The 26th of September 1987 will remain collectively etched in the minds of Eelam Tamils as the day of reckoning for them when they realized, agonisingly, that non- violence didn’t stand a chance in their quest to liberate their homeland: It had already been established that non-violence had no chance 26 years before that on the 17th of April 1961 and ever since that day, when a peaceful civil- disobedience campaign, organised to protest a highly discriminatory law enacted against Eelam Tamils, was crushed, using excessive force in a vicious display of abuse of power.
The 26th of September 1987, was the day, Thileepan, the political head of the LTTE for the Jaffna district breathed his last, making the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed was a cause far bigger than his life. Thileepan had undertaken a fast-unto-death, calling on India to fulfill its pledge based on a “gentleman’s agreement” towards “setting up an interim government” on an understanding reached earlier, between the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Pirapaharan and the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The promise was given verbally, on trust, on the latter’s prompting, that took place at the Prime Minister residence, one that he promised to keep. It was given on the understanding LTTE would cooperate with the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and would lay down its arms.
Thileepan had made five demands and died without his demands being met.
Thileepan laid down his weapon, embraced non-violence and began his fast on 15, September, 1987, denying himself food and water, waiting in vain for some reassurance from Indian officials, namely J. N Dixit Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and died on 26, September, 1987. Neither did Mr. Dixit visit Thileepan nor were any assurances given on the “interim government” that was promised.
Thileepan’s Five Demands were:
- All Tamils detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be released.
- The colonisation of Sinhalese in Tamil areas under the guise of rehabilitation should be stopped.
- All such rehabilitation should be stopped until an interim government is formed.
- The Sri Lankan government should stop opening new Police stations and camps in the NorthEastern province.
- The Sri Lankan Army and Police should withdraw from schools in Tamil villages and the weapons given by the Sri Lankan government to ‘home guards’ should be withdrawn under the supervision of the Indian army.
The conversation between Rajiv Gandhi and the LTTE leader on the subject of an “interim government” is well documented in the book: ‘War and Peace – Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers’ by Anton Balasingam, who was himself witness to what transpired:
Promising to speak to President “Jayewardane to persuade him not to hold a referendum” on the proposed merger of the North and East, which was a sticking point in the Accord for the LTTE leader, for he didn’t like the fact that the merger was subjected to a referendum, Rajiv Gandhi told the LTTE leader, “You must trust the Government of India, we are genuinely committed to promote the interests of your people.”
“We are aware of the fact that your organisation as well as your people do not trust President Jayewardane. Personally I don’t trust him either. Yet we have extracted major concessions from and formulated this Accord by exerting heavy pressure. There may be defects in the Provincial Councils Scheme. Nevertheless we can negotiate and improve upon it, enhancing the powers of regional autonomy. You should realise that it will be impossible to implement the provincial scheme immediately. It will take a long time. During that period we can set up an interim government in the NorthEast, in which your organisation can play a predominant role. I am prepared to enter into a secret agreement with you regarding the formation of an interim government in the Tamil region,” he said
Thileepan felt betrayed the “interim government” which was to function under LTTE control promised by Rajiv Gandhi was not materialising even after LTTE laid down its arms. In his “We Love India” speech on the 4th of August, the LTTE Leader spoke to the Tamil people over the concerns he had with the Indo-SriLanka Accord. Nevertheless he said, “the Indian Prime Minister has given me certain pledges. He has offered to guarantee the security of our people. I trust his sincerity. I have faith in his assurances. We trust that the government of India will not allow the Sinhalese racist state to resume genocidal violence against out people. It is because of this trust that we have decided to lay down our weapons to the Indian Peace keeping Force.” The LTTE leader’s “We Love India” speech extracts of which is given below needs to be read to appreciate his concerns, the extent to which the LTTE leader placed his trust in India and was ready to lay down arms and give non-violence a chance :
