The spirit of open defiance represented by Rajani was extinguished with the arrest of students Chelvi Thiagarajah and George Manoharan. In May 1991, Chelvi had an open confrontation with a leading accredited dramatist, soon after the staging of the latter’s play at Chundikuli Girls’ College. The play, directed towards recruitment, was about the victims of the Indian Army rising from the ashes like a phoenix to give birth to a new nation under the LTTE leader’s guidance. Chelvi was furious about its totalitarian intent, which devalued victims of the LTTE at a time when it was detaining and exterminating dissidents by the hundreds. Those present at the confrontation felt anxious for Chelvi.
Chelvi then spoke of a counter-play to be staged by her circle, which was under preparation at the University. Chelvi was arrested in August 1991 along with Manoharan and Thillai, who were part of Chelvi’s drama circle. A contemporary student leader at the University who had earlier belonged to EROS told us that a month before Manoharan and Chelvi were arrested, the LTTE had arrested three university students, Srinivasan, Govindaraj and Dharshini, for connection with dissident activity. This was about late June 1991. The student leader said EROS leader Balakumar had them released. According to this leader, Balakumar was trapped and had nowhere to go, and so remained in the LTTE’s civil administration arguing that he could use his influence for the good. Balakumar, this student leader said, was very sympathetic to Manoharan and Chelvi, adding that he confessed to being in agreement with all that Manoharan said, but felt that Manoharan had been unwise to articulate these sentiments strongly in public. The leader told us that Chelvi and Manoharan were arrested through the instrumentality of Arunothayan, a student spy, who had their whereabouts noted. He also said that the LTTE’s deputy intelligence chief Newton came to the University and told the Vice Chancellor Prof. Thurairajah that the two were arrested on suspicion of having contact with the UTHR(J). Manoharan was seen at the Anaikkoddai torture camp in December 1991. Chelvi, according to this leader, was sent to a punishment camp in Vadamaratchy East where the LTTE reported her as having been killed during aerial bombing by the Air Force. Many were skeptical about this. Chelvi had smuggled out a message in 1992, hopeful of her release, which was consonant with her being sent to a punishment camp (see Ch 6).
Chelvi, Manoharan and Thillai were all highly critical of a leading accredited dramatist for having sold out to the LTTE. The LTTE aborted their play. In November, for Great Heroes Week, the same accredited dramatist staged the Sandalwood Jungle (Santhanakkadu). Its theme was that LTTE cadres acquired their true worth when ground to paste, like sandalwood, so that in their new manifestation, their bodies exuded a scented odour for the benefit of all. This time there was no Chelvi to deliver a critique. She and her two friends had disappeared. The dramatist she had censured too acquired new recognition, to become an academic at the University in Fine Arts.
After May 1991, when the LTTE detained several students from the University of Jaffna, we mentioned that a senior academic who warned the students in a meeting summoned by the LTTE at the main auditorium, “There are… weeds left in the University [who]… will be plucked up and cast away.” This was communicated to us in what was perhaps the last letter from Manoharan before his fatal arrest. The University is committed to historical amnesia and is the last place for any record of this ugly phase. Admission is part of necessary self-appraisal that should follow. The University, willingly and unwillingly, by its silences and articulations, was co-opted as a partner in crime.
The disappearances coincided with the time hundreds of children recruited by the LTTE were literally ground to paste in its failed attempt to capture Elephant Pass camp. Whispered public criticism drove it to further tighten the screws against dissent. At that time many had concluded that the LTTE’s repression was going to be total. As is usual in totalitarian societies there was a group of artistes who had official patronage and received sanctioned flattery and reward; some even managed to portray themselves to the outside world as independent spirits and their work as authentic expressions of the people. They became ideal material for peace groups to sponsor and parade around the world as voices of the oppressed and an index of their success in peace making. At the same time a dwindling group of dissident artistes was struggling to keep the tiny flame of freedom alive against hopeless odds. To give them any praise or solidarity courted disaster for peace-making – and they were best left to suffer the consequences of their folly.
