COLOMBO: Within the last two days, Tamils in Sri Lanka have lost two of their outstanding leaders, who had toiled for them tirelessly in a non-militant Gandhian way.
Dr. S.A. David, a Gandhian social worker who was known as “Gandhiyam David” died in Kilinochchi on Sunday, aged 92. On Tuesday, the community lost K.Velayutham, a trade union leader and former Plantation Industries Minister, best known for getting for estate worker families a plot of land which they could call their own. Velayutham died in a hospital in Chennai aged 66.
Dr. David left Lanka following enactment of the discriminatory “Sinhala Only Act” in 1956. After working in Australia, UK, Nigeria and Kenya, he returned to the island in 1972 to devote his life to the suffering Tamils. He helped the Tamil Information Centre produce the film “Banished from Paradise”, the first documentary on the plight of tea plantation Tamils of Indian Origin.
In 1977, David established “Gandhiyam” to settle plantation Tamils in the predominantly Tamil Northern Province after they were hounded out of the plantations in Central Lanka in 1977.
Because he was campaigning against the Prevention of Terrorism Act, he was arrested in 1983. He was one of the few Tamils to have escaped death in the infamous massacre in the Welikade prison on July 25, 1983.
David was transferred to Batticaloa prison, from where he escaped to India in September 1983. He carried on his fight for justice from Chennai till advancing age put a stop to it.
K.Velayutham took to leading the estate workers of Indian origin after quitting journalism. He became leader of the Jathika Estate Workers’ Union of the United National Party (UNP) in the Nuwara Eliya and Badulla districts and was later elected to the Uva Province Council. He entered parliament in 2001 and 2014. As Minister of Plantation Industries in early 2015, Velayutham got sanction for building thousands of houses for estate workers and for a plot of land for each estate worker family – a long cherished desire of the landless estate workers.