The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle – 6

7.7 Police and Army Rampage in Jaffna

From 1979, because of the Sinhalese military occupation of Jaffna and the state terrorism let loose on the people. hostility began to grow and became deeply embedded in the Tamil people. A group of highly organized young Tamil militants, at first calling themselves the Eelam “Tigers”, and then reorganised as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, became active in the northern Tamil areas. They began to kill Sinhalese policemen, attacked police stations and took away weapons. Consequently, the mainstream TULF politicians were forced to become more militant, both inside and outside parliament, in their demand for separation.

Jayewardene produced the artful antidote of an all island system of District Development Councils (DDCs) toothless bodies without specified powers but with councillors to be elected by the people in order to divert the growing militancy of the youth and the TULF. In fact, for quite some time, this tactic paid off handsomely for Jayewardene.

The UNP’s strategy for the DDC elections was to win at least one of the six DDCs in the Tamil areas and at least one councillor in Jaffna, to show the TULF and the Sinhalese that the TULF was not in total control of the Tamil areas, and hence that the separatist demand was a spurious one. The UNP attempted to achieve this by hook or by crook.

By 1981 the Eelam Tamil Liberation Tigers had killed about 20 policemen. Innocent young Tamils who were detained, tortured and released without out charges were driven to swell the Liberation Tiger movement.

In the run up to the DDC elections in Jaffna, Thiagarajah, the former M of the TC, who went over to Mrs Bandaranaike in 1971 and was appointed the powerful Jaffna District Political Authority, and was now the UNP’s leading candidate, was shot and killed. The TULF was seriously drawn into the DDC elections because the UNP had put up some Tamil candidates. Jayewardene was anxious to rally the people around the DDCs, to divert Tamil separatist nationalism, which was becoming increasingly unmanageable. He regarded the DDCs as the last peaceful means to counter Tamil separation. In this context, the UNP was determined to win at least one seat in Jaffna, even if it involved rigging the election, hijacking ballot boxes or beating the Tamil people into voting for the UNP.

On the eve of the election, fixed for 4 June 1981, a contingent of 300 specially selected Sinhalese policemen were sent to Jaffna to supervise t operations. The 150 officials mandated by the commissioner of elections presiding and counting officers were at the last minute replaced by Sinhala loyalists hand picked by the UNP high command and sent to Jaffna. To augment them and offer political counsel on the spot, Minister of Industry Cyril Mathew, the bete noire of the Tamils, Minister of Lands and Mahaveli Development Gamini Dissanayake, the secretary and additional secretary the Ministry of Defence and the secretary to the cabinet, had all arrived Jaffna by 30 May. For the first time, the government was planning to subvert the elections in the very year in which it was celebrating 50 years of universal suffrage.

On 31 May, at an election meeting in Jaffna, an unidentified gunman fired some shots and, at this, the Sinhalese police and army instigated a state sponsored orgy of murder, mayhem, looting, arson and terror in the city until 8 June 1981. A statement issued by the opposition parties declared:

More than 100 shops have been broken, burnt, looted market squares in Jaffna and Chunnakam look as if they have been bombed in wartime: several houses have been looted and badly damaged, the house of the MP for Jaffna has been reduced to ruins (the MP himself was lucky to escape being murdered); several deaths have occurred at the hands of the state armed personnel; the Headquarters of the TULF in the heart of Jaffna has been destroyed; the public library in Jaffna the second largest library in the island with over 90,000 volumes—has been reduced to ashes. Even more reprehensible are the facts that these outrages should have taken place when cabinet ministers and several leaders of the security services were personally present in Jaffna directing affairs, and that a section of the security services, which had been sent there to maintain law and order, had been directly involved. 10

Speaking in parliament on the rampage in Jaffna, Minister Gamini Dissanayake stated:

We do not wish to minimise in any way the gravity of what has been done, the untold damage that has been done . . . I saw it and I was shocked . . . these police officers have run berserk . . . I am sorry for the violence that was perpetrated in the Jaffna peninsula. I think we are all responsible. 11

An emergency was declared in the Jaffna peninsula. Yet President Jayewardene was determined to go ahead with the elections to the DDC in  Jaffna as scheduled for 4 June 1981 Minister Gamini Dissanayake, who was in Jaffna, stated in parliament:

And His Excellency the President decided to carry on with the poll. . . . I have been in Jaffna, having observed what took place in Jaffna, there was no atmosphere there for free polls. The atmosphere was one of terror; the police were not easily confined to the barracks, and I think many of us who were there were concerned with the situation. The deputy Minister of Defence was there, and we were concerned. And if we made any errors according to you in what we have done we are prepared to face the consequences and take full responsibility for our actions.

Despite the orgy of violence and bloodletting, the DDC elections were held  on 4 June and the ballot boxes were taken to Colombo. The results were announced on 16 June. Of the 315,999 votes polled, the TULF receive 263,369 and retained all the seats and also the council. The UNP polled 23,302 votes and the TC 21,682. The TULF won all six DDCs in the Tamil areas. This was not what Jayewardene had wanted. In that setting, if any real power were given to the DDCs, the TULF would have become powerful and consolidated its hold on the Tamil people. Hence, even today, the powers of the DDCs have not been defined and they are mere empty shells.

Jayewardene had expected Sinhalese resettlement of the Tamil areas to result in victory for the Sinhalese and the UNP in Trincomalee. His disappointment was manifest:

President Jayewardene addressing the Executive Committee of the A11 Ceylon UNP Women’s Union, at Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte, said that in Trincomalee the TULF polled 2,304 votes more than the UNP at the DDC election. In 1977, the SLFP polled in the Trincom district 20,841 votes. If one fourth of these votes had been given to UNP in 1981, the Chairman would have been one “who did not advocate the division of the country”. 12

He would never refer to why the Tamil people wanted to divide the country. After accepting in the 1977 election manifesto that “there are numerous problems confronting the Tamil speaking people”, and that the “lack of a solution to their problems had made the Tamil speaking people support e a movement for the creation of a separate state”, and after pledging that the UNP “feels that such problems should be solved without loss of time”, he was now hoping to have a Sinhalese as the Chairman of the Trincomalee DDC. One can see why he wanted the rapid resettlement of these districts, particularly in the Trincomalee area, to claim them as Sinhalese areas.

