Murugeysen Tiruchelvam

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M. Tiruchelvam
Murugeysen Tiruchelvam.jpg
Minister of Local Government
In office
Succeeded by Ranasinghe Premadasa
Solicitor General of Ceylon
In office
Preceded by D. S. C. B. Jansze
Succeeded by A. C. Alles
Member of the Senate of Ceylon
In office
Personal details
Born (1907-11-19)19 November 1907
Jaffna, British Ceylon
Died 23 November 1976(1976-11-23) (aged 69)
Political party Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi
Other political
Tamil United Liberation Front
Spouse(s) Punitham
Children Neelan, Rajendra, Janaki
Alma mater S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia
Ceylon University College
Profession Lawyer

Murugeysen Tiruchelvam was a Sri Lankan Tamil politician, Member of the Senate, government minister and a leading lawyer.

Early life[edit]

Tiruchelvam was born on 19 November 1907 in Jaffna. When he was three-months old he and his mother went to British Malaya where his father Visvanathan Murugeysu, who hailed from Vaddukoddai, was Head of the Telegraph Office, an officer in the British colonial administration, in Kuala Lumpur. The Tiruchelvam family were friends of the Chelvanayakam family who were also living in Malaya. Tiruchelvam had three brothers and a sister. Tiruchelvam and his brother Rajendra were sent to British Ceylon to have their education at S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia. S. J. V. Chelvanayakam was the brothers' guardian. Tiruchelvam later studied at Ceylon University College, obtaining an honours degree in History.

Tiruchelvam married Punithavathy (Punitham) Canagaratnam. They had four children: Neelan Tiruchelvam, Rajendra, Janaki.

Legal career[edit]

After graduating Tiruchelvam studied law and became a lawyer in 1935 when he started practicing law. He served as the magistrate in Negombo, Panadura and Galle till 1945. He was appointed Assistant to the Legal Secretary to the then Legal Secretary Sir Alan Rose. He assisted Sir Alan in drafting the Soulbury Constitution. Tiruchelvam was appointed Deputy Solicitor-General in 1944. He was appointed Solicitor General of Ceylon in 1957, a position he held until 1960.

Tiruchelvam took part in a number of high-profile legal cases. He was one of the defence lawyers in the 1976 Trial-At-Bar of Appapillai Amirthalingam, K. P. Ratnam, Murugesu Sivasithamparam and Kathiripillai Thurairatnam, four leading TULF politicians who were charged with sedition for defying the First Republican Constitution. 72 Tamil lawyers took part in the defence, including S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and G. G. Ponnambalam, two leading lawyer-politicians. All the defendants were acquitted.

Tiruchelvam also defended Junius Richard Jayewardene when he was threatened with expulsion from the United National Party.

Political career[edit]

Tiruchelvam became involved in politics in the 1960s, becoming chief advisor and principal political strategist to S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, founder/leader of Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party). Tiruchelvam and other ITAK leaders were jailed in 1961 for staging a mass satyagraha against the Sinhala Only Act. They spent over six months in Panagoda jail.

In 1965, after the signing of the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact (aka Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact), ITAK joined the United National Party-led national government. ITAK's MP refused take ministerial portfolios but instead Tiruchelvam was appointed to the Senate of Ceylon and made Minister of Local Government. During Tiruchelvam's ministerial tenure the eventual creation of the University of Jaffna was started, the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act (aka Reasonable Use of Tamil Act) became law in 1966 and administrative reforms carried out.

Tiruchelvam resigned from the government in November 1968 when Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake overturned his decision to make Fort Fredrick in Trincomalee a sacred precinct (the fort contained the Koneswaram temple). ITAK then left the national government, blaming the government's failure to implement the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact. Tiruchelvam stayed on in the Senate until it was abolished in 1971.


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