|Sunday, 3 April 2005|
S. Kathiravelupillai, MP : A powerful intellectual
The sudden death of S. Kathiravelupillai MP the theoretician of the Tamil United Liberation Front at the age of 57 in 1981 removed from the political scene of the island a statesman who possessed a clear vision for the Tamil Nation and Tamils future. The concept of 'futurology' in political science was fully understood by him.
Words could not explain our grief when he passed away, on March 31, 1981, on the third birth anniversary of the late leader, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam the Moses of Tamil Eelam. He passed away in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, during his mission to create the necessary Tamil atmosphere and to secure India's sympathy for our noble cause which he was championing at the time.
Before his visit to Chennai, he wrote letters to Dr. R. Janarthanam and to me, to do the spade work, in India, to meet the prominent leaders of all parties in particular Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, University deans, legal luminaries and heads of important institutions like the civic rights movements, Amnesty International and Gandhian peace foundation. But fate destined it otherwise and before we could meet the above personalities death snatched him away at the prime of his life.
S. Kathiravelupillai was born on October 24, 1924 and read for his degree in philosophy at the University of Ceylon. Later he studied law and was one of the leading civil lawyers of Ceylon. The duration of his earthly life was just 57 years, a half a century and seven years added to it.
He unsuccessfully contested the Yalpanam seat in 1960 as a candidate of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi. However from 1965 he remained as MP representing Kopay till his death.
His contribution in parliament was limited. He felt his efforts through debates would prove futile as he could not succeed in bringing a change of heart among members, so long as the parliament was dominated by a Sinhala majority. The leading Sinhala parties had preconceived notions as they continue the same at all times, on fundamental issues pertaining to the Tamil nation. The perpetual rule of the permanent majority, he felt, would make his speeches in parliament just a cry in the wilderness.
Yet on important occasions he did make speeches so that they may go on for posterity and on such occasions the entire lot of members in parliament, listened with rapt attention. What he said was completely different both in content and in the manner of delivery. Even at mass public meetings, he made short speeches which people listened to in stunned silenced, as what he said was always new and profound.
He was always at his best in group discussions and at seminars. Very often I had witnessed his audience listening in spell bound silence. No foreign delegate or foreign correspondent ever thought that their visit to Yalpanam was complete without meeting Kathiravelupillai. Often I heard foreign dignitaries declare that "He spoke, they listened, their doubts being cleared, they were conquered in turn. His logical approach, his legal acumen and his philosophical bent of mind always brought in the desired change in the minds of his audience" Their conversion was often visible.
In 1958 he headed a team in Yalpanam to provide relief for the Tamil evacuees who were beaten and driven out by the Sinhalese Hoodlums, during the Sinhala Tamil riots of 1958. With natural tenacity, he possessed a capacity with which he tackled critical situations in such a manner that be earned the respect and love of all.
In 1961 he headed the anti-government Sathyagraha campaign in Mannar and maintained the morale of the struggle at a high level. His philosophical attitude to life's problems and his natural wit and humour helped his followers to maintain unity, discipline and decorum even at most crucial junctures of our struggle. Even when the military indulged in violence and tried to provoke the masses, he stood like a rock and maintained peace and tranquillity.
Kathiravelupillai was a powerful intellectual and had varied interests in life, he could have brought out volumes that would have stood the test of time. His deep involvement in politics stood in the way of his creative activities. His three books ('Glimpses of Western philosophy). The translation of 'Omarkhayam songs', his small pamphlet titled 'coexistence, and not confrontation' will always speak of his intellectual qualities, for generations to come.
Kathiravelupillai was never a mass leader nor did he ever aspire for such a status. Garlands, mass ovations, personal platitudes etc. never appealed to him. Very often he would say that we were attaching too much importance to personalities forgetting ideals. Men are mortal but ideals are immortal. Let us stand for the ideals and forget the personalities' was the advice he often gave us.
Typical of a civil lawyer, he never indulged in unnecessary verbiage. For love of words he was never prepared to lose a case. Every word that he uttered, whether it be in Tamil or in English conveyed deep and profound thought and they have become quotable quotes among the Tamil masses. With a smile on his face, he would often say "Winning a case is easy but winning a cause is difficult. It is high time that we concentrate and make sacrifice to win causes rather than cases".
