By Elilini Hoole –
It really bothers me that the protest depicted by photograph titles like ‘Tamils… gathered around photographs of those killed during the Sri Lankan civil war’ is being orchestrated by people carrying the LTTE flag.
Anyone who protests against massacres of Tamils in 2009 should by no means do so under the flag adopted by the Tigers. In 2009, the Tigers forced innocent Tamil civilians to remain in the Vanni – under pain of death – as a shield. This is evident from the same reports that accuse the government of genocide. When I was working in the Vanni, I sincerely sympathized with the Tamils who stayed behind in Sri Lanka. They lost everything under the Tigers and the successive governments of Sri Lanka.
After the riots and massacres of Tamils in the 1970’s, a Tamil struggle was obviously imminent. There were peaceful Tamils who, moved by their common humanity with the victims, came forward to speak up. And then there were monsters like Prabhakaran who started out assassinating the Mayor of Jaffna. Until he died he had nothing but blood on his hands.
If we Tamils look at our history, we should discuss and apologize for the many hundreds of innocent Sinhalese, Muslim and even Tamil civilians the Tigers killed in cold blood back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. We can also bring up the Kent and Dollar Farm massacres, the cruel response of the LTTE to the unjust Mahaveli Schemes displacing hundreds of Tamils in Mullaitivu. Or the unsuspecting civil servants murdered in the East for no reason better than their not happening to be born Tamils. We Tamils rightly complain that the Government lashed out against civilians when there was trouble, but the Tigers did exactly the same.
Indeed, our struggle under the LTTE was nothing greater or worse than the struggle of chauvinistic Sinhala-Buddhists. As much as we blame the GoSL, we need also to examine the contributions of the LTTE to pain and destruction among Tamils.
A Note on the Flag
The symbolic Tiger jumping through a halo framed by bullets and bayonets and the text, ‘Thamil Viduthalai Pulikal’ or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was designed to represent the LTTE in 1977. In 1991, the Tiger emblem, devoid of the text, was placed on a crimson flag and made to represent Tamil Eelam. While people carrying the Eelam flag may not always be a part of the LTTE, we must cultivate the consciousness to link the history of the Eelam flag to the LTTE. Perhaps we should revoke this fraudulent imagery of a violent Eelam and revert to a more peaceful image with greater ties to Tamil history such as the palmyra tree or the yal (flute).
Betrayed, Forsaken and Exploited in the Vanni
Here are some truthful histories behind the war in 2009 that I picked up from people whom I befriended in the Vanni (names changed for good reason):
At the age of 78 Viram had many accomplishments to boast of, but none greater than his six little grand children. At that very moment he was being herded out of his village by three young and virulent Tigers holding rather large automatic weapons. He knew the drill – stay silent and do as told.
Loud voices distracted the concentration with which he watched over his family. A young man, bent under the weight of his mother, is arguing with one of the Tigers, “Ammah is so tired, please just leave us and go!”
“Move!” the harsh response tears right through Viram’s heart. “Get moving or die here and now.”
The young man carefully sets down his mother to release a series of words expressing a mix of whining and begging directed at the same young Tiger.
Out of pity Viram interrupts, “Thambi, she is so tired. Isn’t this fighting enough already?”
The Tiger barely looks at Viram as he coldly lifts his gun and shoots him through his head.
Wails ripped through the air as he slumps to the ground.
The Tiger turns, carefully examining the downcast eyes of the crowd. “Hurry up,” he shouts and walks on.
It is not just entire villages they ripped apart, but families as well. As Thangammah put it to me:
The Tigers used to come day and night. Some of them were nice, if we hid our children and had already given them one, they would understand our situation and leave quietly. But not everyone was like that. There were some we hated. One of them would always come to our village and use violence and threats to hound us to sacrifice more and more of our children. He enjoyed having power over us. When we knew they were coming, we would cover our children under sleeping mats, or rice or anything that was in our house. Once, I put my little girl under some mats and later I saw that a snake was in it as well! Another family put their child under some coverings and sat on it so no one would see. The child nearly died.
I’ve already given 2 children. They conscripted one. When he was killed while fighting, my second son was so angry he went and enlisted on his own. But the Movement didn’t care about my sacrifice. They came for another one of my little darlings, and that’s when I stopped believing in them, stopped believing that they were fighting for me.