The flame that Rajani carried was that of a movement. For a time it proved that people with diverse beliefs, backgrounds and commitments, both within the University and outside, could work together and support each other for the common good. We all carry the burden and responsibility for those whose lives are cut short, to do our utmost to ensure that they did not die in vain. We must repudiate the conventional wisdom of peacemakers yesterday and today, which dictates surrender, appeasement and the denial of our humanity. To them, steadfastness, honour and loyalty are dispensable like cast off clothes given to beggars.
is about the LTTE’s moves soon after murdering Rajani,
to snuff out the remaining embers of dissent at
Soon after murdering Rajani, LTTE intelligence was busy sowing terror and arm- twisting the more malleable persons at the University, while keeping those who seemed to dissent under surveillance. Some student leaders such as Chelvi and Manoharan showed an admirable spirit of resistance. Rajani had been instrumental in creating a team spirit to enable the University to respond collectively whenever an individual was threatened. The LTTE moved quickly to annul any development, which allowed people space to engage with issues and respond collectively. A well-tried strategy was to let a marked individual know that he was on the hit list. Inevitably, the individual approached the LTTE through a broker. The outcome was, normal appearances notwithstanding, the individual had been reduced to a walking sepulchre. No one could depend on the trust or loyalty of an erstwhile friend under such circumstances.
The smothering of dissent and shifting alliances of those in positions of authority is well illustrated by a story told to us by Winsles.
the secretary of the Science Students Union, succeeded Gnanam
as president of the University Students Union (USU). Just before he became
president of the USU, Winsles, with several others,
was summoned to Mallavi to meet Mahattaya.
The time was late 1989, after Rajani’s assassination,
when the Indian Army was beginning its pull out. The meeting was arranged by Arunothayan, the spy who was only nominally a student. Arunothayan was closely monitoring the University after the
assassination and intimidating students who wanted to commemorate Rajani. Although Arunothayan
worked in the shadows, he was known and feared. Once reported by examiners for
cheating, the Senate-appointed inquiry committee exonerated Arunothayan
without calling evidence from the examiners. Arunothayan
was then very central to the stifling of dissent at the university. The group
bound for Mallavi included persons picked by Arunothayan and
included a teacher from
The group taken to meet Mahattaya first went to Dinesh Camp in Vavuniya. (Dinesh was then Tamilchelvan’s nom de guerre.) From there they were by night driven to Mahattaya’s HQ in Mallavi. When ushered into Mahattaya’s presence, Winsles told him, “The opinion among the students is that the LTTE killed Rajani Thiranagama. What do you have to say?” Mahattaya flatly denied that they killed Rajani, but then went on to give reasons justifying the killing: that she had written The Broken Palmyra and her work had done them much damage. In the catalogue of her faults he recited without conviction, was her wearing Western dress. Rajani in fact usually wore sari to work.
Winsles continued to have
antagonistic meetings with Mahattya around the LTTE’s
interference in student matters. One such issue was the Marumalarchi Kalaham (MMK) office. The MMK had been a
cultural and literary organisation at
In the first
meeting at Mallavi in 1989, Mahattaya
claimed that a valuable document of theirs from the MMK office had gone into
the possession of Prof. N. Balakrishnan, Dean of Arts
(Dean Bala). Subsequently in 1990 after the pullout
of the Indian Army, Mahattaya made his first visit to
Mahattaya returned then to the mysterious missing document he had first mentioned at Mallavi, and claimed that Dean Bala had taken the document, while the Dean claimed to the contrary that it was destroyed when the Indian Army moved in. Mahattaya also asked about the Students Union leader Gnanam whom Winsles succeeded. Evidently, the LTTE suspected that Gnanam had removed the document and given it to Dean Bala whom Gnanam was close to.
