Principal Anandarajan and the Legacies of a Long and Pointless War: Luther Uthayakumaran

Guest post by LUTHER UTHAYAKUMARAN

A lot has happened since the early 1980’s, when I first got to know Anandarajan. Nearly thirty-five years later, it seems a different world. A way of life has died between then and now. It is through these multiple layers of life and memories that I remember that evening. It was nearly dusk when the news spread through Jaffna ‘Principal Anandarajan shot dead” and then the other three words followed in a hushed tone, like a reluctant trailer, ‘….. by the boys’.

AnandarajanI first met Anandarajan when I was fourteen years old, a few weeks before I was to join St John’s. Anandarajan was introduced to me at a family function, as my would-be principal. The first thing I noticed about him was the total lack of aloofness. His response was ‘I say, I was a classmate of your mother at St John’s, and she was the only girl in the class whom I was scared of’ (which my mother vehemently denied!). In the years that followed I came to know Anandarajan more closely, first as a teacher, and then as a close family friend. In those days at St John’s the first year Advanced Level classes occupied the open sheds opposite the Vice-Principal’s house, and everyday from my classroom I would see Anandarajan walk purposefully across the school grounds from his residence to the principal’s office. If it was a Monday, I would see him again a few minutes later, wearing a black academic-gown walking up the stage of Peto Hall to chair the assembly. I used to enjoy those Monday morning assemblies, as they provided a welcome reprieve from the stress of cramming for exams. Anandarajan would invite interesting speakers to address us, from Hindu mystics to those who spoke on more earthy topics such as pollution and war in the Middle East. Ironically for many of us in those days, war was something that happened only in distant places. If there were no outside speakers Anandarajan would address the assembly himself. It was on one such occasions that I learnt a value that I have cherished ever since then. It is in Anandarajan’s own words: “Always defend yourself. Never let anyone accuse you falsely – not anyone – not even me. If you let that happen, part of the blame is yours”.

In those days living as a teenager in Jaffna was not easy. Most of our time was spent running from one tuition class to another. It was as if one’s inherent value depended solely on one’s Advanced Level results. On many occasions I have heard Anandarajan speak worriedly about this disturbing tendency. He often advised us to view education more widely, as preparation for life, rather than as a preparation for exams. In 1981 a public meeting was held at the Jaffna Open Air Theatre to talk about problems facing students in Jaffna and Anandarajan was one of the speakers. In his speech, he remarked somewhat humorously. “In the 20 odd years that I have been a teacher in Jaffna, I have only seen two things grow in number – Funeral Parlours and Private Tutories.” Looking back, what he said seems almost prophetic, given the barrenness that would descend upon Jaffna in the next few years.

In his novel When Memory Dies author A. Sivanandan speaks of two types of teachers. The first one imparts knowledge. They pull you through exams and help you get qualified, get good jobs and do well in life etc. The second type are ones who influence the kind of person you become. Many who went to St John’s would testify that Anandarajan fell into the latter.

Soon after Anandarajan was murdered a number of loose reasons were given to justify his killing. Some of them were laughably ridiculous. One of them was that he raised the boundary wall of the school to obstruct militants running away after attacking the army. It is true that high walls would have prevented the free moment of militants, but anyone who is familiar with densely built up Chundikuli would know that high walls are more the norm than the exception in the area around St John’s. It was more likely that he raised the wall to protect the students in the school.

The more serious accusation was that Anandarajan took the St John’s cricket team to play a match against a Sri Lankan army team based in Jaffna. But many fail to realise that this was during a ceasefire, when the leaders of the LTTE themselves were engaged in talks with the Sri Lankan Government. The Sri Lankan Army committed many crimes, both before and after this particular match. But playing a match with someone does not amount to absolving someone of their crimes. It was perhaps just a gesture of reconciliation, in the hope that there would be peace as a result of the talks in Bhutan, a hope that many Tamils cherished at the time. In the Orwellian drama of shifting alliances and enmities that played out during the following decades, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government would warm up in many more intimacies of a much closer kind, including LTTE leaders being entertained in five-star hotels in Colombo and being flown around in Air Force helicopters, probably piloted by the same pilots who flew them in strafing missions over Tamil areas.

During the time I knew Anandarajan, I had many disagreements with him on a number of issues. No two serious minded people can agree on everything, nor should they be forced to do so. Had our association been allowed to continue, we might have continued to debate these differences. But there is a world of difference between resolving differences through debate and seeking to resolve them through violence. I think that at some point in history, humanity crossed that chasm, but in Sri Lanka we have let ourselves slide back behind that line again. We need to recover from this position, if we are ever to become a modern nation.

The LTTE killed Anandarajan but the LTTE does not exist anymore. However the lessons to be learnt from this does not apply only to the LTTE or the Tamils. Authoritarianism is too common everywhere in Sri Lanka. We saw it in the late 1980s in the south, we saw it throughout the war in the North and East, and we saw it rise in the post war years. The lesson to be learnt is that whenever we allow power to go unchecked society declines. It is ultimately the responsibility of the people to makes sure that those who represent us are held accountable. We cannot let go of this responsibility and expect to come out in one piece.

Finally allow me to end this with a personal note. It may appear strange to some that I write this appreciation, as two years after Anandarajan was killed, my father was also killed, but by the Sri Lankan Army. The tragedy of war struck deep into my own family. If any, my writing this reveals just one thing, which is that the saddest but also most poignant truth facing Sri Lanka today is that after three decades of war, in pursuit of something or the other, Sri Lanka is divided only along one line. It is the line between those who suffered and those who inflicted that suffering. Six years after the end of the war, this is the only dividing line that matters, and it is the only dividing line that we should permit to matter, if we are to pursue reconciliation with honesty.

On the 3rd of October this year, thirty years after Anandarajan’s death, the inaugural Anandarajan Memorial Lecture will be delivered at the Peto Memorial Hall at St John’s College, Jaffna. It is a public lecture open to all and will be delivered by Dr Daya Somasundaram. The inauguration of this lecture is a sign that intellectual life and free discussion are slowly returning to Jaffna, after decades of war and totalitarianism. While celebrating this, it is also a good time to remember C. E. Anandarajan and what happened to him, as we should remember all those who died in the war and the suffering inflicted, the only legacies of a long and pointless war.

One thought on “Principal Anandarajan and the Legacies of a Long and Pointless War: Luther Uthayakumaran

  1. K SHESHU BABU

    The divide still exists… Lanka Sinhalese and Tamils co-exist with differences. The turbulence is latent . The memories of suffering are still lingering in the thoughts of the oppressed.
    “Kabhi kisi roz yu hee hoga
    Hamaari halat tumhari hogi
    Jo raat hum nee guzaari murkar
    Voh raat tum nee guzaari hogi” —GULZAAR.
    (Free translation) –Sometimes somedays arr just like this/ Our state of health matches you./
    The nights we spent dying/ The same nights would have been spent by you too.

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