Posted on July 25th, 2020


The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna was created by Rohana Wijeweera, whose real name was Patabandige Don Nandasiri Wijeweera. He was a member of Sri Lanka’s Communist Party   (Moscow wing) led by S.A. Wickremasinghe and in 1962 was awarded a scholarship to Lumumba University in Moscow, to study medicine.

 In Moscow, Wijeweera had apparently changed his loyalties from Moscow to China. When he came on a visit to Sri Lanka in 1964, Russia did not permit him to return. According to Wijeweera, the reason given was his new attachment to Communist China.

Unable to return to Moscow, Wijeweera had joined the Communist Party (Peking wing) in Colombo. Wijeweera was given the task of re-organizing its youth, but instead tried to promote his own ideas. He had apparently tried to oust the Shanmuganathan faction in the party as well.Wijeweera wasexpelled from the Communist Party (Peking wing) in 1966. It is clear that neither Moscow nor Peking wanted him.  He was not valuable to them. Also they did not trust him. Rohana Wijeweera, it is alleged, had been secretly recruited by USA when he was in Moscow.

Starting in 1965, Wijeweera set up a   well organized underground movement, initially labeled simply as’ Viyaparaya’.  The Viyaparaya had become Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna by May 1970. There was a political party called Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna led by KMP Rajaratne In the 1950’s. This party is forgotten today.

Wijeweera visited various parts of the country, to obtain support for his movement. The movement gained support in the rural areas   where there were many alienated youth.  He was able to build a base among the educated Sinhala youth there.

Wijeweera targeted O and A Level students and unemployed graduates. Only 19 per cent of the membership was poorly educated, concluded Gamini Samaranayake. 79% were from Maha Vidyalaya and 6.4% from Madhya Maya Vidyalaya.

The movement received strong support from University students. The Socialist League of the University of Peradeniya, the  Communist Party ( Moscow) breakaway faction  from the University of Vidyodaya led by M. Wijesekara  and the Communist Party ( Moscow) oriented  faction of the Student society of the University of Vidyalankara, headed by D. I. G. Dharmasekera joined the movement. Arasaratnam observed that there were definitely more University students in the JVP than the mere 156 given In Obeysekera’s sample.

Wijeweera was looking for followers, whom he could trust and who were dedicated. Recruitment of new members was therefore done at a personal level. ‘A’ brought in ‘B’ who had been a classmate and so on. Gathering new members into the fold was referred to as “koku gahanava”. The term is revealing.

Those seeking membership were initially exposed to a discussion on the prevailing political situation in Sri Lanka. Those who passed this’ test’ were then treated to a series of   ‘classes’, which were held in secret. “Classes were held in the night, in cemeteries for small groups of five or 10, recalled a member.

 Those who passed this hurdle were then admitted to the fifth lecture which dealt with the JVP strategy. The prospective members were thereafter placed under observation, to see whether they would be loyal to the movement and then admitted into the movement.

These five ‘classes’ were on five different subjects.  The first class dealt with the ‘economic crisis’, the problems facing the peasant farmer and the rural worker. The second was on ‘Independence’ giving a historical background into the ill-effects of colonial rule. The third on ‘Indian expansionism’ focused on how Indian capitalists were trying to spread their tentacles into smaller countries. The fourth was on the failure of the Left movement. The fifth class, which came later, was on ‘the path the Revolution should take’. 

J. V. P.  Members were classified into two lists.List A consisted of full time members, trustworthy, loyal, and identified only by pseudonyms. There were 500 full-time members in 1970, said Samaranayake. We had a sense of adventure and never felt the hardship. We would travel without any money for bus fare and walk into a boutique, eat and walk out without paying. “Polu thibba,” recalled a JVP member.

The B List consisted of part-time members, who were employed or studying, and were prepared to devoted their spare time to the activities of the group. These sympathizers were used mainly for propaganda activities, such as poster campaigns. There was also a C List” of those who could be approached for help. JVP established contacts in Buddhist temples. They   used them as hide outs   after the 1971 insurrection.

The strength of the JVP is not known. Samaranayake said that before 1970 the membership was 2,000, but by 1970 it had increased to about 3,000. 98 % were under 35 years of age.

