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Selected Writings - Chandiravarman Sinnathurai
[My sincere thanks to Mr. Arun for helping me to make the right connections in Eelam; Mr & Mrs. Orlando for their pastoral encouragement and Ms. Nimdra for helping me to register sights and sounds via digital electronics.] Originally Published in sangam.org
1.Women in Tamil Society
2. Legal System
3. Relations with the West
4. The Pain & Passion
5.The Master & the Author
6.The Threat of Resurrection
1 : Women in Tamil Society
When I reached Vavuniya town I experienced a strange feeling. It was evident that I was at a border town and I’m quite literally going to enter another country. I hailed an autorickshaw to go up to Mugamalai checkpoint. Here the Sri Lankan army checked me in. They spoke to me in broken Tamil: ‘Father, Happy New Year!’ they greeted. [April Sinhala / Tamil New Year]. I smiled, and responded in Sinhalese: ‘Subey Aluth Avurudey vewa’. Very quickly they security cleared my luggage.
I was now going to endure the noonday sun and walk across the so-called no man’s land. I was thirsty. My mouth was dry. My mind was occupied with TV ads on Coca-Cola and Sprite. As I got closer to the other end of the border, I read the sign in Tamil: "Thamil Eelam warmly greets you". I made sure that I wasn’t hallucinating.
The Thamil Eelam officials greeted me: Vannakam. They checked my credentials swiftly. My luggage was thoroughly checked. I jokingly said to the Tamil official: "Thamby, I don’t have any weapons." He politely chuckled and gestured to the packet of ballpoint pens and the Reporter’s Notebook I was carrying in the hand luggage. "Father, shall I get you an Auto that would take you to Kilinochchi?" he asked. As I boarded the auto I noticed that the vehicles in Eelam had Thamil number plates. I was moved when I recollected the State violence against the Gandhian style "Sri protest"… Look! I convinced myself that I’m standing on Tamil soil. I felt this was truly a spiritual pilgrimage. Our spirituality cannot divorce itself from politics (I don’t mean here party politics). Politics governs us. In this case, it oppresses our people. Can we, as spiritual people, avoid such disparity and worship God as though God doesn’t care about human suffering, oppression and, moreover, our emancipation? How on earth can we sit on the fence and hide behind the holy smokes? God shatters our conceptions of holiness. At least, that’s what I think for what its worth.
I decided to arrange some meetings [Santhippu, as they call it] with some top Defacto State officials. I wanted to converse with them in order to understand them; so I told the officials who book appointments that I would record my conversations and publish them; they agreed to the project.
I was expecting these "Tiger top guns" to appear in revolutionary beards; rolling their eyes and spitting fanatical rhetoric. On the contrary, these were clean-cut, decent men and women. Opening chats with them would reveal that most of them have endured tremendous suffering. In fact, they don’t hate the Sinhalese. Our struggle, they confess, is against Sinhala hegemony.
My first Santhippu was with Ms.Thamilini, Head of the Political Wing (Women’s Section). As I sat comfortably in her office, an uniformed woman cadre with a guarded smile served me a chilled glass of Necto. She switched on the BBC news for me to watch and relax. A few moments later Thamilini entered the room and greeted me warmly. Having spoken in Tamil about the weather and my travels, I gently conveyed to Thamilini that I was going to tape record our formal conversation [Recorded on 17 APRIL]. She courteously agreed. I fired questions as I rolled the tape:
Q: The role of women in society is going through considerable change, positive evolvement in many respects. The Tamil National struggle must have surely impacted the traditional conservative view of Eelam woman. Can you please comment on your observations of changes, if any?
Thamilini: "The Tamil community is very conservative; backward-looking in general. In this context, women are second class citizens. Therefore, women are not permitted to be decision-makers. They are expected to be dependent. This is the sort of attitude the society has had with regard to women. There are also deep-rooted tradition and false belief systems in our society.
All these have contributed to forming such archaic attitudes. Women were not brought up to be leaders of society. They were automatically expected to be behind the scenes. Society thrust upon women a small circle; a limited scope; it is within such boundaries that women were expected to function. They were considered to be "good" women. Don’t cross the boundary – that was the core message. After puberty, we were reared and prepared for marriage. After marriage, of course, what else? Bring forth children, then look after the family. Even within the family, women had to adhere to the role of a service provider.
In such a society, Tamil women are affected by another evil: Sinhala domination and oppression. In any society when oppression is rampant the first to suffer would be the ones who are considered to be weak. Society has reared women to be weak and vulnerable. For example, when the enemy rounds up a village, the men will run away, the wives and daughters will make sure that the men quickly vanish. Men have to escape into relative safety. They are the breadwinners. Therefore, it is the women who are captured. Often they are raped and murdered. Hence, Eelam women were forced to re-think; they began to discard traditional understanding of women."
"At the inception of the liberation struggle, only men’s involvement was called for. The struggle sprouts out of the grassroots of society. Women are a vital part of our society. In this rationalisation, our leader developed the view that our women should play a pivotal role in our freedom struggle. More than 50% of our women must first experience freedom. They must partake in our struggle, not only as nurses, doctors, paramedics, and cooks… our leader felt that we must take this matter a bit further. ‘Women should not play a secondary role in the struggle; they should have equal status and should be involved in the front line,’ he was convinced. Our society found it hard to accept such a radical departure from tradition. Our society was accustomed to a ‘cadjan fence’ culture."
"At this juncture, theTamil women also felt that they should be trained to be front line freedom fighters. In 1984 women were first trained to take part in the armed struggle. Our first training camp began at Thindukkal, in South India. Of course, now we have grown into a mature fighting force. We have various women fighting regiments. For instance, the ‘Kittu artillery regiment’; ‘Sea tigers’; ‘Black tigers’ and various military administrations. In all of these our women play an important role. We have lost many women as martyrs.
So Thamil Eelam women will not be confined to their kitchens, so to speak. The traditional image of women has altered. My own sister is telling my mother, "If akka [Older sister] has the liberty to drive heavy vehicles and fight in the front line and win, why can’t I ride a motor bike?" Likewise women have dared to think; we have been challenged to explore new things. We have, in a very small way, pioneered the way for other women to follow in the path of freedom. That awakening is slowly catching on. We are not copying other people’s liberation ideas. That sort of thing won’t work here. Our women’s emancipation is according to our context. It’s quite indigenous. We are not following any far-fetched theories. The common people cannot comprehend such philosophies. We don’t simply talk liberation. We live it. Our women are reaching great heights. That’s good news!"
