Benign Parliamentarian from Batticaloa
by D.B.S Jeyaraj
Joseph Pararajasingham is the latest in a long line of
Parliamentarians done to death by political violence in Sri Lanka.
The 71 year old Politician was shot dead within the hallowed
precincts of the St. Mary's Cathedral in Batticaloa at 1. 10 am on
Christmas day.Pararajasingham was attending the midnight mass
for Christmas conducted by Bishop Kingsley Swampillai the Catholic
prelate for Trincomalee- Batticaloa Diocese.He was returning to his
pew after partaking of Holy Communion at the hands of the Bishop
when the assassin seated a few pews behind him walked forward
and opened fire.While Joseph was killed his wife Sugunam and
seven others were injured in the firing.
The mortal remains of Joseph Pararajasingham were laid to rest at
the family plot in Batticaloa's Aalaiyadicholai burial grounds on
Thursday Dec 29th. The body lay in state at the theatre Subharaj
owned by the family for the Batticaloa public to pay its respects. The
funeral was held at the family residence on Lady Manning drive. The
body was then taken in procession to the cemetery for the final
It was indeed heart - wrenching according to those present to see
Mrs. Sugunam Pararajasingham sobbing inconsolably. The
Pararajasinghams were to celebrate the golden anniversary of
their wedding in 2006.Sugunam still receiving treatment for her
injuries had only been told on the day of the funeral that her
husband of 49 years was no more. Their daughter and two sons
now living abroad along with other relatives were trying to console
the grieving widow.
Joseph Pararajasingham was of Jaffna origin and born in Manipay
on November 26th 1934. Incidently Nov 26th is the birthday of
Velupillai Pirapakaran and the late Lalith Athulathmudali.. The family
moved to Batticaloa when Joseph was three years old. Joseph
therefore grew up in Batticaloa and lived there as a "Mannin
Mainthan of Mattakkalappu" (Son of the Batticaloa soil).
He had his education at St. Michaels College under the benevolent
guidance of many American and European missionaries. He was a
lanky youth who played soccer and basketball and also was an
athelete. A particular favourite of the sports crazy Fr. Weber after
whom the Batticaloa stadium is named Joseph excelled in the high
jump event and represented St. Michaels at the public schools.
Josephs wife Sugunam nee David studying at St. Cecilias Convent
was also good in sports during her schooldays. According to old
friends they were attracted to each other because of this. Sugunam
whose family was also of Jaffna origin with roots in Thondamanaru
had two first cousins who were also Parliamentarians from Batticaloa.
One was Rajan Selvanayagam who was Second MP for Batticaloa
from 1970 to 1977. He was elected as an Independent but crossed
over to the SLFP later. The other cousin was Nimalan
Soundaranayagam who was elected on the TULF ticket as
Batticaloa district MP on Oct 10th 2000. He was shot dead by the
LTTE then commanded in the East by "Col" Karuna within a few
weeks of the poll.
Joseph worked as a technical draughtsman at the Batticaloa
Kachcheri from the mid fifties. He retired under official languages
Act provisions in the late sixties and became a freelance journalist.
Joseph cut his teeth in journalism on the "Suthanthiran"owned by
SJV Chelvanayagam and edited by ST Sivanayagam of Batticaloa.
Later Sivanayagam fell out with Chelvanayagam and went on to edit
the "Dinapathy" and "Chinthamani" published by the Dawasa group
Joseph became the Batticaloa correspondent for both papers. Since
he was a Government servant then the stories and articles from
Batticaloa in Tamil appeared under his wife's name. The byline was
Sugunam Joseph. Since Joeseph was proficient in English he also
became "Sun" and "Weekend" correspondent. After he retired from
Govt service he wrote under his own name as P. Joseph.
It was as P. Joseph that he was known for most of his life. It was only
after he entered full - time politics that he gave emphasis to the
Tamil name Pararajasingham in preference to the Biblical Joseph.
He is still known to old friends as "Joe".
Though Joseph was offered a staff reporter post at the editorial
department in Colombo he declined it as he wanted to live in
Batticaloa his homeland. It was indeed tragic that he had to leave
the comparative safety of Colombo and return to his native soil for
Christmas and meet death in the Batticaloa Cathedral.
Joseph also worked as manager for many years of the "Rajeswara"
theatre in Batticaloa owned by the businessman Eeswaran. In later
years Joseph went on to buy the "Imperial" movie theatre and
rename it "Subaraj" after his son who died in the eighties. He also
became a successful entrepreneur and owned a tourist inn and
shopping complex in Batticaloa.
These too were named "Subaraj" after the departed son.Their only
daughter Subodini and one son Subakanth live in Canada now. The
other son Subajith is in Britain. All three are now in Sri Lanka for the
Joseph was an ardent Tamil nationalist from his student days. He
joined the Federal Party led by the "Gandhi of Eelam" SJV
Chelvanayagam in 1954. Joseph and Sugunam who got married in
1956 participated in a massive political demonstration on the day of
their wedding. It was a protest over Sinhala being made the sole
Due to his government job and journalism Joseph kept a low profile
as far as active politics was concerned. He played a prominent
behind the scenes role in Federal party politics in Batticaloa. He was
a devout disciple of Chelvanayagam and fervently believed in non -
violence as a political creed.
