2 July, 2022


Human Rights & Paranoia

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Count Down To July 1983 – Part III

Other events to fire the imaginations of those looking for conspiracies followed in quick succession. Amnesty International released a report on conditions in Sri Lanka in early July. It dealt with the conditions in which those arrested under the PTA of 1979 were being detained, extra-judicial killings, torture, and more recently the death of Navaratnarajah on 10.4.83 after two weeks in custody. The AI had in fact sought to discuss the report with the Government before releasing it and had sent a 72 page draft to President Jayewardene on 7th February. On 6th April, AI was told that neither the President nor a representative of the Government would discuss the report.

This was again a sign of growing paranoia. There was to be a good deal in the Press about AI and other Human Rights agencies being a Marxist conspiracy. Giving apparent substance to such thinking was the fact that Suriya Wickremasinghe, a key activist in the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, was the daughter of the late Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe, a founder leader of the Communist Party of Ceylon. In fact several of the concerns raised by the AI had been raised by the CRM earlier. For example the CRM’s Human Rights Day Review of 3rd December 1979 signed by its president the Rt. Rev. Lakshman Wickremesinghe, the late Bishop of Kurunegala, and its secretary, Desmond Fernando, dealt with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Emergency Regulations and the Liberation Tigers Law.

These, the CRM Review said, “contain provisions that go far beyond any reasonable or permissible requirement of national security. They provide for arrest without warrant and without any obligation to inform relatives of the fact of such an arrest and the place of detention. They permit the prolonged detention of persons in Police custody, or in any place the minister may determine, without any rules or legal safeguards whatever, concerning their conditions of detention and interrogation”.

Another event was the appearance in the Manchester (London) Guardian of 6th July, of an article by David Selbourne. Selbourne who was covering Sri Lanka had already been to Jaffna, seen the scene of the Kantharmadam arson, spoken to many people and had made an appointment with the Chief Justice, when he was picked up by the Police and deported on the night of 25th June. The provocation for this treatment was his visit the year before, in June 1982. Having been with Athulathmudali at Oxford University, he was privileged to have a motor car ride in Colombo in the company of President Jayewardene and ministers Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. During the ride, and in other conversations, Selbourne was treated to some uninhibited remarks by his jolly companions. Selbourne reported Athulathmudali to have said, “We are going to break heads” in connection with solving the Tamil problem (Saturday Review 10.8.85). This was later denied by Athulathmudali (SR 26.10.85). Selbourne had then on his return to Britain written several frank articles in British journals and in the Illustrated Weekly of India.

Selbourne’s article in the Guardian following his deportation in June 1983 was titled, “Sri Lankan Army fails to stem violence”. It stated: “Even saffron-clad Buddhism with all its pieties is now armed with sub-machine guns”. The article quoted Amirthalingam to the effect that the TULF in keeping with its non-violence would launch a satyagraha in October. He was further quoted thus: “The underground Liberation Tigers, whose actions constantly protected by the Tamil community have claimed the lives of 37 members of the security forces since 1977, are at the forefront of the struggle for Tamil self-determination.

Selbourne’s deportation, the closure of the Saturday Review and the arrest of Dr. Tharmalingam were all symptomatic of the same nasty mood that the Government was cornering itself into. Amirthalingam’s statement as reported by Selbourne, as provocative as it would have sounded in the South, was a reflection of his weak position. The Government had left him with nothing to show for his co- operation, and his one-time protégé Prabhakaran, was now forcibly preventing the recently elected TULF dominated local councils from functioning. The TULF defended its formal commitment to non-violence while declining to condemn militant violence by citing instances where Mahatma Gandhi had defended militants. Attacks on Selbourne featured prominently in the Press. The Government issued a statement about his deportation. Thus a man who was in Britain an ordinary Oxford don and writer, was transformed into Sri Lanka’s major security concern.

