THE MARTYRDOM OF
OF THANGATHURAI & KUTTIMUNI
"The emergence of a martyr... facilitates patriotism
and nationalism: if people feel that someone with whom they identify themselves has been
killed, tortured, or otherwise deprived of some value, their indignation is likely to be
great and perhaps long enduring..." - Leonard W.Doob:
Patriotism and Nationalism, Yale University Press, 1964 - see also -
What is a nation?
- the Trial, 1982/83
The trial of Tamil leaders, Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran (also
known as Kuttimuni) in the Neervely Bank case was the second trial under the notorious
Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act
- an Act which was
later described by the International Commission of Jurists as containing provisions which
were 'an ugly blot on the statute book of any civilised
country'. One of the draconian provisions of the Act was that the burden was cast on
the accused to prove that any statement made by the accused to the Police was involuntary
and inadmissible in evidence.
Six members of the Tamil militant movement, Nadarajah Thangathurai, Selvarajah
Yogachandran (also known as Kuttimuni), Subramaniam Devan, Nadarajah Sivapatham, Sri
Sabaratnam and Nadesudasan were charged in connection with the ambush of a Sri
Lanka state owned People Bank
jeep at Neervely on 25 March 1981 and the robbery Rs.8 million.
Sabaratnam, who was later to become leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation
was tried in absentia.
The trial started on 2 November 1982 and all the accused refused to plead on the ground
that they were citizens of Tamil Eelam, that they were engaged in a
lawful resistance movement against alien Sinhala rule and
Sri Lanka Court had no jurisdiction
to try them for incidents which, in any event, were alleged to have taken place within
Counsel for the Defence, contended that the autochthonous 1972 Sri Lanka Republican
Constitution had severed legal continuity with the past and that the Sinhala dominated
Constituent Assembly had acted without the consent of the Tamil people and that
sovereignity had accordingly reverted to the Tamil
state which had been in existence prior to foreign rule. The Defence submitted that
the constitutional issue that had arisen should be referred by the High Court to the
Supreme Court for determination. The Defence submission was rejected and the ensuing trial
lasted 3 months.
The Accused gave evidence of the torture that they were subjected to by the Sri Lanka
authorities under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Six months later the
International Commission of Jurists reported:
"From informal records held in Jaffna, the author has discovered that at least 23
members of the Tamil community have died in, or as a result of being in army or police
custody since July 1979....Several instances were reported to the author of persons being
hung upside down with a bag covering their head into which was introduced fine ground
dried chilli powder. Evidence of the effect of this on the metabolism of the lungs was
read by the author in the inquest depositions...From discussions with detainees and
families of detainees, the author accepts that it is the almost universal practice of the
military authorities to physically assault and mistreat these persons who have been in
their custody, with the principal locations for that assault being the Elephant Pass army
camp and the Panagoda army camp in Colombo " (Ethnic and Communal Violence: The
Independence of the Judiciary: Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri
Lanka - Fragile Freedoms? - Report of an ICJ Mission to Sri Lanka in June 1983 - Timothy
Defence Counsel, Nadesan Satyendra addressed the
Court from 15 to 17 February 1983 on the question of the admissibility of the alleged
confessionary statements. He said:
"It is of some considerable importance that the efforts made on behalf of national
security do not have the result that no one is any longer secure. If it be otherwise, we
in Sri Lanka may well be standing on a slippery slope with no sure way of knowing where or
how to stop ... the Court will be mindful, that that which is permitted once
become a way of life - a way of life which may encourage further abuses and excesses"
He added quoting from
Aurobindo's writings in 1907:
"The idea creates it martyrs. And
in martyrdom there is an incalculable spiritual
magnetism which works miracles. A whole nation, a whole world catches the fire which
burned in a few hearts;... the idea begins to create its heroes and fighters, whose
numbers and courage defeat only multiplies and confirms until the idea militant has become
the idea triumphant. Such is the history of the idea, so invariable in its broad lines
that it is evidently the working of a natural law"
"In relation to my clients I will state this publicly and for the record. I
have felt humbled in the presence of persons from my own community, who have been willing
to give that which is the most precious thing that humans can give - their lives - for the
liberation of their people"
Consistent with their defence, the accused refused to answer the charges laid against
them and led no evidence in response to the prosecution case. Also, at the conclusion of
the trial, Counsel for the Defence did not address the Court but each of the accused made
a statement from the dock.
Nadarajah Thangathurai's statement from the dock
remains a moving political testament of the movement that he had led with
simplicity, dignity and clarity. He declared:
"We are not lovers of violence nor victims of mental disorders. We are honest
fighters belonging to an organization that is struggling to liberate a people. To those
noble souls who keep on prating "terrorism, terrorism" we have something to say.
Did you not get frightened of terrorism when hundreds of Tamils were massacred in cold
blood, when racist hate spread like fire in this country of yours? Did terrorism mean
nothing to you when Tamil women were raped? When cultural treasures were set on fire? When
hundreds and hundreds of Tamil homes were looted?
Why in 1977 alone 400 Tamils lost their lives reddening the sky above with their
splattered blood - did you not see any terrorism then? Did your thoughts and feelings
become deadened when it concerned Tamil lives and Tamil property or are your minds unable
to conceive the very idea of Tamil suffering?.."
"The consequences of the verdict of this Court will not touch us, content as we
are that we have done our duty. We will not flinch from embracing death or spending the
rest of our lives in jail... All these are merely commonplace incidents in the history of
a nation's struggle for freedom. We were fully conscious of what we were doing. Hence
there is no question of disappointment... The seeds we sowed were not seeds of poison, our
arrow heads were not dipped in venom.. These tribulations are a boon bestowed by God to
purify us. The final victory is ours. Long Live Tamil Eelam!''...
All six accused were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on 24 February 1983.
In July 1983, whilst their appeal to the Supreme Court was pending, Nadarajah
Thangathurai, Selvarajah Yogachandran, Devan, Sivapatham, and Nadesudasan
were murdered in a high security prison in Welikade whilst
in the custody of the Sri Lankan government. They will always be remembered as national
heroes by the people of Tamil Eelam.
Sevarajah Yogachandran (Kuttimuni) and Nadarajah Thangavel (Thangathuria)
leaving the Colombo High Court