Q: Has the struggle effected any long-lasting reformation of deep-rooted ills in Tamil society? (Of course, such change cannot occur overnight). Say for instance, the dowry system, casteism, to name but a few…
"I wish we could make changes as easily as we switch on a light bulb. The deep-seated plagues in society have indeed become part and parcel of our traditional thinking. A 30-year liberation struggle cannot effect change as easily as we would like to. Change is a slow process. Even now, there is the problem of the dowry system [bride money]. Currently, our primary focus is the liberation of our homeland.
However, we are also effecting change at a grassroot level. Within the territory which is under our governance, we have passed reformation laws. The Tamil Eelam Special Bench has declared that Dowry is taboo in our society. It must be stressed that an awakening concerning the ills of society is yet to happen among men as well as some women. It is an honour, some women feel, to take dowry from her father’s house. Especially among the so-called ‘enlightened’ Tamil Diaspora the dowry system is thriving in Dollars and Pounds. In spite of the moral and financial support of the Diaspora, to which we are deeply thankful, yet I must be frank and honest with you, Father. Truth, however, must be faced. Our people should liberate themselves from archaic thinking while they take pride in modernity. When we have recovered our traditional homeland, we will proceed to eradicate completely the system of dowry."
"Now the curse of caste. Within our movement there is no room for caste. We will take strict actions against caste discrimination. We equip our women, through women’s groups in every village, with fresh thinking. We develop self-help programs".
"Just imagine a baby elephant captured in the jungles and you bring the Baby home and tie its feet with iron chains. When the Elephant is full-grown, still it has not reached realisation that it has got within itself enormous strength, power and energy. Our women are faced with a similar situation. Our girls grow up being tied down. ‘Don’t smile.’ ‘Put you head down.’ ‘Walk gently.’ All these are unwritten codes of conduct. If any woman were to act differently; it is viewed as though the whole world has collapsed on our shoulders. Father, look now at our women cadres! We have discovered our strength. We have broken the chains of slavery. We have unleashed that power within us. We have the brains to think; and we can do it! Such examples have made our women wake up. We are urging women to discover their strength. Our society is changing rapidly."
Q: You are, if I may say so, a smart person and a woman leader. Many Eelam women do look up to you as a role model. What are your dreams and goals?
Thamilini: "I live a life of freedom. I have the boldness to think that I can do what I want to do. There are women in society, even for a small blunder, they shrivel up and walk stooping down with shame. My dream is that these women should experience the freedom and liberty we enjoy".
Q: What is your message to the Diaspora women?
Thamilini: "Women in the Diaspora are burdened with lots of problems. Many of our women were ‘exported’ from here for the sake of marriage. They have flown over there with many dreams and imagination. It is sad to witness that some of these women lead very depressive lives. They are experiencing difficulties with their children being brought up in a new culture. What we could say to our women in the Diaspora would be: Let's not protect our identity by holding onto backward thinking. We must be quick to adapt to forward thinking. This will re-form the way we view women. Women have a great role to play in Eelam. We must build our families and should make a positive impact. Both, women in Eelam and women in the Diaspora, have an enormous responsibility…our children are the treasures of tomorrow. We must guide them well. They should feel part of Tamil Eelam."
I concluded recording the formal conversation. Having switched off the tape recorder, we briefly engaged in off-the-record chat. I found Thamilini to be a very interesting person: A no-nonsense person, beaming with dynamic ideas. I shook her hands and thanked her for the time she had given for this interview.
2. Legal System
The first thing one notices walking about in the ‘Tiger territory’ is that there aren’t any beggars. Later conversations with the ‘Poraligal’ [Freedom fighters] revealed that there is no reason for poor people to beg, borrow or steal. This was too good to be true – especially in the so-called third world. You only have to go a few hours drive to Jaffna [a State-controlled Tamil territory], and you’ll be surrounded by beggars pleading for money – or for that matter, one only have to go to the capital Colombo.
So, what is the secret? Talk to a few locals; meander around the block; wander at the Bus Station. It’s definitely true that there aren’t not only any beggars here, but also pickpockets and tricksters. The Tamil Eelam Social Services Department takes care of all that, quite efficiently. ‘We have fertile lands; plenty of jobs in the development projects’, one Social worker armed with statistics pointed out, ‘therefore why demean our selves?’
A restorative Justice system is currently in operation in Tamil Eelam. Therefore, it attracts many Tamils, even from the State-controlled territories. Restoring both victim and perpetrator back into the community as honourable citizens – not to be stigmatised as a convicted criminal for the rest of one’s life – that’s the idea! All this waffling in the media about the Tigers running a lawless ‘Banana Republic’ is being mischievously economical with the truth. Having finished off multitudes of writers, intellectuals, journalists, human rights activists, including Jesuit priests [some were U.S citizens]… how dare one might retort, the Sri Lanka State have the audacity to point fingers? It cannot be far from the truth when one admits that there is no democracy in Sri Lanka – people have no voice here; they are being gagged and manipulated. The distasteful truth is that, Sri Lanka is a police State. This is an open secret even within the International community!
Organising ‘Santhippu’ – a meeting with the Chief of Law and Administration was proving to be very difficult. The Tigers control a massive territory. Hence, establishing law and order covering both North and East is not an easy task. Moreover, to be the Chief of Law & Administration needs 8 days a week!
Getting an appointment with Mr. Pararajasingham was like trying to pin-down a cloud. One afternoon, after a sumptuous meal at Pandiyan, Mr. Asok, a Porali with a knack for courteous public relations told me: ‘Father, you have a Santhipu in twenty minutes, don’t forget your notebook and the tape recorder – a vehicle will come to pick you up.’ Asok would politely remind me to comb my hair before an appointment – by now he has understood that the person he’s dealing with is a little bit absent-minded – well, that’s what he thought! However, he was a very affectionate chap. The vehicle arrived on the dot. The Tigers are punctual and very methodical in their approach.
The writer found himself seated in a massive conference room at the Law Centre, sipping chilled Orange Crush with the Chief of Tamil Eelam Law and Administration. Mr. Pararajasingham met us at the door and engaged in conversation. He’s a double degree holder in both law and social sciences. He came across as a slightly reserved and thoughtful person who weighs each word he utters. He shared some interesting stories from his recent meetings with a visiting U.S congressman and his staff.
As we established a good rapport, we warmed up to formal conversation. Having got the permission to roll the tape, questions were fired:
CS: Thinking roughly in ballpark figures – what sort of percentage of the Tamil population will currently come under the legal oversight of the Tamil Eelam Special Bench?