Then came another sensation in the Sun’s front-page headlines: “Eelam’s Fifth Column in Massachusetts: Ugly Americans Do it Again”. This report of 8th July accused the US of interfering with Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The provocation was the second resolution by the Massachusetts State Assembly, following on the earlier one in 1979, in support of the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka as an oppressed nationality. Prior to the passing of the resolution the TULF president M. Sivasithamparam had addressed the Assembly. Following the resolution being adopted, a press release was issued jointly by Marie D. Howe, representing the Assembly, and the Tamil Eelam Association of America. A later Island editorial however took a more sober view of the affair by pointing out that this resolution by what amounted to a city council was not remotely a reflection of US Federal Government policy.

Furthermore there was no concerted conspiracy. The two brothers behind the lobbying for the resolution were Sritharan and Sri Thillaiampalam. They were hitherto never associated with the LTTE lobby and were merely Tamil nationalists. They faded away from the political scene after the LTTE through violent repression asserted its dominance.

At this point the Government conceived of a sixth amendment to the Constitution of 1978. A joke was doing the rounds that a customer had asked a British bookseller for a copy of the Sri Lankan constitution. The bookseller, it is said, had replied, “Sorry sir, we do not stock periodicals”. The joke was about the regularity with which Jayewardene amended the constitution as the need of the moment demanded. The Sixth Amendment was to oblige members of parliament and various state employees and employees of statutory bodies to forswear separatism on oath. A surprising number of people and columnists opined that such a law would be a cast iron defence of the country’s unity and unitarity. It was again a sign of the ideological conformity of the Southern middle-class and a blind acceptance of the wisdom of leaders, however corrupt and inept.

The crisis wore on with the Government restricting trains and essential services to Jaffna citing the disruptive actions of the militants. There was also talk in security circles of banning bicycle travel in Jaffna – the main mode of transport there – on the grounds that militant attackers too came on bicycles. To those in Jaffna, these moves appeared as a form of collective punishment.
There were also some weak attempts to rescue the situation. The Sunday papers on 17th July said that the Government will not push through the Sixth Amendment. President Jayewardene had summoned an all-party round table conference, which Ranil Weerasinghe described as crucial for the Government and the TULF. Made wiser by his visit to Trincomalee, he added in his ‘Weekend’ article, that the problem has been compounded by “weak and ineffective military action, which has led to frustration, and in some instances out of this, self- damaging retaliation”. “Strong political action”, he said, “must be backed by strong military action, aimed not indiscriminately, but against the terrorists”. Such sanity would become non- existent as the country was plunged into savagery a week later.

But with the announcement of all-party talks, hopes were kindled again. The Rev. Celestine Fernando, a senior Anglican clergyman and member of the CRM, had been regularly writing to the papers pleading for talks to resolve the problem and restore sanity. In an article titled ‘Bells of Peace’ (Daily News 19.7), he wrote, “All those who love Lanka and her people will be grateful to the President for his call for an all-party-conference to settle what has become the most crucial problem of our nation.”

But it soon became evident that things were not so simple. D.B.S. Jeyaraj who had been an admirer of Amirthalingam since his high school days at Jaffna College – Amirthalingam lived nearby in Moolai – reported in the Island on 18.7. that the TULF will not attend the all-party-talks, because the Government wanted to confine the discussion to terrorism alone, without attempting to find solutions to the grievances of the Tamils. Jayewardene subsequently widened the scope of the talks to include suggestions regarding the Tamil problem. Jeyaraj further reported from the TULF party conference in Mannar, that the party Politburo would reconsider its decision not to attend, if all opposition parties including the SLFP would participate. The TULF further stipulated that the agenda should include self-determination for the Tamil regions, withdrawal of the Armed Forces from the same and an amnesty for detainees under the PTA.

The main parties to the talks were then caught up in developments of their own making. The TULF which had promised a satyagraha in 1977 had instead played with the militants, allowed its mass base to slip away and was openly under challenge from the militants. It could not afford to go for talks without assurance of being able to rectify some of the grievances.

