Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Tamil heroine unmourned & the sociology of obfuscation - University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna; (1998)

NB: An 18 year-old report from one of the worlds most courageous defenders of human rights, the
University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), whose members fearlessly upheld their commitment to humanity in the face of terror and intimidation from all sides - the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE and the IPKF. One of its founders was the feminist Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, murdered by the Tamil Tigers for her condemnation of their atrocities. 

Proponents of self-determination may benefit from a reading of this report on the murder (May 1998) of Mrs. Sarojini Yogeswaran, Mayoress of Jaffna. Its last lines read as follows:

"The right to self-determination is a precious right. It has helped in focusing attention on the problems of minorities and in applying pressure on governments to redress grievances and recognise their rights as distinct cultural, linguistic or religious communities. But in exercising this right there is a dilemma. Those who care for the right and help others in the exercise of it should be alert and sensitive to the fact that the exercise of this right in the absence of human rights and democracy within the community concerned, renders self-determination meaningless. 


The politics within the Tamil community has become so depraved, that one may not be wrong in saying, much of the foreign concern is so careless and uncritical that far from improving the quality of freedom and democracy for the community, it has the opposite effect. In the case of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, it has been hijacked by a small articulate segment enjoying the short-lived freedom of the wild ass at the community’s expense. At this point the right to self-determination becomes in effect, the right to self-destruction" DS

A Tamil heroine unmourned & the  sociology of obfuscation
University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka. Special Report no: 11. September 1998

“ I cannot bring myself to condemn these young men who murder. They themselves are victims, puppets used by their leaders. The real culprits are those who work behind the scene, from their nice hide-outs abroad, in countries like France, Germany and the United States. They are the ones who pull the strings.

“ They brainwash the poor boys, and often they use drugs to make them ready to obey orders without asking questions. They use poverty and unemployment afflicting Algeria as their wedge to get at these boys. We have to get to the root of these problems. 

“  Women have a very important role to play. They educate the children and turn them into men. A good part of the future of any society depends directly on women. Convincing women that they should strive for a better future means laying the foundations for a better society in the future...

“  I think the extremists are enraged at Algerian women because we are courageous, because we are the source of life... They attack women because a woman is a symbol of life, which is why women fight against terrorism, which is death. By killing women the extremists want to strike at the whole future of our society...” - Saida Benhabiles, 50, Head of the Parliamentary Commission on Social Affairs in Algeria, who has a death sentence passed on her by religious extremists - Interview with Patrica Unzain, Island October 18;1997 


11th SEPTEMBER 1998
We announced in our Bulletin No.17 last May that we would come out with a publication bearing the title ‘The Murder of Mrs.Sarojini Yogeswaran, Mayoress of Jaffna & the Anatomy of Fascist control’. In making inquiries about the emergence of fascism in Tamil society, as the document progressed, we found that it is best divided into two parts. The present report is the first part dealing with the ramifications of Mrs.Yogeswaran’s murder. The second part which requires further cross-checking will appear in the next few months.

As we were finalising this document, news came of the bomb explosion in the ceremonial hall adjoining Nallur Kanthasamy Kovil in Jaffna which killed the new Mayor of Jaffna, almost the entire security forces hierarchy in the City of Jaffna, along with several other civilians. Apart from Pon Sivapalan, Legal Secretary TULF, and Sarojini’s successor as Mayor of Jaffna, the bomb explosion on 11th September killed Brigadier Susantha Mendis, Jaffna’s Town Commandant, Captain Ramanayake, Jaffna SSP Chandra Perera, ASPs Chandramohan and Sarath Fernando, Jaffna OIC Chief Inspector Mohandas and PC Gerard. Among the civilians killed were Assistant Municipal Commissioner Pathmanathan, Municipal Engineers Easwaran and Pathmarajah, a Municipal typist and Mrs.Mallika Rasaratnam, Architect in the Urban Development Authority - bringing the number to at least 13 dead.

The first thing the incident once again demonstrates is the LTTE’s absence of any concern for its own civilians. In July last year the LTTE attacked Thangathurai, MP Trincomalee, at a school function. It killed a lady school principal Rajeswari Thanabalasingham and educational works engineer Ratnarajah, along with four other civilians. These further demonstrate the insensitive and diabolical nature of the overseas Tamil lobby that supports the LTTE. Rajeswari Thanabalasingham, Ratnarajah, Pathmanathan, Easwaran, Pathmarajah and Mallika Rasaratnam were professionals who remained in the North-East because they believed in their people and were committed to them. It would have been easy enough for them to go abroad legally as privileged emigrants. 

What is even worse, many of those who worship and sustain the organisation that killed them are almost certainly people who were in school and university with them and are now living abroad. When the LTTE controlled Jaffna a great deal of fuss was made by LTTE lobbies, medical conferences were held, and the US State Department lobbied, to highlight the deprived conditions of people in the North - East. After the people of Jaffna defied the LTTE’s attempts to drive them into the Vanni, and returned to their homes under Army control, their eloquent concern for them vanished. It was as though the people - their own people - no longer needed to eat, work, receive medical attention and go to school. Now it was as though any human existence for the people had to be terminated and the handful of dedicated professionals who made such an existence possible, killed, to prove their perverted point. This is the evil that the Tamil people are up against. There is no balanced way of writing about the diseased wider social phenomenon comprising the LTTE.

