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LTTE Terrorism immediately prior to 1981

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd) Edward Gunawardena

Continued from last week

On June 2, 1981, the day following the acts of arson in Jaffna when I was resting in the afternoon in the Residency an Army officer woke me and told me that one Shan had come to see me. He was dressed in Verti like most Jaffna gentlemen. For a moment I could not recognize him. I had met him last at a Madras hotel where I shared a beer with him. I had come to know him when the Indian Prime Minister Moraji Desai came to Sri Lanka and I was his Security Co-ordinator. Shan came in Moraji Desai’s advance security contingent; and I remember taking him and another officer Medhekar, who later became the IGP of Mumbai, to my brother’s home in Kandy for lunch one day.

Shan had a brief chat with me. He told me that he was in a hurry as he had to see the Indian High Commissioner in the evening. When I asked him what brought him to Jaffna his reply was, “our mission is to see that the government does not win the election”. Without my soliciting an opinion he also added, “This (meaning the burning of he library) will make Sri Lanka international pariahs”. Apparently RAW was aware of the advice received by the LTTE and what the latter was planning to do. My suspicions were confirmed. It became clear to me that there was a nexus between the disruption of the elections and the burning of the library.

Balasinghams active in Madras

Although it was too late for analysis and any meaningful conclusions, for nearly a week prior to June 1, 1981 the District Intelligence Bureau of Jaffna had been getting information regarding the activities of Anton Balasingham and his wife, Adele, from informants who had actually attended the lectures of the Balasinghams.

Although they were usually resident at 54, Kelvendon House, Guilford Road, London SW8, they had taken up residence at a state guest house in Madras with the help of a Tamil Nadu politician, a friend of Prabahakaran. Obviously Prabahakaran had wanted to have Balasingham close at hand for urgent advice. Apparently things had begun to move fast.

The main thrust of Balasingham’s lectures to the ‘Boys’ in Madras had been:

(a) The time was appropriate for as many Tamils as possible to seek asylum in the capitals of Europe, America, Canada and Australia. This should be to convince the foreign sympathizers that the Tamils are an oppressed race, they are being harassed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the Police and the government of Sri Lanka is violating Human Rights.

(b) The need for some sensational act to attract the attention of the world to the cause of the Tamils and also provide adequate grist to the mills of the world media.

(C) The need for a steady flow of funds if the movement is to be sustained particularly if an armed struggle had to be launched. Balasingham had stressed that an armed struggle was inevitable.

(d) Adele Balasingham had specifically mentioned that she was in touch with the Australian immigration authorities and the latter welcomed asylum seekers from oppressed communities.

Balasingham had emphasized that something to galvanize world media attention had to be accomplished early. This ‘something’ was apparently known only to the Balasinghams, the LTTE high command and a selected section of the media.

How l happened to be in Jaffna at this crucial time

On May 24, 1981 Dr. Thiyagarajah the Chief UNP candidate for the DDC elections was shot at Moolai in the Chankani police area after an election meeting of the UNP. He was rushed to the Jaffna General Hospital and died the following day.

With his assassination the intensity of the police patrolling was increased. The Army and Navy were also called in to assist the police. All police officers were to be armed, Inspectors and Sub-Inspectors with revolvers and Sergeants and Constables with repeater shot guns. There were no assault rifles issued to the police at the time. Large numbers of police from different parts of the country were ordered to be sent to Jaffna.

At this time I was the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of the Colombo Metropolitan Range. This range covered the Police Divisions of Colombo, Peliyagoda, Negombo, Nugegoda and Mt. Lavinia. The superintendents in charge Douglas Ranmuthugala, Henry Silva, A.C.A. Gaffoor, Amarakoon, Serpanchy and M.D.A. Rajapakse were all excellent officers whose competence, initiative and integrity could be trusted.

On May 30, I was summoned to Ward Place by the President at about 6 p.m. When I went to ‘Braemar’ the Prime Minister and the IGP were also there. I was ordered to proceed to Jaffna, but I was not assigned any specific duties. P. Mahendran was the DIG of the Northern Range, but I was senior to him. When I asked the IGP what my role in Jaffna was going to be, he merely said, “you just be there”. As for the Metropolitan Range, the IGP undertook to overlook the work of the Superintendents.

