by Asian Tribune, Malaysia, July 26, 2004
Reliving the Welikade Prison massacres of 25 & 27 July 1983, is ‘horror revisited’ said M. Nithyanandan (54 yrs), a former Lecturer of the University of Jaffna and at present Head of the news and events divison of Deepam Television – a Tamil Language TV channel based in London.
Nithyanandan is one of the 19 prisoners who miraculously survived in the two separate Welikade prison attacks. Prison massacre alleged to be orchestrated by the leaders of the Government of that day, who were responsible for fanning communal tension and intimidating Sinhala prisoners to attack and kill defenseless Tamil political prisoners who were quartered at the high security Welikade prison.
Welikade high security prison is located in close proximity to Borella junction in a 48 acre land space in the Baseline road.
Tamil political prisoners and detainees totaling 72 in numbers were kept in the Chapel section in the B3 C3, D3 and in the ground floor of the Youthful Offenders (YO) section.
On 25 March 1981 Selvarajah Yogachandran alias Kuttimani led an attack on the People’s Bank motor-van carrying cash by ambushing it at Neervely, when it was returning to Jaffna with the collection money from the bank branches. Kuttimani and his accomplices gunned down two policemen and vanished with 5 suitcases containing money estimated around Rs. 8.1 million. But on 05 April 1981 Kuttimani, Thangathurai and Jegan were arrested near Manalkaadu, while trying to escape to Tamil Nadu, with a section of the heist.
Subsequently on, 24 February 1983, Kuttimani, Thangathurai, Jegan and another 3 were sentenced to death in the Neervely Bank robbery case.
After being sentenced by the courts, Kuttimani in his statement said, “Kuttimani will be sentenced to death today, but tomorrow there will appear thousands of Kuttimanis. They will not be innocent like me, but more vigorous…” He also expressed his desire to donate his eyes so that they may see the birth of Eelam.
On 01 March 1983, Thangathurai made a statement from the dock, which to this day remains one of the best testaments to Tamil sentiments in Sri Lanka.
The moving speech of Thangathurai in the Tamil language eloquently recalled the historic experience of the Tamils and contained these lines: “We are neither lovers of violence nor victims of mental disorders.”
“We are fighters belonging to an organization that is struggling to liberate our people.”
“To those noble souls who keep prating terrorism, we have something to say.”
“Did you not get frightened of terrorism when hundreds of Tamils got 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 our cultural treasures were set on fire?”
“When 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?”
“It is only when a few policemen are killed in Tamil Eelam and a few million rupees bank money robbed, that terrorism strikes you in the face… But my fervent prayer is that innocent Sinhalese people should not have to reap what power hungry Sinhalese politicians have sown.”
“These tribulations are a boon bestowed by God to purify us. The final victory is ours.”
Six of them appealed against the death sentences imposed on them by the lower court and waited for the appeal hearing. They were locked up in B3 section. This B3 section had a wooden partition in the rear end where the gallows were.
Another 28 prisoners were in the C3 section. In the D3 section 29 prisoners were locked up and nine prisoners in the Youthful Offenders Block (YO).
Almost all those 9 prisoners locked in the ground floor of the YO Block were aged and elderly people except for, M.Nithyanandan and Dr. Jeyakularajah, others were Dr. Tharmalingham, Kovai Mahesan, Dr. Somasundaram Rajasundaram, S.A. David, Fr. A. Singarayar, Fr. S Sinnarasa, and Rev. Jeyatilekarajah.
They were arrested and detained under the prevention of Terrorism Act of 1982, said to have been authored by the then Attorney General Siva Pasupathy, who is at present one of the constitutional experts of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), assisted in the drafting of their Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal.
On 27 October 1982, a group of eight Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) led by Seelan attacked the Chavakachcheri police station. Accompanying Seelan in the attack were Aruna, Shankar, Pulendran, Raghu, Mahattaya, Santhosam and Bashir Kakka.
In the attack, three Tigers were injured. One bullet pierced through Pulendran’s shoulder, another hit Raghu and broke his right hand bone and the third went through Seelan’s knee cap.
The injury sustained by Seelan, the number 2 man of the LTTE was serious. He was carried back to the van along with the other two injured cadres and driven away, by Aruna.
Subsequently, it became known that they were driven to the house of Mr. Nithyanandan & Mrs. Nirmala Nithyanandan’s located at 330, Navalar – Nallur Road, Jaffna for immediate medical treatment.
Seelan lost lot of blood and he fainted and an emergency medical team was assembled at Nithyanandan’s house and all three were treated.
Seelan recovered, but was later sent to Chennai for further treatment.
