22 July, 2024


A Botched Airport Opening Ceremony: Sri Lanka Cries

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Last Thursday (16.10.2019) was a great day for Sri Lanka. Jaffna international Airport was opened. It offered great opportunity for integrating Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka; for tourists from Tamil Nadu (having the largest number of tourists in India) to hop over to Jaffna and visit – besides Jaffna – Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polannaruwa, Trinco, etc.; and for industrial collaboration with India and industrial powerhouse Tamil Nadu. It was an event I could not miss. Being from Jaffna, I felt elated that the old airport I had used long ago in the 1960s and late 1980s and 1990s would soon be an international airport. I felt grateful to all those who had made it happen.

However, instead of seeing the airport as of having national importance, the airport project fell victim to communal jealousy. The Airforce Commander failed to cooperate. When an Indian technical crew on 16 Sept. 2019 after a hard day’s work asked for tea, he retorted that the Indians were doing it for Tamils and demanded “Do you expect me to serve you tea?” The Indians, exhausted by 2 pm, sent a Jeep to Kankesanthurai to fetch refreshments.

The problem is that a project to advance the nation, national unity, and our economy, fell afoul of communal passions. It was a project that the Prime Minister had put together with the TNA. Now cast as a favour to Tamils, few Sinhalese, it seemed, wanted to claim ownership.

The President who had agreed to come for the opening, even after the invitation cards were printed, did not firmly commit to coming. The event was therefore planned with only the Prime Minister and his ministers coming, making it seem like a UNP affair. The President’s coming would have made the event more free since he has relinquished his party affiliations. With the Prime Minister being the highest ranking official in the midst of the presidential elections, the Election Commission then put in the normal restrictions.

The organization of the event was put in the hands of Colombo officials to not make it seem a Tamil affair. Many Sinhalese officials were invited and given the first few front row seats with name tags. Tamils were left out. School children were dragooned to occupy the back of the hall.

The heavy military presence showed that the President was coming. 

The ribbon cutting ceremony was in a separate area far away from the main crowd. Defence officials determined who was to be let into that area. GA Vathanayahan (the highest ranking government official in Jaffna), the Leader of the Provincial Assembly C.V.K. Sivagnanam, and I were directed by Tamil officials to this area. We were denied entry. Only MPs they said. So MP E. Saravanapavan was let it.  However, others too had been let in. Vethanayahan, quietly went away to the main tent. A Sinhalese official near the door went in and pleaded that Sivagnanam was the Leader of the House. He was again denied entry. So we both went to the main tent. A boy there found me a seat at the back. I saw Sivagnanam going here and there looking for a seat as he was told others were coming to where he tried to sit.

We were to be shown the ribbon cutting on a huge screen. I do not recall seeing it. We were to be shown the first flight from Madras landing. We were shown the plane only after it had landed and taxied to a stop.

Then boxes of food were served. I asked for a vegetarian box and was asked to separate the one vegetarian sandwich and eat it. I declined. Most Tamils who are vegetarian went with that one sandwich while the rest were seen gorging themselves. Thinnai, as the name of the famous restaurant was marked on the boxes, claims to be advertising authentic Jaffna culture! They should not have collaborated in this cruel joke particularly with school children drooling for food.

Then the biggies from Colombo entered our hall, the ribbon having been cut. They took the front row. I saw from the screen MPs Maavai Senathirajah and Sumanthiran. The Governor, PM and President, and Indian High Commissioner also were there.

The President not having indicated clearly that he would be present as he had first indicated in accepting the invitation and having his name printed on the card, seemed to have had tantrums. Finally, he came. This was a spanner in the works as no place had been put in the unofficial programme for him to speak. As a result, Sumanthiran was removed from the list of speakers to give the President a place.

Southern organizers seemed determined to make the airport opening ceremony a Sinhalese event to blunt propaganda in the south in election time. All the Sinhalese spoke in Sinhalese. No translation although providing a translation is now pretty standard in Colombo, as it also is when Jaffna officials organize an event in Jaffna. So it seemed to me a deliberate provocation and to send the message that the airport is not for Tamils as the Air Force chief claimed. The Governor spoke in all three languages making a pitch for continuing as Governor after the elections. The Indian high commissioner spoke in English. Senathirajah spoke in Tamil. As I recall, most of us were clueless about what was said by the others. For school children, except for the few Tamil speeches, it was all hocus pocus.  

It does not matter because those who spoke in Sinhalese had nothing to say to the Tamils present. For, when we speak, there are usually two reasons for speaking. Most often it is to convey a message. Obviously, there was no message to convey to the larger part of the audience. This seemed to be the operative mode because the Prime minister only once briefly switched to English – to thank the Indian High Commissioner HE Sandhu. That was the one time he wanted to switch to the first mode of communicating a message. The alternative possibility is micro-aggression (being aggressive just short of assaulting)  – to make Tamils feel this is not our country and that our rulers are not interested in communicating with us, and of course to lord it over us. This time it seems to have been for a Third reason – to convey to the South that “the airport is not for the Tamils so do not stop voting for us.” 

