Black Tiger Day murder of Trinco District’s Golden Lord

8 July 2023 04:30 am – 0      – 1438

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Arunasalam Thangathurai K.B. Ratnayake Vallipuram Vasanthan

Sri Lanka experienced its first suicide bomber attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on July 5, 1987. The Sri Lankan armed forces had commenced Operation Liberation on May 27, 1987, and succeeded in recapturing the Vadamaratchi region of the Jaffna peninsula. 

A major detachment of the Army was stationed at the Nelliyadi Central College campus near the Nelliyadi Junction. The LTTE re-grouped and launched a counterattack on the military camp on July 5.

Vallipuram Vasanthan alias Capt. Miller, a son of a bank manager, drove an explosive laden truck into the Nelliyadi camp precincts camp and triggered off an explosion. 

This was followed by a coordinated multi-pronged attack by the LTTE. Both sides incurred huge losses. The attack was a sensation those days as it was the pioneering suicide bomb attack by the tigers. 

The first suicide bomber Capt. Miller was hailed as a Karumpuli. This was translated into English as Black Tiger instead of Panther. 

Thereafter, the LTTE conducted many more Black Tiger suicide bomber attacks. 

July was 5 declared Black Tigers Day. It is still observed annually as such by Tigerish elements in Tamil Nadu and among the Diaspora. 

When the LTTE was militarily active, attacks were conducted on July 5th to denote Black Tiger Day. Some of these attacks, however, were not Black Tiger operations.

Ten years after Capt. Miller’s death on July 5, 1997, there was an LTTE attack in Trincomalee Town on Black Tigers Day. The target was the then Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Trincomalee District MP Arunasalam Thangathurai.

Sri Shanmuga College

61-year-old Thangathurai was ruthlessly assassinated at the premises of Sri Shanmuga Hindu Ladies College in Rajavorathayam Street, Trincomalee by three trouser-clad youths who lobbed a grenade first and then fired 9mm pistols at close range.

He was bidding farewell to a group of teachers and students after declaring open a new three-storeyed building block for the school that evening.

Thangathurai had allocated funds extensively from the de-centralised budget for this project. Although the primary target, Thangathurai was not the only victim of the grenade cum bullet attack.

Five others were killed and fifteen wounded in the attack described as “cowardly and reprehensible” by the then TULF President and former Parliamentarian M. Sivasithamparam. 

Most of these victims were students and teachers of Sri Shanmuga including Principal Rajeswari Thanabalasingham, who was killed and Vice Principal Amirthini Kulasingham, who was injured.

Thangathurai’s body lay in state at the Trincomalee Urban Council Hall for the public to pay their respects. Massive crowds paid homage. The final procession and last rites at the Villoondry Crematorium too were too well attended. The then speaker KB Ratnayake and several ministers were personally present at the funeral held on 9 July.

It was delayed to enable his eldest daughter from London and wife, daughter and son from Chennai to be present.

I became acquainted with Thangathurai in 1977 in my professional capacity as a journalist. Our relationship developed over the years into a personal friendship. His death was a great loss to the Tamil people in general and those of Trincomalee District in particular. I wrote about him extensively after his demise and will rely on some of those writings in writing this article.

Towering Leader

Arunasalam Thangathurai was a towering political leader in Eastern Lanka. The name Thangathurai meaning Golden Lord facilitated slogan chanting easily at meetings and processions. Engal Thangam Thangathurai (Our gold is Thangathurai) and Engal Thurai Thangathurai (Our Lord is Thangathurai) were some of the popular slogans then.

Born in Kiliveddy

Thangathurai was born on January 17, 1936, in Kiliveddy, an agrarian village in the Muttur region of South Trincomalee.

After primary schooling in Muttur, he moved to Government College (Now Mahajana) in Batticaloa. Thereafter he went to Stanley Collage (Canaganatram MMV) in Ariyalai, Jaffna on a scholarship.

Hampered by the family’s financial constraints, Thanga forsook higher studies and opted to join the clerical service. He was for the greater part of his clerical career attached to the Irrigation Department.

While in the Clerical Service, he participated with gusto in trade union activities. He was an active member of the Government Clerical Services Union (GCSU).

He was also involved in non-political social services aimed at uplifting the people of Kilveddi in particular and the Mutur area in general.

In the meantime, along with his relatives, Thangathurai also engaged in large-scale agriculture. Through these agricultural pursuits, Thangathurai and his relatives acquired a remarkable amount of wealth and soon became a family of consequence in the region.

The 1976 De-limitation Commission led by Noel Tittawela had divided the existing double-member Mutur constituency in two. Predominantly Sinhala areas were carved into the Seruwila Electorate Despite the risks involved, he remained with his people living in a volatile atmosphere until mid-1985. He was compelled to leave Sri Lanka as he was being constantly detained for questioning by the security authorities. Thanga also received reliable information that he had been earmarked as someone to be “removed” shortly


Moreover, Thangathurai after years of being in govt clerical service passed the then Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS) examination and became a Divisional Revenue Officer (DRO).

The combination of agrarian wealth and administrative office made Thangathurai one of the brightest stars in the Mutur Tamil firmament.

In the 1960 to 1977 period, the district of Trincomalee had two electorates namely Mutur and Trincomalee. Mutur was a double-member electorate. This was to ensure representation for both the Muslims and the Tamils. The Mutur Constituency at that time had roughly 45- 50 % Muslims, 30-35% Tarnils, and 15-20 % Sinhalese.

Al Abdul Majeed of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was representing Mutur since July 1960. MEH Mohammed Ali had been elected on the Ilankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) ticket in the 1962 by-election. Abdul Majeed of the SLFP and Mohammed Ali of the ITAK were elected from Mutur in March 1965. There was no Tamil member for Mutur from 1962-1970 although it was made a -multi-member constituency for that purpose.

