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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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  • * The Will to Freedom,: An Inside View of Tamil Resistance
    Adele Balasingham,
    (Fairmax Publishing Ltd., Mitcham, 2001), 380 pp.

    From the backcover:

    Adele BalasinghamThe author of this book, Adele Balasingham is a sociologist, political activist and writer who has lived and worked in India and Sri Lanka for more than twenty years with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the freedom movement that spearheads the Tamil independence struggle She has also published works on the dowry system amongst the Jaffna society and on the LTTE women fighters.

    In this book, The Will to Freedom Adele Balasingham provides a penetrating internal study of the armed resistance struggle by the Tamil Tiger movement. Written in a semi-autobiographical historical style The Will to Freedom graphfically surveys important events, episodes and turning points in the last two decades of the evolutionary history of the Tamil freedom struggle. This fascinating study also throws light on the hitherto unknown characteristics of the leadership of LTTE. Conveying the bloody imprints of those violent periods, the author reveals the depth of the suffering as well as the burning spirit of freedom of the Tamil people and the fighters The book will he of interest to all those who want to study the inside story of the Tamil resistance movement.

    Book Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

    •  One of a kind of book; an autobiography of an Australian nurse (born in 1950), who linked with the LTTE leader Pirabhakaran, via her husband Anton Balasingham. It contains valuable information on the origin, growth, struggles and successes of LTTE, covering the 1980s upto 1998. Adele Balasingham provides smart answers to the LTTE critics. Thus, this book has a special value in countering the cryptic anti-LTTE bias present in the books such as The Broken Palmyra (by Rajan Hoole et al.), Tigers of Sri Lanka (by M.R.Narayan Swamy), and Assignment Colombo (by J.N.Dixit).

    From Chapter 1 - On Meeting Balasingham

    "...It all began when I married a Tamil man, Anton Balasingham, from the island of Sri Lanka, in 1978. In that union, I married the collective consciousness and history of a people: a man who embodied the Tamil psyche with all its strengths and weaknesses. greatness and failings. That history took me to live in the society and culture of one of the world's oldest Eastern civilisations: in the land of the ancient historical origins of his people, Tamil Nadu, the Southern Dravidian state of India.

    For many years too I lived in his birthplace, Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Tamil people in tile Northeastern part of Sri Lanka, otherwise known as Tamil Eelam. I became immersed in the trials and tribulations, joys and celebrations of a people in the throes of a struggle to survive against a sophisticated manifestation of genocide. Subsequently, for the past twenty-three years of my life I have been exposed to extraordinary and unique experiences. In the first place.

    I am the only foreign person who has lived with shared and witnessed the people's horrendous experience of' state oppression and attempted genocide, and the complex domains of their heroic, sustained and astoundingly ingenious resistance against what would appear to be insurmountable, will breaking odds. More than two decades of my life with the Tamil people has been an honour also, for two reasons.

    Firstly, to be witness to the growth and development of the organisation spearheading the struggle for the freedom of a people - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - and to share in and witness the phenomenal historical struggle and the incredible sacrifices made by the organisation's cadres.

    Secondly, and more importantly, this liberation movement. and the people as a whole trusted me, respected me and revealed to an 'outsider' their inner soul. That my experience with the Tamil people has been profound was probably best conveyed by a Tamil lady friend, who, in conversation under the coolness of the graceful limbs of a mango tree on her farm in Visvamadu, Vanni, suddenly referred to me as `the white Tamil'.

    When I met Balasingham and fell in love with him more than two decades ago, I could not even begin to imagine my life would unfold the way it did. Undeniably the very act of marrying a man from a socio-cultural environment, which is in virtual contradiction to my own, prescribed at least a different `ordinary' marriage. So how did it come about that two people from two different cultures could meet on a common ground of marriage? It could not have been simply physical attraction: if that were so the relationship would not have been so intense and intimate. So what was it that united us and took me down such an extraordinary path with him?