The President and the Prime Minister were pleased that I had readily agreed to go to Jaffna at such short notice. They felt that my presence in Jaffna Would be a morale booster for the rank and file whose ‘chips were down’.

I reached Jaffna by helicopter at about 4 p.m. on May 31. My car with Inspector Sathiyan and driven by PCD Anthony had arrived from Colombo by then. I tried to contact ‘Brute’ Mahendran, the DIG but failed. At the Jaffna Headquarters station I met the S.P. Jaffna Tony Mahat and several other officers who had come on ‘Special duty’. I remember meeting SP Dennis Peter and ASPs D. Weerakoon, M.D. Perera, Edmund Karunanayake and Jinasena.

HQI Jaffna, Lalith Gunasekera, in about 15 — 20 minutes gave me a complete run down of all that had happened in Jaffna from the time the elections were announced. Lalith Gunasekera of whom I had only heard earlier — captured by JVP insurgents when he was a young SI in charge of the Rambukkana Police Station was a courageous officer who had escaped from JVP custody. He certainly had a total grasp of the situation in Jaffna. His main worry was that the government was panicking and the LTTE could take advantage of the confusion to advance their cause.

Having had a discussion with all the senior officers present, dressed in civvies I left in my car driven by PCD Anthony and accompanied by Inspector Sathiyan on a recce of the Jaffna town. At about 10 p.m. I overheard on Police radio that police on duty at the Nachiamman Kovil meeting had been shot and the injured officers taken to the Jaffna General Hospital.

I decided to go to the hospital. Although I was in civvies I was armed with a Webley 9 mm pistol. Inspector Sathiyan who was also in civvies had an Uzi automatic. As we walked in there were several police officers in uniform and many civilians. I raised my voice and ordered the police to clear the ward of all unwanted persons. I even spoke in the little Tamil I knew to disperse the crowd. It was only then that the police at the hospital realized that I was the DIG Metropolitan who had been specially assigned to Jaffna.

That was the manner in which I announced to the rank and file of the Jaffna police of my arrival as the specially sent DIG. Listening to the gossip that went through the police airwaves gave me the impression that they welcomed my presence in Jaffna. However, it was noticeably clear that the police were gripped by a sense of fear and insecurity particularly after the Nachiamman Kovil shooting resulting in the death of Sergeant Punchi Banda. This gruesome murder coming on top of a series of killings of police officers certainly had a chilling effect.

Influx of special—duty police

By this time about 400 policemen from different police divisions had arrived in Jaffna. Surprisingly the number of senior officers was quite disproportionate to the number of Sergeants and Constables. It had fallen upon the shoulders of HQI Lalith Gunasekera to arrange for their billeting and food. The situation had been so bad that the HQI had at one point pleaded with Col. Hamilton Wanasinghe and Major Denzil Kobbekaduwa for food for these large numbers of policemen. He had even spent his own money to purchase some dry fish and rice to be given to the Mess for cooking.

The complete lack of co-ordination between the DIG of the Northern Range and Police Headquarters had resulted in a chaotic situation which had to be tactfully sorted out by HQI Gunasekera and myself.

If I was to deviate from the sequence of the narrative, from the point of view of food for the hungry policemen and also many other officials who had come to Jaffna on duty, the arrival of Mr. Gamini Dissanayake on June 3 was indeed a blessing. As soon as I heard of his arrival I called on him at King’s House. When I went there he was having a chat with Mr. T.B. Werapitiya who was the Deputy Minister of Defence. The latter was in fact briefing him on what had happened in Jaffna on the May 31 and June 1. I too joined in the conversation and was able to convince both of them that the acts of arson, especially the burning of the library, could not have been committed by the police, the armed services or any unruly mob. They were certainly apprehensive of the possible consequences.

