Deconstructing the myth of Dharmeratnam Sivaram
Posted on April 25th, 2010

Ajit Randeniya

April 28 marks the fifth anniversary of the abduction and murder of Dharmeratnam “ƒ”¹…”Taraki’ Sivaram.

The death of Sivaram in April 2005 elicited an inordinately high level of mourning from amongst the English speaking urbanites of Sri Lanka, foreign meddlers with vested interests led by a group of American Anthropologists, and the LTTE. The foreigners and the LTTE, especially the semiliterate Prabhakaran appeared to show a suspicious level of intimacy with Sivaram’s “ƒ”¹…”work’.

The purpose of this article is to report the result of a detailed investigation in to what Sivaram represented, by undertaking a “ƒ”¹…”forensic analysis’ of the journalistic contributions on which he seems to have been granted accolades as an expert in a number of academic, political, military and allied fields; the objective of the exercise is to critically evaluate the man’s role in the context of Sri Lanka’s thirty year war. His life and personal background will come in to purview of this examination to the extent it is needed for the task.

This article, to be soon followed by another will provide evidence that D. Sivaram, the “ƒ”¹…”failed’ Tamil militant, partly due to LTTE’s brutal suppression of other groups in the mid 1980s, and also due to his own lack of leadership skills, finally decided to latch onto the LTTE, probably on the premise: “ƒ”¹…”if you can’t beat them, join them’.

 The LTTE cunningly exploited Sivaram’s desperation by assigning him the task of spying under the guise of a journalist in Colombo by getting close to media sources with access to contacts within the armed forces and influential politicians. He was aided and abetted in this enterprise by an unemployed academic at the time, Professor K. Sivathamby by writing most of the material that had an academic “ƒ”¹…”ring’ about them. The much talked about “ƒ”¹…”charisma’ of Sivaram helped him achieve great success in deceiving the majority of the journalistic community in a number of newspaper organisations by creating confidence, over drinks, and by portraying Sivathamby’s work as his own.

 The overseas arm of the LTTE provided him exposure to the US State Department analysts and CIA employed American anthropologists who, as usual, promoted him and exploited him for their own ends. The army capture of LTTE intelligence supremo “ƒ”¹…”Newton’ finally removed his cover, causing his demise. It must be noted that another “ƒ”¹…”journalist’ D.B.S. Jeyaraj (who escaped to Canada in the nick of time) used essentially the same method as Sivaram, bar the “ƒ”¹…”academic’ ruse.

 This work will provide detailed evidence to support the above case, without attempting to make value judgements about his killing.

 Sivaram’s death and its mourning

The reaction to Sivaram’s violent death came mainly from the Colombo English news media who appeared to “ƒ”¹…”go berserk’ with obituaries full of heartfelt emotional outpourings, laced with angry verbal attacks on anyone who dared to cast aspersions on Sivaram’s integrity, let alone accuse him of being an LTTE “ƒ”¹…”spy’.

The inconsolable included some who were simply taken in by Sivaram’s “ƒ”¹…”charisma’; in fact a reference to his willingness to join in with his Sinhalese colleagues for a chinwag over a dram or ten of arrack after work “”…” a habit frowned upon by the average Tamil salary man of Colombo, and their families!

From the other end of the spectrum, the LTTE responded with the granting of their “ƒ”¹…”Maamanithar’ (Great man) award, an honour reserved for distinguished service to the LTTE. Such responses by the LTTE certainly do not look like a case of “ƒ”¹…”Mafia sending flowers’!

However, there were many detractors to the legend of Sivaram that was being constructed by his mates: the credible Jaffna-based collective of academics, University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) saw Sivaram simply, and unflatteringly, as a failed militant that belonged to a group overrun by Prabhakaran, and an opportunist who was ultimately exploited by the LTTE to push its barrow in Colombo.

There were others who were ambivalent about Sivaram’s virtues: his ‘batchmate’ Qadri Ismail wrote in an article titled “ƒ”¹…”Mourning Sivaram’ (Lines Magazine, May 2005): “ƒ”¹…”Others will say that he was simply an opportunist. That is, that he never really changed. Sometimes, I think so too’; he gave several examples of Sivaram’s opportunistic behaviour.