Mr.Para: "The LTTE-controlled territory in the Vanni comes one hundred percent under our judicial oversight. In the Sri Lankan-controlled Tamil territory, slightly over 50 percent of the Tamil speaking population [which includes the Muslims] have voluntarily accepted our judiciary. These people travel long-distances to come to our courts in order to file their cases. Almost 72% of the Tamil-speaking population in Sri Lanka are convinced that justice will be served in the Eelam court system. They come to us because they honestly believe that the Sri Lankan system is inherently corrupt and biased.
The justice system in Tamil Eelam, the people have experienced, is much faster in terms of administration and probably cost effective as well. Say for instance, we try and complete a big civil or criminal case within 2 years. We work efficiently within that time-frame. In the Sri Lankan court, the sky is the limit for lawyer’s fees. Clients often are exploited. Within our territories, the lawyer’s fee is paid through the courts. The fees will be around 150 to 500 Rupees, depending on the case. They are not permitted, by law to overcharge. There are some lawyers in the Vanni who earn around, say, 50, 000 Rs. a month. This is honest income – they are not cheating the clients. We have 120 lawyers practising at our courts. Many more are passing out from the Eelam Law College. People welcome such an efficient and just system of law and order."
CS: It is commendable that the Eelam Special Bench has passed social reformation laws – such as abolishment of dowry etc. How practical and effective are such laws in reforming deep-seated malpractices in society?
Mr.Para: "Yes, as you say, father, we have passed and established laws based on social reform. Those who demand and receive dowry are doing so illegally. In the long run, however, we know that these ancient practices, or mal-practices, as you put it, father, will be discarded and surely be replaced by reformed thinking. If someone is proven guilty of receiving dowry, serious action will be taken against that person. The Attorney General’s office is working on passing social reform laws. The abolishment of dowry law was passed in 1997. We studied closely similar laws passed in India and Malaysia. Such laws, however, failed miserably in these countries. We have identified different sections in the Dowry abolishment law. If I choose to give my daughter, a wedding donation either in cash or in kind or both – that’s acceptable under the Tamil Eelam law. This gift, however, is given in my daughter’s name only. There is a legal binding that this gift cannot be transferred to anyone else – this, of course, for obvious reasons. As a parent, one must inform the Legal department of such a transaction. Hence, there will be no room for any corruption and fraud. The freedom of the individual is not curtailed, but the mal-practice of bartering women is abolished."
CS: The lawyer who practices in Eelam takes an oath not to defend a lie or a lawbreaker. Say, for example, that your client is a murderer. You are permitted to appear on his behalf on the condition that you will plead for a lesser sentence. Knowing that he has committed a homicide, you cannot manipulate the law and win the case. In such a context, what happens to the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’?
Mr.Para: "Good question that. The lawyers who practise in Eelam take an oath of honour on defending the truth. Let’s say that your client is a murderer. You can appear before the Special Bench and plead on your client’s behalf, for a lesser sentence. However, the lawyer will not, under oath, appear before the Special Bench, and pretend as though his client is innocent. That is bending the law and it's unscrupulous."
"Looking at the past, we think of G.G Ponnampalam, one of the famous criminal defence attorneys. He was notorious for winning all the criminal cases. – of course; you have to pay big money! His legal tactics and intimidation of witnesses will not work in the Eelam court. G.G will be a total flop in our courts. Truth and justice will be upheld at any cost. To put it bluntly, Eelam lawyers are not licensed to lie or to deal with half-truths."
" In our penal code there are four reasons for capital punishment: 1) Murder, 2) Rape, 3) Drug trafficking, 4) Organised crime and big robberies.
In these matters, due process will need to be thoroughly followed through. Such decisions are made with extreme care, looking meticulously at each case and understanding the context and situation in which these crimes have occurred. Out of the 37,000 cases we have dealt with in the past 12 years, only 4 extreme cases ended in capital punishment. I think that will give us a perspective. Once a Sovereign Eelam is restored, our national leader Mr. Pirabakaran prefers to abolish capital punishment altogether. Our concern is not retributive punishment. We have established, as you rightly point out, a restorative justice system."
CS: The Tamil Eelam justice system is leaning towards restoring the lawbreaker as a law-abiding citizen. The legal administration is closely linked with the social services, as we understand it, and thereby offers both moral and financial assistance, not just to the victim, but also to his dependants. Could you please tell us as to how all this works?
Mr.Para: "Father, your observations are very acute. You’re correct. Our primary concern is to restore; not just to mete out punishment for a crime and then to throw the offender outside the jail. That is a vicious cycle. There is a good chance here of re-offending. That’s no help to the victim or to the society. We must restore the dignity of the person concerned and teach them life skills and provide the offender opportunities to get employment; then chances of re-offending are quite remote. In fact, we usually sit and converse with the offenders and we eat together – I take personal interest in this matter. We treat them as individuals – not dehumanising them as a "number" in the jail. We treat them with dignity. This is how we try and rehabilitate. We help the person’s dependants with financial assistance. Instead of making the offender focus on his jail cell and the sentence, we create a rehabilitant community. We hold seminars and motivational workshops on helpful themes. We have found these to be quite successful."
CS: Finally, let us imagine for a moment that the UN has given recognition to the Tamil territories that have been liberated by the LTTE from Sri Lankan State. This liberated territory, with the consent of the UN, is also given recognition of its sovereignty over defence, finance, economy, foreign affairs, etc; in your legal view, would such a proposition, hypothetical at this stage, be acceptable to the Tamils? Will this result in a lasting, honourable peace between the Sinhala State and the Tamil Eelam?
Mr. Para: "Sure. This is, of course, a legitimate proposition that will restore fundamental human rights to the Tamils. Even in the current Peace Process Interim Document, we have requested a mechanism through which we manage our own affairs, including law and order. We do not need any outside interference. We are best equipped to resolve the problems of our own people. We will certainly welcome such a move from the international community – it will not only restore the rights of our people, who have seen nothing but war and tyranny particularly for the last 30 years, it will also grant us the inalienable right to determine our political destiny. We are, as you have witnessed, operating a successful De facto State. We’re confident that the international community will soon alter their views and will do something positive for the Tamils."
We concluded the formal conversation and engaged briefly on an off-the-record conversation. Mr. Pararajasingham was quite frank in saying that the so-called free world must come and witness what is really happening in Tamil Eelam. The Sri Lankan State propaganda and its foreign minister cannot guide the international Community for too long by spinning vicious lies about the Tamils, he said. Mr Pararajasingham led me through the corridor, where his Security men stood at attention. He gave a firm handshake, and bid farewell by saying: ‘Father, I hope you will tell the true side of our story.’
