Selected Writings by
Sachi Sri Kantha
Random Thoughts on K.Thurairatnam, the Point Pedro Federalist
10 August 2006
This is a delayed remembrance piece,
albeit one year late. I had intended to contribute this last year to remember
Kathiripillai Thurairatnam (1930-1995). August 10th is his birth
date, and had he lived, he would have been 75 last year. He died on September
23, 1995, and his death had passed quietly. The assassination of then Foreign
Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12th last year diverted my
attention then to write about him. Though one year late, I had felt a need to
contribute these random thoughts on Thurairatnam, for one particular reason.
Kadirgamar has a higher profile in
the electronic media and quite a number of his banal speeches have also been
reproduced in some websites. I have read Kadirgamar’s speeches and these are
insipid and mere ramblings of a pretentious gasbag. I’d note that Kadirgamar
wouldn’t have been caught dead in delivering the short, folksy and pungent
speeches of the kind Thurairatnam made in the Sri Lankan parliament between 1960
and 1983. I provide two examples at the end of this feature.
Among the TULF MPs who were elected
in the July 1977 general election, A.Amirthalingam and V.Yogeswaran who suffered
tragic deaths later have a higher profile in the electronic media, courtesy of
websites and blog sheets maintained by the pro-Sinhala lobby, some Indian
agencies and the ramblings of the likes of wayward V.Anandasangaree. Two other
TULF MPs who also suffered tragic deaths (V.Dharmalingam and M.Alalasundaram) in
1985 do receive deliberate erroneous mention in some websites, as per the
information about their assassins.
But the names of TULF MPs who had
natural deaths in 1980s and 1990s now remain mostly obliterated. These include,
S.Kathiravelupillai, T.Thirunavukarasu, P.Ganeshalingam, V.N.Navaratnam,
K.Thurairatnam, T.Sivasithamparam, X.M.Sellathambu and T.Rasalingam. Should this
be so? To counter this lopsidedness, I chose Thurairatnam for highlighting since
his was the first name that attracted my attention among the Eelam Tamil
political leaders in 1960. I was then a seven year old boy, living in Point
Pedro. He won twice in the general elections held in that year and became the
long-term Federalist MP for Point Pedro until 1983.
Point Pedro Representatives
From 1931 to 1983, four individuals
represented the Point Pedro constituency in the Sri Lankan legislature. These
were, G.G.Ponnambalam (1934-1947), T.Ramalingam (1947-1956), P.Kandiah
(1956-1960) and K.Thurairatnam (1960-1983).
Ponnambalam and Ramalingam belonged
to the Tamil Congress party, the former being the founder of this party. Both
were attorneys. Kandiah was a representative of Communist Party, and he was a
Thurairatnam, who became the elected
Federalist MP for Point Pedro in March 1960 for the first time and retained this
honor for four consecutive elections in July 1960, 1965, 1970 and 1977, was a
middle school teacher until his entry to the parliament. Thus, he had received
the endearing suffix ‘Master’ behind his name. My grand uncle (my father’s
eldest brother V.S.Pathmanathan Master, 1910-1973) was a 20 year-senior
contemporary of Thurairatnam at the Puloly Hindu English School.
The biographical sketch of
Thurairatnam, as it appeared in the ‘Parliament of Sri Lanka, 1977’, by
H.B.W.Abeynaike, provides the bare essentials of his early life as follows:
“Katheripillai Thurairatnam was
born on August 10, 1930 and was educated at the Jaffna College. At the age
of 17, he joined the clerical service but remained only for a few months. He
next graduated from the Ceylon University and joined the teaching profession
and taught at the Puloly Hindu English School till 1960. Mr.Thurairatnam
joined the Federal Party shortly after its inauguration and in 1956 he
contested the Point Pedro seat as the FP nominee. He was defeated that time
by the Communist candidate…Mr.Thurairatnam is a keen student of history and
philosophy. During his days he was a keen supporter of the LSSP and CP.”
Thurairatnam first contested the
Point Pedro constituency in the 1956 general election. It was a three-cornered
contest, and as a 26 year old youth he was placed 3rd, behind
P.Kandiah (the victor) and M.Sivasithamparam. That 1956 victory of P.Kandiah as
a Communist Party candidate in Point Pedro was the one and only instance where a
Communist Party nominee was able to win a parliamentary seat in Eelam.
