by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Veluppillai Prabhakaran’s father Thiruvengadam Veluppillai breathed his last on Wednesday January 6th night. The 86 year old retired government servant’s birthday was on January 10th.
Thiruvengadam Veluppillai Parvathiamma Veluppillai, Prabhakaran, Madhivathany and son Charles Anthony-Reuters pic
The octogenarian hailing from the northern coastal town of Valvettithurai (VVT)and his wife Parvathiamma were staying in a chalet within the precincts of the Army cantonment at Panagoda.
The Veluppillais along with Mrs. Erambu, the mother of their daughter-in-law Mathivathani, had been detained at Panagoda since July last year. The authorities say that all three were under protective custody.
Veluppillai whose youngest son was the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization that fought a secessionist war with the Sri Lankan government had been in Govt service for 39 years and was a pensioner.
Valvettithurai (VVT) a littoral town along the coast of Vadamaratchy in the Jaffna peninsula had in earlier times acquired a reputation for smuggling. In recent times VVT became well-known as the hotbed of Tamil militancy. Apart from Prabhakaran several youths from VVT were in militant ranks of the LTTE and other Tamil groups.
The people of VVT are predominantly from the Karaiyar caste group whose traditional occupation was fishing. As in the case of their counterpart caste, the Karawes of the South, the community regards itself as being a “Kshatriya” warrior caste (guru kula)tracing its roots to the Gauravas of the epic “Mahabharatha”.
Aathikovil-more pic: by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
VVT like many other places in Jaffna has produced a very large number of educated professionals and government officers. There has also been a commercial tradition. Few of VVT’s current denizens engage in fishing except for those clustered in the “Aathikoviladdy” area of the town.
Unfortunately and unfairly the name VVT has become linked to smuggling and armed Tamil militancy over the past years. This is a fact resented by respectable, decent inhabitants of the place who rightly feel their achievements are not recognized on their own merits and instead affixed a stereotyped label.
This tendency is visible in the case of Prabhakaran’s father Veluppillai himself. This respected gentleman is perceived simply as the father of Prabhakaran and denigrated. All sorts of ill-informed comments are being made about him.
Prabhakaran’s father Veluppillai was the scion of a family distinguished in VVT for its business acumen and religious devotion. Prabhakaran’s mother’s parents were from both VVT and adjoining Point Pedro.
A Tamil weekly in India quoted a woman from Kerala state claiming that Prabhakaran’s father Veluppillai was born in Kannanoor in Kollam district of the state and had gone to Sri Lanka at the age of 22.
Thereafter a vicious campaign was on to describe Prabhakaran as a Malayalee with Kerala roots due to the allegation that Veluppillai was from Kollam.
There is nothing wrong in being of Malayalee descent and Sri Lanka has a very strong Malayalam influence. Migration to Sri Lanka from India was from both the Coromandel and Malabar coasts.
But in this case the truth was starkly different as Prabhakaran’s father was not born in Kannanoor but Valvettithurau. He belonged to a famous Tamil family residing in VVT for generations.
Veluppillai’s ancestors accumulated great wealth through commerce and trade and gained a reputation for philanthropy.
Valvettithurai Sivan temple-pic: Valvai.wordpress.com
Veluppillai’s lineage is called the “Thirumeniyaar” family in VVT and are hereditary trustees of the famous Valvettithurai Sivan temple.
Prabhakaran’s paternal ancestors constructed the temple . The family is called the “Esamaan kudumbam” (master family) on account of their controlling the Sivan temple.
It was an ancestor Aiyampillai who first began dabbling in trade by taking Jaffna produce like tobacco and dye across to the Indian coast by sea during the Dutch colonial period. His son Velayutham followed in the father’s footsteps.
It was however Velayutham’s son Venkataasalam who multiplied the family wealth through business acumen and enterprise.
He assembled a fleet of twelve schooners and became a captain of commerce shipping goods to and from India, Burma and Malaysia. He also engaged in large-scale agriculture purchasing large tracts of land in the north.
