Back to Main Page History Briefing Statements Bulletins Reports Special Reports Publications Links

Extracts from Chapter 2


Chapter 2:

A Parlous Quest to Live in Truth

 Subsequently Rajani played a leading role in reopening the University after the devastating war of October 1987. She worked shoulder to shoulder with lab assistants and employees to get the university open and ready for teaching. For Rajani and others close to her the University would be the voice of the people standing up to all armed actors, who would rather have the University serve their ends. This effort to regain a functioning university was in fact supported by the Indian Army as they wanted to show that they were restoring normalcy. From the first however, we in the university community made it clear that we had a will of our own.

  Brigadier Manjit Singh of the Rajput Rifles was then in charge of the University. Near the Railway Station in Jaffna Town , Manjit Singh had called out the residents for a cup of tea and had warned them that should one shot be fired from their area he would flatten the place. Rajani firmly told officers of the Indian Army where we stood, using expressions such as ‘the terror of the LTTE and terror of the Indian Army’. Like most others she did not try to pretend that only the LTTE was to blame. Rajani evoked respect as someone who was not playing games. An exceptional officer at the University was Major Bhatt of the Sikh Regiment, a graduate from Lucknow . They had been sent with next to no idea of what they were meant to accomplish.   It was a treacherous environment where the LTTE provoked them repeatedly, not to get the Indian Army out but to invite maximum reprisals against civilians, and too often the Indians took the bait. Unlike most officers, Bhatt did not talk down to others as though he knew all about his job. He was anxious to learn and never was a voice raised in talking with him. It was new for us to see officers of the major and captain ranks leading foot patrols, as we frequently saw Bhatt doing.

  Major Bhatt and Colonel Chatterjee, who too frequently came to the University, were part of the force that took Jaffna Town . One wonders if these officers thought back on aspects of their operations that left deep scars on the people. It is likely that their intelligence briefing was very poor and ordinary soldiers had been sent into Jaffna Hospital in the tragically mistaken belief that it was an LTTE fortress, a belief the LTTE encouraged by having a handful of cadres firing at them and running away. Chatterjee was friendly but perhaps a little suspicious of us. He said in the course of a conversation that his brother was a surgeon. Sritharan responded jokingly, “You are both in the killing business aren’t you?” Chatterjee laughed, the joke was well taken. Chatterjee was proud to recite for us Tagore’s poem ‘Where the mind is without fear…Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

  Sritharan was very restless during that period. During night curfews he paced up and down, his lightning sharp intellect trying to pierce the fog of hopelessness and figure out initiatives the community could take and their possible consequences. By day he rode about on his bicycle at considerable risk with a cane basket hung on a handle, as though looking for food, but trying to find out what was really going on. It was his idea that he and I  should go to the town commandant’s office and ask for permission to inspect the University, an action that expedited its reopening.

  On one occasion late in the evening there was a tense encounter at the Science Faculty with Brigadier Manjit Singh, when Dr. Sritharan charged Indian soldiers of willfully damaging several computers. Manjit Singh made legalistic denials. Both voices rose to a crescendo. The lateness of the hour with Manjit’s bodyguard of half a dozen Sikh soldiers looking on inscrutably added to the tension in the atmosphere. Thankfully it ended and the interlocutors parted company. It had a funny sequel. Some days later Sritharan passed Manjit Singh’s vehicle on the road near the Nallur Education Office. Manjit Singh was not in it. The vehicle reversed fast and braked near a startled Sritharan. Manjit’s bodyguard grinned and gave Sritharan a friendly wave. They were seemingly pleased that someone told their boss off…

Some of us at the University, especially Sritharan and Rajani, felt that if we were to have some normality and a functioning civil life, we should demand that the Indian Army observed certain norms in dealing with the civilians and instituted some accountability; the damage the LTTE was doing could also be minimised. We sent a letter in early 1988 and received an invitation to the Jaffna Kacheri. Rev. Dr. Guy Rajendram was the most senior among us. Only Rajani came from the Medical Faculty and was the only woman in the group. The Indians took the meeting seriously even if it was only to tell their point of view. Their team was led by Major General Sardeshpande, the officer commanding the Jaffna Peninsula .

 Rajani who was in a white sari expressed very powerfully the plight of the civilians, her dismay at the way the Indian Army took Jaffna Hospital and at the plight of the women, many of whom were killed or raped by the Indian Army. Neither did she mince her words about what she thought about the LTTE. Sardeshpande, whom we later learnt had several misgivings about the Indian intervention, did his best at public relations and spoke about the psychology of the soldier under stress. Rajani responded strongly that psychology could not be an excuse for harming defenceless civilians, adding that our women are not objects for soldiers to relieve their stress. Many years later Sardeshpande, who had by then retired, told a friend of ours in Delhi that he had been highly impressed by Rajani.  She was among the exceptional civilians in Jaffna to make it clear to the Indian Army, the LTTE and other actors that the ordinary people had an independent voice and their dignity to defend and uphold. Her loss underscores what we miss today.    

