By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“If they treated us like this for engaging in a demonstration one can imagine the situation in the North. We thought they did something big by finishing the war in our country. Now it looks as if they just killed innocent people” – A Weliweriya resident[i]
Jeyakumari Balendran is often pictured carrying a picture. The enlarged and laminated photograph shows a group of adolescents doing physical-exercises. Ms. Jeyakumari’s youngest son, a former child-soldier, is reportedly in the photo; the photo is from a government publication showcasing the regime’s rehabilitation programme.
Ms. Jeyakumari’s story is the story of her community in microcosm. Her two older sons joined the LTTE voluntarily and were killed in the war. Her youngest son was forcibly conscripted in the final stages, as part of the LTTE’s “quest to pursue a war that was clearly lost….(and) to preserve its senior leadership”, as the Darusman Report phrased it. The young boy survived that final murderous spree and returned to his family. Ms. Jeyakumari heeded the call of the Lankan authorities and surrendered her son. While in the custody of the Lankan state, after he was photographed being ‘rehabilitated’ by the Lankan state, the boy vanished.
That was how Ms. Jeyakumari came into limelight – and the attention of the authorities. She went to the LLRC, participated in demonstrations, met politicians and gave media interviews. Ms. Jeyakumari had proof that her son survived the war, was surrendered to the government and was in governmental custody – proof provided not by a Channel 4 video but by an official government publication. “She has a strong case against the government because it published a photograph of her son in a government book depicting rehabilitation of rebel fighters”[ii].
If her surrendered-son is dead, it would indicate that war crimes continued to happen, post-war.
The Rajapaksa state thus has every reason to be concerned about Ms. Jeyakumari and her relentless struggle to unearth the fate of her son.
Tony Benn, that giant crusader for justice who died last week, said, “I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralise them”[iii]. The two tactics are often interconnected. Frightened people become demoralised easily; they are more likely to abandon their public struggles and retire to their private spaces. Ms. Jeyakumari’s arrest might work as a potent disincentive and make many Tamil civilians abandon their own efforts to discover the fates of their loved ones.
The authorities claim that Ms. Jeyakumari was harbouring a Tiger suspect and a mine-detector. The same authorities claimed that violent protestors attacked peaceful soldiers in Weliweriya: “Military Spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasuriya, refuting allegations, said that it was the villagers that first attacked the army and police with clubs, sand bottles and petrol bombs but not the army or police”[iv].
The attempt to depict the Weliweriya protestors as terrorists failed because Weliweriya is in the Sinhala-South and the media refused to be cowed. Even then, against all available evidence, the regime continued to blame the protestors and to castigate their just struggle for safe water as an anti-national conspiracy. The President himself repeated this lie at the beginning of this election-season: “Some elements have launched a subtle campaign to destroy the country’s economy by inciting people to evict factories”[v].
Would such a government hesitate to arrest a Tamil dissident and accuse her of terrorism?
Weliweriya and Killinochchi
Akila Dinesh, the 17 year old student killed in Weliweriya, “was about 200 meters away from the….main road when the army chased him firing at him. ‘While they were chasing Akila they broke a CCTV camera fixed to a house knowing that their ‘brave’ actions would be recorded….they fired at the street lights and then chased away the people shooting all over,’ said Malkanthi, a neighbour.”[vi] Akila Dinesh escaped a traitor’s epitaph because he was a Sinhalese and his killing happened a few miles away from Colombo.
Ms. Jeyakumari is Tamil; she lives far away from Colombo, in a de facto occupied-territory, almost inaccessible to Southern/international media. In such a restrictive environment lies and truth are easily interchangeable. The police and the army can surround her village in military-operation style, and seal if off; she and her little daughter can be interrogated for hours; she can be taken before a magistrate in the dead of the night and detained under the PTA; and she can be incarcerated in Boosa, with no access to the outside world and no news about the fate of her little daughter, apart from what her persecutors choose to tell her.
It was Jeyakumari Balendran, the mother, who braved the Lankan state and the ubiquitous and hostile military. The same maternal love can be used to silence her. After all, her only surviving child, her young daughter who reportedly attained puberty just this month (March 2nd) is in the hands of the same state which ‘disappeared’ her son (the little girl is reportedly terrified and asking for her mother). Perhaps somebody thought that Jeyakumari, the mother, can be made to incriminate herself and her fellow campaigners by using the safety of her daughter as a bargaining-chip?
What a coup for Geneva!
The UN Human Rights Commissioner, in her latest Sri Lanka Report, stated that “….legal proceedings have not begun against any LTTE suspect for alleged war crimes or other human rights abuses”. The Rajapaksa-state, which is detaining Ms. Jeyakumari under the PTA, has failed to indict a single Tiger suspect it already has in custody. This same state also set free Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s designated successor, simply because he agreed to change allegiance from the Tamil ‘Sun God’ to the Sinhala ‘High King’.
In January 2010, while presidential election votes were still being counted, the downtown hotel in which Gen. Fonseka and other opposition leaders were staying was surrounded, military-style. At the end of that long siege, the serving soldiers who were assigned by the state to protect the presidential candidate, as per law, were forced to kneel on the road, handcuffed and taken to jail like so many ‘terrorists’. The regime which can do that, and arrest the war-winning army commander in another military-style operation weeks later, can certainly arrest a dissenting Tamil woman and use the safety of her daughter to break her.
For those who removed the name of Gen. Fonseka from the list of Army Commanders displayed at Deyata Kirula[vii], affixing the terrorist-label on a dissenting Tamil woman is nothing.
The Sinhala-South got a tiny taste of the ‘Humanitarian Operation’ in Weliweriya: “They attacked barbarically, brutally…. There is a rule of war….hospitals, temples, churches and schools cannot be bombed or invaded….when a man comes forward with arms raised you cannot shoot.” [viii]. “The injured had to be taken to the hospital through paddy fields and cemeteries.”[ix]
Similarly, the persecution of Ms. Jeyakumari foretells the future fate of Southern dissidents.
The Tiger leaders betrayed their followers and their community, as the embarrassingly-unheroic dénouement of the Eelam War demonstrated. The Rajapaksas are sacrificing Sri Lanka to their power-hunger. The plight of Jeyakumari Balendran and her little daughter is symbolic of the LTTE’s failed struggle and of the Rajapaksas’ failing peace.
[iii] The Guardian asked its readers to nominate the ten best quotes by Mr. Benn; this was amongst the chosen quotes. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/14/tony-benn-dies-establishment-insider-turned-leftwing-outsider
[iv] Army Blamed for Weliweriya Mayhem – Nirmala Kannangara – The Sunday Leader – 4.8.2014
[vi] Army Blamed for Weliweriya Mayhem – Nirmala Kannangara – The Sunday Leader – 4.8.2014
[vii] Fonseka not among war heroes at Deyata Kirula – The Sunday Times – 16.3.2014
[ix] Army Blamed for Weliweriya Mayhem – Nirmala Kannangara – The Sunday Leader – 4.8.2014