Tamil unity was the need of the hour in the seventies. The FP
became an integral component of the Tamil United Front (TUF) in
1972. This became the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in
1976.With Chelvanayagam dying on April 26th 1977 the leadership
mantle fell on the shoulders of Amirthalingam and Sivasithamparam.
One post - Chelvanayagam problem that arose was the sidelining
of Chellia Rajadurai.
Rajadurai a blue - eyed boy of Chelvanayagam had been the first
MP for Batticaloa since 1956.In 1977 the TULF nominated him as
the official party candidate and also nominated the fiery Tamil poet
Kasi Anandhan as the FP candidate for Batticaloa.Rajadurai had
the sun and Kasi Anandhan the house as their respective symbols.
With Kasi Anandhan riding a wave of popular support on account of
his long period of incarceration under the Sirima Bandaranaike
regime he was expected to de- throne Rajadurai.
It was obvious that the TULF hierarchy was using Kasi Anandhan to
oust Rajadurai from centre stage in Batticaloa. The FP old guard in
Batticaloa including Joseph rallied firmly around Rajadurai. They
took up the position that they had to support the "official" TULF
candidate.Rajadurai won but went over to the UNP in 1979. Staunch
Tamil nationalists like Joseph did not follow suit but remained TULF
It was in the late eighties that Joseph came into his own. The TULF,
TELO and EPRLF came under the TULF umbrella and contested
the 1989 elections. Joseph encouraged Amirthalingam to contest in
Batticaloa. Amirthalingam was put up by Joseph and Sugunam at
their own house during the polls campaign. Joseph now an
independent entrepreneur also contested.
Since Amirthalingam was a "jaffna man" who had parachuted into
Batticaloa a malicious campaign on regional lines was undertaken
against him as an outsider. Joseph however remaind steadfastly
loyal and backed him firmly. By doing so Joseph proved that his
position on Rajadurai in 1977 was a principle based stand and not
due to personal bias for Rajadurai or against Amirthalingam.
Initially both Amirthalingam and Pararajasingham lost in 1989 due to
the IPKF inspired manipulation of votes. Amir however entered
Parliament on the National list. After his assassination Mavai
Senathirajah was nominated to the post. Meanwhile Batticaloa MP
Sam Thambimuthu and his wife Kala were gunned down by the
LTTE opposite the Canadian High Commission in Colombo in 1990.
With Amirthalingam being dead it was now the turn of Joseph - next
on the list - to become MP . He did so. But before taking up office
he checked with the LTTE.Nagarajah a lawyer cum journalist in
Batticaloa clarified matters with the Eastern tiger hierarchy and
obtained the green light. It was only after that Joseph took his oaths.
Joseph then was President and Nagarajah secretary of the Eastern
Province Journalists Association. Nagaraja is now in Australia writing
under the pseudonym "Eluvankaraiyan".
The Indian army had left Sri Lankan shores in March 1990. War
broke out between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam in June 1990. The situation was tense and
fraught with violence and danger. As ordinary Tamils the
Pararajasinghams too were not immune in this situation.
The well - known Indian journalist Anita Pratap in her "Island of
Blood" relates an anecdote pertaining to the Pararajasinghams. She
writes of how their son Subajith an undergraduate abroad had come
home for vacation and got trapped in the war situation. Joseph had
requested and Sugunam pleaded that the son be escorted safely to
Colombo by Anita so that he could retun to the USA.
Anita had obliged because as the mother of a son herself she had
been immensely moved by the plight of Sugunam. It was with great
difficulty and considerable danger to herself that Anita succeeded in
providing safe passage to the Pararajasingham scion. It was a short
while after this incident that Joseph became an MP.
It was against such a dangerous backdrop that Joseph
Pararajasingham became Batticaloa MP .The East was under
severe strain. Violence had been directed against innocent civilians
in a number of places. Movement of people was severely restricted.
The safety of Pararajasingham and his wife who accompanied him
almost everywhere was under threat.
Despite these difficulties and the dangers involved Joseph and
Sugunam were bold and dedicated enough to stay in Batticaloa and
do what they could for their people. I include Sugunam along with or
on par with Joe because they were indeed inseparable in their
personal and political life. Joe and Sugunam were like the Tamil
political couples Amir - Mangai or Sam - Kala .
It was due to the dedicated service of the Pararajasinghams in
Batticaloa that the TULF once again established itself in the district.
They were indeed a beacon of hope to the beleaguered Tamils of
Batticaloa then. A distinct result of their commitment and conduct
was the immense gratitude of the people. This was reflected clearly
in the elections of 1994 where three TULF members were returned
to Parliament as MP's from the district. Joseph himself won an
unprecedented majority and was hailed as the "Mudisooda Manan"
(uncrowned king) of Batticaloa. He also became the TULF
Parliamentary group leader. [To be continued next week]