  The notion of an independent voice was anathema to the LTTE. They tried repeatedly to provoke a clash with the Indian Army and to close down the University. On 1st February 1989 , Indian soldiers, in pursuit of an LTTE man who ran through the University, opened fire injuring some students. A demonstration at the main entrance by students the following morning moved towards the army camp at Parameswara Junction, despite stern threats issued by Major Nautyal, officer in charge at Tinnevely, whose experience included having fought Naxalites in Andhra. Two students died in the firing by the Army. Rajani was a notable exception to the Medical Faculty’s attitude that they were in a different world from the rest of the University. She quickly cycled over from the Medical Faculty and she and Sritharan were at the lead in taking the injured students to hospital.

  Within a short time the Town Commandant, Brigadier R.I.S. Kahlon, arrived at the University. Behind his tough exterior he was obviously upset. Significantly, he repeatedly asked why we waited so long and failed to contact him at the outset when trouble was imminent. Rajani and Sritharan protested vehemently that the Army opened fire at a peaceful, unarmed demonstration. While field officers might have felt differently, a normally functioning university was important for the military administration.

  Active staff members like Rajani extracted promises from officers, such as Kahlon, to not harass unarmed persons for their political views. Thus the University was able to challenge the Indian Army over arrests of students and demand their release. The Indian Army had been known to harass and threaten individual staff members, too. But this was challenged and in general limits were observed. The UTHR(J)’s documentation of violations by all parties was in the same spirit of standing up for the community…

  Piecing together Rajani’s subsequent assassination revealed to us the large network of political advisors, intelligence operatives and student spies that the LTTE maintained within the University, particularly the Medical Faculty…

  Although the controversy about private medical colleges came to be mixed up in lethal power play, the differences between the LTTE and JVP on the matter point to the different social classes whose support each considered crucial. The NLMC was a misadventure tied up with Rajani’s fate.

  2.3 The NLMC Fiasco, a Compromised Faculty and the Isolation of Rajani

…Alarm bells started ringing when the Senate of the University of Colombo in a controversial vote allowed NCMC students to sit for the same examinations as medical students of the university and hold degrees of the University of Colombo. Protests by Colombo medical students became increasingly acrimonious and lethal once the JVP too capitalised on the issue and killed Vice Chancellor Prof. Stanley Wijesundara in 1989.

  The NLMC was established in Jaffna in the mid 1980s following the NCMC precedent, and the plan was to give University of Jaffna degrees to the students. Partly owing to the disturbed conditions after July 1983, worsening the exodus of doctors, the NLMC did not have anything like the professional expertise or financial commitment that the NCMC had. The innovations done to Moolai Cooperative Hospital – that was to function as the teaching hospital – were widely regarded as inadequate. The venture had the support of several teachers of paramedical subjects at the University of Jaffna led by the professors of biochemistry and physiology. The proposal to award University of Jaffna medical degrees to NLMC students was however turned down by a senate committee, which found the admission requirements below the national minimum. This was when Rajani was away doing her PhD.

  Having paid large sums of money, the NLMC students were left in the lurch as teaching virtually ground to a halt. There were two desperate parties – the students themselves and the organisers of the venture. In a climate of civil war where gun culture provided a short cut to getting things done, even a crisis among the elite was bound to take unpredictable turns. In university circles it was said that the directors of the NLMC were prevented at gunpoint from closing up and going away. The next move in the matter came in early 1989 when Rajani was back.

  In late 1987, after the Indian Army offensive, Rajani had worked hard to reopen the Medical Faculty with the vision that the University would become the centre of revival for a society torn apart, torn asunder by social strife and violence. She strongly disagreed with her faculty colleagues who kept it closed for six months as a means of drawing attention to the shortage of staff. She wanted them to do a job, earn respect and persuade Tamil doctors living abroad to help them by doing short tours of teaching…

 Rajani was the only member of the medical staff who openly objected to the incorporation on the grounds that even the Jaffna Medical Faculty was grossly understaffed and for the few available teachers to do a second job at the NLMC would adversely affect standards. Rajani moreover pointed out that Anatomy was the most substantive pre-clinical subject and being the sole qualified anatomist at the Department (one among perhaps four qualified anatomy teachers in the whole country at the time) she could not physically handle three batches simultaneously. The Dean repudiated her with vehemence at faculty and senate meetings. Many agreed with her but chose not to confront authority.

