3 August, 2020

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The Story Of An Other Woman

By Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

If, like me, you were a Sri Lankan Tamil — in that order — the approach of the Eighteenth of May does to your system unpleasant things that you find difficult to deal with, or to even put in words. Those with excessive imagination use sophisticated language to describe the events leading up to that day: “Structured Genocide” and “Humanitarian Operation” are the two ends of the scale. Not in that league, my best summary of the Eighteenth of May is in the form of a question posed in an email from a friend that day, five years ago:

“I did not fight; nor did I support the fight. Yet I have lost. Why?”

odeltshirt

But the Eighteenth of May is a distraction. The story I am about to tell you happened on the Fourteenth of April, the auspicious New Year day for both Sinhala and Tamil tribes of our country. It was a beautiful spring day in England. Sunshine and occasional showers were forecast. My drinking partner, the Sri Lankan Tamil fellow Sivapuranam Thevaram, his wife Manimekalai and little son Senguttu were driving from Bridgetown to London for a family visit. Thevaram was highly excited about it being the Sinhala-Tamil New Year, and had chosen a Sri Lankan T-shirt to wear that day. “Bought in Odel, no,” Senguttu teased, stretching the “no” with appropriate Sri Lankan intonation.

Temptation to go in a matching sarong had to be abandoned due to fear of the unpredictable British weather. “What if…” I ask, and leave the rest to your imagination.

To the little fellow’s disappointment, they did not play the usual “I spy with my little eye” type games during the car journey. Thevaram appeared totally distracted. Was he appreciating the beautiful fields of yellow rapeseed flowers along the motorway?

rapeseedonmotorwayOr was he lost in thought?

Was he thinking about his objections to Tamil nationalism as a political problem solving framework, his sceptical engagement with that notion in the bike sheds of Jaffna Hindu College in 1976, where he argued that the most predictable outcome of that as a political process was going to be the massacre at Mullivaikkaal?

Or was he thinking of an astute comment he had heard from Callum Macrae at a screening of the Channel Four film at King’s College London: “Behaviour now is what I take as proof of intent then.”?

Or was he thinking of the insincerity of present day Tamil political leadership in not explicitly articulating a clear distance between themselves and the horrors committed on the Tamil population, and beyond, by those who claimed to be fighting on behalf of the Tamil people?

Or was he thinking about what we read from modern analysts and activists these days, many of whom have re-visited a challenging question:

“Are Tamils a nation or a minority?”

Dictionary definition of a nation, of course, speaks simply of a common identity – culture, history or language, linking a people living in a particular area. Yet we refuse to recognize the Sri Lankan Tamil people as a nation for fear of the political baggage it comes with:  self-determination, separation and then ganging up with cousins to beat us up. A fear that has been drilled into us in the history lessons we took as children amplified by the violent history of recent times.

Some fail to observe. Countries that have made arrangements that recognize the existence of different nations within themselves – Switzerland, Trento in Italy or, closer to home, India – have benefitted enormously from such accommodation. They have successfully attracted loyalty to the whole by trading in small amounts of local decision making to the constituent parts. It is that simple.

Some forget basics. I, for example, belong to multiple nations. I am Sri Lankan, having many things common with fellow Sri Lankans. I am Tamil, having many habits and values in common with fellow Tamils. And, mind you, I am also from the Karainagar nation – the island off the north coast of Sri Lanka.

Yes, the people of Karainagar are a nation. At the west end of the causeway, they have historic habits that are demonstrably distinct from those in the Peninsula. But even stronger, they attain their nationhood due to the behaviour of the mainlanders. Remember they expressed their aspirations in no uncertain terms by defeating Appapillai Amirthalingam in an election, returning instead the local schoolmaster to Parliament? If you don’t believe the claim, hire a social scientist to carefully measure the height to which eyebrows are raised when a Karainagar chap buys land in mainland Jaffna. Or study the reactions when a young man from that nation aspires to marry a beautiful young lady from the mainland. He has no chance, I can tell you, unless he can wield a certificate earned at HillTop University!

