Who was Taraki Sivaram?

                       Sivaram: The Assassin

By Dr. Rajan Hoole                                                                                   UTHR(J)

Many who have lavished praise on Sivaram since his murder knew him at arm’s length and communicated with him in English. To them he was an articulate and erudite companion and a worthy sparring partner. This carried also the danger that in the cultural milieu of Colombo where acceptance of the LTTE is seen as the way out, to say ‘Sivaram is my friend’ was also an easy means to ignore the inconvenient side of the Tamil experience.  It would however be very wrong to ignore the other, more intense, side of Sivaram’s life. One way or the other, Tamil militancy, its beliefs and goals consumed the bulk of his life. Some were awed by his intellectual prowess, others by his deep knowledge in Tamil National history and especially this knowledge of Eastern history. Many Tamils who were concerned about the direction of the Tamil Struggle had taken felt that he failed the Tamil Community by becoming an opportunist.

 The role  of  an “intellectual” is always a complex one and more so when  a society is in crisis.  Survival instincts often lead people to make grave moral compromises. But unlike ordinary people who face mainly personal dilemmas, a person with greater societal influence, like Sivaram, may concoct “theories”  to explain his own character failures that have far-reaching consequences. In Germany  during the Nazi period there were extreme examples of esteemed intellectuals who sold their souls to the Nazi regime.

Although the people and mass struggle were major themes in the early days of many Tamil political movements, they could not withstand the rapid militarization of the struggle after 1983, brought on in part by Indian patronage. The LTTE also played a unique role as an active agent determining the intensity of each phase of the conflict by engaging in military actions calculated to invite large-scale retaliation by the State against the civilians. Predictably, the state  complied. Reacting instinctively to the violence, Sivaram (like many others) embraced Tamil Nationalism and looked for effective military means to promote it. The role of the people and broad-based politics in advocating their rights began to lose the battle.  Still, many intellecutals recognised the true nature of the LTTE and its fundamentally anti-democratic thrust.

Anyhow, militancy was an intense life, full of experiences, danger, hope, and, worst of all, betrayal. Friendship was far more demanding than beer and wit. It frequently meant life or death, and the fate of the loved ones of those fallen. Many felt betrayed by the ideological pretensions and totalitarian terror of the LTTE and the failings, sometimes as grave, of their own leaders. Even when they fled the country, many could not regard their hard earned money their own. Their energies became consumed by the welfare of their friends, their families, and in doing justice to the memory of the dead. From such quarters there are grave misgivings about Sivaram’s role. It would be arrogant to ride roughshod over such feelings, which are seldom expressed in English. Sivaram began as many Tamil youths of his time.

Scholar-Nationalist and Exit from Peradeniya: Though from school in Batticaloa, Sivaram’s wide reading and English proficiency placed him in the English stream in the Humanities at the University of Peradeniya. His batch-mate Qadri Ismail wrote that a first class degree was his for the asking. For a brilliant and ambitious student, his dropping out in the second term of his second year in 1982 has been shrouded in mystery. We received testimony from one of his batch-mates that Sivaram thought it wise to go underground either because Army Intelligence had required him to report for an inquiry at Gurunagar camp in Jaffna or he feared that they would soon arrest him.

Sivaram was then a nationalist but as far as we could make out had no active militant links or affiliation. He absented himself from lectures for periods and was making or trying to make contact with active nationalists but had, as far as we know, neither carried a gun nor done anything against the law. He may also have at this time in Batticaloa developed contacts with the brothers Paramadeva and Vasudeva and the persons associated with the Cobra Group. Inspired by these contacts, he also visited rooms of his Tamil batch-mates and talked about the need for Tamil Eelam. We also now know that the intelligence services had informants within the University passing on names of Tamil students whose conduct manifested leadership capabilities – even in such matters as stopping the ragging of freshers. The University was not only unable or unwilling to engage with the Tamils in the realm of ideas, but it rather isolated them and, as it were, aided the intelligence services to deal with them 

This too very likely took place afterSivaram left Peradeniya and ties in with D.B.S. Jeyaraj’s claim that Sivaram tried to join the LTTE, but its leaders were scared off by his erudition. Theirs was too simple a programme: - viz.provocation, army reprisals and mass mobilisation.

 The aftermath of July 1983 led to mass recruitment into the militancy, superimposed on an incipient culture of internecine killing, against the loss of mature figures like Dr. Rajasundaram and Thangathurai who had been killed in the Welikade Prison Massacre.