The narrative of the Tamils is a painful story indeed. There is, however, startling apathy and shocking indifference to the suffering of the Eelam Tamils – in spite of all the communication networks in our global village. One hopes that things will change.
3. Relations with the West
Mr. Asok approached the writer quietly while he was having a Doasi-Sambaru breakfast. Having received the clearance, Asok announced that at a precise time we would need to show ourselves at "point A." Having looked at the clock, we said to him, let’s hurry, that’s in 50 minutes! Like a big little brother, he advised me to comb my hair – lest I forget! ‘Instead of Bata slippers, it is better to wear sandals’ – good thinking we agreed. Asok chuckled and paused: ‘A photo may be taken’ he gently continued. ‘It might be better not to take the tape recorder – it’s a 20 minute Santhippu. Castro annar is looking forward to meet with you’ he confirmed. We complimented on Asok on his tact.
Most of the Poraligal we conversed with, like Asok, are self-effacing men and women, with admirable qualities. One of their main characteristics was that they were rooted and grounded in their cause. Some might call such qualities, depending on one’s point of view, noble patriotism; yet, others might call it sheer ruthlessness. One person’s terrorist, as history keeps repeating it self, is another person’s freedom fighter.
On the dot, a vehicle arrived at "point A" followed by two sturdy men in dark glasses on a motorbike. The pillion rider had an AK47. These were serious-looking men wearing no smiles. The Porali driver introduced himself: ‘Father, Vannakam, I’m Nagulan,’ he said with a charming smile. I found myself on the front seat of an air-conditioned Japanese vehicle. The vehicle ran at high speed. Nagulan was a very skilful driver. The motorcycle men followed our vehicle in all seriousness. At "point B," there was a seamless operation of swapping drivers. From then on, the vehicle sped in front of the watchful eye of the motorbike security. At "point C", we asked the new driver, ‘Are we travelling towards Mullaithivu?’ Concentrating on the gas pedal, he gave the briefest of response: "Sure."
A few weeks ago, over a Sunday dinner this writer found himself in conversation with a senior Churchman. When I was turning fourteen the churchman was my Vicar who was serving in Ceylon as a young Missionary. He witnessed horrendous crimes done against the Tamils during his stay there. On his return to Britain, he informed the Church bureaucrats and predicted the ’83 anti-Tamil holocaust. The senior Church officials were only keen to ‘keep the peace’ and were satisfied to listen to the Sinhala side of the interpretation! In fact, our missionary friend has sat with the late Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranaike [When she was an internationally-renowned Prime Minister and was referred to in all seriousness as the "only man" in her cabinet]. "Despite the elevated company, we all ate with our fingers," he remembers with a laugh.
The vicar was interested to hear about our travels in the Tamil territories. I was, of course, keen on asking the senior vicar some pin-cushion questions. Moreover, I was sounding out some burning issues. I was not expecting from him any straightforward answers. One would be daft, quite frankly, to expect straight answers from a Briton on slippery subjects. However, having no axes to grind, he was sure to give an honest response – that’s the legendary fairness of the Brits!
When I conveyed to this senior churchman the dissatisfaction of Castro – Head of International Relations, concerning the British Government’s position on the Tamil Question, he made sure that I understood the ‘Western side’ of the narrative. He put to me that the liberation discourse of the Tamils has to be intelligently articulated in order for the western mindset to be altered.
The vicar referred to the Sri Lankan strategy as the ‘charm offensive.’ By employing this strategy, he explained, ‘the West has warmed up to the idea that it is the Sinhala people who are made to hold their breath in panic because of the ruthlessness of the Tigers!’ This, therefore, hides the real face of the Sinhala chauvinistic State. They attract the West with their charm: Kandyan dancers, colourful pageantry, calming hill country, the romanticism of the forest monasteries, tranquillity of Buddhist meditation, the blue seas, etc., etc.
Hardly any Westerner is confronted with the inner complexity of the true narrative. The Vicar went on to slice it up. The struggle of the Tamils, he argued, ‘is still logically quite incoherent.’ The opposing point of view is not aired to the Western public in order for a balanced opinion to be formed. It may be, he wondered, that the Westerners in general are disabled to make intelligent choices, owing to their wholesale purchase of the ‘charm offensive.’ The West is yet to be convinced of the rationale of the Tamil question. That is why he reckoned, that ‘the Western governments would not touch the core Tamil issue even with a barge pole.’
Now the Vicar, over an apple pie and ice cream queried, "Why won’t the Tamils try first to change the mindset of the Western media?" The Palestinian struggle is a good case in point. Similarly, there is Military occupation and State-sponsored colonisation within the Tamil territories. Nobody seems to draw positive public attention to these factual denials of human rights – the ones who attempt end up as dead. bodies!
Articulate Tamils, therefore, ought to have a co-ordinated effort; they will have to place themselves strategically in order to be opinion-makers. It has to be a ‘war’ of coherent conversations. The mainstream Western media however, is yet to be sympathetic to the Tamil struggle. In fact, it has projected a total demonisation of the whole question. The Tigers are still termed as ‘Tamil rebels’ in most English news items! That derogatory label has to be ripped-off first from the Western psyche. He questioned the motives thus: "We don’t think of the Palestinians as rebels, do we?" ‘The Tamils must work hard at presenting their side of the story effectively to the Western public (Guardian readers to begin with…). These mass misconceptions have to be tactfully tackled. Such concerted action over a period may no doubt result in changing foreign policy,’ he noted...
By recollecting the conversation with Castro, I perceived that he understood the inner working of international politics. The Vicar has echoed Castro’s analysis - perhaps couching it in sophisticated language. In fact, Castro was concerned about certain International aid workers being engaged as spies in the Tamil territories. The Tamil intelligence has earned its credibility and proved its worth over a 30 year struggle. The ‘charm offensive’ [Although he didn’t employ this term], according to Castro, has penetrated even within some UN agencies in Sri Lanka.
The heavy breathing over the shoulder by the US is keenly felt even in the peace negotiations. It is a tactic of revealing their "Big Brotherly" presence by their seeming absence. This is a cause for serious concern both to the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Sri Lanka State, it is widely known, is using the peace process as a trap to further ensnare the Tamils. It is indeed a paradoxical positioning. While the peace process is moving at snail speed, the country’s economy is in shambles. However, the cash-gain from the Tsunami aid is surreptitiously utilised, as it is widely rumoured, to modernise the war machinery. It is obvious, that the State is more addicted to blood-spilling than to winning the peace with Tamils!
