18 April, 2021

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Anti-Christian Fraud: Appropriating ‘Historic Church Property’ For Union College!

By Rev. T.S. Premarjah –

Rev. T.S. Premarjah

The ‘underhand manoeuvring’ of Former and Current Principals – Mr Kathir Balasundaram and Mr T Varathan of Union College, Tellippalai – along with Provincial Education Ministry officials, Mr L. Ilaangovan and Co., has come to light over the last few years, using a cooked up ‘Survey Plan – No: 2270’ to suit their fraudulent claim on the American Ceylon Mission’s (ACM) Mission House (Lot- 5), knowing full-well ‘the historic significance of the property and the Building, always known as “Tellippalai Mission House.”

Significance of the Tellippalai Mission Station

Tellippalai Mission Station (TMS), since 1816 was one block of land under the care of the American missionaries of the ‘American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions’ (ABCFM) based in Massachusetts, USA. The said property was first registered in the Land Division of the Government of British Ceylon in the year 1908 in the name of American Ceylon Mission, an incorporated body of the Church – Jaffna Congregational Church Council, which later joined with the ‘South India United Church’ (SIUC) to become “The Jaffna Church Council of the SIUC” in 1908, and later in 1947 “Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India” (JDCSI). Since 2007, a Church branched off from the JDCSI, namely, Church of the American Ceylon Mission (CACM) and to this day is the recognised successor of the ACM.

The above ‘Mission Station’ also served as the ‘central location’ of the ACM over many years, in the administration of all the missionary activities – educational, medical, and developmental, and the church’s ministry and mission. It was also the ‘Home’ for all the new missionaries arriving in Jaffna. The ACM administration of all the vernacular schools in villages in the Jaffna peninsula had English schools at Tellippalai, Vaddukoddai, Uduvil, Uduppiddi, and Chavakachcheri, and a bilingual school in  Tellippalai. The Medical mission was supported by Green Memorial and McLeod  Mission Hospitals at Manipay and Inuvil respectively, and Mission Dispensaries in Pandateruppu, Tellippalai, Karaitivu (Karainagar) and elsewhere. An Industrial School at Tellippalai, Teacher-training College at Tellippalai; and Seminary-training at Tellippalai, Vaddukoddai and Uduvil, were all administered from this Tellippalai Mission Station.

Since church lands are being unlawfully claimed, I produce the Survey Preliminary Plan of 1908 which shows a simple Tellippalai Mission Station of the ACM including Union College. I also give Survey Plan 892 of 1973/74 and description showing us exactly what belongs to the Church and what belongs to Union College. Relevant here is that the Mission House and its premises belong to the Church.,

First National Church Lay Leader

It was in 1935 that Mr A A Ward, the last missionary-in-Charge of the TMS, left for America due to his ill-health. Mr I P Thurairatnam, a national Church leader was appointed to manage all the mission-institutions at Tellippalai. Hence, he and his family occupied the Mission House. When two of the schools (English and Bilingual) located there were amalgamated in the year, 1939, other mission institutions gradually moved out to various locations, e.g., the Teacher-training College moved to Kopay, and the Printing Press to Manipay, while the Industrial school and ACM Book shop remained in Tellippalai under Mr Thurairatnam.

Take-Over in 1961/62: ‘Divesting Mission House’ to the ACM in 1968

In 1961/62, by an Act of Parliament, Union College Property was ‘Vested’ with the Government, including the said ‘Mission House’ as the principal of Union College was then residing there. At his retirement in1964, the Mission House became vacant, and after long negotiation between ACM officials and NP Ministry of Education officials, the ‘Mission House’ was returned to the ACM, while in exchange ACM gave its property at the corner of Tellippalai junction, which was used as ‘Parsonage’, to the Govt. (i.e., to Union College) in 1968. This is shown in the letter by The Rt. Rev. D.J Ambalavanar, Bishop of the JDCSI, to the Secretary, MoE.

Mission House Occupation by Priest-in-Charge

Hence, ACM clergy and families took possession of the ‘Mission House’ in 1969. The first national priest-in-charge, Rev S T Asirvatham, and family moved in from the ‘Old Parsonage’ to the renovated ‘Mission House.’ Since 1969, the Mission House been occupied till today, except during the period of ‘Displacement’ (Dec. 1990 – August 2012). Among all the damaged buildings of the College and the Church, the ACM Church building was first chosen for restoration with funds from past members and their descendants living overseas, and it was re-dedicated in August, 2016. The Bi-Centenary celebration of the ACM was celebrated on a grand scale with overseas partner Church representatives in October, 2016 at Tellippalai.