The underlying theme in the favourable obituaries however, was that Sivaram had been an intellectual giant who displayed a deep understanding and expertise in matters ranging from political and military analysis of the Sri Lankan civil conflict, military strategy, and the international angle to the conflict, in particular the efforts of India, China and the US to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka.

 As to the methods of estimating Sivaram’s general intellectual ability, the aforementioned Qadri Ismail wrote: “ƒ”¹…”a first class degree was his for the asking’; this opinion of an undergraduate about the potential future achievement of a “ƒ”¹…”batchmate’ just about summarises the sort of stuff the legend of Sivaram is built on! Another example is that Sivaram was described as an “ƒ”¹…”expert in military strategy’ on the basis of the rumour that Lalith Athulathmudali and the army top brass “ƒ”¹…”stole’ his idea of the naval landing at Vettilaikerni that broke the 1991 LTTE siege of the Elephant Pass military base!

 The assumed, almost mythical “ƒ”¹…”brilliance’ assigned to Sivaram was extended to his general persona through statements such as: “ƒ”¹…”Behind this dark and [be]spectacled man was a wealth of information, insights and intellectual talents.’

 “ƒ”¹…”Prima facie’, most accolades granted to Sivaram appear to far exceed deserving levels of acknowledgement of the level of analysis contained in his work. Disturbingly, such praise appears to have been based on rumour and self-perpetuating myths rather than dispassionate, critical evaluation of his media articles.

 A deeper examination of Sivaram’s work raises many baffling questions, firstly as to how such senior media hands in Colombo were so easily impressed by Sivaram’s so-called “ƒ”¹…”analyses’ which were rarely above the standard of a high school assignment, and secondly, as to how they could so easily come to the conclusion that a man without a formal education could gain, not so much the knowledge, but the wherewithal to write a coherent analysis of political events to the level of sophistication they thought he possessed.

 Sivaram, the man behind the myth

It is on record that Sivaram, a person descending from a family in Akkaraipattu with a background in politics, had been engaged in youth militant activity from an early age. His educational achievements have been limited to the GCE (AL) qualifications through the private institutions Pembroke and Aquinas colleges in Colombo he attended after leaving St. Michaels College of Batticaloa. 

He managed to gain entrance to the University of Peradeniya, but dropped out in 1982, after the first year. While at Peradeniya he is known to have rarely attended lectures because he was busy recruiting fresh students for militant activities. He fled Peradeniya and went underground after receiving a call from Army Intelligence to report  at Gurunagar camp in Jaffnafor an inquiry.

He joined PLOTE, in1984, after meeting Uma Maheswaran during his visit to Jaffna for the purpose of “ƒ”¹…”eliminating’ a group of dissidents within the organisation. PLOTE leadership later admitted to executing 36 persons for “ƒ”¹…”security reasons’ during this period. Sivaram is supposed to have personally executed two dissidents named Selvam and Ahilan, and buried the corpses in the paddy fields of Mutur. He himself came in to strife when a dissident grabbed his loaded sub-machine gun, at Gurunagar Junction, and was saved only by the intervention of a crowd of onlookers.

After the LTTE “ƒ”¹…”banned’ the PLOTE and EPRLF in December 1986, Sivaram became PLOTE’s contact man in Colombo. He developed links with the LTTE  through intermediaries during the LTTE war with the Indian Army in October 1987. But he remined in Colombo as General Secretary of a “ƒ”¹…”front’ named the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF). Later the LTTE ties were formalised through the agency of Anandhi Suriyaprakasan who worked for the BBC. Rumour has it that Anandhi may even have willingly served as the LTTE “ƒ”¹…”honey trap’ for Sivaram.

Sivaram’s entry in to journalism

 Immediately after joining the LTTE, in 1988, Sivaram “ƒ”¹…”mysteriously’ managed to impress the newsreader Richard de Zoysa (who had entered the ranks of journalism courtesy of the Inter Press Service, IPS) and managed to secure a gig with them.  