The JVP   organization consisted of a Central committee and Politbureau at the top, followed by district leaders, district secretaries, village committees, police committees, grass roots units and full time volunteers. Cadres were organized according to police divisions and police districts.   The grass roots unit was a group of five, in each Police area, the ‘pahe’ committee. The police committees were charged with preparing an armed attack on the local police station. 

The Politbureau was not elected at a party congress. But was probably appointed by Wijeweera. There was even a doubt as to how many it contained. The leaders, when questioned could not agree on the number. Each gave a different figure.

The politbureau met every month in Colombo and the district secretaries would take the decisions back to their district and from there to the cadres. Couriers, the “mallis” who knew the hideouts would take the messages to the cadres. Communication was by code.

But decisions were not made by Central committee or Politbureau. All matters were decided by the Secretarial committee composed of Wijeweera, Sanath, Karunaratna and Loku Athula.Sanath” was Wijesena Vitharana, a teacher from Kalattawa, Karunaratna” was W.T. Karunaratne from the Inland Revenue Department, ‘Loku Athula’ was Nimalsiri Jayasinghe.

The high degree of security consciousness introduced into each of the JVP committees, is significant, said Godahewa Indradasa of Sri Lanka Intelligence, who had been assigned to investigate insurgent activities.  JVP conducted their political affairs in secret. The leaders used aliases to prevent identification.

The ordinary members of the JVP did not know the structure of the organization. They were kept in the dark. It was only after I came to prison, that I came to know, that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna had a politbureau, one JVPer told the police.

The JVP had four working divisions, propaganda, education, organization and arms, with each division headed by one of the four members of the Secretarial committee.JVP started a propaganda section to conduct meetings all over the country, except North and East. JVP impressed the public through its poster campaigns. The same poster appeared island wide overnight. 

Several ‘farms’ were established, not for farming but for conducting secret classes and storing weapons. The first were in Anuradhapura, Tissamaharama and Kirinda. The Kirinda one was a poultry farm. The first educational camp was held in Akmeemana in 1967 followed by one in Tanamalwila.    Education camps were thereafter held secretly in remote parts of the country. Camps were held in Kurunegala, Anuradhapura   Tissamaharama, Elpitiya, Akmeemana, Tanamalwila, Tambuttegama, Kataragama and Middeniya. Each camp taught about   25 to 100 cadres. Food was obtained from chenas.

The trainees had to be up by 4 a.m. for military-style drills and arms training by navy personnel who had been drafted in. The youth were told that armed struggle was necessary, and they must be prepared to fight. Instructions in the use of arms were done through diagrams.  A rudimentary form of military training was given at the camps, with sketches of guns on the blackboard, pictures of rifles being circulated and rifle drills and karate being taught. The inadequacy of the military training was clearly shown in their attack on the Polonnaruwa police station, said Samaranayake, where 39 JVP were killed and many were wounded compared to few government casualties.

The JVP also started making bombs. Bombs were made using condensed milk tins. These were collected in large quantities and sent to remote areas. JVP cadres were   collecting fused bulbs and jam bottles, tins and similar-sized containers to make bombs and Molotov cocktails. The containers were filled with kerosene or petrol and had a fuse.

Bombs were also being made using cheena chatti, cast iron shells, dynamite and had an elementary mechanism to blow them up.  In September 1970, Rohana Wijeweera ordered the distribution of 1000 bombs and 1000 Molotov cocktails (petrol bombs) to each JVP police division unit.

Every member was asked to have a gun and 10 cartridges ready. Due to this, there was a spate of robberies of guns and cartridges in 1970. They were removed from houses, taking nothing else.  There was an unprecedented increase in the theft of guns in the country, said Indradasa. 

By early 1971, recruitment to the JVP was stopped and members were urged to collect as much money as possible, through whatever means to arm the movement. Several heists were carried out, such as the Okkampitiya bank robbery, the Badulla mail bag robbery, the Ambalangoda bank robbery and the York Street robbery to raise funds. There were robberies also at branches of Peoples Bank, Bank of Ceylon, a CTB depot, a Mail train and the Urubokka sub-post office.

Although the movement was supposed to be secretive and undercover, JVP openly conducted political debates, contested University student council elections, and organized University student strikes. Between July and December 1970, Wijeweera addressed some twenty public rallies in places like Kegalle, Wellawaya, Tangalle, Negombo, Moratuwa and Elpitiya. The JVP also published its own paper, the Janatha Vimukthi, which was widely read. JVP held 16 public meetings between August 1970 and February 1971.In March 1971 Wijeweera travelled around the country, visiting Hambantota, Colombo, Kandy, Matale, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa.

