4 December, 2020

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The Radio Message That Ignited The Island

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Antecedents Of July 1983 & The Foundations Of Impunity – Part X

One of the highlights of the Commission sittings in the Jaffna Public Library was Leslie Bartlett’s cross-examination of Inspector Gurusamy regarding the false radio message. According to witnesses, Gurusamy had virtually to admit that the message was sent on orders from his superiors. The premises were packed, and at the end of the day, Bartlett, the hero of the occasion, was mobbed. Poor Gurusamy was shot dead by militants the following year on 1st July 1979.

Although Leslie Bartlett’s cross-examination of Inspector Gurusamy was among the crucial highlights of the commission sittings, it has now, after 23 years, proved extremely difficult to find out what really happened. The lawyers concerned, are today dead, or cannot remember, or would not speak. Copies of the proceedings available with Tamils were mostly burnt during the July 1983 violence. The ICES library has a copy that is incomplete. The copy in the National Archives, we found, is embargoed until the year 2010. Fortunately, at that time, this cross- examination appeared in the journal The Sansoni Commission Evidence that was published by S.C. Chandrahasan. The editor, we reliably learn, was S. Sivanayagam, who went on to edit the Saturday Review. We are grateful to Mr. Kurumpasiddy R. Kanagaratnam of the International Tamils’ Archives, Kandy, for providing us copies of the relevant sections. How easily can the history of a people get buried in 23 years!

Ana Seneviratne | Photo via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ana_Seneviratne

Ana Seneviratne | Photo via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ana_Seneviratne

What follows is the picture that emerges from the cross-examination. It is coherent in all respects and agrees with the known facts: On the morning of 17th August 1977, Inspector Gurusamy and PC Kumarasamy were on duty in the Operations Room. HQI Godfrey Gunasekera walked in just before 11.00 AM and ordered Kumarasamy to take down a message, which was: “…4 CTB buses set on fire. Naga Vihare, Jaffna, is being attacked. Crowd collected at Railway station, Jaffna, to attack incoming passengers. Situation serious.” Kumarasamy was asked by Gunasekera to transmit it to the IGP. Gurusamy asked Kumarasamy to hurry up. Kumarasamy took the message to the Radio Room and Radio Operator Jacob transmitted it at 11.00 AM.

The Radio Communication Centre in Colombo radioed back immediately asking for clarification. Gurusamy was summoned to the Radio Room. He dictated a message. The time when it was recorded is given as 11.05 AM. The message was: “Further to my message of just now, please cancel this message. Further message will follow.” Both these messages were purported to be from SP, Jaffna.

At 11.20 AM, SP, Jaffna received a radio message from the IGP apparently in response to the first message. The message stated, “Navy would guard Naga Deepa [Buddhist] Temple. Please make arrangements to place guards to guard Naga Vihare.” There was no further message form the IGP.

Gurusamy got into trouble by making statements before the Commission that were in conflict with his actions and the evidence. He said at different times that Gunasekera did notdictate the false message to Kumarasamy, that he was not present when Kumarasamy supposedly took down the message, and that he did not know the origin of the message. However, less than five minutes after transmission he had been with Kumarasamy in the Operations Room when the query was made from Colombo. Gurusamy said that he checked the record, found the first message, which was in PC Kumarasamy’s handwriting, to be false and cancelled it.

This was a very unsatisfactory response, if the intention was to correct a false message with such potentially grave consequences. The only reason for Gurusamy’s failure to tell Colombo plainly that the message was false, was simply that he knew well that it came from his superiors. Bartlett pointed out that by cancelling the earlier message and asking Colombo to await a further message, he could easily have given the Police, who were listening in from all over the country, the impression that the situation was worse than first reported. The truth of this is reflected in the rumour mongering done by SP Liyanage after his return form Jaffna to Anuradhapura that same evening (17th).

There was no further radio message from Jaffna. Nor did the IGP, Stanley Senanayake, broadcast a message over the radio to correct the dangerous misapprehension. He would almost certainly have had telephone contact with Jaffna. We may note that the last message over the air was from the IGP. His orders to guard the two main Buddhist shrines in Jaffna contained a note of alarm. The radio silence that followed was ominous.

Gurusamy, evidently on instructions from above, had instructed Radio Operator Jacob to delay sending the cancellation of the false message by 10 minutes (from 11.05 to 11.15). Once the contradictions and lapses involving Inspector Gurusamy’s position, including his failure to follow up with a further message as he had stated, were brought out in the cross examination, Gurusamy broke down. He assented to the suggestions that he knew that a false message had been sent and that “It was a deliberate lie that was sent over the radio.

Mr. Bartlett then told Gurusamy: “ I put it to you that if in five minutes you knew that this message, the first message sent at 11 ‘O clock, was false, you were part and parcel responsible for the communication sent to the IGP over the wireless network!

