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Extractfrom Chapter 3:

Some Crucial Pieces of the Jigsaw

 

To everything there is a season…A time to be born and a time to die…A time to weep and a time to laugh: a time to mourn and a time to dance…I know that whatsoever God doeth it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it.

 

3.1 The Sands Run Out

  Rajani was assassinated by the LTTE on the 21st of September 1989 . This was a murder that was, like thousands of others, never investigated, no evidence compiled by anyone in authority and no one found guilty. In this chapter, we detail our collection of information and testimonies over many years, leading to a conclusive picture of her killers. We had much of this information by 2005, a large portion of it preserved in a memoir written in early 1990. The first testimony pointing to the identity of the killer came from the journalist Manoranjan in the months after Rajani was killed. Further important information came from members of the PLOTE’s Theepori splinter group we interviewed in Canada in 2005… 

  Key LTTE intelligence operatives came to Bharathy Community Centre in Pungankulam regularly, including Charles and Bosco, both leading subordinates of the intelligence chief, Pottu Amman. One who came less often was Kapil Amman, Pottu’s deputy. While Bosco did not offer a reason for killing Rajani, Kapil Amman, who came to the Centre a few days after the killing, said that she was killed for campaigning overseas against the policies of the LTTE.

  The Assassination

The late Prof. Kanagasundaram was the first head of the Anatomy Department; he was also the Dean of Medicine and had recruited Rajani. (He previously taught at the National University of Singapore.) When Prof. Kanagasundaram and some others left after the July 1983 communal violence, Rajani on her return from Britain , with her doctorate, became the only qualified member of the staff, although the department’s cadre had six positions. Mr. Kulendran, who was a technical officer in the Anatomy Department, who had joined in 1981, testified to how Rajani was the only medical don to be on the premises, amidst considerable fear and uncertainty, to motivate and lead the non-academic staff in reopening the faculty after the Indian Army offensive in 1987. He recalled Rajani firmly arguing with and persuading Brigadier Manjit Singh to help them reopen.

  When Rajani went to England in June 1989 for three months, there was no qualified lecturer in Anatomy. Kulendran recalled that the Dean, Prof. Balasubramaniam, had written to her asking her to return and conduct the Anatomy exams for the 2nd MBBS. At the same time Kulendran had heard that on account of the Indian Army searching her office and her home, which both had a large collection of Marxist literature, her friends had advised her not to return. But she returned on 3rd September.

  Upon Rajani’s return, she found that a final year student and LTTE member, Prabhakaran, had been shot and injured by a pro-Indian group while returning from clinicals on a bicycle. He survived because the Indian Army found him and warded him in Jaffna Hospital . As if to excuse the shooting an Indian Army official told the Vice Chancellor that the student was a confirmed LTTE member. Taken aback by this development, Rajani asked her colleagues why the Faculty, the University and the student body had not confronted the Indian Army on this. After all, the latter had given an assurance that people would not be persecuted for their political views provided they did not carry arms. The injured student was unarmed.

  Rajani discovered to her alarm that contrary to the University’s practice, the students supporting the LTTE wanted the shooting of student Prabhakaran by an ally of the Indian Army suppressed. The Medical Faculty was then operating as something of an LTTE camp. The Indian Army which had its suspicions was holding back only because of the political cost. The LTTE lobby was worried that should the issue of student Prabhakaran be given prominence, the Indian Army would crack down on the Medical Faculty to prove their point. This was the nightmare that Rajani dreaded: By using the University for its short-term ends, the LTTE was silencing the University as a voice of conscience and a centre of non-violent resistance to violations of the people’s rights. 

  A few days later, Rajani hosted a lunch for the staff in her department at a restaurant near Tinnevely Farm. During the lunch she told her staff casually in Tamil that death to this Thamilichchi (Tamil woman) is not far away. (Several other premonitions of her death, including that the killer would be one born like herself of a Tamil mother have been cited from her last letters in No More Tears Sisterhttp://www.uthr.org/Rajani/Film%20_%20Press%20Kit.pdf). After lunch, they had a happy session where Rajani sang some English songs and danced.

  On the 13th September 1989 , Majors S.K. Singh and Nautyal of the Gurkha Regiment called at Rajani’s room in the Medical Faculty and there ensued an argument. Rajani told them with characteristic firmness that they had no business to raid her house during her absence in England and harass those who stayed there and that they should not come there and alarm her children, but could arrest her if they wished to question her. The July raid was done to obtain copies of the pre-publication edition of our book, The Broken Palmyra. The meeting ended on a strained note.

  Soon afterwards, the two most prominent LTTE students in the medical faculty (see chapter 2) Sooriyakumar and Dharmendra, the latter known for carrying a pistol in the university premises, came in to speak to her. In her frank manner she told them what happened, that The Broken Palmyra had cropped up in the conversation, but that she did not fear anything serious and could handle the matter herself. The conversation drifted towards a subject that had a note of menace. There were already rumours that the Indian Army would pull out. LTTE circles in particular knew that President Premadasa had given them a carte blanche to deal with any opposition to them as they pleased. Dharmendra told Rajani that once the Indian Army withdrew, it would take them only two days to wipe out the EPRLF and other groups allied to the Indians, and then they would return to war with the Sri Lankan government. 

  Rajani asked, “Why do you want to wipe out those poor conscripts and others very much like yourselves?” Dharmendra replied that they were traitors. Rajani shot back, “According to your definition I am also a traitor. You will kill me as well.” Dharmendra did not respond to this. This was one of the rare occasions Rajani had any kind of two-way discussion with LTTE students. Their characteristic conduct was to listen to her, but not engage. Hitherto they found her standing up to the Indian Army useful in protecting students with LTTE links who were detained or threatened. Now they had visions of becoming all-powerful and she was an obstacle.

