Reflections of last four years and beyond – Part One

No matter where you are from, we are keen to publish your good work. We respect that you would have your own independent ideas and thoughts and Sri Lanka Guardian is committed to respecting that Independence on a level playing field. We as Sri Lankans have to find our own freedom within our diversity while protecting our unity and integrity. Our freedom cannot be gifted to us by another. We fought against the enemy and we won because of our team work.

by Nilantha Ilangamuwa 

“ I never had the chance to have had good food or anything essential in my life. They took me to Meenagam ( Batticaloa – Eastern part of Sri Lanka) camp one night. Then they were gave military training and cyanide capsule which I am wearing now around my neck. Few weeks later they allowed my parents to visit me at Meenagam but I am not allowed to go back to my home.”- Murugan ( not real name ), a child soldier of the TMVP, the Karuna faction who helped the Government during the final Battle with the LTTE which ended in May 2009.

(September 02, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Murugan was a small child when I met him at the Kalladi beach, a beautiful beach in Batticaloa, in early 2007. I was personally shocked when I saw this boy who was wearing a cyanide capsule and was carrying an AK47 riffle which he seemed to have difficulty carrying properly because of its heavy weight. I tried to remove his cyanide capsule by force right away from his neck but the senior people of the TMVP who were assigned by Thileepan the task of giving me personal protection, stopped me from doing so and said they were committed to keeping their military orders which no one was allowed to break. Of course as a journalist I had been there many times to cover the stories but the experience I felt at the moment of meeting Murugan became the paradigm of my entire profession. I felt sadder than ever before in my life and I hated even more the slogan of ‘liberation’ which seemed a farce in Sri Lanka. I spent many hours alone at the beach to normalize my mind. I couldn’t. Later that night – towards midnight I heard that there was an attack by the LTTE suicide Sea Tigers during which many Government soldiers and TMVP members were killed. I do not know whether Murugan was among them. I never met him again. I came back to Colombo the following day with a sense of hopelessness and depression of the mind. I kept asking in my mind ‘ What is this bloody liberation? What do these people gain? How and when will they find real norms or freedom?’

Generally speaking, man is attracted by illusions and myths. It is undeniable that as Voltaire says “Illusion is the first of the pleasures.” In Sri Lanka also we were not exception to this rule of Nature. We imagine through myth and enjoy it when we can’t find reliable answers to our questions at grass-root level. Once we embrace that myth into our ego and delude ourselves that we have found the answers – it would be very hard to find ground reality or experience truth. I feel that this is where we got trapped in the name of liberation. That is why hundreds of our Tamil brothers and sisters became suicide bombers. 

As a child I saw how the Sinhalese youth were burnt by Military during the 88-89 riots. There were many headless half burnt bodies at every junction in my village. Most of the time we were woken up with the smell of dead bodies. We ran to the places where bodies were burning, to see them. There was a famous man called Saranapala who lived three villages away from mine. He was a labourer, and a friendly guy according to my parents. One morning my mother informed me that his headless body was hanging off the electricity tower. Back then I attributed no social or political reasons as to why this was happening and why people were getting killed day after day. I just knew something was going on but until I came to Colombo, the Capital hundreds of Kilometers away from my place, I did not know why they were killed. I just hated what was going on in my country.

Then in 2003, I started writing whenever I had the opportunity to follow through a social incident to its roots. Divaina, a daily newspaper, was friendly place so long as I wrote stories on foreign affairs. But once I started writing in relation to the political situation in my Country, most staff at the paper showed sensitivity and demonstrated that they were unhappy with me. I was confused but I never stopped writing because Mr. Gamini Sumanasekara, editor of weekly Divaina, was keen to read my articles and was willing to publish them without removing even a single part, even though he faced lots of difficulties due to my political ideology. Once when Mr. Sumanasekara was overseas, he personally phoned me to ask me not to forget to write the articles. I wrote; but the Acting Editor binned my write-ups and accused me of being pro-federalist with possible links with foreign agencies. I didn’t say anything but I felt very sad for myself and for my country. However, I thought of Jose Narosky’s saying “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers,” . The experience urged me to learn through the real face of Sri Lankan journalism. At that time I was close to the Editorial members of the Island and I learned much from them. The situation at Divaina went from bad to worse and some of them seemed like vultures to me. 

I resigned from Divaina, and joined Mawmiba where I really enjoyed writing on foreign affairs. I edited one broad sheet page of our weekly paper and apart from that I had the opportunity to edit some local stories as well. I learnt that there was no pure journalism in Sri Lanka and I often found the journalists playing hidden roles outside their journalistic responsibilities. It would take long days of discussion, if we go into the reality of Sri Lankan journalism and how it become worse and worse. We lost dignity and therefore lost the real right to represent this great profession. Nowadays we are not able to learn from the so called senior journalists. 

One day when I was working with the Mawbima, one of our senior editors asked me to meet a lady who was leading the NGOs working on Maldives. That lady asked me to publish her own stories and offered to pay extra money. I refused. This resulted in our editor getting angry with me, followed by me switching to English medium newspaper of the same company, with the help of the managing editor. My English language proficiency was extremely poor when I started English medium journalism. Though many of my fellow journalists laughed when I mispronounced some words, Hanna Ibrahim was kind enough to wash my brain and keep alive my stories. I would say, Hanna is one of the good journalists I have met in my life not only because of she helped me- a junior - but also of the difficult challenges she faced in her role as an editor. To me it seemed a miracle.