    Although Balasingham remains, in essence, the man I married all those years ago, time and circumstances have worked on him to make him the thinker and personality he is today. A quarter of a century ago, the man I married was what I would call a 'religious man'; a 'religious' man not in the sense of adhering to institutionalised religions and observing what he viewed as their primitive rituals and practices, but rather a man concerned with righteousness, goodness and humanism.

    Bala, thirty six years of age when we first met, had read widely on Eastern philosophical thought, in particular Indian Vedanta philosophy, and he had taken a special interest in the teachings of the Buddha. Indecd, Buddhist philosophy fascinated him so much in his younger days that he visitcd Buddhist scholars in Sri Lanka for exploratory philosophical elucidations. He has also given talks on Buddhism in public forums. As a serious student of Buddhist philosophy, he became deeply disillusioned with the Sri Lankan brand of Buddhism, which, according to him, has been polluted and perverted by racist and chauvinist ideology. But it was his experience of personal tragedy which evoked tremendous reflection, and brought him into confrontation with himself and the philosophies he had so passionately pursued.

    His concern for righteousness and goodness was literally put to the test when his first wife became extremely ill with chronic renal failure, ending with her requiring life sustaining haemodialysis. The emotional and mental strain of observing and caring for his beautiful young wife teetering on the brink of death by chronic disease invoked in Bala profound philosophical introspection about the self and the human world.

    The disintegration and transformation of the human form as a consequence of serious physical illness. and, most importantly, the constant confrontation with death made him reflect deeply on the meaning behind human existence. Unique experiences, and reflections on those experiences, made him a wise man and rooted him in the real world as n rationalist.

    Furthermore, this "as a morally challenging period in Bala's life and a test of his strength of character as he struggled to cope with severe economic hardship and meet the emotional and health needs of his terminally ill partner. The many socio-economic problems he faced and overcame throughout this chapter of his life stretched all dimensions of his being to capacity, and he ultimately came to view goodness and righteousness not as words culled from the pages of books or something indoctrinated into us, but rather, as a harmonised faculty of mind and action emanating from our essential being. Sadly, his wife succumbed to her illness after five years of haemodialysis: much of it carried out at home. It was during this highly demanding period his own mortality stared him in the face - diabetes was diagnosed.

    Subsequently, out of this exploration and reflection of the dynamics of the personal self came this rather unique personality which I could only describe as `religious'. And it was this `religious' type of personality I knew I had been hoping to find in a partner.

    But I prefer to use a different term and describe the man I met and who became my husband as what I called a `real' human being. Bala was, when I met him, most things I hoped the man I married would be; mature, wise, mentally strong and most importantly, caring. By wise I did not mean an intellectual and by mentally strong I did not mean 'macho', overbearing or aggressive. I was hoping to meet that exceptional human being who is humble but not weak: who is simple but yet deep; who is assertive but not egoic; who is confident but not arrogant; who was generous; who is proud but not vain; a person who is not selfish and thoughtless. That was the man I met all those years ago, and I knew Balasingham was for me within a few weeks of our first meeting.

    A dimension of his `religious' bent was a lack of concern for conventional lifestyles, saving, and all those other things that ordinary folks are supposed to do. This lack of concern for material security did, of course, put us into financial bankruptcy, but somehow or other Bala always managed what little money we had so that we lived to love and enjoy another day.

    In his search for answers about life and truth, Bala also consumed volumes of works in the Western philosophical tradition. But one of the major influences which counter balanced his `religious' leanings was Marxism and neo-Marxist thought, which he was well versed in, and about which he formulated his own many reservations and criticisms. That philosophy should `change the world' was one of the aspects of Marxism which did appeal to him as opposed to philosophy as the stuff of ivory tower intellects or as thought systems incomprehensible or unrealisable within the `normal' human potential.

    Bala, I would say, was walking the fine line between these two apparently contradictory philosophical conceptions concerning the way forward to an elevated humanity. On the one hand Eastern philosophy prioritised individual subjective transformation as an essential condition for the redemption of human beings, which he knew to be idealistic, and on the other hand, socialist thought, with its emphasis on political praxis through collective action, appeared to offer greater potential for real transformation in the human condition.