Mahattaya then dropped a bombshell. He told Winsles that Dean Bala was on the LTTE’s hit list, but the decision had been put on hold temporarily. Alarmed by this turn of events, Winsles told the Vice Chancellor, Prof. A. Thurairajah, about the threat to Dean Bala, as soon as he returned to the University. Prof. Thurairajah was shocked and asked Winsles whether he had heard correctly. When Winsles affirmed that he undoubtedly had, Thurairajah confessed that he too was afraid for himself.
Thurairajah then gave Winsles some very remarkable advice: “If you see one person running, you must look carefully before
following. But when all are running, you must simply follow with no further
ado. That is the way to survive.” Thurairajah was
the figurehead of education in
Dean Bala, who probably received the chilling tidings from Thurairajah, asked Winsles if the report of his predicament was correct. Winsles confirmed it. Other students told Winsles that the LTTE suspected Dean Bala of having close contact with his erstwhile student in Economics and colleague on the staff; as well as their opponent, Chief Minister Varadarajaperumal of the North-East Provincial Council.
revealing is the case of Gnanam, the former Students
Union president, whom the LTTE suspected had removed the mysterious missing
document. Gnanam was not considered a bad guy, nor
was he particularly political. Many of the apolitical student leaders wanted to
participate in the march through the city and make the commemoration, in
protest against killing Rajani, a success; but found Gnanam sitting on the fence, while Arunothayan
was using his weight to try to sabotage any protest. Students later noticed
that Gnanam was hanging about closely with Arunothayan. In September 1990, the LTTE sent teams to
abduct Dr. Sritharan of the UTHR(J). Tipped off, he went underground.
Meanwhile, owing to shelling around
The death sentence on Dean Bala was in time rescinded, but not before he was taken to the dreaded LTTE office in Neervely and some senior dons amenable to the LTTE had pleaded for his release. This was the LTTE’s style. Make a threat, scare a person out of his wits, and make him accede to their terms. The killing of Rajani, followed days later by that of two campus security officers Felix Anthony and Thevathas, were in themselves a chilling message to the University to come to terms with its wishes. We also learnt from employees that as a sequel to the intimidation of Dean Bala, one person was recruited to the Faculty of Humanities on the LTTE’s recommendation. Another senior colleague added that Dean Bala agreed to make the appointment after pistol packing Arunothayan personally threatened the Dean. In time the abuse worked both ways as part of the perks of surrender. A dismissed physics teacher from the Faculty of Science appealed for reinstatement through the courts administered by the LTTE. The Professor of Mathematics who supported the appeal discovered to his consternation that the files had disappeared from the courts following, as he learnt from senior justice officials whom he confronted, a request from the Vice Chancellor to the LTTE leader.
We may recall that Mahattaya,
knowing full well her opposition to the LTTE, had wanted to meet Rajani after her return from
ones succumbed fast; the stronger ones were kept under observation until an
opportune moment came to silence, detain
or worse. Winsles had kept his independence
and quietly defied the LTTE. In September 1990, Mahattaya
told Winsles that as the Students Union they should
issue a statement of support for the LTTE and hinted that their failure to do
so marked them out as traitors. Winsles asked him for
time. In early October the LTTE briefly lifted the exit pass requirement. Winsles quickly fled
In the wider
society too the LTTE line was observed. The late John
Merritt of the London Observer was in
“Recruiting posters appealing to 14-year-olds assert ‘Tigers Don’t Cry’. LTTE officials maintain that there is a 13 or 14-year-old age limit for political and military training, but one section commander, faithfully recording his troops manoeuvres in a ‘Monitor’s Exercise Book’ with school, date, name and subject spaces on the cover, was happy to show off the 12-year-old cubs who can strip down a Kalashnikov faster than most children can turn a Biro into a pea-shooter.
“A shopkeeper tells how he is doing a good trade in some dubious balm for the boys’ feet, blistered by their new boots. He starts to talk with bitterness of his own 13-year-old who has recently joined the ranks, but falls silent as a Tiger pack passes. They are 40 yards away, out of earshot, but he shakes hands and says, ‘Sorry’…
“When night falls only the children venture on to the streets, in big, awkward boots and army fatigues. With grenades threaded at their waists and assault rifles in their skinny arms they follow a pied piper called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It is a liberation that chains every boy with a regulation cyanide capsule on a string around his neck, a freedom fight that has made an enemy of the young woman in the picture on the wall.”
