12 June, 2024

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RIP: Comrade R Singamapanar: The First JVP Tamil Political Activist From Chunnakam

By Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

It was with profound sadness that we heard from a comrade in Denmark of the passing of Comrade Amarar Rajakulasuriyar Singamappanar (Singa) in Sri Lanka. By the time this small tribute is written, his funeral rites and cremation would have been held in Chunnakam, Jaffna. Still, it will be opportune for me to write some memories of my association with him and some events we were politically involved in.

Most of the Sinhala youth who joined the movement pre-1971 did not have social links to Tamils thus, political interactions with Tamil activists were extremely limited. Indian Expansionism, first expounded by comrade Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China was one of the controversial ideological positions of the JVP. It touched upon anti-Malaiyaha sentiments, particularly, when they were compared with Sinhala chena workers. The sympathies of Malaiyaha workers were considered to be closer to India than to Sri Lanka.

Registration of our Wedding

Nevertheless, the prisons in Hammond Hill, Jaffna, and Kandy where Sinhala and Tamil youth had long been held in detention provided an opportunity for a low-level exchange of political ideas. This interaction provided the JVP with the best opportunity to understand the real-life issues of the non-majoritarian communities. The ordinary people of these communities faced problems very similar to those faced by the majority community. At the same time, because of the linguistic and cultural background of the non-majoritarian communities and the ruling elite using those differences to divide and rule the country, they had to bear an additional burden that the majority community did not have to endure.

The first tentative JVP networks among Tamils, Muslims, and Sinhalese in the north, east and Malaiyaha areas were established by 1977. In the Jaffna Peninsula, the first political cells were established in Chunnakam and Kilinochchi, areas where the traditional left had some hold. Subsequently, this network extended to other areas in the north including the islands in the vicinity. In the East, such activities did not progress much, except in the areas where the Muslim population was predominant. In addition, we were able to establish small groups in Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Talawakele, Hatton and Colombo districts. We were also able to establish a strong political linkage with certain trade unions such as the Kandurata Tharuna Peramuna (Up-country Youth Front) led by comrade V L Pereira.

After our release in October 1977, comrade Udeni Saman Kumara advised us that a comrade from Jaffna had worked with him at Ceylon Textiles Corporation – Thulhiriya (later privatised/sold to Bombay Dyne in 1980 and then to Kabool Lanka). The Politbureau had assigned me the responsibility of building linkages and expanding the JVP network among the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. At the time, the only contact I had was late comrade Jayathilaka from Dehiwala who worked at the Building Materials Corporation in Jaffna.

Singamapanar family and Bopage family

Comrade Udeni arranged for comrade Singa to meet me in Colombo. Later he agreed to take me to Chunnakam, his place of residence, and also start political work in Jaffna Peninsula. Comrade Singa was an accountant and a farmer. He was simple, hospitable and adamant. When I met him, he indicated that he did not wish to discuss politics at home with his family. We eventually met with others at the library at the Periyamathawady junction. It was there that I met comrades Sri Skandarajah and Gandhi. They became the most active members in that part of the peninsula. Later on, comrade Ganeshapillai, who was associated with the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (Maoist) led by comrade N Shanmugathasan, also contacted me and wished to conduct JVP political activities in the Kilinochchi District.

There were many militant organisations blooming at the time. The militant groups, including the LTTE, threatened JVP activists and demanded they stop their political activities. In some areas like Velvetithurai and Thirunelveli, such threats emanated from those who supported the CPC-P. In other areas, these threats were assumed to be from other militant nationalist groups.

When the JVP was building political linkages in the north, most of the Tamil youth had already gravitated towards nationalist political positions and commenced associating with Tamil militant groups. Communications between these youth and the JVP, both in public and in private, sometimes led to extremely heated debates. It was clear that many young Tamil activists had committed themselves to the nationalist struggle. In the seventies and early eighties, the JVP supported the right to self-determination of the Tamil people and recognised Sinhala, Tamil and English as the national languages of the land.

The political interaction of the JVP occurred when many Tamil youth were hardening their nationalist positions because of the repressive policies of the state. Despite threats from Tamil militants, the JVP continued its political activities in the North and the East until 1982. However, the JVP’s poor showing in the 1982 presidential election led to a political rethink by comrade Wijeweera. Unfortunately, among sections of the leadership and many of its cadres, there was an ultra-Sinhala nationalistic component rooted in the historical glory of the Sinhala kingdoms of the distant past. This nationalist tendency came to the fore in 1984 and lasted for decades. My knowledge of their current position on the national question is limited.