The TULF MPs took their battle into parliament. They moved a vote of  no confidence in the government, on the grounds that the May June 1981 violence in Jaffna had been state sponsored and carried out by Sinhalese ministers and high ranking government of finials present on the spot. The government responded by going on the offensive. What followed was the most racially poisonous verbal vendetta in Sri Lanka’s parliamentary hiss In the debate that ensued, one Sinhalese MP called for the return of the traditional death penalty which “tears the offender’s body limb from limb

7.8 No Confidence Motion on the Leader of the Opposition

Unwilling and unable to understand Tamil separatist nationalism, the Sin politicians regarded Amirthalingam, the TULF boss and leader of the opposition, as the principal villain in the demand for separation. He was accuse of acting against the interests of the country during his foreign trips when had advocated separation. They sought to remove him as leader of the opposition. To general amazement, they brought in a motion of no confidence in on the grounds that he did not “enjoy the confidence of the Government” .

In the House, Amirthalingam was refused permission to make a personal explanation and at this the TULF MPs walked out. The speaker overruled a point of order by the SLFP, that the motion was not within the powers of the House, and at this the SLFP walked out. The CP member (elected in 1979 at a by election in Ratnapura) contended that the motion, even if passed, would lead to nothing and also walked out.

Amidst the empty opposition benches, the UNP government Sinhalese MPs vilified Amirthalingam in the most despicable terms and suggested that he be tied to the nearest post and whipped. They also wanted all the Eelam separatists to be skinned and their bodies torn up. All this was dutifully carried as headline news by the press and repeated several times over the state radio it was argued that Sri Lanka belonged to the Sinhalese and that the Tamils and Muslims were aliens; the Tamils had no right to a separate state. The Tamils had been brought to Sri Lanka as slaves by high caste Aryan Sinhalese; the Tamils would be sent back to India; the Sinhalese would be ready for war if the Eelam demand was not abandoned.

The no confidence motion was passed on 24 July 1981 by 121 votes to nil  with two abstentions S. Thondaman and Shelton Ranarajah deputy minister of justice. When they found that even with such overwhelming majority they could not remove Amirthalingam as leader of the opposition, the Sinhalese MPs even sought to convert the parliament into a court to punish Amirthalingam, on the grounds that, according to the 1978 constitution “the judicial power of the people may be directly exercised by parliament” in regard to “privileges, immunities and powers of parliament”. Perhaps Erskine May brought some sanity to them at last, for this course was abandoned. But these events were to have immediate repercussions in the country.

7.9 The 1981 Anti Tamil Pogrom

Following the state sponsored violence in Jaffna, for three months there was Country wide anti Tamil fanaticism and rioting organized by influential figures in the UNP government. A statement issued by the Movement for Inter Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE), comprising some of the Opposition parties and a number of individuals, stated:

It is clear that the violence has been the work of organized gangs of thugs who have been used for sinister political purposes to stage these incidents There is good reason to suspect that persons in powerful positions have been behind the instigation, organization and planning of this campaign of violence. We have therefore legitimate grounds for fear that these events may provide a cover for new repressive moves and attacks on the democratic rights of all sections of the people, regardless of race, language or religion.

That this was true was confirmed by British journalist Brian Eads, who was in Sri Lanka and wrote in The Observer (London) of 20 September 1981, as follows:

It is clear that subsequent violence in July and August, which was directed against Sri Lanka Tamils in the east and south of the country and Indian Tamil tea estate workers in the central region, was not random. It was stimulated, and in some cases organized, by members the ruling UNP, among them intimates of the President. In all 25 people died, scores of women were raped, and thousands were made homeless, losing all their meagre belongings. But the summer madness which served the dual purpose of quietening Tamil calls for Eelam, that is a separate state, and taking the minds of the Sinhalese electorate o a deepening economic crisis is only one of the blemishes on the face o the island. Since Jayewardene came to power four years ago, a system of what his critics call “State Terrorism” has brought an Ulster style situation in the Tamil majority areas of the north and the east …. Hundreds have been detained without charge or trial. This year at least 156 Tamil youths have been detained and tortured, then release Thirty five are still held at Colombo’s Panagoda Army Camp. Human rights workers, Sinhalese as well as Tamil, told me that the most favoured tortures are hanging prisoners upside down on heaps of burning chillies, and inserting needles under their finger nails. .

With the outbreak of state sponsored violence in Jaffna, the Sinhalese trouble makers resorted to violence against the Tamil peasants in the Batticaloa Arnparai border areas. Forty three houses belonging to the Tamils were burnt down with the active connivance of the Sinhalese security forces. Large numbers of shops were burnt down in the eastern province, and over 500 Tamils took refuge in refugee camps. A Hindu temple in Amparai was on fire and its priest attacked. Anti Tamil violence then broke out against Indian Tamil plantation workers, at first in Ratnapura, instigated by the local MP, who was also a deputy minister. He was later sacked by President Jayewardene. Anti Tamil rioting then spread throughout the plantation are and workers in 43 estates were beaten and driven off. About 15,000 took refuge in temples and schools and later moved to the northern province for resettlement.

S. Thondaman, the leader of the plantation workers and a minister in Jayewardene’s cabinet, met the president and voiced his protest:

We reiterated our position that the mob rule which seems to be the order of the day in many parts of the country should be brought to end…. In spite of the assurance given by the government, the law and order situation had deteriorated as mob rule seems to persist and the people are in a state of perpetual terror…. The very fact that even plantation workers, innocent of any political crimes, have been singled out for murder and mayhem, has created a feeling among the people that the thousands of hooligans covertly enjoy the patronage of powerful personalities.

