Last week saw this column focusing on former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 12 August 2005.
This week will see this column focusing on well-known political activist Ketheeswaran Loganathan who was killed exactly one year after Kadirgamar’s death. Ketheeswaran Loganathan known as “Ketheesh” was shot dead by a Tiger assassin in Dehiwala on 12 August 2006. This article therefore will commemorate the 15th death anniversary of Ketheesh Loganathan.
At the time of his death Ketheesh was Deputy Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) and Secretary of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). This made him appear as a pro-Government “establishment” man. The eulogies heaped on him then by some reinforced that impression. This perhaps was the unkindest cut of all. It would be a great injustice to Ketheesh’s memory if one were to view his life only through the prism of the posts he held at the time of his death. His was a life that dedicated itself to service and sacrifice for the betterment of humanity.
A Fiercely Independent Man of Thought and Action
The life and times of Ketheeswaran Loganathan would demonstrate that he was at no time a toady of anyone, least of all a government in power. He was a fiercely independent man of thought and action. Ketheesh was a Tamil nationalist. Not of the variety that descended into violence and barbarity but of the kind which believed in a negotiated settlement ensuring Tamil rights through maximum devolution in a united Sri Lanka.
Ketheeswaran or Ketheesh was of Jaffna origin but born and bred in Colombo. Ketheesh belonged to a segment of Jaffna Tamil society that lived and studied outside Jaffna but retained a positive love and interest in the land of their ancestors. Life for this category would have been entirely different if there was no ethnic oppression in Sri Lanka. Even then it was possible to have gone abroad and lived a life of luxury and seclusion from Sri Lankan politics.
But some of these people did not do so. Instead they chose to engage in political struggle and worked for the emancipation of the Tamil people in a united Sri Lanka. They were able to see both sides of the question and bring a sense of balance and moderation to the prevailing discourse that was often rabid. The ability to see both sides and understand the other man’s point of view is often a great blessing. But in contemporary Sri Lanka it was a curse. It often made you an outsider in both camps. Ketheesh belonged to this rare breed of persons.
Family Background and Early Years
Ketheesh belonged to an elitist Tamil family. His father Chelliah Loganathan was the legendary banker and economist. There was a time when Loganathan, General Manager of Bank of Ceylon, was regarded as a powerful financier wielding much influence in Sri Lanka.
The bank’s lending policies caused much controversy. The journalist par excellence Denzil Peiris wrote of Loganathan once, “Like a Sea Street Chettiar, Mr. C. Loganathan sits in his York Street office with his greasy fingers on the national economy.”
Chelliah and Thilakavathy Loganathan had six children. Ketheesh born in 1952 was the youngest in the family. C. Loganathan was a devotee of the Thirukketheeswaram temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Mannar District. That is why he named his youngest son Ketheeswaran. Ketheesh had three elder sisters, Gowri, Vasuki and Lalitha. He had two elder brothers, Sathananthan and Sritharan. Ketheesh was married to Bhavani Kumarasamy who worked at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).
Ketheesh had pronounced left leanings. One of his father’s brothers, C. Tharmakulasingham, was a well-known Samasajist leader of an earlier vintage. Tharmakulasingham who contested the Point Pedro Constituency in 1947 on the LSSP ticket was a very popular leftist who died at a very early age amid tragic circumstances. Many people feel that had Tharmakulasingham lived he would certainly have become a prominent leader of the left movement. In a way Ketheesh inherited this leftist legacy.
Ketheesh studied at S. Thomas’ College Mt. Lavinia. He was two classes above me at college. After leaving STC, he went to Loyola College in Chennai (then Madras) and graduated before proceeding to the USA for further studies. Ketheesh Loganathan received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Georgetown University in Washington, USA and a Masters in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies at Hague, Netherlands. He also worked on a Master’s degree at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, UK.
After returning from abroad he worked as a researcher at the Marga Institute (’77-’79) and Social Scientists Association (’79-’81). He worked on issues of development and underdevelopment.
