A few months ago a number of Tamils in Australia walked free after pleading guilty to terrorism charges. It was a comprehensive disaster for the Australian government and highlighted a disturbing tendency to do the bidding of the Sri Lankan authorities in its “war against terror” and the Tamil people.
One of those released, Arumugam Rajeevan, speaks this week to ABC Radio and gives a moving explanation of his life and the ongoing challenges suffered by Tamils and the Diaspora. The struggle for freedom will go on:
Monica Attard: Can we just talk about the time before you came here to Australia in 1986. What had you experienced of the civil war in Sri Lanka?
Arumugam Rajeevan: I came in 1986 as a 17 year old student. Prior to that I was in Jaffna which was the cultural centre of the Tamils in Sri Lanka to some extent and it’s also centre of activities as far as political demonstrations and campaigns for human rights and so on. Naturally that created a lot of military operation and activities….
Monica Attard: Which you witnessed?
Arumugam Rajeevan: Absolutely. I have seen a lot of atrocities including the burning of the Jaffna library in 1981.
Monica Attard: But because you were very young, I assume that you were never actively involved in any fighting.
Arumugam Rajeevan: No, not at all – we were students. But we were affected in a sense that we were not able to go to schools on a regular basis because there were curfews and the military roundups and so on where the young people were taken-up in busses. So my parents were very worried about that situation and sometimes there is a tension in the town centre, you know they will not send me to school. So in that context I was impacted by it, but I never got actively involved in any of that.
Monica Attard: Ok, can I ask you, the charge against you of being a member of a terrorist organisation was dropped…
Arumugam Rajeevan: That’s right.
Monica Attard: ….when it became clear difficult to sustain. Nonetheless, the AFP [Australian Federal Police] did go to Sri Lanka didn’t it to investigate – to collect evidence. What do you make of that?
Arumugam Rajeevan: AFP is an important institution in Australia in terms of maintaining our national security and national interest and so on. You know at this particular instance I believe there was a political agenda and unfortunately I believe that in a lot of occasions the AFP was serving the interests of a third party; in this case the interests of Sri Lanka as opposed to serving the national interests of Australia.
Monica Attard: So do you think the AFP was naive perhaps in this instance?
Arumugam Rajeevan: Mistakes were made but it is history now. In general terms I have learned to forget things and forgive things and move on in life.
Monica Attard: But many commentators also believe that the AFP might have actually been guilty of meddling in the affairs of another country, particularly one that was in civil strife.
Arumugam Rajeevan: As far as I’m concerned, the AFP’s role should be protecting the national interest of Australia.
Monica Attard: And has the episode dented your belief in the police in this country?
Arumugam Rajeevan: As I said, mistakes can be made but overall I believe the justice system in Australia is a very objective system and we have full faith and trust in that system.
Monica Attard: So you have full faith that the justice system will protect you from whatever mistakes the police might make?
Arumugam Rajeevan: Absolutely and that is where the justice system is as an overseeing body and basically you know look at things in a very objective manner and to make their own assessment and removed from agendas and biasness and so on from one way or another.