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Home > Tamilnation Library > Eelam Section > The Fall and Rise of the Tamil Nation by V.Navaratnam
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Eelam
On Genocide '83 - Excerpts from Chapter 10
[see also Indictment Against Sri Lanka - Genocide '58]
The Federal Party was now back in square one where it left the Trincomalee Resolution. It had agreed to the Prime Minister's invitation for a dialogue, not out of am weakness, but because of a genuine desire to come to terms with the Singhalese. It accepted the negotiated settlement in good faith, even though it was a climbdown from its ideal, trusting that the Government and the Singhalese people it represented had an equally bona fide intention.
The repudiation of that settlement conveyed only one message, namely, that the Singhalese people and their Government were in no mood to deal with the Tamil-speaking people except on terms of Tamil subservience. The Federal Party was left with no choice but to meet the challenge and take action in terms of the Trincomalee Resolution. The Annual Convention of the Party for 1958 was, therefore, summoned to meet in Vavuniya.
The Trincomalee Resolution's ultimatum to the Government was partially met by the signing of the B-C Pact. Three days after the signing the Party's Annual Convention for 1957 was held at Batticaloa in the Eastern Province. The occasion was therefore attended by popular rejoicings. Tamils and Muslims vied with one another in demonstrating their happiness induced by a sense of achievement and in the expectation of something big. The Muslim rural folk in particular filled the Convention mess room with produce from their farms and dairies. A feeling of having averted a clash with the Government pervaded the Convention grounds.
In marked contrast was the Convention for 1958 held at Vavuniya. An atmosphere of tension, gloom and solemnity pervaded the two days of the proceedings. A feeling of grim foreboding gripped everyone in Vavuniya. For one thing, the gravity of the decision the Federal Party was about to take to launch direct action hung like a heavy cloud over the venue of the Convention. There was no knowing what an open confrontation with the Government would lead to.
Then there was another factor which aggravated the atmosphere of gloom. The air was thick with rumours that the Singhalese were preparing to unleash violence against the Tamils. In Batticaloa Tamil hamlets had already been burnt, and a Tamil Railway Guard murdered by the Singhalese. News reached Vavuniya that the body was being taken to Jaffna and that the Mail Train carrying it would be passing through Vavuniya in the small hours after midnight. Everybody in the town decided to stay awake to meet the train and pay their respects to the body.
The Subjects Committee of the Convention was in session the whole day, and continued through the night. Official resolutions from the Working Committee (the Party executive) would have to be passed in the Subjects Committee first before going to the plenary session of the Convention for final adoption. It is in the Subjects Committee that a resolution is really debated. Adoption at the plenary session is more a formality. At Vavuniya that night the Subjects Committee was engaged in a heated and boisterous debate over an important resolution. But it was interrupted every now and then by very disturbing rumours which reached the Committee room.
Reports were received that a band of armed Singhalese thugs were approaching Vavuniya to sack the town. Local Federal Party volunteers took up positions in groups to defend the town. Some townspeople alerted C. Suntharalingam, M. P., who was in residence in Vavuniya. He came out and dispatched his men to guard all the four approaches. He armed them with firearms hurriedly collected from the surrounding farms. True to his party's name, he himself took up a position at the junction in the centre of the town directing operations. Vavuniya during the days of the Vanni Chieftaincies belonged to a territorial division known as the "adanga patru" (District that cannot be cowed down), and Suntharalingam had taken that name for his party.
The vigil was not relaxed until it was known at daybreak that the whole thing was a scare. All the same, it contributed to the tension in the Committee room.
The main business to go before the plenary session of the Convention was a resolution that the Federal Party would launch a peaceful and non-violent direct action movement of civil disobedience for the achievement of an autonomous Tamil-speaking state in terms of the Trincomalee Resolution. That resolution was approved in the Subjects Committee without dissent...
... the Vavuniya Resolution to go ahead with the campaign in 1958 was thwarted by the Government unleashing mob violence and by invoking the Public Security Act to proscribe the Federal Party and place its leaders under preventive detention...
On the day following the Vavuniya Convention the goon squads of the Singhalese hoodlum army took over the task of dealing with the Tamils. They went on a rampage of senseless destruction and wanton brutality. Starting first with the Pettah in Colombo, where most of the Tamil business houses and shops were concentrated, they attacked, smashed, looted, applied the torch and destroyed shops, houses, buildings and vehicles. They beat up and thrashed every Tamil they could lay their hands on. By nightfall the mob violence spread out to every corner of the City of Colombo and its suburbs.
That night a mob of about 40 or 50. thugs attacked my residence at Hulftsdorp in Colombo although it adjoined the Ministry of Justice and Supreme Court Buildings and entrance had to be gained through the Court gates. They hurled at least 25 Molotov's cocktails (petrol bombs) calling out my name with every throw. The front part of the house was smashed, and the furniture, doors and frames caught fire and burned. My wife and I and a house- aid by the name of Muthusamy,a brave man of the Thevar clan of Tamils, were the only adults in the house. We gathered our little children, all 14 to 1 1/2 years of age, and telling them to run wherever they could if anything happened to us, we ourselves took our position by the door leading into the living room ready to face the worst. The mob, however, made no attempt to enter the house but passed on when their ammunition was exhausted.