In the PLOTE: According to former PLOTE members, it was as late as mid-1984 that Sivaram joined the group. He had a personal audience with its leader Uma Maheswaran, when the latter visited Jaffna (Dec.1984-Jan.1985) and sojourned in Chulipuram. Evidently, Maheswaran identified Sivaram as a man after his own heart. This was also the time Maheswaran’s problems with dissidents under the patronage of the political wing leader Santhathiar were growing in intensity. Internal killings proceeded in earnest.


Among the greatest lacunae in the history of the militant struggle are critical biographies of Dr. Rajasundaram and Santhathiar. Both came from a tradition of mass mobilisation at the grass roots through the work of the Gandhiam in the rural North-East. After Prabhkaran ordered the killing of the able PLOTE leader Suntharam, Uma Maheswaran dominated the organisation and took extreme measures against dissidents, originally at least in the name of security. Santhathiar and others like Nobert who were influenced by Marxist ideas and stood for a disciplined mass-based organisation, with a clear political vision, led the protest against internal killings. The first cracks appeared with the Theepori (Sparks) group leaving the organisation in early 1985 and becoming hunted.


About this time, a group of Theepori dissidents was on the run in Jaffna. Moving from Gurunagar to Navanthurai they ran into Sivaram and Theepanesan of the PLOTE mounted on a motorcycle at Gurunagar Junction. Sivaram alighted, pulled out a sub-machine gun from a bag, loaded the magazine and pointed it at the dissidents. One dissident sprang at Sivaram, grabbed the gun and pointed it at him. A crowd gathered there and settled the matter, ruling that there should be no fighting, the gun should be returned to the owner and each party should go its own way. Interestingly, Karuna was then following a parallel career in the LTTE as Prabhakaran’s lieutenant. Karuna tried to abduct the LTTE dissident Ahilan in Madras. Ahilan screamed and held tight to the bar just above him in the auto in which he was travelling. A crowd gathered and sent Karuna packing. 

A second incident is more revealing. Santhathiar’s influence in Trincomalee was strong, led by Nobert and Jan Master who were native to that area. Selvam was political leader based in Mutur and was a student of dentistry also at the University of Peradeniya, who had dropped out after July 1983. Santhathiar had also pressed for Selvam to be included in the Central Committee. Trincomalee came under the East in the PLOTE structure. Although there are different stories about how it happened, Selvam was marked as supportive of dissidents. He and another, Ahilan, were killed by a group sent from Batticaloa and it has long been said that Sivaram was part of that group. A contemporary student of Jaffna University said that when he questioned Sivaram about it, without admitting he was involved, he defended it as something common in liberation struggles. 

                         Selvam & Ahilan                                               Sivaram's double murder victims

After questioning contemporary sources, who asked around to correct lapses in memory, the following is the account that emerges: Uma Maheswaran sent a letter from India in the spring of 1985, ordering strong measures against a dissident group in Trincomalee. The letter was delivered to Jaffna leader Mendis, who passed it onto Ashok, a senior figure from Batticaloa, who was at a political seminar in Killinochchi. Ashok delegated the task to Sivaram, who was also in Killinochchi. Sivaram went to Batticaloa, collected a group, which included Vengat, a notorious killer, and proceeded to Mutur and to a house used by the political wing. Sivaram and Vengat entered the house and called out Selvam, Ahilan and Caroline who was in charge of the women’s wing. They dismissed Caroline and took Selvam and Ahilan and went away with others who were outside and have not been identified. Selvam and Ahilan were killed and buried in the paddy fields. In whatever manner the charges were framed, others in the PLOTE are clear that their links to Santhathiar was the only real issue. Santhathiar was killed in India by Uma Maheswaran’s thugs a few months later, in September 1985.

             Ashok Yogan Kannamuththu              

PLOTE Figure who recruited Sivaram, Who passed            the 'death sentence' letter to  Sivaram      

Unlike the LTTE, whose more authoritarian structure prevented internal violence from becoming an issue, PLOTE’s surviving democratic traditions forced the issue out into the open. In early 1986 the cadres in the field forced a conference in Jaffna to discuss internal killings. Sivaram was called upon to answer personally for his complicity in the execution of Ahilan and Selvan. Sivaram attempted to evade responsibility by citing a letter from the Eastern leader Easwaran, indicating that he carried out the latter’s orders. Other sources maintain that Easwaran’s letter was not specific and only asked leaders in Trincomalee to cooperate in Sivaram’s mission. Later PLOTE’s leadership admitted to executing 36 persons for security reasons. One section left the PLOTE and formed the ENDLF. Easwaran and Ashok too left the PLOTE after the meeting. The LTTE subsequently banned the PLOTE along with all rival groups and killed several of their leaders and rank and file. 