  When Rajani began to have significant dealings with Dharmendra. he had a roommate of Hill County Tamil Origin who was a medical student. The Hill Country student told Rajani that he feared for his safety as Dharmendra had accused him of sending letters purportedly from the LTTE warning students against sitting for examinations, when it was actually Dharmendra who sent these letters. Rajani told Dharmendra that because of their insensitivity Tamils in Jaffna were already isolated, and giving the impression that Hill Country Tamils were not welcome in Jaffna would do the Tamils and the University immense harm.

  On another occasion, Dharmendra had come running to Rajani when the Indian Army searched for him, and Rajani assured him that she would always defend the right of students to hold and express their own political views. She had at times wondered whether he had any sense of loyalty to her or would one day put a bullet into her. After she was killed, he was seen indulging in emotional displays. Once he uttered, “Whoever killed Madam will not have peace in this life.”…

  Sooriyakumar, who topped in examinations, was by contrast outwardly respectful and restrained in his conduct, giving no hint of his influence and intimacy with the LTTE. He listened but never responded to Rajani’s arguments and pleas…As Rajani’s recent encounter with the Indian Army offered the LTTE an opportunity to kill her and shift the blame  to the IPKF after the assassination, Sooriyakumar predictably blamed the Indian party citing The Broken Palmyra as the cause.

  The Events of the 21st September

 
Rajani conducted the viva voce exams for nearly 150 students, over four days for two hours each afternoon. On the final day, 21st September, Kulendran remembers telling Rajani that the sari she wore looked well on her. Earlier that day before arriving at the university Rajani entertained two British visitors, Malcolm Rodgers and Anna Doney, to lunch at her home, which was situated in a lane that was 250 yards east of the Medical Faculty off Adiapatham Road. The following account of the lunch is taken from a record the author made a few months after her death:

 We talked a good deal about the situation. Rajani talked fast as though she had a great deal to say and not enough time to say it. She was looking sombre and was deeply anxious about the future of the community. She had expressed a premonition of her death a week after her return from Britain on 3rd September. She had seen a British publisher about the publication of The Broken Palmyra , but had not received word. She remarked, “These fellows are sharks. They wouldn’t care if my brains were blown up.” I learnt later that she had talked about death a number of times. On 2nd February when two students on a peaceful protest were killed by Indian Army firing, she had written to a friend reflecting on death – as a passing away from the pain of life… Following the murder of TULF leaders Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran on 13th July, she wrote to a friend why this group should kill persons who were a spent force who posed no threat to them. She said perhaps for the first time that she sometimes feared Anton Balasingam, who harboured an intense hatred towards these leaders. Rajani was not her vivacious self.”

 

  She then left on her bicycle to conduct viva voce examinations at the Faculty at 2.00 PM . A green hiring car that had dropped her visitors at her house was to come back about then, but did not turn up. We learnt later that some youths had stopped the car at the top of the lane. The driver got frightened and went away. Neither did he make contact with the visitors to collect his fare. In retrospect that was an indication of LTTE deployment in the area. A farmer in a field in another lane off Adiapatham Road in the same area later told one of our contacts that some youths he knew as LTTE told him earlier the same day to keep a lookout on movements in the area. These were facts obtained from some eyewitnesses:

  We learned from our contacts that soon after Rajani’s killing, some youths were seen running north from near the scene of the crime on Adiapatham Road . It was an area frequented by the LTTE and no one else could have got away with the intrusive activity recorded below.

  There were peculiar goings-on in the Faculty premises the day Rajani was murdered. Around 3.00 PM three young men walked in through the main entrance of the Medical Faculty, all the way down the long foyer, and stopped in front of Rajani’s room just inside the Anatomy corridor to the right. While they looked at the room, some students approached them from behind and inquired about what they wanted. Taken by surprise they said they were looking for Dharmendra. Subsequently one of these youths was seen talking to Dharmendra in the faculty canteen.

  Two other incidents took place between 3.00 PM and 5.00 PM while Rajani was at the viva voce examination. A man of about 35 years walked down the foyer and towards the end, glanced sideways. Realising he had been noticed, he turned left away from the Anatomy corridor and went into the Forensic Medicine corridor. He was heard trying a door as if looking for someone and then came out and went away.

  Lastly, a security guard escorted in a stranger. Before reaching the end of the foyer, they turned right into a path leading into an open space alongside the Anatomy Department. Stopping in front of a window from where Rajani could be seen at the viva voce examination, the security guard was seen raising his hand, upon which they went away.

  Kulendran remembered that towards the end of the afternoon, Rajani’s younger sister Sumathy, who taught English at the Arts Faculty, came to see her. He told Sumathy that the examinations would be over in 15 minutes. Sumathy went away saying she would talk to her later.  Once the examinations were over Rajani told him that she would be late the next day, as first thing in the morning she would go to Jaffna Hospital to give the Anatomy answer scripts to Dr. Ponnampalam. She set off on her bicycle carrying the answer scripts in a shoulder pack.

  Rajani was killed at 5.45 PM between the Medical Faculty and her home.

  After Rajani had left, Kulendran began to start his motorcycle, when her student Neethirajah ran to him and told him that Rajani had been shot. Bewildered as he was at the news, he accelerated his motorcycle until he found her on the road almost opposite the university guesthouse.

  The guesthouse keeper, Asi, came and told them that the assassin’s first shot had not been fatal and he heard Rajani shout in English, “Why are you shooting me?” One of the assassin’s subsequent shots went through an eye and pierced her head. 

  Kulendran went to Rajani’s body and wept. Thirunavukkarasu, a labourer from the department with a polio leg, and yet a hard worker, came from Tinnevely Junction, placed Rajani on his lap and cried beating his chest. By this time Rajani’s hands were shaking, and she was in the throes of death. Then Dr. Sritharan from the Mathematics Department arrived and became uncontrollably upset. The neighbours had, for fear, closed their houses and gone inside. Dr. Sritharan called them out saying that a lady had been shot and needed help. The people who had gathered began to express fear that those who showed themselves close to her were also in danger of being killed. Mr. Brindabhan, an employee of the University who lived nearby, took Sritharan away.