In the early eighties, two of the major public events the JVP organised in Jaffna were attacked. Comrade Singa and others tried to calm the tense situation so that those events could continue. A chair was thrown on the stage when the ‘Songs of Liberation’ performance was held at the Jaffna public auditorium. Stones were pelted at comrade Rohana Wijeweera when he spoke, injuring his forehead. Later on, the JVP activists in the north believed that both these incidents were reactions of the Maoist groups; however, the probability of involvement of the nationalist groups or the security forces in such acts cannot be ruled out.

In the early eighties, the LTTE threatened one of the Tamil comrades, Navaratnam, from Mallakam. This is the village where comrade Vallipuram Ponnambalam, a prominent left-wing leader in northern Sri Lanka, came from. The militants occupied the house of a relative of comrade Navaratnam. I arranged to bring him down to Colombo and let him stay in the one-room headquarters of the JVP, which had been provided to us free of charge at Weerasinghe Mills by comrade Ubaya Weerasinha.

In the eighties, Tamil comrades based in Kilinochchi and Visvamadu demanded that the JVP campaign specifically for Tamil people’s rights to self-determination. They wanted to avoid mixing it up with the other socio-economic issues affecting the people in the South of Sri Lanka. The JVP did not accept this position as it believed that all issues were a result of capitalism. The political, social and economic systems the ruling elite had developed to protect their interests and privileges were based on this economic base. Comrade Singa and others agreed with this position.

Comrade Singa was one of the two signatories to my marriage with Chitra. The other was comrade Rohana Wijeweera. Comrade Singa was committed to JVP politics with the belief that a united nation, rather than separation, would only be able to address the issues of the non-majoritarian communities in Sri Lanka. As such, his politics differed from many militant Tamil Eelam groups. He was courageous enough to organise the JVP political activities in the Jaffna peninsula despite the threat, particularly posed by the LTTE. Comrade Sri Skandarajah (Bumble) and comrade Vakeeson Kanapathipillai (Gandhi) amply supported him. In tandem, they were able to expand the JVP political network in many areas including in the KKS, Tellippalai, Udippiddi, Nellaidi, Chavakachcheri, Point Pedro, Manippai, Mulliawalai, Visvamadu, Iranamadu, Paranthan, Pungudutheevu, Nainatheevu, Eluvatheevu, Velanai, Karaveddi and Mallakam. Comrade Singa supported the JVP till the day he died.

The last time I met him was in 2018 when I visited Jaffna with comrade A D P Rathnayaka. During the visit, I discovered that he had become paralyzed. I advised him to seek medical assistance in overcoming his disability, but he was not happy to do so. I was eventually able to convince him after stating that I would arrange for a medical practitioner at Jaffna Hospital to see him at the hospital. Still, he attended to his matters through his wife and family members, who were all very kind people many of whom I had met during my many visits and stayovers in Chunnakam.

When I returned home to Melbourne, I arranged for him to see a medical practitioner through my friend, Professor Daya Somasunderam. I also sought the assistance of the then Governor of the Northern Province, Mr Reginald Cooray, with whom I had a slight personal acquaintance. He did not respond to my request for help. Nevertheless, comrade Singa had met the practitioner once but refused to meet him again. From what I learned later; he did not want to continue his treatment. He did not tell me the reason.

Comrade Singa till the day of his death was committed to the struggle for a better Lanka. For he had a deep and abiding interest in the betterment and advancement of all Sri Lankans including those in his own community. He was genuine in his aspirations with a never-fading smile and fully and dutifully committed to helping his fellow human beings.

Comrade Singa’s passing will leave a huge gap that will not be easy to fill.

As one of his fellow comrades who shared his vision of a just and pluralist Lanka, I take the opportunity to politically honour him and pay tribute to him. Chitra joins me in extending our deepest sympathies to his wife Thilakavathy, their children, other family members, relations, friends, and comrades.

May you rest in peace comrade and rest assured you will always be in our thoughts and actions!

