Rajini Thiranagama

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Dr. Rajini Thiranagama
Dr. Rajini Thiranagama
Born (1954-02-23)February 23, 1954
Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Died September 21, 1989(1989-09-21) (aged 35)
Jaffna, Sri Lanka
Occupation University Lecturer
Spouse(s) Dayapala Thiranagama
Children Narmada Thiranagama, Sharika Thiranagama

Dr. Rajini Thiranagama (née Rajasingham) (February 23, 1954 – September 21, 1989) was a Tamil human rights activist and feminist who was allegedly shot dead by Tamil Tigers cadres after she criticised them for their atrocities.[1] At the time of her assassination she was the head of the Department of Anatomy at the University of Jaffna and an active member of University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna branch of which she is one of the founding members.


Early life and education[edit]

Rajini was born in Jaffna, in northern Sri Lanka, to middle-class Tamil Christian parents. She was the second child of the four female children. She followed her primary and secondary school education in Jaffna and in 1973, she entered the University of Colombo to study medicine. At university, she became actively involved in student politics.[2]

Marriage and children[edit]

During her stay at Colombo University she met a politically active student leader from Kelaniya University named Dayapala Thirangama. Dayapala was from a rural Sinhala Buddhist background. Rajini broke ethnic and religious barriers and married Dayapala in 1977. They had two daughters: Narmada, (1978), and Sharika, 1980. At present Rajini's husband and Narmada live in England. Sharika is currently living in California, married to the anthropologist Thomas Blom Hansen and is teaching at Stanford University. In 2005 Sharika portrayed her mother's role in the documentary film on Rajini called No More Tears Sister.[3]

Medical Profession[edit]

1978 Rajini begins her first posting as an intern medical doctor at Jaffna Hospital. After the completion of the intern, in 1979 she traveled to Haldumulla, a small village situated near Haputale to work as a medical doctor. By 1980 she returned to Jaffna as a lecturer in anatomy in the newly formed Faculty of Medicine at the University of Jaffna. By this time, Jaffna was a battle zone in the early stages of Sri Lanka's civil war. Many were leaving Jaffna for Colombo or migrating to other countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.

Links with the LTTE[edit]

Inspired by her elder sister Nirmala, then a member of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Rajini became involved with the LTTE, administering care to those wounded in action. In 1983, Rajini traveled to England under Commonwealth scholarship for postgraduate studies in anatomy at Liverpool Medical School. There she launched a major international campaign for the release of her sister who was imprisoned in 1982 in under Sri Lanka's Prevention of Terrorism Act. She also maintained her links with LTTE by joining its London Committee in order to educate human rights groups and other international organizations about the atrocities occurring in Sri Lanka. While continuing to write and publish scientific papers, she also became implicated in grassroots organizations fighting for women’s rights and against the discrimination of Britain’s black people[4] and became involved in the international campaigns of other liberation groups.[3]

As a human rights activist[edit]

Over time, constant exposure to politically motivated killings by armed groups on all sides caused Rajini to rethink her position on armed struggle.[5] A determined idealist, she criticized the narrow nationalism of the LTTE, and the atrocities committed by the LTTE, the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the Sri Lankan government forces upon the innocent Tamil civilian population in Jaffna. She began to collect evidence of human rights violations of IPKF and LTTE. At the University of Jaffna, Rajini and some of her teacher colleagues founded the Jaffna branch of the University Teachers for Human Rights.

Having witnessed the evidence of human rights violations by the IPKF and LTTE, Rajini co-authored a book entitled The Broken Palmyra.[6] The book documents the violence in Jaffna in the 1980s.[7][8]


A few weeks after the publication of book The Broken Palmyra, on September 21, 1989, she was shot dead at Thirunelvely, Jaffna in front of her house by a gunman while cycling back from work. University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna and Rajini's sister accuse the LTTE of her murder, retaliating against her criticism of their violent tactics.[9] Some Tamils believe that this accusation is controversial. At the time of her death, Rajini's activities were actively watched by the intelligence officials who accompanied the IPKF. These officials induced EPRLF (one of the Tamil militant groups who were aligned to IPKF)cadres to knock off Rajini and pass the blame to LTTE.

Legacy and memorials[edit]

Documentary film[edit]

In a documentary released worldwide in 2005, No More Tears Sister, produced by the National Film Board of Canada,[10] Rajini's life and her legacy are brought to life.


Embracing feminism and a belief in human rights, Dr, Rajini felt that women in particular were the primary casualties of war;

Men in battle garb, whether they come with swords or guns, on a horse or in armored cars, the price of conquest seems heightened by the violation of women,
One day some gun will silence me and it will not be held by an outsider but by the son born in the womb of this very society, from a woman with whom my history is shared,

wrote Dr. Rajini in 1989, a few months before she was killed.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]