On May 15, 2016, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) at the Fifth Sitting of the Second Parliament presented TGTE’s prestigious, ‘Lifetime Commitment Award‘ to a Sinhalese, Dr Brian Senewiratne – an 84 year old Senator in the TGTE. It was in recognition of, “his lifelong commitment and invaluable and dedicated contribution rendered to the Eelam Tamil Nation in educating the Sinhala Nation and the international community – in furthering the cause of human rights, human dignity, and gender justice and of the liberation of Tamil Eelam.”
The award was presented to Dr Brian Senewiratne by TGTE’s Prime Minister, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran in the presence of Speaker, Nagalingam Balachandran, Deputy Prime Minister, Ambalavaner Thavendra Rajah, Senators, Members of Parliament and many distinguished guests.
As a fellow Senator of the TGTE, I had the, “high honour” of introducing Dr Senewiratne at the award ceremony. Referring to him, as I have always done, as “Our Sinhala Hero”, I had to go back 68 years to be able to only scratch the surface of this larger than life personality that the TGTE was honouring:
Dr Senewiratne’s commitment has not only been lifelong but remarkable: In 1948 as a 16 year old schoolboy he protested at the disenfranchisement and decitizenisation of nearly a million Plantation “Indian” Tamils in one of the first Acts of the newly independent country, Ceylon; in 1956, as an undergraduate in Cambridge University, he refused to meet his uncle, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in London who had changed the Official Language from English to Sinhala Only because he felt strongly that it was discriminatory, unjust and undemocratic; in 1971 he also strongly opposed the so-called “Standardisation of university entrance marks” introduced for admissions to the universities, obviously directed against Tamil-medium students where Tamil students had to obtain a higher mark than the Sinhalese to enter the University, stating that this was blatant discrimination in education; in 1972 as a Senior Lecturer in Medicine at the Peradeniya University in Kandy, he took up the cause of the Plantation Tamils again when his aunt, Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike took no action when her Sinhalese goons hounded out Plantation Tamils from their miserable shacks and were dying on the streets of Kandy; in 1977, then in Australia, he continued to challenge the Sri Lankan government under J R Jayewardene accusing him of devaluing Parliament and setting up a Presidential dictatorship and for circumventing the constitutional safeguards that had been designed to protect the Tamils against the “tyranny of the majority”; in 1983, after the massacre of Tamils in the July 1983 pogrom, he published a book: “The 1983 Massacre – Unanswered Questions” in which he held that the Jayawardena government was responsible for this crime; in 1984, his publication: “Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka” was banned in Sri Lanka.
From 1984 onwards, Dr Senewiratne has recorded and distributed a number of DVDs to draw attention to the humanitarian tragedy in Sri Lanka and has lobbied and addressed Parliamentarians and Human Rights groups in Australia, Canada, UK, US, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Switzerland and the European Members of Parliament; in 2008, he met with Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and other ANC leaders in South Africa to present the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka; again in 2008, he addressed several Canadian universities, including the University of York and the University of Toronto to motivate the youth and take a courageous and determined stand against violation of human rights and the abuse of democracy; he has addressed meetings and rallies organised by the Refuge Action Collective in support of asylum seekers; he has delivered countless lectures, radio and TV interviews, and written numerous articles and some books – the most recent being a 210-page comprehensive account of “Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces”; he has been invited by Peter Arndt, Head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, Peace and Justice Section” to join a select group to campaign for peace and justice in Sri Lanka; in 2015, he addressed members of his own community in a much need publication, “What the majority Sinhalese must know”; as a Senator of the TGTE he has contributed to drafting the “Road Map to Tamil Eelam”; he has been honoured in the US, UK, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia; in March 2009, Canadians for Genocide Education (an umbrella organisation of some 48 multiracial, multicultural and religious organisations) selected him to deliver the annual Genocide Education Lecture at the University of Toronto and receive the prestigious ‘Educators Award for 2009 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to genocide education and prevention where he spoke on: “Peace with Justice in Sri Lanka. Genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils. Its causes and Solution”.
It’s now 68 long years since the young 16 year old, showed incredible courage to stand up and protest an unjust and repugnant piece of legislation. But the veteran human rights activist has not relented in his determination to fight for the underdog. The Consultant Physician, now in Brisbane, Australia, continues his long struggle to bring peace with justice to the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka, where according to him, the plight of the Tamils and Muslims is no better; despite a change in the government from the murderous Rajapaksa regime to that of Maitripala Sirisena (President) and Ranil Wickremasinghe (Prime Minister). Dr Senewiratne maintains where the Tamils and Muslims in the North and East are concerned, 8 January 2005 has only been a name-change from Rajapaksa to Sirisena. Dr Senewiratne’s recently released book: ’Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces’, sets this out in full.
At the presentation, many of the Senators, Members of Parliament and guests paid their tributes to Dr. Senewiratne. Of particular importance was a comment by Professor Nadarajah Sriskandarajah (Sweden) who was a student in the Peradeniya University. He was not a medical student. He referred to the work done by Dr Senewiratne trying to address the medical problems faced by the Plantation Tamils – people who seemed to be of no concern to the authorities (or anyone else): He spoke of how Dr Senewiratne set up a clinic in the grounds of the Anglican Church in the Peradeniya campus which was in a remote corner of the Campus, right next door to where the Plantation Tamils in the Hantana tea estate lived; and of how scores of patients attended the clinic which was run by medical students, students who did other subjects, volunteer doctors and, of course, Dr Senewiratne; and of how despite the fact the clinic was in full swing delivering a much needed service, the authorities ordered that the clinic be closed because they claimed that, ‘politics were being introduced into the Church’!
In my tribute to Dr. Senewiratne, I recalled the article I wrote in the Colombo Telegraph “Dr. Brian Senewiratne Our Hero Amongst The Sinhalese“: where I called him, “a living legend”: “Dr. Senewiratne’s international advocacy work and activism illustrates his dedicated and exemplary service to the cause of human rights, human dignity and social justice. His life’s work, both as a health professional caring for the sick and as a human rights advocate, championing the rights of the underdog, acting with the courage of his convictions, is a testament to what a true consummate humanitarian he is. Undoubtedly he is a living legend and we salute him.”
I wasn’t wrong then, I am not wrong now, when the TGTE itself and Prime Minister Rudrakumaran have seen it fit to accord him the recognition he so richly deserves.