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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
The Exclusive Right to Write Eelam History
Sinhala Owned Sunday Island, 8 May 1994
The foul assassination of S. Sabalingam at No. 3 Allee Paul Leautaud, Sarcelles, a quiet middle class neighbourhood in Paris on May Day is the first Tamil political murder in the west. And as such it has deeply perturbed the Tamil expatriate community in Europe and Canada. It has also no doubt added to the worries of many Tamils in Europe who are faced with the threat of forced and imminent repatriation, and who have always felt – despite the unruliness on the part of newly arrived youth – that the best way to make their stay in those climes permanent and profitable was to impress upon their host governments that they were a hardworking and peaceful lot.
But with the dastardly murder of Sabalingam it is only too clear that the bloody business of Eelam politics will permit them no peace of mind even in those distant climes where they have sought refuge. The Sabalingam I knew was a peaceful man. He helped refugees with their paper work, was an avid collector of books on Sri Lanka, and did whatever was possible in his own small way to encourage writers and poets here and abroad.
He was also a small time publisher. For which purpose he established a non-profit organisation called the Arts and Social Sciences of Eelam Academy which is generally known by its acronym ASSEAY (pronounced Aasia in Tamil). Sabalingam has thus far published seven books. Three of them are collections of poems by V.I.S. Jeyapalan, Cher-an and Solaikili – the leading poets among the Tamils today (Solaikili is a Muslim from Kalmunai). Two books are by lesser known poets.
He published a history of Puttalam written by A.N.M. Shajahan recently. In 1991 he brought out an elegantly prepared collection of articles which I wrote to the Sunday Island. And since then he tried on several occasions to persuade me to write a well-documented and researched work on the origins and development of the Eelam movement. The weekly distractions caused unfailingly by the vicissitudes of Tamil politics and the Eelam War prevented me from obliging him. I heard later that he had set out to do it on his own. And now I find that his investigations into some of the dangerous recesses of the Eelam movement's early history has cost him his life. For Tamil politics to be their sole property, the Tigers know, the history of the Tamil liberation movement has also got to impeccably belong only to them. Sabalingam was the only political contemporary of Prabhaharan who ever attempted to put pen to paper. And he is dead.
The LTTE in Paris seems to have denied involvement in the killing according to one source in France. A pamphlet has been put out in Berlin condemning the murder and implying the LTTE's involvement in it. The anti-LTTE and non-LTTE sections of the Tamil expatriate community which have been in general retreat since President Wijetunga started harping on his refrain that there is no ethnic problem have now been stirred into action.
One influential group in London, I understand, has already begun preparing a memorandum calling on European governments to crack down on the LTTE, accusing the organisation of perpetrating the murder. The main reason for this backlash is that Sabalingam was one of the few expatriates in Europe who maintained a very wide network of connections with writers, intellectuals, social workers and journalists in Europe, Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and North America; and in their eyes Sabalingam was an honest and earnest man who frequently got into debt in order to carry on with his work.
His associates in France attribute the murder to the Tigers for the following reason: He had written an article to Thayagam, a Tamil political weekly magazine published in Canada in which he questioned, among other matters, two incidents in the early phase of the Eelam movement in which Prabhaharan was involved. One was the arrest of Kuttimani and Thangathurai, and the other was the Neervely Bank robbery which was carried out during the brief period in which Prabhaharan was associated with the TELO. Now in the article he wrote to the February 12th issue of Thayagam under his own name, Sabalingam, I understand, had questioned the conventional version of the two incidents and had indicated that he would soon bring the truth out. In other words he was accusing Prabhaharan of treachery in connection with the two incidents.
Kuttimani was arrested when he was about to embark on a smuggling boat to Tamil Nadu. Somebody, it was widely believed, had tipped off the authorities about the exact time and location of his escape. One version was that the boatman who had a particular reason to hate Kuttimani had done so to take revenge. The TELO insisted on this version particularly after he was mercilessly massacred by the Tigers in 1986. But no one could say for sure, what had really happened and anyway Kuttimani had died many years earlier in the Welikade prison massacre.
The manner in which Sabalingam had questioned the Neervely bank robbery and the interpretation he appeared to give it thereby however came as a surprise. When the original LTTE split in 1979 Prabhaharan who was left with very little resources and friends joined the TELO which was then under Thangathurai and Kuttimani and worked with them for a while. It was during this period that he took part along with them in the Neervely bank robbery in Jaffna. Oberoi Thevan who later started the Tamil Eelam Liberation Army was also associated with this robbery. Now Sabalingam had pointed out in his Thayagam' article that all who participated in the Neervely heist are dead – killed either by government forces or by the LTTE as in the case of Oberoi Thevan. So by implication Sabalingam was saying that Prabhaharan had a vested interest in seeing all of them wiped out from the face of the earth.