It is in such complexity that Castro feels that the Tamils must continue to work with the International community. "We can’t isolate ourselves," he agrees. "The Diaspora Tamil Media should try and help us to convey the right message. The world must know that we stand for peace. The duplicity of the Sri Lanka State cannot be hidden for too long," Castro assures.
Castro was quite an engaging conversationalist over tea and oversized Vadai. The thing that caught my attention in Castro was his penetrating eyes, sharp wit, and the acute observations of international affairs. Like all Tiger top-guns Castro is not given to any hyperbolical statements. His precision in approaching complex geo-politics with an air of humility - coupled with down-to-earth practicalities - has placed Castro well within the faithful inner sanctum of the Tiger Supremo.
4. The Pain & Passion
It was an "informal chat".
A pancake-faced Canadian Official, possessing a Pinocchio nose, with a crescent-shaped, crimson smile, read out some lines, from this writer’s Sangam scribbles! In response to that, the pin-stripped Ottawa Foreign Affairs’ Officer X, tip-toed the question: "Then you are a Tamil Tiger, eh"
Tiger?! With an asthmatic cough, I suggested to Mr X: "One might have to approach your question cautiously by answering 'Yes and No'." "Yes" – I admitted; every Tamil is a Tiger for that matter, not excluding the foreign minister par excellence, Mr. Kathirgemunu. [We burst into laughing].
The mind of the State, I continued, is indoctrinated to think of every Tamil as a traditional adversary. These protectionist teachings begin within the walls of a local Vihara at an impressionable age! It is that crucifying brainwash that brought this tiny island to such a blood-letting quagmire. It is sad that, when someone chooses to exercise one's democratic right and thereby express alternate opinions by engaging in healthy discourse, they are cat-called, I humbly protested, as "tigers" even in the free world! One has to only inform themselves of all the serial killings of writers, journalists and human rights activists inter alia that have taken place in recent months in Sri Lanka and thereafter make up one’s own mind!
"As a Christian priest, shouldn’t you be standing for peace without taking sides?"
One must be brutally honest in answering such a query. The word 'peace,' one would agree, is the most politicised, and therefore manipulated, word in the world. The oppressed want nothing but peace. However, the oppressor also equally pretends to wanting peace [whilst preparing for war]. The peace of the latter, nonetheless, is diametrically opposed to the peace of the first. The peace that the oppressor requires is the kind in which the crude business of curtailing the freedom of the other could go unnoticed without a whimper. Of course, the Oppressor will furnish to the world stage some stooges and buffoons pretending to represent the side of the oppressed. Which side, if at all any, a Christian priest ought to take? I could answer only for myself. Neutrality is a myth in these matters - let’s be clear about that. One is called to follow the model of Jesus. Did Jesus take the side even of the Priests of his time? No. Should one’s conscience guide one to stand on the side of the voiceless and the dispossessed? The answer is inescapable!
"What would you say about the Violence?"- one must genuinely struggle and travail with such a complex problem. A trite answer would not help. "I am indeed a conscientious objector of the oppressive terror of the State. Equally, one cringes at the retaliatory violence [self-defence, if you like] of the oppressed. As Mandela rightly pointed out, it is the State that determines the mode of conflict. Between these two sides of the same coin: Which is right, which is wrong? Is State violence more legitimate than the other? You tell me," I asked the "informal" official as a matter of choice! "Every Tamil is a vicarious participator in this violent struggle. War is a spectator sport these days and one takes sides as anyone does, in a soccer match – that’s how crude things are unfortunately." We mused over cappuccino while munching cookies.
Having got that off my chest; let me now take you to Mullaithivu.
We travelled to Mullaithivu in an air-conditioned vehicle. The team consisted of two Indian ladies from Durban; Param - a generous man from Geneva; a lady from Paris [who insisted that we only speak in Tamil] and an observant Tamil TV executive from Toronto. The Porali driver was Mr. Gunam – an athletic gentleman with an enigmatic smile. He walked as though he was ready for a sprint. I struggled to keep up with him with my portly figure, during the heat of the day! The South African ladies had an interesting pedigree. Their great-grandparents have fought alongside Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and now they were here to understand the struggles of the Eelam Tamils and also to visit the Nallur temple!
As we came near the Tsunami-devastated area in Mullaithivu, we were able to picture the ferocity of the killer waves. We paused at Senthalir Illam. Prior to the Tsunami, this shattered place was the home of some 80 children. When the Sea Tigers heard of the devastation, they immediately rushed to the site, and rescued around 30 drowning children. [These children are currently kept in a temporary home where we later visited] Alas! They were able to recover only 30 bodies from the monstrous waves. The rest of the children, including the teachers, disappeared into the deep. As we entered this place of grief; we paused in silence as the sea breeze soothed our skins…
The grieving people in the Mullaitivu area told us that no aid came from the State, only from the TRO. The tsunami has increased the desire, particularly among the afflicted, for an independent [free-market] Tamil Eelam. So the theorem of peace, hinging on the calculated word-play that the ‘homeland does not mean a separate state’ does not cut any mustard with the grassroots! Any serious proposal for peace cannot disregard the mainspring of the ‘peace clock' - that is - the anti-Tamil posture, which is a well-entrenched State policy underpinned by a quasi-religious dogma. Any concession to the Tamils therefore, would make alarm bells go off in the ears of Buddhist monks! This is how predictable the ‘ticking’ of the Sri Lankan political clock works. The Bhikkus of course, as the past and present sadly reveal, are quite capable of inciting mob violence – even to the extent of burning the Norwegian flag. The [Tamil-speaking] peasants in the fertile fields of Vanni understand with crystal clarity the cussedness of such racist politics…in their mind the Colombo-centred governance is a distant nightmare. These people have experienced both war and ceasefire. They would not barter their singular goal for a costly deviation.
We stopped at the Mullaitheevu Catholic church and conversed with a few fishermen. The tsunami waves have left only the façade of the church. The men were sharing their sorrows with the broken statue of Rayappar. One man said: ‘I feel awfully depressed; I’ve lost my wife and children. Now we don’t know what to do; how could Kadavul (God) let this happen to us?’
Kantha Ruban Arivu Cholai is run by the Tigers. There are some hundred visually impaired children who are helped and trained by volunteers and dedicated staff. They use music as a therapeutic exercise. The young children there are very talented and they put their heart and soul into this and produce a divine environment! We had the privilege of hearing them sing. A soprano voice sang for us a beautiful lyric, Ovvoru Pookalumai... And then I requested the Music Master to sing along with the choir Baharatiyar padal as a Bhajan. They painted an ornate tone poem with their glorious voices. In response to that, everyone requested Dhanaluchmee [our South African friend] to sing. She sang Bharathiyar’s "Endru thaniyum in the suthanthira thagam?" When will the thirst for freedom be quenched? It was very moving!