It was then that his father, now retired, launched an enterprise aiming to generate funds and economically develop the badly-neglected and deprived Northern and Eastern Provinces. Possessing a streak of idealistic adventurism and a wistful nostalgia for an “imagined” Jaffna, Ketheesh went to Jaffna and took charge of his father’s project. At the same time he co-founded another institution for north eastern development called DEREC (Centre for Development Research, Education and Communication) in Jaffna in 1981.
Entry into Revolutionary Politics
It was during this stay in Jaffna that Ketheesh’s life was taken over by revolutionary politics. October 1981 was the time of the first congress of the newly-formed Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). A close and trusted friend Manoranjan Rajasingham (now no more) joined the EPRLF and convinced Ketheesh that he too must do so. So Ketheesh joined what was then a revolutionary political organisation.
The 1983 July anti-Tamil pogrom changed life drastically for Tamils. Different people responded differently. Ketheesh went to Chennai and became a fulltime activist of the EPRLF. Having independent means he did not lead a commune or camp life like many of his other comrades. He stayed in a flat within walking distance of the EPRLF’s Eelam People’s Information Centre (EPIC) at Choolaimedu and attended office dutifully.
It was during this period that Ketheesh forged a firm friendship with the lovable Pathmanabha alias Ranjan a.k.a. Nabha who was EPRLF Secretary General at the time. Ketheesh Loganathan and Annamalai Varatharajapperumal were the EPRLF representatives at the famous Thimphu talks in 1985. He also represented the EPRLF in many negotiations with and without publicity. Then came the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. Ketheesh returned home but took no part in the pro-Indian EPRLF north-eastern administration. He went to Hague and continued his higher studies.
Ketheesh also got affiliated to the ‘Conflict Resolution Programme’ of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway and was awarded a two-year research fellowship at the Agriculture University of Norway to complete a study on ‘The Plantation System in Sri Lanka and the Search for Sustainable Development’.
After Pathmanabha was killed by the LTTE in 1990 June, Ketheesh’s role in the EPRLF began diminishing. Though he remained in the movement it was a case of being “in but not of”. His relationship with the new leader Suresh Premachandran also deteriorated. Ketheesh continued to represent the EPRLF in public fora including the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee. Finally in 1994 Ketheesh formally quit the EPRLF but remained on friendly terms with many activists.
Re-entering academia, Ketheesh served as a research consultant at the Centre for Policy Research and Analysis (CEPRA). He authored the book ‘Sri Lanka: Lost Opportunities’ in 1996.
Ketheesh also took to journalism. He functioned as Consultant to the short-lived Weekend Express, where he wrote a popular column, ‘Truthfully Speaking,’ under the pseudonym Sathya. He later wrote articles as ‘Sathya’ for the Daily Mirror too. In 1998 he was awarded the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship and was enrolled for a year at the College of Journalism in Maryland University.
Thereafter Ketheesh joined the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and was in charge of the Peace and Conflict Analysis Unit. He played an important role in forging the ‘Roadmap to Peace’ blueprint with the objective of taking the 2002 Oslo-facilitated peace process forward.
Isolated and Under Threat
Soon Ketheesh became critical of the direction the peace process was taking. He felt that the strategy of dealing with the LTTE alone was not a positive one. Instead Ketheesh felt that there should be an emphasis on human rights, pluralism and democracy for the Tamil people. Child conscription and exterminatination of those with alternate political views by the Tigers was particularly upsetting. Ketheesh became openly critical of the process and the conduct of the LTTE. This was not a popular position to take and soon Ketheesh became increasingly isolated.
This also placed him under LTTE threat. Increasingly pressured, Ketheesh once consulted the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and obtained some security measures for his protection. Ketheesh quit the CPA early in 2006 with the objective of taking up duties as Research Director at the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS). But he changed his plans when the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa offered him the Deputy Secretary General position at the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP). He took up duties on 29 March 2006. In July 2006 he became Secretary of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).
Taking the SCOPP Plunge
These were difficult decisions for Ketheesh and he did consult some friends before taking it. Many including myself thought it was a grave misjudgement on his part. The SCOPP Peace Secretariat at that time was becoming a propaganda instrument of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
Yet Ketheesh took the plunge with two objectives. One, he was naively optimistic of gradually influencing the regime positively. Two, he felt someone like him should be embedded in the power structure that was virtually without any Tamil of significance in order to contain the anti-Tamil impulses.
