Benign Parliamentarian from Batticaloa III
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The 1990 - 94 period was a very challenging phase in the life
of Joseph Pararajasingham. The difficult period was like a
baptism of fire for the new Parliamentarian. Yet he coped with
the challenge creditably. He was aided greatly in his duties by
his wife Sugunam.
Apart from attending to the individual problems faced by the
ordinary Batticaloa people at the hands of the Police, STF and
security forces Pararajasingham through Neelan Tiruchelvam
played a quiet role in keeping various human rights
organizations and diplomatic missions informed of the security
and human rights situation in Batticaloa. This helped increase
pressure on the Ranasinghe Premadasa regime.
This led to the Soza commission of inquiry being appointed to
go into various Eastern massacres like the ones at
Sathurikondan and Vantharumoolai. Joseph played a key role
in arranging people to testify. It was the Soza commission
which revealed for the first time the real identity of the
notorious master butcher behind those atrocities - "Capt.
Munas".This military intelligence official who posed off as a
Muslim was greatly responsible for aggravating enmity
between Tamils and Muslims in Batticaloa. Though Tamils
hated this man who they thought was a Muslim it became
known that he was really a Sinhala man named Richard Dias.
There were also the massacres at Maiyalanthanai and
Kokkaticholai in 1992. Again Premadasa appointed
commissions. Later legal action was initiated. Joseph again
played an important role in helping prepare testimonies and
witnesses. It was Joseph who persuaded a hesitant Kumar
Ponnambalam to come East and look after the interests of
affected victim families in these proceedings.
Later during the Kumaratunga regime there were some
incidents too where Joseph was once again a voice of the
people. One prominent instance was the case of Koneswari
Murugupillai. This woman living at the Central camp colony in
Amparai district was gang raped by some cops who later killed
her in a horrible manner by exploding a grenade inside her
vagina. With Joseph highlighting this incident enraged
policemen took the unprecedented step of issuing summons
through courts to the Parliamentarian.
It was the cumulative result of the selfless work done by
Joseph and Sugunam in the early nineties that led to
Pararajasingham's remarkable victory in 1994. The TULF
given up as "defunct" raised itself up again with five MPs.
Batticaloa district had three namely Pararajasingham,
Selvarajah and Thurairajasingham. Joseph himself won
handsomely with a tremendous tally of preferential votes.
Realising that he was now the mainspring of the TULF in terms
of popular support Pararajasingham demanded and obtained
the TULF Parliamentary group leader position. It should have
been rightfully Trincomalee district MP Arunasalam
Thangathurai's as he was more senior.Later Joseph rose in
TULF ranks to be Senior vice - President making him next in
line for leadership.
After 1994 Joseph began getting closer and closer to the
LTTE. The very same man who got a journalist colleague to
check with the LTTE before taking up an MP position in 1990
was now personally close to the eastern tiger hierarchy.
Apparently his relationship with Karuna was always lukewarm
but Joseph and Karikalan the political commissar got on very
well. The LTTE began cultivating him.
Soon Joseph was travelling widely abroad meeting with foreign
politicians and officials and human rights activists. He briefed
them vividly of the Tamil plight in sri Lanka with special
emphasis on the Eastern situation. He participated in many
Conferences too including the controversial meet organized by
former Indian defence minister George Fernandes in New
With relations improving between Joseph and the LTTE the
overseas branches of the tigers also began warming up to
him.Like Kumar Ponnambalam the benign Batticaloa MP too
was a regular speaker at LTTE and pro - LTTE meetings
abroad. Also the various LTTE media organs were in regular
contact with him to get his views on a number of matters
regarding the North - East.
It is interesting to note that while Joseph was edging closer to
the LTTE many of his TULF colleagues like Thangathurai,
Sarojini Yogeswaran, Pon. Sivapalan, Pon. Mathimugarajah,
Neelan Tiruchelvam etc were being bumped off mercilessly by
the tigers. Though he kept up a cheerful exterior there was no
doubt that he was worried. I remember once Sugunam akka
lamenting to me in his absence " Endraikkirundhaalum
Ivarukku Ivangalaal than Saavu. Nan vayittril neruppaik
kattikonduthanirukken" ( one day or the other his death will be
through them. I go about with fear in my guts).She clammed up
when Joseph appeared.
I also recall an incident when the LTTE whisked Joseph and
Sugunam away at Vantharumoolai for an impromtu meeting
with Karikalan at Thihilaveddai. This led to a lot of wild rumours
in Batticaloa. Thereafter they went to Kallar and returned late.
