15 August, 2020

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Remembering Sivaram Dharmeratnam (11 August 1959– 28 April 2005)

Taraki Sivaram or Dharmeratnam Sivaram (11 August 1959– 28 April 2005) was a popular Tamil journalist of Sri Lanka. He was kidnapped by four men on April 28, 2005, in front of the Bambalapitya police station. His body was found the next day in the district of Himbulala, near the Parliament of Sri Lanka. He had been beaten and shot in the head. The following lecture was given by prof. Mark P. Whitaker in London.

To read Mark’s presentation click here

Dharmeratnam Sivaram

Dharmeratnam Sivaram – Photo Johan Mikaelsson

 

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  • 4
    5

    sivaram, [Edited out]

    • 10
      6

      nalu batta Sinhala Budiist da?

  • 14
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    The article says, “Remembering Sivaram”.

    Well, I have some vague remembrances of Sivaram in Peradeniya University in 1982 and 1983, when I was an undergraduate, about fifteen years older than most other undergraduates.

    I think that he was associated with the JVP, which was NOT then racist. The student council leader was Ran Banda Wanasinghe, of the JVP. Some pro-UNP Sinhalese thugs led by a guy called Thulsi Wickremasinghe, set upon the Tamil students on the 11th of March 1983, and chased them out of the University. Many Tamil students were brutally assaulted. I’m depending purely on my memory when writing this. It was a Wednesday, and the Tamil students had been peacefully watching a Tamil film on the T.V. in the Science Faculty canteen.

    How did I have a little more rapport with the JVP than others who were reading English? I used to say that I entered the University from Bandarawela M.M.V., which was in a sense true, and in in any case was useful. 24 from the school entered the Engineering Faculty at Pera, and another 24 for Medicine. I had entered in November 1982, on External G.A.Q. results. So, I didn’t have to go to the notorious “Dumbara Campus”, which had been started a few years earlier to isolate the “trouble-making Vernacular Medium Arts” undergraduates. That was the sort of perception that the “authorities” had.

    There was one of my “pupils” from Kandegedera M.V., where I had taught in 1971 and 1972, Ananda Idamegama, in the Engineering Faculty. I had not really taught him, but I remember him because he was a little kid who was good at the high jump. The school was in the middle of Sarnia Group (owned by Scottish Tea and Lands Co.). The Manager was a huge man named Vivian Blaze who had won a medal at the 1948 Commonwealth Games where he had participated with Duncan White. He had run in a 4X one mile relay, or something as crazy-sounding. Another of Blaze’s events was the 440 yards hurdles, I believe. Anyway, his later fame had been as a rugby player turning out for “The Merry Men of Uva” from Badulla.

    Estate and village had little to do at that time . . . – let that remain for some other occasion. I’m getting too famous for digressing!

    Ananda Idamegama was one of the JVP leaders. Very idealistic, these guys were. They brought the Engineering Faculty to a stand-still; a strike demanding that the Tamil students be persuaded to return. Prof Leslie Panditharatne (Geography) was the Vice Chancellor then, and I think that he’s still around. Anyway, our perception was that he was not one bit concerned.

    I think that I’d better write (in this rather vague, disjointed way) about some of the strange experiences that I’ve had in my (by now, pretty long) life. A guy I was later to meet at Pera was J.S. Tissanayagam, who was reading for an Arts Degree in the English Medium: either Sociology or Political Science. There was something Tissa, Blaze and me had in common: we had all studied in the same school “by the sea” – at vastly different periods.

    But this article is about Sivaram. I remember meeting him; he was a JVP activist, but not known as “Taraki”. These people were not contemplating any violence at that time. These “Peradeniya Riots” were investigated by Kenneth de Lanerolle. He correctly identified the culprits. I read the entire report. Lanerolle refused to give it to me (I had found that his mother was quite a close relative of my father0. He said that if I was resourceful, I could find it. I got Karl Naidu’s copy (he was one of the three member Committee) from Rev. Fr Paul Caspersz, at MIRJE, Kandy. I guess it’s all right revealing these things now. Unfortunately we lacked the money to make a photo-copy, and the report is now gone. Many details remain in my head, but who is interested?

    Ananda Idamegama’s unidentified bones are supposed to be among some of those in the Matale Mass Grave. At least Sivaram’s corpse was found for his relatives to mourn for him. We, who are now old, and probably destined to die uneasily in our beds, can only recount these events. But may Sivaram Rest in Peace!

    • 11
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      Sinhala_Man

      “I think that he was associated with the JVP, which was NOT then racist.”

      I hate to disagree with you.

      JVP is a racist party from its inception. There may be one or two exceptions.

