By: T. Sabaratnam
Tamil Youths Turn Assertive
a subject race
Kankesanthurai speech was a reflection of the growing feeling of
frustration among Tamil youth. The youth were telling the leaders to
follow the path of the JVP and the Awami League.
revolt and Bangladesh liberation had emboldened them. They realized that
the constitution makers were primarily concerned with the consolidation
of the power of the Sinhalese and were insensitive to the feelings of the
Tamils. The draft of the new constitution then under preparation
contained provisions to entrench the unitary character of the state, the
official language status for Sinhala and foremost place for Buddhism.
Taken together, the three provisions would make Sri Lanka a Sinhala
country and make Tamils a subject race.
youths wanted to resist. They were confident they could mobilize the
people, as had been done in Bangladesh. They turned more active and
assertive. They said Tamils should unite and the leaders should show the
way. What Amirthlingam said in Kankesanthurai was what the youths were
saying: hard struggle, and, if necessary, bloody struggle and Tamil unity.
journalists, who equate Sinhala interests with Sri Lanka’s, took
Amirthalingam to task and accused him of being unpatriotic. Sun,
then the leading and most chauvinistic
of the Sinhalese-controlled newspapers, tried to show that the views
expressed by Amirthalingam was personal and did not represent the
collective view of the Federal Party. Yet Amirthalingam’s views had
to be given cognizance in view of India’s action in Bangladesh, the
newspaper editorialized. What the Sun
and Sirimavo Bandaranaike's government failed to comprehend was
Amirthalingam’s views represented the overall view of the Tamil
government ordered Jaffna police to make inquiries. The police recorded
statements from several persons who attended the Kankesanthurai meeting.
The government unleashed a virulent campaign against Amirthalingam. It
called him unpatriotic. It called him double-tongued; saying one thing
in the south and a different thing in Jaffna. The youths too started a
campaign against Amirthalingam. They accused him of being too soft.
criticized the Federal Party leaders severely at the special convention
held in Jaffna on 30 January 1972 to consider the draft constitution
prepared by the Steering and Subjects Committee. They told their leaders
that Sinhala leaders would never give the Tamils their rights and not to
go begging behind these leaders. They called the draft constitution a Charter of
Slavery and urged the Convention to reject it. Leaders of the Federal
Party obeyed. They
called the draft constitution a Charter of Slavery and passed a
resolution rejecting it.
resolution at its tail end attached a 4-point demand which said:
mocked the 4-point demand. They said their leaders were asking for the very
things the draft constitution had rejected. “These old lawyers cannot
abandon their habit easily,” they said. The youths decided to go directly to
the people. They organized public meetings and rallies in every
electorate. Then they took the agitation to the villages. They held
street demonstrations and meetings and told the people that the Sinhalese
want to make them slaves and asked them to get ready to fight back.
fall in line
fell in line with the emotional wave generated by the youth.
They took two steps to build support for a separatist struggle.
The first was to whip up Tamil Nadu’s support. Thanthai Chelva and
Amirthalingam went on 20 February 1972 to Tamil Nadu to mobilize the
support of Tamil Nadu leaders. They met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister
Muthuvel Karunanithi, Education Minister V. R. Nedunchcheliyan, former
chief minister M. Baktavatchalam, Diravida Kalazham leader Periyar E. V.
Ramasamy Nayakar, president of the Indian National Congress K. Kamaraj,
Thamilar Kalazham leader M. P. Sivagnanam and Muslim League leader
Chelva told them that Sinhala leadership was trying to make them slaves
and were thus forcing them to ask for a separate state. Thanthai Chelvai
told them the Tamils' struggle for a separate state would be non-violent. He told Kamaraj of his
experiences during the 1961 satyagraha and Kamaraj; shared his
experiences during the Indian independence struggle. Periyar was the only
one who struck a discordant note. “Will non-violence work with people
who do not value the moral force?’ he questioned. Thanthai Chelva
could not give a proper answer. He said: “Moral force will ultimately
Nadu politicians pledged moral support and undertook to brief Prime
Minister Indira Gandhi. At the civic reception Chennai mayor, Kamadchi
Jayaraman said people of Tamil Nadu were with the Ceylon Tamils in their
struggle. Thanthai Chelva assured them that the struggle would be
nonviolent and their moral support is the only thing the Sri Lankan
months later, on May 14, Thanthai Chelva took the next step to prepare
the people for the struggle. He convened on that day a meeting of Tamil
leaders and prominent Tamils in Trincomalee Town Hall. Leaders of the Federal Party, All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Ceylon Workers Congress,
Eelath Thamilar Otrumai Munnani, All Ceylon Tamil Conference,
representatives of several linguistic trade unions, students'
movements and non-party workers attended the meeting.