  The medical students in the University of Jaffna were fervently opposed to the incorporation of the NLMC. About July 1989 when Rajani was in England , the students locked up the Dean to prevent him from attending an NLMC function. The faculty members closed the faculty for three weeks until the students came crawling back with letters of apology. When Rajani returned from England , her faculty colleagues justified the closure to her on the grounds that the students were breaking the rules. Rajani asked them whether they followed the rules requiring them to get permission from the University before taking lectures at the NLMC? She was upset with her colleagues for imposing their authority over the students by humiliating them, using sheer power rather than reason that should be the common currency in an academic institution.

  Besides, the ethics of the NLMC were mired in a serious conflict of interest. The students who worked hard and made it into the state-funded university system would be in competition not with products of an independent university, but with those of a commercial establishment purporting to be a private university, but using the same teachers from the state-funded system and paying them twice of what they received from their principal affiliation, the University of Jaffna.[1]

  Students from the NLMC, including several of those involved with the LTTE, called regularly at the Medical Faculty for discussions with members of the staff who supported the NLMC. According to the student we shall refer to as L whom the LTTE installed as president of the Medical Students’ Union (more of him later), the Dean had importuned him to sign a letter purportedly from the Union to the parliamentary select committee, certifying that the Jaffna medical students supported the incorporation of the NLMC into the Eastern University. He added that some LTTE members interested in the matter had said at the Medical Faculty that whoever opposed the scheme for incorporation of the NLMC into Eastern University would be “dealt with”.

  Hardly any members of the Faculty were LTTE supporters in any but a wishy-washy sense; many were just nationalists of the TULF mould. Like the students admitted to the NLMC, they too were desperate and were willing to pull any string that came to hand whether in the North or the South. They were desperate and angry. One instance gives an idea of how it possibly compromised the University. The course of events suggest that the Indian Army had their own informants in the University and knew what was going on inside and used it to arm-twist members of the university community. It is not unlikely that the Indian Army knew that the LTTE dealt with a section of the medical dons, even if they did not know it was about the NLMC. The incident described below illustrates this point well.  

  During July 1989, Neethirajah, a second-year medical student, was assaulted by an Indian officer when he tried to intervene on behalf of another student. He reported this to the Dean of Medicine who was briefly Acting Vice Chancellor. The Dean promptly and confidently complained by letter to General Kalkut, GOC Indian Forces in Sri Lanka . This was contrary to the usual practice of contacting the local commander Colonel Sashikumar, who was very particular about maintaining a clean record. The letter to Kalkut was redirected to Sashikumar.

  For about two nights Major Nautyal from Tinnevely Junction, with another officer, visited the Dean and had apparently searched his place. Major Nautyal in due course called on the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Thurairajah, who had returned, and told him that the Dean had several live bullets at home, which was a serious offence. Nautyal added that he was prepared to overlook the offence if the Vice Chancellor would withdraw the complaint about the assault. Prof. Thurairajah asked the Dean of Medicine about this, and out of concern for his safety, advised him to go abroad for some time. The Dean admitted to having the bullets and was not interested in going abroad. Thurairajah could get no more clarification from him about what had really happened, and reluctantly withdrew the complaint.

  In this affair, the Faculty became compromised partly on account of the intrigues concerning the NLMC in which it had the LTTE’s support. On this count too Rajani became isolated. LTTE cadres took advantage of this situation and hid arms on the premises and even slept there. In this murky situation, the Indian Army too had its sources of information and Rajani despaired of what might happen if they decided to act.

  The significance of the NLMC affair for Rajani’s killing is that her principled stand on issues and her interest in the welfare of the University and the larger community had thoroughly isolated her within the Faculty, as would be seen in the sequel on how indifferently the Faculty reacted to her murder. The LTTE knew of her isolation and it helped them enormously to dampen the effect of her loss. Had they thought that the Faculty would firmly stand up and condemn the killing and highlight the irreparable loss, it would have acted as a strong deterrent to killing Rajani. Yet the Faculty, which was closed for six months the previous year to protest the lack of staff, carried on almost as though her loss was of meagre significance. Her loss as a teacher of Anatomy, who could also train others to succeed her cannot be overestimated. To this day, the medical faculty has found no adequate replacement for her... 

 2.4 Power of the Powerless: The Broken Palmyra and the formation of the UTHR (J):

The next opportunity for change came when Prof. A. Thurairajah of the Open University, who was Co-Chairman of the national UTHR, was appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna in September 1988. This was a boon to academics who wanted the University to be more democratic and active in the wider community. With Prof. Thurairajah’s backing, additional structures were formed to deal with problems everyone was facing owing to the unsettled conditions – particularly the LTTE trying repeatedly to steer the University on a collision course with the Indian Army. These structures included the Staff, Students and Employees’ Consultative Committee. There were also informal initiatives such as the remarkable document Laying Aside Illusions, signed by 50 academics in November 1988 (