We drove to our next stop. Gunam switched off the engine and sprinted towards the Hero’s Cemetery. This is, of course, only one of such neatly tended burial sites. Friends and relatives come with flowers and candles to pay their respects to their loved ones. Param, our travel companion from Switzerland, was trying to locate his younger brother’s headstone. He had died as a hero only a few years ago. There was an officer on site with whom Param was able to check the exact location of his brother’s tomb. In this graveyard there were 2,600 heroes laid to rest.
It is in such places that ‘sudalai gnanam’ [crematoria wisdom] begins to kick in. One is brought here face to face with the gruesome reality! On both sides multitudes have perished. One does not fail to observe, nonetheless, a startling difference. On the Tiger-side all are volunteers. They have poured out their young lives for a compelling reason – and that is the liberation of their people from Sinhala hegemony. The fallen heroes have willingly done so with the dream for an emancipated Eelam, knowing that their dream will live on. The other side is usually referred to as ‘Koolie Padai’ – paid forces without a cause! Hence defection on the side opposite is still a major problem.
Truth will be a casualty, if one were to interpret this conflict, primarily as a battle of Buddhist encroachment. Buddhism is only a convenient pretext! Hindu Tamils are not anti-Buddhist. However, they are acutely aware that the surreptitious appearance of Buddha statues and artefacts in the middle of Tamil homelands is an unmistakeable symbol of tyranny, secret colonisation and militaristic expansion. Buddhist masses, unlettered for most part, are just pawns in the hands of political masters.
The whole discourse is about the unholy matrimony between Theravada teachings and the racist texts of persecution from the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa. This lethal cocktail perpetuates a rationale for "holy violence" based on a falsified history - that Sri Lanka is a "holy Buddhist land" and entirely given to the chosen race to be its "guardians." That is, quite blissfully, the Buddha Sangha’s hermeneutical project! Such a doctrine is manna from heaven to the "Sinhala-only" political elites concerned only about their monopoly of power. There is evidently no elbow room for another ancient indigenous nation with its rich history and culture, such as the Tamils, to exist harmoniously on equal terms with dignity, within such a one-track hegemony.
All would agree that this conflict is a struggle against a vicious supremacy theory [similar to Apartheid]. To put it differently, the Sinhala state’s conviction is that it is the Sinhala's divine right to rule and dominate over Lanka. Hence, this ethnophobic, quasi-religious, protectionist mindframe instigates State-sponsored pogroms that purport to purge the land of all contamination. It is not an exaggeration to point out that the state machinery is oiled by both the Sangha and its sole state "religion"! Such an exclusive cast of mind is camouflaged by paying media-friendly lip service to a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural context. Now, one can try to white-wash this historical fact with complex concealment, but the fact remains that Sri Lanka is a dubious democracy in actual action. Intolerable violations of human rights and terror have continued even during the current cease-fire. Hence, the proximity to peace is fraught with bloodstains. Many are beginning to wonder whether such brute force is allowed to continue due to international indifference.
It is clear that there is no military solution to this question. Violence is indeed a vicious cycle and in no way is it redemptive. One thing, however, obvious, on the Tiger side, is a compelling combination of moral and spiritual binding to the Dream their comrades have given their life for! Each Porali goes about his orher duty with utmost diligence. They consider their cause to be ‘Punitham’ – sacred in a non-Theocentric sense. Punitham in the sense of a selfless goal – or best expressed in analogical terms as a pregnant mother who nurtures and protects the fruit of her womb, knowing that the inevitable delivery is at hand! In other words, the preferential option to honour the Word of Oath is within the DNA structure of the Dravidian Tigers.
All people dream, but not equally
Those who dream by night
In the dusty recesses of their minds
Wake in the day to find that it was vanity.
But the dreamers of the day
Are dangerous people
For they may act their dream with open eyes
To make it possible. (TE Lawrence)
5: The Master & the Author
Navam was an ‘up-country’ Tamil. They are descendents of Tamils who were shipped across the Palk Strait by the Colonialists as indentured laborers from the Raj. They literally slaved, in appalling conditions, in Ceylon tea and rubber estates. Soon after independence, as from insult to injury, the Sinhala state disenfranchised these Tamils for shrewd political gain.
Porali Navam poured out his life in action during the battle with the IPKF (people dubbed it the Innocent People Killing Force). The Veteran’s Institute of the Tamil Tigers is appropriately named after this honourable emancipator - Navam Arivu Koodam
We met with Kalai Kone Master, who himself a veteran, is now actively engaged as an educator in this vast training complex in the Vanni. These young women and men of valour are being equipped with various skills – such as technology, computer science, languages, literature, history, political science, statecraft, peace studies, psychology including art and classical music.
Kalai Kone spoke chaste Tamil with a beautiful melodic rhythm. Many of the veterans were once frontline fighters who have borne the brunt of warfare. However, none of them are given to focusing on their heroism; neither are they enveloped in hatred, nor are they distracted from their Goal. They are down-to-earth individuals: speaking only when they are spoken to - often with a tinge of shyness! Get them to speak on the suffering of the Tamil Nation… Their ears perk up; and they blossom like a lotus. We in the Tamil Diaspora, one would think, can best served by taking a few lessons from these youngsters – learning a thing or two about self-giving modesty.
I do not want to dwell on what I saw here in every Tamil son and daughter. The Sinhala State’s economic embargo, including on all medical and food supplies for years to the Tamil territories, has had an impact. It is sufficient to say that emancipation from slavery is indeed a very costly matter. These young valiant spirits weren’t allowed to be snuffed out. Instead, they have been rescued by the skin of their teeth, by faithful comrades, during the heat of the battle. Some are psychologically and mentally affected. Many have lost limbs; some are visually impaired; while others are paralysed. What none have lost, however, is their dignity and their sense of humor.
Kalai Kone took us to witness a young veteran training to sit for a National classical music exam in Miridangam. The Music tutor was coaching her Talam; the exam was due in a few days! This Miridangam player was rescued in the nick of time, only with both her artful hands intact – thankfully! She too wore dark glasses.
Over a cup of freshly brewed Tea, we discussed with Kalai Kone Master the plight of the current peace process. I was also going to touch on this matter, among other points, at a meeting with the Police Chief Mr. Nadesan. During the course of our conversation, Kalai Kone wondered whether I would have the time, before leaving for Jaffna in a couple of days, to meet with an author.
