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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Concerning Three Mules and Sister Rajani

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Concerning Three Mules and Sister Rajani

5 March 2006

It seems the documentary movie No More Tears Sister, featuring the tragic life of Dr.Rajani Thiranagama (1954-1989) and directed by a Canadian Helene Klodawsky, is now being promoted vigorously by  interested parties. One blurb I read states, �No More Tears Sister � explores the price of truth in times of war. Set during the violent ethnic conflict that has enveloped Sri Lanka over decades, the documentary recreates the courageous and vibrant life of renowned human rights activist Dr.Rajani Thiranagama.� But, we all know that blurbs are merely blurbs, even if hyped by incorporating the phrase �price of truth�. Let me present here, a contra view on Sister Rajani�s career as a human rights activist in Jaffna.

Shirley Mclaine & Clint Eastwood in
Two Mules for Sister Sara

I borrowed the title of this essay from an old Hollywood movie Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), featuring two endearing icons of my era � Clint Eastwood and Shirley MacLaine and directed by Don Siegel. In the wake of recent revelations which appeared in the Colombo Daily News (see below), I had humorously adopted this movie title into �Three Mules and Sister Rajani�, to refer to the so-called four Tamil human rights activists, who co-authored the much hyped Broken Palmyra (1990) book.

 The�Two Mules for Sister Sara�(1970), featured Shirley MacLaine in the title role as Sister Sara. Generally in Clint Eastwood genre, female lead characters do not stand out, with a few exceptions like this movie, or �The Bridges of  Madison County� (1995) or the recent �Million Dollar Baby� (2004). Of course, the �Sister Sara� in the Two Mules for Sister Sara was no authentic nun, but a prostitute in the garb of a convent Sister, of a plot set in the Mexican back-county of 1860s.

Don�t misunderstand me; that I�m not equating Rajani Thiranagama for a prostitute, in the popularly understood meaning of that word. Now she is being touted as the Sri Lankan near-equivalent of Mother Teresa in some circles. I hate to sin, but the dictionary in my desk [Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, Signet Printing, New York, 1980, p.639] provides two definitions for the word �prostitute�.

(1) A woman who offers her body for hire for purposes of sexual intercourse.
(2) One who sells his services for unworthy purposes.

What I refer by the word in this context, is the second definition. The little dirty �secret� which had been hidden from the Tamils by the three Mules [Rajan Hoole, K.Sritharan and Daya Somasundaram] and Sister Rajani for over 15 years has come out in the open. The label they carried over their heads as �University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)� has been exposed by Kumar Rupesinghe, another Sri Lankan human rights activist, who was once a son-in-law of former prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and a brother-in-law of former President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The duel of Susantha Goonatilake and Kumar Rupesinghe

I wonder how many had followed the acrimonius exchanges Kumar Rupesinghe had with globe-trotting Susantha Goonatilake, an anti-Tamil polemicist, in the Colombo Daily News last January. Presented below is the chronological record of this vituperative exchanges.

[1] Susantha Goonatilake: NGO, INGO moles. Daily News, Jan.9, 2006.

[2] Kumar Rupesinghe: Patriotism, the last refuge of a pseudo-patriot (Reply to Susantha Goonatilake). Daily News, Jan.11, 2006.

[3] Susantha Goonatilake: Have open conference on traitors Inc.? (Susantha Goonatilake�s reply to Kumar Rupesinghe). Daily News, Jan.20, 2006.

[4] Susantha Goonatilake: Have open conference on traitors Inc.?-part 2 (Susantha Goonatilake�s reply to Kumar Rupesinghe). Daily News, Jan.21, 2006.

[5] Kumar Rupesinghe: Patriotism: the last refuge of a pseudo-patriot. Daily News, Jan.27, 2006.

[6] Susantha Goonatilake: Janavegaya, International Alert and the coup in Sierra Leone. Daily News, Jan.27, 2006.

[7] Susantha Goonatilake: Janavegaya, International Alert and the coup in Sierra Leone � part II. Daily News, Jan.28, 2006.

[8] Kumar Rupesinghe: Response to outrageous allegation. Daily News, Jan.28, 2006.

From these eight documents, I quote excerpts below from two � one each for Susantha Goonatilake and Kumar Rupesinghe � in which mentions were made about this dubious body which sprouted with the name, University Teachers for Human Rights.