On 14 & 15 November 1981, Sri Lankan Government arrested three Roman Catholic priests, Father A. Singarayar, Fr. S.Sinnarasa and Fr, Jayatilakarajah. They were held at the notorious Gurunagar Army camp. They were held incommunicado and were denied access to friends and relatives.
On 18 November 1982, Mr.Nithyanandan a lecturer at the University of Jaffna and his wife Nirmala Nithyanandan, a popular writer, sociologist and political activists were arrested by an army team led by Major Munasinghe on charges of harboring terrorists and withholding information. They were taken and held in the infamous Gurunagar army camp. (later when he was Brigadier, Munasinghe, has been the official Sri Lankan Army spokesman for several years.)
After the inquiry in Jaffna, Mr.& Mrs. Nithyanandan were taken by land to Colombo in a military truck transiting at an army camp in Anuradhapura and finally when they arrived in Colombo, they were locked up at the Colombo Magazine prisons – according to the Dutch word Magazine – was a place or a warehouse for keeping gunpowder and explosives during the Dutch rule of Sri Lanka and subsequently converted into a prison.
Meanwhile as Thambapillai Maheswaran nom de guerre Panagoda Maheswaran leader of the Tamil Eelam Army (TEA) and few others managed to escape from the Panagoda army camp and subsequently rearrested, Government decided to intern all the Tamils prisoners in the Welikade Maximum Security prison in May 1983. A total of additional 50 Tamil political prisoners were brought and locked up in the Welikade Maximum security Prison.
On 03 June 1982, Sri Lanka Government promulgated an Emergency Regulation. The noteworthy feature of the new Regulation was to authorize the Police to deal with the disposal of dead bodies without recourse to any inquest proceedings.
Nithiyanandan in his exclusive interview with “Asian Tribune” said that in the Young Offenders Block along with him, nine of them were held. It was a separate block and they were held in the ground floor and the dormitory upstairs remained vacant and was under lock and key.
He said Nirmala, his wife was held in another section in the women wing of the prison.
Nithyanandan said when he was in the Magazine prison; his father visited him in the prison. He said that his father was the only person ever allowed to visit him after his arrest and he added after going to Welikade he expected more visits, but it did not happen.
When describing about their incarceration in the YO section, he explained that there were row of cells on both sides divided by a corridor and the nine detainees were each locked up in separate cells. In the mornings their cells used to be opened up by the jail guards, so that they can all sit in a small common room located near the corridor.
Nithiyanandan said that they were used to be taken out daily from their cells to the open air for just 15 minutes for exercise, but normally they were kept daily locked-up for the rest of the 23 hours and 45 minutes.
He said on the evening of 24th July 1983, when they were taken out for the routine exercise, he saw thick cloud of smoke rising over the prison’s wall, which was on the side of the Kanette cemetery, located off Borella junction.
Nithiyanandan described as follows:
“One prison guard told us that there was trouble in the country and the Sinhala mob has started torching shops and houses in the Borella area and in the other parts of Colombo.
The fast deteriorating situation outside, put us off our balance and through out the night we could not sleep, but we were holding our cell iron doors and were talking to the opposite number on the other side of the corridor.
However 24th July passed uneventful, but on 25th we heard lot of commotion in the B3, C3 and D3 sections located in the Chapel division, but we could not see anything.”
Nithyanandan said “although we heard unusual commotion, noises, shouts of Jeyawewa, we were not able to neither see nor understand what was happening over there.”
Nithyanandan goes on to say – “we learnt later all that happened, about the brutal killings that took place between 2.15 and 3.15 on the afternoon of 25th July 1983.
According to our information, which we gathered in later, that 35 defenseless Tamil political prisoners were attacked, battered and lay fallen and brought and lined up in the outer portico of the building.
Subsequently, Army made arrangements to remove those 35 bodies – majority of them were still alive, according to an information, but were soon loaded to be transported to the General Hospital accident ward, but the Army did not allow the bodies to be taken out. Around 6.30 pm the senior medical officer examined the 35 detainees and pronounced dead.
We learnt later that according to the latest Emergency Regulations, those 35 bodies were loaded in an Army truck, heaped one over the other, driven to the Kenette cemetery, located at Borella, and collectively cremated without even informing their relatives and the dear ones of those killed.
But 26th July passed eventless, anyhow we were kept in the dark and we had not the slightest inkling that already 35 Tamil political prisoners in the other sections had been subjected to the beastly attacks organized by vested interest groups to do away with the Tamils.
Cuthbert Janz, Deputy Commissioner Prisons, was acting as Commissioner as D.P. Delgado Commissioner was out of the country at that time.