“My beloved and esteemed people of Tamil Eelam…Having convinced me that the Indian Prime Minister desired to meet me, I was taken to Delhi in a hurry. The Agreement was shown to us when we reached Delhi. There was a lot of flaws and defects in the Agreement. We doubt whether the Agreement will bring a permanent settlement to the problems of our people. Therefore we explained to the government of India that we cannot accept this Agreement. But the Indian government was firmly determined to implement the Agreement whether we opposed it or not. ..We are not surprised over the position of the Indian government. The Agreement is not primarily concerned about the Tamil question. It is essentially a bi-lateral agreement concerned with Indo-Srilanka relations. There are obligations in the Agreement that bind Sri Lanka to Indian geo-strategic influence. It prevents the penetration into Sri Lanka external subversive forces inimical to Indian interests. It is for this reason that India showed extraordinary interest in the Agreement. At the same time this Agreement contains elements that determine the political destiny of Eelam Tamils. That is why we are strongly opposed to the Agreement, since it was concluded without taking into consideration our views and the opinions of our people. But our protests are meaningless when a mighty super power is determined to decide the political destiny of our people, it is beyond our ability do anything. The Agreement directly affects the political projects of our liberation organisation. It affects the mode of our struggle. It attempts to put an end to our armed struggle. The mode of our heroic struggle, fought for the last 15 years and built on the blood and sacrifice of our fighters is to be dismantled in a few days time. This we cannot digest. This agreement suddenly disarms us without providing adequate time. Without getting the consent of our fighters. Without offering guarantees for the safety and security of our people. Therefore we refused to lay down arms. ..It was in these circumstances the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi invited me for discussions. I told him frankly about problems. I confided to the Indian Prime Minister that I do not repose the slightest trust in the Sinhala racist state, nor do I believe that the Sinhalese will implement the agreement. I spoke to him of the issue of security of our people and the guarantees for their safety. The Indian Prime Minister has given me certain pledges. He has offered to guarantee the security of our people. I trust his sincerity. I have faith in his assurances. We trust that the government of India will not allow the Sinhalese racist state to resume genocidal violence against out people. it is because of this trust that we have decided to lay down our weapons to the Indian Peace keeping Force…. The weapons we took up and deployed for your safety and protection, for your liberation, for your emancipation we now entrust to the Indian government. From the very moment we hand over our weapons, we hand over the responsibility of protecting our people to India. In receiving our weapons from us, the only means of protection for the Eelam Tamils, the Indian government takes over from us the tremendous responsibility of protecting our people…The handing over of arms signifies the handing over the transfer of this responsibility. Were we not to hand over our weapons, we would be placed in a perilous situation of clashing with the Indian army. We do not want that. We love India. We love the people of India. We are not prepared to deploy our arms against Indian soldiers.. ”
Anton Balasingam describes in his book ‘War and Peace’ LTTE’s disappointment in Delhi’s failure to “setup the promised interim administrative authority” despite them having laid down their arms as a “gesture of cooperation” and handed over the “tremendous responsibility” of protecting the Tamil people to India.
Not only that, what happened after the Accord was signed on 29th July 1987, was entirely unexpected and did most certainly infuriate and frustrate the LTTE leadership.
It saddened Thileepan and affected him so deeply that he vowed to fast-unto-death unless India fulfilled its pledges:
“There were no initiatives from the government of India. In the mean time the Sri Lanka government opened up new police stations in the NorthEast consolidating the state’s law and order machinery in the Tamil homeland. The Sinhala colonisation schemes intensified with the backing of the government. The funds assured by the Indian Prime Minister for the administration of the LTTE structures were discontinued after one month’s instalment. The issue that deeply disturbed the LTTE leadership was the arrival in Tamil Eelam from India of a large number of armed cadres from the EPRLF, PLOTE and TELO. They were freshly trained and armed by RAW. While clandestine boat landings of EPRLF and PLOTE members took place on the East coast at night TELO cadres occupied some coastal villages in Mannar. The penetration of these armed groups hostile to the LTTE posed a serious threat to the security of the Tamil Tigers. There were attacks in which the LTTE suffered casualties. The IPKF refused to take action when the matter was brought to their attention. As time passed in a political vacuum Pirapaharan became agitated and frustrated.
Thileepan a popular political leader in Jaffna and a person well acquainted with the pledges given by the Indian Prime Minister in the form of a gentleman’s agreement undertook a fast-unto-death to mobilise public protest against India’s failure to fulfill its assurances.”