A Tamil Hindu pilgrim and a DMK politician from Tamil Nadu, who was on his way to the Kathirkamam shrine in south Sri Lanka, was stabbed and killed by the Sinhalese mob. This led to protest by the Indian government and the Tamil Nadu government called an official one day Hartal (strike) to condemn the Sri Lanka government’s state terrorism and the Sinhalese violence against the Tamils. These led to Jayewardene’s rhetorical outburst: “What sort of animals are these?” Speaking at the executive meeting of the UNP on 4 September, he said:

I speak more in sorrow than in anger. Recent events throughout the island, North, Center and South show that the religion we profess does not seem to influence for the good some of our people. I regret that some members of my party made speeches in parliament and outside that encourage violence and murders, rapes and arson that have been committed…. l must have reasons to be proud of the party of which I am the leader. If I cannot, it is better for me to retire from the leadership of this party and let those who believe that the harming of innocent people and property that has happened recently is the way to solve the problems that face this multi racial, multi religious and multi caste society, take over the leadership of the party.

Jayewardene continued to preside over the UNP and over a government in which Cyril Mathew, the most extreme chauvinist anti Tamil, was the important and influential minister of industries. In 1981, Mathew wrote a 352 page book in Sinhala entitled Sinhala People Awake, Arise and Safeguard Buddhism. He declared that there had been Buddhist shrines in Jaffna in the earliest times and that therefore Sinhalese Buddhists should be settled In Jaffna district, the only Tamil area that Sinhalese colonization had not reached. The book contained anti Tamil speeches by Jayewardene and others dating from the 1950s, and the author called for a jihad in the cause of Buddhism.

7.10 The Aftermath

Following  the cruel summer of murder, arson, pillage and plunder, Jayewardene prepared a peace strategy since the Queen was due to visit the island in October for the government’s celebrations of 50 years of universal franchise.

He invited the TULF to face to face talks. The TULF welcomed the idea and at the talks put forward six demands: (1) the appointment of an international commission of inquiry into the May June police army rampage in Jaffna; (2) home guards should be set up to prevent further violence and disturbances; (3) 75% of the police personnel in the north and east should be Tamils; (4) power should be given to the DDCs as effective decentralized units of administration; (5) the “standardisation” system for university admissions should be reviewed; and (6) policemen responsible for the rampage in Jaffna should be prosecuted.

After protracted negotiations, Jayewardene accepted every demand except an international commission of inquiry. The TULF accepted and agreed to place a moratorium on the demand for a separate state, call off the boycott of parliament and take part in monthly meetings with the president to keep matters affecting inter racial relations under continuous review

This was the nadir of FP and TULF policies over the past 30 years. The TULF surrendered the goal to which the Tamil people had been driven by Sinhalese chauvinism and bourgeois Tamil policies. It was driven into this cul de sac because Amirthalingam was rattled by the no confidence motion. Amirthalingam and the TULF MPs always felt that it was in the Colombo parliament that they must fight their battles, and not alongside the Tamil people. They never learnt anything about the nature of Sinhalese politics, or their opponents’ strategies, and they never won a single victory.

During the week long royal tour of Sri Lanka, the Queen was taken to see the oldest tree in the world (the bo tree at Anuradhapura), the casket supposed to contain the Buddha’s tooth, the carnival of Sri Lanka’s elephants and the Victoria Dam built with massive British aid. She was steered clear of the Tamil areas, Sri Lanka’s Ulster, which was ruled by emergency law with the army on the streets and detention and torture without trial. She was also kept away from the stateless and voteless plantation Tamils, who had experienced 33 years of disfranchisement and half of whom were awaiting repatriation to a country they had never seen.

Embarrassed by bad publicity in the world media over the police army atrocities, the Sri Lanka government signed an agreement in late 1981 with London public relations firm to undertake propaganda work in Britain, the US and Western Europe costing £94,000. Among the firm’s previous clients were the late Shah of Iran and the government of South Africa. Shortly afterwards Prime Minister Premadasa visited London to open week long celebrations of Sri Lanka’s 50 years of universal franchise. He was promptly confronted by militant demonstrators calling for a separate Tamil Eelam state. Equally promptly, Premadasa summoned a meeting of Sinhalese UNP supporters in London and lambasted them for not organising a counterdemonstration.

7.11 The Eelam Liberation Struggle Matures

The UNP and the TULF moved closer together and engaged in monthly meetings to review “inter racial relations”. Jayewardene felt satisfied that he had delivered the coup de grace to the TULF and that with it Tamil separatism would collapse.

The reality, however, was that the TULF politicians were a cipher in the Tamil people’s struggle for liberation. Hence, with the TULF in accord with the government, the Tamil liberation struggle gathered its own momentum. There was an escalating dialectic of repression and Tamil radicalisation. The Liberation Tigers eventually regrouped as a revolutionary political movement advancing to armed liberation struggle.

The Amnesty International report (1982) stated:

In April and May 1981 some 30 members of the Tamil minority were arrested without warrant and held incommunicado following a bank raid in Neerveli in which two policemen were killed…. On 30 April and 11 June Amnesty International expressed its concern to President Jayewardene about these reports and urged him to allow all detainees immediate access to lawyers and relatives…. The government replied to worldwide Amnesty International appeals . . . by stating that acts of violence had occurred. It described the detainees as “terrorists whose names were known to the police and who had been avoiding arrest”. . . . At the end of 1981, 22 were still held without charge or trial in Panagoda Army Camp; five in solitary confinement…. Amnesty subsequently received allegations that all the detainees had been tortured. Habeas corpus petitions of four detainees resulted in their first court appearance…. In its judgment on these petitions the Appeal Court ruled that torture and ill treatment had occurred in two cases . . . and added that “the use of violence of whatever degree on a prisoner is illegal”.

The people were beginning to question the futility of peaceful satyagraha (non violent) opposition. One writer, in the Tamil Times (December 1982), asked: “Should the peace loving Jaffna Tamils forever remain peace loving until their identity as a nation is liquidated?” It was not only a question of identity but the liquidation of their young people, the leaders of tomorrow. As to why the Tigers resorted to armed liberation struggle, David Selbourne wrote:

The term “Tiger” is a misnomer. They are not running wild in the jungle, but moving about in Jaffna and its district, hiding among the people, clean cut young men, with mustaches as close clipped as Bngadier Ranatunge’s, the army commander in the Northern Province. They do not need to camouflage themselves to pass undetected among the ordinary passers by of the City No wonder the Tamils refer to them as “our boys”. That is precisely what they are. Talking to them, in and around Jaffna, makes everything clear. The turning point for most was the 1977 anti Tamil riots; the discovery, as one “Tiger” put it to me, that ahimsa was not sufficient.l3

This clearly shows the integration between the Tigers and the ordinary Tamil people. The Tigers are ordinary, but trained, young people who are Coordinating and directing the people’s struggle. The oppressed Tamils are participating in the liberation process with critical awareness of their role as liberators and transformers.