VVT Sivan Temple
Interestingly one such purchase was 90 acres of land in present day Karaithuraipatru AGA division of Mullaitheevu district. This is the area where the final phase of the war between the govt forces and LTTE was enacted.
Rain soaked Kallapaadu-more file pic.by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
The “Thirumeni” family lost its holdings over the years except for one and a half acres in Kallappaadu as tenant cultivators in possession had gradually claimed ownership of lands. A temple was built in the Kallapaadu land.
Venkadaasalam also known as Periyathamby in VVT had a vision in 1822 where his departed father Velayutham appeared and asked him to construct a temple to Lord Shiva. The family was already associated with the VVT Pillaiyar and Muthumaariyamman temples.
For some years the son began collecting money and raised a big sum. Venkadaasalam then took a vow and embarked on the project.
He first bought 60 perches of land near the Amman temple. In terms of his vow he stopped wearing apparel covering his torso and became known as “thirumeniyaar” as a mark of respect.
Then began a long process of construction.
“Thirumeniyaar” Venkadaasalam built a small abode near the temple site and stayed there without going home for days supervising the work. Finally the temple was built and formally consecrated in 1867.
Though popularly known as the Sivan temple it is dedicated to Vaitheeswarar another name for Lord Shiva. His divine consort Parvathy is known as Vaalaambigai in the VVT Vaitheeswarar temple.
Since it had been built by Venkadaasalam with his own money the family now known as “Thirumeniyaar kudumbam” became the hereditary owner trustees.
Prabhakaran’s father Velupillai was a direct descendant of Venkadaasalam. Velupillai’s father was Thiruvenkadam.His grandfather Velupillai was the son of Venkadaasalam. Prabhakaran’s father was named Veluppillai after his grandfather.
Venkadaasalam had a brother Kulanthaivelpillai who worked as Shroff in the Hindustan bank of old.Venkadaasalam and Kulanthaivel built a number of temples including one in Chekku street, Colombo, Keerimalai and even in Rangoon.
Prabhakaran’s father was the only child in the family. As such the responsibility of being temple chief trustee-owner was thrust upon him. A deeply devout man, Veluppillai did discharge his duties and managed the VVT Sivan temple.
Veluppillai however relinquished his responsibility over the VVT temple in the seventies of the last century. A cousin Sinnathurai became chief trustee or “Esamaan” (master).
I had earlier thought Veluppillai had done so because his duties as temple trustee were clashing with the duties of being a govt official. I learnt recently that the reason was entirely different.
Thiruvenkadam Veluppillai was ultra-conservative in outlook and believed in caste distinctions. He had firmly resisted all attempts to get the Sivan temple open for worship by the so-called depressed castes.
When a delegation of progressive youths from the Tamil United Front(TUF)) had requested him to allow open temple entry Veluppillai had firmly refused. He had said “There are limits. Even though I am the temple owner I cannot enter the sanctum sanctorum . Only the priest can do that. Likewise some people cannot be allowed to enter the temple”.
The youths had then said that Veluppillai was being very reactionary and sworn that the temple would be made to open its doors to all castes soon. Then the usually mild-mannered Veluppillai had erupted and said “if this temple is thrown open then I will no longer be the esamaan”.
Thereafter the TUF youths had launched a non-violent agitation on April 21st 1976 demanding unrestricted temple entry. A gang of VVT toughs set upon the non-violent campaigners and unleashed terrible violence. The agitation was called off.
That conservative triumph was short-lived.
MC Subramaniam the Communist party stalwart and long-standing campaigner for the rights of depressed caste Tamils was then an appointed MP. MC as he was known enforced a temple entry with 50 policemen on duty to maintain the peace. VVT Sivan temple was now open to all.
The TUF youths now began ridiculing Veluppillai saying “now see what has happened. What are you going to do”? Seething with fury Thiruvenkadam Veluppillai said “I will stand by my declaration and withdraw from the temple”. He promptly did so and his cousin Sinnathurai became trustee.
Later Sinnathurai himself was killed by the army during “Operation Liberation” in 1987.
There had been a half-constructed wall on the western side of the temple. The LTTE had mounted sandbags there and fired at the army f rom within temple premises. As the army advanced the tigers dispersed. Enraged soldiers grabbed the temple owner Sinnathurai and dragged him out. His charred body was discovered later.
