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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
25th Anniversary of Sansoni Report
- On Anandasangaree and a 1977 Assault on Amirthalingam
16 November 2005
Some anniversaries are not worth remembering. But there is a need to remember a few, for transmitting the collective ethnic history of Eelam Tamils, from generation to generation. This is especially so when living oddball politicians, the likes of V.Anandasangaree, attempt to talk muck and twist the truth. Furthermore, the internet with porous filters for factual scrutiny has made it easy for hacks who read such muck to pass their unscrutinised scripts as historical lessons.
November 4th marked the 25th anniversary of the release of the Sansoni Commission Report.
I present here an insulting event which happened in Jaffna in August 1977 during the anti-Tamil riots, which received mention in this Report. It involved A.Amirthalingam, the then TULF leader cum the Leader of the Opposition. Few months later, the then Sri Lankan prime minister J.R.Jayewardene and the current TULF leader V.Anandasangaree engaged in a cross-talk in the parliament pertaining to that insulting event. Amirthalingam died in 1989. Jayewardene died in 1996. But Anandasangaree is still living and he is now engaged in coloring the truth and also portraying himself as one of the leading players of TULF in the 1970s.
To put it in the colorful basketball lingo, Anandasangaree was neither in the starting line up of TULF team, nor did he get pushed into the court by the coach to replace a starting member. He was merely a ‘bench-warmer’ for TULF in those days. At best (again in basketball lingo) he played only during the ‘garbage time’ of final few minutes, when the outcome of the game had already been decided. Here I provide an example of Anandasangaree’s performance in the Sri Lankan parliament, during such a ‘garbage time’. On November 28, 1977, he was tussling ‘one on one’ with the wily Jayewardene. First to the context of the scene.
A Political Circus named the Sansoni Commission
The Sansoni Commission was appointed by the then prime minister J.R.Jayewardene on 9th November 1977, for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting on the matters such as, “to ascertain the circumstances and the causes that led to, and the nature and particulars of, the incidents which took place in the Island between the 13th day of August 1977 and the 15th day of September 1977…”.
The Commission commenced its sittings on February 8th 1978 in Jaffna. Initially, there were high expectations from the Tamils for some sort of dispensation of justice. With time, the Commission sittings morphed into a political circus. To describe in animal metaphors, the political circus paraded roaring Sinhala lions, cacophonous monkeys, dutiful donkeys, peace pigeons, parrots, crows and vultures. Since the Tamil Tigers were an unknown commodity in those days, they were conspicuously absent. Of course, the circus master was the wily, aging fox named J.R.Jayewardene. After sitting for a total number of 298 days, the hearings on the Commission came to an end on December 10th 1979. 958 individuals came forward to assist the Commission as witnesses. Apart from 11 Organizations, memoranda were also received from 1,843 individuals. The Commission Report was published as Sessional Paper No.VII-1980, on November 4th 1980.
The Parliamentary Charade
On 28th November 1977, the then TULF MP for Kilinochchi, V.Anandasangaree raised a query in the Sri Lankan parliament about assault on the then TULF leader and the then Leader of the Opposition, A.Amirthalingam, which occurred in Jaffna on August 16, 1977. Here I provide the vocal exchanges which transpired in the parliamentary pit among three legislators, namely the Speaker of the Parliament, the then prime minister J.R.Jayewardene and Anandasangaree. It makes interesting reading now, in current context where Anandasangaree is puff his image as a Tamil leader. The transcribed text as published in the Sri Lankan parliamentary proceedings, Hansard (November 28, 1977, vol.24, no.7, columns 1459-1483) states,
"Mr.Speaker: I do not know whether the Hon.Prime Minister followed the Member for Kilinochchi. He referred to the question of the interference with the Leader of the Opposition by a policeman. I was just going to remind him that you have agreed to set up a commission to go into that matter.
J.R.Jayewardene: The Sansoni Commission is going into it.
V.Ananthasangaree: That is to go into the causes.
Mr.Speaker: I intervened because this matter was earlier raised as a matter of Privilege. We laid it aside because the Prime Minister gave an assurance to the House that the Sansoni Commission would go into that particular incident.