Janz we learnt, brought the 25th July prison’s incident to the notice of J.R.Jayewardene, President of Sri Lanka. Subsequently it was decided to take the remaining prisoners out of Colombo. In the meantime it was decided to move the remaining prisoners to Youthful Offenders building immediately and the prison authorities considered the block a more secure place..
On 26th no one came to our section. Guards did not take us outside even for the usual 15 minutes exercise. We were all seated in the little common room and raking our heads to find out the situation on the other side of the prison.
On 26th evening the jail guard and a few senior prisoners in white uniforms who were called Atchchukaraya in Sinhala, came and told us to leave our cells in the ground floor and go to the dormitory in the upstairs.
When we asked why we are being changed, we were not told of the reason. But one Atchchukaraya who stood behind the jail guard tried to make some signal by squeezing his neck with his both hands and pushing his tongue out, but at that point of time, we did not come to terms with his signals and the situation prevailing outside.
The dormitory upstairs was full of dirt and dust and it was not cleaned before it being occupied by us. Anyway we did not have any choice other than to spread our bed sheets and lie on the dusty and dirty floor.
When we were in the dormitory, we heard sounds of people in the ground floor moving into the cells which we occupied earlier.
We shouted and tried to establish voice contacts with the new occupants, but we could not succeed in getting details of what happened on 25th July.
Earlier when we were in the ground floor, I appealed for a small table to be given to place my note book and write. After several weeks’ of deliberation, prison authorities gave me a something similar to a table – a small stool. Similarly the priests too were given stools to keep their Holy Bibles and to kneel down and say their prayers. When we moved upstairs we took with us our tables also.
On the 27th July at about 2 pm in the afternoon, I saw a group of more than 400 prisoners marching towards the Youthful Offenders Block. From upstairs I was able to see very clearly prisoners demanding the key from the guard who was standing in front of the main entrance of the block. He submitted to their demand and gave a big key bunch to them.
The prisoners who got the key bunch were unable to find the right key to open the main entrance and as they lost their patience, they began to break open the l main entrance’s lock.
I saw them all armed with improvised weapons. At last they managed to break the lock and I saw them entering inside.
By now we begin to hear thundering noises coming from downstairs and also sounds of breaking doors.
By that time, it dawned on us that we were to be attacked by the Sinhalese prisoners who were on a rampage and were after our blood.
At 2:30 pm they were screaming and whistling outside our gate wielding axes, iron bars, pieces of firewood, and sticks shouting at us saying that you are the priests we are looking for and we must kill you.
They were in front of our gates more than 50, of them brandishing long kitchen knives, crowbar, iron rods and other improvised weapons and were breaking the iron gate’s lock to enter into the dormitory.
We decided to fight to death and not simply submit ourselves and surrender. We broke tables and held the legs as weapons to be used for counter attacks against the marauders.
While they were breaking our gate to enter into the dormitory, Dr.Rajasuntharam went up to them and talked. At that time he was only wearing a waist cloth – sarong and was without a shirt on his back.
He talked to them and I was able to hear him asking them, “Aiye mallee oya uppita gahanda ennae?” (Why younger brother, you came to attack us?)
Before he could complete his sentence, one attacker landed a blow on his head by a length of a thick iron. No sooner the fatal blow landed on his head, his skull broke and blood burst our profusely from the scalp as if though flowing out from a pipe. He fell down and that was it. Blood was seen to spurt several feet
Meantime one of them threw an iron length blindly at one of us, but none of us were injured by that throw. We immediately took over that iron rod and held it out threateningly with an addition of one more arms in our armory.
They threw bricks at us. We kept defending us and kept them at bay. We also threw them back those bricks. Pieces of firewood and iron bars were thrown at us. We courageously held on and managed to defend ourselves. It went on … a pitched battle…
By that time I was ready to beat to death at least a few, before I succumb to their attack. I wonder how I got that determination and guts to face that challenge at that time.
I shouted at them, and said “Mama Agona Guna Chandrage yaaluwa!!” (I am the friend of Agona Guna Chandra). It worked for a few minutes. One of them asked how you know him. I said that I was with him at the Magazine prisons before coming over here.
Agona Guna Chandra was a gangster but a good and friendly person and he was jailed in the Magazine prison and was serving his sentence there. When we were in that prison he was very helpful to us.
I also started saying the Buddhist bana – prayers “Buddham Saranam Katchchami… “
While we were holding up a group of 50 prisoners who were while trying enter inside the dormitory and attacking the balance 8 inmates including me, by 4 pm the army people started firing tear gas to disperse the attackers.
