Devananda was born in Jaffna on 10th November 1957, as the second of the four sons and one daughter of Subramaniam Kathiravelu. His mother Maheswary died when he was only six years old. His father Kathiravelu was an active member of the Sri Lanka Communist Party, a leading member of the Government Clerical Service Union (GCSU), and the editor of the GCSU publication ‘Redtape’. Kathiravelu served in the Department of Inland Revenue and later joined the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, where he rose up as one of its Regional Managers.
Devananda had his primary and secondary education at the Jaffna Central College, where his mother was a teacher, till her death. While being a teenage student in Jaffna, he was exposed to, and influenced by his father’s political work and that of his uncle K.C. Nithyananda, who was a leading trade unionist of his day. In 1970, at the age of 13, Devananda joined the Maanavar Peravai (Students Federation), protesting over media-wise standardization for admission to universities.
Devananda was sent to Colombo from Jaffna in 1974 for further studies under K.C. Nithyananda’s tutelage. Nithyananda joined the government service as a clerk and was a President of the GCSU. He rose to become a member of the Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS) and served in the Ministry of Transport and the General Treasury. Nithyananda assumed the role of Devananda’s parent and mentor. In Colombo, however, it was not studies that interested Devananda, the teenager, but politics. Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil extremism enveloping the country disturbed him. He wanted to be actively engaged in the Tamil liberation struggle of the day. He joined the Eelam Liberation Organisation (ELO). In 1975, he became a founder member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organizers (EROS). He organised the General Union of Eelam Students (GUES) in Colombo, and coordinated its activities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Being one of the pioneers of the armed struggle, it was then that he assumed the pseudonym of Douglas.
Nithyananda and his Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO) worked tirelessly in the task of providing temporary accommodation and food to thousands of Tamil refugees when anti-Tamil riots broke out in the south and central Sri Lanka, following the Parliamentary general election in August 1977. Young Devananda threw his full weight behind that humanitarian task.
When President Jayewardene appointed Nithyananda as the Chairman of the newly formed Palmyrah Development Board in August 1978, Devananda functioned as his personal assistant. This was only for a short period. In 1978, Devananda alias Douglas and two other EROS members left for military training with Al Fatah of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Palaly, Jaffna. He successfully completed the training and returned to Sri Lanka.
Trouble was brewing in the hierarchy of the EROS. The organization, with its leadership based mainly in London, broke up into two. A section, including Padmanabha and Devananda left EROS and formed the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). The student body GUES of the EROS, attached itself with the EPRLF. In the EPRLF, Douglas Devananda served as a member of the politbureau of the Central Committee and as the commander of its military wing, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
In 1980, the Sri Lanka government arrested Douglas Devananda twice under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He was incarcerated in the Batticaloa Prison, Colombo Magazine Prison, Panagoda Army Detention Barracks, and the Welikada Prison in Colombo. When the July 1983 anti-Tamil riots broke out, Douglas Devananda was an inmate of Welikada prison. He was one of the few prisoners who escaped death at the hands of the Sinhala criminals who were let loose by the authorities on July 25th and 27th to kill the Tamil political prisoners. After the two massacres in the Welikada prison, which resulted in the death of 53 inmates, Douglas Devananda along with 27 other survivors was transferred to the Batticaloa prison. In September 1983, he along with all the other Tamil political prisoners escaped from the Batticaloa prison and fled to Tamil Nadu in India.
From India, in 1984, he went for advanced military training, and led a group of other EPRLF members, both men and women, for training with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Following the training, he returned to North-East Sri Lanka and resumed charge as the commander of PLA of the EPRLF. Based in Jaffna, he was also in charge of all political and military activities of the EPRLF in the North and East of Sri Lanka. On May 5th of 1985, Devananda lost his teenage sister, Shobha alias Mathivathani in the Karainagar Naval Base attack. The searchlights of the navy gunboats caught up with her and she was shredded in a hail of heavy machine gun bullets. She was the first woman cadre martyr in the freedom struggle of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
In May 1986, serious internal contradictions relating to the strategy and tactics of the struggle and the internal structure of the organization cropped up within the EPRLF. As most of its politbureau members were based in Tamil Nadu, Douglas Devananda undertook a sea voyage to Tamil Nadu to sort out the problems. His first sea voyage on July 7th of 1986 ended up in a tragedy, which resulted in the death of seven of the nineteen-member entourage of Douglas Devananda. He lost his loyal comrades Imama, Ashok, Edward, Chenpagam, Sukirthan, Gnanam and Nagarajah to the Indian Ocean. Though Douglas Devananda arrived safely on the second sea voyage, the internal contradictions could not be resolved. Consequently, Douglas Devananda and his loyalists parted company from the others, and laid claim as the real EPRLF. The two factions were however dubbed as the EPRLF (D – Douglas Devananda) and the EPRLF (R- Ranjan alias Naba).
