Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Dr.Satchitanandan Sathananthan

Is it a crime to be a Sri Lankan Tamil?

Letter to Sri Lanka Sunday Times
24 December 1995

"I was woken up by a loud and persistent banging noise at the gate, a few minutes before two o'clock in the morning of November 22, 1995. Looking out of my bedroom window I saw numerous uniformed men, one of whom stood pounding on the gate.

I went down to the gate bleary-eyed and asked who they are; they replied "Police". On opening the gate a uniformed Police officer introduced himself as being from the Narahenpita Police Station. He then introduced another person in civilian clothes; although I didn't catch his name, it was said that he was from the Army.

Eleven men entered my residence at that unreasonable hour. Four of them were in Police uniform; the person from the Army and two others were in civilian clothes; and the rest were in Army uniform. Most of them carried automatic weapons. About another ten armed men in uniform surrounded the house (which I came to know later).

The Police officers were interested to know whether anyone other than my wife, our two and a half year-old daughter and the cook lived in the house. My answer was an obvious "no". They were especially interested to know about our visitors. "Have you had many visitors recently?" "Yes", I said, "we advertised for a housemaid and many came to be interviewed". When I asked how they came to know about these visitors, there was only an evasive reply.

The person who claimed to be attached to the Army was addressed by the Police officers as "Mr. Hapuarachchi". Within a few minutes of entering my residence he found his way into my study. He stayed there for about an hour. During this time first the identity of my wife, the cook and myself was checked by the police. Thereafter I was questioned in great detail about my work. After some explanation "Mr.Hapuarachchi" seemed to understand that I am a researcher. I asked the officers the reason for the inquiry. No explanation was given.

Meanwhile "Mr.Hapuarachchi" began sifting through the books and documents in my study. This he did without producing a search warrant.

In the course of the search "Mr.Hapuarachchi" stumbled on copies of correspondence relating to a scurrilous news item, which appeared in an independent English newspaper and the contents of which I categorically rejected in May 1995. He requested and was given a copy. He came across publications from many Sri Lankan political parties and groups. But he became visibly disturbed only when he found the photocopy of a publication by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A soldier who apparently could read some Tamil was called in and ordered to read the document. I was questioned at length as to why I possessed the LTTE document. My reply was tiresomely simple; "I am a researcher and I collect all documents of interest to me, including those published by the LTTE".

A photocopy of a newspaper article on devolution also created some excitement because the headline included the word "LTTE". Photocopies of other newspaper articles were examined and I was told in a grave voice that I am collecting newspaper articles, as if to imply that I could be engaging in illegal activities. I patiently repeated my earlier reply, that I am a researcher, etc. etc. My wife who was a witness to the exchange queried whether it was a crime to collect printed materials which have been freely distributed.
"Mr. Hapuarachchi" generously explained that we live in a democracy and so one is free to collect newspaper articles, but (there is always a "but") it also depends on who does the collecting. The insinuation about my intentions was palpable.

My recent assessment of President Kumaratunga's devolution proposal published in the Lanka Guardian (1/10/95) was read with interest by "Mr. Hapuarachchi", who turned around and quipped that the article criticised the government. I spread my hands.
At that point, "Mr.Hapuarachchi" indicated that he would have to remove the LTTE document for further investigation. I agreed on condition, and repeated the condition, that the document must be returned to me. I am still waiting for the document. A short statement was written in the Sinhala language, which I neither read nor write. No attempt was made to write the statement in a language (Tamil or English) which I understand.

Instead Police Constable Herath (No.29087},read out the statement in official Sinhala, which was beyond my comprehension. I then asked my (Sinhalese) cook to decipher it to me in her colloquial Sinhala, which I can barely grasp. The statement apparently confirmed the visitation by the officers, declared that no person was harassed and no property went missing, and acknowledged that two documents were being removed with my consent. And I had no option but to place my signature on the statement on the strength of my cook's explanations.

Anyone who seriously believes that language rights of Tamils are respected in Sri Lanka should think again and think deeply.

A few minutes past three O'clock the officers seemed to have completed their mission and prepared to leave. I requested information about their identity. "Mr.Happuarachchi" asked why I needed the information. Again I stated the obvious; that I must know the identity of those who enter my residence. But he refused to identify himself because, he explained, he belonged to Army Intelligence and revealing his identity would prevent him from carrying out his duties efficiently. For that reason, he said, he accompanied the Police officers. The Police officer gave his full name and his rank as Sub-Inspector. However, no documentary evidence was produced to substantiate the claim.

It must be repeated that I was not informed why the investigation was conducted; nor was a search warrant produced to justify the examination. Moreover an "incident" could easily have taken place given the the number of men who bristled with automatic weapons in my living room; and official explanations would no doubt have glibly justified it.

I strongly protest against this blatant violation of my fundamental rights. Those who claim that Tamils enjoy security in Colombo are living in cloud cuckoo land. The fact of the matter is that Tamils in Colombo are persecuted merely because they are Tamils. They are a people under siege.

I have no doubt in my mind that all this amounts to a systematic campaign of harrassment. And I am equally sure that the harrassement has been instigated in response to my critical publications and in particular on account of the work I am engaged in as Secretary of the Action Group of Tamils in Colombo (AGOTIC). It is futile to hope that AGOTIC or I could be intimidated into silence"


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