Being ignorant of the historic causes of Tamil separatist nationalism, Amirthalingam sought to stifle it by inventing a rationale to support his new position of accord with the UNP government. He condemned the Liberation Tigers’ violent attacks on the army and the police. In March 1982 he declared that:

there are two types of people resorting to violence in Jaffna. One is the politically motivated group and the other hard core criminals who cash in on the situation prevalent in the north. The political group believed in achieving their objectives by violence; they have no connection with the TULF; the TULF believes in achieving its ends by peaceful means. 14

On the new accord between the UNP government and the TULF, a commentator wrote in the Ceylon Daily News of 20 February 1982:

Political observers are surprised . . . at the quick and severe condemnation by the TULF of the shooting of the soldier in Kayts. This condemnation gives the UNP TULF talks further depths as some are sceptical of the TULF attitude in these talks. But some political observers feel that the continuing monthly dialogue of these two parties is al indication that they mean business. They [TULF] now seek sufficient finances from the centre to make the DDCs work. These observers predict that once these funds are given, the TULF will be much closer to the UNP than it ever wasp. 15

This commentator was unaware that it was Cyril Mathew, in the no confidence motion against the leader of the opposition, who had attacked Amirthalingam and the TULF politicians for not condemning violence again the police in the north. Amirthalingam and TULF were now doing what Mathew had earlier demanded. In fact, Mathew himself was so pleased that Amirthalingam and TULF were complying with his demands that one news report stated: “The TULF criticism of terrorist activity is encouraging, the Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, Cyril Mathew declared”.l6

The commentator was wrong on other matters too. The TULF did not determine or control the Tamil liberation struggle and the separatist nationalism of the Tamils. The former was the servant of the latter. Such , commentators never understood the reality of the Tamil people’s demands: they did not need a bourgeois political formation like the TULF to tell them what was important. Their only goal was liberation and the establishment of an independent separate state of Eelam.

The commentator could not see that, by the nature of Jayewardene’s politics, he was not going to give real power to the DDCs, for that would mean making the TULF strong in the Tamil areas. In fact, the objectives agreed with the TULF were never meant to be implemented. The TULF MPs were, as usual, living in a fool’s paradise. Hence, in February 1982:

Mr Amirthalingam deplored the fact although seven months had elapsed after the inauguration of the DDCs, sufficient funds and authority were not yet granted to these Councils. This was indeed a disappointment…. Mr Amirthalingam referred to planned attempts being made to transform overnight ancient Hindu shrines and places of worship into places of another religious group [He does not even have the courage to say Buddhist] …. He also referred to the fact that of the 8,000 policemen serving in the Tamil areas, only 800 had been Tamil speaking . . . and on representations being made the government was taking steps to implement the decision for the Home Cuards.l7

Armirthalingam and the TULF MPs never had the courage to tell the Sinhalese politicians that those who were resorting to armed struggle against the police were not “terrorists”, as the government called them, but patriotic liberation fighters seeking to free the Tamil nation from Sinhalese tyranny.

It is appropriate to quote Dr Walter Rodney, a martyr of international proletarian struggle:

Few individuals want to willingly invite their own death. Yet many will be found who are prepared to fight fearlessly for their rights even if their lives are threatened. The human spirit has a remarkable capacity to rise above oppression; and only the fools who now misrule . . . imagine that our people lack such capacity.l8

The Tigers came from among the students shut out from university by discriminatory anti Tamil quotas. They were the victims of detention and torture. Yet Amirthalingam, who masqueraded as the leader of the Tamils sought to disown them, as if he had solutions to their 25 year old problems. Objectively speaking, it was for the good of the Tamil liberation struggle that the TULF adopted its policy of accord with the government, so that there were no ignorant politicians left to confuse the issue.

The TULF’s position was in accord with its bourgeois character. They were so alienated from the people that Amirthalingam stated in May 1982:

A few armed youths or those conducting politics with “foreign aid” cannot stop our movement…. Years ago Tamil youths had connections with foreign countries; their aim had been to form a leftist government. 19

The stance adopted by Amirthalingam was described by the militants, even within the TULF, as “betrayal of the mandate given by the Tamil people in the 1977 election”. Hence they broke away and formed the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELF) in May 1982. The TELF appeared to support the Eelam Liberation Tigers. But they could not do so for long, because they would be forced to disavow armed struggle and withdraw their support from the Tigers.

Although the Liberation Tigers were in the vanguard of the struggle for liberation and were at one with the people, precious little was known about them among outsiders. This was not surprising because of the degree of repression and “Tiger hunting” and because of the path of the struggle they advanced in this context. David Selbourne, the first outsider to establish contact with them, wrote:

The Tigers are armed, the DIG of Jaffna, W.B. Rajaguru, told me, with Sterling sub machine guns, self loading rifles and 303s. Some of the weaponry had been seized in raids, but other items, he says darkly, “are not standard issues”. Funds for them, he alleges, have been collected by Tamil expatriates in Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. He calls the Tigers “pure terrorists of the urban guerrilla type . . .” The Army Chief of Staff in Colombo, Major General Tissa Weeratunga, one of the many relatives of President Jayewardene in high places, was honest about the situation. “We are not on top,” he told me. In Jaffna, they say, a whole truck load of troops goes out to buy a tube of toothpaste or a box of matches. “The initiative is with the terrorists”, he continued. “They choose the time and place. We can only be reactive.” He also claims, as paranoia deepens, that the political training of the Tigers is being “coordinated from Britain”, and that there is a “West Asian connection”. Nine out of the 16 police stations in the Jaffna district have already been closed. The Mayor of Jaffna complains that the police are no longer carrying out their ordinary civic functions.