  Young active staff members and students became unusually visible in the University. Understandably, it made some older academics unhappy and nervous (as we were to learn). The academic community in Lanka had come a long way from its halcyon days of the 1930s to 1960s when it appeared to stand for intellectual freedom and open discourse. The fact that its complacency had not been shaken by the passage of the Citizenship Bills of 1948-1949 which virtually made serfs of the Hill Country Tamil plantation labour, was a disturbing sign portending its impending surrender to ethnic chauvinism and the brutality dictated by class interest during the JVP-led Sinhalese youth uprisings of 1971 and 1987…  

  In November 1986 the university student Arunagirinathan Vijitharan, from Batticaloa, was abducted by the LTTE and killed apparently for the reason that in boyish fashion he had poked fun at a medical student, the girlfriend of LTTE leader Kittu. The student protest by the University drew in the schools and a large segment of ordinary people who had grave reservations about the direction that the LTTE was taking. The academics largely stayed on the fence. A few were openly contemptuous of the students. Some seniors came in as honest brokers between the students and the LTTE and persuaded the students to call off their protest on verbal assurances from the LTTE for the safety of their leaders and a promise that they would look for Vijitharan. Once the students called off their protest and the LTTE began hunting the student leaders (one of whom it later killed), the academics remained silent. It must be placed on record that the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Vithiananthan, conducted himself with dignity and  with genuine concern for the students.

  Vimaleswaran was then the student leader who led the protest when the leaders undertook a fast. A rural youth from Pooneryn, Vimaleswaran was politically astute, having been a member of the PLOTE; he left the group in the wake of its internal killings. Leading members of churches and of the elite who came to make peace thought they scored a coup when they persuaded LTTE’s Jaffna leader Kittu to put in an appearance and talk to the student leaders. They were impatient when Vimaleswaran was adamant on continuing the protest in spite of Kittu’s smile. Vimaleswaran’s words remained an indictment of the kind of elite arrogance that held time and again that the LTTE’s opponents had rebuffed the graciousness of the LTTE that genuinely wanted peace.

  Vimaleswaran said that Kittu’s conciliatory gestures had no meaning when the reality behind the scenes was that student protesters were being hounded and harassed by the LTTE. After the protest, with few means at his disposal, Vimaleswaran became a helpless fugitive. In 1988, he tried to make a meagre living for himself and his family, giving tuition. On 18th July the LTTE shot him dead after a class on Sattanathar Kovil Rd. , Nallur (UTHR( Jaffna ) Rep.1, Ch.1).

  Rajani then had just returned from England to a society characterised by fear, cynicism, mutual distrust and moral decay under the LTTE’s authoritarian regime. Vaclav Havel’s collection of essays, Living in Truth, published about this time, made a tremendous impact on Rajani and the circle around her, and influenced her actions. In that book were ideas to wean society away from deadening conformity.

  Havel ’s essay, “The Power of the Powerless”, influential in the recent Velvet revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia , examines the momentous consequences of speaking the truth. Havel begins with the example of a greengrocer who displays political slogans that he does not believe in but realises that he has to act as if he does in order to ensure his own survival. Havel instead takes the point at which the green grocer may indeed one day revolt against this complicity:

  Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself…And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie…He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth

  The system, through its alienating presence in people, will punish him for his rebellion. It must do so because the logic of its automatism and self-defense dictate it. The greengrocer has not committed a simple individual offence isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious…He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked.”

  Where Rajani drew most from Havel was in the need to create small institutions at local level to provide a firm foundation and mutual support for people to live in truth:

  Rajani played a leading role in several important local initiatives, apart from the writing of The Broken Palmyra and the work of the UTHR (Jaffna). These included the founding of Poorani Illam, a home for abused and destitute women, several structures and initiatives at the University, including the Staff, Students and Employees Consultative Committee, and her mobilizing of the non-academic staff to reopen the Medical Faculty after the war in 1987. She was part of a women’s drama group to bring out the situation of women living under multiple oppressions which produced Aduppadi Arattai (Musings by the kitchen hearth) staged at the University’s Kailasapathy Auditorium. Further, she played an active role in initiating a system organised within the teachers’ unions to go to the relevant army camp immediately and challenge the arrest or harassment of any university person. This broke down after she was killed and the LTTE asserted control.

After her assassination there were scores of arrests, incidents of torture, assault and disappearance, especially of university students, first by the LTTE and then by the Sri Lankan forces. In its inability to articulate civic responsibility as a body, the University largely ended up accepting the status quo laid down by the powers that be – one that was brutal and demeaning. Any challenge carried a high price…  

The UTHR (Jaffna) acted with considerable autonomy. The reports once compiled were shown to Prof. Thurairajah, who readily consented, before release. Prof. Thurairajah was under much pressure. While his course of promoting a more democratic university ethos had a support base within the University and could negotiate the rocks, there was no problem. As we discuss later, Rajani’s murder ended this period and signalled the reassertion and punitive vengeance of the old establishment.