When the attackers were dispersed, already 17 inmates in the ground floor were battered to death.
Eleven of them including Gnanasekeram, Douglas Devananda, Thambapillai Maheswaran (Panagoda Maheswaran), Sritharan (Tractor Sri), Nadarajah Alexander Jeyakody, Yograjah, Naveenthrajah (Babuji), Manickathasan, Sivasubramaniam, and Ganeshalingham (Farouk) managed to survive.
After dispersing the attackers by firing tear gas at them, Army personnel menacingly armed, came upstairs to our dormitory and ordered us to come down.
In the downstairs what we saw, reminded a typical battlefield scenario where dead bodies, flesh, body parts, blood all scattered all over.
A total of 18 bodies were piled up and remained in the outer verandah of the Youthful Offenders building.
We were asked to get into the waiting truck and there were 08 people from our dormitory, 11 from the ground floor, thus a total of 19 survivors brought and boarded in the waiting army truck.
At that time Nirmala was quartered in the women section and though she was not attacked she argued with the Deputy Commissioner of Prisons that she too should be allowed to join us. Subsequently the prisons people brought her separately and I managed to see her only later.
So with her a total of 20 Tamil political detainees survived the ordeal.
While we were inside the truck, we saw the 18 bodies of our own blood, our kith and kin, being dumped into another truck and that truck began to move. May be it moved to Kennette for a common cremation.
Inside the truck I saw Gnanasegram, Douglas Devananda, Thambapillai Maheswaran and others. They told us the blood curdling episode of what happened to them on that day as well as what they saw and knew about the 25 th July tragic episode in a hush voice while we were waiting to be moved .
We were told of the incident how they battered Kuttimani and Thangathurai to death. While in the truck the former occupants of the C3 told us how Kuttimani had his eye gouged out because of the statement he made that he wanted to donate his eyes to some one so that he could see the birth of Eelam and Thangathurai his tongue sliced for the statement he made at the courts.
According to one occupant who said that a prison guard told that he had drunken Kuttimani’s blood and he would cook and serve Kuttimani’s flesh to the surviving Tamil prisoners.
By 10 clock in the evening the truck moved and reached the Ratmalana airport.
We were asked to be remained seated and not to move from the truck and the truck was parked in the tarmac area.
On the following morning, we were boarded in the air force plane to the Batticaloa Prison. As the Air force plane was small and the seating capacity was limited, I have to go back in the second trip to Batticalao.
I saw Nirmala at Batticaloa.
Given below the 53 Tamil political prisoners and detainees who died in the nightmarish attack in Welikade Prison on 25th and 27th July 1983.
Names of those killed on 25 July 1983
Kuttimany Yogarajah, 2. N.Thangathurai, 3. Nadesathasan, 4. Jegan 5. Sivarasa, 6. Sivan Anpalagan 7. Balasubramaniam 8. Suresh Kumar, 9. Arunthavarajah, 10. Thanabalasingham,11.Arafat 12. P.Mahendran 13. K.Thillainathan 14. S.Kularajesekaran 15. Uthaya Kumar 16. S.Sivakumar 17. A.Rajan 18. S.Balachandran 19. Yogachandran Kili, 20. S. Subramaniam; 21. Mylvaganam Sinniah 22. G.Mylvaganam; 23. C.Sivanantharajah;24. T.Kandiah, 25. S.Sathiyaseelan; 26.Kathiravetpillai; 27. Easvaranathan 28. K.Nagarajah; 29. Gunapalan Ganeshalingham; 30 Anbalagan Sundaram; 31 Ramalingham Balachandran; 32. K.Thavarajasingham; 33. K.Krishnakumar; 34.R.Yoganathan; and 35. A.Uthayakumar.
Names of those killed in Welikade Prisons on 27 July 1983.
1.Muthukumar Sri Kumar; 2. Amirthanayagam Philip; 3. Kulasingham Kumar; 4. Selachami Kumar; 5. Kandasamy Sarwesvaran; 6. A. Mariampillai; 7. Sivapatham Neethirajah; 8. Devanayagam Paskaran; 9. Ponniah Thurairajah alias Thangathurai; 10. Gnanamuthu Navaretnasingham; 11. Kandiah Rajendran alias Robert; 12. Dr. Somasundaram Rajasundaram; 13. Somasundaram Manoranjan, 14. Arumugam Seyan alias Appu;15. Thamotherampillai Jegamohanandan; 16. Sinnathamby Sivasubramaniam; 17. Selliah Rajaratnam and 18. Kumarasamy Ganeshalingham
– Asian Tribune –