The Sinhalese government and the army see only what they want to see. There is a feeling of resentment when the unexpected happens. Everyone is blamed Tamil expatriates, outside powers, Middle Eastern states. It was believed that if the Tamil freedom fighters were labelled “terrorists” then, with the army of occupation, the subjugation of the Tamils could be accomplished relatively easily. But this did not happen. To quote Selbourne again:

The Tigers seem better disciplined and less frightened than their police and military opponents. The trouble is that the police and the army are up against an enemy which is being shielded by the community…. Bishop Wickremasinghe [a Sinhalese] angrily accuses those who help them of “fiddling with terrorism”…. Yet the Tiger numbers are growing, and the bitterness of the police and military is of men who are not winning. Ranatunge says he wants to “finish off this terrorism”. But he cannot. In the meantime, new para military forces are being trained, and new levels of foreign assistance being sought by both sides. The Tigers, for their part, seem confident. They tell you that their membership is increasing daily and that detentions and brutality “are making us strong, increasing our momentum”. “We think very deeply into the question of violence,” a Tiger told me. “Our targets for assassination are the armed agents of the state, and we select them only after a careful study and full inquiry.” Even DIG Rajaguru . . . admits that the Tigers are “hard to pin down and are getting more skillful”. . . . The Tigers say, eyes laughing, that the police and the army are inefficient. The immediate prospect for both sides is a dire one—with neither a political nor a military solution in the offing.

It is important to remember that the real parties to the conflict are the Tamil people and the Sri Lanka Sinhalese government, using the army as its proxy. It is evident that, except as an engine of repression, the army is superfluous. There is no battle raging, nor are the people up in arms. The army cannot fight the Tamil people, who have, as a last resort, resolved to secede and establish a separate state for themselves in their own homelands. The Sinhalese army is in Tamil country as an occupying force. The situation is exactly the same as it was in Bangladesh before independence. The Sinhalese army has no army to fight. It exists in a vacuum and is there without a cause. The Tigers are not a mobilized force located in one place. Whereas the army is an easy target because it is easily identifiable, the Tigers, being ordinary people, are not.

Despite the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the use of the military with the mandate from Jayewardene to “wipe out” the libertarian separatists in July 1979, the army did not catch sight of a single Tiger (or “terrorist”). For fear of getting shot, the army confined itself to barracks or moved in convoy “to buy a tube of toothpaste or a box of matches”. Their role was to find a military solution to the political problem created by the Sinhalese politicians or else to stay and get shot by the Tigers. The army was called to intervene in a matter in which it had no locus stands The situation could not be more ridiculous. Brigadier Ranatunga’s bold claim that he wanted to finish off this terrorism” was only words. He was doing exactly what General ikka Khan had done in Bangladesh, before his army’s ignominious defeat and surrender to Mukti Bahini and the Indian forces in 1971. It is a pity that the government is willing to sacrifice the lives of its conscripted soldiers vain and for a cause which is doomed to failure.

The army even mutinied in 1981. This is what Minister Gamini Dissanayake said in parliament in June 1981:

. . . there was a very serious situation in Jaffna because the Police Force was on the verge of a virtual mutiny. On the 2nd and 3rd, virtually 200 policemen had deserted their posts, and since they were responsible for some very serious events which needed an answer . . .

Each time a soldier or a policeman was shot down by the Tigers, there was consternation; but nobody asked why the soldier or policeman was there m the first place.

The relationship of ruler and ruled made mutual understanding difficult. When the whole regime was based on racial oppression, inequality, injustice, discrimination in education and employment, economic stagnation, social subjugation and humiliation for the Tamil people and their children, did the government of Sri Lanka and its international allies expect the Tamil people to submit to the Sinhalese army of occupation and sit down with folded arms?

On the political front, having deprived Mrs Bandaranaike of her civic rights and domesticated the TULF, Jayewardene went for reselection as president, two years early, and won it in October 1982. The militant liberation groups, including the newly formed TELF, urged the Tamils to boycott the presidential election. This was a misguided decision which helped Jayewardene to get more than 50% of the vote on the first count. They should have put forward an acceptable Tamil candidate who genuinely stood for liberation and Eelam, in order to reduce the percentage the first contestant would get. But the TULF was non committal and wished Jayewardene to be supported. Of the 24 districts in the island, Jayewardene got the lowest number of votes in Jaffna district.

The Liberation Tigers took their struggle to Tamil Nadu and established ,~ bases there. In June 1982 there was a shoot out in Pondy Bazaar, Madras City, between two hitherto secret liberation factions, one led by Uma Maheswaran and the other by Prabaharan. They were arrested by the Madras police and taken to court. The Sri Lanka government declared that they were wanted for murder and pressed the Indian government to extradite them to V face charges in Sri Lanka.

The TULF was caught in a quandary and remained silent. The TELF publicly proclaimed its support for them and urged the Indian government not to extradite them. M.G. Ramachandran, chief minister of the Tamil Nadu state government, and M. Karunanidhi, the leader of the opposition, met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at two separate meetings and told her of the policies of the Sri Lanka government, the atrocities committed against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the nature of the Tamil liberation struggle and the role of the arrested youths. They demanded that under no circumstances should they be extradited or handed over to the government of Sri Lanka.

The Indian government accordingly rejected the Sri Lanka governmentt’s request and they were allowed to operate in Tamil Nadu. The two groups were released from custody and were reunited. According to a news report in Weekend, it was revealed that they had considerable financial backing an a well organized network of bases and safe houses from which to operate. Both groups had extensive contacts with certain Tamil Nadu politicians and had bases in Salem and Pondicherry.20

From July 1982 the Liberation Tigers came into their own in the Tamil areas of the north. On 2 July they ambushed a convoy of policemen from Point Pedro police station at Nelliaddy Junction, gunning down four of them and leaving the others seriously wounded. According to a news report, the liberation fighters wore battle dress and had automatic weapons.21

Following this incident, the army resorted to harassment of the ordinary people of Nelliaddy and detained 20 youths for the slaying of the policemen. The incident frightened the army and police. “Security precautions adopted after the slaying of four policemen at Nelliaddy have hampered police inquiring into conventional crime in the North, while shutters remain up on the several police stations that were closed up. The police officers in the remaining 16 do not venture out without adequate security cover.”22

In October 1982 it was reported that six militant liberation organisations had formed a revolutionary council advocating violent armed struggle to establish the state of Eelam. From that time, violence became a cult of its own and acquired legitimacy in advancing the struggle for liberation. Tamil liberation acquired a new momentum.