In October 1986, Devananda was unjustly arrested and charged in the Choolaimedu incident in which an Indian national was killed. Though he was released on bail and is cooperating with the trial, interested parties made sure that the case is still dragging on for many years despite the fact that the Police FIR states that Devananda was not present when the incident happened. Following this incident, cleavage between the two factions of the EPRLF became permanent. In May 1987, EPRLF (D) under the leadership of Douglas Devananda, together with Paranthan Rajan who led a breakaway group of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) formed the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) in Tamil Nadu. However, this arrangement did not last long. Thereafter, EPRLF (D) transformed itself into the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).
Following the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of July 1987, the EPDP also decided to give up the armed struggle and join the democratic political mainstream in Sri Lanka. The earlier upbringing of Devananda by Kathiravelu and Nithyananda made it easy for him to decide to eschew the path of militancy and to work for the rights of the Tamil-speaking people with the cooperation of the progressive forces in the south of Sri Lanka. Douglas Devananda decided to enter the democratic mainstream as Kathiravelu Nithyananda Douglas Devananda.
The LTTE wanted to exploit the situation to wipe out all other Tamil militant organizations. The LTTE started wiping out the other movements in the latter part of 1985. They first eliminated TELO and PLOTE by killing many of its cadres and capturing some. Finally in the latter part of 1986, the LTTE started attacking the EPRLF cadres. While Devananda was in India the EPRLF members were captured, tortured and killed by the LTTE. By December 1986 EPRLF was also banned by the LTTE. EROS and its leader Balakumar of course gave into to the LTTE threats and agreed to dissolve their group and surrendered to the LTTE.
In September 1987 Devananda’s brother Premananda and some leading members of the EPDP returned from India and handed over the arms and entered the democratic mainstream. Premananda, Sivakaran alias Ibrahim, Ragavan, Sritharan and George were abducted by the LTTE in Jaffna and tortured. To date, their fate is not known. Devananda’s brother Premananda is also among the forcibly disappeared and his father died believing his son was still alive somewhere.
Similarly many baseless accusations have been leveled against Devananda to tarnish his image by interested parities. Yahapalana government made investigations into these cases and one by one these accusations are all being cleared by the law – of course after the damage was done.
Achievements as a Member of Parliament and as a Cabinet Minister
Having entered the democratic mainstream, Douglas Devananda and his comrades worked hard to build his party in the North-East Province of Sri Lanka. Their efforts paid dividends when nine members of the EPDP, including himself were elected to Parliament from the Jaffna District, in August 1994. Douglas Devananda was re-elected to Parliament in October 2000, in December 2001, April 2004, 2010 and again in 2015. The Jaffna voters have elected Douglas Devananda for the last 25 years without a break to represent them in parliament.
In October 2000, Douglas Devananda was appointed as the Minister of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the North, and in September 2001 as the Minister of Rehabilitation Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the North and North East Tamil Affairs, in the People’s Alliance Government headed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. During the very short stint as Minister of Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction he worked tirelessly to provide means of livelihood to thousands, and improve the lives of the people who had placed faith in him.
EPDP under the leadership of Douglas Devananda played a vital role in the restoration of normal life, civil administration and democratic institutions in the war torn areas. He was in the forefront of reviving courts and local government authorities that were destroyed during the war years.
During his tenure as the Minister of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of the North, the Jaffna Central College, Vembadi Girl’s School, Chavakacheri Hindu College and Jaffna Hindu College were able to build new upstair buildings in their premises with his help. 140 schools in the peninsula were repaired. Schools were provided with computers, sports and educational equipment. Douglas Devananda established the first computer centres in Mannar and Jaffna known as the IT Parks. The old buildings at the Chavakacheri, Thirunelveli, Kokuvil, Palai, Karaveddy and Jaffna Central Markets were rebuilt and new buildings were constructed. Storage rooms and new buildings were constructed for some of the cooperative stores in Jaffna. Many worship places and the historically famous temples like the Keerimalai Naguleswarar Temple, Mavidapuram Kandasamy Temple and Naga Viharai were renovated during his period. The Nallai Aathinam got its religious school for children and a new wedding hall was also built. New buildings were constructed at the Thirunelvely and Chunnakam orphanages and the Kaithadi Home for the Aged was fully renovated. Hospitals in Punguduthevu, Karampan, Nedunthevu, Chavakacheri and Velanai were renovated. The Ayurveda Hospital in Kaithady and the Thellipalai Cancer Hospital were fully renovated. A new building to house the new medical interns and a rest room for the employees were built at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital. The Karamban and Punguduthevu Hospitals were provided with ambulances. Most of the roads were reconstructed. The Jaffna Bus Stand and the Thirunelvely Metrology Department buildings were newly built. The agricultural sector was developed and ACAS was provided with fund to produce vegetable seeds. The Thirunelvely Dairy Farm was provided with a generator and land to produce dairy products. The fertilizer and seed storage facilities were renovated. The Palmyrah employees were provided with equipment and the Thickam Distillery was renovated and funds were provided for palmyrah preparation. Assistance was provided to replace the Thondamanaru Sluicegate. Resting places were built at various jetties in the Jaffna islets. A Conference Hall was built at the Jaffna Secretariat. Funds were allocated for the working programmes of the 15 Pradeshiya Sabahs in the peninsula and all of them were provided with pickup vehicles. Vocational Training Centres were established. Equipments to enhance the working skills using palmyrah products were provided. Assistance for resettlement was also provided to the coastal area fishermen and palmyrah workers. They were provided with dry ration as well. In the same manner the unemployed were also provided with dry ration and assistance. The community centers and other infrastructure facilities, and the churches and mosques seen today in the North and the some other Tamil areas of the country are testimony to his work.
Later with the formation of a United National Front Government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in December 2001, K.N. Douglas Devananda sat in the official opposition in Parliament.
In the General Election held in April 2004, he was again elected as Member of Parliament and was appointed as the Minister of Agricultural Marketing Development, Hindu Affairs and Tamil Language Schools and Vocational Training in the People’s Alliance Government headed by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge.
Later, with the change of office of the President in November 2005, President Mahinda Rajapakase appointed Douglas Devananda as Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare.
When the A9 Road was closed on August 11th 2006, there was a severe shortage of essential items in the Jaffna Peninsula. The people of Jaffna underwent immense difficulties. With the greatest difficulty and the help of the Government, Douglas Devananda made arrangements to bring the essential items from Tamil Nadu in the early part of January 2007. Once again he was personally present in Jaffna during the most difficult time, to share the sufferings of his people. His actions reveal his sincere concern for his people. He obtained the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers for establishing Rehabilitation Centers for males and females who surrender to the authorities in Jaffna.
In January 2007 he participated in the Sri Lanka Development Forum held in Galle as a panel member.
As the Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare and the Chairman of the Council for the persons with disabilities he accelerated the activities of the National Council for Persons with Disability. He submitted the Disability Rights Bill and The Accessibility Regulation to the Cabinet in 2006 and the Regulation was passed by the Parliament in March 2007. Under his leadership, access facilities for the disabled were introduced to some important public buildings in the Sri Lankan capital-Colombo and suburbs.
In April 2010 he became the Minister of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprise Development. After the war ended in May 2009 heavy infrastructural developments took place in the North and East. Construction of the A-9 road and the restoration of the Northern Railway line after 24 years, are two examples. The main roads in the North were also rehabilitated and widened. Bus Transportation to the North and East was established making life easy for the people to travel after many years.
The Jaffna University had been functioning with limited resources and physical constraints for its growth and expansion. The Jaffna University has been asking for an Engineering Faculty since its inception without any success. When President Mahinda Rajapakse visited Kokkavil in 2011, Minister Devananda urged President Mahinda Rajapakse to establish an Engineering Faculty at Ariviyal Nagar. Following which the President asked the Army to vacate the land at Ariviyal Nagar. With the hard work and campaigning of Minister Devananda, the cabinet paper was approved in January 2013 and the establishment of the Faculty of Engineering at Ariviyal Nagar in Kilinochi commenced with the help of the Indian Government. The works on the Engineering Faculty was started on 500 acres of land and it became a reality. The foundation stone was placed for the building complex on February 6, 2014 under the patronage of Traditional Industries and Small Enterprises Development Minister Devananda and the Higher Education Minister S. B. Dissanayake. The first batch of the students to the Engineering Faculty at Ariviyal Nagar, Killinochi was enrolled in January 2014.
He was also the Minister of Resettlement, Rehabilitation, Northern Development and Hindu Religious Affairs in October 2018, for a short period.
In 2019 Devananda has been appointed the Minister of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development under President Gotabaya Rajapakse’s cabinet.
In November 1995, Douglas Devananda was in the parliamentary delegation that accompanied President Chandrika Kumaratunge to the historic 50th anniversary celebrations of the United Nations Organisation and the UN Assembly
In October 2004, Douglas Devananda was one of the main speakers at the conference on “India’s Sri Lanka Policy, the Perception of the Problem and the Search for a Solution”. This conference was held on October 30, 2004 at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi. A resolution was adopted at the end of the meeting.