As Thileepan lay dying, the LTTE leader knew he had to persuade Mr. Dixit to visit him and give Thileepan the guarantees he was asking. But Mr. Dixit believed there was a conspiracy against him and the government of India and Thileepan’s fast was designed to provoke “anti-Indian sentiments”. Although the LTTE leader and he (Anton Balasingam) tried to allay his fears, Mr. Dixit wasn’t convinced, as was revealed in his book: ‘Assignment Colombo’, Anton Balasingam writes. Had Mr. Dixit actually visited Thileepan he could have saved Thileepan’s life and, “Indo-LTTE relations would not have been strained,” he further opines:
“When Pirapaharan and I met Mr. Dixit at the IPKF headquarters at Palaly, Thileepan was on the threshold of death. We pleaded with the Indian envoy to visit the young fighter and assure him that India would fulfill the pledges given to the LTTE and request him to break his fast. Dixit rejected our genuine plea fearing there was conspiracy behind our invitation. On this issue he writes: ‘IPKF and our intelligence sources had informed me that the plan was to take me to Thileepan at the Nallur Kandasamy Temple, subject me to a massive anti-Agreement and anti-Indian demonstration and then reject my request with a lot of publicity about the Indian High Commissioner’s efforts being spurned. It was clear in my mind I would not subject the government of India to such a humiliation’ There was no plan to humiliate Mr. Dixit or the government of India. It was simply a figment of his imagination. If the Indian diplomat has visited Thileepan and assured him that Delhi would fulfill the pledges the tragedy of his death would have been avoided and Indo-LTTE relations would not have been strained.”
The irony of all ironies here is that ‘non-violence’, or ‘Ahimsa’ the weapon used by India to liberate itself from a colonial power had neither any impact, nor value, nor did it make a difference, let alone prick the conscience of men for whom it should have meant something – unlike a woman from a neighbouring country, Sri Lanka for whom it understandably failed to impress for it may have not meant anything.
The Satyagraha Movement
The early reckoning that non-violence wouldn’t work became clear when a civil-disobedience campaign in 1961 led by the leader of the Federal Party, organised to protest against the move to making “Sinhala the de facto official and administrative language of the country” (including the adoption of a motion making Sinhala the language of the House of Parliament), was met with violence by the newly elected government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. These actions amounted to a vicious abuse of power, involving the exercise of emergency rule, that shut the door on any negotiations with the Tamil leadership in the most undemocratic and autocratic manner. S Sivananyagam in his book ‘Sri Lanka – Witness to History’ writes:
According to Anton Balasingam this was, “the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of the tense relations between India and the Tigers.”
Writing this article has affected me emotionally, as most of my articles do. It led me to re- read three books that I consider essential reading to understand the Tamil Freedom Struggle. Under my article I have included selected extracts to whet people’s appetite and recommend they read them. I am also pleased to inform everyone that a film on Thileepan directed by Anand Murthy @AanMur: ‘The Life and Death of a Martyr’ is in the making, hope you would support it.
I like to conclude by quoting from Adele Balasingam’s ‘Will to Freedom’ on Thileepan’s final journey:
“Small candle lit shrines housing Thileepan’s picture was set up in front of every house in the village (Valvettiturai) as they were throughout the Peninsula. Plaited dry coconut leaves, the traditional Tamil decoration indicating mourning strung from post to post, fringed roadsides; funeral music blared from the loudspeakers of temples and schools. Thileepan’s ravaged body was dressed in full military uniform draped in the insignia of the LTTE. The garland bedecked funeral cortege had moved slowly from village to village through out the Peninsula to pay their profound respect to this legendry martyr. The sombre beat of the military drums heralded the movement of the cortege from its resting place through the village to its next destination. As Thileepan’s open cortege crept through the main village road for the last time I stood silently with the crowd to pay my final salute to a young man whose fast and sacrifice had surpassed that of the Guru of Satyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi himself. Thileepan transcended Gandhi in his act of self denial by refusing not only food but fluids also.”