There is, of course, pain and turmoil for the Tamil people. But, as Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “. . . disruption is inevitable during the transition period . . . it is only through the pain and suffering that accompany such disruption that a people grow and learn the lessons of life and adapt themselves anew to changing conditions”.23 Nearly every Tamil became convinced that the TULF had let down the Tamil cause, and nothing had come out of its accord with the UNP government.

In June Amirthalingam was confronted by a group of angry youths:

The Opposition and TULF leader A. Amirthalingam was mobbed by hundreds of demonstrating students who surrounded the vehicle in which he and his wife were travelling in Jaffna; some of the students shouting slogans and denouncing the TULF and Amirthalingam were turning boisterous when several other students intervened to prevent any untoward incidents.24

The need to create a separate state of Tamil Eelam had ceased to be a m atter for the politicians. The idea of Eelam as the only solution to their enslaved position had sunk too deep in the political consciousness of the Youth and the people. In July 1982 the first World Eelam Tamil Conference Was held in New York, attended by the Liberation Tigers, the TULF and the ELF. The Eelam liberation struggle became internationalised. In October  a 12 member liberation group attacked the Chavakacheri police station killing three policemen and getting away with firearms and ammunition. The government offered  “Rupees 250,000 reward payable in any part of the world for information regarding the assailants”.

In November, Jayewardene extended the life of the parliament for six years, without holding an election. Thus the parliament in which the UNP held five sixths majority, elected in July 1977 would continue until 1989. Jayewardene had publicly stated during the campaign for his presidential election: “I would not extend the term of the life of Parliament . . . I have always loved elections because the elections give us the opportunity to visit our towns and villages, to meet the people, sense their feelings and find out their ideas and their needs”.

He well knew that the UNP would be decimated in a parliamentary election. The tradition of Sri Lanka voters from 1956 had been to defeat the ruling party. Despite his reselection, if the UNP were defeated in the parliamentary election he knew he would have to go. He also knew that his iron grip, for the benefit of the ultra rich capitalists and the giant Western multinationals, could not be continued without a five sixths majority in parliament —whose powers he had castrated without compunction

The perennially sick economy had been kept afloat since 1977 by massive IMF standby loans and Western “development” aid. From 1978 to 1982, Sri Lanka was held up as an “IMF success”, but today Sri Lanka’s economic disaster, as Jayewardene himself admits, is because of the IMF. As a result of IMF and World Bank policies, Sri Lanka’s net foreign debt rose from Rs.4.9 billion in 1976 to 29.1 billion in 1981,33.2 billion in November 1982 and around 40 billion in 1983 on account of the latest 16% devaluation, which the IMF demanded and got. The present debt service ratio is over 28Mo.

Jayewardene was candid enough to confess to David Selbourne that he did not know what to do with the economy. Selbourne writes: “‘We have been able to survive,’ he told me frankly, ‘because of the aid the World Bank is giving us. I really don’t know what to do about the economy’.” He comforted himself, however, by adding: “Nobody knows.”

The country is totally bankrupt as the Rs.29 billion record deficit in the 1983 budget shows. The country’s reserves today cover only four weeks of imports. The government seeks to close this unbridgeable gap by further 5 large scale foreign borrowing and massive price increases of essential goods and by increasing customs duties. The economy is in the grip of the deepest crisis ever. After five years of “open economy” when the upper class and the capitalists became multi millionaires and the country was bled white and the burdens were passed onto the poor, Jayewardene stated candidly:

the recent spate of price increases and the revision of the Rupee against the Dollar in Sri Lanka were the result of the requests by the IMF . . . the increased price of essential commodities including rice and bread as well as transport fares were necessary to obtain an Extended Fund Facility from the IMF to tide over the precarious balance of payments situation.

As the liberation struggle intensified, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam distributed a letter to the Sinhalese soldiers telling them how they were being used by the racist Sinhala ruling class to divide the people so that the rulers might prosper:

To the Sinhala Soldier,

From a Liberation Tiger . . .

You probably know that today, on the soil of Tamil Eelam, a desire for national liberation has been set aflame. It is an inevitable historic necessity that we win the freedom of our homeland. You have been an mstrument of the racist state of Sri Lanka, in practising terrorism against the people of Tamil Eelam. You have also been an instrument in the manhunt, ordered by the state, on the liberation fighters of our nation.

We see you riding down the streets of Tamil Eelam, khaki clad and armed. The care of an old mother or father, or a sister, maybe, compels you to carry arms. While those in the seats of power in Sri Lanka flourish, you fall down as the victims. Very soon, you will stand turned against your own people, your own class, ordered by this very same class in power. Those in power will use you to crush the revolt of your people.

We, motivated by an unceasing yearning for national liberation, are forced to oppose you, a puppet of the state. When we meet at the battle front you become the sacrificial lamb. As we walk the path of national liberation, our death will acquire dignity and meaning. But yours will become insignificant.

Even though a pawn in the hands of state terrorism, the atrocities and murders that you committed in Tamil Eelam have left permanent scars m the hearts of the Tamil people and will never be healed. Do not die labouring for the foul campaigns of the ruling class. Do not lose you your integrity and your humanity, so that those who rule us may prosper. It is only when you take up arms on the side of the oppressed Jmhala workers and peasants, against the state of Sri Lanka, that we could speak the language of friendship. When and if you do that, you Will understand the pulse of our own struggle.

Propaganda Unit, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The national oppression of the Tamils reached a grave and critical stage in November – December 1982, when the arm of repression was extended against intellectuals and the Catholic clergy.