Sneaky Encroachment on Mission House

When the displaced Tellippalai-Church community intermittently returning to their own lands, clearing the bushes, and slowly renovating the damaged homes, they were holding Sunday worship services on the Verandah of the damaged-Mission House, with accompanying ministries such as Sunday school, women’s fellowship and prayer meetings. This arrangement went on without interruption until the completion of the renovation of the Church building and rededication of it in August 2016. The Church spent Rs. 800,000/= in 2017 to renovate the two rooms with a new attached bathroom and toilet for the clergy to reside. Subsequent to this, the Principal of Union College asked the President of the ACM then, Rev Enoch Punitharajah, permission to use the premises for cycle and motorbike parking and occasional dance classes on the verandah. Late Rev Punitharajah gave his consent out of goodwill and it continued for some time until one day, the Church decided to restore the whole damaged building, and wanted to commence the work with a loan and church funds.

When church members and later the workmen went into the premises, they were prevented by the order of the principal, Mr T Varathan, who lodged a police entry, claiming that the Mission House premises was the property of Union College, and the Church had no right to enter and even proceed with the work.

ACM officials’ Appeal to the NP Governor

It was at this stage of helplessness, that the matter was referred to Hon. Governor Mrs P S M Charles on two occasions at a personal interview by the ACM representatives. She instructed the Government Agent to search for the relevant documents pertaining to the property, and gave permission to proceed with the partial restoration that the church had started. Furthermore, it was said by the MoE officials and UC principal, that there was a ‘dispute’ between both parties which needed a resolution.

Meeting’ at MoE in Nallur, and Aggressive Prinipal T. Varathan

Correspondence was initiated by the Secretary of the MoE in Nallur, Mr L. Ilaangovan to the ACM office-bearers, Rev T Thevanesan, Rev Antony Suthakar, and Rev A Jeyakumaran, for a meeting at the ME office on the 7th December, 2020. The ACM delegation was surprised to see a large delegation of Education officials, including the Union College Principal, Mr T Varathan. An untruthful report of this meeting was circulated widely as if the ACM officers were open to part with this property to Union College. It became a tug-of-war between the Tellippalai Church Representatives and past members living overseas versus ACM officers.

Faced with ‘harassment’ on the one hand by education officials, and resistance from the ACM officers, those of us trying to seek ways of restoring the Mission House were deeply agonised over the series of events, which prompted me, knowing the mission history as a former priest at Tellippalai, to write for the Colombo Telegraph, dated 10th February, 2021. On the 10th of March, 2021, a news item appeared in the Tamil Daily, ‘Uthayan’ saying that Mr Ilaangovan is declaring that the Mission House belongs to Union College, based on a Survey Plan, presumably, that of 2002, Plan no: 2270. It is seen to be fraudulent based on the older plans I have produced above.

The next day, a letter was sent by the Union College principal, Mr T Varathan, on his College Letter Head, saying that Union College is going to occupy the ‘Mission House’ as it has been officially declared by the Secretary of NP-MoE, addressed to the ACM President, Rev T Thevanesan. Furthermore, he took a group of people of the College to the Mission House, in preparation for its occupation, they have gone to clean up the place on Saturday, the 13th of March, 2021. Mrs Gnanatheepan Rajakanthan, a Church member responsible for the Church and Restoration work, was present at the site, conversing with a journalist present there to collect information on the so-called “dispute.” Seeing all these, they seemed to have left the premises for the day! As I write Varathan has threatened to return on 15 March 2021.

The Survey Plan of 2002 (No: 2270): Hiding ‘Mission House Premises’

This Survey Plan (2270) of 2002 was prepared when the Church and College premises were occupied by the Army in its High Security Zone (HSZ) from 1992-2010. It was told that this survey plan was called upon to include a ‘portion of land’ near the score board of the play-ground to be annexed with Union College. The map and the description pages not only reflect the correct extent of the ‘Mission House’ premises, but also described that a certain portion of land of the mission house premises indicated in the map as if it belongs to Union College.

Furthermore, the numbering of Lots- 1, 2, 3, 4 seemed altogether strange in the description. The surveyor who signed on this survey plan was one Mr S K Sivananthan. The ownership of the mission house premises was as if it was that of Union College! The accuracy of this survey plan regarding the ownership of ACM, raises many questions. It was prepared to suit the scheming of the mastermind of a former principal and education officials. The surveyor did not take into account the Survey Plan (892) of 1973/74, which was clearly marked. It is assumed by the writer that it was a deliberate attempt of the schemers, when the whole community – including the Church and College – was in great agony and danger during the ‘displacement period’ functioning elsewhere in Maruthanarmadam and unable to see hoax being imposed on us all..

