Shamanthi is a mother of three young children in her thirties and she is a former LTTE cadre. She joined the LTTE in 1990 and left in 2004, after her marriage to an LTTE leader. On May 20, 2010, a local newspaper published a photograph of twelve LTTE cadres that was first made public by Channel 4 Television, UK. The men appear in the photograph crouching close together with their arms bound tightly behind their backs, without clothes, in a shallow bunker. Army soldiers standing closely together surround them in a circle. Shamanthi has identified her husband as one of the LTTE leaders in this photograph taken with a soldier’s mobile phone camera. Shamanthi has been living alone in a village in Jaffna with her children since July 16, 2010. She needs assistance with livelihood and she still hopes her husband is alive. The last known contact with any of the men in the photograph occurred on May 17, 2009; since then there has not been any trace of them. Shamanthi’s vibrant and bright personality, community awareness, discerning parenting skills, and intelligence needs to find a place in a constructive social group.
I joined the LTTE in 1990, when I was fifteen years old, of my own volition. I was motivated by Thiyahi Thileepan’s speeches. He was a medical student; he left that position and joined to serve the people. He delivered speeches at our school. Although parents made arrangements for our family to immigrate to Canada, I didn’t want to go into exile. Just before our family traveled abroad, I chose to join the LTTE. I was young and I had a lot of enthusiasm. At a time when many people were displaced from Jaffna to the Vanni in 1995, I went to the Vanni. That was when the Army captured Jaffna.
In 1990, I spoke for the first time with the man who eventually became my husband, ten years before we were married. My husband’s mother was well known to all the LTTE boys. I knew him through his two sisters who were in the movement. His sisters were killed in combat, and I fell in love with him because he had lost his sisters. After five years in the LTTE we could get permission to be married if we were the proper age. He proposed to me in December 1999 by sending one of his friends to speak to me. He didn’t come and talk to me directly at first.
I was responsible for the administrative work for the men and women’s camps in Puthukudiruppu. If someone needed a pen or other supplies, they had to come to meet me in the office. I asked him to come to that office, and when he came, I explained, “I’m okay with what you told your friend. I am in love with you.” He didn’t say very much; he laughed.
We were married on May 18, 2000. According to our rules we had to inform our superiors. The LTTE’s “Wedding Group” was responsible for arranging our wedding. We could only invite our friends in the movement, because there was no travel access between Jaffna and the Vanni.
The ceremony was held in a hall and it only took only one hour. We couldn’t have a Hindu or Christian wedding. We exchanged our bracelets (watches) and he tied the gold wedding tali around my neck with the Tiger design (Tiger’s fangs). The Wedding Group leader took the role of the priest and pronounced an oath mentioning the usual main points about taking care of each other and living together until death.
I was blessed with the birth of a daughter in 2002. I left the movement when I was pregnant. My husband continued with his work in the intelligence unit.
Usually LTTE families lived more happily than others because we had more organizational support.Everything functioned under a structure. There were schedules and holidays. My husband had to work Monday through Saturday and he came home on Friday night. I expected him on Fridays. Schedules depended upon the units’ duties. If the house was close to the unit, you could return home every night. If you were far away, you could spend the whole of Saturday and Sunday with your family. On Sundayswe were very happy and we often went to Mullaitivu beach because it was a favorite place from my childhood. We would visit the Infant Jesus Church in Mullaitivu. Sometimes we spent the whole day in our house, enjoying being together. Up to 2005 we had this sort of normal family life. After the A9 closed, and fighting started, our routine changed and he spent more time in the unit. Then they were always prepared to fight; they had to be on constant alert.
In 2007 I was pregnant, when my husband left to fight. Our daughter was upset and didn’t want him to be away. She was proud of her father’s bravery. In 2007 KFir fighter attacks started; on some days there would be as many as nine bombing runs.
On April 18, 2007, my daughter’s fifth birthday, I was eight months pregnant. My husband was spending less and less time with us. One of our friends arrived at the house and we all went to the temple that day. A KFir attacked us on the way, and even though my daughter was only five years old, she knew how to get off her bicycle and run immediately to a bunker. She learned how to protect herself in her early childhood.
