by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
It was on November 10th 2006 that Nadarajah Raviraj was brutally gunned down along with his Police bodyguard in broad daylight near his residence in Colombo. Five years have passed and no one has been punished for the murders of the Tamil National Alliance(TNA) MP from Jaffna district nor Sgt.Lakshman Lokuwella the bodyguard.
It was blatantly clear then and now that the murder was an officially sanctioned unofficial execution. The lawyer cum Parliamentarian was killed by suspected agents of the state for speaking out against the repression unleashed by the Rajapaksa regime then
I wrote a few articles then about the killing,its aftermath and about Raviraj. I am collating a few of those articles written five years ago and posting on my blog now to mark the fifth death anniversary of Raviraj’s death.
Here it is Friends-DBSJ
Tragic demise of Nadarajah Raviraj in Colombo
By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Nadarajah Raviraj , one of the bright young stars in the Tamil political firmament is no more. The 44 year old Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian from Jaffna district was brutally shot dead on Friday November 10th.
The Tamil National Alliance MP from Jaffna district and his bodyguard Sgt. Lakshman Lokuwella from Gampaha were shot dead in broad daylight at about 8. 39 am in Colombo.
The shooting occurred close to Raviraj’s residence in Manningtown, Narahenpita.
The spot where the shooting occurred was in close proximity to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority and the Registrar of Motor Vehicles Department.
The Jaffna MP had returned home after a discussion – interview on “Derana” TV from 7. 00 am – 7.30 am. He had quickly changed clothes . had breakfast and started out again to his law office.
Raviraj a lawyer by profession had his own law firm: “Raviraj and Associates”.
Though the MP had his own driver the man was on leave. The driver had requested a further extension of leave a few days before the killing.
According to Raviraj’s brother in law the MP had then told the driver good – humouredly ” Even if I die you can have your leave”.
The TNA Parliamentarian had first tried to use his wife’s car but finding the battery had run down chose to use his own vehicle.
Raviraj had asked his bodyguard Sgt. Lakshman a native of Gampaha to get in and climbed into the drivers seat.
The Toyota Landcruiser Prado bearing the No WP KE 1279 was then slowly driven along Martha road by Raviraj. The vehicle was turning into Elvitigala Mawatte when a motor cycle numbered JE 3507 came near from the opposite side.Two men with helmets were on it.
One got down from the pillion , removed his helmet , went across and stood on the pavement . He had a shoulder bag.
Raviraj’s vehicle was cruising along very slowly when the man tore apart the bag he was carrying and started firing. The weapon was a T – 56. The assassin did not pull the gun out but fired while it was yet inside the bag.
The assassin fired away at point blank range on Raviraj’s vehicle from the front, side and rear. An entire magazine was exhausted in the firing. He then ran quickly and climbed on to the motor cycle pillion again.
The assassins had then turned into Martha road and sped away. The bag containing the T – 56 as well as the helmet of one rider were found on the side of the road.
Police also say that a three – wheeler parked close to the spot had also driven away after the shooting. It is suspected that the three – wheeler driver was a “look – out” for the assassins and had tipped them off by mobile telephone about Raviraj’ s vehicle approaching.
Raviraj was hit five times and Lokuwella eight times. Both victims were taken to Colombo National Hospital speedily. Lokuwella was pronounced dead upon admission.
Raviraj was in critical condition and urgent surgery was done but Raviraj was dead at 9. 20 am.Hospital sources said the MP was “clinically dead” even when admitted.