When he spoke of Ceylon, he would say "that it was not a country but an island consisting of two nations". He would add further "The lack of recognition of this fundamental truth is the cause for all the political ills of the island. "The Sinhalese and the Tamils were never historically one and the amalgamation of the Sinhala territory and the Tamil territory which was brought in by the British was for their administrative convenience.
This bondage must be broken." This was the constant advice that he gave us. In a comparative study of what was prevailing in South Africa and Ceylon, he put in a nutshell the following words. "Racial discrimination in South Africa is skin deep but in Ceylon it is soul deep". Rarely can a person speak a profound truth in such a gripping language. Such a quality he possessed immensely.
When he spoke of freedom, he did not say that we wanted freedom for the sake of freedom. Even to cure the economic ills of the Tamils he said "Political freedom is a must". He agreed with his Sinhala brethren that the presence of the Tamils in the Sinhala territory is a hindrance to their way of life and that it pollutes their political atmosphere and therefore he suggested that the Tamils be allowed to be in the Tamil territory so that the Sinhalese could preserve the Sinhala Buddhist culture in its pristine purity. This reveals his profound political thought to say the most unpalatable truth in a most inoffensive way.
To the Tamils he constantly advised that they had no future in the South of Ceylon, right in the Sinhala territory. More than the question of preserving the sentiment of culture and language of the Tamils, their very physical survival demands that they must get back to their Tamil homeland, the Northern and Eastern provinces of Ceylon.
The 1958, 1977 Sinhala, Tamil riots, (twice within 20 years) have unfolded what the future holds for the Tamils. Another political foreboding he often revealed to us was that "We must lose Colombo the Sinhala capital and gain Trincomalee the Tamil Capital. He who holds Trincomalee the key to the Indian Ocean". This revelation of the British Prime Minister Lord Wellington in the 19th century was always a reminder in his mind.
"Brevity is the soul of wit" and in keeping with this maxim he often asked us to repeat this "new Kural Stanza" that he composed for us to meet the exigencies of the time. The stanza reads as follows. "If the Tamils are to survive as a separate entity they must rule themselves". This was not out of hatred for anybody but the recognition of our historic past and the historic truth that no nation could preserve its identity and individuality at the mercy of another nation however good or generous it may be. The past as well as the present history of the world continues to remind us of the profundity and nobility of his utterances.
Another utterance of his which keeps on ringing in our ears is that in a freedom struggle we cannot be mere onlookers or observers. Freedom struggle is not a cricket or a football match for us to watch and comment for or against it. In a freedom struggle there is no place for spectators. All of us should be participants in our own way. Our contribution for the freedom struggle may vary in form, and substance, but we have all got our parts to play. This is a foregone conclusion.
The last advice he gave me personally before I left the shores of Tamil Eelam on my propaganda mission to India, especially the part I have to play in the capital at Delhi, was as follows: "Tamil Eelam Independence and Indian security are inseparable. Therefore it should be the duty of the Indian government to find a peaceful and honourable solution to the Tamil problem in Ceylon.
If a solution is not found in the near future the intervention of the power blocks in Trincomalee. It will be a permanent danger to the Indian Ocean and Indian security. Therefore let the Indian government give us a helping hand to settle the Tamil problem and establish permanent Security and safeguard the Indian subcontinent." This advice of his I strictly adhered and Delhi political circles favourably responded to my call. This message I conveyed to Kathiravelupillai and he congratulated me on the right path that I was attempting. It was his last letter to me. But before he could complete his mission and make it a total reality, the cruel hands of death snatched him away from us.
The void that has been created by his demise is not easy to fill. But we, who are his disciples, nurtured and trained by him with love and care, will carry his mission to its logical conclusion.
The riots which took place in 1981 and 1983 have no parallel in history. As thousands are dying the Tamil population is decimated. Homes are destroyed. Properties divastated. More than six lakhs are driven. Seeking asylum in about 50 nations. As the struggle goes on those who remain are reduced of sub-human life. This reprint of the article originally appeared in the magazine Lemuria dated April 1981.
By M. K. Eelaventhan MP (TNA)General Secretary Tamil Eelam Liberation Front (TELF)
Produced by Lake House