reminisce ELMO GOONERATNE Former Editor-in-Chief Lankadeepa, Sunday Times and Daily Mirror
No terrorist leader in any country has lived to rule a country. Prabhakaran who killed more than any terrorist leader in the world died without winning his territory. So did Rohana Wijeweera of the JVP.Prabhakaran it is said met all the killers for a sumptuous dinner before wishing them on a mission to kill unknown innocent people.
Wijeweera's assignment to kill people was through one commander.
Terrorism continues all over the world, even though all stakeholders know that it doesn't lead to answers. The most ruthless terrorist movement in the world originated in the North. We are perhaps too close to its formative period to see it in its true historical perspective. It would be safe to make the assertion that the watershed moment came after Chelvanayakam assumed leadership of contemporary Tamil politics. Leaders such as Chelvanayakam and G.G. Ponnambalam were however, too idealistic, too intellectual and too mature to want to indulge in bloodshed. The scene that developed later could have been a symptom of despair.
The Tamil armed movement may have been inspired by the JVP insurgency that was staged in 1971. Of the many armed Tamil groups that mushroomed in the North and the East, the group which were eventually to prove the most tenacious and single minded took for themselves the popular name, 'Tigers of Tamil Eelam'.
Events unfolded fast, spewing forth a stream of bloody assassinations and destructions of public property.
The Sansoni Commission in its findings went into various aspects of the communal disturbance which occurred in 1977. The TULF had made a call to arms in 1972 wherever they held public meetings.
According to the Sansoni Report the call to arms took the following format;
"There will be a day for the Tamils to start using arms. Therefore, it is necessary that we should have friendly relations with Asian organizations and countries especially foreign countries".
M.C. Sansoni to whom the then President issued a commission to inquire into the communal violence which took place between 13 August 1977 and 15 September 1977, was a former Chief Justice, neither a Sinhalese nor a Tamil, who commanded the confidence of all communities by his integrity, fair mindedness and brilliantly analytical mind.
Both S.J.V. Chlevanayakam and M. Tiruchelvam, the former's chief advisor and principal political strategist in the Federal Party were reputed for their commitment to a legal and constitutional path towards the attainment of what they regarded as the best terms for the Tamils. They may have adopted civil disobedience as a means but never murder.
Soon, the tigers had identified themselves as a separate body, standing apart from their community.
The Tamil people, a peaceful community witnessed within 5 years of the terrorist movement, 265 killings of innocent people, followed by bank robberies, hold ups, attacks on Army camps and derailment of trains.
They saw in Vavuniya soldiers in their PT kit, who had come to buy their bread in the morning being brutally murdered in public by Tamil terrorists for no reason.
This started a trend of murdering young Sinhalese soldiers. Army vehicles were burnt with soldiers inside the vehicles. No Sinhalese service personnel were safe.
Tamils in the South
The terrorists in the North made one mistake. The terrorist movement was growing daily only in the Northern Province. Its effects were limited to the Northern Province. The terrorists failed to understand that the Tamil people were not living only in the Northern Province. They were living all over the country, engaged in various vocations, mostly in the government service, from highly recognized professionals to peons. Many had sat for competitive exams and had been selected to work with all other communities. A Tamil clerk will sit between a Muslim and a Sinhalese, eat together and exchange food. There was so much camaraderie among these people.
Some incidents connected to my family cannot be forgotten. Some public servants came to places like Gampaha. Of course some left their families in the North. We at Gampaha were requested by a family friend to accommodate a Tamil engineer, a bachelor in our place. After a few weeks he was more than a member of the family.
During the holidays, families from Colombo went to Point Pedro while families from the North came to Colombo, one party spoke only Sinhalese while the other party could converse only in Tamil but there were two interpreters, the two men who worked together in Colombo. Under the circumstances both parties got on swimmingly together.