Opinion differs among former PLOTE members as to whether Sivaram was a willing stooge or had his own agenda for power. Some point out that Sivaram would not have acted on Easwaran’s bidding as he was much smarter and had his own line to Uma Maheswaran. After the LTTE banned the PLOTE and EPRLF in December 1986, Sivaram became PLOTE’s contact man in Colombo. When the LTTE went to war with the Indian Army in October 1987, Uma Maheswaran kept the PLOTE out of it and courted the LTTE. The JVP also started its insurgency, attacking in particular the traditional Left. Qadri Ismail, a batch-mate from Peradeniya who gave Sivaram an opening into journalism, was dumbfounded by Sivaram’s ability to court simultaneously a dangerously incompatible set of actors. 

Ismail wrote (Mourning Sivaram, Lines Magazine, May 2005): Others will say that he was simply an opportunist. That is, that he never really changed. Sometimes, I think so too. (After all, he wooed Vijaya Kumaratunga and his killers, the JVP; he hated India – and yet informed the High Commission about his comrades during the Maldives coup.) But it takes guts to promote the LTTE openly, in print, from the south. Opportunism cannot explain that.

As a Journalist: Sivaram survived the LTTE’s purge, emerging in 1989 as a defence analyst writing in the Island under the pseudonym Taraki. In May 1994 he even wrote a bold article on the occasion of the LTTE’s murder of A. Sabalingam in Paris touching on a sensitive question in Prabhakaran’s history. Sivaram argued that Prabhakaran’s key reason for ordering the assassination was to secure a monopoly over history (see Appendix for a translation).

Subsequently, he began looking at that the LTTE’s transformation from a guerrilla group to a conventional military force and another shift was in the offing. He tried some channels to make contact with the LTTE. Finally, in 1995, he managed to accompany to Jaffna BBC’s Ananthy, a well-known LTTE propagandist, and his writings took on pro-LTTE leanings.  He started the TamilNet web journal in 1998, which featured detailed daily reporting on events in the North and East.  The tone was generally supportive of the LTTE and grew more so with time.

Sivaram upset people by his changes of allegiance from active opposition to the LTTE to vocal and articulate support. But these were widely shared by Tamil nationalists in the East. Easterners supported the integrity of the Tamil Homeland as their political goal. This was a reaction to the Sinhalese supremacist goal of demographic transformation through colonisation, which became very violent in the 1980s.  Easterners had supported the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord and when the LTTE took on the Indian Army (which the South was generally happy about) they feared it was playing into the hands of the Sri Lankan government and Sinhalese hegemonist ideologues.  When the Indian Army withdrew, fears about the goals of the State were revived, particularly because of its conduct in the ensuing war with the LTTE.

With considerable reservations the same nationalists aligned with the LTTE as the only force powerful enough to deliver on the Tamil Homeland goal. This would explain why Sivaram who at one time reportedly wanted PLOTE to ally with the Indian Army and fight the LTTE, became in time its supporter, and in many ways its prisoner; and he was far from being alone.  

Sivaram was among the most potent of Eastern voices against the division of the North-East. The Karuna split placed many Tamils in Batticaloa close to the LTTE in a difficult situation. As an articulate Easterner, a number of northern LTTE-backers instinctively suspected Sivaram of having instigated Karuna. Two testimonies from independent sources suggest that Sivaram initially threw in his lot with Karuna. One from an insider in a Tamil political party in Parliament said that it was Sivaram who first contacted them on Karuna’s behalf. The other from a former PLOTE associate confirmed this. Sivaram had evidently told this associate that when Karikalan and Ramesh jumped Karuna’s ship within a short time of getting on board, he too did the same judging that Karuna could not survive. 

It was to some former associates from his PLOTE days that Sivaram spoke his mind without reserve. His casual cynicism was almost disarming. He told one such associate, “Why are you chaps wasting your energies fighting the LTTE? Even leading Buddhist monks are going to Killinochchi to pay homage to them!” His experience of post-tsunami Batticaloa was an eye-opener that threw into question the LTTE’s capacity to deliver on the Homeland question. Long identified a Sinhalese chauvinist outfit, Sivaram was struck by JVP’s appeal to the poor among Muslim and Tamil youth in the East.

நன்றி: UTHR(J) சிறப்பு அறிக்கை 19

தொடர்பான கட்டுரைகள்

1. சிவராம்: கொலைகாரன், தரகு பத்திரிகையாளன், லாபியிஸ்ட்

2.  பாலசிங்கத்தின் பாணபத்திர ஓணாண்டிகள்

3.  புலிகளால் ஐரோப்பாவில் கொல்லப்பட்ட 4 தமிழர்களின் கதை


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