“A Fleeting Moment in My Country: The Last Years of the LTTE De-Facto State”
by N. Malathy, Clarity Press, Georgia USA, September 2012.
ISBN 0-9845255-4-8, 978-0-0845255-4-6, ebook 978-0-9845255
Dr. N. Malathy is a Tamil expatriate who now lives in New Zealand who returned to the north of the country to volunteer with her people rebuilding following the 2002 ceasefire between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. She ended up working in the Vanni with the orphanage Sencholai, the North East Secretariat for Human Rights, the Child Protection Authority and the LTTE Peace Secretariat, living there for short periods in 2002 and 2004 and then from 2004 to March 2009. She left on an ICRC ship straight into an internment camp.
Her story is vital reading for anyone interested in Sri Lanka, internal conflicts, peace processes, the interaction between the UN and non-state actors, or children in war.
This is the first memoir of that momentous period that started with the heady hopes following the ceasefire, continued through the efforts to build a new society in the Vanni and areas of the East, and ended so tragically with the killing of untold tens of thousands in 2009 and the incarcerations of hundreds of thousands in internment camps.
Readers of news in English will be familiar with the narrative of 2002-2009 from the perspective of Colombo. Almost nothing has been written in English from the other side of the Omanthai checkpoint that separated government-controlled territory from that controlled by the LTTE. Those who lived there, Tamils who visited and those who read news written by Tamils are very familiar with the narrative that Malathy tells, but nobody in the rest of the world will be.
This is a part of history that the victor will try its best to supress and, for this reason, everyone must store their memories before those memories disappear. As Malathy says in giving her motivation for writing the book, “…recording history is an important aspect of the survival of a people.”(p.27)
Malathy has written a short book that compresses an enormous amount of material into a few pages. She covers not only her own experience, but observations on what went on around her in the new and evolving society, and soon an evolving war. Each chapter and even each paragraph begs for more elaboration and could be unpacked for an entire book themselves. Since this is the first memoir and one does not know what will follow, this approach has merit because Malaty covers so much ground.
Malathy writes in a very direct, clear manner and does not pull her punches. She criticizes where necessary and praises when due. She does not have a political or ideological bone to pick, although she does have the well-being of her people at heart. Even though she had close contact with high LTTE officials in some of her work, she has no qualms about noticing their faults, along with recounting their strengths. It is heart-rending when she notes what happened to each such high official. All either died in the last months of war or disappeared after walking out of the war zone. Many, many lesser well-known people met the same fate. She has spent much of the last two years trying to track the whereabouts of her friends, as have most of the rest of the Tamils.
Malathy wrote many of the analytic and human rights reports put out by NESoHR during the ceasefire and her broad knowledge of the social situation in the North East shines through in her book.
The introduction by Radha D’Souza, professor of Public International Law at London’s University of Westminster and Malathy’s final chapter on ‘No nation is an island’ are both important analytic efforts at putting what took place in 2009, when the entire world sat back while the Sri Lankan military killed up to 150,000 civilians in order to completely eliminate the LTTE, within its international context. As mentioned above, the analysis leaves one crying for more.
For a flavor of the densely-packed narrative and of the keen observation of social practices, here is some of Malathy’s description of the scene as she moved from Iranaipaalai to Mullivaikal in early March, 2009:
By now the last rites of members [of the LTTE] were as low key as possible. I never went to any such last rite event after leaving Kilinochchi. Having lost all the land that had thuyilum-illams, new temporary ones were created to bury the fallen. For the civilian funerals, which were by now as common as LTTE funerals, the last rites were almost non-existent, like the only one that I attended near my tent in Mullivaikaal.
…I cannot remember the exact date, but I think it was a week to ten days before I left Vanni on 20 March. I was sitting at the entrance of the tent when I saw a bright flast of light just three meters ahead of me. Instinctively I fell to the ground and the noise then reached us. When the noise paused long enough, all of us dashed to the bunker facility nearby where many people had crowded. I was too nervous to get out, but some did.
A 60-year-old man, Muthulingam, in the adjacent tent was killed as a shell hit his head while he was eating his lunch. A teenage girl in another tent near ours received abdominal injuries. We knew these two souls well because we met them regularly at the well. We also saw them frequently around the tents, as they were very close to ours. We heard that three more civilians, including a baby, were killed in the tents thirty meters away.
Within a few minutes of the attack, a vehicle belonging to the TRO arrived and picked up the bodies of the dead and injured. The dead bodies were cleaned and brought back within an hour. Inside a neighbor’s tent, which was still standing after the attack, old Muthulingam’s body was laid on a bench. About ten people stood around while the dead man’s wife cried. Someone sang some religious hymns, and an hour later the TRO vehicle came again to take the body. Some men in the neighborhood also drove away in the vehicle to help dig the hole to bury the body.
Table of Contents
Foreword: A Fleeting Moment in times of cognitive dissonance
The girl in makkal thodarpakam
Janani and Senchoolai
Educating the peacemakers
Debates on society
Women’s liberation, Vanni-style
Vanni social space
Consolidation during the ceasefire
The slow walk to Mullivaikaal
The internment camps
No nation is an island
Appendix: A brief history
Available for sale at
A Tamil version will be out in Chennai by the end of the year.