‘Tamil Tigress’

Niromi says “I was happy to kill myself by swallowing a cyanide capsule, yet I wasn't going to be a suicide bomber. It was probably because I knew I would blow myself up and all these other people would die, too."

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(July 10, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Yesterday, we went to the suburb of Campbelltown to honor our Uncle Namasivayam Nadesan. Uncle Nadesan passed away at the age of 93. A tall and broadly build person, with a kind heart is how I remember Uncle Nadesan. We went to honor Uncle, with our friends – Marie and Pathi Pathinathar to whom Uncle Nadesan became Pattah (Grandpa) through their shared life in Nigeria – where both – Uncle Nadesan and Pathi worked as engineers. Marie and Pathi were more regular than us – blood relatives in showing appreciation to their Pattah. I therefore felt honored to go with Marie and Pathi to bid farewell to Uncle Nadesan. At the funeral I thanked uncle Nadesan for helping us feel that we would be valuable in old age and that with the right kind of balance one could live to motivate people even when one is 93.

Personally for myself, I felt deep within me - a feeling of gratitude and appreciation, through my memory of Uncle Nadesan who sent me $50 when I started my work to help Tsunami victims. Gratitude because Uncle maintained the position developed by our Great Grandfather A.M. Pillai who sent money from Burma to help the needy in Ceylon. My introduction to that kind of Dharma was through Great Grandfather A M Pillai. Uncle Nadesan became Great Grandfather through his contribution out of his pension. When I rang to thank Uncle, I learnt that every time Uncle drew pension, he sent $50 to someone needing the money in Sri Lanka. I thought about others who spent more and more on their children living here in Australia, whilst shouting slogans of Freedom. Hence appreciation of uncle as an individual.

On the way back, Marie mentioned Tamil Tigress and as usual updated me with the details of the author who is from a family known well to both of us. I value this very much from Marie because I want to know details of personal difficulties of all those we know in common through our Alma Mater – Holy Family Convent Jaffna.

Last week a fellow member of our Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum Sydney said to me that he had bought the book and was reading it. Hence when Marie started updating me – I already had some base knowledge on this. Later yesterday, I received an email from a fellow Tamil about the write up on Niromi de Zoyza, by Nikki Barrowclough, in the Good Weekend section of the Sydney Morning Herald. My friend who sent me the email describes Niromi as ‘A girl of mixed parentage’.

With this consciousness I read the interpretation by Nikki Barrowclough.

Even as I read, I identified with many parts of Niromi’s experience – especially her feelings for her comrades within the Tiger camp. I feel for many Tamil Tigers I worked with through a UNDP project during Ceasefire time. Many of them ‘believed’ in their cause – that they were fighting for freedom from oppression. I still feel for them and my first thoughts are/were for them – each time I hear about annihilation of the LTTE.

In her interview with Nikki Barrowclough, says about Niromi in this regard “It's because the pain is still there," she says, the tears starting again. "The memories are still there of the people I knew. I feel a responsibility to remember them and everything about them, especially my friends who died. I feel a responsibility to hold their memories."

LTTE may be dead but the belief in freedom, that drove Tamils to join armed groups would continue to live. That belief needs to be valued especially by those who have come to power through armed struggle. The other day, a JVP (Sinhalese Group that took up arms against the Sri Lankan Government in 1971) supporter said that their struggle had no connection to caste but that it was due to severe unemployment. To my mind – to the extent caste system is connected one’s work and the status associated with such work it is also employment related. Similarly – where there is a higher percentage of unemployment in a particular race despite, their investments in promised avenues of employment – such as higher education towards work in Public Service – racial conflict is also related to unemployment. We just see the same problem through different angles.

Nikki Barrowclough says about Niromi ‘At the age of nine, she was sent to live in her grandmother's house in the northern Tamil city of Jaffna after her parents became concerned about anti-Tamil riots and violence in the Kandy area. (Her mother and sister followed later.)

I take it that Niromi’s father stayed on in Kandy due to work commitments – which usually is the case with Educated Tamils of Sri Lanka. That to me was also a reason why Niromi joined the Tigers. Niromi says about her mother going to the LTTE camp to plead with her daughter to return home "Now, as a mother myself, looking back, I think, 'I would just not have left. I would have gone to the camp and not left until my daughter came home with me.'"

There is a message to mothers – to not let their children become rebels. If Niromi believed that she was a rebel – I accept that she is a rebel and was not a terrorist.

Many parents – especially parents who through their educational status in society had higher opportunities to keep their children under their direct influence – would have gone through the pain and anxiety that Niromi’s parents would have gone through. To me, Niromi would have been a more caring mother than her own mother if her feelings as a child had been more caring towards her mother than her mother’s towards her as a child. To the extent we are bound by Love/Truth – we naturally reciprocate each other’s feelings at that level. The rest is through structured systems and habits which from memories in our minds.