The worst was when, as soon as the Prime Minister finished his speech, the President, seemingly in a huff for having been forced into a ceremony that he did not favour, got up and walked off. All those from the first few rows walked behind him and left with him. It was too late for Sumanthiran to speak as the higher ranking PM had already spoken. They had suddenly discovered protocol hierarchy, which they had forgotten about in making seating arrangements.

What should have been a happy day for all of us, was badly botched by election gimmicks and playing to the communalist gallery. An event that was to unite us as a nation, had the opposite effect.

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Latest comments

  • 1

    After she brought in Media wise standardisation? it is like stabbing a guy and then calling for the ambulance! Sach you may be one such beneficiary.

  • 0

    Peri nathan

    Every language in the world equally old. Languages change constantly according to needs. New words are added. After some time they are given new names. Due to their new name nobody can say it is a new or recent language. It is a continuation of old language with evolution. Old Sinhala first appear in written form in 3rd BC. Tamil is also same. Tamil may not be evolved. If any language can’t pronounce words properly listeners think it is inferior.

  • 1

    Dear All
    The old airport was fit for purpose then and had elegance while retain the sovereignty of our Nation waiting to become the first world country eventually. It was always going to be a. challenge when you have a breeding program ‘next’ door and the geo political interests that brought the wrong parties to the arena too.
    When people of Vaddukottai voted for change in 1970 thuggery followed, When GG lost the election he joined the TULF, SJV was struggling to find a seat up North forming a party to defend the Indian migrant workers rights a very Southern issue because they were living in the heart land of South??? He should have stood for elections in upcountry and not in Jaffna..remember Jaffna people rejected this man then.
    Overcoming all this the SL Tamils still braved the terror from their own children wanted change in 1981……..once more all the TULF/now TNA wiped out all their opponents in this election because they would have been out to rest for good after this loss. Why you kill your opposition when you had a chance to get peoples mandate again after the (1977 blunder) more terror was the answer…….what business TULF has on a development platform addressing the peoples need……..this is what we need to investigate and to be done by the International Panel.
    It is not the Sinhalese who took the Tamils for a ride it is the TULF/TNA and the criminal elements of the Tamil Nadu politics (nothing do with the people of Tamil Nadu) even the Indian central government did not know how to manage…..but they did manage this at the expense of our Nation eventually………….Indian southern issues were put to rest after witnessing the destruction in SL for such divisional politics.

  • 2

    Look at the PC status given by our previous government to manage affairs…………our Judge and his team spent time on 70 years of history since 1948…sponsoring few thousand year history???
    the idea of serving people in a developing Nation is hard enough then to serve people who lost everything in the war created by the same (TNA) has proven to the world beyond reasonable doubt the incapability that exists to use democracy and know how to plan and execute development programs……….building an Airport fit for purpose for modern times would have been such an act??. So how come we did not have our own money and expertise to do this when we have masterminded military adventures in the past??
    We need answers…………….when TULF won election in Vaddukottai in 1977 a van load of children (mostly my class mates) were ferried outside my home to shout we do not want jobs/water/electricity but want a separate state………they were indeed children and the same children were taken to training camps to kill there fellow citizens……a crime against humanity.
    How can TNA bring development work/infrastructure projects to Jaffna please share………the airport speaks for itself………an Indian event benefitting Jaffna economy at what cost???? TNA is around because our soldiers saved them in the first place??
    When foreign boots stepped onto Jaffna soil people did give enough tea then ?? and when circumstances changed the same were robbed/raped/looted…………..a Broken Palmer indeed.
    Every article CT publish should have a development theme/suggestions/answers not trading insults/racism. Inviting people to participate to make net working amongst all the well wishers of SL to participate to assist our Government departments plan and execute development projects.

  • 4

    Venu, now you seem to look at things on a more wider perspective. That is good. But still how did 56, 58, 77, 83 when your Para Dhemalu totally unarmed were beaten up, looted, and killed in the south by your sinhala civilian brothers while looked on by your military boys who even provided petrol to burn Tamil property? Where were you then? Why your brain had erased that aspect from your great inquisitive and extra intelligence brain? If not for that beatings dont you think there would not have been the Para Tigers and even your loving father would have survived despite all his somersaults! And you and your children would have lived happily ever after with all the prosperity. More so, you could have even remained in Lankawa and rendered your patriotic service to the down trodden masses of the poor country. Now you are shuttling around the world thanks to Para tigers and your late father. Do you think these para dhemalus would have ever gone for a fight had they been given their due rights at the right time. It is an irony that you are born as a para dhemalu that were brought into this country to work in tobacco plantation and I even wish that you may not be a real Para demalu but a mixed up race at least in the brain. Kottiya was terrible no doubt but they had to deal with people like you for a cause and thus the actions. Whatever you proclaim, if you come back to Lankawa then you will be a tobacco plantation migrant from malabar brought by the Portuguese. My dear Venu, there is something called “Cause and effect”. All what happen in this universe are based on this concept. So it will be very childish and ignorant on your part to analyse a complex issue from some point in time that is convenient to you is funny. You are like how three blind men described an elephant.