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Latest comments

  • 3
    12

    “Indian Expansionism, first expounded by comrade Mao Zedong … was one of the controversial ideological positions of the JVP. It touched upon anti-Malaiyaha sentiments, particularly, when they were compared with Sinhala chena workers. The sympathies of Malaiyaha workers were considered to be closer to India than to Sri Lanka.”
    *
    The JVP twisted the essence of the notion of Indian expansionism (I doubt if it was Mao who first pronounced it) to peddle its anti-Hill Country Tamil campaign. The HCT were called agents of Indian Expansionism, with no justification at all, and in the 1970s JVP journals even threatened to uproot all tea and plant cassava.
    The JVP was also anti-working class (called ‘vruthiya samiti satanvalin mada gahala kunuvechcha kamkaru panthiya’). Both attitudes shifted post 1977 when they could make some inroads into these sectors. But the chauvinism of the JVP was to stay.

    • 3
      13

      “Communist Party of Sri Lanka (Maoist)”
      I think that there is a mistake in the name. At the time the Party led by Comrade Shan called itself the Ceylon Communist Party.
      More importantly, the qualifier ‘Maoist’ came much later, after Comrade Shan parted company with a major section of the party.

  • 2
    13

    “Comrade R Singamapanar: The First Tamil Political Activist From Chunnakam”
    I hope that this was not the exact title given by Comrade Bopage.
    *
    Singamapanar was perhaps the first Tamil JVP political activist not only from Chunnakam but from the entire North & East. While not taking anything away from his dedication to the JVP, even through 1988-89, a period of disrepute for the JVP, and the first decade of this century when it made despicable political alliances, I am obliged to defend the reputation of Chunnakam as home to many committed left activists and martyrs since the start of the Left movement in the North.

    • 14
      1

      “I am obliged to defend the reputation of Chunnakam as home to many committed left activists and martyrs since the start of the Left movement in the North.”
      I don’t think Chunnakam ever had a committed left activists and most of them were talking left but never committed to the principles of communism. They all surrendered to Rajapaksas at last, none were prepared to marry the so called low caste communities. Most of them are now in UK, Canada and USA instead of Sri Lanka.

      • 0
        12

        “I don’t think Chunnakam ever had a committed left activists”
        You do not seem to think at all.
        Check on the role played by Chunnakam in the campaign against caste oppression.
        Kindly list your “principles of communism” and then check it out.

        • 7
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          SJ,
          I know very well Chunnakam, the caste oppression and leftists. The caste oppression still in power in Chunnakam. Where are those leftists now?

  • 3
    1

    “This interaction provided the JVP with the best opportunity to understand the real-life issues of the non-majoritarian communities. The ordinary people of these communities faced problems very similar to those faced by the majority community”.
    .
    To my mind the above notion is contestable.
    Even though I admire, respect, and applaud Lionel Bopage for his openness, frankness and truthfulness, there is room for disagreement. However much, Lionel Bopage would have felt that he ‘understood’ our problems, to conceptualise that they were very similar is by itself proof that he had failed in understanding our problems. It is not his fault. It is a shortcoming that could be attributed to our different background.
    .
    We were bearing an additional burden that the majority community did not have to endure is only half the truth. Again, not his fault. We belong to two parallel planes.

  • 12
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    Lionel,
    Thanks for that article, its informative as to the Northern links of JVP movement in late 70’s and early80’s!!!??
    n that era, if the political activists and contacts had made aware of the dilemma of the Northern population, it would have definitely been INCLUSIVE of, if not for the overawing kind of liability that was heaped on the Northern people and especially the youth since 1970 – the disgruntled youth of North – thereafter became the backbone of the revolt notwithstanding the PTA, Military and Police abuse of Power!!??
    That simply put it is:
    A. 1970 – STANDARDISATION of entry to Higher education – Universities, Technical colleges, training facilities (Nursing, Agriculture, Apprenticeships)
    In view of this limitation, became frustrated due uncertainty of their future!!
    Youth instead of further or higher studies turned to agriculture and naturally to essential food items imported due to non-availability of them locally to meet the unprecedented demand, by locally produced Onions, Potatoes and Chillies – then, imported from India!
    Resulting in flourishing agricultural economy in the North!!
    B. 1977 – Liberalisation of the economy, knocked the bottom out of it!!!?? Vast number of youth made Jobless!!! Those youth 1000’s of them found jobs in South SL!!
    (TBC)