Thileepan’s last words:
“I am confident our people will one day achieve their freedom. It gives me great satisfaction and contentment that I am fulfilling a national responsibility to the nation”
In your light we shall travel…I promise
Extracts From The Book: The Will to Freedom by Adele Balasingam
Thileepan’s non-violent struggle was unique and extra-ordinary for its commitment. Although an armed guerrilla fighter, he chose the spiritual mode of “Ahimsa” as enunciated by the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi to impress upon Indi the plight and predicament of the people of Tamil Eelam. The level to which the Tamil people, or more specifically the LTTE cadres are prepared to go for their freedom, mirrors not only a deep passion for their liberation, but indicated the phenomenal degree of oppression they had been subjected to. ..It’s only those who experience intolerable oppression of such a magnitude, of being threatened with extinction that are capable of supreme forms of sacrifice as we have seen from Thileepan’s episode…”
Subsequently our first priority after our arrival in the peninsula was to visit Thileepan, encamped at the historic Nallur Kandaswamy, the cultural and spiritual centre of the Jaffna Tamils.. Thileepan’s decision to single handedly take on the credibility of the Indian state, not incongruous with his history of resistance to state oppression as a cadre in the LTTE. He had faced battle on several occasions in defence of Jaffna during Kittu’s time and had suffered serious abdominal wounds in the process. He was well known for his astute understanding of the political mindset of his people and emerged a radical political leader. The senior LTTE women cadres often speak of his staunch advocacy of inducting women into the national struggle and is remembered as one of the founding fathers in the promotion of women’s issues. With such a history, it comes as no surprise that he endeared himself not only to cadres but to the people of Jaffna also…
Bala met Thileepan during the pre-accord talks when he shared a hotel room with him in Delhi and grew very fond of this affable fellow. It was an extremely painful and emotional experience for Bala to meet him again Jaffna in totally adverse conditions, with Thileepan’s life slowly ebbing away. ..
As we entered the premises of the Nallur Kandasamy Temple, we were confronted by a sea of people, seated on the white sands under the blazing sun. The air was thick with collective emotion and solemnity. This fading young man on the platform, obviously embodied the political sentiments and aspirations of his people. But it was more than that also. Thileepan’s fast had touched the spirit of the Tamil Nation and mobilized the popular masses in unprecedented solidarity. One could sense how this extraordinary sacrifice of a fragile young man had suddenly assumed a formidable force as the collective strength of his people. Thileepen’s fast was a supreme act of transcendence of individuality for a collective cause. Literally it was an act of self – crucifixion, a noble act by which this brave young man condemned himself so that others could live in freedom and dignity.
With deep humility, Bala and I mounted the platform to speak to the reposed Thileepan, already several days without food or water and with a dry cracked mouth, Thileepan could only whisper. Bala leaned closer to the weakened Thileepan and exchanged words with him. Naturally enough Thileepan inquired of the political developments. We left soon afterwards never to see him alive again.
As Thileepan’s fast moved on in days, he was no longer to able to address the public from the podium and spent much of his time lying quietly as his condition steadily deteriorated. As Thileepan grew visibly weaker in front of his people’s eyes, their anger and resentment towards India and the IPKF grew stronger. The sight of this popular young man being allowed to die in such an agonising manner, generated disbelief at the depth of callousness of the Indian government and the Indian Peace Keeping Force..
All that was required to safe Thileepan’s waning life was for the Indian High Commissioner Mr. Dixit to humble himself and meet and reassure Thileepan that the Indian government would fulfill its pledges to the Tamils. In fact Delhi ignored Thileepan’s fast as an isolated idiosyncrasy of an individual, and later became seriously concerned when the episode gathered momentum and turned into a national uprising with anti-Indian sentiments. Delhi’s concern’s compelled Mr. Dixit to pay a visit Jaffna to study the situation..on the 22nd of September, Mr. Dixit arrived at the Palaly airport where Mr. Pirapaharan and Bala met him. Bala told me later that Mr. Dixit was rude and resentful and condemned Thileepan’s fasting campaign as a provocative act by the LTE aimed at instigating the Tamil masses against Indian government.
Mr. Pirapaharan showed remarkable patience and pleaded with the Indian diplomat to pay a visit to Nallur and talk to the dying young man to give up the fast by assuring him that India would give up the fast by assuring that India would fulfill its pledges…Displaying his typical arrogance and intransigence, Mr. Dixit rejected the LTTE leader’s plea arguing that it was not within the mandate of his visit. Had Mr. Dixit correctly read the situation and genuinely cared for the sentiments of the Tamil people at this very crucial time, it’s highly probable the entire episode of India’s direct intervention in the ethnic conflict would have taken a different turn…But Thileepan’s willingness to sacrifice his life in such a way touched the spirit of the people and his unnecessary tragic death on 26 September planted deeply the seeds of disenchantment with the IPKF. Events to follow only reinforced their shattered confidence in the IPKF and Delhi…
Small candle lit shrines housing Thileepan’s picture was set up in front of every house in the village (Valvettiturai) as they were throughout the Peninsula. Plaited dry coconut leaves, the traditional Tamil decoration indicating mourning strung from post to pos, fringed roadsides; funeral music blared from the loudspeakers of temples and schools. Thileepan’s ravaged body was dressed in full military uniform draped in the insignia of the LTTE. The garland bedecked funeral cortege had moved slowly from village to village though out the Peninsula to pay their profound respect to this legendry martyr. The sombre beat of the military drums heralded the movement of the cortege from its resting place through the village to its next destination. As Thileepan’s open cortege crept through the main village road for the last time I stood silently with the crowd to pay my final salute to a young man whose fast and sacrifice had surpassed that of the Guru of Satyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi himself. Thileepan transcended Gandhi in his act of self denial by refusing not only food but fluids also.