Inspector Gurusamy responded: “If that was so I would not have cancelled the message

In sum, Gurusamy was down to admitting that there was a conspiracy by his superiors, but he was not part of it. There is no way in which SP A.S. Seneviratne and his superiors can get out of the charge that they were responsible for transmitting this ‘deliberate lie’ all over the island as Bartlett alleged in his written submission.

Procedure necessitated that SP A.S. Seneviratne was ultimately responsible for the messages sent in his name. The record books of messages that were sent and received, and were produced before the Commission, had been daily examined by the SP, ASP and the HQI. HQI Gunasekera’s contention before the Commission that he had heard about the false message for the first time at an inquiry 19 days after its despatch, is a lie. Sansoni, who dismissed Bartlett’s submission, did not take issue with Gunasekera’s lie.

Any senior officer in the hierarchy, when it came to such a grave abuse of the system, ought to have taken prompt action against a junior who failed to keep him informed or misinformed him.

This itself places very severe strictures on S P A.S. Seneviratne and DIG Ana Seneviratne, particularly in view of what SP Liyanage, their companion in Jaffna during the day, did in Anuradhapura that same evening.

The IGP, Stanley Senanayake, too does not escape the charge of complicity. Knowing that a false radio message with the potential to stir up communal violence had been sent out, he took no action to correct the misapprehension. The kindest thing that one could say on his behalf is that he was given to understand what his political bosses wanted, and he decided to keep quiet. Even as the Police were themselves spreading rumours, at the latest from the 17th, the state media posted denials only on 20th August.

Sansoni could easily have answered the question in his mandate about who was responsible for the communal violence of 1977. It was organised by the Police at the behest of their new political bosses – the UNP. Sansoni chose to skip over the issue of the false radio message after putting it aside saying that he is unable to determine who was responsible. The false radio message also places DIG Ana Seneviratne’s forecast about the spread of violence in a conversation with Amirthalingam, in the evening of 17th August, in a new light.

Sansoni was here more-than-right in suggesting that the DIG made the forecast on the basis of information available to him!

Of interest here is also the manner in which the Sinhalese police hierarchy prevailed upon low ranking Tamil officers to do the dirty work and threw them to the wolves in more than one sense. HQI Gunasekera, the only Sinhalese officer whose name transpired directly in connection with the false message, could extricate himself by saying that PC Kumarasamy had lied to get his own back for 7 disciplinary charges against him! Inspector Gurusamy too cut a pathetic figure after 37 years in the Force. The previous day (16th August 1977) he had tried to stop some Sinhalese policemen attacking Tamil civilians. The response he received was, “Thattaya, kata wahapang” (“Shut up you bald fellow”)!

Although the Government tried to obtain propaganda mileage out of the killing of Tamil policemen, it cared nothing for them. It would have been difficult for the militants to target them, had they been allowed to do normal police work, without constantly being forced to compromise their integrity. On a later occasion when a Tamil policeman was killed, Prime Minister Premadasa said in Parliament that there would have been a riot if the man had been Sinhalese!

Even as the Sansoni commission was sitting, Jayewardene made Ana Seneviratne the Police Chief (IGP). Also under Jayewardene, A.S. Seneviratne became DIG (Metropolitan) and SSP Ronnie Gunasinghe who earned notoriety for political killings was his immediate subordinate (see Sect. 18.1 and 19.5).

Ana Seneviratne did not appear before the Sansoni Commission even though he was summoned. A senior civil servant suggested to him that he should appear before the Commission and clear his name. The IGP replied that President Jayewardene had told him not to appear. The Commission asked for and obtained the Police Information Books in Jaffna. But the Information Books in Kandy were refused, citing reasons of ‘national security’. The Sansoni Report suggests that in Kandy even such a senior Tamil officer as SP Shanmugam was helpless and arrested mob elements were released. The violence in Kandy is attributed to the gangs directly under Minister E.L. Senanayake.

In Wattegama where the local MP was the former DIG and deputy defence minister, Mr. Werapitiya, all 54 Tamil shops were looted and burnt. A key active figure in Wattegama on the 19th of August was Cyril Fernando. He was reported quoting from Jayewardene’s speech of the previous day -“If you want peace, it will be peace, if you want war…” An activist from the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality passed on the names of his father’s killers to Werapitiya through some friends. He was later told of Werapitiya’s refusal to take action against ‘the boys’ whom he said had worked hard for him during the elections!

Very little was left to the imagination after Ana Seneviratne was made IGP while his own actions were under investigation. One of the achievements of the Police during his tenure as IGP was the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. The burning of the very premises where the Commission commenced its sittings was a fitting epitaph to the whole Commission exercise. No action was taken against the many miscreants, including the notoriously indiscreet SP, Anuradhapura, who were identified by the Commission. This was no doubt a guarantee made in advance of the violence.

It is under such conditions of impunity, as will be seen later in the book, that security officials tend to forget everything in their education and training and become arrogantly indiscreet. They become strangers to all the higher traditions of mankind, save the law of the tribe. The stage was set for the more savage communal attacks of July 1983.

*To be continued..

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder” published in Jan. 2001. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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Latest comments

  • 6
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    Dr. Rajan Hoole

    RE:The Radio Message That Ignited The Island

    “It is under such conditions of impunity, as will be seen later in the book, that security officials tend to forget everything in their education and training and become arrogantly indiscreet. They become strangers to all the higher traditions of mankind, save the law of the tribe. The stage was set for the more savage communal attacks of July 1983.”

    Well, well. Para-Sinhala showing their colors of Para-Sinhala “Buddhism”, in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, against their cousins, the Para-Tamils.

  • 6
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    In Kandy, the police sprang into action only on the orders of the then Brigadior Tissa ‘Bull’ Weeratunge, who was appointed the Co-Ordinating Officer by the JRJ government, after it was satisfied that the lesson it wanted to teach the Tamils was adequate for the time being .

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • 2
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      Violence in Kandy was some days after it had mostly subsided in Colombo after the damage was done. In fairness to the local UNP leaders, they were successful in preventing violence for those few days. It was gangs that arrived from Colombo that started the trouble in Kandy. Once started it was hard to control. But the attacks were less fierce than in Colombo.
      Interestingly, the university campus which experienced ugly events in May was spared much of the misery. I think that all students left the campus before violence reached Kandy. As a precaution, all Tamil employees & families were moved to a hall of residence where they were looked after until matters settled.
      Matale, visited by the goons after finishing their task in Kandy suffered more than Kandy.

      • 4
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        Sekera,

        I was a victim while living outside the Peradeniya campus.

        The 1977 anti-Tamil riots, followed the UNP election victory and was preceded by violence directed at the SLFP supporters-Sinhalese. The anti-Tamil riots soon followed. The newly settled persons who were given plots of land following the land acquisition act and were left destitute otherwise, were used to spearhead this violence. The upcountry plantation workers, who were quite poor, were the primary victims in terms of numbers. We were lodged together in the refugee camp located ar St.Sylvestor’s College which had only one toilet for the thousands there. No arrangements were made to supply food for two days and only the school Watchman, provided security!

        I had to run for my life over hills, with family members, chased by these recently settled men and boys, The very same people who had obtained flowers from my garden to take to the Pansala on the nearby hill, looted my house and were after our blood. They were cheered on by the monks of the Pansala. I was left totally destitute with only Rs.300/- in my purse. As the Peradeniya University, refused to provide me housing within the campus, I resigned.

        Dr.RN

        • 0
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          Do you remember who the VC was at that time Dr RN?

          • 0
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            Manel,

            I guess it was a Chemistry Professor- Samaranayake, who had written a text book on analytical chemistry. Peradeniya was then a campus of the University of Ceylon.

            Dr.RN

          • 0
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            Manel,

            The VC was Prof. P.P.G.L. Siriwardene.

            Dr.RN

          • 1
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            Manel & Dr RN
            In 1977 there was no VC. Only President of Peradeniya Campus of the University of Sri Lanka founded in 1974.
            I do not know when the government replaced the successor to Prof. Vithanage.
            As for housing, it was tough in the 1970’s and even tougher now to get quarters; and there was a point scheme based on service period mainly, need and at times priority.
            I doubt if any Prof. Samaranayake was President.

            My earlier comment was on 1983 July.

            • 0
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              1983: VC was Prof. Leslie Panditharatne.

              Many monts ago, I wrote about it all.

  • 2
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    The deniers of singhala racism should Rad this

  • 4
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    It is the Tamils who trust and worship the UNP that should read this.It is the UNP that always used the racial politics for their political purposes.

    Shameless TNA still goes begging after Ranil for crumbs!!!

  • 2
    2

    That bastard JRJ will rot in hell. Even now the devil takes delight in poking a red hot rod in his anus.

    • 3
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      Tungsan Yu

      ” That bastard JRJ will rot in hell.”

      Yes. JRJ was a racist

      He always wanted to reach Tamils “Lessons”, and the Indians taught him a lesson, and learned a lessons from the Indians and the LTTE.

      Lanka, a land where the Paras tech other lessons and not learn from each others lessons.

      The average IQ of the Paras is 79!

      • 0
        1

        Amarasiri, reading your rot makes me believe yr IQ isnt any higher.

  • 5
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    The Jaffna Public Library was burnt during the tenure of Ana Seneviratne as IGP.
    He was made the Governor of the North-East Provincial Council in 1989 by JRJ.
    Perhaps the reward!

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