Comparing the two Survey Plans- (2270) of 2002, and (892) of 1973/74

For the purpose of comparing the earlier ‘Survey Plan of 1973,’ (No: 892), which they have conveniently ignored was in my view a deliberate attempt to hide the truth about the “Mission House,” of which a scanned copy has een given above (Plan No: 892 with annotation).

Scanned Survey Plan No: 2270 of the year 2002 in glaring conflict with originals

Closing Reflection

It has been well-recorded in the ‘mission and church history documents’ that the work of missionaries and nationals of the Church faced all kinds of opposition from time to time. The superstitions and ignorance of the people, in addition to the age-long “caste system” that was prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries were challenged, not only by the sacrificial lives and services of the missionaries and national church leaders in the wider community, but also by the transforming power of the Good News they preached and demonstrated in action in the fields of education, medical, developmental and social work. The contribution of the American Ceylon Mission and that of the Church has been well recorded in many well-researched theses, in particular, by persons who do not belong to the Christian community. There is appreciation for the mission and church’s contribution to the country and in particular to Jaffna society.

The takeover Act stipulates preserving the character of schools and their return if they are not used or the same purpose. In the south many such schools have been returned when the student population dropped. Jaffna is another matter. The Wesleyans’ Vembadi who did not even like a cross, looks like a Hindu museum. People like Ilaankovan are maintaining schools with under 30 students and almost as many teachers because to them giving the Church its due is anathema to their psyche.

The Church of the ACM demonstrated its faith, courage and dedication in the way they served the suffering Tamils of the North and East without any partiality during the war years of 1983-2009. The massive work done in supplying ‘Emergency Relief’ in camps, clergy living with the displaced people under the dangerous ground and aerial attacks, spoke for the voiceless, working for justice and peace at different levels. All these acts of both humanitarian and spiritual support have become a ‘past, forgotten service of the Church’ in the minds of the current generation in the Tamil region. It is an unfortunate situation in the past 14 years that the same Church is in some form of disarray due to a ‘division’ again based on ‘injustice within the Church’. Now is a time to rise up from the ashes and build up our wounded hurting community, without fear or favour. It is sad and frustrating to go through such experiences of ‘exploitation, injustice, hatred towards one another, betrayal, self-promotion and self-centeredness of so called Govt. officials. It is disheartening for those of us who once belonged to this religious heritage in which we take pride, to find our identity in the context of the heightening racial, religious divisions prevalent in the country. It is even increasing our frustration and anger, us moving towards such aggressive, violent personalities in positions of authority. “How long, O Lord? How Long?” The Divine Power rests upon every citizen of the country and Diaspora, as the displaced community across the globe dreams to see the return of ‘peace with justice’ in Sri Lanka.

*Rev T S Premarajah, BD Serampore, Th.M. Princeton – Former member of the ACM, and Priest at Tellippalai, 1983-1987

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Latest comments

  • 6
    3

    Allthough the current President of Sri Lanka came to power on a platform of delivering Law and Order
    and decipline in the country he has not done anything in this regard.

    Mr Gotabhaya Rajapaksa will have to demonstrate his comitment to Law and Order and fairplay if not he will be just another failiure and humbug.

    The LTTE will be back – The call for a seperate state will be revived – and there will be anarchy throughout the island.

    End result – officially a failed state like Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Burma, Afganistan, Syria …..

  • 9
    4

    We Tamils must be clean in respecting rights among ourselves.
    The TNA cannot hide from this festering problem. It must take a stand especially when it involves SJV Chelvanayakam’s parish and Mission House.

    • 6
      0

      It seems that even though Christ had no place to lay his head, some of his followers litigate about pillows. Still, this is reassuring. We are all the same! Sri Lankans will be Sri Lankans, no matter what colour robes they wear.

  • 2
    0

    There has been so much religious conversion carried out by people associated with these Christian missions and churches, which naturally draws the ire of the local population. That said, if there has been any illegal underhand acts that have been committed by any party to this dispute, the aggrieved party should seek legal remedy by taking the matter to the court of law.

