Dr Narendran Rajasingham: A Tamil Sri Lankan Indomitable and Sincere

 Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph, 13  September 2019, where it has a different title

This NOTE is a felicitation of Dr Rajasingham Narendran – a presentation that is long overdue. Narendran was a graduate from Peradeniya University’s Agriculture Faculty, a food scientist with international expertise who was also a fearless advocate for the Sri Lankan Tamil peoples circumscribed within a firm Sri Lankan perspective. He stood for truth in reportage and brought a clinical mind to the appraisal of horrendous circumstances – among them the decomposition of dead bodies in war-torn locales.

He was also ready to confront the LTTE when they incarcerated his brother in 2004/05 during a visit to Tigerland. My listing of Narendran’s bibliographical output begins with an account of this moment. Though I had visited Kilinochchi with some Tamil friends in late November 2004, my readings of that scenario were quite different from Narendran’s discerning commentary – not surprisingly because I cannot speak Tamil and because my stay lasted only 3-4 days.[1]

I first became aware of Narendran in 2010. This was in part due to the fact that my focus in the period 2003-11 had been on the topic of “sacrificial devotion to cause” in comparative perspective[2] – a topic which had the suicidal degree of commitment displayed by the Tamil Tiger cadres as its central focus.

It was only around 2010 that I began to focus on the massive humanitarian endeavour associated with the IDPS camps (notably at Manik Farm in Vavuniya District, but also including camps in the Jaffna Peninsula). Quite fortuitously. this new direction began with a visit to the Friend in Need Society’s work in producing artificial limbs at their unit in Colpetty, Colombo. Here I met the indomitable Dr Susiri Weerasekera, whose wide-ranging activity in helping amputees (including ex-Tigers) all over the island remains unparalleled.[3]

This encounter with Susiri generated introductions to Drs Herath and Safras at Vavuniya and Manik Farm; while also linking me with the internationally funded outfit in Jaffna town which produced artificial limbs. My ethnographic inquiries in this area began with a visit to Vavuniya and Jaffna in mid-2010 – a trip which also enabled me to absorb the landscape where the fighting had taken place along the A9 highway and the Nandhikadal Lagoon (which I visited briefly).

I began to collect studies of the IDP camp relief effort from all quarters – hostile as well as friendly/neutral. Among the latter were Veronica Chelliah, Kath Noble, Lilani Jayatilleka, Manori Unamboowe, Dilshy Banu and Myrna Setunga ….. AND one by a Sri Lankan Tamil team led by Noel Nadesan (of Australia) that included the following: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran (Middle East); Mrs. Rajeswari Balasubramaniam (UK); Manoranjan Selliah (Canada) and Rajaratnam Sivanathan (Australia).

Dr Sivanathan (Melb), Manoranjan (? in Canada), Dr Narendran, Dr Noel Nadesan (Melbourne) and Mrs Balasubramanium (London) in earnest discussion with Kumar Rupesinghe, Vasudeva Nanayakkara et al in July 2009

 Drs Narendran,  Nadesan, Sivanahthan, with Genl Kamal Gunaratne, Mrs Balasubramanium and Mr Manoranjan — probably enroute to Manik Farm

However, Narendran’s incisive contribution to my investigations arose in another arena: the evaluation of the Tamil death toll during the final stages (basically January-May 2009) of the war. When I heard Rohan Gunaratne assert that the death toll was in the range of 1400 or so in the course of a lecture at the British Council in Colombo in 2010,[4] I considered this estimate to be a gross underestimate and immediately sought clarification from three Tamils whom I viewed as relatively unbiased: namely, Noel Nadesan, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan and Narendran Rajasingham.[5]

To this day I hold that Narendran’s reading is the best of the three responses and a classic review that should be cast in stone in the annals of warfare. It is a classic because he has transcended the limitations of the bourgeois drawing-room perspectives on war that have misled so many personnel.[6] Unlike many UN ‘experts’ and numerous HR advocates, Narendran brought a clinical and realistic mind into his assessments. This realism was partly grounded within his own traumatic experience in discovering and burying the decomposing bodies of his parents, brother and their servants after the killings generated by the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Jaffna town in 1987.[7]   

Thus, here, I hail thee NAREN and doff my cap to your contributions to Sri Lanka and all its peoples. I list your bibliographical imprint[8] in the period 2005-17 …. and in this inscribed manner I salute thee.

a jackal feeding on a buffalo carcass as we approached Kumana National Park in the south-east of Sri Lanka in 2017(?) –Pic by Michael Roberts … the purpose here being to underline the stark fact that in the confusion of fighting and flights across jungle and scrub terrain (often at night) the corpses of those Tamil civilians and deserting fighters who died from what ever cause (snakebite,  gunfire, mines and bombs) would be subject to the ‘work’ of jackals, monitor lizards, termites et cetera.

Tamils streaming out of the war zone in April and May 2009 … (Daily News pic followed by three from Reuters)

NAREN RAJASINGHAM 2005An Open Letter to the Sinhalese,” …………………. http://www.infolanka.com/ubb/Forum2/HTML/001127.html, posted on 14 May 2005, …………….reproduced as Rajasingham Narendran’s Open Letter to All Sinhalese  in 2005,” in https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/rajasingham-narendrans-open-letter-to-all-sinhalese-in-2005/ … on 28 January 2014.

2009 “LTTE Watch,” by Manjula Fernando, being a translation from the German in https://lttewatch.wordpress.com/2009/04/13/ltte-ist-immun-gegen-internationalen-druck/

2012 “Recent Visit to Sri Lanka – A Summary Report,” by Noel Nadesan, 4 October 2012,  https://noelnadesan.com/2012/10/04/recent-visit-to-sri-lanka-a-summary-report/


2009 “Internally displaced persons: The new front of an old war in Sri Lanka,” Tamil Week, 30 August 2009, http://transcurrents.com/tc/2009/08/post_415.html

2013 “A Response to The President’s Address on ‘Victory Day’,” 19 May 2013, Colombo Telegraph, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-response-to-the-presidents-address-on-victory-day/

2013 “Sinhalese, Tamils and Sri Lanka: Yet Needed Paradigm Shifts,” 20 April 2013, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sinhalese-tamils-and-sri-lanka-yet-needed-paradigm-shifts/

2013 Need of the Hour: A National Provincial Council for the North,”  29 April 2013,  https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/need-of-the-hour-a-national-provincial-council-for-the-north/

2013 “National Provincial Council for the North: A Reply to Austin Fernando,” 5 May 2013, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/national-provincial-council-for-the-northern-province-a-reply-to-austin-fernando/

2014  Harsh Ground Realities in War: Decomposing Bodies and Missing Persons and Soldiers,” 28 January 2014, ………………………… ……………………………… https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/11702/

2014 “The Land where Hope was killed and Despair was reborn,” 28 June 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-land-where-hope-was-killed-and-despair-was-reborn/

2014 “Keys to Modi’s Success in Gujarat and Lessons for Sri Lanka,” 9 July 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/keys-to-modis-success-in-gujarat-and-lessons-for-sri-lanka/

2014 “Republican Constitution and Executive Presidency: Review, Revise and Retain,” 9 August 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/republican-constitution-and-executive-presidency-review-revise-and-retain/

2014 Democracy and Good Governance. The Little Red Riding Hood of Sri Lanka,” 26 October 2014, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/democracy-and-good-governance-the-little-red-riding-hood-of-sri-lanka/

2016 “NPC passes Resolution against Its Agriculture Minister—Summary & Remarks,” 10 February 2016, https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/npc-passes-unanimous-resolution-against-its-agriculture-minister-a-summary-remarks/

2016 “The Proposed New Constitution: Some Suggestions and Thoughts,” 4 March 2016,  https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-proposed-new-constitution-some-suggestions-thoughts/

2017 “Farewell to my Dear Brother Dr Narendran,” by Rajasingham Jayadevan, ……. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/farewell-to-my-dear-brother-dr-narendran/


BBC 1991 “Suicide Killers – Terrorism in Sri Lanka,” https://vimeo.com/304944042

Chelliah, Dr. Veronica Shanti 2009“IDPs in Sri Lanka: An eyewitness report  Exploring the realities,” Daily News, 25 August 2009.

Herath, Hemantha 2011 “From Tsunami Medical Logistics to IDP Camp Medical Aid, 2004-09; Q and A with Dr Herath,” 14 September 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/from-tsunami-medical-logistics-to-idp-camp-medical-aid-2004-09-q-and-a-with-dr-herath/

Michael Roberts 2009  “Crude reasoning. False Images,….,” 9 December 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/crude-reasoning-false-images-sri-lanka%E2%80%99s-refugee-camps/

Michael Roberts 2010a Feet across the Land, One and All: The Vitality of the Colombo Friend-in-Need Society,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/%E2%80%9Cfeet-across-the-land-one-and-all%E2%80%9D-the-vitality-of-the-colombo-friend-in-need-society/

Michael Roberts 2010b The Jaipur Foot in Sri Lanka: renewable Energy, Little People, Many Miracles,”  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/the-jaipur-foot-in-lanka-renewable-energy-little-people-many-miracles/

Michael Roberts 2011 “The Tamil Death Toll in Early 2009: A Misleading Count by Rohan Gunaratna,” 23 November 2011, http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/6285

Michael Roberts 2014 The Tamil Death Toll during the End-Game, 2009: Challenging Rohan Gunaratna,” in Roberts, Tamil Persons and State. Essays, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014, pp. 229-37.

Michael Roberts 2017  “Sacrificial Devotion: How I entered This Terrain,” 21 July 2017, ………………………………….https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/sacrificial-devotion-how-i-entered-this-terrain/

Weerasekera, Susiri 2012 Fitting Artificial Limbs for the IDPs and ex-Tigers, July 2009 to March 2010 — FINS at the frontline,” 23 September 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/7108/


[1] Narendran‘s readings were sent to me by email in August 2010. I will be presenting his Memo in due course in Thuppahi alongside my recollections of the Kilinochchi arena during my visit.

[2] Note the web site launched in 2007 viz sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com  And the bibliography  assembled within one of the latest essays viz Roberts 2017.

[3] See Roberts 2010a and 2010.

[4] I do not have a documentary reference for this talk.; but see Gunaratna “Video of his presentation at the Defence Symposium, Galadari Hotel, Colombo” 31 May 2011, in ………………………………………. Http//wwww.youtube.com/defseminar/#p/a/u/l/F1K9f_x8AE0 AND Roberts, “The Tamil Death toll during the End-Game, 2009: Challenging Rohan Gunaratna,” in Roberts, Tamil Persons and State. Essays, Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2014, pp. 229-37.

[5] See Roberts 2014.

[6] This criticism embraces both the Sri Lankan and Western intelligentsia as well as the UN Panels and agencies who have studied and commented on Eelam War IV. Many are so intelligent that they do not comprehend that their intelligence does NOT extend to the ‘terrain’ of modern warfare. Thus, their blindness is masked by their super-intelligence and faith in self. In other words, there is a level of arrogance that is debilitating.

[7] To quote Narendran: “As addendum to Prof. Michael Roberts presentation, I hereby present briefly what I witnessed with regard to the bodies of my family members and others killed by the IPKF on day 10 of their murders: My mother: 68 year old at the time of her killing. Slim build. Had been attacked by animals and crows and was in an advanced state of decay. My brother: 38 years old at the time of his death. neither obese nor thin. Body intact though bloated. The gardener: Age approx. 60 years. Obese. All flesh had fallen off and the skeleton was clearly visible. A neighbour’s Watchman: Age approx. 60 years. medium build. Only thigh bones-femurs and the skull remained. The rest of the body had been consumed or carried away by animals.”

[8] I am grateful to Uvindu Kurukulasuriya of Colombo Telegraph for providing me with a list of Narendran’s presentations in his popular web site.

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Filed under accountability, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, citizen journalism, communal relations, historical interpretation, human rights, IDP camps, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, tamil refugees, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, world events & processes, zealotry

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