• Tuesday, October 21, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    The Terrorist, The Terrorised

    terroristterrorisedBATTICALOA: As a young woman, Ranjani (not her real name), a 32-year-old Tamil from Sri Lanka’s eastern Batticaloa district, only had bright hopes for her future.

    Then her dreams were dashed in an instant. In 1990 a group of secessionist Tamil fighters came knocking on her door, looking for new recruits to beef up their forces.

    The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tigers, as the combatants were known, were then fighting a bloody protracted war against the government for a separate state for the minority Tamils. At the time they came to Ranjani’s house, they were forcibly recruiting one member from each family in areas they controlled.

    If Ranjani would not go with them, they would take someone else, most likely her brother, 10 years her junior, she tells TerraViva.

    Born to a poor family, the eldest daughter was forced to make a choice between pursuing her dream of a university education, and protecting her family by joining the LTTE.

    “I had to take that decision – there was no choice, I had to go,” she says in a barely audible voice.

    On joining the Tigers, her shoulder-length hair was crudely cropped short. For the next eight years, she says she never allowed her hair to grow less than a quarter of an inch, never used a comb, or looked in a mirror to see if she looked attractive.

    “It was a different world, a different time.”

    If she had any illusions of saving her family from danger by joining the Tigers, they ended when her father was killed and her brother injured in the leg when their house was hit by shellfire. Her brother now walks with a limp, and is incapacitated for work due to lingering pain in his leg, says Ranjani.

    The death of her father and her brother’s injury forced her to flee the LTTE. She returned to her family. Her former masters pursued her relentlessly, she says, but they never found her.

    By mid-2007, the Tigers were forced out of the eastern part of Sri Lanka by government forces. Two years later, in May 2009, the LTTE was completely wiped out by government troops.

    Today Ranjani is trying to put whatever is left of her life back together.

    “We have lost everything. I lost my youth, my father and my future,” she says, tears welling up in her eyes. Her narrative is interspersed with long silences, as she stares aimlessly into space, her hand twitching. Her voice cracks every time she speaks.

    Peace has descended on Sri Lanka’s war-torn northern region, but life for her family is a constant struggle for survival, with barely enough to tide them over to the next meal.

    “We make string hoppers (a Sri Lankan variety of rice cakes) to sell to neighbours. We also sell meat and eggs from the chickens at home,” she says. On a good day, the family makes 200 to 300 Sri Lankan rupees (1.50 to 2.75 dollars). None whatsoever on bad days.

    She says she cannot leave the house to look for a job, because she needs to look after her brother and ailing mother.

    Ranjani consoles herself with the thought that her younger sister has been able to secure a job at a regional university. “I feel she is grateful for the sacrifice I made,” she says with a faint smile.

    She is now looking to save what she can in hope of setting up a small boutique at home. “I don’t even want to think about marriage.” Villagers shun her. “My past precedes me,” she says, adding that many like her “face similar treatment.”

    Still, the future does not look entirely bleak.

    On Jun. 13, during a mass wedding for former LTTE cadres in the northern town of Vavuniya, the government announced that over 8,000 former Tigers had been housed at rehabilitation centres, and more than 3,000 sent back home. A few had joined private sector firms.

    “It is different now – we can live together. I will never hold a gun again. I will never do that again,” she says. Her voice trails off into a whisper, and the tears rise again.

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