But we do know of an artful technique to dodge recognizing a group of people as a nation, particularly when you suffer from the manufactured fear of what that recognition might imply. The trick is to demonstrate they are a tiny minority, with the help of imaginative accounting. Remember the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, someone to whom all present day social difficulty in that country can be traced back? She was imaginative with numbers. To reduce unemployment, the Iron Lady changed the way you count them. She reduced it to a mere four percent!

During that drive to London, with Thevaram lost in such thought, conversations Manimekalai attempted to have with him did not go anywhere. She could not guess what was in his mind. She tried asking. Her questions did not get correct answers. He showed irritation. “Why are you asking so many counter-questions?” he snapped. When challenged about wrong answers, he claimed the answers were correct, and it was the questions that were wrong. At this point she knew what the problem really was. Every Tamil woman has the sixth sense to know it instantly in such situations. It has to be.

It has to be another woman!

It is a woman Thevaram has never met. Like him, we also know very little of her. We know she is from the Vanni. She had four children, three boys and a girl. The older two boys were killed in the war. Precisely how, we do not know, but they are dead. The third boy, we know, was forcibly recruited to fight in the war. A war in which the people of the Vanni were told “we are here to protect you,” by a fascist terror group, and “here we come to rescue you,” by its equally callous foe. Both achieved their stated goals by killing those helpless people.

She says her boy surrendered on the Eighteenth of May.

Even when numerous such young people — as many as the daffodils the poet saw at a glance — were rehabilitated and released, her son did not come home. She says he definitely was among those being rehabilitated, for she recognized him in a picture released of the rehabilitation in action. She and her fourth child – a daughter – have been searching for the missing son and brother they believe is alive. She has been searching since the Eighteenth of May, five years ago, protesting at meetings and complaining to whoever who she thought had any influence to intervene, and bring back the missing son home. That last remaining son – who the mother believes is alive.

Protesting and complaining are not allowed in our country. She has been warned not to do it. She was being watched to see if she does it.

Meanwhile, rebels have regrouped and appeared in the scene to terrorize the citizenry. Just like the “Grease Yakkas” of a few years ago, they appear and inject fear. They are chased away by timely actions, taken to protect our fellow citizens. In this particular case, the guy who was being chased scaled the walls of this woman’s home and hid in her kitchen cupboard. Being the idiot he was, he chooses the house of the most watched woman in our country to hide in.

Or being the idiots we are, we believe pieces of information given to us without challenging their accuracy or purpose.

You may want to calibrate such gullible belief systems. Have you seen the video of a Q and A session during Sumanthiran MP’s last visit to Toronto in which a woman confidently claimed that the Muslims in Jaffna were chased away for their own good? Hilarious, was it not?

Is the acceptance of this renewed Tiger story any different?

Obvious acts followed the killing of the fellow who ran into the woman’s house. The woman was taken into custody, the daughter separated and the mother sent to be locked away. Our laws allow for that. She can be held incommunicado. She cannot demand due process or representation, and she can, with non-zero probability, disappear.

“Terrorists,” as our senior-most interpreter of the Law has recently explained, “have no human rights.”

amnestycallIn the run-up to the Eighteenth of May, our collective guilt in the way we are organized to justify the locking up of this woman is difficult to hide. For when challenged, we run fast, run back in time and tell the world — as our High Commissioner did with admirable eloquence recently– of wonders our Kings did two thousand five hundred years ago.

And indeed wonders they were – of which we Sri Lankans should rightfully be proud — when, for example, a dethroned King stood next to the Kalavewa reservoir and claimed a handful of water from it as his only treasure.

But we have to run to that past, because we cannot face our present. The present in which we have won a victory, not just in a war against those who fought, but also over those who did not fight.

That is the story of the other woman who came between my friend Thevaram and his wife Manimekalai, along the motorway between London and Bridgetown on the Sinhala-Tamil New Year day of the Fourteenth of April.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    5

    Five Tamils killed in Jaffna.

    More the merrier!