Mohammed Ali

The ITAK joined the United National Party (UNP) led national Govt of Dudley Senanayake in 1965. In 1969 the FP left the UNP Govt of Dudley Senanayake and reverted to the opposition benches. Mohammed Ali however continued to remain with the UNP Govt. This compelled the FP to look for a new face to contest Mutur in the 1970 polls. Former Paddiruppu MP and FP President SM Rasamanickam was in charge of selecting a suitable candidate for Mutur. His choice was Thangathurai. Subsequently, it was approved by the party leadership.

The ITAK candidate had to mobilise a large number of votes to win as the presence of two powerful Muslim candidates, Mohammed Ali and Abdul Majeed could have resulted in both of them being elected. Two factors helped Thangathurai to win.

The first was the community consciousness of the Tamil voters who voted en bloc for the ITAK/FP.

The second was HDL Leelaratne contesting as an independent. A substantial Sinhala population had evolved .in Mutur by 1970. Leelaratne, a Sinhala candidate weaned away these votes from the UNP and SLFP Muslim candidates. This in turn reduced their votes enabling Thangathurai with a solid chunk of Tamil votes to become second to the SLFP’s Abdul Majeed who polled 22,727 votes.

Leelaratne garnered 18,698 while Mohammed Ali got 15,018 votes. Thangathurai with 19, 787 votes was elected as the second member of Mutur.


Arunasalam Thangathurai was the youngest ITAK/ FP member in the Parliament of 1970-72 and the National State Assembly of 1972-77.

Thangathurai concentrated on developing his backward electorate. To do this he had to establish close rapport with the leaders of the new SLFP government. Assiduously cultivating the SLFP members Thangathurai succeeded in obtaining many benefits for the Mutur people

Thangathurai’s greatest enthusiasm however was for Education and for developing educational infrastructure. He was firmly of the opinion that the way to upward social mobility for the downtrodden Eastern Province Tamils was mainly through education.

So, Thangathurai during 1970-1977 utilised all his political skills to extract concessions from education minister Dr Badi-ud-din Mahmud Deputy Minister, B.Y. Tudawe and fellow Mutur MP Abdul Majeed to develop educational infrastructure in Mutur.

Opening of schools, upgrading and enhancement of facilities for schools along with recruitment of teachers were some of the benefits obtained.

1976 Commission

The 1976 De-limitation Commission led by Noel Tittawela had divided the existing double-member Mutur constituency in two. Predominantly Sinhala areas were carved into the Seruwila Electorate. 

The re-demarcated Mutur was now a single-member Muslim majority seat. Only the Trincomalee Electorate had a Tamil majority.

Since Mutur and Seruwila had Muslim and Sinhala majorities, Thangathurai staked his claim to contest Trincomalee Electorate in 1977 from the newly formed TULF. The party hierarchy favoured Rajavarothayam Sampanthan a successful lawyer in Trinco town. Sampanthan being a lawyer was considered ‘strong’ as compared to Thangathurai – a non-lawyer.

When denied nomination for Trincomalee one thing that hurt Thangathurai was the reason trotted out that he was not a lawyer. So, he began studying law after 1977. Burning the midnight oil with a vengeance, Thangathurai soon became a fully qualified lawyer.

District Councils

In 1981 elections to the District Development Councils (DDC) were announced.

Thangathurai was picked by the TULF to Contest the Trincomalee District as its lead candidate and potential chairman.

Contesting the DDC in Trincomalee was a formidable task for the TULF. Since the SLFP was boycotting the DDC polls it was a straight fight between the UNP and the TULF.

In multi-ethnic Trincomalee, the TULF could get its votes from the Tamil community alone. The UNP with Sinhala, Muslim support and some Tamil votes was likely to be the winner.

Thangathurai saw in this challenge an opportunity to display his political acumen. Apart from fully mobilising the Tamil people into supporting the TULF, he made deep inroads into the Muslim and to some extent the Sinhala constituency of the SLFP.

He was able to convince the local SLFP figures that it would be better to let the TULF win rather than the UNP in Trincomalee, Thangathurai also got certain SLFP bigwigs to covertly sanction this stratagem.

The end result was an upset TULF victory over the more fancied UNP. Sadly the JR Jayewardene Govt did not allow the DDCs to function properly.

Relocated to India

The 1983 pogrom and its consequences utterly transformed life for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Although many front-line TULF members went abroad, Thangathurai continued to reside in Mutur.

Despite the risks involved, he remained with his people living in a volatile atmosphere until mid-1985. He was compelled to leave Sri Lanka as he was being constantly detained for questioning by the security authorities. Thanga also received reliable information that he had been earmarked as someone to be “removed” shortly. 

With great reluctance, he relocated with his wife, son and two daughters to Chennai, Tamil Nadu.


After the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, Thangathurai returned to Sri Lanka in 1988 leaving his family behind in Chennai.

He began working actively for the TULF again. Apart from short visits to Chennai Thangathurai would shuttle between Colombo and Trincomalee regularly.

During this period Thangathurai was of yeoman service to the people of Trincomalee He endeared himself to the people by his selfless service to them in a very difficult situation. The people of Trincomalee demonstrated their appreciation of Thangathurai at the appropriate moment.

Trincomalee Tamil MP

In 1994 Thangathurai contested Trincomalee on the TULF list and was elected as the only Tamil Parliamentarian from the district He obtained 22,410 preferential votes, the highest number by any candidate in Trincomalee then. After Thangathurai’s demise, R.Sampanthan who got 19,525 votes in 1994 succeeded him as MP in 1997.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at


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