Progressive Academic and Human Rights Activist Santasilan”Silan”Kadirgamar Passes away at 81

Santasilan Kadirgamar, known as Silan amongst his friends and fellow activists, passed away on Saturday July 25th 2015 in the 81st year of his life.

He was born in Chavakachcheri to Rev. and Mrs. J.W.A. Kadirgamar, and lived in Malaysia during the years of the Second World War. He had his school education at Jaffna College from where he entered the University of Peradeniya to read History.

There he began his lifelong involvement with the left movement of Sri Lanka as a sympathiser of the LSSP.

He returned to teach history at the Undergraduate Department of Jaffna College, his alma mater, and in the early 70s joined the Department of History at the Colombo University. In 1974 he went to Tokyo to do his Masters at the International Christian University.

A couple of years after his return he joined the teaching staff of the Jaffna University as a lecturer in the Department of History. He left for Japan once again in 1983 on a Japan Foundation Fellowship, lecturing at several universities in Tokyo-Yokohama between 1983 and 2000.

In 1979, while at the Jaffna University, Silan became the first chair of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE – Jaffna) in the wake of an emergency declared with the onset of disappearances, extra judicial killings and growing militarisation of the north.

He was also the co-founder of the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee, set up in 1981 after the burning of the Jaffna Public Library.

In 1980, Silan published a seminal and authoritative work on the history and impact of the Jaffna Youth Congress, which was a remarkable, if brief, feature of the north that stood for egalitarian and democratic principles while eschewing narrow ethnic nationalisms. His book The Jaffna Youth Congress has been reproduced and also been translated into Tamil. His other publications include Ethnicity: Identity, Conflict and Crisis, co-edited with Kumar David (Hong Kong, 1989), The Tamils of Lanka: Their Struggle for Justice and Equality with Dignity (Kanyakumari, South India, 2010) and The Left Tradition in Lankan Tamil Politics (in Hector Abhayavardhana Felicitation Volume, Colombo, 2001).

Silan and his family lived exiled from Sri Lanka after 1983, as his involvement with human rights monitoring and campaigning deepened, and the north became ever more militarised. He returned to Sri Lanka to settle down in 2000 after being away 17 years.

In the last 15 years, while in retirement, he has been part of an ever narrowing circle of progressive intellectuals within the Tamil community. Has kept conversations going, especially with youth, sharing his experiences of activism in the north. Silan has also been involved in the Sri Lankan ecumenical movement, which is committed to work for inter-racial peace and justice, both within the Christian Church and across all religions.

Remains lie at the residence 248/224 Hill Street, Lotus Grove, Dehiwela. No flowers by request. Viewing and Service at 2:30 pm on Tuesday, 28th July 2015, at Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue (EISD), 490/5 Havelock Road, Colombo 06. Cortege leaves at 4:30pm for cremation at Borella Kanatte (cemetery)