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February, 1990

A second preface was thought necessary because two years have elapsed since the original manuscript was ready, and many things have taken place in the intervening months, including the murder of Dr.Rajani Thiranagama, one of the co-authors. The authors have also had time to reflect on what they wrote nearly two years ago during the heat of the October 1987 war and its immediate aftermath. While preserving the emotional impact of these events, some editing has been done on the material in the pre-publication issue in the interests of greater fairness and objectivity. We have also removed impressions which affected us then, but would now obscure the book's wider significance. Also included is a postscript written by the late Dr. Rajani Thiranagama. Although we privately circulated the pre-publication issue, we delayed mass distribution because of a few revisions we wanted to make. But unfortunately, certain happenings led to the widespread distribution of the copies of the pre-publication issue. To further compound matters, Rajani was killed in September last year. Therefore we decided to publish the book with few changes.

        As we have mentioned earlier, countless young men had voluntarily taken up arms and laid down their lives for a cause on behalf of the entire Tamil population, in a war that was being waged against the chauvinist Sri Lankan state. Sometimes they fought in the hope of obtaining their goal of Eelam - a separate state - only in the distant future. The writing of an analysis of the whole period of struggle, of its willing and unwilling participants, and its history, which questions many an assumption and theory, may seem, to many, irresponsible and foolish. Others may say, to indulge in self-criticism in the hey-day of nationalist fervour was adventuristic and suicidal.

         Apart from other considerations,we felt that we owed the writing of this book to our young men in their teens who are on the streets carrying some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world. We also owe it to our young men and women to whom we hand down nothing but hypocrisy, despondency and hopelessness.The present drift was destroying the creative capacity of a whole generation of youths, exploiting their aspirations and transforming them into enemies fighting one another.

        We also felt the need for the articulation of independent but authentic sentiments of the people. The people generally reacted instinctively to contingencies, without going beyond what is apparent. Nor did they have the will to look at them critically. It was hoped that a space for independent, objective, thinking, keeping the people as its focal point, would evolve.

         In the process of writing this book, we have over and over again come to the conclusion that any positive development of our history rests primarily on ourselves. Therefore, while condemning in no uncertain terms all open and covert subversion of the politics of the liberation period by external forces such as the Indian State, and the short-sightedness of its present and erstwhile local allies who had lost sight of original goals, we have stressed the need to study our aspirations, assumptions and susceptibilities. This may well be too great a challenge to those whose exclusive idealism is not sympathetic to criticism. The liberation struggle has always opted for militaristic solutions. Critics and adversaries were killed. Dissidents were killed and branded traitors. Criticism is often termed "an attempt to sully the sublimity of the movement". Politics becomes the prerogative of the militarily strongest group. And even its capitulations to the pressures of discredited forces are interpreted as a furthering of the cause of Eelam.

        Thus in this strait-jacketed ethos of ours, there was a strong need to tap the seething but dormant consciousness of the people. It is appropriate at this moment to quote an excerpt from Rajani Thiranagama's writings:

"A state of resignation envelopes the community. The long shadow of the gun has not only been the source of power and glory, but also of fear and terror as well. In the menacing shadow play, forces complementing each other, dance in each other's momentum. The paralysing depression is not due to the violence and authority imposed from outside, but rather to the destructive violence emanating from within the womb of our society."

        Why was Rajani Thiranagama murdered ? It is a question not answered by her killers who have chosen anonymity. When there were moves to commemorate her life and work, questions were raised by many Tamils from around the world: "Why should she alone be remembered and commemorated amidst so many killed and unremembered?"

        She was killed because her sense of responsibility demanded that, in her concern for the meaningless deaths of ordinary people, the dominant political trends of this society ought to be questioned. The accepted practice was to use the statistics of the dead to castigate the villain of the moment from the capitals of the world. It accorded well with the thrust of using people as cannon fodder for the purposes of propaganda. Rajani did what was unacceptable. She asked questions that went deep into the causes of destruction and questioned the politics behind it. She viewed the writing of "The Broken Palmyrah," not as an isolated scholarly socio-historical analysis, but as a democratic treatment of the people. She was never indifferent to the fate of those who had taken up arms for a cause they knew little about. She was often sympathetic to their stated aspirations and tried to begin a dialogue with them, although she did not share their views.

        Right from her undergraduate days, Rajani had yearned and fought for social justice and equality. Whether it be student issues, the discrimination against Tamils, the National Question or general strikes, she always aligned herself with the oppressed parties. She stood up in very delicate situations and argued, confronted and negotiated for the rights of the people. During her stay in Britain from 1983 to 1986, she, together with her postgraduate studies, participated in the various political and socio-cultural struggles of the black people. She shared in the striving of blacks for an end to discrimination and their recognition as a political force to be esteemed. She did this with her characteristic enthusiasm. It was particularly in the sphere of black women and feminism that she explored specific issues and concepts concerning women, within the broader framework of class, black struggles and other third world phenomena.