We saw this hard-hearted Tiger later in Menik Farm. We couldn’t stand the sight of him pretending to be married and living in a tent with some woman. Our children died because of him. Our men grabbed him and started beating him until the military came and took him away. He wrote his own fate.
They didn’t respect or care for those who stayed behind to look after the weak, related a priest.
“Move faster!” The kneeling Anglican priest wondered at the harsh sounds coming from such a baby face. The young LTTE cadre waved a pistol in the priest’s face. The Father looked around. Tired groups of people dragged their feet away from the sounds of bombs, but his flock stood frozen around him staring at the confrontation. One of the last lots of Vanni civilians surrounded him – the ones that moved slowly, the orphaned children, the old ones, the injured and disabled. Unconsciously he reached for his thick wooden cross swinging carefree over his dusty black cincher at his waist.
“How can we move faster than this?” he logically surmised.
“You’ve got to leave this place and keep moving or we’ll shoot you ourselves,” the cadre screamed louder, pressing his pistol harder on the kneeling Father’s forehead.
Father looked up at the young man, determination glinted in his sunken stubborn eyes. His voice wavered but his frame remained resolute, “Leave? Leave them? Son, if you’re going to shoot me, go ahead, but I’m not leaving without them.”
The man looked surprised. His eyes shifted over the cowering people and back at the firm, emaciated face of the priest. His grip loosened on the gun, “Humph. You guys will die anyways.” He swore as he swaggered on.
People fled from the Tigers in the end.
Arivu worked for an INGO until all the expats shut down offices and moved out, leaving the local staff behind. He felt an intense pain throb along his entire side every time he moved. He moved aside the bandaging to take a closer look at the wound. The GoSL forces had dropped a bomb just a few feet away from him. The flying shrapnel had torn through his stomach.
His wife crouched beside him under the palmyra tree, worry etched across her face deeper than ever. She hugged their only daughter tightly to herself, almost as if she wanted to envelope the little girl with her body.
Over the trees, over the sound of bombing, a voice clearly unfamiliar with Tamil cracked over speakers, the same message again and again with words to the effect, “Come over to the protection of the Government. You will be treated well. You will be safe.”
Many families had made it this far, but not all. Their neighbors had died by the same bomb that nearly tore Arivu in two. No water, no food, no shelter from the floods and sun. But if only they walked a little further across the brush, and crossed a road and walked 10 kms more they would be out of the warzone!
From where he stood, Arivu could see a group of Tigers patrolling the road. They would have to wait. They had tried to cross the road twice before and had failed. “Lord, let it be today,” Arivu shot off a quick prayer.
The putrid smell of rotting wounds on living bodies followed them as they silently made their way through the trees.
They were only partially across the road when the LTTE patrol saw them. “Stop right there!” Bullets whizzed through the air. Crouching low, Arivu grabbed his bandages with one hand and held on to his wife with the other. They made it, but from the screams they could tell not everyone had.
On the other side, a GoSL soldier greeted them with a huge smile and pity in his eyes. As he led them to the screening area, he handed their daughter a piece of candy, patted her on the head and said something they didn’t understand. But what words could make up for the warmth of his hand and the kindness in his eyes? Arivu is still bitter of all the family, friends and even property, which he lost to the bombing of the military, but he also sees that not everything as black and white as he once thought.
These are true stories that those mesmerized by the crimson red and marigold flag of the Tigers seem to discard as irrelevant. Yet they are not irrelevant! They are, in fact, the truth behind 30 years of power struggles that betrayed the common person.
I think it is tragic that all Tamils are being labeled as Tiger supporters, when in fact many Tamils have been cruelly scarred by none other than the Tigers. I think it is even more tragic when people forget how the Tigers purposefully did not let anyone out of the war-zone in order to mobilize the international community through sympathy to intervene in the war.
As members of the diaspora, it is our responsibility to revere our recent history and herald a time of peaceful discussions if we are to bring peace to our own people. We must seek to usher in peace with utmost concern for all who suffered under the wicked schemes of the elite and respect those who have died from the negligence of leaders. Both sides have betrayed us, the common Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and native persons, but we must look forward with love and honor, not anger and violence.
It was difficult to see the humanity of our fellow citizens when we were fighting ‘for’ them. We now conveniently label them victims because it suddenly serves us to do so. It seems that is the same now unless we change.