“……..In the upsurge of political and cultural consciousness of the Tamils, the Dravidian movement has played an exemplary role. The Dravidian leaders used to claim that it was their sacred duty to champion the cause of Overseas Tamils.” – (“Tamil Nadu and Tamils Overseas” Prof. V. Suryanarayan, University of Madras)
Emergence of Dravidian Movement:
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was founded in 1949 by C. N. Annadurai (affectionately called ‘Anna’ – elder brother, by Tamils all over). The Federal Party (ITAK – FP) was set afloat in Ceylon in the same year. The Congress Party was in power in Tamil Nadu (then, Madras State). DMK entered the hustings in 1957 and had since incrementally increased its presence in the Madras Legislative Assembly of 235 members. At the 1967 elections Anna dealt a knockout punch to Congress Party and floored it. The Congress could not thereafter wrest power from the Dravidian parties – DMK or, its breakaway rival, the ADMK.
Madras, renamed Tamil Nadu :
Incidentally, it was Chief Minister Anna who initiated the process and, almost a month before his untimely death on 3rd February 1969, rechristened the Madras State, Tamil Nadu. When the Sinhala leaders of post-1948 Ceylon sequentially introduced malevolent measures, designed to cripple the Tamils politically, State leaders had murmured their concern. Even the Indian media took little or no notice of the evolving ethno-political situation in Ceylon. The unsophisticated Tamil population in India virtually remained uninformed. D.S. Senanayake’s Ceylon Citizenship Act 1948, which was the first legislative effort by a fledgling government, was not a baby step; but a giant leap in a process contrived for eliminating the Tamil element from the body politic of the country. SWRD’s Sinhala Only Act, 1956 was another inimical step. Reactions from the Tamils in India were muffled.
Slowly, Tamil Nadu was shaken from its slumber, courtesy, the ultra-Sinhala nationalists. The DMK platform accentuated the collateral consanguineous relationship between the Tamils living on either side of the Palk Strait.
Reverberations of 1958 riots:
The reverberations of the 1958 anti-Tamil riots were heard by the Tamils in India. In his “Homeland” journal (15 June 1958) Anna wrote on the “Cinderellas in Ceylon”. DMK observed the “Ceylon Tamils’ Rights” day with public rallies. Lest his clarion call may be misconceived, Anna explained:
“…..That does not necessarily mean, demanding a Tamil Raj comprising Tamil Nad and that portion of Ceylon wherein Tamilians are in a majority. The task immediately ahead is to focus public attention on the problem. World opinion should be harnessed to the cause for justice and fairplay. The plight of the Tamilians in Ceylon should be placed before the discerning public all over the world…….” (‘Homeland’, 10 August 1958)
Sixty years have since elapsed. Tamil Nadu people’s perspective – tone and diction – on Sri Lankan Tamil issue have drastically changed .
Chelva visited Tamil Nadu:
Tamils boycotted the 1972 ( and 1978) constitution-making process. In March 1972, weeks before the new Constitution was promulgated, Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam (Chelva) visited Tamil Nadu. He met with different political leaders including Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and the octogenarian E.V.R. Periyar, the father-figure of the Dravidian movement, and apprised them of the plight of Tamils in Ceylon. Chelva’s plea had struck a sympathetic chord among the political class in Tamil Nadu and provoked public discourse on the subject.
Tamils on tenterhooks:
It was as though the Sinhala nationalists wanted to keep the Tamil people on tenterhooks. A series of onslaughts on the Tamil people in Sri Lanka excited outrage and anger in Tamil Nadu and left them seething with indignation. Thus,
- In January 1974, as the grand finale events were in progress at the Fourth– World Tamil Research Conference held in Jaffna, a truckload of Police, led by ASP Chandrasekera, ploughed through the mammoth crowd and ran amok. Police action resulted in the loss of eleven lives and over fifty people were severely injured. Tamil scholars, Prof. Nainar Mohamed (Jamal Mohamed College, Trichy) and Prof. Salai Ilanthirayn (Delhi University), who attended the Conference, carried the sordid story to Tamil Nadu.
- August 1977 anti-Tamil pogrom, which erupted in the wake of JR’s landslide Victory at July 1977 Elections, unfolded in the usual manner and with the usual actors. – killers, rapists, looters and arsonists. There were protests and demonstrations by Tamil Nadu activists – including one outside the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Madras.
- The Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 particularly targeted young Tamils. As hundreds of them were arbitrarily arrested, tortured and were, in many cases, extra-judicially killed, scores of youths fearing for safety fled by illicit boats to Tamil Nadu and found shelter with sympathetic families.
Burning of Jaffna Library:
- On the 1st June 1981 night, Police set fire to the Jaffna Public library and destroyed it completely, along with over 97,000 volumes of books and irreplaceable manuscripts. The same night, the TULF office and Jaffna M.P. Yogeswaran’s house also were torched and destroyed. Two UNP Ministers had personally orchestrated the orgy of violence. Burning of the library had sent shock waves across Tamil Nadu, especially among the intelligentsia. SJV Chelva had left the scene on 26 April 1977. At the 1977 Elections, the TULF (which had subsumed the FP) contested on a ‘separate Eelam’ platform and had registered a resounding victory.