Muna Thirunavukarasu was a tutor (Political Science) at the Jaffna University. He had to go "underground" he said, soon after the IPKF came to town. He reckons the Indian Peace Keeping Force had an aversion particularly towards intellectuals!
Once again, it was Mr Asok who radioed that "tomorrow night we’ll journey to meet with Thiru Master around 9pm." At 9:40 Asok and I found ourselves in the company of Thiru Master in a hut full of books, dimly lit with the help of a generator. We discussed while sipping Cream Soda about the progressive history of the liberation struggle, at length casually dipping briefly into Thiru Master's expository writings. His lucid reading of the struggle was incisive.
Here is a learnéd humble man whom I greatly admired, by choice decided not to sit in some ivory tower churning out ideas for cerebral consumption – instead he, too, has tasted the hard life of the Struggle; stretching ends to meet as an underground fugitive; moving from one place to another. And the only "crime" he has done, was to be born a Tamil and to have heartily embraced the idea of freedom! Mr. Asok had great respect for his former tutor.
I asked Thiru Master whether this struggle has produced many thinkers and writers among the Tamil people. He replied in the negative. Education for the Tamils, he recalled, "is still a cash crop." Hence, learning is viewed only in terms of money-making, dowry bargaining, and economic prosperity: "In a such context, who will have the means, courage, and intellectual integrity to spend time on researching and thinking and publishing materials in order to equip others to think differently?" It is not economically a viable option. However, Thiru Valluvan saw Kalvee – enlightenment and Arivu - Knowledge as illumination and emancipation for the heart, head and soul – the whole being!
Thiru Master explained that there is yet to be a seismic shift in the thinking of the Tamils. The struggle has yet to have an impact on the caste-conscious Tamil society! "We still have Hindu festivals being celebrated in the temples, by allocating ceremony dates on the basis of castes." In spite of all these negatives, Thiru Master insists that the Tamil Eelam will bring about the best in the Eelam Tamils.
In his book written in easy–to-read Tamil: Federalism or Separate State? (Samastiya? Thani Nada?) Thiru Master carefully examines the diverse interpretations of Federalism. He explains to the reader the complex equation of Landed gentry/ political elites + Racism + Opportunism = Senanayake / Bandaranayke/ Jayewardene (including current Sri Lankan politics).
Thiru Master further analyses the Tamil Federal Party. The failure of such politicking, he writes, was that the leaders of this party were Colombo-based and, hence, lacked the understanding of the grassroots' aspirations. Since this party was Colombo-oriented, and depended on the South for their economic sustenance, he argues, they would not wage an effective battle, non-violent for most part, for the cause of Tamil rights. They could not expose, or even make a dent in, the Institutional racism, repression and travesties of justice!
Thiru Master pointed out the core difference of strategy, character and calibre between those leaders of the past and Thalaivar, Mr. V Pirabakaran. Those former leaders, in spite of their learning, were blinded by the Sinhala leaders’ games of carrot and stick. On the contrary, Thiru Master observed that,
"Now Thalaivar is in a strategic position to call the shots! Thalaivar could not be bought over – he is above all that…that’s the key; he has proved his mettle; he is indeed a colossal character and the Enemies of freedom know that. That is the backbone of our success. We are already in control of the most part of our territories. The Sinhala regime cannot hoodwink the Tamil masses."
Thiru Master nonetheless warned, that the Tamils "will need to be extremely vigilant about the actions of today’s Tamil parliamentarians."
For all the Tamils who love and cherish their freedom, Muna Thirunavukarasu’s book: Samastiya? Thani Nada? is a must read. It is published in Tamil Eelam by Arivamuthu.You may contact them by phone: 0212283961; alternatively by E-Mail: [email protected]
"Thalaivar could not be bought over…" these words began to grip my imagination. What strength of martial character! A few days ago, I was listening to a newly-released CD track by Van Morrison (Exile Productions). The title of track 12 is 'They Sold Me Out.' The lyrics go like this:
Sold me out for a few shekels and divided up my robes
They sold me out
It’s the oldest story that’s ever been told
They sold me out
Didn’t even give it no shred of doubt, no, no
They sold me out
Didn’t even sit down and try to figure it out
They just sold me out.
The stories of betrayal of the Tamil cause are a crucifying gospel. It is a collective grief. The exodus and exile of the Eelam Tamils have a spiritual force. Hence, there is the eschatological hope of resurrection.
I shall be writing about my continuing pilgrimage towards Jaffna. And, possibly, there a perchance meeting with a journalist named Thurai from Vallvetti - His convenient nom de guerre being "Vallvetti Thurai."
6: The Threat of Resurrection
After the Santhippu with the Eelam Police Chief, we left the police HQ feeling unburdened, as one would, at the conclusion of a pastoral session. This writer found Mr. Nadesan to be a man endowed with a gentle spirit coupled with attentive ears. If he ever were to choose to switch vocations - no pun intended; one would find him eminently suitable to be the "honorary bishop" of Vanni! Nadesan comes across as a self-deprecating man, who is slow to speak and swift to think. Anyone would find great ease in communicating "strictly confidential" matters with him because he is skilled at creating an environment of trust. He would politely listen with tilted head and would promptly assure: "Father, leave that matter with me; I’ll do the needful."
Eelam police along A-9
This writer expressed how gutted he felt, while staying in East Eelam a week after the tsunami, when he heard over state radio the shocking story of the "demise" of both the Tiger Supremo and his brilliant intelligence chief. Mr Nadesan explained how such experiences in the past have educated the Eelam Tamils to cut through the vicious ‘spin doctoring’ of state propaganda. Within the lapse of only a few hours, one was convinced beyond any figment of doubt, that these seemingly "dead" de facto State leaders are not only exceptionally alive, but also alert to out-smart the deceptive state every time. One knows a corpse when he sees it – the state media engaging in tomfoolery is no doubt brain-dead!
The Police Chief’s spouse is a Sinhala woman and he chuckled when saying that the good lady speaks Tamil fluently and, like icing on cake, - even with Jaffna accent. Alongside Mr Thamilselvam, the police chief is actively engaged in talks for a negotiated settlement. It is believed that the latter is acting in the background as "the eyes and ears of Thalaivar" in the West-orchestrated overtures of peace.
"Even if the Sri Lanka state is not willing for a peaceful settlement," Mr Nadesan underscored, "it’s still worth trying to give peace a chance. That’ll unmask to the international community the true face of the racist hegemony."
