accept your solutions or not, what honest attempts have been made to solve the problems of the Tamils? While holding out the bogus promise of solving the problems of the Tamil people, you have spent all your time in trying to blunt Tamil resistance. What have the Tamil people asked you? Not economic benefits, not employment opportunities. That no such benefits could come from you is a fact well known to them.
“Even if you do come forward to grant these benefits, what guarantee can you give the Tamils that they could live with self-respect in this island in the future? What ever you give them without securing that self-respect will be alien to them. In this island there are sanctuaries for even wild animals, but up to now there is no sanctuary in any part of this island where Tamils can live without fear. This is not something we can expect from you in the future either.
“The Deputy Solicitor General in the course of his cross-examination turned to Mr Yogachandran and asked him: ‘Do you intend to use this court of law as a platform?’ Of what use are platforms to us? We did not ask anybody to provide us platforms. It was you who brought us to this court and heaped accusations on us. When you not only throw lies at us but also try to make out that we are liars, we simply came out with the truth.
“Truth does not require platforms. It has its own glory. No power on earth can suppress it forever.
“We are not lovers of violence nor victims of mental disorders. We are honest fighters belonging to an organization that is struggling to liberate a people.
“To those noble souls who keep on prating ‘terrorism, terrorism’ we have something to say. Did you not get frightened of terrorism when hundreds of Tamils were massacred in cold blood, when racist hate spread like fire in this country of yours? Did terrorism mean nothing to you when Tamil women were raped? When cultural treasures were set on fire? When hundreds and hundreds of Tamil homes were looted? Why in 1977 alone 400 Tamils lost their lives reddening the sky above with their splattered blood – did you not see any terrorism then? Did your thoughts and feelings become deadened when it concerned Tamil lives and Tamil property or are your minds unable to conceive the very idea of Tamil suffering?
“There is nothing that prevents two neighboring nations living in cooperation. You must not run away with the thought that our sole objective is to establish Tamil Eelam. Tamil Eelam certainly remains an objective because we have learnt through bitter experience over the past several years that it is only by establishing a state of Tamil Eelam can Tamils live with self-respect.
“But our vision is broader than that. Our vision is global. Wherever there is oppression, wherever there is violation of human dignity, whether in Africa or in Latin America, we are prepared to link hands with the oppressed and the underdog. When our vision is so global how can it fail to take into account the future good of the Sinhala people?
“May I mention this? We will not stop at raising our voices on behalf of those people. There is nothing that prevents two neighboring nations living in cooperation. Even nations with differing policies get together for common economic good and for the purpose of common security. Does that mean that those nations give up their distinctive characteristics or sovereignty?
“We have to safeguard the collective good of this island. If at any time in the future a common organization has to emerge which could withstand the political and economic onslaught made against Third world countries, particularly in the areas surrounding the Indian subcontinent, you can be sure that Tamil Eelam will rise to lend its might in all cooperative endeavors that will raise the quality of life of the people of this part of the world.
“I want to ask this question from my Sinhala friends. Do you accept as correct and justified the various acts of oppression that the Tamil people have suffered until now not only in our land but in various parts of your land as a result of various acts of thuggery and terrorism? Do you also consider wrong our attempt to free ourselves from the inhumane oppression of your government?
“Or do you consider that this present eyewash in the form of a trial conducted under special laws an act of fairness to a people like us who are fighting for a noble ideal, the ideal of human freedom? Or does it mean that you do not care what happens because the victims are Tamils? If that is so, our sympathies are with you.
“Believe me our freedom is an assured fact and will come. Once that happens your law books and terrorist laws cannot touch us. Thereafter you will be the sole ‘beneficiaries’ of the very laws that oppress us now.
“Will you urge your government to stop the injustice against us and acknowledge our sovereignty?
“Will you as a first step toward this and toward the eradication of terrorism, urge your government to recall the Sri Lanka police force and the armed forces – wholesale merchants of terrorism -from our soil?
“I leave it to you to decide whether you will show the world how committed you are to justice. Though belonging to a different nation, as fellow humans living in the same island we have participated in the inquiry hoping for your understanding. Today we have made our position quite clear. If the understanding that flows from this prompts you in the future to raise your voice on our behalf, our hearts will be filled with satisfaction.
“I wish to tell you sincerely here and now that even if this understanding does not become a reality, we will throw the full weight of our support behind you, when you rise up in the future to free yourselves and shatter the social and economic fetters that shackle you now.
“Through this case we have made our real position known to the world and in particular to the peoples of this island. This is the joyous feeling that is uppermost in our minds … Even a hundred fabricated cases against us and all the slanders heaped on us will not bother us. It is we who will win through this kind action of yours – the consequences of the verdict of this court will not touch us, content as we are that we have done our duty.
“We will not flinch from embracing death or spending the rest of our lives in jail, content as we are that we have done our duty. All these are merely commonplace incidents in the history of a nation’s struggle for freedom. We were fully conscious of what we were doing. Hence there is no question of disappointment.
“We are firm believers in the saying that what one sows one reaps. That is why our minds are calm. The seeds we sowed were not seeds of poison, our arrowheads were not dipped in venom. But my fervent prayer is that innocent Sinhala people should not have to reap what power-hungry Sinhala politicians have sown. These tribulations are a boon bestowed by God to purify us.
“The final victory is ours. Long Live Tamil Eelam!”