  Some of the students stopped a passing car and took Rajani to hospital. A short distance from where Rajani had fallen, Kulendran saw the backpack in which Rajani had carried the Anatomy examination answer scripts. He collected it and later handed it over to Prof. Parameswaran. From the scene he went to Navalar Road to inform Rajani’s parents. He told the father euphemistically that Rajani was injured and had been taken to hospital. Her father Mr. Rajasingam was visibly very upset, and her mother Mahila fainted. He later found that Rajani’s body on reaching hospital had directly been taken to the mortuary. Mr. Rajasingam later went out alone on his bicycle in the dark to tell one of Rajani’s colleagues pithily in English, “Do you know? Rajani has been shot dead.”

  For Kulendran, Rajani’s death darkened what would otherwise have been a happy occasion. Rajani and Prof. Kanagasundaram, then living in Singapore , had applied for a World Health Organisation scholarship to further his training for laboratory work in Anatomy. He had been informed on that very day of the success of the application for training in India . He was under the impression that the EPRLF, which was then allied to the Indian Army, had killed Rajani. His brother-in-law, a postmaster, cautioned him the same day, “Wait awhile, don’t be hasty... The truth will come out!”

  Rajani’s killing was meticulously planned with clear knowledge of her work schedule and her route home. On most days Rajani’s movements would have been unpredictable. But on this last day of the viva voce examination, given the late hour following a tiring day, she was likely to go straight home to her children. The timing of the killing coincided with the completion of the Anatomy examinations.

  Soon after Rajani was shot, it was Selvakumar, an off-duty security guard who had no particular reason to be there, who raised the alarm in the Medical Faculty. Senior non-academic staff at the University further confirmed widespread talk about a particular security guard’s role in assisting the killers by being a guide on the spot.

  Rajaratnam, then vice president of the Medical Students’ Union, had been an LTTE supporter, and parted company with it after it massacred members of other groups. Rajaratnam went into the Medical Faculty immediately afterwards, and found Sooriyakumar and Dharmendra there. One look at them convinced him that they were responsible. So strong was his conviction that he found any compilation of evidence a waste of time. He remained a strong and active supporter of moves to commemorate Rajani and a great strength to others in his defiant frame of mind…

  Among the visitors who went to Rajani’s house out of concern for the family was Prof. Ramakrishnan, who taught Philosophy and was staying in the guest house nearby. He stayed for some time. Dr. M.A.M. Nuhman who taught Linguistics and Mrs. Chitra Maunaguru came in for a few minutes. Nuhman, a native of Kalmunai, had long identified with the Tamil struggle, but could not stay in Jaffna after the LTTE expelled the Muslims a year later. Another who came in during the night was Cynthia, a medical student and LTTE leader Kittu’s wife. Rajani had regularly reassured her when she returned after the Indian Army’s takeover and urged her to follow the medical course. She did not appear very comfortable, and struck some of those present as having been sent. She spoke much, but ramblingly, and her embarrassed friend who was present, signalled her to stop.  

 

3.2 Eye Witnesses to the Assassination

  Saratha Thevi

 

Saratha Thevi was a young woman in deprived circumstances near Kokkuvil having a difficult time. Rajani had helped her medically and then she came to live at Rajani’s home. Although her education was only up to grade two, Saratha had an aptitude to learn fast and advanced as a respected paramedical worker, travelling daily to Tellipalai Hospital on her bicycle. Being close to Rajani, Saratha had an intuitive sense of her situation. On the fateful day,  she was preoccupied with thoughts of imminent danger to Rajani. She recalled that she slapped herself hard on the face,  worrying that something might happen to Rajani. She rushed home,   also since Rajani had been expecting guests and wanted her back at 5.30 PM. She cycled back along KKS Rd. and turned east into Adiapatham Rd.

 

Nearing Rajani’s place, she heard several gunshots and saw Rajani who was cycling some distance ahead throw up her hands and fall on the road. Saratha rushed to her, and held her. A bullet had pierced one eye. Saratha noticed Rajani looking at her through the unaffected eye just before she died. She then noticed students rushing to the scene shouting, “Madam! Madam!” She also noticed the killer fleeing from the scene. He was short and fair. Saratha was followed to the scene a short time later by Aachchi, the elderly lady who was Rajani’s housekeeper.

 

People of the locality later told Saratha that the killers were the LTTE. A few days after the killing, she was accosted by the LTTE who wanted to know how she came to know Rajani. She told them that Rajani had helped her when she was desperate and enabled her to become a self-respecting woman able to function on her own. She was unable to guess why she was asked. Most people she met greatly regretted that  Rajani’s loss.. Saratha suffered from many sleepless nights after the killing. She went to a young doctor at Jaffna hospital for medicine. In explaining her sleeplessness, she expressed what Rajani had meant to her. The doctor gave her medicine, but remarked that Rajani’s death was no loss as far as they were concerned. It was an instance where ultra-nationalist politics, or contempt for one of their number who was seen to have stepped out of line, compromised the doctor’s role.

  Hussain

 
Hussain (not the witness’ real name) had gone north down Karuwepulam Rd., about a hundred yards east of the Medical Faculty entrance, to meet a surveyor on private business. On reaching Adiapatham Rd, upon his return about 5.45 PM, he saw a cyclist doubling a passenger and riding furiously. The passenger was clutching a revolver. Dropping the passenger on the road, twenty-five yards east of Hussain, close to the university guesthouse, the cyclist proceeded on his way. Hussain who knew Bosco, recognised him as the passenger who had alighted, but Bosco had evidently not noticed him. From the other testimonies (see  below), we infer that the bicycle carrying Bosco had overtaken Rajani, while she was riding, and dropped him ahead of her. Bosco (who was now facing Rajani) shot her a few times. Hussain then observed him cross the road, get on to the pillion of a motorcycle, whose rider had been waiting for him a short distance east (away from the Medical Faculty towards Tinnevely Junction) and get away. It was thus that first-hand information about the killing was initially in the possession of Jaffna’s Muslim quarter (see End Note).

