The Tamil Doctor who Gave Medical Aid to Injured Tigers.


D.B.S. Jeyaraj

“Captain Blood:His Odyssey”was an Adventure novel authored by well-known writer Rafael Sabatini in 1922. Sabatini had a flair for creating fictional characters set against the backdrop of true,historical events.This blend of fiction and fact was received well by readers, The Captain Blood novel became a best-seller then. The basic story line was about a physician who suffered greatly because he provided medical treatment to injured persons branded as enemies of the state.

Captain Blood became an immensely popular novel and several films based on the book were made in different languages over the years.The block buster Tamil movie “Aayirathil Oruvan”(One in a thousand) starring MG Ramachandran (MGR) released in 1965 was an adaptation of the Captain blood novel. In the film, MGR plays Manimaran a physician who is victimised for giving medical treatment to people injured in a rebellion against the ruling dictator.

Sabatini;s novel was linked to the Monmouth rebellion. In British history , James Scott the first Duke of Monmouth led a rebellion against King James the second in 1685.The revolt was crushed and many of the rebels were sent to Barbados as slaves. Sabatini’s novel is set against this historical background.

Sabatini’s protagonist in the novel is the fictional character Dr.Peter Blood a physician residing in the County of Somerset. He plays no part in the Monmouth rebellion but as a medical practitioner provides medical aid to rebels injured in the fighting. This humanitarian act of kindness is condemned as treason and Dr. Blood is sent off as a slave to Barbados. Subsequently he escapes and gets embroiled with pirates in a series of adventures before returning home to resume his “old”life.

Rafael Sabatini based his Dr.Blood character loosely on the life of Dr.Henry Pitman, an English Surgeon, who gave succour to the wounded Monmouth rebels and was sent to Barbados as a slave. He escaped and eventually returned to England. Pitman wrote an account of his experiences which was utilised by Sabatini to write his novel.

Sri Lanka Physician

In an uncanny example of “ life imitating art”,there was a physician in Sri Lanka who suffered in real life,the fate of Pitman.Blood and Manimaran.

The lengthy history of the war between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the armed Tamil militant groups is replete with interesting incidents .One of those instances is the narrative of a Tamil medical doctor in the north who underwent an experience very similar to that of the historical Henry Pitman and fictional Peter Blood.

This Tamil Doctor was arrested and detained for treating injured members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) in 1982. He survived the Welikade jail massacre of prisoners during “Black July” in 1983 by physically battling against the murderous mob of Sinhala prisoners. This doctor was transferred to the Batticaloa prison from where he escaped along with other Tamil political prisoners and crossed over to India clandestinely by boat. He returned from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka after the Indo-Lanka accord of July 1987. He received an Amnesty in terms of the Indo-Lanka accord and resumed his medical doctor life again in northern Sri Lanka and ultimately retired as a regional director of health services(RDHS)

The Tamil medical doctor I am referring to is Dr. Thurairajah William Jeyakularajah who passed away peacefully last week on 16 June at the age of 81 in the district of Mullaitheevu. This column focuses on the interesting and eventful life of Dr.Jeyakularaja this week. Several readers have written to me wanting to know more about this unique larger than life personality.Incidentally “Jeyam Uncle” married my Mother’s first cousin Christina(Baba Aunty). He was however a relative even before this marriage.


Dr.TW Jeyakularajah was born on 8th February 1943 in Thirukkovil as the eldest in a family of six children. His mother Rose Manonmani was then teaching there. She hailed from Thaniootru in the Mullaitheevu district of the Northern province. Jeyakularajah’s father Edward Thurairajah was from Thirukkovil in the Amparai District of the Eastern province.

Jeyakularajah was educated at the Thirukkovil Methodist Tamil school, Kalmunai Wesley High School, Batticaloa Central College and St.Johns College,Jaffna where he was in the school hostel. Jeyakularajah was a keen sportsman during his schooldays excelling in Athletics, Badminton and Table Tennis.

He entered the Medical faculty in Colombo in the mid- sixties of the 20th century and passed out as a doctor. After a period of internship under Dr. Muthuthamby and Dr.Attygalle, Dr.Jeyakularajah took up duties at the Trincomalee Hospital in 1971. He got married to his cousin Christina Gnanathilakaranee in Trinco in 1972.


Thereafter he quit Govt service and assumed duties as a doctor at the Mineral Sands Corporation in Pulmoddai in the Trinco district. After some years at Pulmoddai, the Jeyakularajahs relocated to Jaffna. The intention was to educate their only son Daniel Jason at St.Johns College,Jaffna . It was in Jaffna in 1982 that Jeyakularajah’s life changed utterly.


Both Jeyakularajah and his wife are protestant Christians belonging the Methodist Church. After moving to Jaffna, Jeyakularajah worked at the St.Lukes Hospital run by the Methodist Church in Puthur. The family resided at the medical quarters near the hospital. Jeyakularajah’s brother Rev.Jeyathilakarajah was the Pastor at the Achchelu Methodist Church in Jaffna,

Sri Lanka’s ethnic crisis had escalated after the United National Party(UNP) Govt headed by President JR Jayewardene came into power in 1977. Several armed Tamil militant groups fighting for a separate Tamil state were active in Jaffna. Chief among them was the LTTE or tigers.

