Sivaram, much more than a scribe
By Rajpal Abeynayake
is a personal tribute - -and a personal account of D. P. Sivaram,
a frontiers-man in journalism. His specialty was cutting edge technology
coupled with the best skills in story-telling and analysis. But,
of more interest was the fact that Siva was an intellectual, a hugely
sought after expert on defense and Tamil affairs, and an extremely
popular well-connected and well-liked man.
hailed from a Batticaloa family of landed gentry, his paternal grandfather
S. Dharmaratnam being a State Councillor of the then legislature
of the country that his grandson Sivram eventually rebelled against.
Sivaram was educated at Batticaloa St. Michael’s College,
and his brother, a doctor in England, at S. Thomas' College Mt Lavina.
Sivaram’s grieving wife and three
say all but the best columnists come with the names of their papers
attached, but the names of the very best stand on their own. Sivaram's
was one of the best. Whether he used his pseudonym derived from
the legendary Afghan resistance leader (Taraki) or wrote under his
own name, he was known in his own right - - and not by the name
of the paper he was writing for at a particular time. Pseudonyms
and newspapers were for him but handles to pursue his exacting professionalism
- - or to advancing his own point of view.
I had a hand in blowing Sivram's cover! When he first wrote a Taraki,
freshly arrived from giving up his gun-carrying role as the General
Sectary of the PLOTE, the level of curiosity was at fever pitch
about the man who had so much inside-dope on the militancy of the
Tamil movement. Who in hell was Taraki, they all asked?
then editor of the Island had sworn Siva to secrecy, and presumably
only he and Sivaram knew who Taraki was. But, when the editor learnt
that I had let drop Taraki's real name at a Colombo cocktail, he
was livid -- but more intrigued than livid, anyhow.
eventually asked me how I had come to know, and when I told him,
was amused. We have been the best of friends ever since, the friendship
getting better with time like some good wines Siva was a connoisseur
of. With Ram, there was never a dull moment, and sometimes, it got
too exciting for his own good -- as on the day he died. But then,
as Siva used to tell me, this is not England. Every day is unpredictable
in this country which is why he loved the adrenaline burst, and
vowed never to leave, in spite of my advice to him to disappear
as I was convinced as he was, that there was some threat to his
life. But he shrugged it off and I eventually tired of asking him
to take a break overseas for his own safety.
hand phone registers a call at 9.47 pm from him on the night of
the 28th Thursday, minutes before he was abducted. He called as
he often does on a Thursday or Friday evening, and teased me about
working too hard too late - "a midnight cowboy'' he said. I
would have joined him - - except that he couldn't tell me where
he was, before the phone got cut off.
didn't persist; I was to meet him in Batticoloa on Monday May 2nd
anyway, after having attended a conference in Kandy, as I had already
informed the Editor in office. If he gets shot, I get shot I told
the Editor, only half in jest.
passion for a good story was only second to his enormous passion
for life - which is paradoxical considering that he obviously was
a bit of fatalist to persist doing what he did, despite the threat
to his life particularly after his schoolmate, Karuna, split from
the LTTE. Though it may have appeared to those who didn't know much
about him that he was an absentee father, that wasn't correct in
was more family man than many I know - - and thought nothing of
indulging his two daughters and 10 year old son lavishly, taking
them abroad once on a jaunt just to show them ''a little bit of
history and the world.''
after that call, when I reached home, news reached me of Sivaram's
abduction. My first call was to the Army Commander, Shantha Kottegoda.
He said, 'Rajpal, you should immediately inform the police so the
gang will not make a getaway.'' He seemed not to immediately recall
who Sivaram was, but I told him. He promised to do what needs to
be done, and said he will inform Army Intelligence of the matter.
appears there wasn't time for anyone to do to do anything about
Siva's murder anyway - -Siva was abducted around 10. 30 pm, and
his body was discovered 12.30 am -- just two hours had lapsed..
He wasn't tortured, the coroner says vehemently. It appears he was
taken to Diyawanna - given one blow at the back of his head, and
shot pointblank while he lay on the ground in a thicket. In Sivaram's
pocket was one document recovered by the police. It was a draft
letter of a civil society protest initiative of a JVP motion to
form a Select Committee to probe NGOs. A copy of the JVP's draft
motion on a parliamentary lettererhead was attached.
will give the JVP baiters the goosebumps, but personally I'm not
biting that story. The JVP had ideological differences with Ram,
but to kill him?? The JVP backed PNM has not been killing people,
its unlikely they would start with Sivaram, and now. When Karuna
and allied operatives had so many reasons to kill him due to the
increasing pressure on the Karuna group and government operatives
in Batticoloa why would people go the length to blame the JVP when
there was a more obvious candidate as a perpetrator??
Army Commander expressed deep regret about the killing when informed
by me the next morning. He said someone had already told him. He
recalled that he was a keen reader of the deceased Sivaram's reports
Sivram involved with the LTTE - - to an extent that I did not know???
People ask me the question. I say "I don't think so but the
bottom line is that I really do not know.'' I took his credentials
as a journalist at face value, and knew that he had trouble with
the LTTE publishing Tamil Net. He soon had to carry a homily each
day about press freedom at the bottom of each Tamil net web page,
just to remind the LTTE about press ethics. I considered him a human
being and a journalist, as he considered me.
thing is indubitable; he hankered after all things Sri Lankan, as
opposed to what originated in the cold impersonal West, where he
could have disappeared and stayed out of harm's way. He loved this
country, which means the entire 25,332 square miles of it and not
just a little off the top and a sizeable chunk to a side. That's
why one of my family members once told him ''you seem to be more
comfortable here in Colombo's social milieu than that of Batticoloa.''
As far as I remember, Sivaram didn't answer that question either
way, but it's a fact that his children went to school in Colombo,
and his family home was in Mt Lavinia, despite the fact that the
police raided it over and over again, once in my presence.
above gives a fair indication of the man-by way of personal perspective.
I think any more words by way of tributes are redundant. Surely
those who killed him should have been a thousand times more circumspect
before they carried out the deed - even if they thought there was
a reason -- a valid one in their minds - to kill him. To me personally
there can be only one view - it was a stupid, ghastly, unwarranted
murder that laid waste a remarkable life.
Rajpal Abeynayake Columns