25 September, 2020

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Why Do They Shoot?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

25th Death Anniversary of Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama

“Politics is not religion, or, if it is, then it is nothing but the Inquisition.” – Camus (The Rebel)

The first shot was not fatal. She was heard asking her assassin, “Why are you shooting me?”[i]

25 years after the murder of Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama her final question remains unanswered at the most fundamental level. As Sri Lanka lurches towards another conflict, it is a question which needs to be pondered, at least by those who remember the past and fear its return, in an even more malevolent form.

Rajani

Rajani

The LTTE killed Rajini because the LTTE regarded dissent as the ultimate crime. But what made the LTTE so brutally intolerant? What enabled such an organisation to dominate the Tamil struggle and hegemonise Tamil society so completely that it could be defeated only by a non-Tamil entity adhering to some of the selfsame ethos, strategy and tactics?

Rajini’s final question has a national resonance. In the South the authoritarian Jayewardene regime spawned a response which was even more anti-democratic, intolerant and racist. Rajini’s final question could have been the final question of the JVP’s many leftist/anti-UNP victims, starting with Daya Pathirana[ii].

In a Lanka with Lankans, as opposed to Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, Rajini would have been celebrated for her academic achievements or her social work; she would have lived to see her daughters growing up to be the women they are. In a Tamil liberation struggle which did not enthrone unfreedom, Rajaini would have been hailed as a heroine. In a post-war Sri Lanka treading the path of consensual-peace and inclusive nation-building, the state would have commemorated Rajini.

Anyone of these three lives could have been Rajini’s. But none of them were. Rajini’s work as a fearless human rights activist brought her not honour but mistrust, hatred and, finally, death. And the very regime which defeated her killers impeded the efforts to honour her memory.

The last years of Rajini’s life were spent in a North-East which was the theatre of an unexpected, confusing war, between the LTTE and the Indian Army. As the IPKF murdered, raped and pillaged its way across the province, Rajini was one of the few who dared to speak out openly, not from the safety of some foreign land or even the Lankan South but from Jaffna.

There is no doubt that the Indians wished Rajini dead. But in the end, Rajini was killed not by a jawan or a Tamil proxy, but by the LTTE.

Why was Rajini killed not by the IPKF but by the LTTE? Why was the UNP government content with jailing Vijaya Kumaratunga while the JVP felt it had to eliminate him?

Was it the absence of a sense of humanity? The Lankan state and the IPKF were far from humane. Was it a dearth of enlightened self-interest? The Lankan state and the Indian army committed outrageous idiocies which boomeranged on them.

Did the difference rest in the fact that neither the Lankan state nor the IPKF enjoyed total impunity and knew that some day some accounts will have to be rendered? Did the difference also rest in the fact that neither the Lankan state nor the IPKF was armoured with a belief in its own moral-political infallibility?

The LTTE and the JVP (of the Second Insurgency) never doubted the correctness of what they did nor their right to do whatever they thought to be correct. Though both organisations were more or less secular, their animating spirit was quasi-religious. Born waving the banners of freedom and liberation, they were far more prone to fanaticism than their establishment opponents. Their world was a black and white one which did not admit any other shade.

Did that politico-moral mindset and the belief in impunity enable them undertake what even a repressive state and marauding foreign army hesitated to do?

Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’ began with an immortal line: “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains”. But this great liberating work ended up advocating a politically-uniform republic (without ‘partial societies’) which practiced censorship, (‘to uphold morality’) and condemned ‘anti-social beings’ to death. That transformation was to be enacted in real life over the next two centuries. The JVP and the LTTE too opted for that path towards the ‘tyranny of virtue’. The malady of ungenerous rebellion and dishonourable revolution, which prefers “an abstract concept of man to a man of flesh and blood”, is “contaminated by resentment…denies life (and) dashes towards destruction”[iii] afflicted both Sinhalese and Tamils – and might infect the Muslims as well.

The Blindfolded Society

Post-war Sri Lanka is in transition, from an imperfect democracy to a patrimonial oligarchy. The twin myths of Humanitarian Operation-with-zero-civilian-casualties and Welfare Villages indicate the Rajapaksas’ spiritual affinity with the LTTE. Though hamstrung by international pressure and residual democratic trappings, they too believe themselves to be absolutely virtuous and absolutely infallible.