    • 9
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      Sinhala Man,
      What a world of a difference between the polished memories relived by you and the self confessed”Ballah”.However, in fairness to “Ballah”it must be said that he is living up to his name!I am sure our canine friends must be howling/growling at the unfairness of this part of my comment.
      By the way, as a matter of curiosity.how did you manage to enter University after having done the GAQ Externally?I thought this was impossible.

      • 2
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        Thanks, Vice Chancellors Lodge,

        “I thought this was impossible. . . .” – said by you in relation to my entering Uni on External GAQ results. I think that it is still possible.

        At that time (c.1980) there was supposed to be a dearth of graduate teachers for English and for Science; so those teachers who had passed the first year qualifying exam were admitted on study leave. The Science guys had to sit the GSQ (Internal) all over again; we didn’t. So, it could be three years’ study leave; I stayed on for 37 months to complete my “Special Degree”, and returned the 38th month’s salary since I’d been made a temporary Asst Lecturer in Dec. 1985.

        More can be said if anybody is really interested in such things!

        I guess it was useful for the Education Dept to have some such people around. When I gave evidence before the Lanerolle Committee they also thought it good to have a few “mature undergrads” – one of the few occasions when it has been implied that I’ve been mature! However, all that emphasis that was placed on Literature in our syllabus made me “over-qualified” later for the Isurupaya fellows – and even for my old school. I will not be allowed to give you a link to an article written three weeks ago, but you could try putting these three words in the browser: Whited Thomian Sepulchres.

        The scheme continues for subjects like (a) French and (b)Greek and Roman Civilisation, and (c) Islamic Culture. The main reason appears to be to provide employment for the lecturers in the Universities! (I feel that we are investing far too much on French and German.) One European language (English) would do. Chinese and Japanese would make more sense. However, I did do some papers in GRC (got A’s for them all – but that was because I really worked – Mrs Moldrich at Acquinas taught me). I feel that we really did acquire some knowledge that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

        My third GAQ subject was Philosophy; it was so difficult to find tutors that I “self-studied” many times over. Result a request by some guys starting on the subject at GAQ for tutoring by me – in the Borella home of Ravinatha Ariyasinghe who is now in Geneva. How they completed their degrees, I don’t know!

        Thanks for your comment, and I shall willingly answer any more – when I find the time.

    • 5
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      Sinhala_Man,

      “Prof Leslie Panditharatne […] was not one bit concerned.”

      Panditharatne was much worse! The less of him said the better.

      On a different note, did you not come across there on campus a goatee bearded lean tallish guy, sporting R. Wijeweera style thick framed glasses, walking around in the company of a young lady of stunning beauty– hand in hand like an engine and compartment — an umbrella in one hand and a shoulder bag full of books he had taken out of the library.

      The guy who read all those books, but learnt nothing from them? Someone who a radical wise man once described with exceptional accuracy using the words: “whose politics is not necessarily genuine”?

  • 9
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    Sivaram was an intellectual having come from a family of intelligent persons from Batticaloa. May God preserve his soul. Bensen

  • 7
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    Lest we forget the others, here is the List that is worth recalling:
    May their Souls Rest In Peace – Does CT recommend a C O I for their brotheren?
    This is an oft repeated under Comments in various sites:
    LIST OF KILLINGS OF JOURNALISTS AND MEDIA WORKERS
    2004
    1.Aiyathurai A. Nadesan – Journalist / 31 May
    2. Kandaswamy Aiyer Balanadaraj – Writer / 16 August
    3. Lanka Jayasundera – Photo journalist / 11 December
    2005
    4.Dharmaratnam Sivaram – Editor / 28 April
    5. Kannamuttu Arsakumar – Media worker/ 29 June
    6. Relangee Selvarajah – Journalist / 12 August
    7. D. Selvaratnam – Media worker/ 29 August
    8. Yogakumar Krishnapillai – Media Worker / 30 September
    9. L. M. Faleel (Netpittimunai Faleel) – Writer / 02 December
    10. K. Navaratnam – Media worker / 22 December
    2006
    11.Subramaniam Suhirtharajan – Journalist / 24 January
    12. S. T. Gananathan – Patron, Tamil News and Information Centre / 01 February
    13. Bastian George Sagayathas – Media worker / 03 May
    14. Rajaratnam Ranjith Kumar – Media worker / 03 May
    15. Sampath Lakmal de Silva – Journalist / 02 July – killed by Army
    Intelligence
    16. Mariadasan Manojanraj – Media worker / 01 August
    17. Pathmanathan Vismananthan – Singer and musician / 02 August
    18. Sathasivam Baskaran – Media worker / 15 August
    19. Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah – Media owner / 20 August
    2007
    20.. Raveendran – Media worker / 12 February
    21. Subramaniam Ramachandran – Media personnel / 15 February
    22. Chandrabose Suthakar – Journalist / 16 April
    23. Selvarasah Rajeevarman – Journalist / 29 April
    24. Sahadevan Neelakshan – Journalist / 01 August
    25. Anthonypillai Sherin Siththiranjan – Media worker / 05 November
    26. Vadivel Nimalarajah – Media worker / 17 November
    27. Isaivizhi Chempian (Subhajini) – Media worker / 27 November
    28. Suresh Limbiyo – Media Worker / 27 November
    29. T.Tharmalingam – Media Worker / 27 November