One day in May 2007, I heard a KFir fighter jet approaching, and I realized it was definitely going to attack our house or the house next to us. We didn’t have a bunker at our house. When a KFir bombs the pieces hit as far as five hundred meters from the attack site. My daughter and I were in grave danger. I carried my child and ran to the bunker nearest my house. The bombs dropped by the KFir targeted the house next to ours. When we came out of the bunker, our house was flattened.
KFir attacks often hit civilians. The LTTE intercepted radio conversations between KFirs and headquarters. I overheard radio communications when the KFir received orders from headquarters to target civilians moving in vehicles. LTTE knew when the KFir fighters left the airport, and rang a big bell to protect cadres from imminent attacks. Civilians who lived near LTTE camps were also protected by these KFir alarms. Our two dogs would howl when the KFirs were coming and went to the bunker entrance. Not only our dogs but other dogs also behaved like that.
On September 22, 2007, the dogs started to howl, and we immediately went into the bunker, and the dogs came into the bunker as well. Two KFirs attacked us six times. Every twenty minutes they came.
My husband was injured that day because he was riding a motorcycle and he couldn’t hear the Kfir coming. My neighbours told me my husband sustained a head injury and he was bleeding profusely. It wasn’t a school day so I sent my daughter to the neighbours’ house and clutching our infant son, I ran the whole way to Ponnambalam hospital in Puthukidirupppu.
Ponnambalam hospital was the name of the main hospital in Kilinochchi, but it also had branches in Puthukudiruppu and Moolankavil. Most of the doctors and nurses were LTTE. It was very clean and better organized than the government hospital. Everyone on staff was paid. Dr. Sivapalan was one of the doctors. People preferred this hospital to the government hospitals.
They respectfully called my husband “Annan.” All his comrades were already in the hospital when I reached there. They told me that it was a small injury and not to worry, and that he had been taken to the operating theatre for minor surgery. He was discharged with some bandages on his head and came home. That night he told me, “I’m just going to see what’s happening” – and went to his unit.
Throughout 2008 KFir fighter attacks continued. The schools did not have any facilities to protect the children during KFir attacks. The schools told parents to come and take their children to their homes where they could be protected in bunkers when there was an imminent attack.
People took care of each other in the Vanni. As a married couple we received enough pay and we had property, there was equality, and there was no caste difference. All were treated equally.
In 2008 they started to capture the places from Mannar to Kilinochchi. It was difficult for me to go to the medical clinic, because KFir fighters were continuing to attack the movements of any known people. I was pregnant again. We stayed in our home until they captured Tharmapuram. Displaced people were starting to move into Puthukudiruppu, Mullaitivu District, and there were places where as many as seventy makeshift shelters were set up together.
There were so many people on the road with small children. They cooked on the road. When I think about that road I remember a woman with a small child. The child was crying loudly, and they had nothing to feed the child. The child’s mother was also crying loudly. I asked them why they were crying – they said we have no water to make milk to feed the child. I brought them to my house and gave some water and milk powder. At the time we also faced a problem as an LTTE family. When people were displaced the army spread intelligence agents among the displaced people. They threw grenades into
LTTE cadres’ houses so I was scared. My husband often said things in a joking manner, and that was how he said this to me, “Very soon you will be displaced like them, so don’t worry about them finding the house.”
On Jan 17, 2009 we were displaced, and fled to Visvamadu which was announced to be a No Fire Zone by the government security forces. Until Jan 24, 2009 we stayed there. The KFir fighters and multi-barrel rocket launchers attacked, and we saw many who were killed by cluster bombs. The army dropped leaflets from the air that instructed the people that Visvamadu was a protected No Fire Zone. My husband didn’t have enough time to look after us at the end. He didn’t come for fifteen days. I heard the army reached our main road and they were relentlessly shelling, bombing, and attacking with KFirs. I kept my children under the thick cement hearth in the kitchen, the safest part of the house. The army was moving toward us from the jungle, behind our house, not from the roadside. One neighbour came and told me this. Another neighbor came and asked where my husband was, and I said I didn’t know.
Already my husband had instructed me, “When the army comes, don’t wait for me, or for any of us. We can’t bring you to safety. You should be a civilian and you go with civilians.” The same day around 8:00 pm, my husband with two of his comrades came, and he said, “Get everyone ready to go in ten minutes.”
