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Remembering Late S. Sivanayagam

Dec 3, 2010 11:09:59 PM- transcurrents.com

by Dr. V. Suryanarayan (Chennai, India)

Two Sri Lankan Tamils have contributed immensely in internationalizing the Sri Lankan Tamil cause after the communal holocaust in July 1983. The first was Mr. Kandaswamy, who started the Tamil Information Centre in London. Through sheer hard work, perseverance and persuasive skill Kandaswamy sensitized many human rights organizations like the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to champion the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Kandaswamy’s second in command was S. Sivanayagam, who was in charge of the Tamil Information Centre in Chennai. Easily accessible, genial and friendly, Sivanayagam was a rich storehouse of information and sensitized a whole generation of Indian and Western Journalists about the momentous events taking place in the Island in the 1980’s. The Tamil Information Centre in Chennai had a rich collection of books and newspaper clippings and the TIC publications themselves were good reference materials.

I met Kandaswamy and Sivanayagam in Sri Lanka in January 1983. I went to Jaffna and visited the Saturday Review Office, where I met Sivanayagam and the dedicated group who were behind the functioning of the Saturday Review. Sivanayagam gave me back issues of Saturday Review and soon after my return to Madras, got them bound. When Sivanayagam, like many others, had to flee the shores of Sri Lanka after the horrendous events in July 1983 and came to Madras, I gave him the bound volumes of Saturday Review. Siva had efficient research staff, they made use of my Centre’s library, photocopied many books and articles and made the TIC library in Chennai a repository of excellent reference materials.

Genial and friendly, Sivanayagam was a great conversationalist, had a good sense of humour and used to enjoy jokes, bald and ribald. On many evenings we used to sit in the Besant Nagar beach and reflect and converse on matters, wise and otherwise. I organized a national seminar on Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Emerging Trends in the University of Madras, in which former diplomats, eminent journalists and academicians participated. I persuaded Sivanayagam to write a paper on Phenomenon of Tamil Militancy. It was later included as a chapter in an edited volume published by the Patriot Publishers, New Delhi.

I had lot of differences with Sivanayagam, I never subscribed to the cause of a separate state of Tamil Eelam, I used to point out that the violence available at the hands of the State was far more than that of the Tamil militants, I was also more sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of people of Indian origin and the Tamil speaking Moslems.

Siva had a different point of view. We used to end the conversation by agreeing to disagree. It was unfortunate that he had to spend many months in prison. He fell sick and was hospitalized in Madras, when I called on him.

I lost touch with Siva after he left Madras. But I used to enquire about him and other members of the family through common friends. My daughter Geethanjali was very fond of Siva’s daughter Narayani and it was very difficult for me to get Geethanjali back to my house from Narayani’s company. I came to know that Siva was not keeping well and had returned to Colombo.

When I read about Siva’s tragic demise this morning, a flood of memories about my association with Sivanayagam came to my mind. It is very difficult o put these memories into words. May God give sufficient fortitude and courage to the immediate members of his family to bear with the loss. May his soul rest in peace.

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan was Senior Professor and Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. He is currently Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai)