Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Tiger's Claw

Speaks out for the first time

by Tehelka, November 9, 2005?

‘Prabhakaran is a voracious reader. He is a fan of my writing. Once he sent me a book about prostitution and red light areas. He sends us messages to see good films as well’

Tamizh Kavi: Prabhakaran’s speech writer

Tamizh Kavi is a writer and broadcaster for the Voice of Tigers radio station. Born to a poor peasant family, she rose through the LTTE ranks to become one of the well-known voices of the Tamil struggle for self-determination. She is also Prabhakaran’s favourite orator. Her fiery speeches on the right to freedom and dignity have attracted generations of Tamil youth to the LTTE. “I write to keep the flame of the Tamil aspiration for a homeland in Sri Lanka alive,” she told VK Shashikumar in her first interview sanctioned by the LTTE. Excerpts:

What events shaped you as a writer?

In the communal riots of 1958, Tamils were massacred. It was a mass murder in Vavuniya. I was eight years old then. In that surcharged atmosphere, I sat on my father’s shoulders at a political meeting and shouted slogans — Sirachalai Poonjolai, Tamil Vazhgha (The prison is a garden, Long live Tamils)! I, along with thousands of others, felt that we had been suppressed for far too long, treated as slaves, second-class citizens. We felt the urge for freedom. The Sri Lankan government imposed curfew and it led to a police crackdown. We were beaten up. Riots had broken out all over Sri Lanka and refugees were streaming into Vavuniya. They were given refuge in the Sivaprakasam School, which was still under construction. From here the refugees moved on towards Jaffna. I saw these refugees when I accompanied my father as he transported vegetables and foodstuffs to the refugee camp.

Many families, including ours, gave shelter to at least one refugee family. So, a family which had run away from the murderous rioters came to stay with us. Among our guests was a 12-year-old girl called Poovayi. She was bleeding profusely. I was eight years old then and my mother shooed my friends and me away. One of the refugees brought a Philips radio. That was the only radio in the entire village. A group of 40-50 villagers would assemble to listen to the news. It was through that radio that we came to know that the girl had been raped.

Did this incident change your life?

I had not attained puberty at that time. My village was on the other side of the Joseph Army Camp. I had to cross the runway in the Joseph Camp to reach my school. My grandmother told me Poovayi’s story and asked me to discontinue my studies. She felt that safeguarding my honour from the predatory soldiers was more important than my education. This event had a strong bearing on my first novel Ini Vaanam Velithidum. It ruined my education and left an inerasable scar in my mind. This is the main inspiration for my writing. I completed my graduation in law after my marriage.

Your childhood experiences have had a strong influence on you as a writer.

I express my true feelings in my writing. My first novel is Ini Vaanam Velithidum, which won an award. I wrote it in 2002 and finished it in two months. Once the manuscript was ready I showed it to our political wing leader SP Tamilchelvan. He likes my writing. Our leader Prabhakaran is also a fan of my writing. He called me and complimented my writing and gave me a prize. My second book, Irul Iri Vilagum, was released in Eelam. This book has also reached Tamil Nadu through some friends. But so far it has not been circulated outside because it is about our struggle.

What is your new book about?

After the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) entered Jaffna in the mid-1990s and the LTTE withdrew, many cadres stayed behind to work among the civilians in order to ease their struggle of living under occupation. Their real identities were not known either to the SLA or to the Jaffna residents. Our women also went to Jaffna. The women, like the men, had undergone rigorous training. They got to Jaffna with innumerable difficulties. Some attained martyrdom and I have written about them. I have also written about some of the techniques adopted by the cadres during combat operations.

What does Prabhakaran read?

He told me that his mother was fond of reading and picked up the habit from her. He reads Kalki, Kumudham and Anantha Vikatan. In the 1950s, there used to be a children’s series in Kalki called 'Thonga Surangam' (Gold Mine) in which there was a character called Prabhakaran. He says that his mother named him after that character. He is a voracious reader. Once he sent me a book about prostitution and red light areas. He sends us messages to see good films as well.

Some would argue that what you write is LTTE propaganda…

Politics is an integral part of my books. As a writer who is a member of the LTTE, I write about what we think, what our leader thinks, and what he wants to tell the people. I address issues — ‘do we become inactive because of the ceasefire? Have we become dormant?’ During the war we were alert every moment. Many of our cadres would wake up facing a soldier. I lost two of my sons in the war.

For security reasons we cannot take our leader to the people. He can’t make public appearances to prove that he is alive. To compensate for this, we organise plays, write articles and stories in newspapers and magazines. During the war we didn’t have radio or newspapers like we have now (after the ceasefire). We also sent our folk artists to remote rural areas to keep the flame of freedom burning.

Suddenly, the world seems to be openly admitting that the LTTE does control areas in the north and east. Even former US President Clinton during his recent tsunami fund raising visit, asked the Sri Lankan government to work in tandem with the LTTE...

We are certain that Tamil Eelam, a homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka, will definitely become a reality. I hope this comes about through peaceful negotiations. After the tsunami, the world has realised that the Sri Lankan government is ignoring the massive humanitarian crisis that the Tamils are facing in the north and east. So the government has to decide whether it wants the ceasefire to translate into a negotiated settlement or whether it wants war to settle the Tamil national question.

Women comprise more than 70 percent of the administrative staff in Tamil Eelam.

Yes, women in Eelam are confident and strong. During the war, Tamil men could not venture out to army controlled areas because the army would arrest them on some pretext. Many civilians were killed in custody. This forced women to travel for work and business. Women had to be stronger for the survival of their families. Moreover, the men went to war, some died, some went missing, some lost their limbs or were taken prisoners. So women have inevitably become heads of many households. The stories of the women martyrs are also a source of inspiration for the women in Tamil Eelam and have made them feel like equal contributors to our struggle. Even within the LTTE, women are treated as equals and are involved in every aspect, from planning an operation to combat activities.

What role can India play now?

We want India to play a big role and our leader has been talking about it for some time now. To live peacefully, we must have friendly neighbours. The Indian Army trained us during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s time. MG Ramachandran, too, extended full support to us. After that there was a change in Indian politics and the government turned against us.

Personally, I feel that neither we nor the Sri Lankan government can solve this problem without India’s help.

If you meet Sonia Gandhi what would you like to tell her?

Sonia is an Italian by birth. But she is a woman, a wife and the mother of two children. Like Chandrika, Sirimavo, Benazir and Khaleda, she has also been affected by politics. She is fighting for the country of her husband and children, which is commendable. Though she won the elections she gave away the prime ministership. She has never interfered in our struggle and not politicised her husband’s killing. I appreciate her will to continue her husband’s mission to make India a developed country. In spite of all the opposition, she works to keep the Congress party intact. If I meet her I will tell her that I want to be her friend and that she could be a role model for women all over the world