    2008
    30.Paranirupesingham Devakumar – Journalist / 28 May
    31. Rasmi Mohamad – Journalist / 06 October
    2009
    32.Lasantha Wickrematunga – Editor / 08 January
    33. Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy – Journalist / 12 February
    34. Sasi Mathan – Media worker / 06 March

    Permalink
    – See more at:
    http://blogs.channel4.com/miller-on-foreign-affairs/open-letter-sri-lankan-journalists/524#sthash.tYkkRfgD.dpuf

    19 Journalists Killed in Sri Lanka/ Source: Tamil H.R. ( Paris)

    Shoba, O’liveechchu May 18 or 19, in Mullivaikkal, Sri Lanka
    Puniyamoorthy Sathiyamoorthy, freelance February 12, 2009, in Mullaitheevu
    district, Sri Lanka
    Lasantha Wickramatunga, The Sunday Leader January 8, 2009, in an area outside
    Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Rashmi Mohamed, SirasaTV October 6, 2008, in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
    Paranirupasingham Devakumar, News 1st May 28, 2008, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Suresh Linbiyo, Voice of Tigers November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
    T. Tharmalingam, Voice of Tigers November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
    Isaivizhi Chempiyan, Voice of Tigers November 27, 2007, in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka
    Selvarajah Rajeewarnam, Uthayan April 29, 2007, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Subash Chandraboas, Nilam April 16, 2007, in an area near Vavuniya,Sri Lanka
    Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, Sudar Oli August 12, 2005, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Dharmeratnam Sivaram, TamilNet and Daily Mirror April 29, 2005, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Lanka Jayasundara, Wijeya Publications December 11, 2004, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Bala Nadarajah Iyer, Thinamurasu and Thinakaran August 16, 2004, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Aiyathurai Nadesan, Virakesari May 31, 2004, in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka
    Mylvaganam Nimalarajan, BBC, Virakesari, Ravaya October 19, 2000, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
    Anura Priyantha,Independent Television Network December 18, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Indika Pathinivasan, Maharaja Television Network December 18, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka

    6 Journalists Killed in Sri Lanka/Motive Unconfirmed
    http://www.cpj.org/killed/terminology.php
    Sahadevan Nilakshan, Chaalaram August 1, 2007, in Jaffna,
    Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, Namathu Eelanadu August 20, 2006, in Jaffna,
    Sampath Lakmal, Sathdina July 1, 2006, in Colombo,
    Vasthian Anthony Mariyadas, Freelancer December 31, 1999, in Vavuniya,
    Atputharajah Nadarajah, Thinamurusu November 2, 1999, in Colombo, Sri Lanka Rohana Kumara, Satana September 7, 1999, in Colombo,

    http://www.cpj.org/killed/terminology.php

    • 7
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      Dear “punchinilame”,

      Yes, we must remember them all.

      There was a time when I was asking myself why such a fuss was being made about the rights of journalists. Now, I understand. To start with, I guess that few of them take to the profession with the intention of making money, although a handful of them do acquire some wealth.

      But more importantly, however bad conditions in society get, the average guy just doesn’t protest. Also, the average guy is most interested in sleaze, so he laps up any story of things going wrong, but he NEVER has the courage to speak out himself. He is a voyeur.

      Your list was useful, but where’s Richard de Zoysa? There were a few months in 1984 when he became almost a close friend of mine. We had these Inter-hall Drama Competitions, when each of the four girl’s halls was required to put on a one-act play. In typical MCP fashion the males hijacked and dominated, although we sought out one or two pretty females for actresses.