The Government for its part suffered from a lack of legitimacy after a rigged referendum in place of parliamentary elections. There were few takers for the Naxalite Plot that it had conjured up. Yet the SLFP, the UNP’s main rival, had been thrown into total disarray. Vijaya Kumaratunga, on whose charisma and organising capacity a revival of the party’s fortunes depended, had just resigned from being the party’s assistant secretary. His reason was that the party leader’s son Anura Bandaranaike had attended the function celebrating J.R. Jayewardene’s 40 years in politics.
Jayewardene had become the king he wanted to be. But his throne was shaky. The North made the King nervous. The South seemed subdued only by taking away the legitimate and visible outlets for the discontent that was seething below. Something needed to be done about the North. But a weak and decimated SLFP was unlikely to think responsibly. It was even more likely to capitalise on communal sentiments. This left Jayewardene with a tempting option, although it was approached more instinctively, hesitatingly and not always consciously and deliberately. That was to play the communal card itself in a big way, tap the worst instincts of the Sinhalese, and create a diversion by the UNP becoming the unchallenged champions of the Sinhalese.

As for the state-machinery, there was one last breath of sanity. A police team of 20 under SP Bennet Perera was sent to Trincomalee to investigate the killing and arson there. The likes of it were to become totally irrelevant after July.

*To be continued..

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder” published in Jan. 2001. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 1

    In response to the previous installment, I said that I had hardly been aware of all those events going on.

    I think that I remember most of what has been recorded in this installment. But I’m most grateful that this has now been given us to read. With hind sight, one is almost amused to recall the silly lead, up to the tragedies of July 1983.

  • 4

    The three cads-JR, Gamini and Lalith- the leaders of UNP politics of that time
    ,poured fuel to an impending conflagration, seeded by several stupid decisions made by the previous Sirimavo government . The FP also helped in fanning the sparking embers.

    The devilish trio’s contribution cannot be absolved however much many people try. They stand besmirched by history for using the political power in their grasp wrongly to make what was already bad much worse a million times.

    C.V. Wigneswaran and his gang are also not sparing any effort to create similar conditions for a confrontation and conflagration again much against the wishes of the population of the north. They may bring thousand of people to the streets, by means fair and mostly foul, but it will not reflect public opinion, however much it will be made out to be.

    JR, Gamini and Lalith atleast were competent men. CVW and his instigators/ collaborators are utter incompetents, who failed to perform given the opportunities available. They are straining every sinew to throw a very battered Tamil population to the wolves.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 2

      Let it go man, you have to constantly bring in Viggie. Don’t let your personal feud cloud the commentary.
      The electorate will decide how future very soon.

    • 1

      Dr RN,

      “C.V. Wigneswaran and his gang are also not sparing any effort to create similar conditions for a confrontation and conflagration again much against the wishes of the population of the north. They may bring thousand of people to the streets, by means fair and mostly foul, but it will not reflect public opinion, however much it will be made out to be.”

      The CM and his gang have their supporters as we have seen today. They have diaspora funds and some (maybe most?) of the local media behind them.

      How many votes they will receive in the elections is another matter.

      If the government releases most of the prisoners and land the CM and his gang will have less to talk about.

      • 1

        Lone Wolf,

        Shops were ordered shut, by the violence-prone among the supporting elements and buses with posters advertising the event were provided to transport supporters. The event had no mass appeal, as a a study of the attendees reveals. This event is a display by the minority supportive of CVW political trajectory. It is not a mass protest by the Tamils of Jafffna, as it would be portrayed.


        • 1

          Dr RN,

          I found 3 shops open yesterday. Don’t know how they avoided the young guys who usually appear on their big motorbikes, buy soda and ice cream and then suggest closing down. One of the shops is owned by a man who voted for the CM. I guess that he feels disappointed in the same way I do.

          I talked with youngsters who had not heard about the demonstration.

          Did you see the demand to stop Southern fishermen from fishing here? Is there not a bigger problem with the Indians? Who will stop illegal fishing if there is no navy?