  A young medical student

Manoranjan, who later made his mark as a journalist, was travelling to Colombo by train from Jaffna about December 1989. A student recognised him and they began talking. The student doing first-year medicine in Jaffna was a cousin of Manoranjan’s classmate and friend. The student said that he had seen Manoranjan helping with Rajani’s commemoration, but being unsure of his politics had hesitated to approach him. Once the train passed Vavuniya the student spoke more freely. 

  As though having decided to unburden himself the student spoke, “Uncle, I am the only eyewitness to Rajani’s killing. I am telling you because I do not want the truth to be buried.” He proceeded to tell his story. Rajani was the student’s anatomy teacher. His 2nd MBBS was to be the following year. Rajani came out walking briskly after sitting with her fellow examiner Dr. Ponnampalam and finalising the viva results of his immediate seniors and repeats. Students waiting to talk to her about their performance did not stop her seeing she was tired. Our witness, the student, had already removed his bicycle when Rajani took hers. She smiled at him. Out of respect he waited for her to go and followed behind. On the road she turned right and proceeded east.  

The student then observed a bicycle briskly overtaking him and going towards Rajani. It had evidently been waiting west of the faculty. Subsequently he saw a man fire at her using a revolver. The gunman, who had alighted from the bicycle, fired a few more bullets into Rajani who lay fallen on the road. The student in shock overtook the man and Rajani’s body. The student looked back as the killer finished. Their eyes met. The killer was about 35-years-old, well built and moderately fair.  

The student immediately recognised him. He had seen the killer at the Medical Faculty a few months earlier. Being an unusual looking person who was not a student, he had asked some friends from his native Pt. Pedro who he was. He was told that the man was Bosco from the LTTE’s Intelligence Wing.  

After witnessing the murder and returning to his room, he told his roommate what he saw. The roommate warned him not to talk about it. As days wore on his fear did not abate. He decided to quit Jaffna and seek asylum abroad…  

In response to our queries, the priest, with wide-ranging contacts with persons who had an evangelical orientation both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church, soon made contact with a youth in his early 30s, who had known Bosco well and had been 11-years-old when Rajani was killed. The youth, who was reluctant to talk to us directly, related to the priest his story of the events after Rajani’s murder…  

As a young boy, and native of Ariyalai, the youth went in the evenings to Bharathy Sana Samuha Nilayam (Bharathy Community Centre), a short distance from Kandy Rd. , at Pungamkulam Junction…In the immediate aftermath of Rajani’s killing, these cadres had a rendezvous at Bharathy CC in the evening. Those in attendance were Bosco from the Intelligence Wing, Navaneethan from the Military Wing and Peter. The youth has a vivid memory of the conversation that ensued:  

Bosco announced jubilantly in reference to Rajani: “Avavai anuppiyachchu” (She has been dispatched) and added: “Ava ennai aen chudurai? Enru chingam mathiri ketta.” (She looked at me like a lioness, and asked, why are you shooting me?)  

(Here Bosco had evidently translated into Tamil, what the guest housekeeper Asi had heard Rajani shout in English.)  

Navaneethan said in response: “Vayukullai vachchirukkavenum” (“You should have put her in the mouth”). The company was exultant. Navaneethan, the witness learnt, is presently settled in Britain. Peter, according to the same witness, was responsible for shooting dead St. John’s College principal Edwin Anandarajah in June 1985, and is now dead. [4] Kapil Amman, LTTE’s deputy intelligence chief who came to the Centre gave Rajani’s criticism and her influence overseas as the reason for killing her…  

 

  Rajani Murder and the Killing of University Security Officers Felix and Thevathas

  The nervousness the LTTE felt about being identified as the killer, is revealed in the murder of two security officers from the University. One of them, Felix Anthony (37), was abducted by the LTTE. The employees’ union kept quiet and no report about it was made officially to the authorities. It was earlier rumoured that Felix would be released after the commemorative events concerning Rajani. According to a near relative, the LTTE played a recording of Felix naming them as Rajani’s killers. As part of its ongoing decimation of Jaffna society, the LTTE set up colleagues to betray one another.

  We learnt through security sources at the University that on 27th September, six days after Rajani was killed, the LTTE shot dead Felix and another security officer Thevathas (39) on the beach south of Jaffna Town . A further pointer to how closely the LTTE had been monitoring the University is the murder the previous year in Kondavil of the security officer Mr. Tharmalingam, who is believed to have been sympathetic to the EPRLF.  

 Security officers would have obtained detailed knowledge of Rajani’s killing, which took place in the university precincts. One of those who monitored the security officers has been identified by employees as the same security officer who signalled the killers as Rajani left the Faculty. He was noted for carrying audio-visual recording devices while spying for whichever power then in control. He is now reportedly a broken man. To this day, security officers tend to be evasive about Rajani’s killing and fear the spy.

 

  3.3 After the Murder: The Fallout and Elaborate Cover-Ups

 

On the morning after the murder, Sumi Kailasapathy, a student council member who was greatly disturbed by the event, went to the council office and  asked, who would have done this? Arunothayan, a full-time LTTE spy who flunked all his exams, launched into a defensive tirade. Sumi heard him out and pointed out to him that she had not made an accusation and was only wondering like everyone else. The student council drafted a statement in which Rajani’s killers were described as fascists. Arunothayan objected and asked why they were using such strong language. The others pointed out to him that they had used language just as strong when Indian Army firing on student protestors earlier in February killed two students, to which he had not objected.

  On the 22nd of September, the day after the killing, Rajani’s coffin was brought in procession to the Medical Faculty for members to pay their respects. Hardly any of Rajani’s faculty colleagues were present. Neither had any one of the several of whom, who lived nearby, visited her home by the morning after the killing to inquire after the children. Among the few exceptions were Prof. and Mrs. Saravanapavanandan who also joined the protest demonstration on 2nd October. As for the others, the only charitable explanation is that they knew and were scared. 