Details on the �Dirty� Secret on the University Teachers for Human Rights

What amused me in reading the acrimonius volley of exchanges between Susantha Goonatilake and Kumar Rupesinghe was the information which got spilled about the role of Hema Goonatilake, the wife of Susantha Goonatilake, with the University Teachers for Human Rights. To quote,

Susantha Goonatilake: ��It is true that during the period 1987-90, I interacted with many students who had JVP sympathies � then as now the major student union was JVP oriented. Consequently, at the time many leaders of the present JVP who became ministers as well as younger members of the JHU (they were all in the same student union) did indeed interact with me. The major reason: my wife had been appointed by President Premadasa on a committee to monitor student disappearances. She was at the time Vice President of the Federation of University Teachers Associations as well as the founder Secretary of the national level UTHR (after she left Sri Lanka, only the Jaffna branch now remains). So we had a front seat view of what was happening then on human rights and reported them as it happened�� [Colombo Daily News, Jan.21, 2006]

Kumar Rupesinghe: ��Amused am I at SG�s [Susantha Goonatilake] defense of his involvement with the JVP �to merely interacting with many JVP students during 1989-1990.� The main reason he specifies is that President Premadasa appointed his wife on a committee to monitor student disappearances. She was at the same time Vice President of the Federation of University Teachers Associations as well as the founder Secretary of the national level UTHR�.Hema Gunatillake was the secretary of the University Teachers for Human Rights, a Front organization of the JVP and where this organization was affiliated to four other JVP bodies � National Students Centre, National Workers Action Centre, Patriotic Peoples Armed Troops and the Patriotic Peoples Movement.

They were known in Sinhala as Jathika Shishya Maddyasthanaya, Jathika Kamkaru Satan Maddyasthanaya, Deshapremi Sannadha Balakaya and the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya. All these organizations were either headed or decision making was in the hands of the Kelaniya University students, and graduates. Dr.(Mrs) Gunatillake�s position as a lecturer in the Sinhala Department made her association with the Kelaniya clique of the JVP very strong. I do not wish to go into the terror of 1989-1990. The JVP and other related organizations perpetrated killings on over six thousand people but the State terror against the JVP was beyond all proportion and massive in scale�The point I wish to make here is that SG [Susantha Goonatilake] and his family were one-sided in the reporting and biased in favour of the JVP. This is why they had to flee the wrath of the [then Premadasa] Government�� [Colombo Daily News, Jan.27, 2006]

The Concocted Truth

Now we get the dirty secret on the three Mules and Sister Rajani, from one of the principals. Anti-Tamil polemicist Susantha Goonatilake had asserted that his wife Hema was the �founder Secretary of the national level UTHR (after she left Sri Lanka, only the Jaffna branch now remains)�. Kumar Rupesinghe has divulged the secrets that

(1)    UTHR - and by extension UTHR(Jaffna branch) manned by the three Mules and Sister Rajani - were in fact, nothing but masked Fronts of the Sinhala racist JVP.

(2) This is the reason, why the then Premadasa Government targeted them viciously.

As far as Sister Rajani is concerned, there are convincing circumstantial evidences for Kumar Rupesinghe�s expose on the human rights mask worn by the UTHR (Jaffna branch).

First, Sister Rajani�s husband Dayapala Thiranagama was a JVP activist and during that period, he was on the run from the long arm of the law enforcement authorities.

Secondly, check the dates of assassination of Sister Rajani and her shadow-hero Rohana Wijeweera � the then JVP leader. Rajani Thiranagama was assassinated on September 21, 1989. Rohana Wijeweera was executed on November 13, 1989. Only 52 days separate the two deaths. Coincidence? No way. The long arm of the Sri Lankan law enforcement authorities were on trail of JVP activists and their crypto-sympathizers. Sister Rajani fell as an easy prey in Jaffna.

But what did the three Mules, especially Rajan Hoole - the media-voluble Mule - do after Sister Rajani�s assassination? They passed the blame onto the LTTE, and stick to their guns on the concocted �LTTE did it� hypothesis.

Let me now quote two excerpts from Rajan Hoole�s eulogy to Sister Rajani [delivered on Oct.2, 1989 at the Kailasapathy Auditorium, University of Jaffna], which had appeared as Appendix 3 in the �Broken Palmyra� book [pages 440-446], where the notorious UTHR was mentioned. These show how much the three Mules have hidden from the Tamils, about their links and Sister Rajani�s links to JVP.

Excerpt 1: �It was an atmosphere in which any attempt at objectivity or impartiality was bound to be viewed as, at best, an academic exercise, and, at worst, a futile nuisance and a bar to more important things � such as wiping out the other side by pitting our boys against each other, with the Indian and Sri Lankan states playing the role of the erratic gods of Homer�s Illiad. Rajani and others in the UTHR believed that these options were destructive, unjust, superficial and cowardly. She believed that an alternative had to be found. This was closely tied to her vision for the University of Jaffna after the October 1987 war��

Excerpt 2: �Rajani was very much concerned with politics and would have been the last person to view human rights work in isolation. In describing the work of the UTHR, I have heard her tell others, �A life is a life. Whoever takes life must be exposed independently of party feeling. We wanted to show, that in the first place, we valued life.� She held that a human rights organisation cannot be affiliated to a political party, because of the independent nature of its work. But it can have as members persons from political parties with a firm commitment to human rights��

One wonders why Rajan Hoole never had the courage of conviction to state that UTHR parent body and its purported UTHR (Jaffna) branch were affiliated to JVP? This also partly explains why the UTHR (Jaffna) branch did not bloom in the Jaffna soil. Eelamists and sympathizers of Eelam could see through the fa�ade behind the �human rights� mask of the UTHR (Jaffna) branch. In the tiger territory, mules barely get a chance, isn�t it?