The Movement was now gathering momentum. Each member was instructed to collect his uniform and kit consisting of a gun, box of cartridges, boots, stockings, black trousers, blue shirt with pockets, an army belt, black running shorts, black vest, steel helmet, knife, torch, Lighter, haversack, first aid box, and canvas cloth.

The subversive activities of the JVP had come to the attention of the intelligence services and  a special unit has been formed in the CID to watch them, said Indradasa. The first police report of the existence of the JVP underground movement was presented to the Cabinet in 1968. In 1970 the government set up a special police unit nicknamed the `Guevara Bureau’, through which all intelligence pertaining to the subversive movement was channeled.

 From January 1971, at Kegalle, police intelligence and the spy network floated by SP Seneviratne with the special vote of Rs. 50,000 started receiving significant information. Reports came in from grama sevaka, DROs and school principals in Kegalle district, of young boys going ‘missing’ from home for days. Tailors in the area told us how orders for a large number of uniforms had been placed. 

There were reports in Kegalle of small groups of youth meeting in secret in lonely places,  the ‘desana paha’ being delivered, collection, manufacture and storage of weapons, jungle training of fighting cadres, testing of devices in the jungle, shooting practice, strange explosions. Six-foot lengths of barbed wire were being removed from fences. These were subsequently cut into pieces and used in anti-personnel bombs

At the Government Agent’s residence in Kegalle, one could hear at night, the tell-tale ‘clink-clink’ of the insurgents making their way through the forest behind the Residency. They were carrying ‘Molotov cocktails’ in their haversacks and as they walked over the uneven terrain, stumbling over rocks and roots, the bottles and cans would knock against each other.

Kegalle authorities informed the government .Daily dispatches were sent through special messengers, but no action was taken. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike discussed the intelligence reports at her Cabinet meetings with MPs from the area. The MPs said repeatedly that our boys” wouldn’t do such things.

Then in February 1971, a clear warning went to the authorities that something was brewing among the university students. The JVP had hidden a large number of detonators in the ceiling of Peradeniya University’s Marrs Hall and due to the heat, they began exploding like firecrackers. The explosions went on for five days.

In March 1971, there was a massive blast at Nelundeniya in Kegalle. Five died. The authorities found a 15′ x 20′ pit with many tunnels leading from it. It was an arms dump. The army was alerted. The police began raiding JVP hideouts  police arrested about 500members and sympathizers of the JVP. Wijeweera was arrested on the 13th March and sent to the Jaffna jail. On March 16, the government declared a state of Emergency.

The JVP was not deterred by these developments. The JVP inner circle met in secret On April 2 at the Sangaramaya temple of Vidyodaya University, Kelaniya and decided that all police stations in the country would be attacked at 11 p. m.on April 5th.  This decision was communicated to the district cadres and local leaders.

Wijeweera had sent a message that posters and leaflets should be published calling for his release and 500 comrades should be sent to Jaffna to secure his release. The   plan therefore was to launch a simultaneous night-time attack on the police stations. Also to attack concurrently the Jaffna police station, Jaffna naval base and Jaffna prison and rescue Wijeweera.

The police station attacks were to be launched by 15 separate groups, each consisting of 40 to 50 JVPers.The attackers were armed with shotguns, locally-made hand bombs and `Molotov cocktails’. They were in home-sewn dark blue uniforms,  military boots, and carried haversacks. They were ordered to fly the JVP flag, a lion on a red background, on captured police stations. Their  attack approach varied. Some launched frontal attacks arriving in buses and Lorries which had been forcibly commandeered, while others resorted to more surreptitious approaches.

But things did not go according to plan. Wellawaya Police Station was attacked  prematurely   at dawn, 5.20 a.m. on the 5th April. Two policemen were killed. This  attack alerted the government.  An all-island curfew was declared on the 6th of April.This curfew lasted until mid-July. It continued till the end of November , 1971 in the Western Province.

This curfew prevented JVP attacks in Ampara, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Ratnapura and Monaragala,but did not deter the JVP elsewhere. JVP continued to attack police stations, in the rural areas till the  11th of April. Police stations around the country were placed on alert but they were ill-equipped to face the sudden onslaught. Police stations in remote areas were temporarily closed.