  The same morning, a former student of the university and member of the militant group EROS joined the queue of mourners filing past the coffin. He knew Rajani’s father Rajasingam Master well, and had come from the Vanni that morning. While in the queue, he began expressing spontaneous anger and exasperation at the killing. A medical student from Valvettithurai came up to him and cautioned him not to be expressive, since those who killed Rajani were taking a video recording. He added that the killers had come from nearby where he buys his food. The former student who bought his meals from a house in Potpathy Rd. used to meet other students there, including the medical student who cautioned him. The video was being taken by the LTTE. Thus on the first day itself there were whispered indications that a section of the killers had come from Potpathy Road, which is easily accessible through Konavalai Lane just opposite the Medical Faculty.

  A former PLOTE source from Kokkuvil told us that a colleague of his who stayed near Potpathy Road  had told him that two persons brought in for the assassination had stayed the previous night in the room shared by Dharmendra and L.  Asked for their names, he said he was having some difficulty in contacting the former colleague. He said that L angered many colleagues by using former PLOTE connections to find sleeping places for LTTE cadres…   

  Rajani’s funeral was on the 23rd of September. At the end of her burial service at St. James’ cemetery, Nallur, on a wet and cloudy evening, the shadows were falling early. The rainy season had just set in. The grave looking Mallakam Magistrate, Mr. Gunaratnam, who was among the mourners, called me aside. He was concerned that many people were still blaming the Indian Army. He said, “Political considerations aside, I must tell you that this has all the hallmarks of the LTTE. It is what people call a ‘clean job’. There was no clumsiness. All the bullets found their mark. This is the conclusion I can make based on the many inquests I have been called upon to perform.”

 

  3.4 Don Arasu, Student L and Monitoring the Fallout

  There was one question which LTTE spies were asking people soon after the killing, “Who do you think killed Rajani?” The LTTE would have been quick to blame the Indian Army or a rival group if there had been a groundswell of opinion to support it…

  L made himself scarce shortly after Rajani’s assassination. A number of persons in his neighbourhood were convinced that he was compromised in the assassination. Saratha, a young woman whom Rajani had helped, said of this youth, “I always told Amma (Rajani) to be careful of L, but Amma thought he was a PLOTE boy and did not take me seriously. See what has become of her?” He later told another youth in the neighbourhood cryptically that he had broken all connections and was out of the LTTE.

  In early 1990, L sought a meeting with Dr. Sritharan of the UTHR (J). The meeting took place in Colombo in March 1990. L expressed to Sritharan a wish to meet the Vice Chancellor Prof. Thurairajah, whom they then met at the Open University, Colombo . Thurairajah coincidentally said that he had met the UGC Chairman Prof. Arjuna Aluvihare who communicated what Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP, member of the Parliamentary Select Committee dealing with the NLMC, had told him. The Committee had received two letters from the Jaffna Medical Students’ Union, the first endorsing the incorporation of the NLMC into Eastern University and the second opposing it. On Sritharan pointing out to Thurairajah that L was the Union president, L reluctantly admitted that he had signed the first letter without calling a committee meeting. The second, he confessed, came from the committee signed by the vice president (Mr. Rajaratnam). L claimed that he had signed the first under duress when asked to do so by the Dean of the Faculty, Prof. Balasubramaniam, whom he added, cried profusely when Rajani was killed.

  Rajani had been a lone voice opposing the incorporation of the NLMC. We have seen no evidence connecting the NLMC issue directly to Rajani’s murder. However, L’s duplicity and an influential section of the Faculty being compromised with the LTTE over the NLMC, illustrate the murky constellation of forces that made Rajani’s peril even greater, and her death convenient…

 

 3.5 Operation Fall-Out and those involved

  Dharmendra continued his involvement with the LTTE. The 1995 Exodus resulted from the LTTE on the 30th of October 1995, ordering the entire Jaffna populace to move to the Vanni, in the wake of the army offensive to take the peninsula. [5] It was crucial for its plan that the Jaffna Hospital staff should be importuned or threatened to close the Hospital. Here the LTTE met resistance. On 12th November 1995 , LTTE political wing leader Tamilchelvan came to the Hospital and tried to bully the doctors to shut down. Some doctors resisted. Dharmendra was an intern at Jaffna Hospital . As a student, Dharmendra had been in the same clinical group as another intern whom we will call Wenceslas. Wenceslas, who was an active Christian, had engaged Dharmendra and discussed the nature of the LTTE with him. Wenceslas says that the discussions had some impact, as Dharmendra had come to the position that the use of violence was wrong, although he generally avoided sensitive topics such as Rajani’s assassination. However, Dharmendra once admitted that killing Rajani was one of the failures of the LTTE. Perhaps Dharmendra remembered what Rajani told him many times, “You are still young and have strong ideas about your cause. You feel justified in killing those you deem traitors. As you mature your ideas will change. Perhaps you will feel equally convinced that your former beliefs which drove you to kill are wrong. By then it would be too late and valuable lives would have been lost.”    

Wenceslas said that Dharmendra had been very close to Mahattaya and for this reason was among those sidelined once the LTTE moved against Mahattaya and his supporters, moves which climaxed in the spring of 1993. The internal power struggle acted as a catalyst in Dharmendra’s distancing himself from the LTTE’s positions, with which he could not have been in total agreement anyway. Had Mahattaya been a protagonist in murdering Rajani, it would explain Dharmendra’s involvement in the spadework under orders. If Mahattaya was not involved, he had a little more leeway, but may not have been strong enough to distance himself from an action he was evidently uncomfortable with. By the time of the Jaffna Hospital crisis in November 1995, Dharmendra, although still a member of the LTTE, was just hanging on. Wenceslas said that having been implicated with the organisation for so long, he felt trapped, and was waiting for an opportunity to leave. After the meeting with Tamilchelvan where Wenceslas had objected to closing the Hospital, Dharmendra told Wenceslas confidentially that he was marked. Wenceslas was surprised because Tamilchelvan had smiled through the entire meeting. Dharmendra’s confidence, he felt, was intended as a friendly warning.