In November 2004, Douglas Devananda, along with President Chandrika Kumaratunge, participated in the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi. The “India and the World” conference was the second conference of the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative. This summit was held at the Kamal Mahal, ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel in Delhi, India on November 5th and 6th in 2004.
Douglas Devananda attended the Forum of Ministers on Social Development from Asia at the invitation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, held in Bhurban in Pakistan in May 2006. This was the first such meeting and it was co-organized with UNESCO and with the assistance of UNDP: Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
In September 2006 Douglas Devananda was in the Presidential delegation, which attended the Non-Aligned Summit Conference held in Cuba. Here, he met his Cuban counterpart Mr. Alfredo Morales Cartaya, the Malaysian Prime Minister and other Heads of States along with President Mahinda Rajapakse. From Cuba he proceeded to New York, to attend the 61st UN General Assembly along with the Sri Lankan Presidential delegation.
In pursuance of his commitment, he took initiatives and went to the United Nations and signed the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 30th March 2007 on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government.
In April 2007 Douglas Devnanda went to South Africa with the TULF Leader Mr. Anandasagaree, at the invitation of the South African President. Douglas Devananda with President Mahinda Rajapakse met the South African President in Cuba during the Non-Aligned Summit Conference held in Havana in September 2006. The two democratic leaders, Devananda and Anandasangaree explained the current situation to the South African leaders and the Indian Tamil Community, who have made South Africa their homeland. In SA he met his counterpart Dr. Z.S.T. Skweyiya, SA President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, leaders of the political parties of South Africa.
He accompanied President Rajapakse to the 96th International Labour Organization (ILO) conference held in Geneva in June 2007, where he met several dignitaries.
He participated in the Eight Session of the Intergovernmental Council (IGC) of the Management of Social Transformation (MOST) Programme organized by UNESCO, held in Paris in July 2007, in the capacity of the Social Services and Social Welfare Minster of Sri Lanka.
As a mark of appreciation of his unstinted commitment towards the cause of persons with disabilities, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP) accorded Douglas Devananda with the highest order of honour. Having duly recommended the policy formulations, and taking into consideration the commitment to the persons with disabilities during a comparatively short spell of time of holding the portfolio of Social Services and Social Welfare Ministry in Sri Lanka, the UNESCAP extended an invitation to Minister Devananda to chair a high level inter-governmental conference in September 2007. The Conference was on mid-point reviewing of the policy declaration for a 10-year period of the persons with disabilities in the Asian and Pacific countries.
Once again he attended the 62nd UN General Assembly in September 2007 in New York as a member of the Sri Lankan delegation.
While attending the Social Services Ministers Conference in New Delhi he met with Indian National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan in New Delhi. Useful information was discussed and exchanged between the two. During his visit to India in March 2008 he attended the Global minority Conference on behalf of Sri Lanka in New Delhi. He also met the then Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and discussed the contribution of India towards bringing Peace in Sri Lanka, for the unity among races, for equality among races , for the freedom and the rights of the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka and the goodwill relationship between the two countries.
In June 2010 he accompanied President Mahinda Rakjapakse to India. During this state visit, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh committed to build 50,000 houses for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the IDPs in the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the request of Minister Devananda. Cconstruction of 1,000 houses was launched in April 2011 and successfully completed in July 2012. Under this project, 250 houses in Kilinochchi, 250 houses in Mulaitivu, 175 houses in Vavuniya, 175 houses in Mannar and 150 houses in Jaffna have been constructed on land provided by the government of Sri Lanka till October 2012.
Since August 1994, when he was first elected as the Member of Parliament representing the Jaffna District, to date, Douglas Devananda has been involved in negotiations and other activities relating to a lasting political solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. Though he has not yet succeeded in bringing a solution to the ethnic problem he was instrumental in bringing normalcy in the Tamil areas. When the other political parties were reluctant to contest the elections the EPDP came forward to contest the elections, after which the rest of the political parties followed suit. Mr. Douglas Devananda for the first time in Sri Lankan history took care of the administration of his Ministry from Jaffna, while he was the Minister in President Chandrika’s cabinet. By attending to the day-to-day problems of the masses, he and his party immensely contributed, in lessening the sufferings of the Tamil-speaking people. The courts and government offices started to function again and normalcy was restored.
He has presented the Tamil cause from the view of the Tamil speaking people, to many diplomats of various countries. During his long and exciting political career, Douglas Devananda has attended many international conferences, meetings, forums, seminars etc. and works tirelessly to find an amicable solution to the National problem in our country.