This conservative streak in Veluppillai led to a big clash with his youngest son.
Prabhakaran had a very progressive outlook from his childhood. The Thirumeniyaar family was akin to local aristocracy in VVT but young Prabhakaran used to mix freely with all kids particularly those from so-called lower castes.
It is said that as a youngster, Prabhakaran would escort his “inferior” friends to the temple and get reprimanded by the father.
Prabhakaran’s father was also not politically inclined. He abhorred Tamil nationalist politics and was very concerned that his youngest son was getting involved in politics.
Like any father he wanted his son to study and enter university. Little did he realise then that the son would lead a revolutionary movement in later years.
Another of Veluppillai’s cousins Gnanamoorthy was the FP and later TULF leader in VVT. He was also Urban council chairman at one time. Veluppillai found fault with Gnanamoorthy for being a bad influence on his son.
It was at a historic meeting held at Gnanamoorthy’s house that the Federal Party , All Ceylon Tamil Congress and Ceylon Workers Congress decided to form the Tamil United Front (TUF). Later the TUF became TULF after the Vaddukkoddai convention of May 14th 1976 when the Tamil United Front was re-named Tamil United Liberation Front.
The single biggest influence on Prabhakaran was not Gnanamoorthy Appa but a pedagogue called Venugopal master.
It was Venugopal a follower of former Kayts MP and “Thamilar Suyaatchi Kazhagham” (Tamil Self-rule party) founder V. Navaratnam who led Prabhakaran to separatism and armed struggle.
Veluppillai joined the clerical service during British rule at the age of 19 in 1943. His first appointment was in the railways dept. He later passed some internal exams and rose up to become district lands officer. He retired at the age of 58 in 1982 after 39 years of govt service. Gamini Dissanayake was Lands minister in 1982.
Veluppillai was not an anti-Sinhala person. He, in fact sat for and passed all Sinhala proficiency exams to earn his promotions. Many in VVT were critical then of those who studied Sinhala. He served in Kilinochchi, Mullaitheevu, Thunukkaai, Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and in Batticaloa and Amparai districts.
Veluppillai was a diligent, duty-conscious officer with integrity and honesty. Some VVT residents who wanted him to alienate lands in their favour when Velupillai was lands officer in Thunukkaai found them selves being firmly rebuffed.
He was a very punctual, neat person and highly disciplined. Mild- mannered and soft-spoken Veluppillai was a gentle person. VVT residents used to describe him as a man who treads so gently that even grass does not get crushed underfoot.
The Veluppillais had four children.
The eldest is Manoharan who worked as a radio officer in ships.He now lives in Denmark.
The eldest daughter is Jegatheeswari who got married to an Apothecary named Mathiyaaparanam. They used to live in Europe but now live in India.
The third is a daughter Vinodini who got married to Rajendram, a Commerce graduate who worked earlier at Jafferjee bros in Colombo. They live in Canada.
The fourth was of course the most famous of them all.
Prabhakaran fell in love and got married to Mathivathany the daughter of Erambu a schoolmaster from Pungudutheevu in Jaffna.
Prabhakaran was a big disappointment to the father. He used to refer to the youngest child as the black sheep of the family.
Earlier Veluppillai was worried that his son was messing up studies by getting involved in politics. Later when Prabhakaran took to arms the father was shattered.
Being a God-fearing , law-abiding citizen Veluppillai was appalled when the Police began visiting his house in search of young Prabha.
For people of the old school who thought of themselves as loya servants on her majesty’s service the notion of an offspring confronting the established govt was anathema and repugnant
Prabhakaran himself severed all links with the family after embarking on his militant journey towards the goal of Tamil Eelam. He would only visit his mother secretly on a few occasions.
Prabhakaran removed all photographs of himself in the family photo album or picture frames so that the Police would not know how he looked like. For many years the only photo the cops had of Praba was that of his postal identity card.
After leaving home at the age of 17 Praba led a rough life moving from place to place but he got no help at all from his father who virtually cut him off.