    In the interlude prior to his total immersion into revolutionary politics he attempted to marry this apparent division between subjective and objective approaches to human development by embarking on a difficult doctorate of philosophy thesis that involved a theoretical marriage between Marx and Freud.

    But the demands of the revolutionary politics of the national liberation struggle of his people constantly intervened in his research and teaching. A time came when he was compelled to choose between an academic life and revolutionary politics. He chose the latter for he viewed the cause of his people as just and to serve that cause was meaningful.

    So it was this progressive and mature personality I loved. It was able to cope with and was instrumental in 'filling out' my somewhat immature and unrealised personality.

    Retrospectively one of the most crucial contributions Bala made to the growth of my personality was to help me to learn to put my subtle feelings and emotions into precise words. Bala's wider intelligence and personal experience, including his psychoanalytic knowledge, teased out my inarticulated 'feelings' stifled by inhibitions and brought them into cognition.

    Subsequently, for the first time in my life I was able to reveal the deeper `secret' side of myself and relate on an intensely intimate, uninhibited level. This improved ability to manage language inevitably widened my potential and scope for relationships, writing and conversation.

    And so my relationship with Bala deepened and generated happiness and contentment in me. Just being with him seemed to be all that was necessary and the restless, discontented person, immersed in a mundane world characterised by consumerism and materialism faded away to the priority of an enduring, intimate relationship with another human being.

    Our wedding on 1st September 1978 was a simple, uncomplicated, formal affair with the five-minute ceremony officiated by a bureaucrat at the registry office in Brixton, South London. This social obligation had been delayed by one week. We decided to marry and hoped to complete the formalities the following day but we didn't have the required amount of money for a 24 hours notice service, we did have enough for the next best thing: a one week booking. Apart from informing a few close friends and relatives, we didn't mention our forthcoming wedding to anyone.

    As far as I was concerned, the wedding was a private commitment between us. Nevertheless, in a community where nothing remains secret for very long, the story leaked and in the evening a crowd gathered, cooked a wedding dinner of hot goat meat curry with plenty of whisky to wash it down and kicked up their heels at a fairly rowdy party. My 'bridal' outfit constituted a brown corduroy skirt and printed blouse, which I rushed to purchase just two hours before the ceremony. In this marriage I was lucky enough to enter into a partnership with - for want of a better cliche - my `soulmate'. I suppose it was this fundamental profound relationship which smoothed over the inevitable bumpy times in our relationship.

    But marrying Balasingham is one thing: getting involved in a revolutionary struggle is another. 1 could have, had I been inclined after marriage, taken a different path and attempted to sway Bala in another direction. But I didn't. So why did I opt for the political path and involvement in the Tamil people's struggle? While it is true that in our early relationship Bala helped to `stabilise' or ground me in a more serious world, I will never countenance any suggestion that I was simply a tabula rasa upon which ideas were neatly and indelibly scribed. Nor did I simply jump from London into India or Sri Lanka into circumstances beyond my comprehension, moved like a naive nymph who danced to the sweet chords plucked from the strings of her lover's serenading harp; nor did I plunge from one mindset to another.

    My involvement in politics and the liberation struggle of the Tamil people involved a process of mental and emotional development and a transformation of ideas and thinking or, to be more precise, a process of personal growth. The burgeoning of my personality was certainly facilitated when I left the sheltered life behind me on the shores of Australia and entered into the 'big' world of England and Europe.

    Or, as far as I am concerned, when my mind started to break down its parochial resistance. Exposure to global humanity - which one finds in England - challenged my socialised self, fed me with new perceptions, lifestyles and thoughts and ultimately radicalised my views and my perception of the world. My husband contributed to this process, anchored me in unconventionality and provided me with an unfettered emotional security in a way that enriched my life more than I could possibly have imagined or expected.

    from Page 354....

    Bala's condition steadily deteriorated with him unable to get up off the bed and confined to dark rooms away from the sunlight, and it appeared that he would rapidly progress to a stage requiring emergency renal replacement treatment in the near future. In such an eventuality, the doctors were acutely aware, there was nothing they could offer Bala in terms of treatment with the facilities that were available in the Vanni...