Having stopped at the Nallur temple for worship, the hired vehicle was to take the South African ladies back to Vanni once I’d found a lodge in Jaffna town. After some rest in the comfort of my AC room, I took a stroll down Hospital Road. The State Forces will make you feel, with their inquisitive stares, that you are an "outsider" even within the boundaries of the land of your birthright! The moment you ask for directions in Sinhala, they soften up like pumpkins in Sambaru. I felt compassion for these young Sinhala soldiers; they are being duped into this misery. I met some Army officials treating themselves to large portions of Banana Split in a ‘Cool Bar’ downtown, where I sat to quench my thirst. I walked up to them and jokingly hinted to the officials in polite Sinhala: "If you all keep eating such massive portions of ice cream daily, you’ll become out of shape and won’t be able to fight with our boys." They laughed their heads off…Oops, I’ve got to be careful here with my choice of words!
Nallur Temple, Jaffna
Having quenched my thirst, I turned to walk towards the burnt down Railway Station. At a distance, I thought I saw the spitting image of a man whom I had met many moons ago. Yes, this is the person whom I wanted a Santhippu with. One has no other choice left in such instances, but to confirm one's belief in divine appointments rather than mere coincidences. The man, "Vallvetti Thurai" (VT), was standing in front of me trying to work out as to how this chance meeting had occurred! As we walked up to the disused train station; lo and behold we bumped into a van-load of saffron-robed monks who have come to Jaffna town looking for "lost property" [real estate], which according to them, belonged to the Buddhist Pansala. VT spoke in fluent Sinhala and inquired "Hamaduru are you planning to return to Jaffna to settle?" The monks were careful to divert the subject rapidly.
Bhikkus in Jaffna town
After a hearty chat about the good old days, VT kindly decided to stay overnight and travel with me the next morning to Vallvettithurai - the village of nativity for both Mr. Pirabakan and Mr. Nadesan. "You must first visit Pirabakaran’s house and take some snaps," he insisted. In the meantime, "How about some Palmyra toddy?" he challenged! I chickened out. "Anything you have read that’s worth recommending?" VT queried. "Oh, yes," I spontaneously replied: "Have you read the splendid series on the history of our liberation struggle, written on the Sangam website, by T Sabaratnam?" Puffing the Yarlpanam Churutu (cigar) with a dram glass of local spirit at hand, VT spelt out the action plan: "I’ll arrange for you to meet up in the next couple of days with some journalists and some interesting people at Jaffna University, including the veteran activist, now a National list MP, Mr. Eelaventhan." That’s splendid! I thanked our friend.
It was tragic indeed to hear that many journalists have hung up their pen to rust, for fear of assassination. VT has also followed suit; having experienced displacements and personal turbulence. This has brought him to a plight of stoic existence; soaking up information at various libraries and frequenting the ‘water holes’; yet having made redundant the fine art to articulate himself via the print media. VT’s case is quite representational of that "lost tribe" of talented ilk. "There is no freedom of the press here," they all echoed in unison. I was also shocked to hear from someone, who shall remain nameless, that Mr Mavai Senathirajah MP did not actually get enough votes to enter parliament. In fact, this person showed me some local paper cuttings to this effect. However, owing to the new "representational system" by political parties, the person who actually won on the party list was able to give his place to Mavai in order to get into parliament – this is apparently legal, I hasten to add. However, what a weird system, that. End of the day, Mavia is not really the people’s choice!
There was a world of difference in attitude between state-controlled Jaffna and Tiger-governed Vanni. In Jaffna, people seem to be very suspicious and cynical of many things – this may be a reflection on their war weariness. They are deeply resentful of the presence of the alien state forces. Yet the chattering classes are stuck with oscillatory opinions regarding liberation, whilst being solely bent on preserving the status quo - an unhealthy symptom of being trapped in a time warp.
Looking at the Jaffna Railway Station and many such haunted places would instantly reveal to a newcomer the hard life endured by fellow Tamils for over some 30 years.
Mr A J Canagaratna, a senior journalist, during an informal conversation in his humble abode, gave an excellent critique of Jaffna society. Mr Canagaratna commented that there is a legitimate fear among practising journalists that they too would be silenced by murder. So, in short, everyone here lives in fear of a "cut throat context."
Even among mainline Christian clerics, finding one too many from this liberative context, are yet to climb down from the mental slavery of caste hierarchy! Confidential substantiation of facts seems to reveal that there are in all sectors, including even among a few Eelam protagonists, counterfeits nestled among rare diamonds!
The Tamil Catholic Bishops of both Jaffna and Mannar are held in high esteem by the people of all persuasions as champions of human rights. The national Protestant establishments, however, in spite of their good works, have become cripplingly insular by sitting on the fence; while regurgitating pious clichés with little concern for social and racial justice! Their outdated imperialistic models of theology, one would have thought, are crying aloud to be knocked out of joint.
When will Yarlpanam be liberated? That’s a million dollar question. Looking through the clouds of the ceasefire, it is expected that this strategic strike cannot be less of a priority for the Tigers. It is more of a matter of precise timing.
VT and I took an early bus to Valvettithurai. I was surprised to witness the way in which the atate has destroyed the surrounding villages by indiscriminate aerial bombings. VT’s rented property did not have any electricity; that too was partly burnt down by bombing. The village has been policed every nook and corner – not to mention constant military surveillance. As our auto rickshaw stopped in front of Mr. Velupillai’s residence, the auto driver reverently whispered: "This is our Thalaivar’s house; even this house was bombed, not once but numerous times." This must have been a beautiful house when it was the home of Mr. Pirabakaran. I could not help but imagine how his parents would have felt the pain of parting on that fateful day they had to leave their home village and go somewhere else for safety. Many people who have visited the house from around the globe have autographed the walls of the house, scribbling information as to where they have come from. I silently took it all in as I clicked some snaps…To me, this spot, these walls, will always speak of the longing and the pangs of our nation.
I left with a heavy heart. It is then, on my return bus journey, I found comfort in remembering a poem written by Julia Esquivel, an exiled Guatemalan… herein below some lines from it for your personal reflection:
There is something here within us
Which doesn’t let us sleep,
Which doesn’t let us rest,
Which doesn’t stop pounding deep inside,
It is the silent, warm weeping
Of women without their husbands,
It is the sad gaze of the children
Fixed there beyond memory,
In the very pupil of our eyes
Which during sleep,
Though closed, keep watch
With each contraction of the heart,
In every awakening.
They have threatened us with Resurrection
Because they do not know life (poor things!)
That is the whirlwind
Which does not let us sleep,
The reason why asleep, we keep watch,
And awake, we dream.
To dream awake,
To keep watch asleep,
To live while dying
And to already know oneself