Raviraj is the second Tamil National alliance MP to be assassinated after Mahinda Rajapakse became President. Veteran Eastern Province Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead last year at the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Batticaloa during midnight mass for Christmas. Joseph was returning to his pew after partaking of Holy communion from Batticaloa Catholic Bishop Rt. Rev Kingsley Swampillai when the assassins came from near the altar and shot him dead in full view of the terrified congregation
Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, Leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) told the press, “Raviraj’s assassination is a clear attempt by the paramilitary operating with the Sri Lanka Army to stifle the Tamil parliamentarians’ voice in and out of the Parliament to inform the International Community of the Sri Lanka Government’s genocide against the Tamils.” Sampanthan further said, “Almost an year has passed since the assassination of Batticaloa parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingam and the Sri Lanka government is yet to bring the killers to book. This reveals the covert connections the government has with them.”
Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Leader of the Opposition and the head of United National Party (UNP) condemning the assassination said, “Within a year of parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham’s assassination Raviraj has been killed. This is a threat to democracy. We strongly condemn this cowardly act and urge the government to take legal actions to bring the killers to justice besides providing adequate security measures to Tamil parliamentarians.”
S. B. Dissanayake, a senior member of UNP, after visiting the Colombo National Hospital morgue where the remains of Raviraj is kept said, “The Sri Lanka government should hold itself responsible for Raviraj’s assassination without blaming Karuna group or any other and tell the public who the killers are.”
Mano Ganeshan, parliamentarian and leader of Western Peoples’ Front party said the GoSL should take responsibility for Raviraj’s assassination.
‘Tamils’ struggle cannot be contained by this cowardly killing,” said TNA parliamentarian Sivajilingam. He added that the killers of Raviraj are the paramilitaries operating with the Sri Lanka Army.
Meanwhile relatives of slain MP told media personnel in Jaffna that a member of a Tamil paramilitary organization linked to the Government had tried to target Raviraj when the TNA Parliamentarian visited Jaffna a few weeks before his death. Raviraj was the first MP to visit Jaffna since A9 was closed following the escalation of hostilities since August 11. He journeyed to Jaffna in an Air Force plane and was given security from Palaly to his home in Chavakachcheri.
According to relatives the Tamil paramilitary operative was suspected of working with the Sri Lankan military intelligence. He had visited Raviraj’s Chavakachcheri residence and questioned people about Raviraj’s movements. Suspecting an assassination attempt Raviraj had gone elsewhere and slept at another place before leaving for Colombo.
Nadarajah Raviraj wa a native of Chavakachcheri in the Thenmaratchy sector of Jaffna. His father was a schoolmaster at Chavakachcheri Hindu College in Sangathanai.His mother taught at Hindu Ladies College,Chavakachcheri.
Friends recall with affectionate nostalgia that Nadarajah Master’s nickname among students was :”kilangu” (potato). Soon Raviraj too was called “kilangu” in his student days due to this.
An old boy of Driebergs College, Chavakachcheri and St. Johns College , Jaffna Nadarajah Raviraj passed out as a lawyer and took his oaths in 1987. He joined the Attorney – General’s Dept in 1990 and worked there till 1993.
He quit the AG’s dept in 1993 and became a human rights lawyer attached to the Home for Human Rights . He worked there till 1996. Thereafter he began private practice and soon set up his own law office Raviraj and Associates. Raviraj was involved in human rights work from 1984 onwards during his law College days.
Raviraj became enamoured of democratic politics at a time when most Tamils of a younger generation were aligning with militant groups. He joined the Tamil United Liberation Front and worked actively for the party along with other young Tamil lawyers like former Jaffna mayor Pon. Sivapalan and ex – Batticaloa MP Thurairajasingham.
Raviraj owed his rise in politics to TULF stalwart Veerasingham Aanandasangaree who regarded his younger colleague as a protege’. Sangaree who was senior vice – president of the TULF then promoted Raviraj within the party.
Raviraj became TULF central Committe member in 1990. In 1998 he was appointed Legal adviser to the party. Raviraj was made TULF Politbureau Member in 2000 and in 2001 became Administrative secretary of the party.
The TULF of an earlier era faced great danger at the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Other militant Tamil groups now functioning as “democratic” parties were also not well – disposed towards the grand old democratic party of Sri Lankan Tamils.