Deception in the Preface of the �Broken Palmyra� book

The action of the Three Mules and Sister Rajani, in cheating the Eelam Tamils and other Eelam activists of not clearly identifying the affiliation of their UTHR (Jaffna) branch to the racist JVP is nothing but appalling. This is more so, after their high falutin pledge for �facing the truth in all its nakedness�. I provide below excerpts from their Authors� Preface (written in April 1988) for the �Broken Palmyra� book.

�We felt strongly that the community must revive, and to do so we must face the truth in all its nakedness, both about ourselves and about all those who purported to be our saviours. We are not professional writers or historians�Two of the authors take a Marxist view that the state of a society is determined by its material underpinnings. One of the authors subscribes to the view that the ills of society come from a loss of moral commitment or a failure to obey the voice of God. The remaining author takes the view that evils besetting us come from a preoccupation with material ends��

The origin of the phrase �No More Tears Sister�

How many have bothered to find about the origin of the phrase �No More Tears Sister�, which is now tagged with Sister Rajani�s tempestuous life, courtesy Helene Klodawsky? �No More Tears Sister� was the title of Chapter 5, of the 2nd segment of the �Broken Palmyra� book. The phrase itself was a clipped version of a sentence �I have no more tears sister�, attributed to a Tamil woman identified by the name Suseela [may be the real name or a pseudonym] �who was only 14 when she was married to a mentally sub-normal man from a rich family� (page 321).

I reproduce the details presented in the book about this woman Suseela completely, since Tigers also appear in her story, and Suseela turned out to be a Tiger sympathiser � a Tiger volunteer precisely. To quote,

�Sister, life � happiness � had no meaning to me. Of course his family were kind to me. They gave me jewellery which I gave to my family to make a living. I had no life of my own. My husband would leave me and go to his parents� house to sleep. All the while I would stay alone and scared. I would cook food, but he would eat at a shop or go to his mother�s house and eat. So eventually I stopped cooking.

I want to fill my life. I want to do social service. I want to be of service to others. That is how I started helping the people in the village and then the Tigers. I want to do something. Sister, after all these happenings, though people are grateful, they are scared to associate with me, especially to send their daughters with me. They are sometimes sarcastic about my life and make snide comments about my stay in the army camp. Even when I come to see you, they say that I have gone to meet the Tigers. After all this, the barren life and the pain, I have no more tears sister.� [Italics, as in the original]. 

One cannot be sure whether the protagonist Suseela in this story is still living. Or, could it be a composite of more than one individual? But one thing becomes clear. With the release of the documentary movie made by Helene Klodawsky, now Sister Rajani has become associated [especially in the internet] with the phrase �No More Tears Sister�, which was not her original. Like the Shirley MacLaine character in the �Two Mules for Sister Sara� movie who had garbed herself with a nun�s cloak to protect her true identity, Sister Rajani seems to have now been decorated with the phrase �No More Tears Sister�, which originally belonged to an ordinary Tamil woman, who was a sincere Tiger volunteer.

Shirley MacLaine on Hollyood Images

As a seasoned professional actor, dancer, political activist and author, Shirley MacLaine knew the underbelly of Hollywood myth making. This is how she began her preface to one of her Hollywood memoirs.

�We live in a world of images. They bombard us twenty-four hours a day. If not in the newspapers or on our television screens, then most certainly in our heads. The birth place of many of those images is Hollywood, where artists create the illusion of infinite possibilities.� [Book: My Lucky Stars � A Hollywood Memoir, Bantam Books, 1995]

It may not be an exaggeration to infer that documentary film maker Helene Klodawsky is another of these artist hopefuls who has attempted to fly her Hollywood dreams by using Sister Rajani�s tragic life as her vehicle.

There is a humorous scene in the �Two Mules for Sister Sara� movie, when Hogan (the Clint Eastwood character) gets suspicious on the true identity of Sister Sara, after he unexpectedly hears a coarse word relating to her anatomy delivered casually by the nun pretender. Puzzled Hogan asks, �Where did you learn that word?� Sister Sara bluffs with a straight face, �Oh! I learnt it in the Convent when a Sister taught me�. From his silent response, viewers were made to presume that Hogan was not so convinced.

Like the outcome of this scene, I can only end this essay with the thoughts that the angelic sheen in the bluffs, told and refurbished for the past 16 years, about Sister Rajani by the Three Mules are getting dented by the recurring assault of Truth�s arrows.



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