Today, the Rajapaksa regime and its Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist pawns are driving the Muslims into the same corner their politico-ideological predecessors drove the Tamils into, the corner from which the LTTE emerged, and killed the likes of Rajini.

The easy way out is to claim that the killers were a minority and that the majority of Sinhalese and Tamils remain good and decent. The killers were indeed a minority, but it was the silence and the inaction of the good and decent majority which enabled and emboldened that vicious minority. Understanding what turned most Sinhalese and most Tamils into bystanders is as important as understanding what made the LTTE and the JVP surpass the state in intolerant brutality.

Denis Diderot’s ‘A Sceptic’s Walk’ mentions a land with a princely supreme-ruler who insists on blindfolding his soldiers. The voluntarily-sightless soldiers believe that “the less you see, the better you can go straight ahead”. The story was an anti-religious tract but the allegory is applicable to politics. Leaders who blindfold their people and people who willingly blindfold themselves are a common occurrence not just in authoritarian lands but even in democratic ones.

And in a society of blindfolded citizens, the few who insist on seeing become undesirables and traitors. They are marginalised and condemned, often murdered, their memory impugned or denied.

Rajini refused to be a blind supporter of anyone. She had loyalties and adherences, but not mindless ones. She came back to her war-torn land to bear witness to the tragedy of her community, but she insisted on telling the truth as she saw it. Like many Tamils, Rajini was not unsympathetic to the LTTE. But unlike most Tamils she insisted on seeing the LTTE as it was. Thus she was able glimpse the tragedy awaiting her community at the end of the Tiger Way, 20 years before it happened.

Today there is no place for Rajini in the dominant/official Tamil memory. Perhaps the example of this single woman makes the many men who opted for blindfolds feel unbearably inadequate.

Tiger ethos dominates post-LTTE Sri Lanka. Blind obedience and unthinking support for the Rajapaksas is mandatory; dissent is equated with treachery; another community is being goaded into madness. In that perilous context, where past is overcoming and threatening the future, Rajini’s final question assumes an undeniable immediacy and urgency.



[ii] The leader of the Independent Student Union, University of Colombo

[iii] The Rebel – Camus

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Latest comments

  • 9
    3

    The following phrase of this article should be ENSHRINED IN GOLD and must be an eye opener to all of us who remain silent.

    THE KILLERS WERE INDEED A MINORITY, BUT IT WAS THE SILENCE AND THE INACTION OF THE GOOD AND DECENT MAJORITY WHICH ENABLED AND EMBOLDENED THAT VICIOUS MINORITY.

    You could not have said it better THISARANEE,may be it was a quote picked up from somewhere, but very timely and appropriate.

    Here in Sri Lanka, the minority is confined to MARA & Co. I am sure there are over 95% of us who belong to the majority who opt to remain silent, other than writing some comments under synonyms.

    But the stark reality is no one wants to be trailed by a killer day in and day out like our BAR Association President…

    • 6
      0

      Oh, yes. Keep congratuating yourself.

      This is a recasting of the hackneyed quote, from Edmund Burke – “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

      Like the Martin Neimoller quote “Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew” etc…, these quotes are repeated and overused by the Holocaust industry, while not talking about the atrocities they commit.

      ‘We know who’ from Galagedera keeps repeating this rubbish under pseudonyms (female ones!)to help his cause of international Zionism.

      He will be smoked out.

  • 9
    0

    Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama was a unique woman.

    Despicable cowards who still run around the globe screaming “HR” may have taken her precious life, but she lives on.

    Her memory, bravery, everything else she stood for, that we so admire will shine even brighter.

    In a future, more Just Sri Lanka. One day.

    • 1
      2

      In a future More Just Sri Lanka, One day.

      ????????????????????????????????
      1958 Blood bath ————-2009 Genocide …………………………………..???????????????????????????

      • 1
        3

        Ajith,

        Your blood thirsty, racist, criminal bedfellows in the LTTE killed Rajini Thiranagama in cold blood.

        Have you apologized to her family and begged for the forgivenss yet?

        Why don’t you get down on your knees and do it now?

        Cheers!

        • 1
          1

          Ben,
          Do you understand the meaning of racism? Do you want a list of people you and your blood thirsty state killed since 1948?

