Framed Memories of Black July

by Groundviews, July 2015

Mary Gunawathy Varatharajah

Mary Gunawathy Varatharajah (alias Poonga), did not want to become a teacher or a doctor or an engineer as the Tamil community in Sri Lanka aspires to be, instead she has broken the traditional barriers, and chosen to be a fighter. She joined the armed struggle after “Black July” to fight for the freedom of Tamils in Sri Lanka. She has discontinued her education, and joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 1984. She was trained to use various arms and ammunitions, has fought equally and fearlessly on battle fields and won many battles, got injured many times, but didn’t stop fighting at all. She has risen from a combatant to a Commander in a short span of time, because of her commitment to the cause. Poonga was a Commander of distinguished and fearless Malathy Regime. She has also trained many women combatants.  She has continued to fight after getting married to a fellow combatant with the blessings of the Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Velupillai Pirabakaran, and after giving birth to children. Courageous Poonga has decided to fight till the last moment, even after losing her fellow male and female combatants during the last phase of the war.

Poonga is the only surviving senior member of “Suthanthirap Paravaikal” (Birds of Freedom), and the only surviving senior most woman combatant.

I became a fighter to fight against discrimination and to have equal rights for the Tamils in this country. I have been part of the armed struggle from the beginning, but we could not accomplish what we wanted. I regret to recall how the war has ended with unexpected loss, stigma and trauma for the Tamils. Women combatants have equally fought in shoulder to shoulder with our male combatants on the battle fronts and have sacrificed in numerous ways. When I was compelled to remove my uniform and cyanide capsule permanently from my body, I couldn’t stop crying. Thereafter, I have surrendered along with my junior combatants to the government security forces. It was a moment of loss. We were defeated militarily, and triumphalism is celebrated, but my memories of a cruel war remain in my heart and mind. Nobody will be able to remove these fresh memories as long as I am alive!

I don’t see any hope in the future. We have fought a nearly 30 year long war, Tamils are left with nothing, but with scars of a brutal war, stigma and trauma while continue to be treated as a second class citizen in the same land now.  We bear numerous untold stories within” sorely shares Poonga.

Her husband was a senior combatant who has surrendered along with many others, which was facilitated by the Catholic Priest Reverend. Francis Joseph on 18th of May 2009. But she has not yet heard anything about his whereabouts after the surrender. She single handedly takes care of her children, while living in a corner of a tiny shelter.

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