      Well, for Wijewardena Hall (by now a girl’s hall – for an interesting reason, but I’ll have to be asked that to reveal) we had “a big name” – Ravi John, but a more remarkable guy was “lighting expert” Revantha Sinnetamby (from whom I learnt much!). His family were friends with Earnest McIntyre:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_MacIntyre

      Revantha knew that some of McIntyre’s short plays had never been performed, and so we put on:

      “The Loneliness of the Short-Distance Traveller”

      Ravi John was the central character, Perera. I don’t think that a name was ever associated with the guy I was supposed to represent, but as one wag put it, I had only to memorise my lines and spout them out, and be myself (with my 36-year-old’s relative pot belly). Then there was Qadri Ismail – I remember the guy well, but can’t remember the sort of guy he had to portray. Bhathiya Kasthuruarachchi (from the Science Faculty), had to be a guy obsessed with cigarette prices, and Renuka Jayaraj was something like a nympho.

      Well, the play was huge success with the liberal audiences that we had at Pera in about September 1984. There were flaws. At my advanced age (not having done any acting after my Govt. Training College, Maharagama days, almost 15 years earlier), I found it difficult to learn all my lines. It is said that trained actors can memorise very well in a short time – but the part also gets wiped out of the mind also very quickly. Had that not happened, I would probably have pipped Ravi for the “Best Actor” award; when that got revealed there was much consternation, because the play had almost been selected “for Ravi John”.

      Anyway, the judges were: Richard de Zoysa, Dr Rajiva Wijesinha, and Mrs Margaret Guneratne (the white American, who was the American Center’s Librarian for many years – you know, the one opposite Ladies’ College, Flower Road, Colombo 7). Well, Richard was so impressed with us that he wanted Revantha to direct him in another one-acter by McIntyre (could somebody please provide the proper title? It was something like” A Somewhat Mad and Grotesque Tragedy”). We were to put them on at the Lionel Wendt.

      And a very satisfying experience it was, too, but a financial flop. “Flop” had something to do with Lalith Athulathmudali, I think. Was it that had just been murdered when we put the plays on at the Wendt in December 1984? Anyway, the story went round that these were “Eelamist Plays”, written by a Tamil. The presence of Bhathiya, and me, and Irangani Gunasinghe (actually, Revantha had tried to get Iranganie Srasasinghe in), in the cast didn’t help much – particularly as the first two were quite unknown in theatre circles.

      The point here is: the two plays had to be rehearsed for two weeks, mostly at the Wendt (with these guys almost owning the theatre in those days), and Revantha put up two of us in his home somewhere in Colpetty.

      Richard didn’t have a great voice, but he worked really hard. He was a very serious guy, and a really decent and modest one. I know that it was his family connections that made his disappearance a “cause celebre”. People talk about his genius; with him it was certainly 90% hard work!

      Never mind the analysis; a great man whose life should never have been snuffed out. And, thanks, Richard; I learnt a great deal from you!

  • 3
    1

    Most people knew only the good or positive side of Sivaram but very few knew about the negative or destructive side of Sivaram.

    No doubt he was a very good political analyst of Sri Lankan Tamil affairs perhaps because he himself was involved in Tamil extremist politics. And being intelligent and opportunistic he was able to read the political under- currents.

    Sivaram was a leading light of PLOTE and at the 1989 General Election he was PLOTE’s chief candidate in the Jaffna district.

    In Batticaloa, he was reportedly associated with the PLOTE Mohan killer group. Former Batticaloa Virakesari reporter Nithiyanandan, who miraculously escaped an attempt on his life, had once told me that it was Sivaram who was behind his attempted murder which he said was carried out by PLOTE Mohan. Sivaram allegedly suspected Nithiyanandan of passing information to the LTTE. This Nithiyanandan later became a full time LTTE cadre and was subsequently killed in an Army operation at Panduvankarai.

    During his time with PLOTE, Sivaram was reportedly the man in charge of a PLOTE camp near Kiran in the Kalkudah electorate. I have heard that this camp earned notoriety for many tortures and disappearances of Tamil youths known to have associated with LTTE.

    Later Sivaram, the opportunistic political animal, went over to LTTE after meeting Tamilshelvam. He became a close confidant of the Eastern LTTE leader Karuna. In fact, I reliably learnt that it was Sivaram who first gave the idea to Karuna to separate from the Vanni leadership and convinced him to breakaway from Pirapaharan. Sivaram expected that Karuna’s Eastern Front would be powerful. But being a cunning and opportunistic man, I believe, Sivaram was able to sense the true strength of Karuna faction and correctly anticipating the fate of Karuna, he quickly changed his stance and made public announcements in support of the Vanni leadership. In my opinion, Sivaram had always been a political opportunist who always wanted to be on the powerful and winning Tamil side. He first joined PLOTE and later crossed over to the LTTE side. While in the LTTE, he aligned himself with Karuna and when he sensed that Karuna was going to lose out to Pirapaharan he quickly changed his stance and aligned with the Vanni leadership.