Workers Congress leader S. Thondaman who attended the meeting said their
decision to form the Tamil United Front (TUF) had an electrifying effect on
the entire Tamil community. Thondaman, whose trade union had kept aloof
from the agitations of Ceylon Tamils, told the meeting that the new
constitution had brought about a “new situation that required new
remedies.” Thanthai Chelva said, "Tamils should unite to oppose the
reject the new constitution;
boycott the ceremonial opening of Parliament which had been renamed
the National State Assembly;
observe May 22, the day the new constitution is to be proclaimed, as a
day of mourning; and
place before the Government a six-point demand and to call it to amend
the constitution to accommodate the aspiration of the Tamils within a
period of three months, ending in September 1972.
six-point demand read:
letter embodying the six-point demand said that, if the government failed
to take meaningful steps to
amend the constitution within three months ending on 30 September 1972,
the TUF would launch a non-violent struggle to win back the freedom and
rights of the Tamil people.
constitution was promulgated on 22 May 1972 and 15 of the 20 Tamil
Members of parliament boycotted the ceremony. The five members who
attended the ceremony and voted for the 1972 constitution were: C
Arulampalam (Nallur), A Thaigarajah (Vaddukoddai), of the Tamil Congress, C
X Martyn (Jaffna) who was expelled from the Federal Party, M C
Subramaniam and Post and Telecommunications Minister C Kumarasuriar,
both nominated members.
leaders who did not want to defy the ban on public meetings imposed by
the government using emergency regulations held their protest
convention indoors at the Navalar Archiramam, Vannarponnai, Jaffna.
Thanthai Chelva declared:
wanted to live united. We wanted to live as dignified, respected
partners. That has been denied to us.
They want us to be their slaves.
No man with self- respect will accede. We want to live with self-
If that can only be done through separation,
then we will have to travel
that path. I wish to declare to my people and the world that we are
being compelled to travel that path.
Seeds of violence
Day for the Tamils was a dark day. The previous night militant youths
tampered with a high-tension electric tower in Jaffna and caused a total
blackout. Republic Day celebrations were confined to Jaffna Secretariat,
the police stations and the army and naval camps. The public had separated
themselves from independence and the Sinhala government.
were sporadic incidents of violence throughout the North and Eastern
provinces. Buses were torched, government buildings stoned and black
flags hung everywhere; on houses, public buildings and trees. Police
went around Jaffna town in the morning and tore off some black flags.
Six days later, on 28 May, militant youths threw hand bombs at the house
of an LSSP supporter, Sivasothy, but no one was hurt. On June 1, hand
bombs were flung at the residence of A. Viswanathan, the LSSP’s Jaffna
organizer. Those incidents were an exhibition of the anger against the
Constitutional Affairs Minister Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, deputy leader of
the LSSP. Dr. de Silva had earlier been a champion of equal rights for the
then turned their anger towards the five Tamil parliamentarians who
voted for the 1972 constitution and their supporters.There were four
small armed groups in 1972.
Thangathurai-Kuttimani group selected C. Arulampalam as their first
target. ‘Small,” as Arulambalam was called because of his diminutive
build, stayed in Colombo and thus beyond their reach. They decided to
kill his supporter, V. Kumarakulasingham, former chairman of the Nallur
Village Council, a strong SLFP supporter and a common friend of
Arulampalam and Kumarasuriyar. It was Kumarakulasingham whom
Kumarasuriyar used to induce Arulambalam to defect from the Tamil
Congress to the government. Arulambalam had been declared a traitor by Tamil
leaders and the militants since his defection.
Chetti and Sri Sabaratnam walked up to Kopay junction on 4 June, 13 days
after the promulgation of the 1972 Republican Constitution, and hired
the taxi driven by Ulaganathan to go to Kumarakulasingham’s house.
When the taxi was traveling on a lonely stretch of the road, they
ordered the driver to stop. They got down, pulled the driver out of his
seat, tied him up and put him in the car’s boot. Kuttimani drove the
car to Kumarakulasingham’s house, shot him with his pistol and ran
back to the car. The shots injured Kumarakulasingham in his legs.
Kuttimani drove the car towards Neerveli, stopped the car on a lonely
spot, shot and killed Ulaganathan and burnt the car along with him.
