28 May, 2022


The Paul Nallanayagam Case And The Anuradhapura Massacre

By Rajan Hoole –

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Border Aggression and Civilian Massacres – Part 10

Paul Nallanayagam, a retired public ser- vant and his wife Bertha, worked as resi-dent co-wardens of Girls’ Home, a Methodist orphanage in Kalmunai, Eastern Province. He was also president of the local citizens’ committee. His involvement in helping the families of 23 persons from Natpattimunai who were arrested by the STF in a round up on 17th May 1985 led to a land-mark court trial which also exposed many things. The main facts are from a document prepared by the Civil Rights Movement. S. Nadesan, Q.C. who led the defence team was an active member of the CRM. Nallanayagam had made inquiries in camps for the missing persons and helped the families to complain to the Batticaloa Police. An investigation was commenced. The spot in Thambattai where it was believed the detainees were killed and buried was examined. Some clothing, the identity card of a missing youth and an unidentified body were found.

The Government got alarmed. Paul Nallanayagam found himself flown to Colombo under arrest and charged with the PTA offence of causing through spreading rumours, ‘religious, racial or communal disharmony’ etc. He was accused of giving false information concerning the alleged attack on Karaitivu on 12th-14th April 1985, the burning of Tamil houses in Oluvil on 11th May and the disappearances on 17th May. His Fundamental Rights applications were thwarted by the Police filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court to the effect that he had made a seditious speech in the Batticaloa bus stand. The Court had to accept this, as there was no cross- examination in FR cases. But this ridiculous charge was not filed against him in the case before High Court.

Dr. Frank Jayasinghe and Fr. Tissa Balasuriya of the Colombo Citizens’ Committee who testified in Court said that they had taken up the arrest of Nallanayagam with National Security Minister Athulathmudali. The latter, they testified, had said in effect that Nallanayagam could be released if he retracted his information saying that it was based on false premises. Nallanayagam declined. Several witnesses vindicated him while the State produced no evidence to substantiate their charges under “rumour or false statement” against Nallanayagam. He was acquitted with honour after nearly 4 months in detention.

The Judge held with regard to the violence in Karaitivu, that the STF participation is “more probable than not”. The Judge added that “irresponsible elements in the Special Task Force by their reckless action not only undermine the efforts of the Government to combat terrorism, but also strengthen the hands of those who espouse violence”. With regard to the missing persons, the Judge held that Nallanayagam had come to believe that the 23 detained persons had been done away with after he had tried and failed to trace them at a number of camps. Therefore, the Judge held, Nallanayagam was not repeating a rumour in answering questions about the missing persons.

It is notable that the Government took no ac- tion to trace the missing, hold an inquiry or pun- ish offending security personnel. Other members of the defence team were J.C.T. Kotelawela, Suriya Wickremasinghe, I.F. Xavier, M. Alagarajah and Ainsley Samarajiwa. The disappearances of 17th May which led to the case were part of the process begun with the attack on Karaitivu that was punctuated by the Anuradhapura Massacre, which we will turn to now.

The Anuradhapura Massacre: 14th May 1985 

A series of militant actions in the North beginning with the TELO attack on the Chavakacheri police station on 20th  November 1984 and the land mine attack on the Yarl Devi express train carrying soldiers going on leave near Killinochchi on 19th January 1985, began to paralyse the armed forces in Jaffna. The first resulted in the killing of 24 policemen and 3 civilians, and the second, 22 soldiers and 12 civilians. These attacks intensified after the TELO, LTTE, EPRLF and EROS signed an agreement initiated by the Indian intelligence agency RAW, forming the Eelam National Liberation Front on 10th April 1985. Also Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been murdered by her Sikh body guards at the end of October 1984 and Romesh Bandhari became the new foreign secretary under the new prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Parthasarathy was sidelined, and under Bandhari relations with the Jayewardene Government seemed to improve. Bandhari, as former Indian High Commissioner Dixit observed, was so indifferent that he did not recognise the difference between Chelvanayakam and Tiruchelvam – two eminent names in Tamil public life. There were signs that India was exerting greater control on the militants and moving towards a cease-fire.

Two land mine attacks by the LTTE on 7th and 9th May in Prabhakaran’s hometown of Valvettithurai (VVT) left 10 soldiers and an army major dead. According to the Saturday Review the Army surrounded VVT on 10th May, thrust 24 youths into the community centre and blasted it. 12 civilians were killed in the Theertha Madam (a resting-place adjoining the temple’s sacred tank) and a further 34 in various parts of VVT, bringing the total to 70 dead.