V.Ananthasangaree: This is an isolated incident which could be dealt with straightaway. That is our grievance. In any case, the Tamil people are not satisfied with the action taken against the police officer who dealt a blow on the Leader of the Opposition. In fairness to the Government I should say this. The Government which is building up a good image in the minds of the Tamils had a setback as it has failed to take action on this matter. I am saying this in the interest of the Government.
J.R.Jayewardene: There are one or two matters involved in this question. If it is a criminal act then there must be a case in court. If it is a question of Privilege it is a matter for Mr.Speaker to investigate. It is a matter the Member wants investigated outside Court, and the Sansoni Commission is investigating it. What can I do more than that? I cannot appoint a special committee to investigate the assault on a particular Member?
V.Ananthasangaree: May I say this? Recently an attorney-at-law was attacked by some police officers in a police station. Within 24 hours three police officers who were involved in that incident were interdicted. If similar action had been taken the Tamils would have been happier; at least they would have started entertaining hopes that the Government is trying to do something, trying to protect the Tamils.
J.R.Jayewardene: At that time we did not want to take any action against police officers because the situation would have aggravated. There was a Sinhala-Tamil dispute. It is all right for the Member now in the cool atmosphere of this air-conditioned Chamber four months after the incident, to say that we should have interdicted that officer when there was rioting going on – the situation might have got worse.
V.Ananthasangaree: I am sorry I was compelled to refer to this incident because on the 19th August when I made reference to it in this Assembly, the Leader of the Assembly gave an assurance that action was being taken against the police officer concerned. In any case I am satisfied with the explanation given by the Prime Minister. I am thankful to you, Mr.Speaker, for your intervention and for having made the position clear.
J.R.Jayewardene: You can give evidence before the Sansoni Commission."
Where was Anandasangaree?
According to my 25-year old scribbled notes, saved in a file I have maintained on Amirthalingam, among the 958 witnesses who offered testimony for the Sansoni Commission, seven were TULF MPs. I have noted their names; A.Amirthalingam (MP for Kankesanthurai), V.N.Navaratnam (MP for Chavakachcheri), R.Sampanthan (MP for Trincomalee), X.M.Sellathambu (MP for Mullaitivu), T.Sivasithamparam (MP for Vavuniya), P.S.Soosaithasan (MP for Mannar) and V.Yogeswaran (MP for Jaffna). Anandasangree’s name is missing.
This clearly showed that his ‘grandstanding’ in the parliamentary pit on behalf of his then leader was merely a bluff. Even on that day (Nov.28, 1977), Sangaree could not effectively charge and puncture the sarcasm of wily Jayewardene. Where was his rage and bravado? His leader had been physically insulted openly by the police in Jaffna. But Anandasangaree could only babble “I am sorry….In any case I am satisfied with the explanation given by the Prime Minister. I am thankful to you, Mr.Speaker…”. Now he is projecting himself as a fighter in the frontline for the Tamil cause!
Sansoni Commission’s Inference on that Amirthalingam episode
I provide below what Commissioner Sansoni had presented as his findings on that insulting episode of police unruliness against Amirthalingam.
“On 16th August 1977, at about 10.30am, Mr.Amirthalingam, Mr.Yogeswaran and 2 others went by car towards the old market. They stated that near the hospital they were confronted by a line of 20 to 30 policemen pointing their rifles at them. The H.Q.I. [i.e., head quarters inspector] shouted to his men not to shoot and to let them proceed. They then walked up and found that some of the constables wore shorts and banians, while others in uniform were not wearing their numerals.
Mr.Amirthalingam stated that he reprimanded A.S.P. [i.e., Assistant Superintendent of Police] Noordeen, who was also there, for saying falsely that bombs had been thrown at the police. Soon afterwards, he said 2 constables who were behind him hit him, one with his rifle butt and the other with his hand. Mr.Yogeswaran stated that he did not see the assault, but he heard Mr.Amirthalingam shouting in protest. Mr.Amirthalingam stated that the crowd shouted, on seeing him being assaulted, and 4 policemen behind him fired over their heads. A.S.P. Noordeen denied that the police fired at that stage.
