Tamil Guardian caught up with the author of ‘A Fleeting Moment in My Country’, Dr N Malathy, to speak about experiences described in her book.
Dr N Malathy, a Tamil diaspora activist, currently working as an analyst and programmer at the University of Cantebury, has lived in New Zealand for over 4 decades.
She spent 4 years working for various human rights and social welfare institutions, within the Tamil de-facto state in Vanni from 2005 to 2009. ‘A Fleeting Moment In My Country’ describes, Malathy’s experience and reflections of the LTTE administered de-facto state after returning to the region to engage in social welfare work.
See below for a summarised transcript of our interview with Malathy.
TG: What was your experience of the institutions that existed in Vanni during the de-facto state?
DR N MALATHY:
“Well there was every institution you could think a state should have plus more. Some astounding welfare centres a police force that had nearly half representation of women, a court force did that have half representation of women... It had a wide range of programmes from welfare centres to giving small scale employment to women who needed them.”
“You stop being amazed by it and you accepted it, like here I’m in my country and here are all the institutions. That was quite a gradual enlightenment for me. Had it survived I think it would have been an amazing place.”
TG: What are your thoughts on allegations of child soldier use by the LTTE and the way in which they were addressed?
DR N MALATHY:
“The effect it [the international campaign on child soldiers] had on Tamil activists was oppressive because you didn’t know how to deal with it because there wasn’t enough countering evidence that came out from Vanni... I think due to lack of resources or otherwise it didn’t happen.”
“On the first day on one of my trips... I observed a big scene where a 16 year old girl was saying 'I want to stay with the LTTE' and the mother was trying to take her away and there was a lot of shouting. And eventually the girl stood her ground and the mother couldn't physically drag her away. It kinda confused me, you know, what you hear in the Western media and what I was observing.”
“I had very intensive involvement in the child soldier issue. Then I met UNICEF representatives every week. Then you realise, that UNICEF wasn’t really working for the children. I can state several examples of the deceit carried out by UNICEF.”
“I want to state one. This is a 7-year-old girl from Batticaloa, who made destitute because of the tsunami. The LTTE took these destitute children when they were in Batticaloa and they kept them in a children's homes there."
"UNICEF had put all these children as LTTE recruitment. The youngest was a 7-year-old. When I started working on the UNICEF list, I traced this girl and traced a lot of the other ones in the children's homes. We told UNICEF "Here they are, go and see them" and they refused to remove them from the list, saying they would remove them only when they are reunited with their families. But the fact is the families didn't exist and UNICEF couldn't track down their families."
"A couple of weeks after this conversation, it was international news, - 'The youngest person in the LTTE is 7 years old.'"
“That was quite an amazing thing. That just shows what they want to do, that example is enough. Why would they say that unless their aim was to demonise the LTTE?”
“Everyone who is concerned LTTE child soldiers should know is the Optional Protocol on Children in armed conflict... the first time they raised the age to 18 for non-state armed actors.”
“By then the LTTE had existed for 20 years. Here is an organisation that grew up when the minimum recruitment age was 15... They were just bombarded by a demonising campaign rather than giving the LTTE time to grow up to the new requirement... Actually they (the LTTE) very serious and by the end of 2007 the minimum age was 18.”
TG: How did the diaspora work to contribute to society in the Vanni?
DR N MALATHY:
“The diaspora put in resources to create a lot of tertiary institutions mainly IT teaching, so that was quote well developed. The Vanni Tech was quite extensive, it was almost like a university, we had some diaspora teachers.”
“An education and skills development centre for war affected children that had missed schooling for several years was set up.”
“Basically you had a state which didn’t generate enough revenue to provide the services it did. All of them couldn’t be LTTE members who were working for free”
TG: Were the institutions able to function with independence and credibility within the society?
DR N MALATHY:
”Most of the institutions had a person in there that was a member of the LTTE. To me, their presence created a non-corrupt environment.”
“The lack of abuse and the lack of corruption (was possible) because there were LTTE members put in these institutions. Otherwise they functioned independently."
TG: What were your views on the eventual proscription of diaspora funding directed to Vanni?
DR N MALATHY:
“A lot of Tamil people gave money to TRO (Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation).”
“When I was there in 2007 there was a Human Rights Watch report about the extortion of money (by the LTTE). Just like the child soldier issue, the level of campaigning, it is a form of oppression on Tamils. Here you are giving up your hard earned money to help destitute people - children, women, education. And then you are told that you are funding terrorism. Not only are you told you are funding it, but that the LTTE extorts money.”
“The way the Human rights watch report was written was so negative. The wording that was used painted a picture of a gruesome group that's going and grabbing people’s necks and saying "Give us money, or else". How far from the truth can you state a case like that? This is just one of several examples of the international campaign to paint a picture of the LTTE as such a gruesome thing that they were planning to destroy so the world would not be outraged. It was all in preparation for the destruction of the LTTE.”
TG: Are there any experiences from working in the de-facto state that have stuck with you?
DR N MALATHY:
“To me it’s the loss of what women have gained that's really painful. It strikes you.”
“One of the things that immediately strikes you is how committed the staff were to taking care of the people... The relationship they had with the people there was definitely unique.”
“I got to know a lot of civilian women and LTTE women. They were forceful in expressing views and taking actions. One of the woman in Vaani told me how the LTTE leader Prabhakaran told her to learn to stand her point and be stubborn. It was a culture that was nurtured.”