      • 1
        1

        Ajith,
        according to this fool called Ben hurling all the riots caused by LTTE since 1948. May be fool believe all the war in the world caused by LTTE. Typical Sinhala foolish brain…..forgive him…
        Do you know this idiot believe Jaffna library burnt by LTTE…

  • 4
    6

    “Srilanka lurches towards another conflict”, says Ms T. .

    South doesn’t want a conflict,

    They never instigated any in recent times in spite of the terrible brutality of the LTTE, in which Ms Thiranagama was once a member.

    Besides, the Southerners , the dalits in particular are not keen to play in to the hands of the West and give Ms Pillai’s successor the opportunity to send a liberation Army to partition the country.

    Any future conflict is most likely to come from the same lot who delivered the last one.

    JVP wouldn’t be able to con our poor dalits in the South anymore.

    Dalits in the North who are totally under the Vellalas now will be the vulnerable lot.

    And Ms Chandrika is adding fuel to the fire by predicting a Military mutiny to justify the Vellals TNA’s and the CM’s ‘ constant harassing and degrading of the Srilankan armed forces.

    • 1
      3

      .
      No worries….Yellow (yellow people and yellow robes) rules the South.

      :-)

  • 5
    0

    In all such cases, self protection takes priority that’s why the majority of the good people keep silent. For a terrorist group or for an oligarchy, fear is the key. But once the people cross the Rubicon,then all hell will break lose.

    In a situation like we found under the JVP, LTTE, IPKF and presently the UPFA terror, we got to get it right by peaceable means at the risk of permitting tyranny to reign. Tyranny cannot continue forever. Or maybe it can. American foreign policy has been a tyranny since its creation and then there is the Israeli tyranny.

    At the end of the day, we have to ask the question. Couldn’t Rajini Tiranagama hold something back for her daughters’ sake. Couldn’t Lasanatha Wickrematunga have done the same for his childrens’ sake. Sure they were fighting for a greater cause…..but still..

    Hameed

  • 3
    2

    Rajaini have been a heroine in our society. And still We Respect her as a present day, True heroine of sri lanka.

    Not like our Post Human rights crusader become White van Sponsor!!!!!!!!!!!.

    It is like a never dying smell of her bravery and fearless thinking for a just society,
    and already brought her honour but, it is very sad that the Heroine is not with us now.

    May those sinful killers and Handlers of her assassination ever get Punished or be happy now ?????.

  • 6
    4

    TG:

    I can understand your anguish at the loss of Rajaini. But for me the fault lies with the Majority for creating the environment for people like Rajaini to be killed but let us look at it in perspective.

    **** The struggle for Freedom was forced on us by Sinhalese brutality and ours was a reaction to a Sinhalese action. So let us not pretend that we started it.

    In every Freedom Struggle there are deaths which could be avoided but inevitable because they get caught up in cross fire through no fault of their own.

    But Rajaini was guilty of Contributory Negligence. She was an educated individual and should have known that being married to a Sinhalese would put her in the firing line if dared to question the Freedom Fighters. I am not condoning the actions of the LTTE but that is reality and she paid a heavy price.

    I wish to question your wisdom on the following.

    1) The LTTE killed Rajini because the LTTE regarded dissent as the ultimate crime.

    ***Dissent when you are fighting for Freedom from Tyranny amounts to Treason.

    2) But what made the LTTE so brutally intolerant? What enabled such an organisation to dominate the Tamil struggle and hegemonise Tamil society so completely that it could be defeated only by a non-Tamil entity adhering to some of the selfsame ethos, strategy and tactics.

    *** Every attempt by Moderate Tamils to reason with the majority failed.

    3) In a Lanka with Lankans, as opposed to Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, Rajini would have been celebrated for her academic achievements or her social work; she would have lived to see her daughters growing up to be the women they are. In a Tamil liberation struggle which did not enthrone unfreedom, Rajaini would have been hailed as a heroine. In a post-war Sri Lanka treading the path of consensual-peace and inclusive nation-building, the state would have commemorated Rajini.

    *** The choice to put herself in the firing line at the expense of her Children was hers and hers alone.

    4) Rajini’s work as a fearless human rights activist brought her not honour but mistrust, hatred and, finally, death. And the very regime which defeated her killers impeded the efforts to honour her memory.