Among relatives it was Prabhakaran’s elder brother in law Mathiaaparanam and maternal uncle Vallipuram Veluppillai who helped him out.
Prabhakaran’s mother’s brother Vallipuram Veluppillai was working at the Govt farm school in Thirunelvely, Jaffna. Prabhakaran was very attached to him.
When Prabhakaran got married to Madhivathany in 1984 in Tamil Nadu, Prabhakaran’s father refused to attend.
It was Prabhakaran’s uncle who attended and handed over (thatham)the groom at the ceremony. He provided the gold according to custom for the “Thaali” (marriage chain) tied by Prabhakaran.
Prabhakaran & Madhivathany wedding
Prabhakaran’s uncle himself had daughters and there was an understanding in the family that Praba would marry one. Despite his disappointment over Prabhakaran marrying Mathivathany, Vallipuram Veluppillai participated in the wedding.
Sadly both Prabhakaran’s maternal uncle and aunt were killed by artillery shelling in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area on February 10th last year. So desperate was the situation that Prabhakaran could not even pay his last respects to his favourite uncle who had stood through thick and thin with him.
Veluppillai did not forbid Prabhakaran from coming to the family residence on Aaladi lane, VVT. But he made it clearly known that he was not welcome.
Prabhakaran evading arrest also kept away from home as a precaution. But when The father was away from home “Thambi” (younger brother) as he was known would drop in clandestinely for a home cooked meal by his mother.
An anecdote related by Prabha to his close friends was something like a melodramatic scene from a Tamil movie.
One day when Veluppillai was away in Thunukkaai, Prabha dropped in at home.
The mother was feeding him a hastily cooked meal when Veluppillai returned home ahead of schedule. Seeing the son the father was annoyed.
Without a word he dropped his suitcase with a heavy “thud” and then opening it took out a few files and walked out without saying a word to the wife or “prodigal” son. As an expression of his anger Veluppillai kept away from home for hours.
Later when Prabhakaran recalled this incident to friends he would observe wistfully “aapar oru solluthaanum paraiyelai” (Father did not utter even one word)
Another reason for the father’s resentment towards the son was due to Veluppillai feeling that he and other family members could not lead a normal life because of Prabhakaran.
After retiring from govt service in 1982, Veluppillai had wanted to lead a quiet pensioner’s life in VVT. When some TULF members had approached him with the idea of making him contest the VVT urban council poll, Veluppillai had rejected it saying he just wanted a quiet life in VVT.
But then, he could not lead that kind of life. The Police would regularly visit the home at all odd hours claiming to search for Prabhakaran.
After the 1983 July anti-Tamil violence none of Prabhakaran’s family members could stay in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran’s sister Vinodini (now in Canada) was staying at no 10, convent lane in Hendala those days. The house was smashed by soldiers looking for Prabakharan’s sister.
The ancestral home in Aalady lane was also damaged.
Family members had to relocate to Tamil Nadu. Later they dispersed to other parts of the globe.
It is said that Veluppillai blamed Prabhakaran for reducing them to this state.
This did not mean that he did not care for the son.
When Prabhakaran was jailed in Madras in May 1982 for the shoot-out with PLOTE’s Umamaheswaran at Pondy Bazaar, Veluppillai readily provided a letter retaining the then TULF legal secretary SC Chandrahasan to represent his son in the Egmore courts.
Father Veluppillai and son Prabhakaran continued to be estranged and were not on speaking terms during their stay in Tamil Nadu after July 1983.
While Prabhakaran lived in a Chennai suburb the Veluppillais lived in Trichy where a substantial concentration of People from VVT exists.
When Prabhakaran got married in 1984 his parents were conspicuous absentees.
But after son Charles Anthony and daughter Duwaragha were born a slow process of reconciliation occurred. The grandparents would visit to see and play with the grandchildren.
But father and son kept at a distance and rarely spoke to each other.
In 1987 August Prabhakaran was taken back to Jaffna by an Indian aircraft .The Veluppillais came to Chennai from Trichy to see their son off.