  The controversy that UTHR (J) reports would excite became clear after the publication of our second report in March 1989 on the developing situation after the parliamentary elections and issues confronting the Tamils. To compile this report, UTHR(J) had obtained help from Mr. Selvendra, Chairman of the Valvettithurai Citizens’ Committee, to meet victims of violence from that area and in particular the victims of an incident at Udupiddy. Mr. Selvendra had a liberal education and was a professional, and we sent him our first two reports through an engineer whom we will call Anandan, also of VVT origin. Anandan was two years the writer’s senior at university and was helpful to us with information. It was our hope that the reports would be treated in the spirit in which they were written. We were critical of all violations and their perpetrators, along with the LTTE’s child recruitment, but tried our utmost to be impartial with facts.

  About a month later Prof. Thurairajah sent for one of us and gave without a word the copy of Report No.2 we had sent Mr. Selvendra. The report had copious comments penned on it, especially on our criticism of the LTTE recruiting children and using them in lethal tasks. A particular bone of contention was on our reporting of the incident in Udupiddy (4.6 of On February 16th 1989 , an Indian Army convoy transporting ballot boxes from the parliamentary election just concluded stopped just outside Udupiddy. Then some excited Sikh soldiers rushed into the family home of Rev. Tharmakulasingam of the Church of South India and in the sequel, when an order was barked out, two soldiers turned and opened fire killing two of Tharmakulasingam’s sisters, one of whom was to give birth the next day.

  We then had no explanation for why the convoy had stopped. We learnt from a university lady from the locality that the LTTE had been in the area, and withdrew after firing a token shot to demonstrate their opposition to the elections. The people of the area had at that time moved out sensing trouble. Subsequent to the shooting of the two ladies, Rev. Tharmakulasingam observed a Sikh soldier seated on the ground, weeping aloud. We pointed out that this was not the only incident when a Sikh soldier was found weeping after such a tragedy, perhaps recalling disturbed conditions in their own villages back home in Punjab , which too was caught up in a bitter insurgency. Including this detail was far from mitigating the criminal behavior of an army tasked with upholding the law…However, Selvendra apparently felt that we had distorted the story by introducing a fictitious LTTE presence.[2]

  We heard no more until Anandan paid the writer a visit and related Selvendra’s objections. Anandan, who was always affable and, besides, somewhat naive, changed tone at one point and said severely of our reports, “If you want to write this kind of thing, you have to do it from [the protection of] an army camp.” Anandan stiffened involuntarily when he added that the kind of work the UTHR(J) was doing ‘would not be allowed’! The menace in these words became plain in the months and years to come. Anandan was simply repeating words of the LTTE-supporting elite among his contacts. The words were also an indication of how the UTHR(J) would be assailed by LTTE-supporters in the future.  Contrary to our uncritical hopes, once bitten by the bug of extreme nationalism, the maxim “facts are sacred” has little resonance even among those with a good liberal education.

  It was April 1989 and the LTTE was about to embark on talks with the Premadasa government. Anandan further said, “The LTTE is entering talks just to get the Indian Army out. Once that happens there would be a long and final battle for Eelam.” The full import of that statement seemed to be lost on him: the imposition of yet another war on a battered and weary population. 

  Anandan was at pains to say that the VVT elite, like those in the VVT Citizens Committee, were distinct from the LTTE although they supported its aspirations. He explained that the LTTE had recently given public offence by abducting a goldsmith for ransom while he was worshiping at the major Sellasannathy temple festival. The Citizens Committee urged the LTTE to release him, but they kept him until they got the last gold ingot demanded. He said the LTTE had a mind of its own and no one could influence it. Their relationship to the LTTE, one gathers, resembled that of devotees to an extremely harsh and capricious tutelary deity, whose will was not theirs to question. The visit was a sincerely meant friendly warning.

  Anandan had earlier objected to our coverage in Report No.1 of the murder on 21st October 1988 of Mr. Sivanandasundaram, a senior citizen from Vadamaratchy who led the Tamil Makkal Manram, of whom our report stated, His organisation is known to have taken the stand that the LTTE were the legitimate heirs of the Tamil National cause, and the other groups were even termed ‘traitors’.” He was returning from a meeting commemorating a dead LTTE cadre in Ariyalai, when his bus was stopped in Vallai Moor and he was taken out by three gunmen and shot dead, as the Indian Army provided cover for the killers. Anandan found our reference disrespectful of the man.

  This was a case at the heart of our work. As a man, the deceased and his family were socially close to some of us. The problem was how normally amiable people changed and became totally unable to see the other side, once bitten by the bug of LTTE ideology. They became obsessed by blind hatred – the universal hallmark of gentleman chauvinists. Many LTTE-supporting elite saw in Sivanadasundaram who was spouting venom against other militant groups a great man. They could not see that they made the old man a hero after encouraging him to make intemperate speeches, which they had better sense not to deliver themselves.