Kuttimani wanted to kill Kumarakulasingham, but killed the driver Ulaganathan. On the same evening hand-bombs were thrown at the residence of an SLFP supporter, Sundaradas. Sivakumaran’s attacks on the vehicles of Somaweera Chandrasiri in 1970 and Alfred Duraiappah in 1971, and the Thangathurai- Kuttimani group’s three bomb throwing attacks and Ulaganathan’s murder shook the conservative and peace-enjoying Jaffna and activated the other two armed groups, one headed by Pirapaharan and the other within the Tamil Student’s Union (TSU).
to be outdone by the Thangathurai- Kuttimani group and the Sivakumaran group,
the TSU group headed by Sathiyaseelan acted fast. It sent a two-member
assault group comprising Tissaveerasingham and Jeevarajah, known as
Jeevan, to assassinate Vaddukoddai Member of Parliament ,Thiyagarajah, who
had voted for the 1972 constitution. Both traveled to Bambalapitiya in
Colombo where Thiyarajah lived. They went to his house in the morning of
June 7 and knocked at the door. Thiyagarajah came out.
told him the name of a Jaffna newspaper and announced that they had come
to interview him.
had told me not to give any interview to any paper,” Thiyagarajah
said and asked them to take their seat.
did not sit. He stood close to Thiyagarajah, who was also standing.
Jeevarajah stood by the door leaning on it.
an experienced former principal of Karainagar Hindu College,
the nervous behaviour of the two visitors. He felt suspicious.
Jeevarajah pulled out the revolver he had tucked in his trouser
belt. He was nervous to fire. He was inexperienced. He was not sure
whether the revolver would fire. He was also not certain about his aim.
The revolver was of local manufacture and he had had minimal practice.
(Shoot) Tissaveerasingham, who lost his patience, shouted.
Jeevarajah shouted back signaling him to move away and he ran towards the
acted fast. He bent down and pulled the carpet.
lost his balance when the revolver fired.
struck the wall and Thiyagarajah escaped unhurt, The assailants fled.
assassination attempt failed, but it sent the necessary message to
government supporters and the public.
Bandaranaike and the Tamil leaders failed to realize the importance and
the pattern behind the acts of violence indulged in by the armed groups.
Both sides viewed these acts of violence as sporadic incidents. Sirimavo Bandaranaike's
government thought that the police would curb the violence and Tamil
leaders thought that Thalapathy (Commander) Amirthalingam would tackle
the revolting youths. Amirthalingam. too, had given the TUF Action
Committee that impression. “I can manage them,” was what he told the
Police commenced the arrest of youth leaders from May 18, four days before Republic Day. Thambithurai Muthukuarasamy, founder member of the TSU, was arrested on that day. K Sivanandan and Sivajeyam were arrested on June 9, Namasivayam Anandavinayagam on June 10 and Kasi Ananthan on June 15. Mylvaganam Rajakulasuriar was arrested on June 30, M Sinniah Kuventhirarajah on July 9 and N Amerasingam July 12. Chelliah Thanabalasingham (Chetti) and Ponnuthurai Sivakumaran were also arrested. These arrests angered the youths and their protest spread.
Amirthalingam had misjudged the mood of the youths. That became evident on the question of taking the oath of allegiance under the 1972 constitution. Youths told TUF parliamentarians to boycott parliament. Their logic was simple. They told Tamil leaders that their decision when they inaugurated the TUF was to reject the new constitution; to boycott the ceremonial opening of Parliament; to observe May 22 as a day of mourning; and to present to the Government the six-point demand calling for the amendment of the constitution. “Now what are you going to do?” they asked. "You are going to accept the very constitution you rejected and asked the people to burn."
Jaffna’s Old Park Road appeared a telling scribbling in Tamil which
meant: 'Cheating is now the game.'
protests did not deter TUF parliamentarians from swearing on 4 July in
the National State Assembly. They swore: "I ... do solemnly
affirm/swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the
Republic of Sri Lanka and that I will well and truly serve the Republic
of Sri Lanka and duly and faithfully execute the duties of my office as
... in accordance with the constitution and with the law."
leaders were reluctant, but not the youths. Pirapaharan, then 17 years
old, led a bomb attack on 17 September on the carnival held at the
Duraiappah Stadium. That was to show their protest against police
arrests of youths and, most importantly, to issue a warning against the
government and Tamil leaders. He chose to attack the carnival because it
was patronized by the police and army personnel. No one was injured.
On 20 December
the Thangathurai- Kuttimani group threw a hand-bomb at the
house of SLFP organizer for Uduvil, S. Vinothan. Again, no one was
injured. Due to the mass arrest of the youths by the police there
was then a lull in violence until the assassination of Alfred Duraiappah,
former mayor of Jaffna, on 27 July 1975, an interval of two years and
seven months. During this time, most of the armed militants were either
in prison or in Tamil Nadu.
6: Birth of Tamil New Tigers
be posted on:
1: Why didn’t he hit back?
2: Going in for a revolver
3: The Unexpected Explosion
4: Tamil Mood Toughens