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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.
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’.
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.
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,
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
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).
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.
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 façade 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.
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,
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.
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.
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