  We clearly condemned these killings as a perpetuation of blind intolerance by both sides. The killer in this instance was a member of the EPRLF from Valvettithurai (later EPDP), who was badly mauled and narrowly survived the Welikade prison massacre of July 1983. Such a man must have felt deeply offended when, after what he had been through, others who retired from hum drum government service, and had taken no comparable risks, should call him a traitor. From the start the UTHR(J) pleaded that our common stakes were too high for us to drown ourselves in such intolerance.

  Anandan’s visit was the first sign that we were entering tempestuous waters…Meanwhile, gambling on the strength of assurances and weapons given by the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE ratcheted up the harshness of its actions, deliberately provoking a blood sacrifice in Prabhakaran’s birth place. It was Prabhakaran’s protege Pottu Amman who was in charge of the area.

  2.5 A Deadly Sequel in VVT  

  Indeed, as was revealed, Anandan was in possession of knowledge of the LTTE’s long-term intentions. The LTTE did indeed go to peace talks only to remove the Indian Army, as he predicted, and did go to war with the Premadasa government in 1990. It was a drama in which neither the Government, the VVT CC nor the LTTE quite knew where they were headed except for wanting the Indian Army out for disparate reasons. They were all out of their depth.

  In mid-1989, the LTTE regularly provoked the Indian Army in all other parts of Vadamaratchy bringing about regular reprisals against the people. There was anger among the people in Vadamaratchy that Valvettithurai was allowed to enjoy peace for several months because it was the home town of Prabhakaran . LTTE cadres from other areas too must have felt it. Just past the middle of 1989, the story got about in Jaffna that the Premadasa government had given the LTTE a consignment of weapons towards their common objective of getting the Indian Army out. This was a cue for another fiendish turn of events. In early August 1989, the LTTE launched treacherous attacks on the Indian Army stationed at Mannar and Adampan Hospitals anticipating reprisals on the hospitals and their environs.

  In both these instances the Indian Army showed creditable restraint. In Adampan, on the night of 31st July a large group of the LTTE came into the jungle behind the hospital and fired missiles at the Madras Regiment on the other side of the hospital near Giant’s Tank. The officer in charge immediately contacted the doctor at the hospital and asked all of them to vacate as they were going to retaliate. Thus civilians escaped any harm. On 9th August, the Indian Army lost several men at Mannar Hospital . The attackers, who came by boat from Vankalai stole in to the hospital by night and fired from an upstairs window of the OPD building, overlooking Indian troops sleeping in a tent below. Other Indian troops who arrived calmed the people and preserved the dignity of their dead.

  A week earlier, on 2nd August, three days after the attack on Adampan Hospital , the LTTE hid behind a wall in Valvettithurai and reportedly fired their new RPGs gifted by the Sri Lankan government, and killed six soldiers of an Indian patrol. The Indian Army reacted in anger killing about 40 civilians. This seemed a self-defeating action for the Indian Army just when India was responding  to the Sri Lankan government’s demand that the Indian Army pull out, by raising concern for the future of Tamils in that eventuality.  

  By attacking the Indian patrol, the LTTE killed two birds with one stone. It made the Indian government look foolish, and neutralised the charge of LTTE’s favoritism toward Valvettithurai (VVT). In a grotesque reversal of the tide of the Tamil militant struggle, during the Indian Army’s reprisals in Valvettithurai (Report No.3)President, many people from VVT sought shelter at the local Sri Lankan army camp; and the VVT CC prepared documents with necessary affidavits and details of the dead and sent them to President Premadasa, who in turn sent his deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne to commiserate with the people of Valvettithurai over the Indian Army’s killings, even as the twosome presided over mass killings in the South to suppress the JVP.

  It was much later that we learnt of the sleazy side of the affair. The VVT CC had, acting on behalf of the LTTE, forged a gentlemen’s agreement with the Indian Army to the effect that the two sides would not exchange fire in VVT. During those months in 1989, both sides passed each other along parallel lanes or alleys showing no signs of alarm. By breaking the truce with its calculated attack on the Indian soldiers, killing them, the LTTE successfully provoked the Indian Army; it reacted with anger and force against the people of Valvettithurai.

  The VVT CC of course knew danger in collaborating with the LTTE, knowing well its methods and the unreliability of its word. The game of on-off war and peace for transient gains, forced on the Valvettithurai people the indignity of refuge in the Sri Lankan army camp – at a time when it was killing Sinhalese people and would return to killing Tamils in less than a year.  