Ninety two police stations across the country were attacked and five, Deniyaya, Uragaha, Rajangane, Kataragama and Warakapola were  taken by the insurgents. Fifty-seven police stations were damaged.  43 police stations in Kegalle, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Galle and Ambalangoda districts were abandoned.  Police stations at Akuressa, Hakmana, Kamburupitiya and Mawarala were closed and the personnel were brought down to Matara. In the Matara District all police stations other than Dondra and Matara were attacked and several policemen were killed.

After the initial attack on the 5th of April 1971,  there came a second phase which was confined to the following districts: Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the North Central Province, Kurunegala in the Central Province, Monaragala in the Uva Province,  Kegalle in Sabaragamuwa Province,  Matara, Galle and Hambantota in the Southern Province. Kegalle and Galle were  hotbeds with over a thousand full-timers each.  Badulla had around 500 members.

JVP occupied several major towns in semi-urban and rural areas.In some cases the JVP  by passed  towns to secure the surrounding countryside, thereby isolating the government forces in the town centers.  There was long-term occupation, protracted guerrilla warfare  and open fighting with the military.

JVP assumed command in areas where the police had withdrawn and the civil administration was in disarray. They  took over  whole areas , disrupted the transport system, telecommunications, power supplies.Main roads and rail tracks were damaged. They ran  the post office, distributed food from cooperative stores  and even held their  own courts of law.

The JVP  entrenched itself in Kegalle district. The Kachcheri  area, where  the police station and the Courts of Law are located, was held by the armed forces while the JVP dominated the rest of the district. There were  fierce confrontations along the main road from Kegalle to Colombo. Tholangamuwa Central College, located some five miles from Warakapola on the Kegalle road was the JVP headquarters. A bulldozer was parked across the entrance to the school so that no one could storm them.

All petrol stations in the Kegalle district were sealed ,by the government  to conserve fuel and police guards deployed at water supply stations, electrical sub-stations and the telecom exchange.  But the JVPers were one step ahead, said KHJ Wijedasa , who was GA, Kegalle at the time.  They felled trees across the power lines, plunging whole areas into darkness. Cycle chains were thrown over high tension wires to cause short-circuits. Phone lines were cut and roads blocked with uprooted trees and lamp posts.  

By midnight on April 5, there was a total blackout in the district. There was no transport, no communication, no vehicles on the roads, and no water. Kegalle was deserted,” said Wijedasa.  The police radio was the only link with the outside world. Within the district, all 14 police stations had fallen. There was minimal resistance by the Police. The cops just vanished.

JVP  fought in certain areas in the Anuradhapura District,and in the small towns of Elpitiya and Deniyaya. Elpitiya was under  the JVP for nearly three weeks.  At Batapola, in  Ambalangoda, the JVP had barricaded themselves with trees and lamp-posts. Sentry points had been set up and big bungalows and walauwas commandeered. Some 300 shotguns had been stockpiled like firewood. The cadres got around on bicycles, with couriers going from one stronghold to another. Villagers were only allowed to leave their homes to find food.  The JVP held Batapola till April 23. Then the army with the help of villagers attacked their camp.

At Matara a lorry-load of bombs entered the fort. The moment we found the lorry of bombs we clamped a curfew and everyone chased away from all roads by the army. Later we found evidence of two other lorries coming with bombs. The cadres could not group and the lorries could not reach the cadres and Matara was saved from a bloodbath, said Garvin Karunaratne, then GA Matara.

At Deniyaya the police station was repeatedly attacked and the police retreated all the way to Rakwana and Embilipitiya as the roads to Matara had been taken over by the JVP.  Deniyaya was ruled by the JVP for around three to four weeks. In Deniyaya many well to do people were  killed. This included Dr. Rex de Costa. it was his murder that made Prime Minister dispatch a platoon of soldiers to the Matara District, said Karunaratne.

Akuressa was under the control of the insurgents. The army was ambushed  about ten miles from Matara and the JVP fire power was so strong that the army had to retreat. the Government had lost control of most of the Matara  District for around three weeks during which period the JVP ran their kangaroo courts arresting, charging people and punishing them even with death, said Karunaratne.