          Did you see the demand to stop alcohol and drugs? I have thought that alcohol licenses are granted by the local authorities (DS?) not the Government. Surely the NPC Departments of Health and Education can fight alcohol and drugs if they want to.

          Where did the money to pay for the rented buses come from?

  • 1

    Dr. Rajasingham,
    “JR, Gamini and Lalith atleast were competent men. CVW and his instigators/ collaborators are utter incompetents, who failed to perform given the opportunities available. They are straining every sinew to throw a very battered Tamil population to the wolves”.
    Please let us know what you mean by this. How do CVW and the powerless TNA compare with all powerful JR, Gamini, and Lalith? Most of us don’t understand. Thanks.

    • 4


      1. Have we been presented with a detailed development program by the NPC in the past three years?
      2. Has the NPC passed the enabling legislation to spend money allocated for various programs by the government at the Centre, although the Centre is allocating more money to the northern province than the other provinces? Most of the money is being return to the Centre?
      3. Has the NPC listed the instances in which the governor has thwarted the Councils program of action?
      4. Why is the NPC unable to work with the provincial public servants from day one?
      5. Did the NPC identify the root cause/s for the underground water pollution problem in Chummahsm and adjoining areas? Has it found a solution?
      6. why is the NPC not taking the intiative to complete the ‘Jaffna River Project’ by digging the 3-4 km canal from Elephant Pass to the lagoon system? This will help improve the quality of water in our lagoon system and enable agriculture in an additional 11,000 acres of land- much more land that the armed forces unjustifiably and unethically occupy now?
      7. What is the NPC doing to improve agriculture in Jaffna, in terms of efficient water use, misuse of fertilizers and pesticides , new crops and value addition?
      8. What has the NPC done to clean and deepen the ponds in the peninsula- the recharging points for the aquifers?
      9. What are the plans of the NPC to improve Jaffna city and modernize it? Has it done anything to control flooding in many areas of the north?
      10. What has the NPC dome to improve Tamil, English and Sinhala language education in Jaffna? Education is a sublet under its preview.
      11. Why does the CM repeatedly claim that the armed forces are involved in bringing narcotics to the north, when they are being smuggled in by Tamil fishermen and traditional smuggling communities from Gurunagar to Mannar in the north. The north is the major outlet for the narcotics distributed in the rest of Sri Lanka.
      12. What are the NPC plans to alleviate youth underemployment and underemployment?
      13. What is the NPC program to treat physically and mentally affected by the war- health is a subject under its preview?
      14. What is the program of the NPC war for the war displaced and homeless? Why did it oppose the 65,000 prefabricated housing scheme for the homeless?
      15. What is program of action of the NPC for the /large number of pockets privately owned lands that remain unoccupied and are being stolen by crooks?
      16. Is it doing or trying to do what is mandated under the 13th amendment for the PCs or is trying to usurp the functions of the parliamentarians elected from the north.

      I can durect many more questions at the NPC.

      The CM and the current NPC are inept , misleading the people and not doing the minimum they can. The NPC ministers have been accused of corruption and the CM recently proclaimed he had appointed a committee of inquiry. Where the results?

      The CVW is answerable to us as CM, on how he is leading the NPC and the north. Rabble rousing and sloganeering are not the alternatives for substantive work plans and actions, at this point at which we stand as Tamils and citizens of Sri Lanka.



  • 1

    Dear R. N.

    You have lot of time to write an d ask questions.
    We have exhausted all our energy and brain power
    Yet we remember the old man had said that the Jaffna man will Croke, like the rainy season mandukam frogs and will die.
    So, the politition said, buracrats, so called leaders from 1948 crokes from every possible forums ritually crokes upto now.

    Nobody expects them, can’t tell them,or command them, request them to work. They are assumed great men by halucination with their own agenda. They have no agenda or time target for the people , area development, . You have no right to disturb them.