Pondy Bazaar Shootout:
Sri Lankan rebels staying in Tamil Nadu at this time were only a handful. They kept a low profile. Initially, Prabhakaran and Uma Maheswaran (who later formed the PLOTE) were working in tandem; but had later become rivals. On 19 May 1982, Prabhakaran and his friend had an encounter with Uma and his aide at Pondy Bazaar in Madras and an exchange of fire ensued. Uma’s aide suffered bullet injuries. They were arrested by Madras police and charged. Sri Lankan government requested India to hand over the rebels to them to face criminal charges pending in Sri Lanka. They despatched Mr.Tilak Marapana (then, a Senior State Counsel in the AG’s Dept., and now, the Foreign Minister) together with senior Police Officers to New Delhi to pursue their request for extradition.
There was no Extradition Treaty between India and Sri Lanka. MGR (Leader, ADMK) was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Mr. P. Nedumaran, Leader of the Kamraj-Congress Party (a splinter of the Congress Party) and a MLA, (Member of the Legislative Assembly) took the initiative in mobilizing the State’s political parties and appealed to New Delhi not to hand over the rebels to Sri Lankan authorities, lest they would be mistreated or killed under the PTA.
New Delhi rebuffs Colombo:
Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Nedumaran was previously a loyal sentinel in the Congress Party and had a personal rapport with Mrs. Gandhi. Further, Mrs. Gandhi had a personal dislike for JR. Citing some procedural problem, Indian government refused Sri Lanka’s request. It was a solid victory for the pro-Eelam lobby in India.
Indian/Tamil Nadu media outlets saw something sensational in the Pondy Bazaar shootout and evinced an interest in reporting on the ethno-political genesis of Eelam demand and the emerging Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka.
1983 Black July pogrom :
Successive anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka have emotionally consolidated the Tamils in both countries into one great fraternity, fastened together by an umbilical cord, and have revitalized their common ethnic, cultural, linguistic and ancestral identity. In this respect, the 1983 “Black July” pogrom marked a watershed in the history of the Tamils as well as in Indo-Sri Lankan relations. It was the catalyst for direct Indian intervention in addressing the Tamil question. (I may have to recall some poignant moments of a personal nature). It was the 2nd of August 1983. My good friend Vasantha Obeysekere, director and producer, who had blazed a trail in Sinhala cine-field, (and had, to my grief, departed on 8th April 2017), took me by his moto guzzi and dropped me off at the Katunayake airport. I was fleeing the country in despair, seeking safety and solace – and heading towards Madras. Why?
On 25th July morning, my house at Cotta Road, Borella was attacked by a murderous mob led by – who else could it be ? – by a “Buddhist” monk. I was not at home at that time. Thus, I was rendered a destitute overnight. My belongings including books, briefs, clients’ files were looted, destroyed or damaged. I did not have even another set of pants to change into. Vasantha sheltered me for two days in his house at Bambalapitiya and escorted me to the airport.
Of course, my losses would pale into insignificance when compared to the losses of many others. The first casualty in the carnage was a bottle-dealer in Borella. In the Welikade massacre, 53 prisoners were killed by Sinhala prisoners, with official connivance. Some of them, including Thangathurai, Kuttimany and Jegan were our clients – represented by my senior counsel M. Sivasithamparam and me. My ride to Katunayake airport was a distressing experience. On the way I saw the skeletal remains of burnt out houses and business places and charred remains of hundreds of vehicles strewn all over. Mercifully, I did not come across any human remains. Probably, they were already removed. Nonetheless, the cruel scenes, conjured up images of brutal attacks on hundreds of Tamils who were hacked to death or burnt alive.
As the plane was airborne, I started ruminating on the crimes of utmost savagery perpetrated on the Tamils during these days of doom – killing and maiming, prison massacre, sexual violence on women, plunder of homes and businesses and setting them ablaze….O Lord ! What crimes have these victims committed ?.
Soothing words of comfort:
At the Madras airport, as I entered the exit lobby, I was mobbed by students in their hundreds of volunteers from university colleges, waiting with open arms to receive the traumatized Tamil refugees arriving from Colombo. They were wearing badges and carried placards with reassuring slogans.
“Sir, Are you okay? …. Anything happened to you? We are here to help you?….”
For a person fleeing from violence and horror – their soothing words of comfort gave instant solace. Being overwhelmed by emotions, I slumped into a seat, broke down and cried. It was as though I was waiting for that moment to release my pent-up feelings – pain and anguish.
Outside the airport all hell had broken loose. Tamil Nadu was in the throes of an emotional eruption, virtually volcanic. Their smouldering fury and frustration had burst into an open flame.
(It is a long narrative. Let me continue on another day)