It was amidst great physical danger that the TULF contested the Jaffna Municipality in 1998. Raviraj too was on the list. The TULF with its slogan of “unarmed democracy” (Aayuthamatra Jananayagam) topped the polls in Jaffna despite not having resources like other parties such as EPDP, PLOTE , TELO and EPRLF.Raviraj became a municipal councillor.
Sarojini Yogeswaran became mayor and was shot dead by the LTTE. Pon. Sivapalan then succeded her. Sivapalan along with Jaffna military commander Brigadier Mendis and several others were killed when the LTTE exploded a claymore mine concealed in the ceiling. The mayoral aspirant Pon. Mathimugarajah was assassinated by the LTTE in front of the Nallur Kandaswamy temple.
In spite of the danger involved Raviraj backed up by Aanandasangaree came forward to don the mayoral mantle. Raviraj was appointed deputy mayor in 1998. Instead of becoming Mayor immediately Raviraj functioned as acting mayor. He was the de – facto and not de- jure mayor for a while.
Raviraj adopted this razor’s edge stance and managed to survive . In 2000 October Raviraj contested the Parliamentary elections on the TULF ticket but failed to win a seat. In 2001 Raviraj was formally appointed as Jaffna mayor. But within months Raviraj was elected to Parliament and resigned Mayoral office.
By 2001 there was a sea change in Tamil “moderate” politics. The TULF, Tamil Congress, EPRLF and TELO joined hands and formed a loose alliance known as the Tamil National Alliance. They started moving close to the LTTE and began toeing the tiger line.
The TULF then faced danger at the hands of Douglas Devananda’s EPDP which treated the new political formation as potential danger. When the TULF went into the Islands to do propaganda the EPDP saw it as an affront and challenge. The EPDP had for long regarded the Kayts division as its fiefdom.
A gang of EPDP goons led by Napoleon and masterminded by Mano accosted the TULF in Thambatty in Naranthanai and launched a brutal assault. Raviraj driving up in the front vehicle displayed great physical courage in combatting the challenge. Two TULF activists were killed and people like Mavai Senathirajah and MK Sivajilingam sustained injuries. It was this incident which turned the tide against the EPDP then.
Raviraj too won and entered Parliament for the first time in 2001 December. There was however a split in the TULF during this time when the old warhorse Aanandasangaree fell foul of the LTTE which wanted him ousted. The TNA was now fast becoming a puppet of the LTTE. Sangaree resisted LTTE domination and paid the price as most of his colleagues and followers deserted him and paid pooja to the tigers.
The unkindest cut for Sangaree was the “transformation ” of Raviraj. The young MP had initially backed his political mentor but gradually parted ways with his senior colleague.
In 2004 April Raviraj was re- elected as Jaffna district MP but Aanandasangaree was defeated in an “undemocratic” poll conducted under dubious means. Raviraj soon became a rising star in the TNA which contested under the house symbol of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK).
One of Raviraj’s strong points was his fluency in Tamil, English and Sinhala. This enabled him to participate fully in Parliament debates, media discussions and interviews and public meetings. He was a forceful speaker and conveyed his views precisely and clearly.
He was capable of quick repartees and often made pithy and pungent comments.He also participated in demonstrations particularly those concerning freedom of _expression. Raviraj had many friends among the Colombo media.
He participated in many TV shows in all three languages. He was perhaps the best known :face among TNA Parliamentarians” to the “Sinhala” South.
Raviraj was in Canada some years ago and I heard him speak at a public seminar on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Raviraj was the last speaker. There were a couple of Canadian mainstream MP’s at the meeting. As is usual among western politicians who “grace” minority community occasions just to keep up “appearances” the two gentlemen began moving out as Raviraj was on the rostrum.
The young Tamil MP was not fazed and made a public appeal that both MP’s should not leave but sit and listen to his speech. Taken aback both men promptly returned to their seats, tuned in and after it was over engaged in long discussions with the Sri Lankan Parliamentarian.