These and other indications led some of the doctors to feel  that if, they had continued to refuse the LTTE’s offers of exit visas for the doctors’ families and tried to keep the Hospital open, even as the International Committee of the Red Cross was faltering during the Exodus, M. Ganesharatnam, Daya Somasundaram and Noel Somasundaram, doctors who were most vocal on keeping the Hospital open, would have gone the same way as Rajani. The third doctor would have been the most vulnerable as a junior medic , then relatively unknown. It adds a further element of gravity to the ICRC’s conduct in allowing itself to panic instead of backing the medical staff who wanted to keep the Hospital open. [6]  

Through the grapevine of batch mates and contemporaries from the University of Jaffna , several doctors gathered that the LTTE sensed there were difficult times ahead, once it was pressurised to enter the Norway-brokered peace process in 2002. In preparation, it commenced sending abroad several professionals in its ranks, to strengthen itself in the West. This appears to be the context of Sooriyakumar’s move to Britain by the end of 2003 [7] and subsequently Dharmendra’s opportunity to move out.

Sooriyakumar’s brother was Newton , a key operative in the LTTE’s Intelligence Wing. After the LTTE took over Jaffna in the early 1990s, it appointed Sooriyakumar Shadow Controller of Jaffna District Health Services. He subsequently served the LTTE as a surgeon. Sooriyakumar appears to have visited Colombo around 2005 to inquire about Newton , who was abducted in the South during the rising spate of tit for tat incidents at that time, even as the peace process was formally on. We last heard that Sooriyakumar  was with the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.

Dharmendra got into the news when he accompanied Sea Tiger Leader Soosai to Singapore for medical treatment during the peace process of 2002. He left the LTTE before the last few months of the war, and is rumoured to have left the country as a UN volunteer doctor.

  We have had no evidence that L’s predecessor as president of the Medical Students’ Union , who was very active as an LTTE front man in 1987, had any role in the killing. Coming from an elite background, St. Anthony’s, Trinity and St. John’s , one would place him among the types for whom the LTTE was a means to power and would have distanced himself once it did not suit his ambitions. In 1987, as a leading member of the LTTE’s network in the University, he was involved in the arrest of Gamini Navaratne, and demanded that the Jaffna Hospital stay put in the face of an impending assault on Jaffna by the Sri Lankan Army. The LTTE did find him useful at that time and he was at the same time ingratiating himself into the LTTE’s confidence without being in its inner councils. He too avoided Rajani when she wanted to discuss his ideas. 

 

3.6 Shadow War and Commemoration

  By the time the funeral was over on the 23rd evening, there was no doubt in our minds that the LTTE was responsible. Many of our friends abroad who had their ears close to the ground were disappointed that we left matters open rather than name the LTTE publicly. Right or wrong, it was then a matter of tactical judgment.

  Firstly, political developments in the South were against us. The United National Party government under Premadasa was assisting the LTTE to take control of the North-East. Locally, more and more people were coming to know that the LTTE were the killers. Our strategy was to raise the issue at an international level, particularly by appealing to those overseas sympathetic to Rajani’s work. Apart from the UTHR(J), a large number of students, the Science Students’ Union, the Medical Students’ Union and the Science Teachers’ Association were all for it. Our immediate goals were a protest march and then a commemoration inviting international visitors. In this adverse political environment, to accuse the LTTE would be to scare away people from participation and place an enormous strain on the students. We thought it best to allow the truth to come out in the process.

  The LTTE neither admitted nor denied the killing and was aware that nearly everyone else soon came to know they did it. . Our preparations became a shadow war. The LTTE had no ground for confronting us, and they were becoming nervous as people with no direct connections to the University increasingly blamed them. An elderly lady from Vadamarathchi, an education officer, told us firmly, “It is the LTTE”, as though we were slow on the uptake. Thus was the talk in the tea stalls?  and bicycle shops.

  We had preliminary commemoration meetings in the University on 2nd October and at two schools, Chundikuli Girls’ College on the 4th and Jaffna College on the 6th, where Rajani had studied. The protest march on 2nd October was led by Vice Chancellor Prof. A. Thurairajah and Dean of Arts Prof. N. Balakrishnan. Only Prof. and Mrs. Saravanapavanandan among Rajani’s medical colleagues participated. The march was followed by the first commemoration meeting. At the latter, Thurairajah proudly read out from Rajani’s last letter sent to him upon her return from Britain about two weeks before she was killed: “There is no life for me apart from my people.

  As the weeks wore on towards the commemoration involving participants from abroad and other parts of the country fixed for 22nd November 1989 , Prof. Thurairajah asked us one day whether it was the LTTE that killed Rajani? Sritharan replied, “Why, didn’t you know that”?  Thurairajah said that he had thought otherwise and had met the British High Commissioner David Gladstone in Colombo , who asked him the same question. Thurairajah had replied that he did not know. Gladstone told him he had authentic evidence that it was the LTTE. Thurairajah was dumbfounded. Gladstone was an ambassador out of the ordinary who kept his ears close to the ground by personally cultivating a variety of contacts rather than leave it to the second secretary.

   Sritharan had earlier explained to Thurairajah the circumstances of the murder clearly and Thurairajah had listened, but the explanation had gone completely over his head.

  From that time onwards, Thurairajah was a cautious participant in the commemoration proceedings, but never discouraged us. He continued to do what we requested from him as chairman of the commemoration committee. We could also feel the staff becoming frightened. But the student unions stood firm.  

  By the evening of 19th November 1989, the Southern delegates for the commemoration had arrived in Jaffna and were hosted for dinner at Rajani’s parents’ home. The fact that the Medical Students’ Union president L was absconding was a sign of the LTTE’s hostility. Its vice president Rajaratnam and Chooty Kulasingam, the president of the Science Students’ Union , took on the brunt of organisation at considerable risk. Late evening on the 19th, while the Southern delegates were at Rajani’s parents’ home, the two of them came with sombre faces and reported that while they were drawing up the slogans for the march, an impressive collection of LTTE area leaders came to them and wanted them to carry slogans provoking the Indian Army by demanding their exit.