    The news that Bala was gravely ill and might not recover spread throughout the movement like wildfire. Mr. Pirabakaran had obviously informed his commanders of Bala's deteriorating condition and one by one they appeared at the door anxious to see him, perhaps for the last time...

    Daily reports

    In the meantime, Dr. Suri relayed daily reports to Mr Pirabakaran on Bala's deteriorating condition. Mr. Pirabakaran sought and received the collective medical opinion of several doctors in the Vanni. In their medical opinion, Bala's best chance of survival and his long term prognosis hinged on him being evacuated out of the country as soon as possible to a place where medical facilities for the management of renal failure were available. We immediately considered Tamil Nadu as a preferred option for emergency medical treatment. Though some Tamil political leaders -- our friends and sympathisers -- were willing to help, we could not take the risk because of the proscription of the LTTE in India. We pinned our hopes on a request to a foreign country after Mr. Pirabakaran instructed our international secretariat to contact the Norwegian government.

    The Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, Mr. Jon Westborg was thoroughly briefed by the former Foreign Minister Mr. Hameed, on the significance of Bala to any future negotiating process between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka government. Westborg was given the green light by his government to investigate the authenticity of the information concerning Bala's condition and the ICRC was called in to assist in this process. About five weeks after the onset of Bala's illness, an ICRC team headed by Mr. Max Hadorn, then the chief of the delegation in Colombo, accompanied by a doctor, arrived in the Vanni with a request to visit Bala and to carry out a medical examination. The delegation visited our house in Puthukuddiruppu and the response of the doctor to the delegate leader following the examination of Bala was, in his words, 'He must be removed as early as possible.' After collecting blood and urine specimens for further analysis to validate the full extent of his illness, the ICRC delegation returned to Colombo with a promise of follow up.

    The Norwegian Government, with the moral support of the ICRC, approached Chandrika Kumaratunga to seek a safe evacuation of Bala out of Sri Lanka on humanitarian grounds. Chandrika was told that Bala was critically ill with renal insufficiency and that he needed emergency treatment abroad and the Norwegian Government was willing to help. The Norwegians had also impressed upon Kumaratunga the significance of saving Bala's life for a possible future peace process between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Government. There were extensive deliberations in Colombo and Mr. Kadirgamar was also consulted. The Norwegians had informed us through our representative in Oslo that the Government of Sri Lanka was favourably considering Bala's case and even discussing logistics for the evacuation of Bala. Mr. Pirabakaran looked relieved and pleased when he brought this news.

    On that particular day, as a measure of goodwill and as a significant humanitarian gesture, Mr. Pirabakaran released nine soldiers (prisoners of war) and crewmen in the custody of the LTTE. Now we were waiting for a positive response from the Kumaratunga Government. Several anxious days passed. There was no response and Bala's condition was deteriorating. In desperation we contacted the ICRC. To our dismay, the ICRC delegate told us that their organisation was kept out of the Colombo discussions on Bala's case since Mr. Kadirgamar did not trust them. After two months of waiting in anxious expectation, we finally received a message from the Norwegian Government. Chandrika and Kadirgamar had worked out a list of demands (or guarantees) for the LTTE to fulfil as 'significant reciprocal humanitarian gestures' if Bala had to be evacuated with the assistance of Sri Lanka.

    With honour

    Firstly, the Tiger leadership should guarantee that the LTTE should not disrupt or impede the Government administration in the northeastern province nor should they attack and destroy any Government property in Tamil areas. Secondly, the LTTE should not threaten or attack any sea or air transport (supplies) to the Northeast. Thirdly, the LTTE should not attack any public property throughout the country. Fourthly, the LTTE should release all persons in LTTE's custody, not merely those known to the ICRC, but others also. In this context, the Government claimed -- without any concrete proof -- that the LTTE was holding at least two hundred and fifty persons without the knowledge of the ICRC. Fifthly, the LTTE should release all cadres under the age of eighteen in its forces to the next of kin.