The Neervely bank robbery is a blot in Prabhaharan's career in that, according to the constitution of the LTTE, any member who joins another organisation should be punished with death. He had killed some of his contemporaries precisely on that ground. And here we have Sabalingam saying that he was gathering evidence on such matters to write a comprehensive book!
But before we proceed any further a word about Thayagam, it is by far the most consistently fierce anti LTTE publication that has ever come out during the course of the two Eelam wars. (The army's psyops pundits[?] would look worse than kindergarten kids if any one were to judge their work by standards set by "Thayagam' in its verbal blitzkriegs on the LTTE). It was published as a tabloid in Toronto for a couple of years and was forced to become a magazine in 1992 when the Tigers threatened many Tamil shops which were selling it and successfully crippled its circulation in favour of the rival Tamil tabloid Senthamari. Thayagam is edited by a young Tamil writer from Jaffna now settled in Toronto called George Kruschev (his own name).
What has actually perplexed many is why has someone taken all this trouble and utter risk to kill poor Sabalingam when so many like Kruschev have taken it upon themselves to lambast the LTTE in every possible way and have remained hale and hearty unto this day? The reason I think which was of utmost concern to those who terminated him was that these things were being uttered by Sabalingam who was not just another enthusiastic critic of the LTTE's past but was one of the few surviving progenitors of the armed Eelam movement within which the young boy called Prabhaharan was moulded into a guerrilla.
Sabalingam was an associate of Sathiyaseelan who started the Tamil Manavar Peraval some time after the JVP rebellion was crushed in 1971. The movement was formed in reaction to the standardisation of university admissions under the SLFP regime at that time. It was the first Tamil youth group to advocate an armed insurrection no doubt inspired by the example of Rohana Wijeweera.
Prabhaharan joined one of Sathiyaseelan's underground cells as an 18-year-old boy in 1972. Sathiyaseelan, Poopathy, Sabalingam (who was an engineering student at Kattubedde at that time) and several others were arrested in March '73 by the police. The movement was almost busted at this juncture but Prabhaharan survived. While Sabalingam was jailed in the Anuradhapura New Prison, Chetti Thanabalasingam – with whom Prabhaharan started the Tamil New Tigers – Kannady Pathan and Rathnakumar who were also serving terms in the same prison made good their escape in a jail break. As aresult of which Sabalingam and others were transferred to the Bogambara prison. And one day during his stay there he fell from the prison's second floor – an accident which permanently affected his left hand.
He was released from prison in February 1975. Later he got a job at the Paranthan salterns, and like many others slowly faded away from the scene despite a connection he had with the Eela Viduthalal Lyakkam which was started in '76 and in which Varatharaja Perumal was a prominent activist. Another member of this group was Pushparajah, who like Perumal later joined the EPRLF and was its representative in France for many years.
He was closely associated with Sabalingam's recent work which has led many people who are in a hurry to provide information to claim that Sabalingam was a member of the EPRLF. And one night while he was working at the saltern someone knocked at the door. It was one of the minor kids whom Sabalingam had known when he was involved with Sathiyaseelan's group in 1972. He was Prabhaharan – yet to make his name – and he was seeking refuge. Sabalingam kept him for many weeks in his quarters until it was safe for him to continue on his mission.
And today they say that the LTTE's hand is suspected in the murder. If that is the case then the message is quite precise to those living in the West today who were intimately involved with the nascent Eelam movement in the seventies, that its history will be narrated or represented according to the victor Prabhaharan.
This is of central importance to the ideological cohesion of the LTTE today, because a whole generation of suicidally loyal youth derives its ideological commitment from a history in which the armed Eelam liberation movement begins with Prabhaharan in 1972. The message may have been deemed necessary in view of the fact that many of Prabhaharan's senior contemporaries are living in Europe – who it is always possible could someday narrate a different story. Sathiyaseelan and short Bala (a founding member of the LTTE who saved Prabhaharan from arrest at Inuvil) live in Germany. Iyer a Jaffna Brahmin, who was the treasurer of the original LTTE is also quietly somewhere in Europe. Raghavan who was almost Prabha's equal in the organization until he fell out with him in 1985 lives in London with Nirmala Nithyanandan (the killing of Nirmala's sister Rajani is attributed by some to Raghavan's connection). But all have kept utterly quiet to this day.
Sabalingam was making arrangements to meet them one by one to gather the bits and pieces of the past with which he hoped to narrate another history.
It is ironic indeed that Sabalingam lived in a country where many
decades ago the great Russian emigre Alexander Kojeve delivered his
famous lectures on Hegel which `dramatically shaped the French
intellectual landscape of this century', and the essence of which
was 'history will belong to, and shall be according, to those who
have won with the force of arms' (Vincent Descombes calls it the
terrorist interpretation of Hegel). Though Fukuyama has
commercialised Kojeve's ideas to entertain the flippant intellectual
fancies of the American mind, they remind us with cold blooded
clarity that for Prabhaharan who considers himself the ultimate
victor in the Eelam movement, its history must belong to him even if
it were to cost many lives. That is central to his existence.