Chavakachcheri Attack

The LTTE launched an attack on the Chavakachcheri Police station in October 1982 and escaped with a cache of arms after killing some policemen. Three of the tigers, Seelan, Ragu and Pulendhiran sustained injuries in the shoot out. They required urgent medical treatment.

An LTTE member who had some contact with Rev.Jeyathilakarajah approached the Methodist pastor. He in turn went to his elder brother Dr.Jeyakularajah and told him about the matter. After thinking a while Jeyakularajah accompanied his brother to the safe house where the injured tigers were and provided medical aid. He followed up with other visits before the wounded tigers were moved across the sea to India.. Had it not been for Jeyakularajah’s medical care one of the trio may have succumbed to his injuries. This was the first time the tigers had incurred injuries in combat.

Years later in a heart to heart conversation with him in Chennai, I asked Dr. Jeyakularajah why he risked danger by treating the injured tigers. His response was that as a medical doctor ,he was bound by the principles enunciated in the Hippocratic oath. He further said that he would have provided medical aid to any injured person in a situation like that. “ Even if an injured person was a Policeman or soldier or JVP activist or even a criminal shot by the cops,I would have treated them.In this case the injured boys were not criminals but idealistic young men fighting for the rights of Tamils”he replied

The State cracked down hard and conducted an intensive search throughout the peninsula. The security authorities allegedly stumbled upon some evidence incriminating a well known Catholic priest when they conducted a search of a Catholic Monastery in Colombothurai,Jaffna.

On 25 March,1981 a van carrying bank funds was robbed at Neervely in Jaffna. It resulted in the deaths of two cops. Rs 81 Lakhs of rupees was robbed. . The Neervely bank robbery was an operation of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) led by Thangathurai and Kuttimani. However some LTTE members including tiger supremo Prabhakaran also collaborated in this Neervely heist. It was alleged that some of the money from the Neervely robbery was in the possession of Fr. Aabaranam Singarayer acting as a safekeeper.

Initially the Police and army raided the Colombothurai Monastery and searched Fr. Singarayer’s room due to the Chavakachcheri Police station attack. Since some tigers had been injured the security authorities were on the look out for possible attempts to provide medical care.

One of the security measures adopted was to monitor pharmacies and medical stores to ascertain whether medical purchases of a suspicious nature took place. The security authorities received a tip off that Fr. Singarayer had bought an unusually large amount of medicine and bandages. That led to the priest being targeted.


Fr. Singarayer was arrested and interrogated in November 1982.Fr. Singarayer’s arrest was followed by the arrest of Fr. Anton Sinnarasa the then Neduntheevu parish priest. It was then said that the arrest of Fr. Sinnarasa and consequent interrogation led to a breakthrough in the Chavakachcheri Police station attack probe.

Even though the actual tigers who were involved in the Chavakachcheri Police station attack were not apprehended, the security authorities were able to arrest people suspected of helping the LTTE cadres injured in the attack. Jaffna University lecturer. M. Nithianandan, his wife Nirmala a teacher at Chundikuli girls high school, Rev. Jeyathilakarajajah and Dr.Jeyakularajah were taken into custody and detained at the Gurunagar army camp.

The arrests of two catholic priests, a protestant pastor, a varsity lecturer, a medical doctor and a teacher sent shock waves among Tamils in particular and the Country in general. Until then armed Tamil militancy was perceived as a project of Tamil youths only. The arrests of the priests and professionals indicated that the armed struggle had wider and deeper support. Before these arrests, a doctor (Rajasuntharam) and an architect (David) involved with the “Gandhiyam”organization had been arrested. Another retired medical doctor (Tharmalingam) heading the Tamil Eelam Liberation Front”(TELF) and the “Suthanthiran”paper editor(Koavai Mahesan) had also been arrested. The ethnic divide was further sharpened by these arrests.

Cyril Ranatunga

Meanwhile Jaffna erupted into a series of protest demonstrations over the arrests. I was then a staff reporter at “The Island”newspaper. The then editor Vijitha Yapa sent me to Jaffna to cover the arrests and protests. The Jaffna district army commander then was Brigadier Cyril Ranatunga who later became army commander. His chief deputies were Lt. Col Daya Wijeysekera and Major Saliya Kulatunga.

Responding to requests made by me on behalf of northern journalists. Brig.Ranatunga(later Lt.Gen) held a press conference at Gurunagar. Apart from Jeyakularajah and Jeyathilakarajah another of the arrested persons was also known to me. This was Nirmala Nithianandan nee Rajasingham , a contemporary of mine at Jaffna College,Vaddukkoddai.