There are institutional structures, positions and Common Due Processes to strong families. Jaffna Tamils including Niromi’s parents would have invested in such structures and relied on these structurs and positions to return their trust and investment in good faith. Due to the severity of the 1983 riots Niromi’s parents would have been at a loss – not knowing what to do. Like Niromi’s family – our mother and us children also moved to Jaffna from Colombo – after the 1958 riots. Our father stayed back in Colombo and lived a bachelor’s life until he joined us a few years later. In Jaffna, unlike Niromi, we did not have our only living grandparent living in urban area. Hence we had to start from zero base – the way migrants do in Australia. Parents under those circumstances face the challenge of restructuring their minds in terms of their social status. We studied well and produced high grades and earned back the ‘lost status’. I believe that if Niromi also had done that, she would have had some inner strength towards balancing the temptation to quick benefits of ‘freedom’.

Nikki Barrowclough says in this regard ‘It was about then that de Soyza began to envy the freedom of young men, "who had returned from military-style training from India and Lebanon now openly setting up camps in various neighbourhoods by taking over larger houses either by coercion or force, driving motorbikes and pick-up trucks, while flaunting their weapons. Among these were the Tigers, considered the most successful group in the battlefront, proudly displaying the black thread around their necks that carried a cyanide capsule, or kuppie, which gave them such prestige ..."

Often the ‘show’ of freedom is based on feelings combined with what happens and/or towards an immediate or quick objectively measurable outcome. Where the strength of what happened is stronger than the feelings they are highly emotional and would not last. We call this ‘Unarchi’ in Tamil. This is the popular way with youth and oldies who depend on youth often get carried away with such emotions – only to feel empty when the experience is diluted and in due course ‘forgotten’. Those who reacted to the Channel 4 exposures are largely of this emotional group.

On the other hand, those of us whose feelings are deeper than ‘what happened’ proceed to have the experience and through such experience the real power of freedom. One who is in that experience does not observe any outcome and that is the state of blissful Freedom. To my mind, this was why Albert Einstein travelled with light – as if he was light. He therefore did not ‘see’ the light.

Gandhi fasted often. To me that was also to discipline his senses so he did not get carried away with the seen and the heard especially those that are pleasurable and show quick results. Niromi ‘saw’ the boys and thought ‘freedom’ – especially compared to herself – a Jaffna girl who usually enjoyed higher status if she were not seen or heard in public. Jaffna Tamils living in Australia have told me that they would not allow their girls parallel to my daughters - to travel by public transport on their own. The higher a female’s status in Jaffna society – the less one ‘saw’ her as an individual. They therefore did not feel the freedom to travel by public transport. To the extent such ‘protectionism’ was not supported by belief in that vertical system that consciously grooms leaders – those girls would have felt suppressed and hence the ‘sight’ and ‘sound’ of ‘freedom’ would have been attractive to them. Unless they balanced it by something negative from the same source – they would not contribute positively to Freedom – theirs and others’.

Nikki Barrowclough says in this regard ‘Part of de Soyza's idealism was undoubtedly due to the romantic appeal of some of these young men, such as Muralie, the head of the Tigers' student wing, who packed out the auditorium at her private girls' school when he came to speak to them (the school authorities were powerless to stop such meetings).’

It is the parallel of the excitement we felt when visiting all boys schools for debates. That was all we were allowed at that time. How can one be expected to feel respect for authorities who thought they were powerless to stop such meetings?

Niromi says “I was happy to kill myself by swallowing a cyanide capsule, yet I wasn't going to be a suicide bomber. It was probably because I knew I would blow myself up and all these other people would die, too."

To my mind, this is the difference between Niromi from an educated family and Akila or Kalaimahal - whose mentor I was asked to be – from less educated families. Akila’s world when with the LTTE would have been wider than her world when she was with her family. But with Niromi, it would have been the other way around. To my mind, tt was our investments in higher education that prevented Tamils from resorting to armed struggle against the Government, before the Sinhalese.

It was also this investment by Niromi’s family that helped her bring herself out of that alien environment. Niromi’s mother was not emotional like Niromi is even now when she says that she would not have left the camp without her child. But Niromi’s mother would have been educated enough to respect herself through her other positions – including as mother of Niromi’s sister. But her true feelings were strong enough to help Niromi bring herself out of the prison she had taken herself to.

As the CEO of Nallur Temple in Northern Sri Lanka said - ‘We all have to take up our positions when the bells ring’. We all contribute in various ways to freedom. The best path is to free ourselves first – from our own desires for quick outcomes. To me that is what ‘Different Strokes’ is about. This was also why Gandhi suggested to a Hindu parent seeking redemption from killing a Muslim – adopt a Muslim child – but to ensure that he was brought up as a Muslim. To me that was to preserve Muslim culture that was damaged by a Hindu.

That to me is the best advice for those seeking to compensate the ‘other’ side.

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