Hearing that Joseph had been taken by the LTTE I phoned
Batticaloa to find he was safe and sound. He had a request.
"please inform my children that nothing happened to me. They
may hear of this rumour and get worried". I obliged him of
course. This incident helps illustrate the insecurity of his
position vis a vis the LTTE then.
This increased identification with the LTTE may have helped
reduce his fears and insecurity in relations with the tigers. It
may also have increased his popularity with pro - tiger
expatriates and media. But it had its flop side too. His
persistent refusal to say anything negative about the LTTE
publicly and his glossing over the human rights violations of
the tigers reduced his credibility as an independent politician
and human rights champion.
In the mid - nineties for example the Canadian Refugee
lawyers association invited him for a public lecture in Toronto
on the Sri Lankan Human Rights situation. He made a good
presentation with a serious flaw. The violations of the LTTE
were not mentioned by him. The question time demonstrated
that many Canadian lawyers were unhappy about this glaring
omission. Though he visited Canada often after that meeting
Joseph was never asked to lecture by that association again.
Yet there is another incident I am aware of which throws light
on another of the man's facets. A youth from Batticaloa had
made a refugee claim in Canada. One of the main reasons for
his fleeing Sri Lanka was persecution at the hands of the
LTTE. His lawyer in Canada upon hearing that the Batticaloa
MP was in Toronto thought of seeking a letter supporting the
claim from Joseph. The client knowing about Josephs
"closeness" to the LTTE was doubtful whether
Pararajasingham would oblige. When Joseph was approached
he promptly gave an endorsement letter with a remark "keep it
confidential please". The lawyer and client were pleasantly
This increasing identification with the LTTE reached its zenith
when the TULF as part of the TNA became the virtual political
front of the tigers. This helped them win seats in Parliament
but eroded their credibility in the eyes of the international
community. They were seen as terrorist accomplices by some
foreign governments. One such example was Canada. There
was a time when Pararajasingham met with the foreign
ministers of Canada like Lloyd Axworthy and Bill Graham in
Ottawa on a one to one basis. Yet the same man was denied a
visa to Canada like many other TNA parliamentarians last year
due to their perceived LTTE connections.
Whatever Joseph's support level among Tamil expatriates his
support base in Batticaloa began diminishing too.If the 1994
result was the high watermark in Joseph's political life
subsequent elections saw his popularity declining. In 2000 Oct
the TULF got only two seats in Batticaloa. It was not Joseph
but Nimalan Soundaranayagam his wife's cousin who got more
preferential votes. Joseph came second with a narrow lead
In 2001 Dec the TULF contested as part of the TNA.Three
Tamils were elected.The first was Thangavadivel theTELO
candidate. The second was Krishnapillai of Tamil Congress.
Joseph came a poor third. Interestingly Joseph had "lost " to
Selvarajah at first count. A disappointed Joseph left the
Kacheri with his supporters. It was the recount which saw him
elected with a razor thin majority.
In 2004 the elections were held a month after the Karuna
rebellion. The TNA swept the polls in Batticaloa in what was a
rigged election. This was so in the North too. Joseph however
had an unpleasant surprise. He had lost. In fact he had only a
few hundred more votes than the murdered Rajan
Sathiyamoorthy. Comparative novices like Kanagasabai.,
Thangeswari and Jeyanandamoorthy had been elected.
Among the prominent politicians of Batticaloa it was Joseph
alone who spoke out against Karuna after the split. He
condemned the regionalism preached by Karuna and
supported Praba in the name of undivided Tamil nationalism. It
was a very bold stance but Joseph was only being true to
himself as he had always stood for those policies as a disciple
of SJV Chelvanayagam. Joseph was close to Karikalan and
not Karuna. The former had gone over to Kilinochchi after the
split. This too may have influenced Joseph's position but his
genuine Tamil nationalism cannot be disputed.
What is sad however is the silence he maintained over the
atrocities committed by the mainstream LTTE to his TNA
colleagues after the Karuna split. Rajan Sathiyamoorthy was
killed and even his buried body was dug out and half - burnt by
the tigers. Kingsley Rajanayagam who won the election was
terrorised into forfeiting his Parliamentary seat. Kingsley was
later killed by the LTTE. Joseph's silence in these matters can
be understood but not condoned.
Though Joseph lost the Parliamentary hustings after 14 years
of being Batticaloa MP he reentered Parliament as a national
list MP. Why did the man described once as the "uncrowned
king of Batticaloa" lose miserably? Karuna's men rigiging the
poll is one answer but there is no denying that his voter base
had been steadily decreasing over the past years.Two
reasons could be adduced.