The father was particularly happy that the son had agreed to bid farewell to arms in terms of the Indo-Lanka accord signed on July 29th 1987.
Expressing the view that peace would descend on Jaffna, Veluppillai indicated that they too would return to VVT in due course.
But war broke out in two months and the Veluppillais continued to remain in Trichy.
The pendulum had swung the other way again and the father was once again furious with the son.
He blamed the son for acting rashly and starting a fight with the Indian army.
Later the Indian army left and the LTTE was once again in control of the greater part of the Northern province.
In 1995-96 the LTTE lost Jaffna peninsula but retained control over substantial portions of the Wanni.
The LTTE also claimed to have set up a parallel administration with structures like courts,police stations, banks, income tax offices, immigration dept, etc.
But the father of the self-styled Tamil National leader stubbornly refused to return to the land ruled by his son and opted to remain in Trichy.
The Veluppillais lived in the upper floor of a house owned by a doctor who was a sympathiser of the LTTE.
Return to Wanni
Finally the father relented and decided to return to the Wanni.
Though their children were now in Europe and Canada the old couple did not want to live in the west.
But as age increased with a corresponding increase in ailments the old couple opted to return home.
Due to age and infirmity, Veluppillai decided to go and live with his youngest son. The mother was delighted at the prospect.
They returned to Sri Lanka after the ceasefire of Feb 23rd 2002.
The Veluppillais along with Madhivathany’s parents stayed together in a house at Mallavi.
Mathivathani reportedly lavished great care and affection on her parents as well as father and mother in law.
Again war broke out and the happy times were over.
Prabhakaran’s father in law Erambu master passed away and was bestowed a “Naatuppatraalar” (patriot) award by the son in law.
As the intensity of war increased the Veluppillais also had to move from place to place seeking safety and refuge.
One does not know what Veluppillai’s thoughts were about his son for this fierce round of war.
But the war went terribly wrong for the LTTE.
As a beleaguered Prabhakaran put up a defiant last stand the bulk of civilians began surrendering to the army and crossing over to govt controlled territory.
The Veluppillais and Mathivathany’s widowed mother were in the last batches of civilians moving out in May. They moved out through the Vattuvaakal causeway.
Veluupillai’s grand children, Dhuvaragha and Balachandran
Obviously there must have been a final farewell between parents and son, mother and daughter, grandparents and grandchildren.
It must have been a tremendous moment of sorrow as the older people left for safety leaving children and grandchildren facing the definite end.
Even as Prabhakaran and others met their end on the banks of Nandhikkadal lagoon the old parents found sanctuary in the Internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Manikkam pannai now known as Menik Farm.
Alas! Menik farm too was not a permanent abode of safety and rest.
When the truthful Veluppillai revealed his identity to authorities at the IDP camp the govt utilised it for propaganda purposes.
News was leaked to the media that Prabhakaran’s parents were “discovered” to be in Menik far as a result of information being given by other camp inmates.
The impression sought to be conveyed was that Prabhakaran’s parents were trying to live incognito as IDP’s in the camp and that the alert authorities had uncovered this duplicity through cooperative civilians who provided information.
The reality was that Veluppillai himself had informed the authorities of their identities and particulars.
With Prabhakaran, wife and children dead the Govt seemed to be treating the LTTE leader’s aged parents as war trophies.
The Veluppillai couple along with Mrs. Erambu were taken out of the Menik farm IDP camp at Chettikulam.
Mrs. Veluppillai’s health had deteriorated greatly as she had suffered a stroke some months before coming to Vavuniya.
After some discreet de-briefing the Veluppillais and Mrs. Erambu were housed at a chalet within the precincts of the Army cantonment at Panagoda.
Veluppillai now suffering from a number of complicated health factors was also in a state of decline.
There were many relatives who were ready to look after the old couple.
The daughter Vinodini in Canada was also prepared to get her parents down to Toronto.
The Rajapakse regime would not countenance these offers.
Stating that Prabhakaran’s parents were placed under protective custody for their own safety the Govt refused to release them.
Access was denied to relatives, family members, well-wishers and concerned human rights activists.