Despite his anti-Tiger background and good intentions, Ketheesh received flak from sections of Sinhala hardliners. Some Sinhala expatriates objected to his appointment overtly and branded him an ‘Eelamist’ and ‘Kotiya’. The JVP paper Lanka had a nasty article about him on 6 August just six days before his murder.
Meanwhile Ketheesh himself became uncomfortable and frustrated in his new assignment. For one thing, an undeclared war was being waged with the SCOPP cheering from the sidelines. The All Party Conference was perceived as a time-buying charade without any meaningful direction.
More importantly, the impunity with which human rights violations were being committed by the armed forces troubled him greatly. He began trying to collect as much information about these as possible. According to informed sources Ketheesh was greatly agitated about the massacre of 17 aid workers by the security forces in Mutur.
Those who know Ketheesh well were of the opinion that it would only have been a matter of time before he quit the SCOPP and APRC. Being a man of principle and conscience, Ketheesh could not have compromised for long. Also he was not the kind of person to subordinate his personality to the whims and fancies of the powers that be.
Sadly ‘Yaman,’ the God of Death, visited Ketheesh first. It was on 12 August, the first anniversary of Lakshman Kadirgamar’s death. A Police team in plain clothes regularly checked up on Ketheesh due to security reasons. This was a security measure arranged for by SCOPP, I believe. On that fateful day some ‘new’ faces appeared at his residence, 1B Windsor Avenue off Vanderwert place, Dehiwala.
Instead of asking for “Mr. Loganathan”, as was usual, they asked for “Mr. Ketheeswaran”. Somewhat suspicious, Ketheesh hesitated between front door and gate, insisting on some identification. Instead the assassin fired a 9 mm. Five rounds were fired, with three hitting him. He was taken to hospital but died upon admittance.
Given the murky conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka at that time his killing was not regarded as an open and shut case by some though it was widely believed that the LTTE was responsible. Both Mahinda Rajapaksa and the then SCOPP Chief Palitha Kohona were quick to accuse the LTTE. None could have ruled the Tigers out.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR – Jaffna) then noted in a statement: “The LTTE-intelligence related website Nitharsanam devoted seven lines to the killing of Ketheesh. It began – ‘Infamous traitor of the Tamil race Ketheeswaran Loganathan was shot dead a short while ago. Known as Tamil Betrayer Kadirgamar Junior, he was Deputy Head of the Government Peace Secretariat.’ This derisive snigger is the stamp of the killers, their very nature and their values that are the antithesis of decency and true heroism. The implicit boast in the killing and its timing is that this organisation can and would pick off its unarmed opponents at will, should they persist in giving hope to the people.”
Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), in a statement issued in the aftermath of Ketheesh’s killing observed thus: “Whilst the identity of his killers has not been established and no single organisation or actor has the monopoly of political killing in the current climate of division and violence in our country, the LTTE’s record of assassinations of political opponents and Ketheesh’s public profile as one of their most trenchant critics, invariably marks them out as prime suspects. We call on the LTTE to refute this by unequivocally condemning his murder. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct a speedy and impartial investigation into Ketheesh’s murder and to ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice.”
The LTTE however “officially” ignored Ketheesh’s killing. There was no statement denying or claiming responsibility. The Government announced it was investigating the murder but despite 15 long years there has been no effective breakthrough by the authorities.
His Death Diminishes All Of Us
As time went on Ketheesh Loganathan became one more statistic in the lengthy list of deaths caused by the protracted ethnic conflict. His memory however will always be evergreen in the hearts and minds of his family, friends, comrades and colleagues.
There are people whose deaths diminish all of us. Their departure leaves us sad and shattered. The loss is not to the nearest and dearest alone but to all of humanity. The death of Ketheeswaran “Ketheesh” Loganathan was one such instance. With his departure, one more Tamil who wanted his people to live with equal rights in a united Lanka and championed that cause in the face of danger has been done away with.
(D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
This article appears in the “Political Pulse”Column of the “Daily Financial Times”dated ugust 11th 2021.It can be accessed here-