        Rajani's involvement with women's groups and issues was part of her broader concern for people, especially oppressed people. She found in women's struggles for survival with dignity and independence, a message for all struggling people. When a group of women in Jaffna came together to establish a home for women in need-"The Poorani Women's Centre" - she gave generously of herself to the task of establishing it and seeing it through its teething problems. Her theoretical undertakings in feminism and her personal relationships with women inside and outside the university are instances of how she yoked theory and practice together.

        A peace march to express the people's feelings about the militarisation of the young had been one of Rajani's last wishes. She had also suggested the slogan "We want bread; not bullets". This was taken up by those who had been inspired by her and such a march, quite independent of any political group, was held on 21 November, 1989. It was joined-in by representatives from the Sinhalese South, Britain, India, Pakistan, Netherlands, South Africa and Tanzania. Tributes were received from persons great and small from around the world.

        When a medical student spoke at the meeting held after the peace march to commemorate Rajani, he recalled Rajani in connection with this particular issue of militarisation. Shortly before her death, after her return from England, she had called him up and had asked him gravely, what they were doing about it as a student body. This was during the height of the I.P.K.F. sponsored forced conscription. He further said at the commemoration meeting:

"During the peace march which preceded this meeting, I was struck by what two conscripts from the T.N.A. said as we passed them. They said, 'Had you marched a few months earlier,we would not be here in these uniforms, holding these guns'. On the other hand, in Vadamaratchi where I come from, boys around 13 and 14 years old are induced to carry weapons without any political understanding. Disillusionment sets in fast. All that remains is a thirst for vengeance".

These student leaders knew the risks. They understood the nuances when gunmen came and spoke to them. They knew that business was meant. When they walk the streets after dark or go to their rooms for the night, they are exposed and helpless. The death that threatens them is not instant death in the rush of battle, but death as an ever present possibility. They knew why their friend and mentor, Rajani, was killed. They were keenly aware of the fate of Vimaleswaran, a former student leader

        The courage and an unyielding analytical and emotional thrust that Rajani had inspired in this particular student is the kind of influence she had on many around her. Her actions, writings and her passionate concern, stand in stark contrast to those who hold positions in this society without acknowledging the associated responsibility. It is because of the explosive potential of her memory that many are trying to either play it down or suppress it. It also explains why many were uncomfortable with her - some even to the point of wanting her killed.

        A chronic fear of violent bodily harm is an ever present feature of Tamil life. Many Tamils fled this country in fear following the anti-Tamil violence of July 1983 and its aftermath. Now they live in London, New York, Toronto, Oslo, Amsterdam and so on. And the fear remains and is more subtle, but it still is very real. This time it comes from within. Speakers billed to speak at meetings suddenly tender excuses. Someone participating in a cultural show receives a call because it is sponsored by persons independent of a powerful group. Those not happy with the main propaganda line talk in hushed tones at public gatherings. Messages are passed on half jokingly that someone whose views were unpalatable, would be kidnapped. Persons organising something like a scheme to help ex-militants abroad, receive a call from Colombo or Madras threatening with death their close relatives back at home. This plague of fear becomes obscene only by being tolerated.

        The Tamils have become isolated individuals without a sense of community. Even in conditions where they can appeal for help from the forces of law and order, and where the press could be sympathetic, they find themselves unable to organise in the interests of their self-respect and dignity. With a few exceptions, the Tamil-Associations that dot the world are gatherings where they can conveniently and uncritically misrepresent events at home. They are inextricably linked to the sickness and its cure back at home.

        This brings us to hundreds of young men who had once meant well and later left their militant groups, often broken and disillusioned, to live out their existence in India and the capitals of the West, as men in a hangover. Many of them helped to recruit large numbers to their organisation. Others have been well known killers. Some number their murdered victims in the tens. If these persons have any sense of responsibility or any courage left, continued silence is not the honourable option open to them. For the good of those of their community who can still be saved, they must risk coming out openly and confessing that they were wrong and that what they had advocated is wrong. Rajani had once helped a militant group. It is a measure of her sense of responsibility that she came out and openly repudiated what the group had stood for. In this she was almost an exception. That was why she felt inclined to carry on her shoulders in tears, the responsibility of the community for having brought our young to this.

        With the passage of time, and after what happened to Rajani - a supreme act of intolerance- we have felt a greater need to publish this as a collective work. Any reader is bound to come across within these pages, a divergence of views. Much of this will turn out to be complementary. We wish to demonstrate that despite our differences, we are willing to work together, listen to reasoned argument, and remain open to being changed by each other. This is not only the ideal of science, but also of the search for truth. We would also defend each other's right to hold his or her different opinions.

        We wish to thank many friends and acquaintances who have been sympathetic to the publication of this book and have helped us by making many suggestions in the interests of fairness, have pointed out errors of fact, and have given much valuable time to going through the contents, paying attention to detail. Finally we thank all those who helped us in the several aspects of publication and distribution.

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