By Ananth Palakidnar
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) theoretician Anton Balasingam’s Australian-born wife Adele Ann first authored a book on their women cadres in 1993. The women’s wing of the LTTE was launched in the early eighties with Adele Balasingam, a nurse serving in Britain for several years, playing a key role in organizing the women who came from different backgrounds, into a disciplined force.
The training received by the women put them on par with their male counterparts on the battlefield as well as in the political sphere of the outfit.
Apart from fearlessly engaging in battles fought on land and sea, a significant number of women cadres even excelled in the print and electronic media during their days in the LTTE.
Several female cadres of the women’s wing known as Suthanthira Paravaikal (Independent Birds) have penned their war-time experiences in fiction as well as autobiographies.
The leader of the LTTE’s Women political wing Thamilini who died of a terminal illness one year ago, had written down her memories as a cadre in the LTTE.
The other women who have written their stories are Mithaya Kanavi who is presently domiciled in Germany, Chandrakala alias Vettrichelvi and Rathika Pathmanathan.
It is indeed heartening to see that these three women authored their books despite physical disabilities.
Mithaya Kanavi who authored Karunai Nathi (River of Compassion) is now married and settled in Germany, lost her right limb in a clash when she was in the LTTE.
Rathika Pathmanathan who authored the book There is a Darkness called Light and I Grope for Myself in the Thick of It was injured in her right leg when she was with the LTTE from 2008 to 2009.
Chandrakala alias Vettrichelvi, who was born in 1974 in Adampan, Mannar, now in her early forties, has written two books on her experiences. Her latest two books titled The Last Days of the Eelam War and Pain of the Scars.
Chandrakala at the age of nine, following the escalation of the war in the North and East, went with her family from Mannar to Rameswaram in South India crossing the Palk Straits in 1985.
Life in camps
It was the period where Northerners became ‘boat people’ crossing the Palk Straits in their thousands, braving the high seas to reach Rameswaram, on the southern coast of Tamil Nadu.
Chandrakala narrating her experience in Tamil Nadu said that it was horrible. “We were put in the camps in Mandapam, Erode and in Tanjore. I attended several schools in South India. The Lankan Tamil students performed well in their studies at the schools they were attending. So, in some schools, the fellow students and the teachers were even jealous of the Lankan students,” Chandrakala said.
In 1987 after living in India for two years, Chandrakala returned to Mannar and it was in 1991 she joined the LTTE. The LTTE was reluctant to recruit her since her brother was already holding a key position in the outfit as a Lt. Colonel.
However, Chandrakala managed to join the outfit and she was accommodated in its band troupe where she was a drummer. “We only played songs composed by the LTTE to encourage the fighting cadres,” she said.
Though she didn’t engage in battle, following a shell attack, Chandrakala lost her right arm and her sight in the right eye.
It was after the injury she suffered that Chandrakala entered the media unit of the LTTE, serving in its radio service called ‘Tigers Voice’ and its television which was known as Nitharsanam.
She also trained the women cadres in music, drama and in various cultural activities to keep their morale high.
It was when she actively engaged in the cultural activities of the outfit that she had the opportunity of meeting LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran who had shown great interest in the cultural activities, according to Chandrakala.
Speaking about her two books, The Last Days of Eelam War and Pain of the Scars, Chandrakala was speechless for a moment and said that it was a terrifying time between life and death for thousands.
So, one must read the book to really understand what people went through during the final phase of the war.
Her book Pain of the Scars is based on her time after she were taken into custody at Pampai Madu Rehabilitation Camp where nearly a thousand female cadres were detained under the custody of Sri Lanka Army’s Women’s Corp.
“At the very early stages both sides were suspicious of each other. We were put into small areas and we found it difficult to stretch even our legs. All were crammed into small rooms which were separated into different blocks. Later on we took the initiative to get friendly with the women soldiers by singing Sinhala songs such as ‘Surangani.’ We also started with our prayers near a Neem tree. So the women soldiers gradually became friendly with us. It was after ten months we were released from the camp and we happily rejoined our families,” Chandrakala said.
Working for peace
Now working at former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) which assists Shanthiham headed by renowned Psychiatrist Dr. Daya Somasundaram, Chandrakala trains the trainers in counselling.
“Three decades of war have devastated a large number of families. War widows, orphans and differently-able people need counselling to lead a trouble-free-life. There are 45,000 differently-able beneficiaries in the North with a significant number of them being women,” she said.
Expecting more assistance from the Government, Chandrakala said there were a large number of Tamil expatriates even helping those affected by war in various ways.
On the other hand, she said that she was sad to hear of Tamil expatriates who defrauded people under the guise of collecting money for war victims in the North and East.
Being part of the LTTE for nearly 18 years until the separatist war ended in 2009, Chandrakala alias Vettrichelvi says that we should focus more on people directly affected by the war in every way.
In conclusion she said that humanitarian issues need to be solved as well as reaching a durable solution to the Tamil question, “There should be justice for everyone, considering the sacrifices of thousands of lives to fulfil the political aspirations of Tamils.”