Feature Article

‘Elusive international justice snatches away desire to live’

[TamilNet, Sunday, 19 September 2010, 20:42 GMT]
“We expected some country to step in to resolve the crisis... We believed that a dawn would come, a solution would come through [international] mediation after all the hardships we went through. But, nothing happened. Everything went out of hand for us to end up in the army-controlled area as living corpses. All countries have betrayed us,” told 40-year-old Ananthi Sasitharan, the wife of Elilan, the former Trincomalee Political Head of the LTTE, to BBC Tamil Saturday after complaining to the LLRC that SL President should know the whereabouts of her husband and fellow LTTE officials surrendered through a Catholic Priest in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May 2009. When asked whether she was concerned about repercussions for stating her views publicly from Vanni, the mother of three responded: “I am not afraid. I am prepared to face anything since we don't now live with the zest for life.”

The wife of former LTTE Political Head of Trincomalee Elilan, from Vanni told BBC Tamil Service Saturday, after appearing in front of Rajapaksa’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that held open hearing in Vanni, that her husband Mr. Elilan and other senior LTTE officials Yogaratnam Yogi and Lawrance Thilakar, both of whom took part in negotiations earlier, and LTTE Political Wing Deputy Chief Thangkan, former Jaffna Political Head I’lamparithi, Head of Administrative Unit Poova’n’nan, Piriyan and Theepan were among those surrendered to the Sri Lankan forces under the coordination of a Catholic Priest at Vadduvaakal in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May 2009 in front of her eyes.

But, till now, there is no news about any of them.

Although the proceedings by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) were being held in front of the public in former LTTE strongholds Ki’linochchi and Mullaiththeevu, the Sri Lankan government had refused access to BBC reporters to be present for reporting the proceedings without providing any reason, the BBC Tamil said in its broadcast Saturday.

A striking feature in the whole interview is her language, always speaking in terms of collective self, as “we”. This Eezham Tamil psyche that is seriously concerned more about the sufferings of the nation than individual miseries was also noticed by psychiatrist Daya Somasundaram who has described the phenomenon in the following words in a research paper titled “Collective trauma in the Vanni” published in International Journal of Mental Health Systems in July 2010:

“There are hardly any spontaneous complains of individual symptoms or suffering. Even where a person talks of his or her personal agony, it is framed in general terms, reflecting what happened to the family or community […] The family and community are part of the self, their identity and consciousness. The demarcation or boundary between the individual self and the outside becomes blurred. The well being of the individual member is experienced as the well being of the family and community.”

TamilNet’s english translation of BBC Tamil’s interview with Elilan’s wife, Ananthi Sasitharan, follows:

Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan: My husband surrendered to the army along with other LTTE officials and combatants in front of my eyes in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May 2009 and I have urged the [LLRC] Commission to locate him for me.

BBC: At what place?
Ananthi: A place in Mullaiththeevu area beyond Vadduvaakal Bridge. It was there they all surrendered led by Fr. Francis, the principal of an English school. We, the wives of the surrendered, are searching for them but there is no information about them.

BBC: Where is this priest?
Ananthi: He too is missing. I asked another priest when I saw him in Vavuniyaa but he said that Fr. Francis is missing and they are searching for him.

BBC: Who were the other important persons who surrendered along with Elilan?
Ananthi: Political Wing Deputy Chief Thangkan, Head of Administrative Unit Poova’n’nan, Piriyan, I’lamparithi, Sports Wing Chief Raja and his 3 children, Lawrence Thilakar, Yogi, Theepan, Kuddi and Holster Babu. I can name only these persons. Though I knew many others I do not know their names.

BBC: Did they take away only those who surrendered or did they take you along with them?
Ananthi: I went behind them with my children. The army officers identified my husband and called him “Mavilaa’ru Elilan”. The army officers who stopped me on the way said that I being a government employee should go along with the people and that my husband will be released later.

BBC: Did they bring you to Vavuniyaa camp?
Ananthi: Yes, after half an hour after the surrender we were taken to Oamanthai in a truck by another route. There were no contacts (with my husband) after that.

BBC: After the surrender have you seen or talked to your husband at least once?
Ananthi: No, not at all. There was no contact by letter or any other way. No one had even said to me that they had seen him.