I was seven months pregnant with my third child. I had a basket of things for the delivery. I just took that basket and some clothes for the children. He told me, “Don’t expect me, you stay with this cousin.” He left. We also left Visvamadu on two motorbikes with the children.
Then with my two children, we moved from place to place: Udaiyarkaddu, Suthanthirapuram, Iruththumadu, Thevipuram, Iranaipalai, Valaiyarmadam .…The Army announced some of these places were No Fire Zones, but we would decide where to go according to where we thought we would be safest.
A shell fell on a man about forty-years-old and he was killed. There was no way to bury him, so they brought his body along in an ox cart covered in a cloth as they fled. I saw people carrying injured people.
We couldn’t construct proper bunkers. Although we forgot to bring rice and cooking pots, we didn’t forget our manveddi (hoe) for digging bunkers. We made sandbags with saris, piling them up around us. We stayed in Udaiyarkaddu until Jan 31, 2009, then Suthanthirapuram, and on to Iruttumadu for 13 days until Feb 13, 2009. When we were there, many people were killed and injured by bullets from the Army.
We moved on to Thevipuram, a place that was announced to be No Fire Zone, for seven days until Feb 20, 2009. Then we moved to Iranaipalai, and were 14 days in that place until Feb 30, 2009. On Feb 21, while we were in Iranaipalai in a bunker, shelling came from the Army-controlled area and fell near our bunkers, resulting in many injured people. From there we went to Valaiyarmadam.
We had two motorbikes and my husband’s friend had a tractor. He drove us on the tractor. In Valaiyarmadam, I bought a lemon puff biscuit pack for 800 Rs. We had rice, dahl, and fish every day in Valaiyarmadam. In finding food we were lucky, because we knew a lot of people and they gave me privileges because I was pregnant.
We were in Valaiyarmadam for a month until March 31st. On March 8th, a businessman had a van and he was selling foodstuffs to a long line of waiting people and I was in the line. Right after I left them, a shell exploded and seven people in the line were killed and more were injured. They were dismembered. My daughter’s teacher’s sister was decapitated and her head was stuck in a palmyrah tree. I am still mentally disturbed from that.
Traditionally Tamil women who are pregnant don’t look at corpses or go near cemeteries. But in Valaiyarmadam, we were in a cemetery. There was a body buried next to us. In Matalan I saw sixteen corpses collected in a tractor. A backhoe dug a pit and they dumped the bodies into the hole. In Valaiyarmadam, there was a terrible smell from all the bodies that had been buried and there were so many flies. I vomited. That was the first time I scolded my leader. All the children got sick and had diarrhea there.The LTTE announced one from each family must come to fight. They conscripted by force also. Before we were spread out across the Vanni; now we were in a very small area. ICRC was taking people by ship to the hospitals further down the coast. And from February people were escaping to the Army controlled area without the knowledge of the LTTE. Even LTTE families went like that. We were there until the end because we believed our leader had a plan. The LTTE prevented the people from going into the Army controlled area. In Matalan one LTTE cadre stopped some people and they cut his arm. When people were fleeing into the Army controlled area, the LTTE didn’t shoot at them they shot over their heads. When the Army heard the LTTE shots, the Army shot towards them with the result that people were caught in crossfire.
April 7th was my due date for my delivery. Doctors told me that I may need a cesarean birth. To confirm my baby’s condition, I was told to go to Mullivaikal from Valaiyarmadam, but I couldn’t get to Mullivaikal because of the shelling. My husband came and I told him about this, and he took me to Dr. Shanmugaraja in Mullivaikal hospital.
The leader had informed LTTE cadres to send their families safely out of the area. My husband told me to go to India. I refused to accept his opinion because I wanted to stay with him. Mullivaikal hospital was the last hospital. It was not in a hospital building, it was in a school building. At first they only treated LTTE cadres there, but then when many refugees were injured in the NFZ they treated civilians also. Just before we reached the hospital it was shelled. When I went through the hospital gate, I saw one girl who had just been killed. Patients in the hospital were also killed. So many people with injuries were shouting and crying.