    • 3
      1

      Modaya, fitting name for you !

    • 0
      0

      T Modya;

      You are really a MADAYA.
      In Sinhala, we call GAM MADIYA.

  • 5
    9

    Look here,

    We all want the same thing don’t we really?

    How do we give Tamils a ‘win’! Its kind of hard given the choices Tamils have made with terrorism and what not!

    Nevertheless given the generous people we are, the nation question was already solved at the APRC. They decided to call Moslems and Tamils “Constituent Peoples of Ceylon”.

    Although when the APRC chairman was looking for TNA he could not find anyone. TNA did not turn up. I think TNA thought LTTE was about to deliver them Eelam in the “final war” they were planning.

    So I guess you are barking up the wrong tree here.

    • 2
      1

      Are you lying or TNA lying?

      From you –
      “Although when the APRC chairman was looking for TNA he could not find anyone. TNA did not turn up. I think TNA thought LTTE was about to deliver them Eelam in the “final war” they were planning.”

      From TNA – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/090510/News/sundaytimesnews_19.html

      “It appears that the government is not interested in a political solution. What happened to the All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) talks? The TNA welcomed the proposals put forward by the APRC’s experts committee. We thought it was a good working paper – a good beginning. But the President put that in the waste paper basket. He is not keen on a political solution based on devolution of power. What sort of devolution do the provinces now enjoy? ” http://www.sundaytimes.lk/090510/News/sundaytimesnews_19.html

    • 0
      0

      Look in the mirror your yellow saree is a borrowed item plus it has never been the dress of north india.

      Finally you don’t have the DNA of North Indians.

      Vibushana of free education your forefathers were either Hora Oru or Slaves bought in by the Portuguese and Dutch- your borrowed names and changes proves it further.
      down under kaun kapan kollo.

  • 1
    7

    may 18th is the victory day where we celebrate with utmost pride for crushing tamil terrorism….

    • 4
      0

      Wow you managed to post something at last without being censored
      There are so many Sri Lankan another woman and another man who will change this country and are engrossed in doing that and have no time to read very article in CT and to post comment

    • 0
      0

      thana Kola;

      Still you eat Thanakola.

      We are happy about there are Many bulls like you with that Looting Clan

  • 7
    3

    Professor Niranjan mingles his message, in his inimitable style, with humour and sadness, with powerful effect. It is despairing that the Rajapaksa regime simply does not get the message that the solution to our national question is so simple and obvious as to involve nothing more than “trading in small amounts of local decision making to the constituent parts”, as Professor Niranjan puts it, that would ensure “attraction and loyalty to the whole”. Since the regimes does not get it, each of us must think of some way of contributing positively to a people’s movement to unseat it, and save our nation. The “single issue candidate” idea seems to me promising, if only the opposition can be made to unite.

    • 0
      2

      Even if we yield not just “small” but “significant” amount of decision making to the periphery, is the TNA ready to demonstrate “loyalty to the whole” convincingly through effective political “trade-in” other than saying “we are not opposed to Sinhala people moving to the North by themselves”? Who is ready believe them?

      “single issue candidate” — please tell us your choice:
      1) the UNP monk from no where
      2) the mad general with no political experience who said minorities should not make unreasonable demands!
      3) the Chavura Ragina
      4) the feeble UNP deputy leader who until recently was in the UPFA!

      Also how does unseating the regime help convince TNA that they need to “trade-in”?

      • 0
        2

        I think Ranil is the answer.

        He has almost everything we need in this hour.

        1. International recognition
        2. Minority people like him and he has a track record of NOT being racist.
        3. Good understanding in economics
        4. Decent and gentlemanly behavior
        5. More than anything it is too long SL has been under one party rule, 20 years!

        • 2
          0

          Yes, you are right,he is the man,except for one small problem,he doesn’t have the votes to win.

    • 0
      2

      Even if we yield not just “small” but “significant” amount of decision making to the periphery, is the TNA ready to demonstrate “loyalty to the whole” convincingly through effective political “trade-in” other than saying “we are not opposed to Sinhala people moving to the North by themselves”? Who is ready believe them?

