Dharmaretnam Sivaram: 'Appa died doing what he loved most'

By Vaishnavi Sivaram | Vaitheki Sivaram | Andrew Seralaathan Dharmaretnam

This year marks the 15th anniversary of our father’s death and to this day, no one has been convicted for his murder. We are not surprised by this and neither is our family looking for justice. The Sri Lankan state has and continues to target journalists who write a counter narrative to the state's propaganda. There continues to be a lack of accountability for many other journalists who have disappeared, been assaulted, or murdered in Sri Lanka. The fact that our Appa’s body was dumped in close proximity to the Sri Lankan Parliament was in itself a stark reminder about the state of media freedom in the country and the extent to which the state would go to silence someone who disagrees with their discourse.

Thankfully, we were able to recover our father’s body and have some closure; unlike the many people who continue to search for answers about their loved ones who have gone missing during and after the civil war.

We feel that it is both difficult and impossible to talk about our father without discussing the struggle of the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka. As a young man studying at Perdaniya University, our father was impacted by the pogroms against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. As a result, he decided to discontinue his education and committed himself to fight for the liberation of the Tamil people who were being structurally oppressed by the Sri Lankan state. He went on to dedicate his life and writings towards this cause.

As his children, we also often think about how shattered he would have been if he had lived to witness the way the armed struggle for the liberation of the Tamil people ended in the Mulivaikal Massacre. The horrible atrocities committed against the thousands of Tamil people by the Sri Lankan state would have broken him.

That is why we feel the need to not only pay homage to our father but also to commemorate all who have lost their lives during the war, especially the thousands of Tamil people who were massacred during the end of the war in Mulivaikal. Justice for our father at this time would be holding the Sri Lankan state accountable for the war crimes committed during the Mulivaikal Massacre. Justice and accountability is needed for the Tamil families whose loved ones surrendered to the army during the final phase of the armed conflict and continue to be missing. Justice is needed for families who continue to live in displacement and all those who live under state oppression in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

As his children, we remember Appa as a very loving father who protected us and provided us with a sheltered and privileged life. He also provided financial support to economically struggling students who he came to know about. However, more than his family and supporting those in need, defending the sovereignty of his people through his writing was his utmost goal. He refused to relocate abroad even after facing multiple death threats and argued that his work was in Sri Lanka.

Looking back, we are happy that Appa died doing what he loved the most and hope that one day, his fight for the autonomy of the Tamil people can be realised.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.