‘He was not a traitor’
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
With the sea of information we have received through media and books about the LTTE and the 30-year-long war, the man called 'Mahaththaya' captured the attention of all as he was given a Sinhala name unlike the rest of the Tamil Tiger fighters. While top Eastern Commander like Karuna Amman had a narrow escape from death at the hands of Prabhakaran, Mahaththaya was the only top leader who was not so fortunate. He was tortured and killed by his best buddy Prabhakaran who suspected that he worked closely with the Indian Intelligence RAW. His widow Yogeshwari who lives in the North claims that Mahaththaya was a man of substance too like the 'Thalaivar' and he could have written a different story if he was alive. She says, "My husband was never a traitor because he loved his people and I am angry that he was named so and was killed at the end."
Amnesty International sends this statement on Mahaththaya:
Amnesty International also urged Prabhakaran to release Mahaththaya and issued an Urgent Action appeal on 30 December 1993 for Mahaththaya and 120 of his followers, saying that we'd gotten a credible report that all of them were being held by the LTTE in Jaffna and were due to be executed by the LTTE on 16 January 1994. The appeal was addressed to the LTTE and asked that the executions not be carried out and that the ICRC be granted regular access to them and any other political prisoners held by the LTTE.
AI issued a follow-up appeal on 14 January 1994, saying that a Sri Lanka radio report confirmed that he had been sentenced to death and that the likely execution date was still 16 January 1994.
The follow-up appeal made the same requests to the LTTE as the original appeal. At no time did AI call for his release in those appeals. We work for the unconditional release of "prisoners of conscience," but to fit within that category, a person cannot have used or advocated violence. He would not have qualified as a POC so we would never have called for his release. Amnesty does oppose the death penalty in all cases, including against those who have used violence. So, it was consistent with our anti-death penalty work to have issued those two appeals on his case.
We issued a report in February 1994 entitled "Sri Lanka: Summary of human rights concerns." In the section in the report on abuses by the LTTE, we mention his case and say that his fate remains unknown.
The follow-up appeal of 14 January 1994 says that the fate of his supporters is unclear. Newspapers and radio continue to report that up to 120 of his followers arrested in August 1993, are under sentence of death. However, Lawrence Thilakar reportedly said that the LTTE are holding only three people in connection with the death of Kittu – namely, Mahaththaya, his bodyguard and a third, unnamed person. The February 1994 report doesn't discuss the 120 followers.
Yogeshwari did not expect Ceylon Today writer and the photographer to walk into her garden. She was after a bath and was drying her wet curly hair, standing in the sunlight. Round faced and with sparkling eyes, she has not lost her allure. She is still attractive and no doubt Mahaththaya had set his eyes on this right choice.
Standing in front of the house, she smiled as she saw the two strangers walking towards her.
When we were introduced, she was reluctant to talk to us and was camera shy too. However, she took courage to share some thoughts about her husband, who is no longer a part of her life.
Gopalaswamy Mahendraraja alias Mahaththaya was a top LTTE leader and Yogeshwari was his beloved wife. According to the book Inside an Elusive Mind by M.R. Narayan Swamy, the name Mahaththaya was given to him when a Sinhalese was abducted by the LTTE fell at his feet begging for mercy crying mahaththaya, mahaththaya.
There were smiles and moments of sorrow as she spoke of the man with whom she spent six years of her life.
"I have not entertained any press people and they were hovering around this place for many years but, here I am, speaking to you," she said.
"I had closed my mind to that chapter of my life because it is not a good story," she revealed.
Mahaththaya was born in 1956 and Yogeshwari in 1959. She is second in the family of seven children. She was staying at home after completing her G.C.E. Ordinary Level exam. At that time she used to see Mahaththaya walk past her house several times and one day their eyes met.
It was love at first sight for her because she had heard him to be a kind-hearted and a friendly man, who loved to chat with anyone who greeted him.
Messages of love
Mahaththaya, like any other young man, had been sending messages and love notes to her through his 'boys'. At the age of 17 Mahaththaya joined the movement and was a prominent fighter.
Finally, Mahaththaya walked into the house and proposed to her.
"There was no commotion about it. My parents said nothing. I suppose because his character was well known in town." Their wedding took place in Jaffna followed by a small ceremony and Prabhakaran blessed them for a 'long happy married life'.
Mahaththaya looked very much like Prabhakaran and were of the same height too. Both of them used to visit her house for meals and everything was good at that time.
Yogeshwari never feared that her husband, whom she married on 3 November 1986, would die at the hand of his best buddy.
She recalled how Mahaththaya used to celebrate everyone's birthday including his.
"There was laughter in the house in Valvettithurai, Jaffna when he was there. I bore three children for him and they were his bundles of joy. He used to be at home during any break. Of course, there were a couple of times he used to stay away but he made it a point to come home."