Nirmala Nithiyanandan and her husband P. Nithiyanandan, both university lecturers, Dr Jayakularajah, Fr A. Singarayar, Fr P. Sinnarasa and T T. Jayatillakaraja were detained under the draconian Prevention of  Terrorism Act, allegedly for withholding information about Tamil “terrorists”. Nirmala a sociologist and a political scientist, is a well known feminist and a popular progressive writer, who has translated into Tamil a number of books on the national and socialist struggles of the Latin American and African people. All the priests detained are activists of MIRJE, a human rights organization. Fr Singarayar, in a letter to Rt Rev Dr Frank Marcus Fernando, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, written from Welikade Jail on 8 May 1983, stated:

The CID officers . . . started torturing me. They went to the extent of making me naked and assaulted me. They extracted statements from me against my freedom…. I have become a “separatist” by accident. Our cause of separation is only part of a process of human liberation.  I have to be with my Tamil people who decided in 1977 for separation when they became frustrated. The pacts and dialogues were not honoured by the majority …. Now the Tamil people are POOR people of this country, deprived of many of their rights. As a Christian, I have to be with the poor, for Christ came to the poor …. Who IS, are the poor? Very Rev Fr Superior General in his Christmas letter 1982 replies: “The youth who have taken up drugs, the youth who have taken up arms.” (Saturday Review, Jaffna, 28 May 1983) ]

As the situation escalated, the TULF demanded that the government repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and release the detained intellectuals and clergy. Finding that army repression was not producing results, in December 1982 Jayewardene called for the setting up of a “national government” of all parties. Predictably, the TULF welcomed this step, and Amirthalingam referred to it “as providing an opportunity for negotiations to seek a ‘permanent solution’ to the fundamental problems of the Tamil people”. This was simply one of the many red herrings used to divert the momentum of the liberation struggle.

In March 1983 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam documented their political position as one based on revolutionary socialist ideology and aimed at national emancipation and socialist reconstruction of Tamil society, and submitted it as a memorandum to the seventh summit meeting of the non a aligned nations, held at New Delhi from 7 15 March. The document was entitled Tamils Fight for National Freedom. Under the heading “Armed Resistance and the Tiger Movement”, it declared:

The struggle for national freedom, having failed in its democratic popular agitations, having exhausted its moral power to mobilize the masses for peaceful campaigns, gave rise to the emergence of armed resistance movement in the Tamil Eelam in the early Seventies. Arm resistance as a mode of popular struggle arose when our people were; presented with no alternative other than to resort to revolutionary resistance to defend themselves against a savage form of state terrors The armed struggle, therefore, is the historical product of intolerably national oppression; it is an extension, continuation and advancement of the political struggle of our oppressed people. Our liberation movement, which spearheads the revolutionary armed struggle, was formulated by us after a careful and cautious appraisal of the specific concrete conditions of our struggle, with the fullest comprehension of the historical situation in which masses of our people have no choice other than to fight decisively to advance the cause of national freedom. Our total strategy integrates both national struggle and class struggle, interlinks the progressive patriotic feeling of the masses with the proletarian class consciousness to accelerate the process of socialist revolution and national liberation.

The armed struggle of our liberation movement is sustained and supported by wider sections of the Tamil masses, since our revolutionary political project expresses the profound aspirations of our people to gain political independence from the autocratic domination and repression of the Sri Lankan state. [This memorandum appears as an Appendix.]

7.12 July 1983: The Slaughter Escalates

In April, the police arrested and detained S.A. David and Dr Rajasunderam the president and secretary respectively, of Gandhiyam, a registered society for commumty and social services. After the 1977 anti Tamil riots, Gandhiyam was established by Tamil activists to resettle the Tamil refugees, mainly the plantation Tamils who fled the estates. With financial and material support from NOVIB (Holland), OXFAM (UK), Bread for the World (Germany) World Council of Churches, Christian Aid and many organizations of Tamil expatriates, Gandhiyam undertook the prodigious task of rehabilitating 40,000, and resettled 4,750, Tamil refugee families in Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts.

The government was not happy with Gandhiyam schemes to help the Tamil refugees being resettled, even in the Tamil homelands. While in detention, David and Rajasunderam were tortured at the Panagoda army headquarters and confessions were forcibly extracted of their Complicity with the ‘Tigers’. The army then destroyed the Gandhiyam offices and several villages, burnt down farm buildings, set fire to crops, harassed and tortured the resettled Tamils, and burnt three tractors and a truck given to Gandhiyam by NOVIB. David and Rajasunderam were still in detention Wltl10ut charge, even four months after.

On 18 May, the Tamil city of Jaffna went up in flames for the second time in two years. Marauding gangs of army personnel went on the rampage getting ablaze houses, shops, petrol stations, vehicles, etc., and assaulting innocent people, under cover of emergency. This was the sequel to an open  shoot out between the army and the Liberation Tiger youths at an election meeting;  this resulted in the death of an army corporal, and one soldier and two police constables injured. Later the same day, army helicopters landed with about600 soldiers at Kantharmadam, within Jaffna city; they burnt down hundreds of houses, several shops and vehicles, looted the women’s jewellery and terrorized the people in the area. In the local government elections of that day, the Liberation Tigers called for a boycott in the northern districts, to which the people responded by a 95% boycott. This constituted the first important victory for the Tiger movement and the worst defeat for the TULF

Then, in early June, as the reprisal for the killing of two air force men, the army set fire to the Vavuniya town. This led to a chain of brutal atrocities by Sinhalese gangs, instigated and assisted by the army in Trincomalee and all over the south. In Trincomalee, the Sinhalese gangs went on the rampage killing 19 Tamils and burning more than 200 houses, 24 shops, hotel and eight Hindu temples. The aim was to drive the Tamils out from Trincomalee, for the government was anxious to get a Sinhalese majority population in Trincomalee.

As violent killings of several Tamil youths by the army became public, by disclosures of post mortem reports in judicial inquests (as with K. Navaratnarajah, who died in custody with five external injuries, and upon whom the Jaffna magistrate, on 31 May, returned a verdict of homicide) from 3 June, the government put Emergency Regulations into effect under which the army was empowered to shoot, kill and bury without post mortem and judicial inquest. The reason given for this further measure by the Minister of State, Anandatissa de Alwis, was that “the morale of the services and police personnel in the north was low” !