  It was all meaningless, even as the VVT CC followed the LTTE’s prescription for useful human rights activism. Who would have dreamt that the LTTE would in ten months provoke the Government by killing hundreds of surrendered policemen, the way it did the Indian Army in VVT; that soon afterwards Deputy Defence Minister Wijeratne who commiserated in VVT would preside over an orgy of killing thousands of Tamil civilians in the East enforcing the President’s boast of putting down the LTTE as they had done the JVP, or that the LTTE would kill its allies of convenience: Ranjan Wijeratne in 18 months and Premadasa in four years?

  Had we been more alert, we would have realised that the desperation and nastiness in the LTTE had reached a point where they saw any restraint as inimical to their interests. The Indians had blundered in their arrogance and the Sri Lankan government was contemptuous of the Tamils. The constellation of forces that had given Tamil dissent some room to manoeuvre by taking modest risks had broken down. If the LTTE went this far in harming the people of VVT in a desperate game of power, what chance did those like Rajani have against their compulsive desire to achieve totalitarian control? Intuitively or otherwise Rajani felt it, but tried not to alarm the rest of us…

 2.6 Prepublication issue of The Broken Palmyra

  The Broken Palmyra and the Indian Army

  The pre-publication edition of The Broken Palmyra was released in May 1989 and Rajani went to England during the vacation in June for a research stint. Having been tipped off about the book, Major Nautyal raided Rajani’s house on 27th July and obtained a copy. The next day he sent word to Sritharan demanding another copy. He told us that the Indian Army had appointed two teams to review the book. Sritharan and I delivered a copy saying that they should return it.  On Sunday 30th July, Major S.K. Singh, deputy commander of Kondavil division, and Major Nautyal called at my mother’s residence. Singh said that the facts in the book were correct and he appreciated the analysis, but added that the authors had been unfair by the soldiers whose difficulties and anxieties they had not appreciated. He suggested that we might say something about it when the book is finally published. I said that the book would stand or fall by whether or not the readers find it truthful. There was no hint of the slightest threat during the visit…

Colonel Sashikumar of the Gurkha Regiment, who hailed from Kerala, had dealt with the University from 1988. In his own way he tried to maintain a clean record, especially with the University. When a university don’s house was raided in November 1988, probably on a tip off about a book in compilation[3], the Vice Chancellor made a complaint to Brigadier Kahlon, and in turn General Dhilon who was at Jaffna Fort, called the vice chancellor’s office and wanted the don to call on the local commander Colonel Sashikumar. As was then the practice this don was taken to the Tinnevely camp by fellow members of the staff, including Rev. Dr. Guy Rajendram.  

  The conversation was frank and in a way friendly. The purpose of the meeting from the Army’s point of view was to be better informed about the ground and to build cordial relations with the don whose home was raided. All materials removed from the don’s home were filed and returned, including photographs of civilians killed by the Indian Army in 1987 (obtained from Arasu).

  When confronted with the fact of the dirty war, which took the form of getting rid of LTTE supporters, Sashikumar responded obliquely by giving his perception of Jaffna society. He said that in his own area covering Kondavil and surroundings, he found that several hundreds had been killed when the LTTE eliminated the TELO in 1986. He perceived that the people had come to terms with it passively in return for order. Likewise he said that the society would come to terms with getting rid of LTTE supporters too.  

  We may note here the care Colonel Sashikumar took in dealing with the University. The Indian Army may not have lost any sleep over humbler civilians killed, but were very sensitive to bad publicity arising from incidents involving members of the elite. It is evident in the bureaucratic manner in which the Indian Army dealt with complaints. There would be queries and calls for reports down the line. The Indian Army knew that the Medical Faculty, the university students’ centre and canteens were being used and arms were being stored in the premises, but never once raided the place. They watched the place closely and kept their fingers crossed. In the course of the Indian pullout, Sashikumar ignored a warning from an LTTE sentry and drove into Ariyalai East to rescue a group of the ENDLF who were surrounded by the LTTE. Colonel Sashikumar was killed about 20th January 1990 . 

 While the Indian Army had no intention of physically harming any of us, being an intelligence man however, S.K. Singh could not get out of his head the suspicion that someone paid big money to have The Broken Palmyra written, but that is a different matter.

  The Broken Palmyra and the LTTE

The LTTE had obtained a pre-publication copy of the The Broken Palmyra and translated sections of the book for their own authorities in order to make a decision on what to do. Our suspicions that this had happened were corroborated in 1997 when we were given direct confirmation by an editor privy to the events.  

  During 1997 the government with the help of the Sri Lankan Army organised seminars in Jaffna to explain the Neelan-G.L. Peiris constitutional proposals. A journalist from the South had occasion to have a private chat with a courageous veteran journalist in Jaffna who had received commendations from Western missions in Colombo for carrying on with his task of reporting undaunted. The visitor asked the veteran why the media in Jaffna avoided discussing the proposals, even if only to criticise them?