    From this list of demands or rather 'guarantees' we knew that Chandrika was demanding her pound of flesh exploiting the vulnerable situation of the LTTE. These demands -- which were of a military nature affecting the very mode of armed struggle -- had no relevance whatsoever to a humanitarian request seeking only safe passage for the evacuation of a person suffering from a critical renal illness. This attitude betrayed the callous and calculative nature of Chandrika Kumaratunga. Bala and I rejected these conditions outright. Bala said he preferred to die with honour and self-respect rather than acceding to these humiliating demands. Mr. Pirabakaran was furious with Chandrika and Kadirgamar for stipulating such unacceptable conditions. The president's position on this matter had a profoundly negative impact on the thinking of the LTTE leadership. If she could not favourably consider a simple humanitarian plea compassionately for the future prospect of peace, how would she be able to resolve the most difficult and complex of all the issues the, Tamil ethnic conflict? This was the feeling that prevailed amongst the LTTE leaders at that time.

    Miraculously, as weeks passed by, new blood results revealed that Bala had survived the acute crisis he had been in and had settled into chronic renal insufficiency. Nevertheless, the urgency of Bala leaving the Vanni for medical care did not decline. The doctors were constantly concerned that the environment posed a serious threat to his health and they were uncertain of the length of time before Bala would require renal replacement therapy. For me, every day management of his wellbeing became a nightmare. His strict diet precluded so many foods and his weight dropped dramatically. I was constantly aware of the coming monsoon season and that the seas would then be impassable, condemning us to another four months wait in the Vanni until the weather changed. I was desperate that he should leave the Vanni while he was well enough to make the journey and before the monsoon set in. The anxiety within me surfaced when Mr. Pirabakaran and Mathy made a visit to our house. I explained to the couple about Bala's precarious health condition emphasising the urgency of evacuating him abroad for treatment. If this was not done immediately, Bala's death was inevitable, I told them, while struggling to contain my emotions. Apparently moved by my distress, Mr. Pirabakaran understood the critical situation. He too loved and respected Bala and was deeply concerned about his wellbeing. He consoled me by assuring that he would do everything within his power and resources to send 'Bala Anna' abroad for treatment. Mr. Pirabakaran acted immediately. He alerted his international network to arrange a ship to evacuate Bala. Within weeks we received news that our ship was moored in the deep sea, waiting for us.

    With news of our imminent departure, leaders and cadres of the LTTE flocked to our house for a final farewell. My stomach grew tighter and my appetite declined in the days approaching our departure on 23rd January 1999. Of course it was imperative for Bala to be taken out of the Vanni, but I had no appetite to leave the people and the struggle behind. When Tamilenthi came to our house on the afternoon of our departure day I knew that our time to leave was near.

    When Tamil Chelvan arrived in his Pajero to escort us to the beach, the time was nearer. When Soosai swung into our driveway in the vehicle to take us to his camp on the Mullaitivu coast I knew we would be on our way soon. We had only to wait for Mr. Pirabakaran's arrival. When he finally came, he briefly spoke to Bala and me bidding us goodbye. Jokes and smiles hid each other's sadness. Bala, restraining his emotions, ignored Jimmy, his faithful old dog of fifteen years, who looked up at him expectantly, got into the Pajero and stared ahead. Unable to resist Jimmy's beckoning to us, I patted her on the head then looked around at everyone, and finally to Mr. Pirabakaran for the last time. Our vehicle sped away from the house. It was all over.

    It was the first week of February 1999. The location: a bustling and enterprising capital city of a South East Asian nation. As we walked into the reception hall of the modern, clean hospital to which Bala was to be admitted for emergency medical examination, a sense of relief that I was no longer alone in my efforts to keep him alive swept over me. Doctors with the knowledge and a hospital with facilities to manage his illness were readily available to deal with medical problems that might arise.

    Within thirty six hours of his admission all the results of the main medical tests were available and the caring and reassuring consultant finally clarified the medical picture concerning Bala's ill health and gave us some insight into what lay ahead for us. He confirmed that the medical reports were consistent with diabetic nephropathy and that it was a progressive disease: he was reluctant to commit himself to our queries regarding the duration before he would require renal replacement therapy. But more urgent and a cause for concern for the medical staff was the grossly enlarged left kidney that was revealed on ultra-sound examination. The kidney was totally obstructed and non functioning; the doctors were unable to identify the cause of the obstruction but they were conclusive that it would have to be removed as soon as possible.

