Drew Warne-Smith, in the Weekend Australian, 23 May 2009 under title ” Cause remains for Tamil Tiger in our midst” … see Web Editor’s Addendum at end
THE guns have been silenced and peace has returned to her homeland, but the celebrations have been muted this week for Sri Lankan expatriate Niromi de Soyza. The Sydney mother of two was once a member of the Tamil Tigers, the feared guerilla insurgency that has finally been crushed after a bloody 37-year campaign to create an independent Tamil state. Trained in combat and armed with a rifle and cyanide capsules, de Soyza took the fight to Sri Lanka’s military for a year in the jungles of Vanni and the Jaffna Peninsula.
It was, she maintains, a “quest for equality”; the defence of the Tamil minority against an oppressive Sinhalese government that had discriminated against them for too long. But while she still believes in the cause, de Soyza now disavows the violence and suicide bombings that resulted in 70,000 deaths since the civil war began.“I am relieved the fighting is over. Violence resolves nothing, I know that now. But nothing has changed for the Tamils,” de Soyza, 39, told The Weekend Australian yesterday. “We don’t have independence. Look at the way the Tamils are treated in the (refugee) camps. The cause is not over.”
Having migrated to Australia in 1990, she says she was horrified to see the violence reach these shores last Sunday when Tamil and Sinhalese supporters clashed in Sydney’s west, a conflict that culminated with two Sinhalese students being stabbed and burnt with acid. “It’s so sad. It’s so futile. It solves nothing – and it’s not the Australian way,” said de Soyza, who recounts her year with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in today’s Inquirer.
Now living in an affluent Sydney suburb with her husband and their two daughters, such attacks have also made her fear for her own safety. The former guerilla has assumed the nom de plume Niromi de Soyza for the purposes of publication. The choice is no accident: she is honouring Sri Lankan journalist and newsreader Richard de Soyza who was murdered in 1990, allegedly by a government death squad.
With the UN confirming the LTTE has forcibly recruited child-soldiers in recent times, de Soyza is insistent such tactics weren’t used when she signed up.
Born into an educated, middle-class family in the Sinhalese city of Kandy, she is of mixed Sinhalese-Tamil heritage and from the age of nine she lived in the northern Tamil town of Jaffna. By 1987, with the civil war raging, she says she was swept up in the ideals of the struggle.
“I was 17, idealistic, and I thought if I was going to be killed anyway (in the civil war) I may as well fight,” she explained. She told her mother in a note she was running away to join the Tigers. LTTE leaders were so sceptical about recruiting a petite, pretty and intelligent girl that they tried to convince her not to join.
She was accommodated in an uncomfortable fisherman’s hut, away from the regular barracks, to dissuade her. De Soyza’s mother was even allowed to visit to beg her to return. Neither tactic worked. After being sent to the Tigers’ female political wing, The Freedom Birds, she was selected in the first intake of female cadres to receive military training.
In combat operations she would witness many of her friends being killed; their blood even soaked her fatigues. With such sacrifices bringing sovereignty no closer, de Soyza decided to walk away after one year. She says she was let go without acrimony. “I think I’d dehumanised the enemy. Unfortunately it was only when I saw my own friends being killed that I realised how wrong I’d been.” Having been trained to shoot only in the “general direction” of the enemy, not at individuals, she does not know whether her bullets ever claimed a life.
She came on a student visa in 1990, aged 20, to Sydney, where several relatives already lived. Her parents and sister have since joined her. De Soyza says she never associated with the local Tamil community, and her husband is not Sri Lankan. She has only returned to her homeland once, in 1996, using her married name.
“The Tamil cause is associated with the Tigers, and it shouldn’t be. Unfortunately those who support the Tigers have the loudest voice. So I have kept my distance,” she said.
But her dream for an independent Tamil state remains. She wants her two daughters “to be strong and stay true to their beliefs, but also to know violence and destruction doesn’t work.”
**** ADDENDUM: this item is relevant for the debate on Tamil Tigress after it has appeared in print in India and following V. Suryanarayans review in http://www.eurasiareview.com/12052012-the-god-that-failed-memoirs-of-a-tamil-tigress-book-review/ where the blog comments seem to be a re-hash of the viewpoints presented earlier in GV and thuppahi and transcurrents, albeit with new personnel for the most part.
Those who are impressed by the book because of its prose style and because of their Tamilness should compare the presentation in that book (which appeared in 2011) with ther story as retailed in this short interview. Note that the book begins dramatically with a skirmish in December 1987 where Muralie and Ajanthi died. The book’s flier a on back cover states: “two days before Chritsmas in 1987, Niromi de Soyza found herself in an ambush as aprt of a small platoon of militant Tamil Tigers fighting government soldiers in the bloody civil war ….” The highlighted words and WHAT is NOT SAID in Chapter One are the principal bone of contention.
* One can also raise questions how such a potent fighting force as the LTTE trained the new recruits “to shoot only in the ‘general direction’ of the enemy, not at individuals.”
* This does not mean that the book is not a means of reflection upon the Tamil freedom struggle and the LTTE’s role in this cause. On the contrary …. But the issue is whether the political position and the platform for reflexivity created within the book is not tarnsished and compromised by the act of duplicity at the start and several little fibs in the course of the story.
* Finally, the politics behind the publicity surrounding Tamil Tigress is of absorbing interest. The book launches in Sydney and Melbourne were supported by Gordon Weiss as keynote speaker; while that in Melbourne was sponsored by Deakin University and chaired by Rohan Bastin. The publicity — organised presumably by Allen and Unwin — through the ABC’s Margaret Throsby interview and other leading newspapers would, of course, be par for the course with many books. But there is ground to suspect that there is a bevy of liberal Left-leaning journalists and academics who support underdog liberation causes. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but one can ask journalists to be less than naive and gullible in their questions.
* When the same journalists crop up to present the same cause –the LTTE one in this instance — THEN one can wonder if they are simply mouthpieces who do not ask awkward questions. I say this because DREW WARNE-SMITH was also the medium for a jaundiced and one-sided report on conditions in the detention centres at Menik Farm by a Tamil who took the pseudonym of “Muthu Kumaran.”
* I am prepared to bet that “Muthu Kumaran” was in fact Arunachalam Jegapheeswaran alias Jegan Waran. Jegan Waran was a hardline LTTE functionary whose brother Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar was at one time a key figure in the Tiger establishment in London and was even successfully charged on one occasion. Jegan Waran also instituted a private court challenge against Mahinda Rajapaksa when he visited Australia for the CHOGM meeting in 2012. Again, one suspects that this was one prong in an orchestrated campaign mounted by the combination of the Tamil Tiger lobby in Australia, Gordon Weiss, John Dowd and the Australian Commission of Jurists, the Green Party and some newspaper editors (for e.g. The Age) – – though more conservative (and in this case perceptive) reporters such as Greg Sheridan took a more critical line on this issue.
Chrishanthakumar receives award from the talaivar* The degree to which Aussie journalists are either simple-minded or complicit can be seen through a reading of Paul Maley’s interview with Jegan Waran. Waran was (is) an engineer who had spent 2-3 years in Sri Lanka with the LTTE and remained (unscathed by shelling) with the Tiger leadership till the very end in May 2009. Indeed, he was the person to whom Pirapaharan entrusted the care of his aged parents. YET Maley did not have the intelligence to ask him what he had been doing with the LTTE during Eelam War IV — in short to explore the degree to which Waran was part of the LTTE”s Engineering Corps. Not that he would got honest answers but ….