  To the visitor’s surprise the veteran began with an outburst of wariness and trepidation, “You don’t understand. We could write 99 things they (the LTTE) want us to write, but then if we write just one thing they disapprove of, that would be the end.” The veteran continued, “You may know that the Rajasingam sisters worked untiringly for the LTTE and did so much through very difficult times. But then, see, they killed Rajani without any mercy.” The visitor’s ears pricked up and he urged the veteran to continue. The following is what the veteran journalist from Jaffna said, with subsequent clarifications we obtained from him in person:

  In late August 1989, the veteran was given a copy of The Broken Palmyra by Major Shastri of the Indian Army in charge of a camp near Chundikuli and was asked as a favour to make a copy for him, as the Major knew that he had a copying machine. While copying, the veteran was told of references to his paper by the person handling the copying; he became interested and had an additional copy made. This was seen by his brother-in-law, a news paper proprietor, who began reading it. Subsequently, the Assistant Chemist, Chemical Lab, at the Cement Corporation’s KKS cement factory from Vadamaratchy visited this proprietor. The latter, with no harmful intention, told him about the book to be published and that it would expose the LTTE. A couple of days later, Pottu Amman, who was then LTTE’s area leader for Vadamaratchy, sent some of his men to the veteran journalist with paper and made a copy which they took to Vadamaratchy.

  The Assistant Chemist then lived in Pt Pedro. The LTTE then approached Mr. Rudra, a senior lawyer in Pt Pedro, to translate The Broken Palmyra for them. The lawyer, who knew the family, wriggled out of it but later told Rajani’s father Mr. Rajasingam, also a native of Pt Pedro and an old boy of Hartley College . Pottu Amman was in the course of a few months promoted to the position of Chief of Intelligence.     

  Subsequently, about early September 1989, a son of Saloysius, a sworn translator in Nelliady, Vadamaratchy, who worked for the journalist, rushed to him with the news that that a party working with the Indian Army had abducted his father, the translator. He wanted the matter given press publicity. Before the next edition went to press, he came back and told the veteran to take the item out because it was the LTTE that had taken the translator. After mid-September the LTTE released the translator, and the veteran learnt that his job under custody had been to translate excerpts from The Broken Palmyra. Within a few days of his release Rajani was assassinated.

  Having obtained the copy, the LTTE would have taken it to someone conversant in English to tell them what was in it, perhaps to the Chemist himself who alerted them in the first place, to point out extracts for translation, for dispatch to their superiors in the Vanni.

  It is apparent that Pottu Amman wanted to keep this operation within a closed circle. For example, the Valvettithurai Citizens’ Committee was a window for the LTTE in sensitive matters and continued to function, chiefly because the LTTE and the Indian Army found its existence useful as a channel. Other citizens’ committees had been closed down by the LTTE, either by intimidation or by killing their leaders, notably Principal Anandarajah of the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee.

  Having the translation done in Valvettithurai would have been easy for Pottu Amman, but he decided otherwise. This brings us to undercurrents of divisions and competing interests and furtive manoeuvrings within the LTTE, which came to the surface in 1990, which make it difficult to trace the chain of decision making that led to the killing of Rajani.

  Mahattaya was in charge of field operations at that time even as moves were under way to cut him down to size. Pottu Amman, who may have known in 1989 that Prabhakaran was grooming him for the job of intelligence chief, was, not long after, used to edge Mahattaya out and strike the final blow against him. His increasing authority is further evident from the fact that the LTTE used him to provoke an Indian Army massacre in Valvettithurai on 2nd August 1989, described above, which created considerable resentment among the local folk. Pottu Amman was an outsider and both Mahattaya and Prabhakaran were from Valvettithurai.

  In early May the LTTE team was in Colombo for talks with the Premadasa government. Both Mahattaya and Balasingam were in the team. Mahattya had attempted during this period to contact Dayapala, Rajani’s husband (see Chapters 4&5). There were no doubt discussions afoot within the LTTE about how to deal with activism in the University. Killing Rajani or someone else was normal to the LTTE’s way of thinking, but there would also have been opposition considering what it would cost. Rajani enjoyed the affection and goodwill of even students who were LTTE members, and she was irreplaceable for the wider community…If the acquisition of The Broken Palmyra played any role at all, it was to reinforce a process already set in motion.  

  Next | Previous


[5] This was on the fifth anniversary of the LTTE’s order for the Muslims to quit the North en masse.



[8] The Jaffna University common room, which carries pictures of deceased members of the university staff, into early 2013, had no picture of Rajani, an omission that several visitors found disconcerting.

Next | Previous

Home | History | Briefings | Statements | Bulletins | Reports | Special Reports | Publications | Links
Copyright © UTHR 2001