H.Q.I. Gunasekera gave the time of this incident about 1 pm, but I would say it was before noon. He spoke to Mr.Amirthalingam having complained of an assault by a policeman and pointed out a policeman, who was standing about 10 yards away, as the assailant.
The assailant was P.C. [i.e., police constable] Wijedasa Perera, who had been in the armed party which A.S.P. Noordeen took with him. He said that Mr.Amirthalingam pointed him out to Noordeen, and Noordeen ordered him to go to his jeep. He denied the charge of assault. No inquiry was held against him.
Having considered this matter, I think the reason that no inquiry was held and no action taken against this constable is that there was no eye-witness to the alleged assault. Mr.Amirthalingam stated that constables who were behind him assaulted him, and it is therefore doubtful if he was in a position to see who the assailant was. When he spoke to the I.G.P. [i.e., Inspector General of Police] about the matter, he was told that no one was identified as the assailant, which amounted to his saying that no body came forward as an eye witness. It was therefore pointless prosecuting P.C. Wijedasa Perera.” [source: Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Incidents which took place between 13th August and 15th Sept.1977 (Sessional Paper No.VII-1980), Government Press, Colombo, 1980, pp.93-94]
On Commissioner Sansoni; Two Divergent Opinions
I present two divergent opinions on the Commissioner Sansoni. First is that of Prof.K.M.de Silva, the authorized biographer of President J.R.Jayewardene. The second one is that of S.Sivanayagam, the Tamil journalist.
Prof.K.M.de Silva in his hagiography of Jayewardene allocated a short paragraph of two sentences for applauding the choice of Miliani Claude Sansoni as the Commissioner. To quote,
“On 22 August , J.R. met M.C.Sansoni, a former Chief Justice, a Burgher, and persuaded him to accept the onerous task of inquiring into the causes and incidents in the riots that had broken out in the previous week, and suggesting remedial action. The choice of this highly respected and ‘ethnically neutral’ figure to head an official inquiry was accepted by all sections of opinion in the country as an astute move and as an important step in the processes of confidence-building after the blood-letting of August.” [Book, co-authored with Howard Wriggins: J.R.Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, vol.2, 1994, p.348]
As the post-1977 events and especially the 1983 anti-Tamil riots came to prove, the suggested remedial actions of Commissioner Sansoni turned out to be nothing but (to use a Tamil metaphor) ‘a flower garland in a monkey’s hand’ [kurankin kai poomaalai]. Prof. de Silva was not wrong in indicating that the appointment of Chief Justice Sansoni by Jayewardene was indeed an astute political move, to push away the racism viper which had come to throttle the then prime minister’s neck and his political dreams. But history has recorded that Jayewardene himself was a prime culprit who fed this racism viper for his political survival. The brief descriptions and analysis of the 1977 anti-Tamil riots [in little more than 2 pages] by de Silva and Wriggins in this book borders on banality, with hardly any mention about the Tamil casualties in the island.
Journalist Sivanayagam, in his recently published autobiography had been mildly critical of the pro-Government bias shown by Commissioner Sansoni. To quote,
“While working in a Government Corporation, the Ceylon Tourist Board, I took the risk of assisting him [S.C.Chandrahasan, that is] in preparing material to further the cause. One of our joint ventures was the publication of a weekly – the Sansoni Commission Evidence, which I edited. It was printed at the Sutanthiran Press, and we ran the publication for an year. It was Kantha[samy] again who had arranged three lawyers, Leslie Bartlett, Manivasagam Underwood and Rudramoorthy to lead evidence from witnesses about the 1977 anti-Tamil rioting. The one-man Commissioner Waldo [sic] Sansoni disappointed the Tamils by his Government-slanted report, and this publication – the Sansoni Commission Evidence – was the only complete source of first hand information about the various killings, and indignities heaped on the Tamil people during the riots.” [Book, Sri Lanka: Witness to History, 2005, p.283]
For historical reasons, the materials preserved in the print format of Sansoni Commission Evidence need to be transferred to the electronic format.