September 14th 2013 was a red letter day for the people of Kilinochchi as the “Yarl Devi” Train streamed into Kilinochchi after many years on that Saturday.Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself was on board the train as a special passenger during the 35 minute journey of the “Yarl Devi” from Omanthai.He had earlier ceremonially declared open the new phase of the train from Omanthai to Kilinochchi.
While the people of Kilinochchi were elated at the prospect of Trains running again after many years there was one group of young children who were even more thrilled by the president due to another reason.For these children the day became unforgettable as they had an opportunity of interacting with the President directly.
What happened on Saturday September 14th was that President Rajapaksa after the train journey and a few other events in Kilinochchi town went by motor vehicle to the 57 division headquarters at Iranaimadhu in the Kilinochchi area for luncheon.
One of the routes to the 57 division headquarters was along the Kanagambigai Amman road branching off from the Jaffna –Kandy road known as the A -9 highway. Along this road also called Service road was the “Sencholai” home for school girls. The Sencholai home for orphaned girls or those from poor single parent homes was begun by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) over 20 years ago. It was relocated to Vallipunam in Mullaitheevu during the height of war.It ceased to exist during the final phase of the war.
The “Sencholai” home for girls was reborn in a new form last year under the administration of Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” the former chief arms procurer of the LTTE who later became chief of the tigers due to his seniority after the demise of Velupillai Prabhakaran in May 2009 .KP was arrested in Malaysia and deported to Sri Lanka in August 2009.Instead of charging him for involvement in “terrorism” the Rajapaksa Govt handled the KP issue in an unusually humanistic manner. He was placed under protective custody and allowed to start a non-governmental organization to cater to the needs of the war affected community in the North.
The NGO known as NERDO(North –Eastern Rehabilitation and Development Organization ) run by KP is engaged in a number of projects to better the lives and living conditions of people in the war ravaged northern mainland known as Wanni.Chief among these are a home for 75 orphaned boys known as “Anbu Illam” near Muthaiyankattu, a girls home called “Bharathy Illam” for 100 at Mulliyavalai and the “Sencholai” in Kilinochchi for 125 girls.. Since KP himself is based in Kilinochchi he devotes much time to the activities at “Sencholai”.
On September 14th a Tamil cultural festival “Muthamizh Vizha” was being held for the girls at “Bharathy Illam” and “Sencholai” in Kilinochchi. It was a pre-arranged event scheduled before the arrival of President Rajapaksa in Kilinochchi. However on Saturday early morning it became known that President Rajapaksa was arriving in Kilinochchi.It was also anticipated that the President and his entourage may partake of Lunch at the 57 division headquarters in Iranaimadhu.
When this news broke at the “Sencholai” there was much excitement among the staff and children.They began asking KP to provide a chance to meet the President. Kp said that it was beyond his powers to set up a meeting with the President. Seeing the disappointment on the faces of the children KP suggested an alternative.Taking a chance that the President may drive along the road to 57 hqrs,KP got the girls to line up opposite “Sencholai” in front. He also set up a table with the traditional symbols of welcome like the “kuthu Vilakku”lamp, ”Niraikudam” pot and “santhanam(sandal)”paneer” (rose water)vessels.
The Sencholai-Bharathy Illam children were lucky. President Rajapaksa’s motorcade did take the Kanagambigai Amman road route.But what happened thereafter was totally unexpected and made the children ecstatic.
It was 12.10 pm when the President’s convoy reached “Sencholai”. Seeing the children outside, Mahinda got the motorcade stopped. He got out of his vehicle and before his security personnel could stop him approached the children. He addressed them in Tamil with a smile”Enna Vaendum Ungalukku?”(what do you all want?). “Neenga Ullukku varavaendum”(you must come inside).Again without waiting for any security clearance the President then started walking inside as requested by the children.
Selvarasa Pathmanathan then went forward to greet the President. Seeing him ,Mahinda said “How are you KP?” and shook hands with the former tiger leader.The President was welcomed by the staff members who placed the santhanappottu on his forehead and sprinkled pannier. Mahinda also lit the Kuthuvilakku.The children also provided an improvised guard of honour for the President.
The President moved inside the Sencholai premises freely going from one spot to another. His security men scurried about trying frantically to regulate the spontaneous movements of their President.Mahinda however mixed freely with the children engaging in conversation with them in Tamil.He stroked the heads of some kids and patted cheeks of others. While most children called the President “Sir” a few were bold enough to address him as “Janathipathy Maamaa” (President Uncle)and even “Mahinda Maamaa” (Uncle Mahinda).
The President also walked fast towards a dormitory that appeared dark from outside. Seeing the President heading towards it ,one security officer tried to go in first and check out the precincts beforehand but Mahinda was faster. The president asked the lights to be switched on and moved around. He observed the lack of pillows and bed sheets on several of the beds and bunkers.
When he queried the reasons for it, KP replied that children had beenadmitted in large numbers very ecently and that funds were insufficient to cater to all their needs immediately.The President then said that arrangements would be made to supply mattresses,pillows and bed sheets and instructed his officials to take action immediately. He also told KP to inform him of any issue of urgent importance and that he would attend to it immediately.
The President also remarked jovially that KP was struggling to collect funds to run these homes for orphaned children while all the money in LTTE coffers were being used for their own purposes by some people in the Diaspora.
Northern Province Governor Gen.Chandrasiri and Traditional Industries minister Douglas Devananda were also among those who accompanied the president. Inspired by the President’s sympathetic approach both told KP to contact them if anything was needed. Devananda who leads the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party(EPDP) now was earlier the military commander of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation front(EPRLF).Recalling the past Douglas referred to a meeting he had with KP decades ago in Tamil Nadu.
The President then complimented KP for the work he was doing and wished success in the projects.He than bade farewell to staff members and children and departed with his entourage leaving behind enraptured whose hearts and minds had been captivated by the President;s friendly approach in this unplanned exercise.
Asked for a comment, KP said that it was a very great day for the children at Sencholai and that the children had been enchanted by the President’s friendliness and concern.He said that the children had described the meeting with President Rajapaksa as “Marakka mudiyaatha Naal” (unforgettable day) and that some kids were writing short essays on their experience with “Mahinda Maamaa” and a few were also drawing sketches about it.
KP also said that no Tamil politician from the Tamil National Alliance had ever visited any of the three children’s homes run by the NERDO to date.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org