It was also well known among the
Point Pedro folks then that the party label worn by P.Kandiah contributed only
marginally for his victory. He was carried to victory on other factors such as,
(1) his personal popularity as an librarian-educator, (2) the sympathy for him
being a twice loser in the previous general elections in 1947 and 1952, and most
significantly, (3) the personal begging appeal (thaali pitchai) to the
voters made by Kandiah’s wife on behalf of her ‘thaali’ (the sacred
marriage knot for Hindus).
To top this, Thurairatnam was only 26 year old
then, representing the Federal Party and contesting the election for the first
time. The final tally for Point Pedro constituency in
that 1956 election was as follows:
Total electorate 44,603; Total
votes polled 28, 621; Percent polled 65.80; P.Kandiah (CP) 14,381 votes;
M.Sivasithamparam (Independent) 8,064 votes; K.Thurairatnam (FP) 5,859
votes. Majority for Kandiah over Sivasithamparam was 6,317 votes.
K.Thurairatnam with A.Amirthalingam, 1961
Following the 1959 Delimitation
Commission report, the greater Point Pedro constituency was split into two;
Point Pedro and Udupiddy. M.Sivasithamparam (representing the Tamil Congress
party) moved over to the Udupiddy constituency, and Thurairatnam was the Federal
Party nominee for the Point Pedro constituency.
In the five consecutive
elections in 1960 (March and July), 1965, 1970 and 1977, Thurairatnam’s chief
rival was Point Pedro Urban Council’s chairman N.Nadarajah (representing the
Tamil Congress party). In each of these five elections, Thurairatnam won, but
his victory margins against Nadarajah were unspectacular: 3,158 votes in March
1960; 4,258 votes in July 1960; 950 votes in 1965; 315 votes in 1970; and 6,570
votes in 1977. Except in 1977, Thurairatnam was able to win the elections in
Point Pedro only on plurality of votes for the Federal Party. Why?
Thurairatnam had two handicaps.
First, by birth, he did not belong to the dominating Vellala caste among the
Tamils. In the conservative Vadamarachchy region of those times, Thurairatnam
was able to tackle this handicap because he was perceived by the voters as a
guile-less politician (in a roster filled with lawyer-politicians), whose
primary calling was teaching. Though he subsequently graduated as a lawyer, it
took Thurairatnam unduly a long time – as a part time student – to graduate from
the Law College. This rather enhanced his image as a politician lacking in
guile! Secondly, Point Pedro region had strong pockets of influence for the
Tamil Congress party, since this party’s leader G.G.Ponnambalam represented the
greater Point Pedro constituency for 13 years from 1934 to 1947.
Nevertheless, Thurairatnam received
his highest majority of 6,570 votes against his rivals in the 1977 general
election. For the first time, he received 12,989 votes among the 23,366 votes
polled in Point Pedro constituency. His long-term chief rival N.Nadarajah polled
6,419 votes. It is not out of place to mention an anecdote here. My wayward kin
K.T.Rajasingham also threw his hat into the ring as an Independent candidate,
after promoting himself as the SLFP organizer for Point Pedro in the first half
of 1970s. Rajasingham was on his campaign trail with a few of his minions and
visited a relative’s house. The elderly aunt of us welcomed him with the
“Thamby Rajasingham, why –
you look so tired after campaigning. Here, come sit down and have a cup of
tea. Boy, hope you don’t misunderstand us. We can do only this much for you.
Our vote is decided for Thuraiyar. You see, we stand for some principle. If
the TULF places a broomstick and ask us to vote for it, we’ll caste our vote
for that broomstick.”
Of course, Thurairatnam was thousand
fold better than an inanimate broomstick. And even majority of our kin never
warmed up to K.T.Rajasingham’s opportunistic candidacy. And he could garner only
614 votes in that election.
In the Federal Party’s (and later
TULF’s) non-violent agitations, Thurairatnam took a leading part. One of the
endearing photo images in the 1961 non-violent agitation was the camera shot of
Ceylonese police manhandling him in public.
Thurairatnam being dragged by the Police from the
Old Park Entrance to the Jaffna Kachcheri
In 1976, he was also one of the
four TULF leaders (the other three being,
V.N.Navaratnam and K.P.Ratnam) on
whom the Trial-at-Bar case was hoisted by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime.