I also recall that Raviraj could not have dinner with me as arranged earlier because his departure from Toronto had to be expedited due to an urgent matter. I was not at home when he called to inform me of the sudden change of plan.After returning to Colombo Raviraj was courteous enough to telephone me and apologise profusely .
The situation in Sri Lanka began deteriorating after Mahinda Rajapakse became President. An undeclared war is being conducted against the Tamil people. The basic human rights of the Tamil people are being violated with impunity.
Raviraj was in the forefront of those resisting this creeping state terror. He joined hands with those of different political beliefs and ethnicities to fight for common causes. A case in point was his active involvement in the Civil Monitoring Committee (CMC) set up to monitor extra – judicial executions, disappearances and abductions.Raviraj worked with people like Siritunga Jayasuriya, Mano Ganesan MP (Colombo District), Vasudeva Nanayakara MMC, Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne, and Appapillai Vinayagamoorthy etc in this regard.
I also know for a fact that Raviraj was one of the few Tamil MP’s who interacted closely with diplomats, human rights activists and media persons about issues affecting the Tamil people. Though he did not hog the limelight in this Raviraj worked quietly behind the scenes in keeping the “world” informed about what was happening in the Island.
Raviraj has participated in conflict resolution workshops hosted by Institute of Federalism in Switzerland, Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Germany and Peace Institute in Austria among others.
Raviraj along with a few other MP’s was the livewire of the TNA. The TNA was being forced to adopt a more militant yet non – violent stance in espousing the Tamil cause. After many non – violent demonstrations in Parliament the TNA began taking to the streets to articulate Tamil grievances. The demonstration opposite the UNHCR office in Bullers road was the beginning of a new series of envisaged protests.
Once again Raviraj played a crucial role in organizing and conducting the demonstration. 19 of the 22 TNA Parliamentarians participated. Apart from handling logistics Raviraj’s voice could be heard shouting slogans and demands loudly in all three languages.He also interacted with the media and obtained much publicity for the event.
Given the prevailing political culture where all Tamil dissent is ruthlessly suppressed a voice such as that of Raviraj’s too had to be silenced from the viewpoint of those wielding power in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
There is a coordinated campaign going on in the North – East where all Tamils with leadership potential are being killed, disappearing, leaving the country or simply becoming invisible.This trend spills over to Colombo frequently.The instruments of state terror are very often Tamil groups and organizations aligned with the Government
Nadarajah Raviraj was one such Tamil who had to be silenced.The brutal murder of Raviraj is a calculated attempt to terrify and intimidate the Tamil people and their representatives in Parliament.His fellow Parliamentarian Selvam Adaikkalanathan of the TNA expressed this viewpoint succinctly.
“A democratic voice of Tamils has been silenced in Sri Lanka’s capital today.Resourceful Tamil politicians, journalists and activists are being systematically killed in Sri Lanka. Raviraj tirelessly worked to improve the conditions of the people living under economic embargo to relieve the humanitarian catastrophy. He had a convincing way of dealing with even the crude bureaucracy of this failed state,” Mr. Adaikalanathan said.
“He fought from their platform. His voice in the Sri Lankan Parliament, and in the South, where injustice and oppression originate, was much feared.” By silencing the democratic voices of the Tamils, the Sri Lankan military and its paramilitaries such as the EPDP will not be able to silence the Tamil struggle,” the MP added.
LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapakaran has conferred the customary “Maamanithar” title on Raviraj describing him as a courageous Tamil who defied Sinhala oppression from within its citadel.
Raviraj was married to Sashikala a teacher at Bishops College, Colombo. He has a daughter Praveena (15) and son Yuthishtran (10).
Nadarajah Raviraj leaves behind his mother, wife and two children. My condolences to the family. May Ravi’s soul attain eternal peace and solace.