Yogeshwari recalled the day he was asked to meet the 'Thalaivar'.
"Around 4:30 in the morning of 3 August 1993, a group of LTTE boys came and knocked on the door. He was fast asleep.
'Thalaivar wants you,' was the call from the boys who were standing in the dark. The command came from the chief, so he immediately left. He was in his sarong and shirt, and rushed to the main entrance where the jeep was waiting for him."
Yogeshwari recalled, "He looked at me and said, 'take care of the children I'll be back soon' and those were his last words."
Yogeshwari's youngest girl child was just 10 months old, when he left the house for the last time.
"I had this gut feeling that something was going to happen to him because he was never summoned to meet Prabhakaran in this manner."
"Did you hear about what happened to him before that?"
"I did not know what was going on but he used to be sulky at times. He never had the habit of telling me about LTTE activities. He never discussed anything with me and I was busy with the children."
Yogeshwari said she was not the type that complained and argued.
At the time they met, Mahaththaya was Lieutenant Colonel but later on he was the second in command. "This of course I knew."
"Mahaththaya was worried about the boys when they got injured. He used to tell me about them."
Mahaththaya had the habit of eating home cooked food and he had no qualms about food preparation. Anything that was served he used to enjoy and eat, Yogeshwari said.
Where are his remains?
After his departure, till today Yogeshwari says she has no clue what happened to him and where the remains are buried.
"I went around inquiring about my husband but the boys said 'he is not there'.
Yogeshwari pointed out that she had no one to turn to and feared to even lodge a complaint at the police at that time.
"None could go against the LTTE and lodge a complaint. I would be in trouble too and could be called a traitor. So I was quiet and remained quiet till now."
Yogeshwari recalls that she read about Mahaththaya's death in a newspaper. "I came to know he was killed and not alive."
Yogeshwari tried to meet the 'Thalaivar' a number of times but it was futile. "I was not given permission to meet the man who enjoyed the company of my family and also I heard he refused to speak to me."
At that time, there were reports on Tamil media that Prabhakaran made his first call to Yogeshwari after he captured Mahaththaya.
According to the media reports, Prabhakaran had phoned Yogeshwari asking what he should do to Mahaththaya who had betrayed the LTTE and she, in her response, had said, 'Do whatever you want to do'.
Yogeshwari's search for her husband ended the day she read the news on the print media and heard it on the radio.
"I was told that my husband worked against the LTTE organization. I did not know anything about RAW they were linking him with.
"My husband mastered the warfare and knew everything and its strategic moves. But claiming he was with the RAW was news to me."
"Had he ever said that he would perish on the battlefield?
"No, we never spoke of death and our lives were based on hopes. He was hopeful."
"Did he dream of Eelam?"
"Well, that was the thought every Tamil had at that time.
"Life was not great without him. After knowing that he is believed to be dead, I came back to my maternal home with my children."
Yogeshwari's siblings who are overseas have shared her burden and educated her three children. They are employed and supporting her financially.
"From 1993 to 1997 I was unaware what had happened to my husband but I did not stop looking for him. In 1997 I heard he was tortured and killed."
Yogeshwari's eyes avoided us. She looked elsewhere and uttered these words: "Mahaththaya is no more". Despite knowing that this kind of fate was imminent in the LTTE circle, her family looked for him. "My inner feeling told me he was not alive."
A normal life
Today, Yogeshwari lives a normal life. No one speaks about her past.
About the war ending and peace prevailing in the island, Yogeshwari said she was happy too that there was no more bloodshed. "Boys died in vain at the end and my husband too."
On the LTTE being wiped out Yogeshwari said, "Yes, they fought for no result and I lost my husband for no valid reason and I am angry about it."
"What are your thoughts on the death of Prabhakaran?" She replied, "Yes, I never thought he would die in that manner too.
Every Tamil thought he would achieve something but all ended and there is no bloodshed now. I am happy about that."
Her father Balasingham who was a village chieftain is a well read man. He lost hearing due to the noise of shelling during the war and Yogeshwari is the dearest daughter taking care of him.
Yogeshwari said not only her father but her husband too was a very respectful man and he never deserved such a death.
She also compared the current political situation to that era and said there is uncertainty still prevailing in the political arena of this country.
She is still bitter about her husband's death. "My children never knew him, and they hate to talk about it, which is obvious because his image has been tainted and the family was isolated from the society to some extent. People feared to sympathize with us fearing they would be taken away.
"He was a man who felt empathy for others and very helpful. Whatever he did, he did for a cause.
"I am still angry that Prabhakaran tortured and killed his best friend and he never faced me till he met his death."
Yogeshwari is one of those people who do not know what happened to her husband and she is left with no answers.
"Well, this is life. I don't have his photographs at my house and today I am recalling him after many years," Yogeshwari ended her chat with Ceylon Today.
(Pic by Manjula Dayawansa)
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