On 14th May dozens of LTTE men disguised in military uniform entered the sacred city of Anuradhapura in two buses and started firing away at civilians. According to the official docu- ment ‘Massacre of Civilians’ 120 Sinhalese civilians were killed including pilgrims at ‘The Great Bo Tree’ premises. 85 were injured. The attack- ers escaped along the Puttalam Road and into the Wilpattu Wild Life Sanctuary without a single shot being fired at them. This started the continuing phenomenon of psychiatric breakdown within the LTTE, becoming worse as the cadre became younger. Several of the participants suffered from continuing nightmares, alcoholism and chain smoking, and came to be known for their drunken brutality in dealing with detainees.

It was the second massacre by Tamil militants, a calculated strike and in some ways exceptional given the background of actions by the security forces. It brought the Tamil militancy to the threshold of attacking Sinhalese civilians as a matter of policy. It was a turning point in that it placed the Tamil militancy on the same moral footing as the State. There were later in the 80s reports in the international media that the attack was prompted by the RAW who had first asked the PLOTE and TELO, who refused. However all the groups were then very dependent on India and whether an attack of this na- ture would have been launched without Indian clearance needs to be questioned.

According to the Saturday Review (18 May 85), 75 Tamil civilians were killed in reprisals in the next two days. On 15th May, the Navy intercepted the Kumudhini Ferry plying between Jaffna’s offshore islands and killed 34 persons, including children, and injured 30 others. Two railway employees, Selvarajah, station master, Madawachiya, and Rajadurai, engine driver, were among those killed. India imposed a cease-fire at the end of June, to the chagrin of the militants, and proceeded with bringing both sides for talks at Thimpu during July and August.

To be continued..

*From Rajan Hooles “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power  – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 3

    The Sinhala and Tamil communities have very selective memories because news relating to the issues concerning inter-communal affairs are selectively disseminated. The Tamils are repeatedly reminded of what was done to them and the Sinhalese are reminded of what was done to them in turn. Both communities are unaware or pretend to be unaware of what they did to each other, the proportions and what preceded what. On a personal and collective basis much more tragedy has visited tha Tamils than the Sinhalese.It is a chicken and egg story, that has been used to meet political ends.

    Prof. Rahan Hoole’s narrative definitely brings a rare perspective to these issues. I have known the Nallanayagam’s from my childhood and a more decent couple can be rarely found. He was a former civil servant who ended up working as a security guard in Canada, after his ugly experience in Sri Lanka. I felt very sorry at his plight, whenever I had the occasion to meet him in Canada.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 4

    I was the Judicial Medical Offier in Jaffna at the time when Kumudini boat massacre took place, and carried out the post mortem examinations on the dead bodies with the late professor of Forensic Medicine of Jaffna Medical Faculty Dr. Saravanabhavananthan. The pattern of injuries were the same in all except a six month old infant.

    Kumudini boat used to ply between Delft island and mainland Jaffna. This boat had left as usual, but failed to arrive, and a search party sent found the boat drifting in mid sea,without fuel and the staff killed. Unfotunately for the killers, some people jumped out of the boat into the sea and swam ashore to reveal the truth.

    This boat on it’s way was interupted by navy personnel from Nainativu camp, dressed in black outfit, who boarded the boat. This boat had the engine room in the middle with driver’s cabin placed in an elevated position. There were two passenger areas, one in front of the cabin and behind it, and was full on that ill fated journey.

    The Navy pesonnel,ordered the driver to switch off the engine,and asked the passengers in the front section to move into the rear one.
    They hit the driver on the head with a pick axe to make him fall and bayonetted through his chest to kill him. This procedure was adopted in order to prevent any noise to make others suspicious.

    One by one passengers were taken from the back to the front and killed in the same way, knocking them with a blow on the head and bayonetting them through their chest. This was going off when people became suspicious and those who could swim, jumped out of the boat and arrived safely. The engine was then emptied of all fuel.

    Next day the Late Mr. Athulathmudali appeared in TV and said, a boat load of Terrorists were intercepted by Navy and were killed, little realising that one of dead was a six month old baby and another was officer of internal trade, Mr. Jesudason who in the previous year was a Presidential award winner for service of excellence.

    The culprits were never apprehended nor charged in courts, despite a clear cut evidence. There had been several such murders of innocent Tamil civilains by Security forces that took place during my tenure. In some of them where court proceedings took place in Colombo presided by Sinhala Judges, all the perpetrators were let off.

  • 1

    Lalith Athulathmudali-Oxford and all that,Lecturer in Jurisprudence and all that
    exhibited his true nature in the 70s itself when he was taken in on an Acid throwing incident.
    As regards the Paul Nallanayagam case,I was told,Mr.Nadesan Q.C.who was 81 then
    appeared Pro-Deo[Free of charge] and was on his feet for several days of the Trial.Not only that all his Juniors too did not take a fee.

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