With this, the lives of the Tamil people were placed entirely in the hands of the Sinhalese army. Empowered in this manner, the army shot, killed, and refused to hand over the bodies of./0g several innocent Tamil youths in Jaffna. One Sabaratnam Palanivel, who wast dragged into Valvettiturai army camp was shot dead and an army truck was if; run over his body, smashing the skull and flattening the body. Arson and looting of Tamil homes and brutal killings of several Tamil people by Sin Of halese gangs, with the active connivance of the security forces, occurred all  over Sri Lanka throughout June.

Yet President Jayewardene spelt out the government’s complicity in this f programme of Tamil genocide unabashedly to Ian Ward, a British journalist in these words: <1

I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people …. Now t can’t think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about f us’. (Daily Telegraph, London, 11 July 1983.) &

The government then banned publication of the Tamil press, the Saturday t Review, an English weekly, and Suthanthiran, a Tamil bi weekly, both published in Jaffna Both of these had published information about army atrocities in the Tamil areas, and the former had been the medium through which news and views about Tamil politics and society have been transmitted to the Sinhalese people; it also had the largest circulation outside country of any Sri Lanka journal.

Yet the economic interests and capitalist system of the West, which lives cad prospers on the dependency and poverty of the Third World, have prompted no concern for these brutal violations of the human rights of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. The West’s concern, as we know, is not with human nghts or democracy but with economic exchanges favourable to them and guaranteed by dictatorial regimes, the world over. They are aware that any move in these countries towards real freedom and democracy would question the economic and political relations of dependency and exploitation.

The Tamil liberation struggle has, however, come to maturity as the revolutionary struggle of an oppressed nation. The government’s branding of the freedom fighters as “terrorists”, its adoption of repression as the answer to the democratic demand for justice, its glorification of chauvinism, its constitution of a racist state structure, etc., have all come home to roost. The die is cast and the oppressed people’s struggle is now seeking to resolve the national question. Manipulation, irrational sectarian and racist postures, majority minority” mythicization to enslave, and repression to maintain the status quo cannot stand up against the people’s struggle for national freedom. A connection has been established between Tamil national freedom and socialist reconstruction. Out of the womb of the historical process of national liberation, the freedom of the Tamil people will be born in the state of Eelam.

With the rulers proclaiming repression as the only solution, the army began to act as an occupying force, as if it were operating in an enemy country. The government imposed strict censorship on all news relating to the Tamil people and operations of the army. On 22 July, the army in Jaffna abducted three Tamil girls, took them to their camps, and news spread that they had been raped and one of the girls had committed suicide. The following day the Tamil militant youths retaliated by throwing bombs into an army truck killing 13 soldiers. The army went on the rampage, shooting people at random. In Manipay, the army shot and killed nine people, including six school children In all, over 30 persons were shot and killed in Jaffna that day

News of the killing of soldiers reached Colombo, and from 24 July, the Worst ever anti Tamil rioting started. Hundreds of Tamils were killed, hundreds of Tamil homes and shops were looted and burnt. Despite the declaration of an all day and night curfew, looting and burning continued for Several days following in the city, quite often in the presence of security forces. The area worst affected was Wellawatte, where Tamils lived in large numbers The Tamil people fled from their homes to various refugee camps Some of which came under attack by the Sinhalese mobs. At the time of Writing, there are over 75,000 Tamil refugees in several camps in Colombo. On 97 July, 37 Tamil political detainees, some held from 1981, were murdered in Colombo gaol by the Sinhalese prisoners.

The following day yet another 17 were massacred. Violence spread to Kandy, Gampola, and the up country areas and large numbers of plantation Tamils have fled their line rooms as refugees. Death and destruction have become the only things not denied to the Tamils. The guilty political conscience of the ruling class has led to complete . black out of all news to the outside world. In the search for scapegoats, Jayewardene has stumbled upon some leftist parties who allegedly want to overthrow his government with the help of an outside power. Many tired and overworked cliches have been harnessed. Almost all Tamils are abandoning the south and fleeing as refugees to the north and east. A total de facto separation of the people, as existed before the colonial period, is coming about. The political order built and maintained for the wealthy few with the support of their ethnic and caste allies, is in the process of disintegration. The prevention of political change taking place through constitutionalist and political channels, and the use of repressive force, not law, are the cause of the disintegration.


1. Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966, Vol. 33, p. 386.

2. Fr Tissa Balasuriya, “Our Crisis of National Unity”, in Race Relations it Sri Lanka, supra, p. 115.

3. Ibid, p. 178. Fr Balasuriya also states: “As a result of all this, a fair number of those waiting for Sri Lanka citizenship and from among those who have already become citizens, want to leave for India. The first group is eager to have their repatriation expedited and the latter top renounce and seek Indian citizenship. Discussions with the Indian High i Commissioner regarding the second, resulted in a ‘No’ from India.” Ibid, p. 114.

4. David Selbourne, “Sinhalese Lions and Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka”, in The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay, 17 October 1982.

5. Quoted in Race Relations in Sri Lanka, supra, p. 47.

6. Ibid, p. 52.

7. Amnesty International Report 1980, p. 234.

8. In Tribune, Colombo, 25 September 1982.

9. Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka, International Commission o Jurists, Geneva.

10. Quoted in Tamil Times, Vol. 0 No. 1, September 1981, London.

11. Ibid .

12. Tribune, Colombo, 20 June 1981.

13. David Selbourne, supra.

14. Sun, 2 March 1982.

15. Ceylon Daily News, 20 February 1982.

16. Island, 18 February 1982.

17. Island, 18 February 1982.

18. Quoted in Caribbean Contact, Barbados, February, 1983

19. Island, 4 May 1982.

20. Weekend, 30 May 1982.

21. Sun, 3 July 1982.

22.Sun, 29 July 1982.

23. Jawaharlal Nehru, The discovery of India, Calcutta, 1946, p. 247.

24. Sun, 18 May 1982

8. Conclusion

About editor 2999 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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