Extracts from the Book: ‘War and Peace – Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers’ by Anton Balasingam
On July 23 two Indian military helicopters landed on the grounds of Suthumalai Amman Temple near Jaffna, picked up the LTTE delegation comprising of Pirapaharan, Yogaratnam Yogi and Thileepan and flew to Meenambakam Airport. In the mean time the Tamil Nadu Police informed me of their arrival and I was taken to the airport to meet them… We boarded an Indian Air Force plane and arrived in the Indian capital a few hours later. From the airport we were taken to Ashoka Hotel and held incommunicado… The Raw officer informed us we were place under safe custody and we could not leave the Hotel or allow anybody in. Pirapaharan confided to me: “Bala anna I am trapped again.
Mr. Dixit visited us at the hotel. He was grim and serious. Sitting on the Sofa he pulled out his pipe, lit it and puffed out the smoke a couple of times. Seated in front of him we watched him attentively, anticipating clarifications. “A bi-lateral agreement has been reached between the government and Sri Lanka. The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi will visit Colombo soon to sign the agreement. The agreement offers a fair and reasonable solution to the Tamil ethnic question. You should accept this agreement,” Mr. Dixit declared. He took a copy of the agreement out of his pocket and handed it to me. Please translate the document to Mr. Pirapaharan ..I’ll be back in two hours; I hope you will be ready with a positive response.. ”
I translated the document and explained the implications of the proposals. We found the proposals limited and inadequate. While emphasizing a pluralist structure of Sri Lanka society, the agreement recognises the distinct ‘cultural and linguistic ‘ identity of the various ethnic groups thereby rejecting the conceptualisation of nation and nationality. While Sri Lanka ensuring Sri Lanka’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity ‘ the agreement recommends a solution within the unitary constitution. The only positive element in the proposals was the recognition of the northern and eastern provinces as areas of historical habitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples..’ The cardinal feature of the Agreement of the merger of the northern and Eastern Provinces into a single administrative unit. But the merger itself was interim to be subjected to a referendum to allow the ethnic communities in the east to decide over a permanent link with the north. The Agreement allows for the formation of a temporary north east provincial council with governor, chief minister and board of ministers. The powers and functions of the provincial council was not specified. Rather a set of proposals negotiated between 4May 1986 and 19, December 1986 between the governments of Sri Lanka and India and the TULF leaders were recommended as the basis for the settlement. Residual matter not finalised during these above negotiations shall be resolved between India and Sri Lanka within a period of 6 weeks of signing the agreement. It should be noted that these proposals called the December 19th framework were criticised and rejected by the LTTE in the written response submitted to the government of India in January 1987. The agreement therefore fails to deal with any core issues critical to the Tamil question. The most important aspect was the issue on decommissioning. The Agreement stipulated all Tamil militant organisations should be disarmed within 72 hours of the signing of the Accord. ..Pirapaharan’s face turned red when I translated this particular clause .. within the time frame of two hours allocated to us, Pirapaharan made a firm resolute decision, He resolved not to accept the Indo-Lanka accord under any circumstance.