Sivaram’s infiltration of the Colombo English media however, only happened in 1989 when he was recruited by The Island as “ƒ”¹…”defence analyst’: the story of his joining The Island is as suspect as his joining the IPS; de Zoysa takes Sivaram to Gamini Weerakon, then editor of The Island; Weerakoon readily “ƒ”¹…”recruits’ Sivaram, an unknown quantity, introduced by a man whom he has claimed he barely knew; Weerakoon “ƒ”¹…”christens’ him with the pseudonym “ƒ”¹…”Taraki’ (why?), and throws in the legend of a sub-editor’s “ƒ”¹…”typo’ to complete the ruse. Next we hear that “ƒ”¹…”Taraki’ articles were an immediate success.

Sivaram however, received a major additional boost to his developing journalistic credentials with the publication of an 11 part essay in the Lanka Guardian, starting on 1 May 1992, titled “ƒ”¹…”On Tamil Militarism’. A remark by Mervyn de Silva, editor of the Lanka Guardian that: “ƒ”¹…”Sivaram brought to Sri Lankan English journalism a new depth and vision in writing about Tamil militant youth’ shows that the great man was impressed!

The “ƒ”¹…”academic’ thread that ran through this serious of articles was that Tamil militancy had its origins in a long tradition of caste related martial tendencies, as evidenced by ancient Tamil literature since the “ƒ”¹…”Purananuru.’

It beggars belief that some of the “ƒ”¹…”bigwigs’ in the Sri Lankan media believed in 1992 that the above thesis was “ƒ”¹…”groundbreaking’: it has been widely known at least since 1856, when Robert Caldwell, the bishop of Tinnevely, the heartland of the Maravar Poligars (the “ƒ”¹…”martial caste’ Sivaram was referring to), wrote the book “ƒ”¹…”The Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages’; it was Caldwell who stoked the flames of Tamil nationalism based on a unique, ancient “ƒ”¹…”Dravidian’ language and civilisation. The theme was developed intellectually by Tamil professors such as Karativu-born Swami Vipulananda, the first professor of Tamil of the University of Ceylon, and others such as K. Kanapathi Pillai, S. Suseendirarajah and Karthigesu Indrapala.

 The forensic examination of the articles commissioned by this writer with the assistance of a prominent Tamil anthropologist has revealed that the series of articles Sivaram “ƒ”¹…”contributed’ to the Lanka Guardian was in fact the work of well known Tamil anthropologist Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby who had written a book as far back as 1978, examining the particular link between caste, language and militant Tamil nationalism. From the mid 1980s to late 1990s Sivathamby was engaged in political activism, having no opportunity for academic engagement due to the war.

Professor Karthigesu Sivathamby, the real “ƒ”¹…”Taraki’

 K. Sivathamby is a “ƒ”¹…”bona fide’ academic with a sound record of publication (for those interested in those sorts of credentials!). His doctoral thesis, written 50 years ago, dealt with the “ƒ”¹…”Sangam age Tamil grammar and its links to social history, Tamil media and culture’.

 Sivathamby also has been a Tamil nationalist activist: in an interview to the Time magazine (9 June 1986), Sivathamby stated: “ƒ”¹…”Separation is becoming a psychological reality. Historically, the two groups have seldom lived in harmony’. He was chairman, Coordinating Committee of Citizens in Jaffna and in September 2003 Prabhakaran nominated him to the Monitoring Committee to Sri Lankan government’s unilateral extension of the ceasefire announced by Lalith Athulathmudali.

Sivathamby was no stranger to the Colombo media either; Mervyn de Silva noted in the Lanka Guardian, 1 January 1990 (while announcing the “ƒ”¹…”man of the decade’-“ƒ”¹…”Prabhakaran: The Eye of the Storm’) that “ƒ”¹…”Professors [K] Kailasapathy and [K] Sivathamby helped us understand the evolution of Tamil consciousness, the sense of distinctive identity, and the impact it had on Tamil politics, both bourgeois parliamentary and the youth militancy’.