Mr. Gamini Dissanayake specifically asked me whether the police have had adequate food. Apparently he had heard of the difficulties the police were facing. When I told him that even I had not eaten anything other than a boiled potato with salt and pepper he laughed. Having thought for a while he telephoned Navaloka Mudalali who undertook to send 1,000 packets of bread, seeni sambol and hard boiled egg. Mr. Dissanayake made arrangements for these to be airlifted. This exercise was repeated on the following day too.



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Form-ation of Higher Education in Sri Lanka

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By Hasini Lecamwasam

Improving higher education in Sri Lanka is not only important, but essential and long overdue. However, seeking to achieve higher ‘quality’ by ‘form-ising’ the performance of teachers (or the practice of forcing the entire teaching-learning exercise into forms designed to communicate exactly what and what transpires in a classroom) may not be able to bring about the desired change. A new set of four forms introduced recently to this end requires, among other things, drawing up a minutely detailed plan of each and every lesson to be delivered in class, aligned with the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), in turn, to be aligned with the Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which should all then be tied to the graduate profile, or the kind of graduate we seek to ‘produce’ at the end of it all. This may, on the surface of it, sound reasonable enough and not encourage serious debate or resistance because, after all, it is only some forms that need to be filled.

Form by tedious form, however, the teaching-learning process at state universities is becoming increasingly constricted, fragmented, monitored, controlled. In this piece, I wish to briefly ponder on the implications of these requirements and the larger trends they signal, while also attempting to reflect on what instead we may do to ensure ‘quality’ in the delivery of higher education.

The problem with form-ation

The larger ‘Quality Assurance’ (QA) landscape in which these developments take place was discussed in detail in an earlier Kuppi Talk by Kaushalya Perera. In a nutshell, QA seeks to standardise education such that study programmes can be assessed against each other, assigned numbers, and ranked accordingly. The deployment of overarching yardsticks for programmes with hugely varying mandates, methods, and content has been the subject of much critique lately the world over, not the least due to its rather warped understanding of ‘quality’ as something that can be objectively established through metrics and audits.

While I do not question the bona fide motives behind the initiative taken with the aforementioned forms, I do think serious reflection on where these developments push us in the longer term is needed. My primary reservation here has to do with the impact of this lesson-wise breakdown on the creative and democratic exercise that the teaching-learning process is supposed to entail. When each topic is broken down into such fine detail prior to the actual occurrence of the ‘lesson’ (for want of a better word), outcomes are foreclosed rather than collectively and organically evolving in the course of the ‘lesson’, which is particularly important to many of the subjects offered in the Arts Faculties. Exactly how many of us are actually quite so democratic in our classrooms is a valid question in this regard, and one I will return to. The point for me here, however, is that for those who do have a sincere commitment to such a democratic classroom environment, such forms and the limiting of the teaching-learning experience they constitute, may be tantamount to strangulation.

Even if the majority of us admit to being very controlling in our classrooms anyway, does that justify going one step further with these forms and institutionalising such control? Should not our commitment be to the emancipatory ideal, rather than simply what most are on board with? There should be meaningful space for creative, organic, and democratic teaching-learning processes to unfold for teachers who wish to make that choice, and for students to explore and think beyond the teacher’s frame of thinking. Micromanaging beyond the general content of a course (laid down in enough detail in the course syllabus) is inimical to even a possibility of democracy existing in the classroom and within the larger university space.

This complete subservience of the teaching-learning process to red tape signals a larger and troubling trend of corporatisation. Corporatisation may be defined as the restructuring of a publicly owned institution to be managed as a business place would be, with a view to privatising in the long term. In state universities, this shift is couched in the supposedly ‘progressive’ language of student-centered approaches and interactive classrooms, hijacked from the democratic pedagogy of the likes of Paulo Freire, but bereft of any of the emancipatory politics within which these methods assume meaning. Despite the use of these catch-phrases, however, such minutely detailed forms signal a return to an extremely teacher-centered model due to the absence of the possibility for students to meaningfully influence the outcome of a lesson, as it is predetermined for them.