BBC: Some former Liberation Tiger combatants have been released. Did any one of them say they had seen Mr. Elilan?
Ananthi: I did ask them but they said they had not seen him. Some disabled were released and I also approached them. Even now I continue to ask everyone being released but they say that they do not know anything.

BBC: [Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister] D.E.W Gunasekara has said that the families of the persons surrendered had been informed of the persons held in detention. Were you informed?
Ananthi: No. I met DEW Gunasekara in Ki’linochchi with my three children and gave him an appeal explaining my situation. He did not give an answer then. A month later I received the copies of my appeal and a letter forwarding my appeal to another ministry. So far I have not heard anything from these ministries.

BBC: Now you have witnessed before the commission. Do you believe any thing positive would result?
Ananthi: President himself is unable to say anything about it [the whereabouts of Mr. Elilan]. What can this Commission do? This is only a ... [edited]. It looks as though I have said these things to them only for the consolation of my mind.

BBC: You were in the Tiger control area during the last phase of the war. It is alleged that Tigers caused inconveniences to the people like child conscription and there are allegations of Tigers shooting people who tried to get out of the area. Did the commission ask anything about this when you witnessed before it today?
Ananthi: No, they did not. [During the height of the war] we were all living in open-air bunker. We were not able to monitor the activities. Earlier, all the people supported the Tigers. Now, when they have come into army-controlled area, they speak in favour of the army.

BBC: What really happened at the last moment?
Ananthi: We expected some country would step in to resolve the crisis... We believed that a dawn would come, a solution would come through [international] mediation after all hardships we went through. But, nothing happened. Everything went out of hand for us to end up in the army-controlled area. We came as living corpses into army-controlled area. All the countries have betrayed us. [inaudible].

BBC: Didn’t persons like Elilan try to escape to another country?
Ananthi: No. They did not attempt [to escape] and they did not want their families to go. It was their loyalty... they said that let us face whatever that happens with our people. Even we didn’t think about leaving him [husband]. How could we?

BBC: You earlier said that your husband had been identified by the army as Maavilaa’ru Ezhilan when they took him away. Even some among the Tamils blame that Maavilaa’ru episode was the reason for the war and allege that Elilan did not handle the issue properly... Was there any pressure due to that, either before in the LTTE-controlled situation or now under the army control?
Ananthi: I know about our society. I have lived with it for 40 years. The decision to lock the Maavilaa’ru [sluice gates] was not been taken singly by Elilan, had it? It was the decision of the Central Committee. It is a lie even if some say that the issue was not handled just because it [the gate] was locked. It was a matter that had to be decided by the people in charge... If Elilan does something good he gets praise and even if a small mistake occurs he gets blamed. This is typical of our people, isn’t it?

BBC: You as the mother of three girls, what is your present situation and theirs? How do their lives and yours go?
Ananthi: I am a government employee and so I look after their education and other needs. Though I am able to do this I cannot do anything about their mental stress... they had seen death in the war ... they had walked crossing over the bodies of the dead ... they are greatly affected mentally... I cannot fulfill their desire to see their father ... however I manage to cater to their other needs like education etc.

BBC: Have you any idea or guess as to where Elilan is or what had happened to him?
Ananthi: There is no possibility of anything [dangerous] happening to him. One thing should be made clear... Had he gone missing in the battlefield then I would think that he had been killed by army shells or Kfir attack. Where could he be when he had surrendered himself to the army on the 18th in front of my very eyes? This is not something that the President does not know... I believe that Elilan is detained in a secret location. The army unlikely would have had the intention of killing him as the war was over.

BBC: Can you remember the place where the surrender took place? Can you witness about it before a commission in the future?
Ananthi: We were first held fenced in by barbed wire in an open place when we had passed Vadduvaakal bridge in Mullaiththeevu. Then we walked to another open space where there was a small building and it was in that building they surrendered... I am not sure whether I will be able to identify the place now…

BBC: Do the family members of other persons surrendered know their whereabouts?
Ananthi: No, they don’t. I keep meeting them in public places ... We keep going to the offices of ICRC and Human Rights Commission. But so far we haven’t had any information of those who surrendered [with my husband].

BBC: You are speaking so very bravely to the media. Do you have any fear of its consequences?
Ananthi: Not at all. I do not care for any repercussions. I am not afraid. I am prepared to face anything since we don't now live with the zest for life. This is what I told the [LLRC] commission too!


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