Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole, a respected Sri Lankan Tamil academician and a prominent returnee after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, said on Thursday that he was forced to leave the country.

“Yes, I left through Colombo airport for London before [sic] I am arrested. I will work in the U.S. till lawyers can sort this out for me,” he told The Hindu via e-mail, when asked if he had fled Sri Lanka. “I will return because Sri Lanka [Jaffna in particular] is my home,” he asserted.

Prof. Hoole, one of the few Tamils who was vocal in his criticism of the Tamil Tigers when the outfit ruled the Northern Province had had to flee Sri Lanka then. This time he had to leave because of his differences with the lone Tamil Minister in Sri Lankan Cabinet, Douglas Devananda. Mr. Devananda had filed a defamation case against Prof. Hoole in the Kayts court over articles that the academician had written in the media, which were highly critical of Mr. Devananda's role in the North, and the ruling UPFA in general.

“My story is in the last three [editions of] the Sunday Leader. In the first of three articles, I saw what was going on during the Local Government elections [July 23] and reported it. That has upset Douglas [Devananda] in whose hands the government has… placed the full govt. apparatus, especially in Kayts [island],” he said in an e-mail communication. “The next Court date is the [August] 15th [fortunately for me, because this week is court vacation]. I was advised to be out of the island by then — not only by my lawyers but by all my friends in Jaffna,” he added.

Prof. Hoole had come back to Sri Lanka to help rebuild systems in the island after the conclusion of the war. “When he [The President] invited displaced expatriates to return, Prof. Carlo Fonseka approached him and he promised to have me and my wife reinstated as a professor if I was here. Although he issued the order when I came, it has not been implemented. My wife has been unemployed for a year. I was on an appointment until further notice,” he said when asked to clarify on him coming back to Sri Lanka.

Earlier, in 2006, Prof. Hoole, an engineering professor, was the Jaffna University Vice Chancellor. Because of his outspoken ways, the LTTE did not allow him to function and he went back to the United States.

VC panel

After he came back following the defeat of the LTTE, he was in the panel of three candidates for the Vice Chancellor post, but medical faculty Professor Vasanthi Arasaratnam, was appointed to the post. “I applied for VC [post] by the appointed process. At that time when I was elected by the Council to the list of 3 from which the President selects one, various people have recommended me for appointment. That is the only time I have had to deal with him or communicate with him. In December at the only one-to-one meeting during the VC appointment process, he promised to appoint me at a personal meeting,” Prof. Hoole said.

Ever since he returned, Prof. Hoole has also been critical of the government's approach to the ethnic issue and has spoke in many fora. “True nation building is about celebrating our differences without suppressing them and addressing grievances. I am afraid that the government is missing the point in its ever effervescent and exuberant pronouncements about unity,” he told an audience at the Naro Udeshi Lecture at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre recently, his last lecture in Colombo.

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