Since we have always tried to address issues from the perspective of the ordinary people, we will say something about the lady who occurred as a mere name with a title towards the end of the list of the dead. It is also the reflection in the life of a family of the tragic misdirection of the Tamil struggle. Mallika Rasaratnam obtained her degree in architecture from the University of Moratuwa in 1976. She and her family later moved to Jaffna. Since then she had been doing private work in Jaffna. She believed in the Tamil cause, had a concern for the people and had remained in Jaffna through thick and thin.

During the forced exodus of 1995 she had a difficult choice. She had an ailing husband, an old father and two daughters. Leaving her father with Roman Catholic nuns and clergy who remained in the city, the rest of the family went to Karaveddy, Vadamaratchy. The LTTE tried to use the helplessness contrived by them to recruit her. She told the representative of the ROOTE indignantly that she would stay where she was and if unable to return to Jaffna, leave for Colombo when her savings were exhausted. To further rub in her helplessness she was told that if she were leaving, she would have to leave a member of the family behind. She responded that if they would bring her down to that level, she would have to treat one child as lost  and save the rest of the family.

She moved back to Jaffna in April 1996 after the Army took control, and being the only professional architect in Jaffna, there was a heavy demand for her services. The Municipality wanted her in the UDA and the University of Jaffna wanted her to lecture in aesthetics. She also did the designing to rebuild old St.Peter’s Methodist Church which was devastated by the war. The work was to be under her supervision. She lost her father last year, and her ailing husband who looked after their children’s studies, earlier this year. Mallika exuded beauty in everything she did, from her designs, to her articles in the old Saturday Review, to her correspondence on professional matters. Though herself a Hindu, the Church of St.Peter when rebuilt, will remain a fitting memorial to her faith in the future of Jaffna and her commitment to its people. The manner of her death is the strongest indictment of those who sustain her killers.

Mayor Sivapalan, who had his education at Victoria College, Chullipuram - at the same school as the late TULF leader A.Amirthalingam - also became a lawyer by profession. After Mrs.Yogeswaran’s murder, he out of a sense of duty accepted the job of mayor. The former deputy mayor had resigned and started making statements in favour of the LTTE. Sivapalan began by making statements to the effect that the LTTE could not have killed his predecessor and pretending in word that they were not in town. At his first council meeting he wanted to pass a resolution calling upon the Government to stop the war and talk to the LTTE, which he withdrew when some others objected.

As a person he was a good man and innocent, and like most civilians, incapable of the kind of security precautions needed to function in the face of the LTTE. He had been warned several times by younger ex-militant councillors not to operate from the Kalyana Mandapam (Ceremonial Hall), but to use the TULF Stanley Road office. He had even been warned about individuals in the Municipal Council who were very likely to be compromised with the LTTE. This does not mean they were hard-core members, but rather people who had got favours from the LTTE or were compromised in some corrupt activity and cannot therefore turn down an instruction from the LTTE. Sivapalan was beginning to take notice of the threat, but typically, had only recently attended an opening function in Ariyalai for which invitation cards had been printed a week in advance. 

It is believed that the bomb was concealed in the roof of the Hall when some work was done on it some months ago - when Mrs.Yogeswaran was Mayor. The possibility that it had been targeted for the fatal meeting has not been ruled out. The meeting concerned was about regulating traffic in the City and about road arrangements. It was Sivapalan’s and Brigadier Mendis’ wish that meetings regarding civil matters should be held in the premises of the civil authority concerned. He was not dealing with an ‘army of occupation’. In fact the military authorities had been very respectful to him. It is simply that the LTTE’s terror had reduced the people to a position where nothing can move in Jaffna unless the Army takes the initiative. It may sound like wisdom of the grave, but why did the security authorities tasked to protect the Mayor overlook some basic things?

The main failure of the TULF is that it does not touch the destructiveness of the LTTE's brand of chauvinism. It means opening wounds in an awkward common history. Its politicians having to function in the North-East know that the LTTE will sooner or later target them. In this situation they hope against hope that it will spare them if they regularly make pro-LTTE statements. The LTTE in turn watches them and sends them messages lulling them into complacency. Sivapalan had been told that complacency would only help the LTTE to deliver a blow demoralising the people further. When Sivapalan’s name had been suggested for Mayor, the expatriate-based IBC Radio tauntingly suggested that the TULF is preparing another sacrificial lamb - as though democracy for Tamils here did not matter!

A poignant note on Sivapalan’s death is that he had told his wife in advance that should he be killed, he should be interred in Jaffna - the land of his birth. Once more a son of the soil who strongly identified with its people had to be killed by self-styled liberators… read the full report: