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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2370

50th Birthday of Douglas Devananda - Leader of the EPDP

Devananda was born in Jaffna on 10th November 1957, as the second of the four sons and one daughter of Subramaniam Kathiravelu. His mother Maheswary died when he was only six years old. Kathiravelu was a member of the Sri Lanka Communist Party, a leading member of the Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU), and the editor of the GCSU publication ‘Redtape’. Kathiravelu served in the Department of Inland Revenue and later joined the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, where he rose up as one of its Regional Managers.

Devananda had his primary and secondary education at the Jaffna Central College, where his mother was a teacher, till her death. While being a teenage student in Jaffna, he was exposed to, and influenced by his father’s political work and that of his uncle K.C. Nithyananda, who was a leading trade unionist of his day. In 1970, at the age of 13, Devananda joined the Maanavar Peravai (Students Federation), being distressed by the government’s scheme of standardization of marks for admission to universities.

From Jaffna, in 1974, Devananda was sent to Colombo for further studies under K.C. Nithyananda’s tutelage. Nithyananda joined the government service as a clerk and was a President of the GCSU. He rose to become a member of the Ceylon Administrative Service and served in the Ministry of Transport and the General Treasury. Nithyananda assumed the role of Devananda’s parent and mentor. In Colombo, however, it was not studies that interested Devananda, the teenager, but politics. Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil extremism enveloping the country disturbed him. He wanted to be actively engaged in the Tamil liberation struggle of the day. He joined the Eelam Liberation Organisation (ELO). He organised the General Union of Eelam Students (GUES) in Colombo, and coordinated its activities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. In 1975, he became a founder member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organizers (EROS). Being one of the pioneers of the armed struggle, it was then that he assumed the pseudonym of Douglas.

When anti-Tamil riots broke out in south and central Sri Lanka, following the Parliamentary general election in August 1977, Nithyananda and his Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO) worked tirelessly in the task of providing temporary accommodation and food to thousands of Tamil refugees. Young Devananda threw his full weight behind that humanitarian task.

When President Jayewardene appointed Nithyananda as the Chairman of the newly formed Palmyrah Development Board, Devananda functioned as his personal assistant. This was only for a short period. In 1978, the EROS dispatched Devananda alias Douglas for military training with Al Fatah of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He successfully completed the training and returned to Sri Lanka.

Trouble was brewing in the hierarchy of the EROS. The organization, with its leadership based mainly in London, broke up into two. A section, including Padmanabha and Douglas left EROS and formed the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).
The student body GUES of the EROS, attached itself with the EPRLF. In the EPRLF, Douglas served as a member of the politbureau and as the commander of its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

In 1980, the Sri Lanka government arrested Douglas twice under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He was incarcerated in Batticaloa prison, Magazine prison, Panagoda detention centre, and in Welikada prison. When the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots broke out, Douglas was an inmate of Welikada. He was one of the few prisoners who escaped death at the hands of the Sinhala criminals who were let loose by the authorities on 25th and 27th July to kill the Tamil political prisoners. After the two massacres in Welikada, which resulted in the death of 53 inmates, Douglas along with 27 other survivors was transferred to the Batticaloa prison. In September 1983, he along with all the other Tamil political prisoners escaped from the Batticaloa prison and fled to Tamil Nadu in India.

From India, in 1984, he went for advanced military training, and to lead a group of other EPRLF members, both men and women, for training with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP). Following the training, he returned to North-East Sri Lanka and resumed charge as the commander of the PLA. Based in Jaffna, he was also in charge of all political and military activities of the EPRLF in the North and East of Sri Lanka. On May 5th of 1985, Deva lost his teenage cousin sister, Shobha in the Karainagar Naval Base attack. The searchlights of the Navy gunboats caught up with her and she was shredded in a hail of heavy machine gun bullets. She was the first woman cadre martyr in our freedom struggle.

In May 1986, serious internal contradictions relating to the strategy and tactics of the struggle and the internal structure of the organization cropped up within the EPRLF. As most of its politbureau members were based in Tamil Nadu, Douglas undertook a sea voyage to Tamil Nadu to sort out the problems. His first sea voyage ended up in a tragedy, which resulted in the death of seven of the nineteen-member entourage of Douglas. Though Douglas arrived safely on the second sea voyage, the internal contradictions could not be resolved. Consequently, Douglas and his loyalists parted company from the others, and laid claim as the real EPRLF. The two factions were however dubbed as the EPRLF (D – Douglas Devananda) and the EPRLF (R- Ranjan alias Naba).

In October 1986, certain forces in Tamil Nadu together with EPRLF (R) conspired and framed criminal charges against Douglas for an incident in Choolaimedu in Chennai and had him arrested. He was however released on bail. Following this incident, cleavage between the two factions of the EPRLF became permanent. In May 1987, EPRLF (D) under the leadership of Douglas, together with Paranthan Rajan who led a breakaway group of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) formed the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) in Tamil Nadu. However, this arrangement did not last long. Thereafter, EPRLF (D) transformed itself into the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).

Following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987, the EPDP also decided to give up the armed struggle and joined the democratic political mainstream in Sri Lanka.

The earlier upbringing of Douglas by Kathiravelu and Nithyananda made it easy for him to decide to eschew the path of militancy and to work for the rights of the Tamil-speaking people with the cooperation of the progressive forces in the south of Sri Lanka. Douglas decided to enter the democratic mainstream as Kathiravelu Nithyananda Douglas Devananda.

The LTTE of course wanted to exploit the situation to wipe out all other Tamil militant organizations. It was around that time that Devananda’s brother Premananda, who had just returned from India, Sivakaran alias Ibrahim, Ragavan, Sritharan and George, all, members of the EPDP, were abducted by the LTTE in Jaffna and tortured. To date, their fate is not known. While Douglas was making preparations to leave Tamil Nadu and resettle in Sri Lanka, once again fraternal organizations were conspiring and hatching a sinister plot to arrest him and to implicate him in some crime in India. He however managed to arrive in Colombo by the end of May 1990. When Padmanabha was assassinated by the LTTE in Chennai in June 1990, these very same forces were disappointed to discover that Devananda was in Sri Lanka, weeks before the incident.

Having entered the democratic mainstream, Douglas Devananda and his comrades worked hard to build his party in the North-East Province of Sri Lanka. Their efforts paid dividends when nine members of the EPDP, including himself were elected to Parliament from the Jaffna District, in August 1994. Douglas Devananda was re-elected to Parliament in October 2000, in December 2001 and again in April 2004, and is continuously representing the Tamil community in Parliament from August 1994 onwards.

On October 9th of 1995, Devananda’s residence in Colombo was attacked by the LTTE. He survived this attack due to the valiant efforts of his party cadres and bodyguards, four of whom paid the supreme sacrifice in the incident.

In November 1995, he was in the parliamentary delegation that accompanied President Chandrika Kumaratunge to the historic 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations Organisation and the UN Assembly.

Once again on June 30th in 1998, Douglas was brutally attacked by the LTTE mafia detained at the Kalutara Prison, when he visited the detainees who were on a hunger strike to air their grievances. He survived this attack as well, due to the excellent medical attention given by Sri Lankan medical personnel, his own will power, and the prayers of the populace that loved him. He however lost his sight in one eye.

In October 2000, Douglas was appointed as the Minister of Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the North, and Tamil Affairs, North and East, in the People’s Alliance Government headed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. During the very short stint as Minister of R&R, he worked tirelessly to provide means of livelihood to thousands and improve the lives of the people who had placed faith in him.
The rehabilitated roads, community centers, schools, the Information Technology Park and other infrastructures, and the towering temples, churches, viharas and mosques seen today in the North are all testimony to his work.

With the formation of a United National Front Government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in December 2001, Douglas sat in the official opposition in Parliament.

In the General Election held in April 2004, he was again elected as Member of Parliament and was appointed as the Minister of Agricultural Marketing Development, Co-operative Development, Hindu Affairs and Assisting Education and Vocational Training in the People's Alliance Government headed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge.

On July 7th, 2004, another attempt was made on his life by a LTTE female suicide bomber while the Minister was attending to his official duties at his Ministry. The woman suicide bomber, identified as Thiyagaraja Jeyarani, was reportedly on a mission to assassinate Douglas Devananda. She had gone with an accomplice to his Ministry in Colpity and insisted on seeing the Minister without undergoing a body check. When the security staff of the Minister became suspicious, they had taken her to the Colpity Police Station to investigate, at which time she detonated the explosives strapped around her waist killing herself, four police personnel and injuring eleven persons. The suicide bomber’s accomplice, Sathyleela Selvakumar was also arrested on the Ministry premises. The good instinct of the Minister and the alertness of his efficient staff saved the Minister’s life once again.

With the change of office of the President in November 2005, President Mahinda Rajapakase appointed Douglas Devananda as Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare.

The national problem has been dragging on for a long time without a solution. With over fifteen years of experience in the armed struggle as well as more than 20 years of experience in the political process, Devananda and his party, has put forward a three phase practical solution to solve the National question in Sri Lanka.

The EPDP’s proposal is to solve the crises in three stages.

First is to implement the 13th amendment and ensure the provincial councils function. Then establish an interim administration to fully implement the provincial council system. Devananda feels that through these two stages the government could win the confidence of the majority of the Tamils in this country and could find a final solution through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC).

He attended the Forum of Ministers on Social Development from Asia at the invitation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, held in Bhurban in Pakistan in May 2006. This was the first such meeting and it was co-organized with UNESCO and with the assistance of UNDP: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

In October 2006 Devananda was in the Presidential delegation, which attended the Non-Aligned Summit Conference held in Cuba. Here too, he met his Cuban counterpart and some Heads of States along with President Rajapakse. From Cuba he proceeded to New York, to attend the 61st UN General Assembly along with the Sri Lankan Presidential delegation.

When the A9 Road was closed on August 11th 2006, there was a severe shortage of essential items in the Jaffna Peninsula. The people of Jaffna underwent immense difficulties. When the Government was having difficulties in sending the essential items by sea, Devananda made arrangements, with the greatest difficulty to bring the essential items from Tamil Nadu in the early part of January 2007. Once again he was personally present in Jaffna during the most difficult time, to share the sufferings of his people. His actions reveal his sincere concern for his people. He also participated in the Sri Lanka Development Forum held in Galle at the end of January 2007, as a panel member.

As the Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare he is accelerating the activities of the National Council for Persons with Disability. He submitted the Disability Rights Bill and The Accessibility Regulation to the Cabinet in 2006 and the Regulation was passed by the Parliament on 20th March 2007, while the Disability Rights Bill is under submission to the Legal Draftsman Department. Under his leadership, access facilities have been introduced to some important public buildings in the Sri Lankan capital-Colombo and suburbs.

In pursuance of his commitment, he took initiatives and went to the United Nations and signed the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 30th March 2007 on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government.

In April 2007 he went to South Africa with the TULF Leader Mr. Anandasagaree, at the invitation of the South African President, when they met in Havana at the Non-Aligned Summit Conference. The two democratic leaders explained the current situation to the South African leaders and the Indian Tamil Community, who have made South Africa their homeland. In SA he met his counterpart Dr. Z.S.T. Skweyiya, SA President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki and other government leaders and leaders of the political parties in South Africa.

He accompanied President Rajapakse to the 96th International Labour Organization (ILO) conference held in Geneva in June 2007, where he met several dignitaries.

He also participated in the Eight Session of the Intergovernmental Council (IGC) of the Management of Social Transformation (MOST) Programme organized by UNESCO, held in Paris in July 2007, as he is the Social Services and Social Welfare Minster of Sri Lanka.

As a mark of appreciation of his unstinted commitment towards the cause of persons with disabilities, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) accorded Douglas Devananda with the highest order of honour.

Having duly recommended the policy formulations, and taking into consideration the commitment to the persons with disabilities during a comparatively short spell of time of holding the portfolio of Social Services and Social Welfare Ministry in Sri Lanka, the Asia Pacific Development Centre on Disability (APCD) extended an invitation to Minister Devananda to chair a high level inter-governmental conference in September 2007. The Conference was on mid-point reviewing of the policy declaration for a 10-year period of the persons with disabilities in the Asian and Pacific countries.

Once again this year too, he attended the 62nd UN General Assembly in September in New York as part of the Sri Lankan delegation to the UN.

Since August 1994, when he was first elected as the Member of Parliament representing the Jaffna District, to date, Devananda has been involved in negotiations and other activities relating to a lasting political solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. Though he has not yet succeeded in bringing a solution to the ethnic problem he was instrumental in bringing normalcy in the Tamil areas. When the other political parties did not want to contest the elections EPDP contested in the elections. The courts and government offices started to function again. Mr. Devananda for the first time in Sri Lankan history ran his Ministry from Jaffna while he was the Minister in President Chandrika’s cabinet. By attending to the day to day problems of the masses, he and his party immensely contributed in lessening the sufferings of the Tamil speaking people. Recently he has got the approval of the cabinet for Rehabilitation Centers for males and females who surrender to the authorities and Human Rights Organization in Jaffna.

He has presented the Tamil cause from the view of the Tamil speaking, to many diplomats of various countries. During his long and exciting political career, Mr. Devananda has attended many international conferences, meetings, forums, seminars etc. and works tirelessly to find an amicable solution to the ethnic problem in our country.

He still continues to be the Minister of Social Services & Social Welfare under President Mahinda Rajapakse's cabinet and is strongly advocating an interim administration for the northeast.

Douglas Devananda is a self-confident idealist, who is a unique fighter against fascism. He is kind, humble, simple and a believer in humanism. He is determined to serve his people, despite the fact that he has been wounded, scarred and blinded in one eye, and compelled to live a life in the shadow of death. Courtesy: EPDPnews

- Asian Tribune -

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