I learned later from a mutual friend that the attack on my house was planned and organized by a Member of Parliament at a Buddhist Temple in Maradana. I guess he had instructed his men not to cause bodily harm to the inmates while 'attacking my house. This friend, himself a Singhalese Buddhist of the finest quality and refinement, had made several attempts to warn me in advance but was unable to contact me owing to my absence in Vavuniya.
The next day I noticed that the local thugs had taken over the situation and kept my house under observation, possibly for loot. With the help of a Singhalese lawyer friend of mine I escaped with the family to take shelter in a relative's home on the other side of the Supreme Court Building abandoning my wrecked house. The relative's house was in the Muslim quarter of Hulftsdorp and was therefore relatively safer.
Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan came to visit me in the evening with Balasubramaniam, a young officer in Government service with strong Federal Party sympathy. He insisted on going to my wrecked house to retrieve some essential articles without heeding my protests. An hour later he returned with his clothes drenched in blood that was streaming from head injuries. His car was smashed. A few hoodlums had attacked with burning bricks soaked in petrol. He and Balasubramaniam had given chase to the ruffians with hockey sticks in their hands, but the ruffians disappeared into the maze of the District Court Buildings.
I rushed Dr. Naganathan to Dr. Sulaiman's Private Hospital at Grandpass and had him attended to. In that Hospital I saw sights which God forbid any man to see. Victims of Singhalese mob violence were writhing in agony, not just fighting to retain life. They bore eloquent testimony to the type of horrible brutality and torture which some human beings could inflict on their fellow human beings. Who can help developing a bitterness of feeling against those who could inflict all this suffering for no reason except that the victims were Tamils?
In three days the mob violence against the Tamils engulfed all parts of the country and was not abated by any official action, It was not until the Prime Minister was prevailed upon by the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, whom some prominent Tamil citizens of Colombo had interviewed, that action was taken. The Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike then invoked the Public Security Act and declared a State of Emergency under which the Army and Naval Forces were called out to restore law and order. An island-wide curfew was clamped down, and eventually the situation was brought under control by the firm and disciplined action of the then security forces.
By which time...more than 20,000 Tamils had become homeless refugees.-men, women, children and babes in arms, crowding in two refugee camps in the City of Colombo. Their lives were in such constant danger from the mobs that they were evacuated by ships to their homeland in Trincomalee and Jaffna to save their lives. A retired senior Police officer, who came to visit some of us later in our detention camp, tearfully described some of the things he saw on one of the refugee ships. In one place on the open deck he saw a father trying to force a small piece of dry bread down the throat of a month-old baby for want of any other nourishment. It was a piece from a half-loaf which the father had managed to save in camp for more than a week. Our visitor was so carried away by his anger against the perpetrators of the violence which caused so much misery that he said things which need not be repeated in print. But these are the feelings which gave rise to the Tamil freedom fighters one generation later.
Curiously, under the peculiar brand of democracy practised in Ceylon the perpetrators of the violence, those who organized and incited the mobs, continued to be beyond the reach of the long arm of the law, but the heavy hand of repression fell on the representatives of the victims. That is a pattern which is characteristic of all the Governments up to the present day, and they call it Democracy.
Under the Emergency Power which the Government armed itself with,the Federal Party was proscribed, publication of the Sutantiran newspaper was banned, and Party Headquarters and the Sutantiran Press and Office closed and sealed, and the Party leaders were all placed under arrest. The Members of Parliament belonging to the Party were arrested when they were on their way home after leaving Parliament.
Chelvanayakam, Naganathan and V. A. Kandiah, whose residences were in Colombo, were placed under house arrest in their own homes. Police guards were posted at their houses to guard the places round the clock. The leaders who resided in Mannar, Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa were similarly placed under house arrest and their homes guarded by the Police.
The Members of Parliament who were arrested on the road on their way from Parliament and whose normal residences were not in Colombo, and I whose residence in Colombo had been wrecked and made uninhabitable, were all held in a special detention camp under heavy Police and military guard. A Government bungalow at Stanmore Crescent off Bullers Road in Colombo usually reserved as a residence for a Supreme Court Judge was converted into a Detention Camp for the seven of us, namely, C. Vanniasingham (M. P. for Kopay), N. R. Rajavarothiam (M. P. for Trincomalee), V. N. Navaratnam (M. P. for Chavakachcheri), C. Rajadurai (First M. P. for Batticaloa), A. Amirthalingam (M. P. for Vaddukoddai), G. Nalliah (Senator) and me.
We all occupied the upper storey of the house, coming downstairs only at meal times. The ground floor was occupied by the Police post and the Kitchen staff. The kitchen staff was entirely Singhalese, but one could not have wished for a more courteous and obliging team of men. Ceylon would indeed be a paradise if it were peopled by men of this specimen.
The house arrest and detention lasted for three months, June, July and August, 1958. During that time the voice of the Federal Party was not heard in Parliament. .."