    • 2
      1

      Dear Ari,
      .
      A cursory glance at this article tells me that the problem appears to be the opposite of conversion. It looks as though it is the older Christian Churches that are concerned here. Doesn’t even this building date back to the early 19th Century.
      .
      With oc also having read this, I think that I’d better read this more carefully tomorrow. It appears to me that the dwindling Christian congregations are unable to look after all the property that they came to own during the colonial era. It’s happening throughout Sri Lanka. Some crooks within the church will make hay while there will be a dedicated few who put up a fight.
      .
      And then there will be the non-Christians who will also attempt to cash in by having theproperties taken over. It’s a familiar story in the South as well.
      .
      The details will have to be looked at; in other words, each reader will have to investigate. Me? Will put this off for tomorrow. All too often that means forgetting it all!

  • 1
    2

    Dear Rev

    Thank you for the wonderful history and the clarity regards to the dispute itself.

    As a person knows this church building very well as my sister used to live across the road from this building renting room. I am from Karainagar and fondly remember the Dispensary very well except the time I had the jabs as a youngster and the bitter colourful cocktail of a medicine they give for flu then.

    Played football at union college grounds too.

    Sad to hear about the dispute and am concerned why we are not focused on retaining this wonderful history enriching the space for future generations??

    If you think if theses a religious prejudice from Hindu’s? National security issue because this carry American Mission title????

    I knew the attitude of the TNA/NPC then went about rewriting history in Jaffna??

    I hope all works out better at the end.

    • 2
      1

      Dear Rumble,
      .
      Your independent confirmation of the facts (so scrupulously presented as you say) may give me the courage to say a little more about this story. All this appears to concern Tamil-speaking people in the North.
      .
      I don’t usually like to wade in without knowing the facts. At first glance the substantiation of statements looked impressive, but I have now begun to realise that there usually are two sides to a story.
      .
      Now that you have vouched for the accuracy of what appears in this narration, I think that I’d better study the entire article.

      • 2
        0

        Dear SM

        I am merely thanking Rev for the facts he provided I am learning as he is connecting the dots for me.

        I only confirmed the locations as I know the spots very well.

        Yep all makes sense when is presented like this….one accepts.

        No reference exist.

  • 0
    0

    I have read up as much as I could before being overcome by fatigue, and I was wondering “why bother about a part of the country which is not really mine
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_College,_Tellippalai
    .
    and this, which clearly shows how important this school has been to the entire area:
    .
    https://enacademic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/8329980
    .
    The present imbroglio seems to be because unsuitable people have been recruited by the government’s Department of Education after the War ended. We don’t seem to care whether the Rule of Law prevails in a part of the country that is not ours. This disregard of historical facts and proper legal documents (I clicked on them all, and studied the plans) is going to brew more trouble for us in the future.
    .
    Reconcilliation must start with recognition of the properly authenticated facts.

    .
    Thanks, Rev. Premarjah, and thanks CT for telling us about the problems that you face. I’ve tried to understand but there’s much that I may even have misunderstood.

  • 1
    0

    “why bother about a part of the country which is not really mine”

    Dear SM

    There is no such thing in Sri Lanka for Sri Lankans.

    We Sri Lankans live overseas in the host countries some has more history than the other like Europe and other European settlers countries…democracy/secular etc we do not accept being told where we can live where not..we call that prejudiced/discrimination/human rights abuse/one for all and all for one.

    The fact you are talking your self out of Jaffna history in the above manner is a bIt STRANGE to say the least specially talking about religion centres and foreign set ups in our history such as the American Mission in Jaffna during colonial times. Once we loose this angle then all analysts of our own history making is also equally lot..if not for us but for the future generation…this is over and beyond the religious needs for me as a man with Hindu background.

    Karainagar Hindu College had Christian and oppressed Caste Principles I knew the difficulties they faced..yet I was able to study my A/L at St Johns without any prejudice…says it all.

  • 0
    0

    This is partly in response to Rumble, but also reflects certain things which I have been able to ascertain more recently.
    .
    I don’t want to talk about things that I don’t properly understand, and I don’t know the Northern Province well enough to comment off the cuff. In the present climate, where all too many Sinhalese “interfere” in affairs there, I don’t want to do that. All may be equal as humans, but one cannot naively ignore the fact that not many steer clear of racism.
    .
    Well, what I have by now found out is that almost everything stated in this article is correctly reported, and that ACM is the proper owner of the Mission House. It looks as though the JD of the CSI and its Bishop, Daniel Thiyagarajah have been thoroughly discredited. Although not strictly relevant, I’d like to know what is happening to Jaffna College and Uduvil GC are faring.

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