We met Dr. Shanmugaraja, and from the scan he explained the baby’s condition was normal. He recommended that I leave in an ICRC ship. I saw a boy about seven-years-old with his sister who was about a year-and-a-half-old when I went to the bathroom. They were both crying and the boy told me that their father was killed in the Suthanthapuram attack and their mother just died here in this shelling.
When my husband saw these two children, he remarked to me, “If you refuse to go by ship, your children will also be crying like this.” This was on April 11th. Then he arranged the ship pass. He stayed with us on April 12 th in Valaiyarmadam. That night we slept together; my husband, our son, and I slept outside the bunker, and our daughter and my husband’s brother slept inside. Around 1:00 am the Army started attacking with multibarrel rocket launchers. When I woke up in the morning I saw a piece of shell had fallen in between my husband and our son, but it didn’t harm us.
The ship docked two hundred and fifty meters from where we were, however, it took an hour to reach the ship because it was so crowded with vehicles and people. My husband’s brother carried our bag on a motorcycle, and my husband carried us. We weren’t able to make progress, so my husband suggested, “We can’t go through this way, the ship will leave; shall we go another way – the Matalan way? It’s farther, but we can reach the ship before it leaves.” Then he warned, “If the Army sees any people moving they will definitely attack. I will go very fast, so you hold tight to me.” Our seven year-old-daughter was in front of him and I held our one and a half-year-old son in between us. I saw the Army on the way and they fired at us, but we reached the ship.
A small boat ferried people to the ship. Elderly people, mentally affected people, injured people, and critically ill people had already been boarded onto the ship. The injured and the amputees were taken aboard on stretchers or carried in sheets for lack of stretchers.
He said, “I shouldn’t come close to the ship because I will be noted and you will face trouble.” Then he brought us to the boat. He was standing and looking at us, so I sent our daughter to him. I told her, “Father is looking at us, go and say goodbye.” She went and talked to her father. My husband said to her, “You are the one who has to look after Amma, your brother, and the new baby that is coming.” He was standing and looking at us as the small boat carried us to the ship. He didn’t cry. I didn’t cry either.
But when we were out of sight I cried. Studying the last photograph of her husband that was on the table, Shamanthi spoke softly, “Because the army caught them, they definitely tortured them.”
My husband wanted our children to have a good education, because he lost his own education during the fighting. He also wanted our children to have a sense of Tamil nationalism. I named our children with pure Tamil names. In Vavuniya hospital when my third baby was born, I also named him that way.
Each of the Tamil parties has a different direction now; they should cooperate with each other. I don’t know if there is any leadership to coordinate the people now. As Tamil people we have lost many lives, properties, and livelihoods. If we want to rebuild there must be strong leadership for Tamils.
Most of the women whose husbands disappeared are facing many problems in raising their children and they are facing dire economic difficulty. All the people who were displaced in the Vanni have been forced into poverty. With such problems they can’t raise their children with a positive attitude. I am very careful with my children.
I don’t know if my husband was killed or if he is alive. This is why for two years I have refused to go to Canada where my father is living. Until I know more about my husband, I don’t want to go there. On Maveera Nal (Heroes Day), my daughter wished to light the lamp of her own accord. I didn’t stop her because she is used to this culture as a Tamil. She can follow our traditions. I should raise my children with good education, then they can decide for themselves. We will support the Tamil people.
At first people were very friendly with us when we came back to the village, but once the killings started, people began to avoid us. The killing and abductions create fear. Murders and abductions are happening in the neighborhood where I am living, and most of those killed came from the Vanni, or supported the movement, so my neighbors won’t talk with me now. Sometimes I feel lonely.
The Social Architects (TSA) are comprised of a diverse group of writers, intellectuals and working professionals. While most of TSA’s members hail from the country’s North and East, the group also includes other scholars and activists who have been working on issues related to Sri Lanka. TSA seeks to educate, to inform and to provide timely, thoughtful analysis on a range of topics.
They write under the pseudonym "The Social Architects" because of the risk of retaliation against those that speak out against the government. In addition each author has selected a pseudonym for themselves and the victims and family members who appear in the story. Over the eight days between March 12th and March 19th we will be releasing one TSA story a day. You can read them all here.
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook and Twitter )