Thurairatnam in the Sri Lankan
When Thurairatnam was a regular in
the Sri Lankan parliament of 1960s and 1970s, the Federal Party and the Tamil
Congress had other leading orators in English and Tamil. Thus, quite often
Thurairatnam was not in the starting line-up of debates for Tamils. To use
basketball lingo, he was a player coming off from the bench, but would score
nevertheless. He was not in the habit of making long-winded speeches with
ornamentation and flowery lingo. His specialty was to score with point blank
precision using pungent, folksy humor. This I guess was derived from his
practical experience as a class room teacher. As good teachers know, no
instrument would top a short speech mixed with humor, to charge the young
brains. For a taste, I provide below two of Thurairatnam’s speeches in the Sri
Lankan parliament in 1979.
When the then UNP heckler from
Ratnapura, G.V.Punchinilame, interrupted Thurairatnam’s description of a
sadistic army harassment technique used on Tamil youth in late 1970s (male
organs inserted into a drawer and dashed for half an hour!!) with a silly
question ‘What happened?’, Thurairatnam retorted with a stinging rebuke “If
something like that happens to you, you ask your wife after that.” Again
when he was taunted by two UNPers with the Roman Catholic names Harindra Corea
and Neville Fernando, our Point Pedro Federalist was quick on his repartee,
“Their very names and their social group depict from what origin they are. They
are really like the foxes who have lost their tails.”
Thurairatnam’s Speech on the
Extension of Emergency Regulations in 1979
[Courtesy: ‘Sri Lanka
Parliamentary Debates’, Nov.6,1979, vol.6, no.10, columns 1202-1206]
Mr.Deputy Speaker, why do we have the Emergency? That is a question that
will have to be answered because this Emergency has not become emergency,
but now it has become a permanent feature. The Army, as the Member of Nallur
[M.Sivasithamparam] said is running amok. The officers individually may be
good or bad. But when you let loose the Army, they will behave in the way
that they normally behave. Excesses are committed, and people are
There had been a case where a
young man had been hung head down, chilli powder put and smoked, as if they
were smoking herrings. One of the young lads is a boy of Kerudavil, the
ancestral village of the Hon.Minister of Justice [K.W.Devanayagam] and a
good relation of his. He had been hung and had been burnt with a cigarette
lighter on both sides of his face. This is happening every day and what have
they achieved? They have not achieved the goodwill of the people. You as
hon.Members must come to that part of the country and see what is happening
there, because you have good relatives there too.
The two young boys who had come
from Mannar were stopped at Sangupiddy. They were taken and thrashed. That
was not all. Their male organs were put into a drawer and just dashed for
half an hour.
We will try it on you. You are asking that silly question. If something like
that happens to you, you ask your wife after that.
It would have pained a lot.
I thought you were a responsible Member of Parliament. I am sure if you talk
in this strain, you will not be here next time.
Why are you so excited?
I am excited; you are inciting. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
We are bound to get excited sometimes when we see hon.Members of Parliament
not understanding a problem and treating the whole thing as a joke.
This is happening every day. Once
my son was going on a bicycle, and his tyre was deflated. I can bear
testimony to that; I can vouch for the truth of it. Of course, when I
brought that matter to the notice of the officers, they said: ‘We are sorry
about it, some mistake must have happened.’ In spite of these good officers,
every day more of them are roaming the streets in civils. These officers are
not going to look after these men always. It is high time that the
Government stopped this.
I had occasion to go to the
Eastern Province where there is no emergency. At Puleddiwatte a woman was
throwing out blood. She had been assaulted. People in Kiran and Sandiveli
areas had been assaulted by the army. Under what law, I know not. They are
getting used to this. I do not know under what law of this land they are
being let loose in those areas.
They are searching for a man
called Kandapodi. In Chittandi a venerable old man was coming from his paddy
field. He is a big paddy owner. Whether he was scantily clad or fully clad,
I do not know. They asked him ‘Who are you’? He said, ‘I am Kandapodi’. They
said, ‘So, you are Kandapodi’ and landed one or two shots with the butt of
the rifle. Somebody said, ‘No, you are looking for some other Kandapodi.
This old man’s name is also Kandapodi’. Yet they hit him with the butt of
the rifle. This is happening in the area of the Hon.Minister of Justice. I
will cite an example. In the Mandur Temple area they have run amok. When we
let loose these men like this even in the Pasikuda area, we may not get
tourists any more. Let us be alert.