    *** Freedom struggle follows due to failure to respect Human Rights. I mean Tamil Human Rights.

    5) The last years of Rajini’s life were spent in a North-East which was the theatre of an unexpected, confusing war, between the LTTE and the Indian Army. As the IPKF murdered, raped and pillaged its way across the province, Rajini was one of the few who dared to speak out openly, not from the safety of some foreign land or even the Lankan South but from Jaffna.

    *** Rajaini should have known that she was speaking to a Brick Wall.

    6) The LTTE and the JVP (of the Second Insurgency) never doubted the correctness of what they did nor their right to do whatever they thought to be correct. Though both organisations were more or less secular, their animating spirit was quasi-religious. Born waving the banners of freedom and liberation, they were far more prone to fanaticism than their establishment opponents. Their world was a black and white one which did not admit any other shade.

    *** Please don’t equate LLTE with JVP. They were fighting for totally different reasons. LTTE for Freedom. JVP to copy the Communist Agenda and in that sense they are World apart.

    7)The easy way out is to claim that the killers were a minority and that the majority of Sinhalese and Tamils remain good and decent. The killers were indeed a minority, but it was the silence and the inaction of the good and decent majority which enabled and emboldened that vicious minority. Understanding what turned most Sinhalese and most Tamils into bystanders is as important as understanding what made the LTTE and the JVP surpass the state in intolerant brutality.

    *** The answer is simple and the truth is when it comes to Tamil suffering the Majority Sinhalese are not bystanders but encourage the perpetrators by voting for them at elections.

    8) Today there is no place for Rajini in the dominant/official Tamil memory. Perhaps the example of this single woman makes the many men who opted for blindfolds feel unbearably inadequate.

    *** I totally disagree with you as there are many Tamils who feel every life is precious Tamils as well as Sinhalese but in the context of greater good some pay the ultimate price.

    Rajaini will always be remembered and her life could have been spared if Successive Sinhalese Governments since independence had the foresight and vision and turned Sri Lanka into a Federal System within a Unitary State.

    • 2
      2

      Kali the summary of your post is ‘the fault lies with the Majority for creating the environment for people like Rajaini to be killed’

      You might as well argue

      ‘the fault lies with the British for importing Tamil labor from India in the first place’ or

      ‘the fault lies with the diaspora for funding the LTTE that killed her’

      You see we can all make stupid statements to divert blame from the LTTE

      • 2
        1

        Rattan you Sinkalam:

        You are as ignorant as the rest of the 20 million and no wonder you are in shit hole.

        There is a difference between the imported Tamils from India and the Bhumi Puthiras ( The Jaffna Tamils) who had their own kingdom and built Nallur and all the other historic Temples. I am not prepared to take lessons from you, you idiot.
        Face facts. The blame lies with you lot and Rajaini herself for putting her in the firing line.

  • 2
    0

    A fine narrative of the times we live in by an outstanding social scientist – Tisaranee G. But the tragedy is voices like hers, that should be encouraged in and protected by the system, are expressed from the safety of a far away land. Death and many other forms of punishment are threatened to those who speak or write honestly and fearlessly by a regime that came to power decrying an alleged anti-people Govt of the late 1980s – including personal complaints – of all places to UNHRC in Geneva – now a dirty word.

    If there is one minor flaw in the assessment it is this – “Today there is no place for Rajini in the dominant/official Tamil memory” Allow me to correct you, dear Tisaranee. Rajini and her work will live in the memory of all Tamils who love freedom and who despise fascism – from whatever side it comes from. She, like Neelan, will be remembered for long and her name will be celebrated by Tamils all over the world dedicated to the democratic way of life.

    R. Varathan

  • 0
    2

    Superb piece of writing.

    • 0
      0

      Yah, especially for a man!

    • 0
      0

      Kanthan,

      TG or Varathan?

      Hooker

  • 0
    0

    I like the quote, “In Lanka there is only Lankans.”

  • 0
    0

    “Why did they Shoot” ?

    Good question Tissaranee. The answer is simple. The LTTE was convinced tha the dumb Tamils will congradualate them as they unfailing did – till the guns were turned on them.

    She was a victim of Tamil hypocrisy, Tamil Dumbness and Tamil Racism and she was not a lone. The Tamils clapped when good people were killed they cry when they are.

    Are they really better than the Sinhalese ?

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