    It was Sivaram who first mooted the idea of a united Tamil political front and he with some other Batticaloa Tamil journalists succeeded in getting LTTE support for the formation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). No one can deny the vital role he played in the formation of TNA with the blessings of the LTTE.

    The rumor at the time of Sivaram’s killing was that he was killed by someone from the armed Tamil group to which he once belonged to. His killing reminded me of the saying that those who live by sword will eventually die by the sword.

    This dark history of Sivaram is not known to many Sri Lankans and foreigners who write effusively about Sivaram. I am not denying here Sivaram’s talents as a journalist and political commentator but only place on record what I heard of his negative side which I believe eventually caused his untimely death.

    I do not think that he was killed for his journalism as some foreigners wrongly assume. Had Sivaram stopped with journalism he would not have died an untimely death. It was his open and sometimes secretive associations with Tamil armed extremist groups and others that had possibly caused his death.

    I have personally known Sivaram during the time I was in Batticaloa. He was a very intelligent and knowledgeable man. He was doing his undergraduate studies at the Peradeniya University (I believe in Philosophy) but disrupted his studies midway. He once even told me that he would love to become a Lawyer but that he would not find the time to study law full time.

    At one time there were two excellent Sri Lankan Tamil political columnists. One was Sivaram and the other is DBS Jeyaraj. Jeyaraj still writes excellent articles and political commentaries and to Jeyaraj’s credit I would say he never associated with any Tamil extremist political groups or any Tamil political parties. Unlike Sivaram, Jeyaraj is a true independent journalist.

  • 2
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    The keyword in what you write is “reportedly”. That he joined PLOTE and switched allegiance to LTTE (this is known) is sufficient for me to restrict any respect one might have for him.

    But rest of what you say needs to be supported by better evidence — you have to be a little bit more responsible because the man is not here to tell us his side of the story.

    • 0
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      Gonas

      You ask for better evidence.

      Sivaram operated as a member of an armed Tamil group. These were clandestine groups operating in secrecy and it is hard to get solid evidence against them. That is the reason I used words like “reportedly”, and “allegedly” in placing on record the negative or dark side of Sivaram.

      Tamils in the North East who lived during the period when these armed Tamil groups operated knew well how cruel and murderous the cadres of these groups were. No Tamil dared to open his or her mouth against them whether these cadres were from LTTE, PLOTE, EPRLF or TELO. When LTTE began an internecine war against other Tamil armed groups, PLOTE, EPRLF and TELO cadres were forced to align with the state security forces. It was well known during that period that PLOTE Mohan Group and EPRLF Razeek Group operated openly in Batticaloa in alignment with the state security forces against LTTE. Members of these two anti-LTTE groups used to accompany the security forces in all their round-up operations and they served as informants. LTTE media used to call these two groups as “Kooli Padai” or mercenaries.

      As for Sivaram, he led a double life most of the time and showed a double face. To the outside world he was a respected journalist but he clandestinely operated as a hardcore leader of PLOTE armed group. In the LTTE, of course, he did not have a role as an armed cadre or leader but was kept outside their activities and LTTE used him as a resource person. Karuna used him as an advisor. He was never trusted by LTTE because he came from an armed group opposed to them. For them, he was a turncoat to be used for their purposes only as and when needed. In the end, however, when Sivaram was killed LTTE conferred on him the “Mamanithar” title.

      Same was the case with the other murdered Batticaloa journalist Nadesan. LTTE never trusted him because he was the Press Officer of EPRLF’s Varatharaja Perumal. When Varatharaja Perumal ran away to India, Nadesan had to remain in Batticaloa. LTTE pardoned him and allowed him to live and work in Batticaloa. In return, Nadesan wrote articles and commentaries in support of LTTE.

      You may ask how I know all these. At the time Sivaram operated as PLOTE leader in Batticaloa, I worked in the district as a journalist. It was known to most of the Batticaloa journalist at that time that Sivaram was very close to the PLOTE Mohan killer group.

      What I have so far touched in my comments about Sivaram is just the tip of the iceberg.

      As you rightly pointed out, now that the man is dead it is not nice to to talk about him. However, I thought of writing these comments because his true nature and background had to be told because everyone seems to believe that it was yet another case of an innocent journalist being killed. I do not think that all the journalists who had been killed or disappeared in Sri Lanka were targeted purely because of their role as journalists.

      • 0
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        Thank you. If you actually were there during those times, what stops you from openly writing about the crimes of armed Tamils pretending to be freedom fighters and documenting the damage they did to the Tamil people (and others)? At least the next generation will then know not to go down that path again. Do you think commenting, as you do, in these pages will carry much credibility or reach?

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