As the national problem has been dragging on for a long time and crippled without a solution, with over fifteen years of experience in the armed struggle as well as more than twenty years of experience in the political process, Douglas Devananda and his party have put forward a three phase practical solution to solve the National question in Sri Lanka.
The Three stage proposal of the EPDP
The first stage is to implement the 13th Amendment, which was the outcome of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, to the constitution in full. The amendment is aimed to hand over the North-East provincial council to the democratically elected representatives of the North and East. This move will not have any opposition since the provincial council system has already been accepted by almost all political parties and is being implemented in the south.
second stage is to reinforce the 13th Amendment by conferring additional powers
on the North and East Provincial Council to make them centers of greater
authority and adding the concurrent list to the provincial list. This will instill
confidence amongst the Tamil speaking people that their political issue could
be resolved in stages. This will also convince the Sinhala people that
devolution of power would
not lead to separation but would bring about peace, harmony, trust and confidence among all the ethnic communities.
With the implementation of the first two stages, without much effort, the country would start moving towards finding a final solution to the National problem in a healthy atmosphere.
The third stage would be, with the consent of all the political parties find a lasting final solution to resolve the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people by incorporating the proposal of the APRC. This would also compel the LTTE to join the process without any choice. Such a final solution would ensure equality and the rights of all communities and regions
His life under the shadow of death
On October 9th of 1995, Douglas Devananda’s residence in Colombo was attacked by the LTTE. This was the first commando style attack of the LTTE in the South. He survived this attack due to the valiant efforts of his party cadres and bodyguards, four of whom paid the supreme sacrifice in the incident. EPDP lost Comrade Ragu alias Balan Selvakumar of Vavuniya, Comrade Das alias Asaipillai Mohanadas of Jaffna, Comrade Varathan alias Uthayakumar Krishnapillai of Mullaithevu and Comrade Kutty alias Arasanth Uthayanath of Trincomalee.
Once again on June 30th in 1998, Douglas Devananda was brutally attacked by the LTTE mafia detained at the Kalutara Prison, when he visited the detainees who were on a hunger strike to air their grievances. He survived this attack as well, due to the excellent medical attention given by Sri Lankan medical personnel, his own will power, and the prayers of the populace that loved him. He however lost his sight in one eye.
On July 7th, 2004, another attempt was made on his life by a LTTE female suicide bomber while the Minister was seeing the public on a Public Day at his Ministry. The woman suicide bomber, identified as Thiyagaraja Jeyarani, was reportedly on a mission to assassinate Douglas Devananda. She had gone with an accomplice to his Ministry in Kolpity and insisted on seeing the Minister without undergoing a body check. When the security staff of the Minister became suspicious, they informed the Minister. At the instructions of the Minister, his security staff took her to the Kolpity Police Station to investigate, at which time she detonated the explosives strapped around her body killing herself, four police personnel and injuring eleven persons. The suicide bomber’s accomplice, Sathyaleela Selvakumar was also arrested on the Ministry premises. The good instinct of the Minister and the alertness of his efficient security staff saved the Minister’s life once again.
Recently, on November 28th, the fascist LTTE once again sent its woman suicide cadre to take his life. A young woman had gone to his Ministry at Isipathana Road and requested to see the Minister to get a transfer. She had gone through the normal procedure of identifying herself at the counter and proceeded to the screening section. On a Public Day (Wednesdays) the Minister’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Stephen Peris is in charge of screening the visitors. He was not happy with the answers the woman had given him and so he had asked her for a referral letter from the party office in Vavuniya. Since she did not have a letter in her possession and also after observing her behavior Stephen became suspicious. He had obtained the assistance of the Minister’s Chief Security Officer Chithran. After consultation with Chithran they both had decided to bring this matter to the attention to the Minister and get his view, hence they had asked the woman to be seated till they got the approval from the Minister. At which time the woman realized that she would not be able to reach the Minister, became agitated and detonated the bomb strapped to her breast killing herself and Mr. Stephen on the spot and injuring Chithran, another security officer and five other civilians. On this fateful day, the Minister’s loyal PRO and senior EPDP member Mr. Stephen Perris sacrificed his life to save the life of his leader Douglas Devananda.
Douglas Devananda is a self-confident idealist, who is a unique fighter against fascism. He is kind, humble, simple and a believer in humanism. He respects the views of the other democratic forces and believes in promoting pluralism and parliamentary democracy. He is a champion of human and democratic rights. He is determined and loves to serve his people, despite the fact that he has been wounded, scarred and blinded in one eye, and compelled to live a life in the shadow of death.