Last week a Sinhalese thought it appropriate
to fly half way round the world to attend the funeral of a
Tamil, Jeyam Thamotheram, whose funeral took place in the
Methodist Church, Hammersmith, London, on 4 November 2005.
The Church was packed to capacity but from my perspective
the highlights were the tributes paid by two exceptional Sinhalese
– Adrian Wijemanne and Neville Jayaweera. The 30-hour
flight seemed well worthwhile.
Rev Roger Dunlop detailed the unbelievable
achievements of an extraordinary person. The first Tribute
was from “Siva”, Subramanium Sivanayagam, the
finest Tamil journalist, indeed Journalist of any ethnic group,
that Ceylon has ever produced. It was a very personal tribute
from a close friend read by Mr Sithamparapillai. I will not
focus on Siva’s contribution because I am sure it will
be published elsewhere. The next was from the irreplaceable
Adrian Wijemanne read by myself, and the third by a relative,
This was followed by the cremation, attended
by just the family. After lunch followed the many tributes
from relatives, friends and representatives of the numerous
organizations that Jeyam founded. I will deal with just two
of these tributes because of the importance of the message,
which should be heard by all, the Sinhalese in particular.
The Adrian Wijemanne Tribute.
Before I read Adrian’s Tribute, I thanked
the Thamotheram family for honouring me by asking me to deliver
it. Before I did so, I briefly introduced Adrian, not that
he needed an introduction. I described him as a great Sinhalese
whose shoelaces I was not worthy to untie. While my contribution
to the Tamil struggle for justice, equality and dignity were
based on emotion, Adrian’s was based on irrefutable
facts, presented and argued with the precision of a brilliant
lawyer (which he was not). Here is what he wrote:-
“I met Mr Thamotheram, for the very
first time, in June 1994. It was at a meeting of the International
Tamil Foundation to which he invited me. Within minutes of
meeting, he made me feel as if I had met a long lost friend.
He had a gift for friendship. It was a gift that survived
the pain and trauma that our two nations were suffering in
the throes of war at that time.
Soon our friendship ripened for our concerns
were identical – peace and good neighbourliness between
our two nations on the island which both of us regarded as
our spiritual home in which we had been nurtured and in which
the bones of our ancestors lay buried. We got to first name
terms very soon – I called him Jeyam and we spoke on
the ‘phone with each other nearly every day.
Inevitably our perceptions of the future
of our two nations differed. Mine more pessimistic and shorter
term than his. He had a longer term hope of eventual amity
and peace. He was wiser and more humane than I and he had
the advantage of moral integrity which the Sinhala people
(myself included) had sacrificed to their eternal discredit.
These differences did nothing to cloud our friendship which
thrived as the years went by. Never a cross word passed between
us and our families drew closer together. I had the advantage
of knowing at first hand what a cultured, middle class, Tamil
gentleman of the early decades of the last century was like.
Jayam was its perfect exemplar.
The ravages of time made short work of all
our hopes; the future takes dimensions unforeseen. Nevertheless
as human beings we project values of eternal relevance however
translated into reality of time and tide. Jayam stood steadfastly
for the hope some day, even in the very distant future, our
two nations would live on the island, in their own political
configurations, not only in peace and good neighbourliness
but even more importantly in friendship. He knew and personified
the healing grace of friendship” Adrian Wijemanne
I could not have possibly delivered it as
well as Adrian would have, having had no sleep for some 30
hours did not help. Just 24 hours later, Adrian was admitted
to hospital with a severe pain in his back. I fear he has
crushed a spinal vertebra from the relentless myeloma which
I know he has. I pray for his recovery, it is about as much
as is left to do.
The Neville Jayaweera Tribute.
I had not met Mr Jayaweera until I arrived
in the Church. Years ago, he had been the G.A (Government
Agent) in Jaffna. His address at the funeral was worth travelling
15,000 km to hear. Here is what he said:-
“Madame Malar Thamotheram, members of the Tharmotheram
family and friends.
In the course of several tributes paid to the memory of Jeyam
during the Church service, all speakers have referred to his
many and varied endowments and achievements. Therefore, during
the few minutes allocated to me to speak from this platform
I will not go over that ground again. Rather, as a member
of the Sinhala community, I want to dwell on an aspect of
Jeyam's life which, for obvious reasons, other speakers preferred
not to dwell on.
Like many others seated in this audience, Jeyam was a victim
of the injustices heaped on the Tamil people by my own community.
When I think of how Jeyam's career, and indeed the lives of
thousands of other Tamil brethren, had been thwarted and terminated
through discrimination practised against Tamil people over
decades, I feel a deep shame and contrition. If Jeyam can
hear me from wherever he is now I can only ask him to forgive
me as a member of the Sinhala community and indeed to find
it in his Christian heart to forgive the whole Sinhala community
for the wrongs they have inflicted upon the Tamil people”.
(I might add that Neville is a Buddhist)
“As I look around me in this very hall, I can see many
other brilliant Tamil mathematicians, engineers, accountants,
doctors and other professionals, all of whose services and
skills are desperately need back in Sri Lanka. So then, why
are they here rather than there? Why is it that a Sri Lanka,
a country so desperately in need of skills and talents for
nation building, squandering all these precious assets in
foreign lands? When will Sri Lanka ever realise, if it ever
will, that only the termination of its discriminatory policies
will attract these skills and talents back to serve the country
of their birth?
Fifty seven years after Independence Sri Lanka is still only
a state, a state comprised of two warring nations. When will
it be able to transcend the divisions that have plagued it
for so long and emerge as a single nation? It was Jeyam's
undying hope and prayer that some day it will.
As you have heard many speakers say, Jeyam was a brilliant
mathematician, one of a galaxy of brilliant students of mathematics
who came out of Hartley College Jaffna, among whom was Prof.
C.J. Eliezer who went on the become Professor of Mathematics
in the Colombo University, (I might add that he was the youngest
Dean the Faculty of Science has ever had and the only Ceylonese
I know of. who was invited to work with Einstein), but himself
had to pursue his career abroad because of discriminatory
policies perpetrated upon his fellow Tamils. Jeyam could have
pursued a career in the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service,
but instead opted for the far nobler vocation of teaching.
Many leading secondary schools in then Ceylon sought to employ
him as their mathematics teacher but, as a practising Methodist
Christian, he opted to serve in Ceylon's premier Methodist
institution, Wesley College. However, when in the fullness
of time it was Jeyam's turn to be appointed Principal, the
discriminatory policies which by that time were in full bloom,
took toll again and he was denied what was his legitimate
right. Those who knew Jeyam and who were acquainted with the
rights and wrongs of the situation were aghast and outraged.
Jeyam resigned his job as a teacher at Wesley, opted out of
the profession, and after a short stint with the British Council
(I think) in Colombo, he migrated to the UK.
However, a man so richly endowed by God would not let his
many skills and attributes wither on the vine. In the UK,
Jeyam went on to pioneer many institutions and activities
to improve the prospects and the quality of life of the Tamil
diaspora who were by the mid 70s growing into a steady stream.
You have already heard several speakers pay tribute to Jeyam's
qualities as an institution builder, as a pioneer and as a
leader of the Tamil people.
It would not be an exaggeration to say of Jeyam that he was
to the Tamil Diaspora, in the UK as well as in other countries,
what Martin Luther King had been to the black people in the
USA of the 1960s. Jeyam was deeply hurt but was neither embittered
nor discouraged. He had felt the searing pains and carried
the scars of injustice, but would not allow himself to be
deterred from his vision. Like Martin Luther King, Jeyam had
caught a larger vision. To the very end he believed that it
is still possible for all the communities who comprise the
fabric of Sri Lanka, the Sinhala, the Tamils, the Moors and
the Burghers and all religions, to live in peace and amity
and without recourse to war. He hoped and prayed that the
discriminatory policies followed by successive governments
of Sri Lanka would be turned around and that wisdom and reason
would triumph over injustice, bitterness and conflict.
Whether Jeyam's dream will ever be realised, and whether the
Tamil people of Sri Lanka will ever gain the Promised Land,
remains an open question. Notwithstanding, it is the measure
of Jeyam's greatness and his quality as an exceptional human
being, that despite all the evidence to the contrary he continued
to the end to believe in his vision.
May his vision be realised in full and may his Soul Rest in
While condoling with the Tharmotheram family I thank them
again for the privilege of allowing me to speak on this platform.”
I could barely retain my seat, the urge being
overwhelming to rise to my feet and applaud. I could then
have said that Neville Jayaweera got a ‘standing ovation’
which he richly deserved.
When it was my turn to speak, I could say
nothing, it had all been said much moré eloquently
by Siva, Adrian and Neville. All I could do was to say that
I was proud to identify myself as a Sinhalese at a time when
there is little to be proud of in being one. I feel much less
isolated to know that people of integrity and honour such
as Adrian and Neville who had not sacrificed their ‘moral
integrity’, as Adrian so accurately stated.
In my heart I have always had a yearning
to do what Neville had just done so touchingly – to
say “Sorry” to the Tamil people. As I said in
one of my earliest publications on Sri Lanka The July 1983
Massacre. Unanswered Questions which was quoted by Sivanayagam
in his recent monumental work Sri Lanka:Witness to History,
“It would be too revolting and unprofitable
to recount details of the acts of barbarism committed by Sinhalese
mobs. All that the author, a full-blooded Sinhalese, can say
is that for the first time he has felt ashamed to be a Sinhalese.
It is not that one identifies oneself with the hooligan mobs,
but there inevitably is a collective responsibility for the
behaviour of one’s countrymen – hooligan, barbarian
or civilized. He who watches while a fellow human being has
his limbs cut off, belly slit open, petrol poured on and burnt
to death, is only marginally less guilty than he who does
it. In the General Hospital, Colombo, desperately ill Tamil
patients had their intravenous infusions disconnected and
were thrown out of wards because they were Tamils. Tamil doctors
had to take refuge in toilets to avoid assault”. What
I said so long ago (1983) it is what Adrian Wijemanne refers
to when he speaks of the Sinhala people sacrificing their
moral integrity to their eternal discredit.
In a covering letter I have just received from Ivan Pedropillai
who was the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ in the post-lunch
presentations , he says
“ Neville Jayaweera's text is concise
but also carries a resounding message to his misguided compatriots
that unity and prosperity in a modern State can only be built
on equality under the law without distinction of race, caste
Take the United Kingdom, where the Scots
represent about 10% of the population and yet hold many of
the senior Cabinet portfolios as well as senior positions
in industry. This is not an issue here at all as it works
on meritocracy. The West is able to make these strides in
economic and social development because a man's race, tribe
or religion is just private and personal and he is not judged
When the electorate in Sri Lanka is mature
enough to leave religion and race
out of politics and when there are multi-ethnic secular parties
in the country shorn of corruption, we shall again have a
prosperous land. As long as the Sinhalese, the Tamils and
the Muslims have their own parties, and when rabble-rousers
can play on the baser emotions of the unsophisticated electors,
there will continue to be the bane and the stain of racial
politics in the country. Brave people like you and Neville
have to run the gauntlet of vicious racists on all sides to
restrain the country from
continuing with its grim slide into the fate of Hades”.
I am so very glad I decided to go all the way to the UK, not
only to farewell an incredible gentleman but because I was
also able to meet and hear some extraordinary human beings
who give me hope that there is a future, contrary to what
it appears to be.
Brian Senewiratne Brisbane,