    The renal surgeon at the side of Bala's post-operative bed in the intensive care unit picked up the specimen bag. He showed me the huge sick kidney he had taken four hours to remove from Bala and pointed out that had there been any further delay in operating, the kidney would have ruptured, causing a medical crisis. Nevertheless, under the caring and professional management of the doctors and nurses, Bala made a remarkable recovery following his left nephrectomy and he was discharged with advice concerning management of his nephropathy. One hurdle was over. It was now imperative to find away out of the country before we were arrested as illegal immigrants and while Bala was well enough to travel before he progressed to the stage of requiring renal replacement therapy.

    We continued to live an underground life in the capital, trying to avoid drawing attention to ourselves, while we pondered a safe way out of the country to return to London. Since we had entered the country without valid documents and out of date passports it was impossible for us to run the risk of passing through airport terminals. We had no intention of acting foolishly and jeopardising our safety and freedom at this stage. Our first task in the process of leaving the country was to reverse our illegal status by securing at least a valid passport. We established contact with our old friends in London, which led eventually to an agreement by the British Foreign Office for arrangements to be made for Bala to collect his new passport at a British Embassy outside England. The Australian Embassy in London was co-operative in allowing my appointed representative to collect my new passport for me. Friends in the country we were trapped in willingly endorsed our travel documents, allowing us to pass safely through immigration on our way out of the country.

    Our return to London, in my view, heralded the beginning of another challenging chapter in my life. Bala's medical needs would require fundamental adjustments to our lifestyle and priorities. The nephrologists in a London hospital fobbed off any suggestion of renal transplant for Bala, ruling out the prospect of him regaining his lost quality of life since he became unwell. It was during these uncertain days the Norwegians entered into our lives as brokers of peace. Mr. Erik Solheim, Mr. Wegger Strommen, the former State Secretary in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Mr. Jon Westborg, Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo, and Ms. Kjersti Tromsdal, Executive Officer, met us at our residence in South West London to explore the feasibility of peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lanka Government. After having consulted the leadership in Vanni, the LTTE agreed to the Norwegian facilitation.

    Viable option

    In view of Bala's steadily deteriorating renal condition, the Norwegian Government offered medical assistance on humanitarian grounds. In Norwegian medical opinion, renal transplantation was a viable option for Bala and one worth exploring. Subsequently, Bala was flown to the Norwegian capital Oslo, and admitted to the main general hospital where he was subjected to thorough medical tests to ascertain whether or not his physical condition was conducive to successful renal transplantation. He received a positive response to his suitability for transplant and we decided to proceed. In the early part of 2000 Bala underwent renal transplant surgery and made an uncomplicated and steady recovery. He was discharged from hospital almost a new man.

    While Bala was staying in a hotel in Oslo recuperating from his transplant operation, Chandrika Kumaratunga, in an interview given to the Far Eastern Economic Review, incredulously claimed that it was she who granted permission to the Norwegian Government for Bala's treatment. This was a blatantly false and irresponsible statement. We contacted the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and registered our protest. The Norwegian government was also annoyed: they had not sought permission from Kumaratunga for Bala's treatment. The Norwegian Government made the decision purely on humanitarian grounds.

    Of course Chandrika was informed about Bala's successful transplantation surgery later, through the Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo. We requested the Norwegian authorities to clarify the matter. Accordingly, a senior Norwegian Foreign Ministry official issued a statement rebutting Chandrika's claim. Bala also gave a lengthy interview to the Tamil Guardian (25th March 2000) explaining how Chandrika and Kadirgamar imposed impossible conditions on the LTTE and refused to help Norway and the ICRC who sought a safe passage for Bala out of the island. Following the renal transplant Bala was able to resume his political work and we have subsequently continued our involvement in the struggle at the diplomatic level in London.



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