By 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.
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.
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!