      “single issue candidate” — please tell us your choice:
      1) the UNP monk from nowhere
      2) the mad general with no political experience who said minorities should not make unreasonable demands!
      3) the Chavura Ragina
      4) the feeble UNP deputy leader who until recently was in the UPFA!

      Also how does unseating the regime help convince TNA that they need to “trade-in”?

  • 2
    1

    A. Fabulous satirical hard kick up the groin to take away the breath of the the big man who put the APRC’s proposals in the WPB.

  • 0
    1

    .
    Very well written…..I like the way this guy writes…..

    :-)

  • 1
    2

    “The present in which we have won a victory, not just in a war against those who fought, but also over those who did not fight.”

    Well seen, Niranjan.

    And this enjoyment is now ours. Not only those of us who fought, but all of us.

    And not only since May 2009.
    We good Buddhists, Christians and Catholics alike, have savoured this ability to hold the upper register, what I call the Thug Dividend, ever since our victories in 1958, ’61, ’77, ’81 and of course ’83.

    Many of us protected you, in especially increasing numbers after the events (just as the growing number of valuable books and manuscripts in your Jaffna Library before its destruction); but with the real and imagined magnanimity, it is good to enjoy the victory.

    Niranjan, I am sure you would have seen all round you at Hilltop University this not so invisible halo that we have worn with ease since ’58.

    Now it shines – the Thug Dividend Halo of our victories – for all to see – including some in Geneva and other places.

    It – this last victory over the most most most ruthless in the universe in known history, even outshines the Buddha’s over ignorance, and blinds all including the members of the Sangha and our most of our articulate thinkurs.

  • 2
    1

    Imagine a Sihala nation that mass produces maid servants for the Middle East- Sooraya’s

    Before 1948 East India Company which governed Ceylon did pretty well till the Buddhist Japanese started bombing.

    Roosevelt and Churchill created new nations in the subcontinent including Ceylon. (Islamic bogey++)

    9/11 Bush and Blair both war criminals created the war criminal Rajapassa familial.(Islamic bogey –)

    Will the 4’s and 6’s US ambassador to SL be recalled once Indian elections are complete now that Powell has done the run??

  • 1
    3

    Understandably prof.Niranjan seems dismissive about the Govt.claims of reemergence of LTTE. He should find and read the US state dept’s recent report on the subject.And More importantly if it is not happening the diaspora must stop crowing about it.
    About the other woman who claimed that she saw her son in a photograph of a rehabilitation camp was called up and shown that she had mistaken someone else for her son and that her son was never in for rehabilitation.

    • 1
      0

      NAK — Didn’t the US State Department tell us that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
      And if the government is telling you there are Tigers — are you aware that a member of the government had 800 policemen lined up and shot? and another tied an official to a tree. You still believe them? Why are you so foolish like the Tamils who trusted in Prabhakaran to protect them??

  • 1
    0

    Mad Professor:

    18th May evokes different memories to different people. For you it was a day of victory when the Stuggle for Freedom was snuffed out by the Sri Lankan forces. For the poor lady it was the when the son surrendered never to be seen again.
    But for me the 18th May is not the past but in the future with the Bright Dawn of Tamil Liberation when BJP is declared the winners with the Iron Lady in the driving seat.
    The Dawn of an Autonomous Eelam. Have you not heard the Indian Naval vessels are now patrolling Sri Lankan waters permanently .

    ***Indian naval vessels to prevent ISI infiltration from Sri Lanka
    May 9 (PTI) Three Naval patrol vessels arrived at the Navy jetty here today in the backdrop of information that Pakistan’s ISI could infiltrate India from Sri Lanka through the sea. Officials who confirmed the arrival of the three vessels, however, refused to give any further information. The ships could be meant for strengthening presence of navy in the region and prevent infiltration of ISI agents by sea from Sri lanka. Only two days ago, a senior official of Tamil Nadu Coastal

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