The result, as the Kannangara report worried with remarkable foresight some 80 years ago, is students “with much knowledge and little understanding. They have not read books; they have “studied” texts. They cannot write, they produce essays after a set style. They can answer questions but not question answers … Their imagination has been stunted, their originality suppressed, their capacity for thought undeveloped, their emotions inhibited.”

What alternative can we propose?

A valid question countering what little resistance there is to form-ation asks how we can ensure the education we currently deliver is of an acceptable standard, and that everybody observes such. There seems to prevail tacit and widespread agreement that the ‘democratic nonsense’ within universities is what has allowed many to hide behind debates, deliberations, appeals to creative freedom, and so on, without actually doing their work.

In my view, this is an arbitrary causation to draw. Blaming internal democracy for negligence of duties fails to take into account the highly anti-democratic practices at universities that may better explain such behaviour.

Specifically, I think it is the rigidly entrenched hierarchy within universities that blocks the possibility of even dialogue, let alone debate, particularly when it comes to holding those higher-up in the ladder accountable for their actions (or the lack thereof, as the case may be). Hierarchy is why, among many other things, students cannot question the content or the methods chosen by their teachers. As previous Kuppi Talks have endeavoured to show, hierarchy is silently, and therefore very effectively, observed at every level, ensuring the trumping of students by teachers, juniors by seniors, women by men, minorities by the majority, and originality by tradition. It impedes questioning, stifles dissent, and smothers alternative thinking altogether. The problem, therefore, is not that we have too much democracy in universities, but too little of it.

We must make a sincere and sustained effort to radically democratise the university space by relaxing the classroom to allow open and honest exchange between students and teachers; changing the relations of power between seniors and juniors, starting with undoing the practice of deferential treatment; refusing to tolerate snide and not-so-subtle references to ways of dressing and similar gendered remarks; questioning the exclusive use of the majority language in official communications, as a starting point. In doing so, we would be subverting the crippling hierarchy that inhibits thought and practice within the university. Such a radical change geared towards improved quality through mutual accountability, for me, is the only acceptable way of introducing accountability to a space that, admittedly, sorely lacks it.

(Hasini Lecamwasam is attached to the Department of Political Science, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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THE LOGIC OF PRESIDENT’S PLEDGES IN NEW YORK

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by Jehan Perera

The significance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech at the UN General Assembly, in New York, last week, was his use of the time allocated to him to provide an outline of the government’s policies towards the main challenges besetting the country. The President covered the main issues that confront the world with his focus on Sri Lanka. These included measures to contain the Covid pandemic, the economic crisis, environmental degradation and violence. In the final section of his well-crafted speech, the President went into some depth regarding the government’s approach to national reconciliation. However, the response within the country, has been muted and for good reason. Those who voted for the government, on an entirely different platform, which emphasised ethnic majority nationalism and anti-international sentiments, are quite probably at a loss.

It is only recently that the government has started to speak in terms of reconciliation and obtaining international support for it. At the two elections that brought this government to power, the Easter Sunday bombing and the consequent threat to national security, took centre stage. The majority, who voted for the government, did so to protect it from a variety of security threats they were told of, both within and outside the country. The wretched failure of the previous government to prevent the bombing, the first terrorist act of any magnitude since the war ended a decade earlier, was attributed to the personal weakness of the then government leaders. It was also attributed to the 19th Amendment which sought to give state institutions protection from use for partisan reasons by government politicians and to consequent disintegration of the system of command and control.

A second theme, at the two elections, was depiction of ethnic and religious minorities as potential security threats. This stemmed from the country’s experience of three decades of internal warfare with the armed Tamil separatist movements. This was followed by the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community, who were feared to be having a vast support base both internally within the country and also externally. In these circumstances, the re-centralisation of power within the government hierarchy and greater role given to the security forces, received public acceptance as being part of the government’s democratic mandate. At the same time, by denying the equally legitimate concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities, the electoral results demonstrated the existence of an acute polarisation, and wound, in the body politic that continues to fester to the point of bringing in involuntary and imposed international interventions.