  • 0

    Dear Nathan

    I have given a thumbs up once more.

    Keep writing we will get there…..you will never know.

    Cause and Effect is based on sequence of events……..but somehow the sequencing part is gone missing in your writings. This could be the biggest summersault yet one has to make for the killing field in Jaffna that took place under the disguise of Democracy/Mandate……….somehow this is now used as a representation of whom exactly by the folly/killers.

    What you should be focusing on how you going to make amends for the current state of affairs you have created for all of ‘us’…….it is called accountability……..burring your head into sand was never a option for likes of you when allowed to cohabit with us in our planet.

    Please time line all the events will help you somewhat to be in the close vicinity to understand what I write………..not knowing if you did kill a fellow man or not so you feel boxed into understand others point of view?? Open up as liberation comes many ways….and never too late change…….in your case even to understand what you write is thuggery mostly disguised as somewhat writing facts.

    That is what internet social media does….a faceless faceless space when not used for exchange of thoughts. You can always have vision/answers/solutions but can not prevent from others having to do so is human rights….how can you differentiate yourself from the thugs who killed the innocent Tamils?? is where your should search lies. Take care Bro.

  • 1

    [how can you differentiate yourself from the thugs who killed the innocent Tamils?? is where your should search lies. Take care Bro.]

    Bro Venu, I hope you are referring to 1956 killing by thugs and there on wards? And not those who killed your father? Why are you confining your analysis to your father’s time and not what happened before? So start thinking from the beginning and not from a time that is convenient for you. That is why your analysis has no substance. No one denies the wrong things that happened but why it happened is much more important than what happened. Your story only reminds of the blind men and the elephant.

    • 1

      Dear Nathan

      You are referring to people who said out to represent Tamils on falsehood. We evolve and learn is how humanity has reached where we are…………you can not represent people in a democratic country at gun point is what we are discussing here hope you follow my argument. This is not what happened in Jaffna when people of Jaffna choose to depart from this thugs they went and killed them all…silenced the people…….I begin to feel you are not even from Jaffna as you do not know the full time line.

      Bad things happens we move forward………1956 just another bad day…….we all learn and move forward. That is what people did when they realise the limitation in the so called leadership. I know all the thugs who openly ask the children to go and kill all their opponents. Called all the people opposed them a traitor this and that. No one ever had and will have a right to do this as I can not kill you because you do not agree with me….I have to follow they law still???

      Change start at home??? We did not even fix the cast issue for 70 years in our own backyard and what are the moral grounds for the rest please??? Kindly elaborate. I begin to feel you really do not know what the thugs did in the name of leadership..I lived through it Bro. Insider information if you want to know………….killers can not lead the aspiration of my people.the people are the masters and they vote who they want to vote……no thug can not tell them what to do so correct??

  • 2

    In war killing and human suffering is inevitable. What is important is to avoid a war. If you are really born and bred in Jaffna then you will realise that tamils are the last that would go for violence. Such a group could become so ruthless warriors there ought to be some very valid reason. You may be the people who would call Vietcongs as terrorists! Subash a terrorist. Nelson Mandela a terrorist. Why even Gandhi a terrorists who did not go with the majority powerful reasons. The problem is that in 56, 58, 77, 83 you were well and truly huddled comfortably in Jaffna while the Tamils in the south were murdered,. You dont seem to care because you were not affected. Your little life starts with your father’s coming into politics and that too opportunistic politics without a clear mandate. Your grouse against Tamils is that they did not allow your father to reap the harvest of his political adventure to the maximum and in turn you being one of the sons too missed the glory of a minister’s son to exploit the goodies immaterial as to who elected him to power. I have now done some research and presto when your father defeated Amirthalingam, the election was severely rigged especially at your land locked village. Are you aware of it. Many who worked at that election had confirmed this to me.You talk of caste system and shedding crocodile tears. I find you guys even ridiculed Amirthalingam as a Pannakam Pandari and screamed as to how a Pandari could come into your village. What a shameful crime and no wonder why Para Dhemalus are suffering. VP had to come to salvage the Tamils and only after him the so-called Sinhala veerayas stopped their periodical Dhemalu hunting in the south.

  • 1

    Dear Nathan

    Thank you for all the unravelled info…….however much they are new ones but respect your right to express.

    You have not answered my question do I have right to kill you because you differ in your opinions as to how you want you your life to be shaped???

    I am also happy you write all this is what I said out to do to prove the duplicity/thuggery that has landed ‘my country and people’ where we are today.

    Kindly repeat all what you wrote (the things you have unravelled and will unravel through your investigations) on the articles that are new releases on CT so we can continue as now this is shelved article that CT has kindly keeping it open for a very special reason.

    I reserve you the right to troll and we will publish all of you DrGS/Ajith/Youself and my work all in a book for the world to see the state of affairs as to what did really talk place in my Country.

    See you soon and take care. I also hope you are not one of the American Tax scam team member.

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