  Every time the student leaders tried to explain why they cannot do this the LTTE men got angrier. Sritharan advised them to keep talking to the LTTE and felt certain that they would not dare to stop the commemoration. It became nevertheless a war of nerves.

  The two-day commemoration began with seminars at the University on the 20th morning, when several of the foreign delegates too joined us. During the last seminar in the afternoon, a crisis arose when a group of LTTEers under the leadership of Tamilchelvan, then known as Dinesh, came to the student union room where slogans were being prepared for next day’s march and tried to divert the purpose of the march into one against India . In effect they were trying to stop it. Rumours were already being spread that the march was off.

  Sritharan too joined the students and asked the LTTEers if they knew the history of the struggle and how the LTTE had played a major role in giving India a foothold in Lanka? He said, now that we have to live with it, we need to deal with India carefully and not brashly. He challenged them on their implacable enmity towards other groups who too took up arms for the same cause. The LTTE men responded that the PLOTE had been a complete disgrace by acting as mercenaries in the Maldives . Rajaratnam immediately questioned them on the LTTE’s no less disgraceful role in drugs running. The LTTEers quickly denied it. Sritharan asked them if they knew why their offices in Paris were raided by the French Police and offered to give them further details. This was a rare occasion the LTTE was forced into a political engagement and did not quite know how to cope with it.

  While these arguments were going on, Sritharan came to the Kailasapathy Auditorium and in a move to scotch rumours that the march was off, told the writer to announce at the end of the last seminar the time and route of the march. As Sritharan predicted the LTTE withdrew. To add to the drama, Colonel Sashikumar, who was in charge of the battalion of Gurkhas at Kondavil, told Prof. Thurairajah that they had information that the LTTE were against the march and would duly provide an escort.

  The highlight on the second day, 21st November 1989, was the peace march through Jaffna Town, led by distinguished foreign guests who had all known Rajani: Martin Ennals, former secretary general of Amnesty International; Abdul Rahman Babu, former minister of the Tanzanian government and later its political prisoner; and Liz Phillipson, political assistant to British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. The slogans demanded an end to political killings and virtual conscription of children by all parties. The LTTE’s threatening behavior and attempts to censor slogans and substitute its own were firmly resisted by the students.

  Prof. Thurairajah kept away from the peace march although he chaired the main commemoration meeting in Kailasapathy Auditorium on the second day. Among those who attended were activists from the South and colleagues from Eastern University . Rajaratnam, the vice president of the Medical Students’ Union , spoke boldly about the tragedy facing our youth who, with no understanding of the issues involved, were being armed to serve rival factions and the only thing they were left with finally was a thirst for vengeance. Mohamed Abdul Rahuman Babu said at the commemoration meeting:

  Rajani has not died in vain, because her exemplary work will have influenced thousands and thousands of future generations. I was so touched yesterday in Jaffna , when we marched from the University through the streets of Jaffna , to see the emotions of the people who were watching, and the great terror. We could see they were terrified because there were guns everywhere, seen and unseen guns, but you could see also that their hearts were with the object of our march.”

  Those were two days we all enjoyed a respite from fear and the atmosphere was very free, even though the LTTE watched and openly filmed the proceedings. We had letters from members of the public expressing their appreciation of the peace march and their tremendous joy and relief at seeing the flame of freedom still burning in Jaffna despite the loss of Rajani.

  It was during the commemoration that the LTTE, after long deliberation, felt compelled to issue a statement it distributed to those who attended the commemoration, saying they had nothing to do with Rajani’s murder. The statement in Tamil, which began with formula rhetoric about liberation, switched tone severely warning all ‘traitors’ who ostensibly darkened the LTTE’s good name. 

  As time wore on it became clear that the LTTE had not only been meticulous in the execution of the murder, but also monitored and documented all subsequent developments. After Rajani’s commemoration, an old and friendly Jaffna milkman conveyed his excitement at having seen the me  in a video. He innocently explained that his nephew who was in LTTE Intelligence, played at his home the video recordings of the commemoration.

 

  3.7 Medical Faculty: Riddance of a Painful Memory

  Weeks after Rajani’s killing, the Medical Students’ Union and Medical Faculty employees submitted to their faculty board a proposal to name the new faculty auditorium after Rajani. In its favour they advanced the necessity for a strong gesture of solidarity with the deceased colleague who had sacrificed so much. They pointed out that just when the Faculty was finding it difficult to attract staff who had received advanced training abroad, a conscientious young person with such training came back despite all the risks and drawbacks, and was killed; which therefore places on the colleagues of the deceased, a strong necessity and obligation to demonstrate to the world that such sacrifice is given due honour, and would certainly not go unrecognised.

 

Instead the Faculty and Senate ignored Rajani and proposed other names for the honour – the very names of persons toward whom there had, until then, been hostility, indifference or skepticism – in short persons who were regarded unworthy of the honour. A faculty committee decided instead that in view of Rajani’s services to Anatomy, the ground floor corridor, rooms and the laboratory used for teaching Anatomy, known as the Anatomy Block, would be named after Rajani. The Professor of Chemistry told the Senate that a line must be drawn somewhere, as otherwise they might start honouring individuals by dedicating single rooms after them.

 

Mathematics Professor Tharmaratnam disagreed with Rajani politically. He felt that the militant phenomenon was called forth by the cowardice and moral bankruptcy of the establishment, and the corruption of the militants was more restrained than that of their olderpeers, who respected only the gun; and had these older peers vicarious access to a gun, they would certainly have gone berserk. It was the failings of his generation that he felt most keenly. It was a point of disagreement with Rajani; who while critical of the sins of the older generation that had become a spent force, went further in insisting that the militant leadership should be actively challenged and should not be ignored. Tharmaratnam had a long history of contesting abuse, especially in the university system, and suffered for it. He had a deep respect for Rajani. Speaking at the first commemoration meeting on 2nd October 1989 at the University’s Kailasapathy Auditorium, he said, Rajani not only believed in academic freedom, she practiced it.” He also participated in the commemoration meeting at Jaffna College on 6th October, where both he and Rajani had studied.