EU MONITORING

The challenge for the government is to represent the interests of all communities and not only the majority who voted it into power. The problem is that the government’s mandate comes, by and large, from the vote of the ethnic and religious majority in a country that has been polarised on ethnic and religious lines, for many decades. An ugly part of this reality is that in the prisons are several hundreds of Tamils and Muslims for the most part who are in custody for periods ranging from a few months to many years without trial. They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ostensibly until the security forces find adequate evidence to put them before the courts of law. This contradicts the rule of law and the presumption in our legal system that we are innocent until proven guilty can have negative consequences.

In June this year, the EU parliament passed a resolution that the GSP Plus tariff privileges, made available to Sri Lanka should be withdrawn unless the government fulfilled its obligations in regard to the upholding of human rights. The resolution, expressing “deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations”, and makes specific reference to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities, while voicing “serious concern” about the 20th Amendment passed in 2020, and the “resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency”. It also highlights “accelerating militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka.

A delegation from the EU is currently in Sri Lanka to meet with members of the government, Opposition and civil society, to ascertain whether the country is fulfilling its obligations to be a beneficiary of EU trade benefits. It is likely that the delegation will be provided with evidence of human rights violations and acts of impunity. There are hundreds of persons languishing in prisons without being put on trial, many of whom are Tamils, suspected to be LTTE members, and more of them are Muslims, suspected of having links with the Easter bombings. When questioned in parliament about the latter, the minister in charge justified those detentions on the grounds that Muslim youth, including the Muslim parliamentarian who had questioned him, could contain Islamic State ideology in their heads and therefore be security threats.

NEW DIRECTION

At the last elections, the most potent theme was the failure of the then government to act effectively to protect the country from the Easter suicide bombings and the pressures from human rights actors in Geneva. Among the issues that loomed large at the last election was also the charge that the previous government was giving in too much to the Muslim community within the country. The fact that the Easter attacks were by Muslim suicide bombers added force to this charge. The prioritisation of national security in the election campaign had popular support. The influential religious clergy, associations of professionals and mass media also joined the battle in earnest and their messages reinforced one another. The recent debate in Parliament suggests the government’s thinking continues to be in sync with the mandate it received at those elections.

However, in his speech in New York, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown signs of diverging from the politics of the past. The President said “Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development. It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.” However, the President’s speech continues to be at variance with the ground realities at the present time and the general manner of governance since the President took office in November 2019.

So far the pledge of a new direction is articulated in words. The time for the government to make the President’s words real and act accordingly is now. This will help to overcome the deep and dark cynicism that has enveloped the country regarding promises made by politicians. The first step would be to apply the logic of the Justice Minister in Parliament. Replying to an Opposition Parliamentarian who called for the arrest of Minister Lohan Ratwatte who stands accused of entering a prison and threatening prisoners with his gun, the justice minister said that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This also applies to the hundreds of Tamils and Muslims in jail without evidence to charge them in a court of law. The better way to deal with the threats to national security is to win the confidence of all the communities in the Sri Lanka by treating them without discrimination, as children of one mother, as our national anthem proclaims.

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Face shields, sans masks, on TV shows!

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Face shield ONLY does not provide protection from Covid-19

Covid-19 has claimed many lives, in our part of the world. Quite a few musicians, too, have had to face the music, where this deadly virus is concerned.

However, one is perturbed with the setup seen on some of our TV shows, especially where musicians are concerned.

The Covid-19 guidelines are never adhered to – no masks, no social distancing, etc.

There were reality shows held, post pandemic, where judges were seen even hugging their favourite contestants – with no masks.

With the virus turning deadly, some of the judges took to only wearing face shields. And, we now know the results of their stupidity.

By their irresponsible behaviour (wearing only face shields), they seem to be setting a trend for others to follow.

The question being asked is what are the health authorities doing? Why haven’t such folks been taken to task!

If the man on the street is arrested for not wearing a mask, how come these law-breakers go scot-free!

If wearing a mask is a hassle in an air conditioned setup, then such shows should be put on hold, or held virtual…live stream, zoom, from home, etc., and not with the participation of several artistes, in a studio.

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