    We will do soft fighting amongst ourselves to compete for power sharing amongst ourselves. Do not worry about it. We give fodder for news producers and media. I know that you are whispering , how about the people. Only God can help.. If you can organise bajans and luxurious meals, all jobless fellows will spend some time for and with you.

    Why are you whispering about the dead and wounded and , poor and hungry , mimed and debilitated.
    God will look after., said our great man.

    Still, I have some questions to ask..

    Is there any small place , simple hut for me to give my time energy , skills, any knowledge for the benefit of the community activity and development around.

    Some people had told me that , you are a fool who had gone to jungle village near Chenkadalady Badulla toad, sitting in the jungle village and dug five tube wells and made the villagers, for ,children to drink water, bathe, wash for the first time in their life. One lady said , you are a man with a Ph. D who had lost brain functioning, hence you had gone to jungle and not to the heavens of U. S. A.

    Based on your questions, I like to add a few to the list.

    What is the mechanism , institutional arrangements and persons to come and work and share all knowledge acquired
    In the entire life times, carrier, wisdom accumulated and available with me free of cost

    Will the buracracy, technocracy leadership available for interaction ,,, receptive for new knowledge, skills wisdom to seep into the soil. You have 95 percent of govt servants and are unhelpful,but also hostile to the people of the soil. They are maharajas of today and not servants. Who are you to ask questions .

    Have , or is there any agenda for development developed by any one of these breed upto now. If the programmes of Colombo not done , north would be in 2010, still.

    What had happened upto now for redevelopment of destroyed , degenerated education in general and university in particular
    Is there any agenda for university on the content and substance of curriculum to pull the degenerated , student to be men of ability .

    There are so many ladies and gentlemen pregnant with lot of things to offer including finance. Frustrated by all chair holders, preventing the future raising sun to come into the people’s homes , enjoying the luxuries themselves.

    Sorry for taking your times.

    Old yarlppanathan

    25- 09- 2016

    • 0

      Old yarlppanathan

      I waded through your comment but the palpitations began when I read…..’There are so many ladies and gentlemen pregnant’………..and I stopped, a chill ran down my spine, and I thought bugger me with fish fork, I have lived long to finally discover that which was thought impossible, is now happening.

      I have always maintained that the day men became pregnant, they would ban intercourse.

      I wish you well with your charitable aspirations.

    • 1

      Old Yarlppanathan,

      Was the ‘Old Man’, Yoga Swamy of Columbuthurai and the ‘Manduham Frogs’ he was referring,the Jaffna politicians , the Jaffna Tamils or both?

      I remember Yoga Swami once said that even Nallur Muruhan will be standing without his ‘ Kovanam’ ( underwear). This came true. We had only our ‘Kovanams’ but nothing else when the war was brutally ended in the Vanni! Are we headed the same way once again, led by the ‘Manduham’ frogs, which croak and die every rainy season.

      Is our post-war spring about to end?


  • 0

    If there were proper laws in the country JR could have been prosecuted at least for aiding and abetting the riots, for the whole one week (23rd to 28th July 83) JR didn’t impose curfew purposefully and let the riots unleash. Only on the 29th according to his master plan, he imposed curfew and the riots stopped immediately. He was the chief organizer of the riots and all went according to his master plan.

  • 1

    Dr Hoole

    Apropos, ‘Count Down To July 1983’

    For me that began on a hot June day in 1956 in Gal Oya when I saw an employee of a state corporation beaten up for no other reason than that he was identified as a Tamil.

    Later, I heard my elders THEN ask ‘when will our Tamil folk stop taking this nonsense?’ and NOW in my advancing years the story has unfolded over many sad chapters.

    Still, there are many more chapters to come.

  • 0

    Old yarlppanathan

    I waded through your comment but the palpitations began when I read…..’There are so many ladies and gentlemen pregnant’…….

    and I thought bugger me with fish fork, I have lived long to finally discover that which was thought impossible, is now happening. I have always said that the day men became pregnant, they would ban intercourse.

    I wish you well with your charitable aspirations.

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