The armed forces delayed  launching a counterattack . Initially, the government  did not send army troops to the affected areas when the GAs asked for them. Garvin Karunaratne, then GA Matara and Neville Jayaweera, then GA Vavuniya,  said, independent of each other, that the government ignored their requests for  security forces   when the JVP attacks were at the initial stage. Army units were sent much later.

However, by the end of April the government forces had got their act together.  the JVP ‘s entire plan of attack had been revealed to the security forces by an informantJVP ‘s camps were attacked by air and land. Mortars were  used. Military co- ordinators were `appointed to govern the districts previously   held by the JVP.

JVP  retreated to   the jungle or national park nearest the areas they were in.  They went, in the south to Sinharaja , from Anuradhapura, Kegalle and Kurunegala districts to   Wilpattu, Ritigala and  from Dambulla and Polonnaruwa to the surrounding jungles. By the end of August 1971, 69 were hiding in Wilpattu and about 50 in the forest surrounding Dambulla. They did not know how to survive in the jungles.

At Haputale,  the 100 cadres who had gathered to attack the Haputale Police Station, retreated through Attampitiya to Uda Pussellawa and on to the Walapane jungles, heading for Hunnasgiriya. One they way, the seized guns from people who possessed licensed firearms. 

200 from  the Kegalle and Kurunegala districts retreated to Wilpattu National Park in two lots under the cover of darkness and along unpopulated tracks. During the day they camped in isolated areas either on the mountains or in the jungles. A. C. Alles observed that this retreat was marked by murder, arson and looting. only about 30 reached their destination.

A special Department under  former IGP, Aleric  Abeygunawardena  was  set up to  investigate the  insurgency. OICs and ASPs were asked to send their investigation files direct to this office. Under Emergency Regulations, admissions made to ASPs by suspects were made admissible in courts. State Counsels and other lawyers were asked to prepare cases for prosecution and advise the police officers on further investigations. Cases were filed in courts without delay. CID and Intelligence officers   were recruited to help  with arresting the rebel leaders in hiding.

In May and June  1971, with the backbone of the uprising broken, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike offered an amnesty to those who were willing to surrender. It is reported that 3,978 surrendered in response to this amnesty. Yet another amnesty was offered from the 7th to 9th of June when 236 surrendered. It appears that another ten day amnesty was declared thereafter and ‘thousands surrendered to local DROs and temples.’

There were approximately 18,000 in custody by the end of 1971, said Samaranayake.11,748 arrested and 6,025 surrendered.Not all of them were  JVP. On the contrary, it is obvious that some of them were never involved in the armed struggle, said Samaranayake. He   suggests that only about 20,000 to 25,000, actually participated in the insurrection. According to Indradasa, 8000     JVPers, out of a possible 14,000, were arrested by government. The last JVP fighters were not captured until 1976, observed Samaranayake.

The JVP  in custody, were kept in detention camps in   the Universities, under army volunteer officers. Some 200 state officers were mobilized to question them and record their statements on ‘pink’ forms for those who had been arrested and ‘blue’ forms for those who had surrendered. charges were brought against 3,872 persons who were believed to have been involved in armed attacks on police stations and other acts of political violence.

A Criminal Justice Commission comprising five judges of the Supreme Court, including Justice Alles was hurriedly set up, in May 1972 to try those prisoners,  dispensing with the normal laws of evidence, to deal with the heap of cases.  when the C. J. C. trials concluded in 1975, 92 of the accused had been acquitted, 2,519 had been released on suspended sentences, and 365 had been sentenced to prison terms.

According to Sri Lankan Government statistics, about 12,000 suspects were placed in rehabilitation camps   Those not involved in the insurgency were released’. This process was slow.  Nevertheless, compared to release rates in other Third World countries, the rate of release in Sri Lanka was quite fair and timely, said Samaranayake.When the U. N. P. Government  came to power in 1977, the remaining detainees, including Wijeweera, were released.

The human cost of the JVP insurrection was high. Fifty-three Security Forces personnel had died and 323 were injured.  37 police officers were killed and 195 wounded. Though the government gave the figure  for JVP as 1,200 dead, it could be safely claimed that the actual number of deaths ranged between a minimum of 6,000 to a maximum of 8,000 said was estimated that some 8,000 -10,000 JVPers were killed said another source. According to Wijeweera, 15,000 of his cadres had died and twice that number of civilians had lost their lives. JVPers who escaped  death and custody went underground with the objective of re-organizing the JVP. ( continued)

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