The last reference was to posters of Rajani pasted on the walls of Jaffna City for the November commemoration by students and sympathisers. For the LTTE to pull them down would have been a virtual admission of guilt.
Child soldiers was an issue highlighted by us which placed Rajani and UTHR(J) on a collision course with the LTTE. The harrowing fate of these children, a mere few months later in August 1990, described below, is a severe indictment on the society’s elite. The LTTE then tried to overrun the army position in Jaffna Fort, in which many of these children thrown in recklessly, were traumatised, killed or maimed. The following is taken from UTHR(J) Report No.6 of early 1991, following whose publication the University Council, out of anger or to curry favour, moved against members of the UTHR(J) with unprecedented harshness:
“A large number of girls and children were recruited and flung into battle in reckless fashion with little understanding of the purpose and lack of maturity to come to terms with blown limbs and permanent physical disability. Once the original boyish sense of adventure evaporated with injury, children often bitterly cursed the movement and even attempted suicide. Others talk about the experience in a dazed matter of fact manner. The two attacks on the Fort and the attack on Mankulam resulted in a large number of such casualties…
“The ward in
Manipay hospital just after the attack on
“Another girl with a head injury was at Manthikal hospital. The place reeked with blood. The tractor in which her party had been travelling in Karainagar had caught a shell when they tried to attack the naval base. After being injured, the girl held on to her gun as instructed until someone collected it. Asked how she felt before the attack, she said that it was the most exhilarating experience. They were simply thrilled as they had a cup of tea before setting off. Then she became anxious. She asked the lady close by, “Akka (elder sister) will you stay with me tonight?” Later in her sleep she cried, “Amma (mother), amma, come and stay close to me!” Then: “Drive the tractor slowly, my head hurts.... I asked the akka to stay with me, I don't know if she is here.....”
If our memory serves us correctly, it was Manoharan who sent us this report. It was in the very nature of the emerging regime that Manoharan, Rajani and Chelvi, who would have wept with these children, had to be taken away.
When the report above received wide
publicity, the University Council moved to punish two academics associated with
it, arbitrarily reversing an earlier decision to treat their absence from
 Balakumar gave himself over to the Sri Lankan Army on 17th May 2009 near Mullivaykkal, and is since missing (Special Report 34 Part IV).
 Arunothayan was thrown out of the LTTE, perhaps owing to his close ties with Mahattaya, and was driving a tractor in Killinochchi. Sometime later, he joined the government administration.
 Newton disappeared after he left Colombo in a hired car in 2005, at the start of the tit for tat killings shifting from lower to higher levels in a doomed peace process.
 As to possibilities, the following incident that happened elsewhere was narrated in our Report No.10: “The LTTE prison camp at Kachchai was bombed by the air force in August 1990. One bomb hit a bunker where prisoners were kept. The camp leader Kanthi came out from his hiding place once the bombers left, sprayed the inside of the damaged bunker with his submachine gun. The bunker was then covered up. The camp was then moved to Koilakandy.” Kanthi was also active in 2009 (Special Report No.34, VIII).
 John Merritt was the Sunday
Observer’s leading investigative journalist who in his journalism fought
for fair play in all parts of the world and for asylum seekers in
 The Roman Catholic Church seemed to take the view that the Church could coexist with a state, however delinquent, if they do not interfere in each other’s agreed prerogatives. According to a report at that time the LTTE wanted all churches and temples to ring their bells on Martyrs’ Day in the LTTE calendar. Bishop Deogupillai, according to the report, ordered the priests not to ring their bells. The LTTE’s Yogi, approached the Bishop to get him reverse his decision. The Bishop, the report said, showed Yogi the portion on the Canon Law regulating the ringing of bells. The LTTE did not press the matter further.
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