Very often I visited, war torn areas. During that time I covered most of the Eastern province and I met many people like Murugan, mentioned above. Not only Muguruan but many hundreds of people I met seemed to have lost permanently, their opportunity to be happy.

When I was working in the Editorial team, I received a call from a source in Batticaloa, saying that Thileepan was killed by their own people as a result of internal conflict between Pillayan and Karuna. Thileepan had gone to France a few months after Karuna broke away from the LTTE in 2004 March. He went there and learned French but later he was called back to Batticaloa to be the head of the political division of Karuna faction. Thileepan was a kind soul, always caring about his friends. Whenever he met someone his first question was, ‘Have you had anything to eat?’ If they said ‘no’ then he brought enough food for them. He lived in Kokkadicholai. Three months after his death I visited his house where I met his parents and wife who had given birth to a child just few weeks before my visit. Actually it was not a house but small hut where kitchen, living room, bed room were all-in-one. For sure that hut was strong enough for sunlight but it would have become wet with the slightest rain. I went in to the house with one of TMVP guys who helped me by translating as well. “ Pillayan’s people killed him after he was captured alive. He was inside the prison for long time and later they urged him to bite the cyanide capsule. Now my parents, this child and I are struggling to live. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and I won’t think about tomorrow,” Thileepan’s wife said. I listened with tears in my eyes, and it went on for more than one hour. The shelter was constructed on sand, with only a small portion of the ground lifted above ground level and smoothened with cow-dung. The toilet was located about a hundred meters away from the hut. They used a cradle for the baby. At last, I asked ‘How can I help you?’ The reply came – showing loss of hope and fear of future, “ Ayya ( elder brother ) if you can, please send us some old clothes from Colombo to protect my child.” 

So this is the real face of the so called liberation that our people claim they fought for. This is reality for the families of our Tamil Brothers who sacrificed their lives for freedom. They seem to have spent entire life for nothing. When I was a child I saw how Sinhalese people were burnt on the road by Sinhalese. I could not understand why they were killed. Few years later I was seeing again the same demon with a different face. All these reflections lead me to conclude that human life has been devalued in Sri Lanka. During the war animals seemed to be more valuable than humans. 

Meanwhile our newspapers were shut down by the government which I thought was due to some articles exposing the regime, being unacceptable to the government. The day the paper was shut down, I was reminded of the day it was launched. The funny part was that the day we launched the paper the editor gave the first copy to the President and it was broadcast live and in the Electronic media. A year later he himself closed the establishment and froze our bank accounts as well. It was at this point that I decided to start the electronic news website instead of joining another paper. I contacted a few writers in Sri Lanka, a Sri Lankan who lives abroad, and two well known Indian writers whom I had known for sometime. This was how Sri Lanka Guardian was born and there was nothing to hide about the birth of Sri Lanka Guardian. All of the above writers were known to me as professional colleagues. There was no other agenda – hidden or otherwise. I still remember with gratitude that both Mr.B. Raman and Col. R. Hariharan agreed to contribute when I sent my very first email humbly requesting them to contribute to the site. But some spread rumors showing they thought I had some secret pact with these professional writers.

A big part of Sri Lankan society seems to be strongly influenced by hearsay and gossip rather than actual facts. One day one of the editors who ran an online newspaper which I also contributed to, wrote a story saying that I was an agent of Indian intelligence. Much to their shame, some racist scholars also quoted his fabricated news many times. I kept Sri Lanka Guardian alive, even when faced with difficult and depressing conditions, which I seemed to have to face alone. Apparently no one in my family likes my profession, and they keep urging me to leave the job and find something in the government. 

Sri Lanka Guardian started in 2007 August just four years ago. On August 13 we started Sri Lanka Guardian under the name Lanka Guardian, and later we changed this name to Sri Lanka Guardian due to questions from one of our friends.

Why did we start the Guardian? Who were behind it? What are our achievements in last four years?

I am really grateful to all contributors and our dearest readers. Millions of them were visit us daily and many send us feedback as well. There were only seven writers in the beginning but now there are more than thirty regular writers who contribute from various countries on daily or weekly basis. Many said they thought that Sri Lanka Guardian, was the puppet of some other country. This rumor was not only in the media sector but also within the security circles as well. A few months after I started, I was questioned by the CID regarding my work and the Intelligence Services keep monitoring me closely even now. Even the head of Intelligence has commented and said that I have some other agenda for running the Sri Lanka Guardian. “He should expose who are the people behind this drama,” he is reported to have said. I confirm that Sri Lanka Guardian was started and remains just for journalism and nothing else. Sri Lanka Guardian is always open to every worthy idea and it could be pro- LTTE or pro-Govt. When both sides are published it helps compare and complete the picture. 

No matter where you are from, we are keen to publish your good work. We respect that you would have your own independent ideas and thoughts and Sri Lanka Guardian is committed to respecting that Independence on a level playing field. We as Sri Lankans have to find our own freedom within our diversity while protecting our unity and integrity. Our freedom cannot be gifted to us by another. We fought against the enemy and we won because of our team work. In the process we also learnt as to who used victory to gain his political and personal benefits. Team work became one man show and that man’s law has become the country’s law. This is jungle law. Everything around this man has been changed to respond to his own tune. The power of the Judiciary, the power of Public Institutions have all been brought under his control. 

The current situation in the country reminds us of the words of wisdom by John Adams, the second President of the USA “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people". During the past four years we the Sri Lanka Guardian have actively worked to gain and share that knowledge among people towards liberating ourselves. 
 To be continued……
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