Rumour mills were working overtime in Jaffna about the physical safety of Nirmala in army custody. At the press conference , I raised questions about the safety of Nirmala. After teasing me for a while, the army top brass got down Nirmala and “displayed”her to the media to show that she was all right. The newspapers reported the appearance of Nirmala in detail thereby dispelling rumours.

Saliya Kulatunga

Maj. Saliya Kulatunga (later Maj-Gen)was the military officer who liaised with the media then. He was a good friend. I kept pressing him about Dr.Jeyakularajah saying he was my favourite uncle. Saliya with the tacit consent of Brig. Ranatunga arranged a private one on one meeting with Dr.Jeyakularajah at Gurunagar. We spoke for an hour without any hinderance. I remember meeting my aunt in Puthur and telling her about the meeting and allaying her concerns and anxiety to some extent.

Dr. Jeyakularajah and others arrested along with him were subsequently brought down to Colombo and held at the Panagoda army cantonment. Unlike at Gurunagar, there was a lot of torture under the pretext of questioning. Later they were charged under the draconian prevention of terrorism act(PTA) that was introduced in 1979 as a supposedly temporary measure and made permanent law three years later in 1982.

Welikade Jail

Jeyakularajah and others charged under the PTA were detained at the Welikade prison. Most Tamils being charged or detained under the PTA were treated as koti or tigers then. I visited him once at Welikade. Journalists were not allowed to meet PTA detenues then. I conceraled the fact that I was a journalist and used used my old national identity card in which my name was “DJB Sabapathy”I (David Jeyaraj Buell Sabapathy) nstead of “DBS Jeyaraj” (David Buell Sabapathy Jeyaraj) and truthfully claimed I was a nephew. Jeyakularajah was very happy to see me but was rather worried over the “Identity card” risk I had taken.

Prison Massacres

Events began to overtake. A terrible anti -Tamil pogrom described as “Black July” took place in 1983. The Tamil political prisoners at Welikade too were targeted. There were 72 in all. On Monday 25 July, 35 Tamil prisoners were massacred by Sinhala prisoners. It was alleged that killers from outside had been brought to lead the attack. Several jailors aided and abetted the massacre. The army detachment at Welikade assigned to maintain security for PTA detenues did nothing. Among those killed were TELO leaders Thangathurai,Kuttimani and Jegan.

Worse still was the second massacre on Wednesday July 27. The remaining prisoners had been transferred to another block supposedly for their protection. They were attacked again. The Tamil prisoners fought back but 18 were killed. Only 11 escaped death in that block. Among these was EPDP Leader and Cabinet minister Douglas Devananda. The victims in both massacres numbering 53 were mainly youths.

Miraculous Escape

“Seniors” like Jeyakularajah and the other professionals escaped death miraculously. Nine prisoners had been taken to an upstairs dormitory after the July 25 attack. They were Fr. Singarayer, Fr. Sinnarasa, Rev.Jeyathilakarajah, Dr.Rajasuntharam, Dr.(retd) Tharmalingam,Dr.Jeyakularajah, editor Koavai Mahesan,Lecturer Nithianandan and Architect David. There was only a narrow staircase to access the dormitory.

When the mob assembled , Dr. Rajasuntharam of the “Gandhiyam” organization who was an ardent devotee of Mahatma Gandhi naively suggested “ we will reason out things with them and resolve this problem” When Rajasuntharam went down the stairs and tried to converse with the mob in Sinhala, he was brutally clubbed on the head and hacked to death.

Table Leg Weapons

The comparatively younger prisoners then resolved to resist the mob. The priests had been provided a small table to observe mass. The table was broken and four persons namely Fr. Sinnarasa,Rev.Jeyathilakarajah, Dr.Jeyakularajah and Mr. Nithianandan armed themselves with a table leg each. Since the staircase was narrow only one or two could climb up at a time. Thus the four Tamil prisoners with their table leg weapons managed to defend themselves and prevent the mob from killing them. Mercifully their terrible ordeal ended after about half an hour when the authorities dispersed the mob.

Of the original 72 Tamil prisoners at Welikade only 19 survived the twin massacres. They were transferred to Batticaloa on Friday 29 July the infamous “Koti Dawasa”. The prisoners were bundled into a truck and taken by road to Ratmalana airport.. Initially they were kept at Galle face for many hours. The handcuffed prisoners were taken to Batticaloa by plane without being allowed to even ease themselves at the airports. All of them were detained at the Batticaloa prison.

Batticaloa Jailbreak

Dr.Jeyakularajah related his harrowing experiences in detail to me at Maambalam in Chennai, Tamil Nadu many years ago. I spent many hours that day listening to the long tale After being taken to Batticaloa, the Tamil political prisoners including Dr. Jeyakularajah escaped in the Batticaloa jail break of September 1983. Thereafter they evaded re-capture and crossed over clandestinely by boat to India. This and other related matters will be related in a forthcoming article.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at

This article appears in the “DBS Jeyaraj Column”of the “Daily Mirror”dated 22 June 2024.It can be accessed here -