Sivathamby’s obituary of Sivaram, “ƒ”¹…”D. P. Sivaram Profile: Unassuming Greatness, Unforgettable Charm’ (Northeastern Monthly, June 2005), would have been the most disingenuous, and the easiest piece of writing he ever had to do. Sivathamby virtually reviewed his own work thus: “ƒ”¹…”Sivaram traced the causes of militancy to the martial traditions of the Tamils, evidence for which exists in pre-colonial Tamil literature since the “ƒ”¹…”Purananuru.’  He was especially interested in military castes and tribes, which British colonial governments dubbed criminal tribes.  His series of articles on Tamil militarism in the “ƒ”¹…”Lanka Guardian’ opened more Tamil eyes than non-Tamils ones about the cultural roots of contemporary Tamil armed nationalism’; of course, this was Sivathamby’s life’s work.

A two part series by Sivathamby on the Sunday Observer following Sivaram’s death: “ƒ”¹…”Getting to know Sri Lankan Tamils’, and “ƒ”¹…”What do the terms ‘Eelam’ and ‘Ilankai’ mean’, on March 26 and April 2, 2006 respectively, suggest that he decided to wield the pen himself, to fill the void left by Sivaram. He described the aim of this series as to show that “ƒ”¹…”[Tamil] history is not a history parallel to that of the Sinhalese, but a complementary one, with deep cultural affinities with the Sinhalese and with Buddhism’.

Sivaram’s other articles

Sivaram’s other articles to the Daily Mirror and Virakesari can be easily summarised as outpourings of a would-be eastern province militant leader who could not form effective alliances or find traction. His promotion of the north-eastern unity as the foundation of Tamil nationalism was simply a cynical rallying cry of a self-interested scoundrel who had failed in everything he had tried!

His “ƒ”¹…”campaign’ against Karuna, based on Karuna’s split from Prabhakaran, placing exaggerated emphasis on an imagined “ƒ”¹…”rise’ of the JVP in the east and other Tamil regions was part of this rallying call, and was unadulterated “ƒ”¹…”pony excreta’ as confirmed by events during his life time and after!

His “ƒ”¹…”analysis’ of the “ƒ”¹…”international angle’ based on the strategic value of the sea lanes around Sri Lanka possibly triggering a power struggle among India, China and US can best be described as “ƒ”¹…”political economy 101′, and has been discussed since the piracy wars amongst the colonisers. His analysis that the US stood to gain by encouraging division among Tamils is simply ludicrous; simple logic shows that they could gain by dividing the “ƒ”¹…”Sinhalese and Tamils’, but divisions among Tamils will act against this major objective: this is certainly not the sort of stuff that deservs the type of accolades granted to Sivaram by sections of the Colombo media.

What the above analysis proves is that attempts to record Sivaram as an accomplished “ƒ”¹…”military strategist’ and a “ƒ”¹…”political analyst’ are based on rumour. myth and old style goodwill rather than a critical evaluation of his work; in planting Sivaram amongst the Colombo “ƒ”¹…”inner circles’ the LTTE played a the second oldest trick in the spy manual, next to the ‘honey trap’, the “ƒ”¹…”journalistic cover’. They were provided strategic help by foreign sources (you know who!) and operational help by local sources. The honest sections of the media succumbed to the deception.

Sivaram  made several significant “ƒ”¹…”achievements’ under cover by passing on information that led to the Kottawa safe house killings of July 2004 and the killing of PLOTE Mohan in August 2004, and the luring of Inspector P. Jeyaratnam to his “ƒ”¹…”last supper’ in April 2005. His complicity did not come to light under the LTTE intelligence operative Newton was captured and ‘pursuaded’ to reveal their sources. The LTTE avenged the loss of Sivaram, barely a week after his death, by murdering Lt. Col. Tuan Muthalif. Attempts to defend Sivaram in the face of all this evidence could only be described as pig-headed obstinacy.

Did people like Gamini Weerakoon and D.B.S. Jayaraj take The Island and the Upali Newspapers for a ride? Next instalment will examine this issue together with the roles the Jesuit Father Harry Miller, and a “ƒ”¹…”gaggle’ of American anthropologists played in this elaborate “ƒ”¹…”Taraki’ ruse.

One Response to “Deconstructing the myth of Dharmeratnam Sivaram”

  1. Sita Perera Says:

    Good article. Thank you.

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