I say these men of the armed
forces are getting used to certain things they have not been used to before
the 1970s. Let me warn hon.Members of this House. We are not going to be
here very long. A Mustapha Kemal Pasha will come around one of these days
and say: ‘My dear friends, look out. Vote like this, because the Army
headquarters is here, Echelon barracks is here, the police headquarters is
here; otherwise you go to Welikada [prison] or you will be taken to Galle
Face and shot dead.’
Do not discount what is happening
now in the African countries. We will have it if they get used to this. Do
not be content that they are being let loose only in the Jaffna and
Batticaloa districts. Why are they not respecting law and order? After the
1971 insurgency they have got used to certain things. They care a hang for
Now, I find certain army officers
are going to be given the powers of Assistant Government Agents. If that be
true, that is very good. Like the blind boy, what is this being called
freedom, I know not. Freedom does not mean anything to me as it does to you,
Gentlemen, who enjoy more freedom than I do. But remember this; all these
freedoms will be long lost. We will not, like the moving finger, having
moved, ever reap. It will be another Pakistan, or Bangladesh or what not.
Let us be very clear in our own
minds. What is being sown will be reaped (Interruption). I do not take him
seriously. He has come with the wind and he will be swept along with the
whirlwind. In the name of democracy, I am telling you: Let us be very
careful in the used of Armed Forces. As my hon.friend, the Member for Nallur
(M.Sivasithamparam) said, political problems need political solutions. We
have to solve these problems, but we cannot solve them with the use of the
Armed Forces or the Police Force as such. Please do not get used to this.
Let not the Sinhalese people suffer more than we do. I am requesting in the
name of democracy that these things ought to stop. Please do not extend the
Emergency, and see that law and order is restored.
Thurairatnam’s Speech for a
Supplementary Allocation of Pali Text Society in 1979
[Courtesy: ‘Sri Lanka Parliamentary Debates’, Nov.8,1979, vol.6, no.12,
Mr.Deputy Speaker, I do not know what the hon.Member for Mihintale (Dayaratne
Walagambahu) was saying all this time.
He said you are willing to become a priest.
It has often been misunderstood that Buddhist means Sinhalese and Sinhalese
means Buddhist. It is not so. Actually the people who brought Buddhism to
Ceylon were from Tamilnadu in the Nagapatanam area. That has been a transit
area for the Buddhists. One of the five great epics is the Buddhist work
There had been inscriptions in South India; ‘Eela Kudimahan Gopaalayan
intha padukkai vedduvitthaan’ [in Tamil]. South India had been the
cradle of Buddhism until it was brought to Sri Lanka. (Interruption).
The whole of South India was Buddhist at one time.
It should not mean that whenever
someone finds a Buddhist ruin, that there has been a Sinhala colony there;
definitely not. The Tamils were the people who took Buddhism to Cambodia. In
Indonesia, the famous Borobudur is really a Tamil name. The biggest Hindu
temples are found in Cambodia and not in India. (Interruption) That
man does not know.
Sir, he must withdraw the word ‘man’.
I am sorry, Sir. I have been a teacher and I have sometimes to teach these
people who do not know anything. Tamil inscriptions have been discovered
even in South China. Another Tamil inscription of the 14th
century has been discovered in New Zealand. We had expanded upto that point.
We have spread Buddhism. (Interruption) Sir, they are the remnants of
those whom we left down South. I know both of them. The hon.Member for
Chilaw (Mr.Harindra Corea) and the hon.Member for Panadura (Dr.Neville
Fernando); their very names and their social group depict from what origin
they are. They are really like the foxes who have lost their tails.
I wish to say that we are never
anti-Buddhist. Buddhism is a great religion. It is one of the greatest
teachings of the whole world. I once had occasion to be in Berlin with a
team of people and they were very well-versed in Buddhism. I was shocked
because they know more Buddhism than our Buddhists. They knew of the
Hinayana, Mahayana and the Theravada sects. They were well-versed and they
discussed many things – much to my surprise.
I did Buddhist history as a
student about 30 years ago and my knowledge now is somewhat rusty; but I
could say that they knew very much more than I did. One of our delegates
said, ‘Perhaps you may be the people who will have to re-introduce Buddhism
to Ceylon because it is not practised here.’ Let us follow the four Noble
truths. They are sorrow, the cause of sorrow, the cessation of sorrow and
the way to the cessation of sorrow. Let us preach it first to the Buddhists
before we take it to Jaffna.