Two hours later, Mr. Dixit returned. He inquired as to whether we had made our decision. We told him that we could not accept the Agreement. We told him in precise terms we could not accept the Agreement. He demanded an explanation. I point out the limitations on the proposals, arguing that they fell far short of Tamil aspirations. The framework proposed in the Agreement was totally unacceptable to the LTTE I said. Pirapaharan argued that it was unfair and unreasonable to disarm the Tamil freedom movement before reaching a permanent political solution with guaranteed security to our people. “How can India ask us to give up our arms within 72 hours? These weapons were captured from the enemy forces with enormous sacrifices over the last fifteen years of bloody armed struggle,” he said raising his voice in anger. Mr. Dixit dismissed our criticism and argued the provincial framework the best the Tamils could ever hope for. He said there was no need for weapons since as a permanent ceasefire would come into being and an Indian peace keeping force would maintain peace. He pleaded with us to trust the Indian government and reconsider our decision. We stuck to our position to arguing that we could not trust Jayewardene and the Sinhala armed forces. Dixit became resentful and impatient. Whether you accept it or not this agreement will be signed. This is bilateral agreement between two countries. You will face far reaching consequences if you oppose it. “Can you tell us what sort of consequences we’ll have to face,” asked Yoga. You will be in our custody here in India until you accept the Accord. Even if you keep us in custody for a long time, even for years, we will never accept this Agreement and hand over our weapons, Pirapaharan replied angrily. He stared and Pirapaharan and shouted if you refuse to lay down your weapons, we would seize them by force. Your fighters are non-entities in front of the mighty Indian army. Brandishing his pipe at Pirapaharan he went on, “in the time it takes to light this pipe and finish smoking it, the Indian army will wipe out your fighters. Pirapaharan smiled cynically. You can do whatever you like but we’ll never accept this Agreement under any circumstances. Dixit was enraged; his lips trembled in anger. Mr. Pirapaharan you have cheated India four times. “That means I have saved my people 4 times. Unable to tolerate anymore the ill-tempered diplomat gottup and walked away.
Extracts from the Book: Sri Lanka – Witness to History – Tamil Satyagraha by S Sivanayagam
On January 1, 1961 Sinhala became the sole official language of the country under the terms of the Official Language Act.. On January 22, the Federal Party at its convention called on the population of the North and East to picket government offices, refusing to cooperate with officials conducting business and to resist the teaching of Sinhala in schools in the two provinces.. On February 20 began the 2nd phase of the non-violent agitation, which was soon to encompass the entire population the north and east, including Muslims.
On the 2nd day the satygraha was led by Mr. Amirthalingam..On the 4th day, the 23rd women plunged into the movement. Out of the 500 …led by MP for Chavekachcheri V.N Navaratnam about 80 women led by the party’s women’s front led by Rajapoopathy Arunachalam took up positions in the main entrance..the sole Tamil Congress MP, M Sivasithamparam , several LSSP activists, Mayor of Jaffna decided to throw their weight with the movement…On the 24th campaign spread to Mullaitivu. Mannar and Eastern Province…on the 28th picketing was launched in Batticaloa.. the Muslim MP for Kalmunai MC Ahmed Batticaloa..and thousands of Muslims led by the 2nd MP from Batticaloa, Macan Markar participated….In Trincomalee Mutur MP, T A Ehamparam was seriously injured in a police baton charge when he and Trincomalee MY Rajavarothayam was involved in picketing…in their anxiety to help N Q Dias reach the Secretariat premises police personnel carried him high in an undignified position…stumbled against some satyagrahis and dropped him heavily on the inner side of the lower parapet wall! Days later there was an untruthful reference to this from ..Mrs Bandaranaike, she made a broadcast appeal to the Federal Party to call off the civil disobedience campaign while accusing the party of violence.
“From March 11 the government launched a policy of trying starve the population by refusing to issue permits to wholesalers except through the secretariat (Kachcheri). Returning to the island on March 23 after an absence of 18 days Mrs. Bandaranaike accused the Federal Party of trying to establish a separate state by paralyzing the administration in the two provinces and warned that the government might use other means to restore order. ..On the 14 th April civil disobedience took the form of open defiance of the law..In a symbolic gesture the party inaugurated its own postal service..2500 stamps were issued, 25,000 stamped envelopes and 3000 post cards were reported to have been sold …passengers refused to purchase tickets in national buses and it was also rumoured the party was planning to form its own police force and take over crown land for distribution to landless peasants!
On the morning of 17 April the cabinet met at Temple Trees ..and the decision was taken to impose a State of Emergency.
In the evening Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the power behind the throne, held a series of conferences with army, navy and police chiefs.
The Governor General Sir Oliver Gunetilleke proclaimed the State of Emergency and assumed power to maintain services.