We even attended each other's weddings. But I had one experience that made me think. My Tamil friends took me to Point Pedro for another Tamil friend's wedding. After the wedding ceremony we were invited for dinner. Only two of us were invited to sit inside. I was feeling uncomfortable as my other friends were outside. The one who was inside with me whispered in my ear and said, don't feel uncomfortable, just eat.
Later on I was told by my friend that all who ate outside belonged to a lower caste and they are not invited to sit and eat together.
All these friends who attended the wedding, lived separately while in Jaffna. In Colombo they ate, slept, drank and smoked together in a chummery and worked together, even travelling back home on the same railway warrant. Once in Jaffna, the whole situation changed. This was Jaffna, the home of Tamils.
Two days after wedding episode. I was invited to dinner at a fabulous home. When I walked into the house I spotted a Tamil Senator, V. Nalliah, who was a speaker at a meeting which was attended by all the top level Tamil speakers. His tone of speaking was like that of Naganathan's and Navaratnam's. Nallilah was cheered loudly like the others.
I walked up to Nalliah and asked him. "Mr. Nalliah why are you outside?" Nalliah smiled very sarcastically and said, that is no place for me. I have a separate place to eat, reserved for us. Then he said "even the food is different, I am a diabetic and expected to eat plates of brinjal.
I enjoyed the richest Western food with the high level politicos while V. Nalliah, a diabetic patient had to swallow brinjals.
Till Prabhakaran came with his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, all the freedom fighters of the North came from the Vellala cast. Many Sinhalese helped the Vellalas to hide from Prabhakaran. I am told now the tide has turned again and the Vellalas are back in the forefront in Jaffna.
Nalliah, the Senator took me to a place called Tellippalai. It was a wedding. A young couple had come to the marriage registrar to get married. The couple and all the relations dressed immaculately were standing in a place close to the registrar's office. Then somebody from the registrar's office came with a sheaf of papers and got the couple and witnesses to sign on a bottom line. It took only a few minutes and the registrar didn't see or hear what happened. The man who came with the sheaf of papers went back to the registrar's office.
Nobody tried to see the marriage registrar, asked whether the couple was married or demanded a receipt. Nalliah told me, I don't know if even I was married. Things continued this way until the Sun in the North, Prabhakaran came to power. He changed the Vellala system that harassed the non Vellalas.
This young engineer who lived with us were very close to us and during the racial riots, he was living in Veyangoda. Members of our family especially my father and mother got them down to our home in Manning Town, kept them and sent them to Jaffna by boat.
Later they migrated to England and Australia.
My friend had fallen ill in England and towards his end he had wanted to die in Sri Lanka. The families brought him to Colombo and all of us saw him and spoke to him before he died in Sri Lanka.
This is how it was between the Sinhalese and Tamils. It's only the disguising political community which is still creating enmity between the Sinhalese and Tamils.
All that happened after the Eelamists or the terrorists took the North and the East was that the many Tamils in the South lost their homes. Many left for unknown countries to live on their own. They had to learn new ways and foreign languages. Many old people failed in their efforts.
We may live in luxury, one friend told me, but I will suffer till I die for what I have lost in my origins. Tamil migrants in Western counties have told me, we eat well, drink well and dress well, but we find it difficult to sleep well sometimes. One migrant told me Prabhakaran kept his family close to him till he died, but many others had to leave their families. It is terrible to live among strangers as a migrant who has left home.
Terrorism has never done any good to anybody.
The Central Bus Stand in Petttah, meaning outer fort, is in the heart of the city of Colombo. Between 4.30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a week day it is a hive of activity, thousands of people having worked in the city all day come there to find a bus to go home. Private buses are also allowed to ply from the Central Bus Stand. Very often the buses are crowded.
On 21 April 1987 at 4 p.m. a time bomb placed in a car exploded in the Pettah bus stand. The terrorist strike resulted in the instant death of over 250 men women and children and left many injured. This was the first signal by the LTTE that they were targeting the city of Colombo and they continued till the LTTE was finished by the armed services.