  • 12
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    (Part II)
    Some decided to go overseas greener pastures, with stopover for short spell in ME or Arabian Peninsula to gather some wealth prior to greener pastures in western world and then continue studies/professional qualifications!!
    C. 1983 – The Communal conflagrations whether initiated by the STATE or vagabonds is immaterial to this debate!! Reality is, it happened and with devastating effect to the national economy and particularly the lives and well-being of these youth and their families!!!
    The interregnum of 6 years 1977, enabled the youth so domiciled and working in proximity to Colombo attain foreign qualifications, EVEN THOUGH DISCARDED AND DIS-ILLUSIONED, UNABLE TO ATTAND UNIVERSITIES, STANDARDISATAION AND DISTRICT QUOTA (S&DQ) NOT MERIT!!? – S&DQ WAS CLAIMED AS ONLY, TEMPORARY MEASURE TO AQUAISE THE LOW QUALITY AND THE INADEQUACY OF THE MAJORITARIAN DOMINATED GOVERNMENT FROM UPGRADING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN SOUTH AND FACILITIES OF THE SCHOOLS – OVER A PERIOS OF 35 YEARS (1948 to 1983) to the level of the SCHOOLS IN THE NORTH – AN INDICTMENT ON THESE LEADERS INEPTITUDE AND NO WONDER CONTINUANCE TO 75 YEARS AFTER LIBERATIN AND INDEPENDENCE “CRASHED THE ECONOMY AND BANKRUPT”!!!?? What else could one expect to happen with such ineptness and incompetence!!??
    (TBC)

  • 13
    0

    (Part III)
    Starting with Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike whose lineage, to Ratwatte Dissawe, well established a signatory to Kandyan Convention 1815, ceding the Kandyan Kingdom and citizens to the British colonists – SIGNIFICANTLY (BTW) claimed to have been signed in TAMIL!!!???
    That was followed by, JRJ and his Education Minister RW, present President!!?? PBG Kalugalle, inimitable Badi-ud-dean Mahmoud – the Kukul Kooduwa – Chicken Coop and “double session schooling” and education expert or specialist, but outcome was inadequate to remedy the situation!!???
    The final result is that, with all the powers.in their hand and the resources, these self-acclaimed emancipated egoistic selves couldn’t achieve until TODATE (NOW), WHAT THE VOLUNTARY MISSIONARIES ACHIEVED IN THE NORTH from 1863 – going by date of inauguration of the FIRST CEYLONESE MEDICAL SCHOOL (GREEN MEMORIAL MEDICAL SCHOOL, MANIPAY) in North Colonial Ceylon, almost 5 years before the founding of Medical Faculty of University College of Ceylon!!!??
    This WASN’T achieved by LIMIATIONS & CONSTRAINTS PLACED BY ILLITERATE POLITICIANS!? DEFINITELY NOT!!??
    Resulted better education being imparted to student community was by keeping the community, students and others open by deregulation is best!!!??
    SURPRISED. YES MAY WELL BE, IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE SPECK ON ONES’ FACE WITHOUT ASSISTANCE OF A MIRROR!!!???
    (TBC)

    • 0
      11

      “Kandyan Convention 1815, ceding the Kandyan Kingdom and citizens to the British colonists – SIGNIFICANTLY (BTW) claimed to have been signed in TAMIL!!!???”
      This is not accurate. Some signed in Tamil, as Tamil played a dominant role at the time among the elite.
      BTW
      Are you suggesting a link between signing in Tamil and betrayal of the kingdom?

  • 13
    0

    (Part IV)
    – SIMILARLY ONCE FAULT CANNOT BE SEEN WITHOUT A THIRD PARTY POINTING IT OUT TO THE UNINITIATED!!!???
    Whilst the southern elite and emancipated, didn’t allow the colonialists and their religious to become involved in the education of their children, averring that leads to conversion from indigenous religion to Christianity!!! That conversion if any happens, if the will to continue with their own native religion declines and people responsible for that to be achieved should equally sharp enough to strengthen the minds and body of these youth be spiritually strong by spiritual ADVOCACY and NOT RESTRICTIVE PRACTICES!!!?? That these spiritual leaders have failed is not a surprise, BECAUSE EVEN NOW IT IS EVIDENTLY CLEAR, ALTHOUGH “Bana” being preached continuously (even to neighbouring, Hindus, Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Malays and Borah’s) the outcome is sadly negative, considering the Murder, rape and other crimes, which am sure all religions decry on the increase and consumption of MDMA!!!
    The religious have sadly FAILED, though all sorts of comfort, including, but not limited to Toyota V8’s Merc’s, Lexus and Audis costing millions for what effect!!!
    Ineffective preaching of the Dhamma!!?? TOTAL ‘FAILURE’!!
    ON THE CONTRARY, THE SYSTEM SHOULD HAVE BEEN OPENNED UP and for locals
    (TBC)