One was his total subservience to the LTTE. The TULF was
preferred by the people as "moderate independents " and not
to become slaves to the LTTE. Joseph in the East and
Senathirajah in the North are seen as the two who began
selling out the party to the tigers. The second was due to his
image being tarnished through charges of corruption and
nepotism. Some of these charges were levelled against him
even after his death by his detractors.
All these however do not take way the fact that the man did not
deserve to be murdered in this fashion. It does seem obvious
that Joseph could not have been murdered without the
connivance of sections of the security forces and their minions.
Joseph was a marked man by Karuna after the split. Like
Sivaram he opposed the regional tide and stood by
Prabakaran. Realising he was a target Joseph avoided coming
to Batticaloa unnecessarily.
Yet he did come to Batticaloa weeks before Christmas and
stayed there. He had not reached there on Christmas eve.
Family members also say that there was no telephone call as
alleged in some quarters and that the family always attended
midnight mass for Christmas. They had gone to Church at
about 10. 30 pm though the service was to begin at 11. 30.
Finding the Church virtually deserted they had turned back but
returned in a few minutes after the arrival of Sugunam's
brother Robin's family.
The assassins had first arrived at the St. Anthony's church in
close proximity to the St. Mary's Cathedral. They had
discarded their military fatigues inside the vestry and moved
out quietly in civilian dress. They were tall and darkish.
According to Churchgoers they were not seen before in
Batticaloa.Moving into the Cathedral compound through a side
gate they had entered through one of the side entrances to
the Cathedral at the front. This was when the
Pararajasinghams with some others were kneeling at the altar
for bread and wine.The choir had full view of the assassins but
did not suspect anything.
Even as Joseph got up the assassins moved closer to the altar
and the Bishop. Sugunam got up a few seconds later. Joseph
who had started returning to his pew paused and turned
halfway to allow Sugunam to precede him. It was at this point
that the assassins started firing. The Congregation, Choir and
Clergy including Bishop Swampillai dived to the floor in panic.
Joseph fell down. It is believed he was killed instantly.
Sugunam and seven others were injured in the firing. The
assassins then walked down the aisle firing away in the air.
According to some reports they got into a waiting three -
wheeler which headed out to the security camp located at an
old toothpowder factory premises.The "patpodi" camp as it is
known is the operational safe house of te Karuna faction in
Pararajasingham had five Police bodyguards with him at the
time of the incident. They were standing outside the Church
with one of them popping in every five minutes to check
whether the MP was safe. None of the bodyguards fired back
at the assassins. Their explanation was that it may have hit the
people. But then they did not fire even after the assassins
went outside the church. Furthermore there were no attempts
by the guards after the firing to take Pararajasinghams to the
hospital. Finally Joseph was taken by a nephew in his car and
Sugunam by a niece in her car to the hospital.Fellow
parishioners helped carry them to the vehicles.
Apart from the official bodyguards the surrounding area
usually teems with security personnel.Additional men were
deployed for Christmas. When people came to Church the
area was bristling with men. but when they returned none was
seen. In fact security people reappeared only after an hour or
two. The intriguing conduct of the bodyguards as well as the
mysterious disappearance of the security personnel along with
the safe and easy passage had by the assassins to their safe
house indicate clearly that the killing was an officially
sanctioned unofficial execution.
Subsequent events confirmed this further. Leaflets claiming
credit in the name of a hitherto unkown "Sennan Force" were
widely distributed in Batticaloa. A stack of leaflets were thrown
at the front door of the Pararajasingham residence too. It
became well known that the security forces were distributing
the leaflets. A second wave of leaflets were distributed a few
days later. An ominous warning in the leaflet was the
threatening demand that all Eastern TNA Parliamentarians
should resign or face the consequences. In another significant
pointer many of the anti - tiger media abroad commenced a
vilification campaign against Joseph. This was in typical tiger
style but only the roles were reversed.
Thus ended the life of Joseph Pararajasingham. Given the
circumstances of his assassination it is the state which stands
in the dock. The Karuna faction was only an instrument of
death. The brutal manner of Joseph being killed in church after
partaking of communion within full view of the Congregation in
the presence of the Bishop demonstrate the depths of
depravity. Whatever his politics Joseph Pararajasingham did
not deserve to die or be killed in this manner. His death will be
a great loss to the people of Batticaloa.
Joseph Annan's death fills me personally with great sadness.
My condolences to Sugunam Akka and the children and his
other relatives.. May his soul rest in peace!