When the visiting Indian Parliamentarian delegation from Tamil Nadu raised the issue with Basil Rajapakse, the Presidential sibling laughed it away saying the Veluppillais were being protected as requested by them.
Basil also said in lighter vein that old Veluppillai was doing fine and ordering them around and making demands. But he refused to allow the MP’s to visit them in person.
When Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCP) leader Thirumaavazhavan asked Basil whether the Veluppillais could be allowed to join their daughter, Basil reportedly replied that they would not allow them to go to a western country but may consider sending them to India if an application was made.
Thirumaavazhavan writing a detailed series of articles about his trip to Sri Lanka in the “Junior Vikatan” magazine observes that Basil Rajapakse arrogantly dismissed the humanitarian request to release the old parents.
The suffering Veluppillai couple became the focus of attention when presidential elections were announced.
Opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka referred to them saying that he was prepared to get help and money from anyone including Prabhakaran’s parents.
President Mahinda Rajapakse exploited the statement in a blatantly crude manner by saying that he would not betray the country by getting assistance from Prabhakaran’s parents.
The exchange left a bad taste in the mouth as it seemed very uncharitable for the parents to be blamed for the son’s misconduct.
The “Bible” apeaks of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children but in this case the “Sin” of the son was being visited upon the parents.
Besides after 39 years of dedicated loyal govt service, Veluppillai did not deserve to be branded as some terrorist or traitor by Mahinda in a bid to score electorally.
Mahinda Rajapakse’s references to Prabhakaran’s parents demonstrated clearly that he perceived them as being “guilty” because Prabhakaran was their son.
I only hope that Mahinda’s departed parents are not tarnished in similar fashion by others if their children are convicted for war crimes or corruption.
One is not aware whether Veluppillai had really requested protective custody or whether this government is simply bluffing.
But the act of detaining the octogenarian parents of Prabhakaran incommunicado in a military cantonment is certainly a wrong move deserving the highest condemnation.
Very few believe that this was protective custody in the interests of the detenues themselves.
It is widely believed that this act indicates a vindictive, triumphalist mindset that seeks to detain the aged and sick parents of a dead LTTE leader.
Housing them within a military cantonment and restricting access has worsened the situation.
There is a strand of opinion that says that Veluppillai was being pressured to come out with a public statement praising the President and condemning the son.
Veluppillai apparently had resisted such pressure and had suffered physical deterioration as a result due to stress and mental agony.
The sorrow and agony of losing their son, daughter in law, grandchildren, the suffering and trauma of undergoing artillery shelling and aerial bombardment, displacement etc must have taken a heavy toll.
However comfortable the surroundings, keeping an octogenarian couple in a military cantonment with restricted access would definitely cause much stress.
Will a cuckoo or skylark be happy in a cage even if made of gold?
It is now being said that the ailing Veluppillai received adequate medical attention at the National hospital.
Given the circumstances under which the Veluppillai’s were held and the secretiveness shown Govt claims lack credibility.
Even if the Govt had shown great care the general perception is that of doubt. The govt has created its own mess.
The Government has blundered badly by the callous conduct displayed towards Prabhakaran’s parents.
Its position has been further undermined by Thiruvenkadam Veluppillai’s death in military custody.
In 1976 when the old and sick TULF Leader SJV Chelvanayakam courted arrest through non-violent protests the Sirima Bandaranaike Govt refused to arrest and detain him.
Felix R Dias Bandaranaike told journalists with a chuckle that they did not want the old man to die in custody.
But the Rajapakse regime thought little on those lines.
It went ahead with the despicably controversial act of detaining ailing octogenarians seemingly because they brought Prabhakaran into this world.
The sick, old man has died in custody and military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara reiterates that the best medical attention was given.
But the damage is done.
It is nothing but fitting that the govt makes arrangements for Prabhakaran’s father’s body to be cremated according to Hindu rites at the Theeruvil cemetery in Valvettithurai.
The govt owes it to this man who served the country faithfully for 39 years.
The Govt must also speedily release the mothers of Prabhakaran and Mathivathany.
If the war against terrorism is really over then why are two sick,old women being detained in a military cantonment?
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org