A Press censorship was imposed.
The Federal Party was proscribed.
All public meetings in the North and East were forbidden.
A 48 hour curfew was imposed in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mannar, Vavuniya and 4 other areas in the Northern province.”
Detention orders were issued on FP leader, Chelvanayagam and 14 other MPs.
Arrests, Assaults, Arbitrary, Killings, Incarceration and A Crackdown
350 soldiers and 15 officers of the Sinha Regiment exclusively composed of Sinhalese ..arrived in the early hours of the morning around 2.30 am and the troops were immediately moved into the sprawling secretarial grounds. About 200 satyagrahis, 90 of them women..unaware of developments, tired after the day’s fasting and prayers were yet squatting or stretched out at the Kachcheri entrances, some were in deep slumber..while during the day there were 1000s of supporters there were hardly any supporters at that ungodly hour. Some police officers emerged and told A Amirthalingam and V Dharmalingam that the two MPs were being taken into custody under emergency regulations. ..once the MPs were taken away the army men some of them carrying rifles, swooped on the passive satyagrahis, attacking them with rifle butts, belts and clubs..the sleeping volunteers woke up writhing in pain. They were trampled with boots kicked and dragged away from the Kachcheri entrances. Proctor S Nadarajah, one of the joint secretaries of the party sustained head and shoulder injuries. The Tamil Congress MP M Sivasithamparam, who, fearing assault on the women, stood with his arms outstretched was himself attacked. He sustained injuries on his face, shoulders and arms. The soldiers then went berserk and attacked everything on sight. They pulled down the party’s post office structure, smashed up cars and bicycles parked in the vicinity, ripping tyres with bayonets and ramming windscreens.
As the hospital a mile away got filled up with injured persons, news of the ugly happening spread and thousands of people surged on to the secretariat area after daybreak. While several lay helpless within the military cordon, trucks were brought in and the women volunteers were herded in. Restless youths and school children who showed signs of violence were kept under restraint by repeated appeals from partly leaders and elders…The troops fanned out attacking anyone on sight and enforced the 48 hour curfew. On 20th April when the curfew expired, a 12 hour curfew from 6pm to 6am was substituted. The Prime Minister then went on the air to say that, “the Federal Party has by its actions made it abundantly clear that their real objective is to establish a separate state.” Claiming that the government had acted, “with the greatest restraint and patience.” She said that, “the government is now left with no other alternative but to use all forces at its command to establish law and order. It is not unlikely that a number of innocent people will suffer in various ways, in consequence of these measures.. and for any unfortunate happenings, the Tamil leaders must take the entire blame…
“By April 24, Chelvanayagam and 58 others, including 14 MPs were under arrest ..although Mr. Sivasithamparam was spared. ..
Jaffna came under virtual army occupation. Communication links with the rest of the island (and with the rest of the outside world) were cut off. Postal, Telegraphic, Telephonic and train and bus services were suspended. With Military trucks and jeeps plying constantly and at high speed, towns and streets were deserted. Undisciplined, trigger-happy soldiers shot dead and injured persons outside curfew hours on the pretence of enforcing the curfew. Shops were robbed of soft drinks cigarettes and eatables. Meek requests for payment was met with amused taunts, “get the money from Chelvanayagam. Soldiers made fun of passing cyclists, harassed and humiliated pedestrians and in some instances attempted to molest women even within their homes at the point of a gun. During curfew hours residents were ordered to put off the lights.
Despite the upsurge of Tamil national feeling represented the high-watermark of Tamil unity and collective passive resistance it was to end in failure…
Read also Chapter 1: 1956: A Jaffna Colombo Train Journey & A Taste of “Sinhala Only”
Chapter 1 is about how a peaceful group of satyagrahis consisting of 300 Federal Party volunteers, were set upon mercilessly by a violent gang. The protestors led by Mr. S J V Chelvanayagam and Tamil Members of Parliament were conducting a sit-in on Galle Face Green in 1956 when the Sinhala Only Bill was introduced in the Ceylon Parliament by Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike.
The year 1956 was a watershed the author, Mr. Sivanayagam writes. It marked a turning point in the relations between the Sinhala and Tamil peoples in the post independence period.. He shares his own experience with readers about that day, how death stared him in the face when he was confronted by a mob on a train returning to Colombo from Jaffna…
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