 

Having listened to what passed in the Senate, Prof. Tharmaratnam remarked that he was puzzled by Rajani’s colleagues’ attitude to her and remarked that even self-interest and self-preservation demanded that they formally value her. This clarifies what we had encountered in the disputes over the NLMC and the constant challenges Rajani posed to authoritarianism. An influential section of the staff harboured hostility towards Rajani deep down, which alone explains their hardened attitude to all efforts to commemorate her.  This suggests that it was not fear of the LTTE alone that underlay her faculty colleagues’ indifference towards observances after her death and the commemoration. [8]

 

3.8 More repression in 1990 – an attack on the incipient democratic awakening

  The commemoration and protest made a mark, which the LTTE found difficult to erase. Optimistically, we thought we could stay on and continue as before. But we had to contend with the politics of the South with its readiness to sell everyone else and themselves into the bargain. First they appeased the LTTE and helped them to stuff their prisons to bursting point. Then when the LTTE provoked war in June 1990, as known in advance to those with a basic understanding of the LTTE, the Government thrashed Tamil civilians with such vindictive fury that the feeble flame of Tamil dissent too was all but extinguished.

  In January 1990, a group of medical students came to Sritharan and identified themselves as LTTE supporters. They said Dharmendra encouraged them to participate in the commemoration peace march and they had felt reassured that the LTTE had not killed Rajani. But now they had their doubts. They asked if they could arrange a meeting between Sritharan and the LTTE to thrash out these doubts. Sritharan told them that it was the LTTE who killed Rajani and there was no purpose in such a meeting.

  In April 1991 when the war was in full swing, some LTTE recruiters went to a tutory in front of St. James’ Church on Hospital Road , Jaffna . The school children started asking questions. One was why they had killed Rajani. Taken off guard, the recruiters responded, “That was a top-level decision. We will make a statement at the appropriate time.” Next came the question, why they killed St. John’s College principal, Mr. Anandarajah. The session broke up in commotion.

  At Jaffna University itself a number of students continued to act with independence in the face of a slow exodus of staff and students. Section 5.2 of our Report No.8 under 

Crackdown in the University of Jaffna describes continuing resistance by students following the LTTE’s arrest of several students from May 1991. The LTTE summoned a meeting under false pretences and put on stage a senior lecturer in Tamil and former senior student counsellor to address them. The lecturer told them, “There are still weeds left in the University. They will not be tolerated. These weeds must be plucked up and cast away.” He went on to call the detained students traitors in which category he included also the Muslims. This senior don E. Balasundaram, who undertook this performance to curry favour with the LTTE, also had the privilege of leaving the University in 1994 and is now in Canada, where he is president of the Swami Vipulananda Arts Society.

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[1] The NLMC would have stood a better chance of securing registration had not the LTTE begun a new round of war in 1990. Left in the lurch, the students registered by the NLMC were, by a special resolution of the Jaffna University Senate, admitted to the Medical Faculty of the University of Jaffna , notwithstanding opposition by the students. This shows how this affair, which was highly questionable, from the very beginning was backed by enormous political forces, such as the major Tamil nationalist parliamentary party, the TULF.

[2] Meeting us after more than twenty years, Tharmakulasingam told us the sequel. When at the suggestion of an officer he took his three-and-a-half -year-old nephew to the Indian Army medical post to be dressed, he sought out the army commander for the area, Col. Sharma. The latter after discussion with a superior, had a letter typed. He thrust money into the reverend’s hand and asked him to sign the letter, which exonerated the Indian Army and blamed the LTTE for the murder. Two weeks after the murders, the reverend was returning from a confirmation service in Atchuvely, when he was followed by two Sikh soldiers on a motorcycle. When he reached home, the soldiers too stopped and asked him to remove his cassock and made as though to shoot him. This spot was visible from the Udupiddy army camp. An elderly Sikh officer came running from the Udupiddy camp shouting ‘Stop, stop!’ The reverend’s life was spared. A few days later an army patrol came by his house. The reverend noticed among them the Sikh soldier who had killed his sisters. The patrol stopped and this man gave his gun to one of the other soldiers and came up to the reverend. He bent down, touched Rev. Tharmakulasingam’s feet and said in English, “I am sorry, I was helpless.” He evidently meant that he obeyed an order. The reverend reflected that a Tamil unit of the Indian Army that was also present in Udupiddy was sympathetic and helpful when he went for medication for the injured child and encouraged him to pursue justice.

[3] Acting on rumours that had reached the Indian Army’s ears, a party under a Captain Raghav of the Gurkha Regiment raided the home of the don in November 1988 for a manuscript that was eventually published as the Broken Palmyra, which it failed to find. It had been typed and copied months earlier.

[4] . The family of Peter are leading members of an Evangelical Church in Chundikuli. Asked if Anandarajah’s killer, as widely rumoured, had been the son of Pastor Ariyarajah (of a different independent church), the witness refuted this attribution. He said that Peter had a grudge against Anandarajah Sources close to the family said that another former LTTE member, now an independent pastor in Europe , confesses to involvement in the killing of the principal and said that he was brainwashed by the LTTE into doing so. Members of the St. John’s staff told these sources that some LTTE supporters on the staff were involved in the killing. The way the LTTE functioned, it was normal for them to have spies and informants in every institution and the reason why Anandarajah was killed, according to the staff members, was not because he organised a cricket match with the Army but because he did not allow the LTTE to intrude into the school. Whether these teachers went to the extent of instigating the killing is another question. Two of these teachers died violent deaths. One, a dramatist, moved to the University. 


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