  • 13
    0

    (PART V)
    – Especially students – imbibe Nectar of vast knowledge – BECOME BETTER EDUCATED!?? They would have all served Sri Lanka better and achieve better, become world leaders!!!
    The point that I am trying to make is, what is the necessity to continue with STANDARDISATION AND DISTRICT QUOTA SYSTEM?? PROVED INEFFECTIVE, EVEN COUNTER PRODUCTIVE!!! Do away with the “DOG IN THE MAGER ATTITUDE” and
    1. Go back to MERIT based system
    2. Allow private medical colleges affiliated to the best medical colleges in US, UK, Europe, Australia, India and Singapore to reduce the pressure of lack of doctors
    3. Universities affiliated to the best 200 worldwide universities
    4. That would draw quality education to Sri Lanka in due course foreign students seek as source for their education!
    Let’s not forget that Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was instrumental preventing North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) flourishing and becoming an institution contributing valuable of Foreign exchange to SL by attracting foreign students!!?? 40 years ago!!!
    Whatever reasons you may adduce, it (S&DQ) are only resulting an output of MEDIOCRE professionals – Doctors, Engineers, Dentists, Vets from the totality of the youth “resources available for the pick”, in this nation country!!!??
    (TBC)

    • 3
      11

      “North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) flourishing and becoming an institution”
      NCMC was organized as a back door entry institution for people with money.

      • 11
        0

        Chinese and Russian medical schools with no real patients but dummies are back door entry institution for people with money. Isn’t NCMC a better choice with real patients and bedside clinical teaching

      • 4
        0

        SJ,
        “NCMC was organized as a back door entry institution for people with money.”
        They had minimum entry qualifications, which matched the primary entry qualifications for Medicine or atleast, in Par with international Medical Colleges, without the S & DQ, element!!!
        Then how could it be deemed as “back door” to study medicine?????????
        Exemplary ‘SKEWED UP’ thinking and outlook!!!!!!???

    • 1
      12

      “what is the necessity to continue with STANDARDISATION AND DISTRICT QUOTA SYSTEM?”
      There was no standardization after 1974. It was district quota. Then there was a ‘merit quota’ a well after 1977.
      Ask people from several districts outside Colombo (Monaragala, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa etc.) and Jaffna districts (Kilinochchi, Batticaloa etc.) what they think about District Quota.
      University admissions were never a level playing field. there was a case for some positive discrimination.
      We could have organized it better to help children with social handicaps.

      • 4
        0

        Mahila heard of positive discrimination??? Some who came through positive discrimination.are now happily living in abroad. The substandard ones who could not clear A Levels and became professional are left out to practice medicine. Some who deserve but could not get through with merit went abroad and became professionals and didn’t bother returning home. That is real positive.

        • 2
          0

          RIP Siri Mao / BM Lankan higher education system.

      • 4
        0

        “There was no standardization after 1974.”
        What does it mean? Is it OK to have it before 1974? Was it Positive discrimination before 1974?

  • 13
    0

    (PART VI)
    If you feel compelled not to for good or bad reason, ‘TAKE THE PICK’, please do not complain foreign qualified Sri Lankan professionals do not return to serve the motherland!!!??
    “CREAM OF THE ILLITERATE”, ‘Lemon Puff’ Munching ‘Golaya’ may wax eloquent referring to them as TRAITORS OR NON-PATRIOTIC CITIZENS – FORGETTING THAT THEY WERE TREATED DIFFERENTLY THAN NORMAL, HENCE THEY HAVE THE INHERENT RIGHT TO DETERMINE WHETHER THEY WANT TO SERVE THE COUNTRY OR NOT!!! The question of Patriotism, Treason or anti-nationalistic does not arise and is of no consequence!!!
    ENSURE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY, RIGHTS AND THE OBLIGATIONS WOULD FLOW SMOOTHLY THEREFROM!? Simple principle, CAN TAKE THE HORSE TO WATER CANNOT MAKE IT DRINK!
    That’s a matter of individual choice in this liberal world, one cannot decide choose by compulsion for others and thereafter demand obligations by those citizenry!!??
    THAT’S HYPOCRACY AFTER COMMITTING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS DEPRIVING RIGHT TO STUDY HIS PREFERENCE BY MANIPULATION OF SYSTEM OR GOVERNANCE FAULT!!!??

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