by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Subramaniam Sivakamy alias Thamilini was transferred from the Colombo Remand Prison(CRP) in Welikade to the Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centre(PARC)at Poonthottam in Vavuniya on June 26th.The former woman political commissar of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)was transferred on an order to that effect issued by Colombo chief magistrate Rashmi Singappuli on June 22nd.
The transfer is perceived as the forerunner of Thamilini’s eventual release after undergoing a period of rehabilitation at Poonthottam PARC which functions as a cooperative training centre.
40 year old Thamilini who held the rank of colonel in the LTTE is the senior most woman cadre of the tigers in custody at present. Thamilini was the chief of the LTTE women’s division political wing (mahalirani Arasiyat poruppaalar)and was the female counterpart of Balasingham Mahendran alias Nadesan the male political commissar of the tigers.
Thamilini along with Malathi division commander Kandiah Gnanapoorani alias Vidusha and Sothiya division commander Kalaichelvi Ponnuthurai alias Thurga formed the top trio of women cadres in the LTTE in its final phase.While Vidusha joined the LTTE in 1986 and Thurga in 1989,Thamilini did so in 1991.
The transfer of Thamilini to Poonthottam is perceived as a precursor to her gaining full freedom. She is expected to obtain rehabilitation training for a specific term at Poonthottam after which the former member of the “Suthanthirapparavaigal” (Birds of freedom) is likely to be released to become a free bird.
The transfer of Thamilini to Vavuniya from Colombo and her anticipated release is rather significant as it demonstrates in this instance the commendable flexibility of the Government with regard to the prickly issue of ex-LTTE cadre detenue releases. More importantly the event is likely to be the harbinger of hope for more releases of persons being detained for LTTE links in the days to come.
The role of Thamilini in the LTTE,her arrest,detention ,transfer along with her impending release provide an interesting insight into the current state of affairs where the prolonged detention and imprisonment of ex-LTTE cadres and persons with LTTE links has become an issue of crucial importance. The plight of Thamilini illustrates the humanistic dimension of this prevailing situation. The positive manner in which it is being resolved now indicates that much progress could be achieved in areas of friction through a spirit of cooperation as opposed to confrontation.
This writer from afar has been aware of the process that has led to Thamilini being on the threshold of freedom.It is a tale that needs to be told.
Thamilini whose real name is Subramaniam Sivakamy was born on April 23rd 1972 in Paranthan. Her family has its roots in Jaffna but had relocated to Paranthan situated between Kilinochchi and Elephant pass.Later the family moved to a house along Kanakapuram road in Udhayanagar,Kilinochhi.Other members of her family are her mother and two sisters both of whom are married. The mother and a sister live in Kilinochchi while the other sister lives in Norway.Another sister was also a member of the LTTE and died in battle at Paranthan during “operation sathjaya -2” in September 1998.
Sivakamy Subramaniam studied at the Paranthan Hindu college up to her GCE O’levels. She then joined Kininochchi Madhya Maha Vidyalayam for her GCE A’levels. While following A’level classes she got attracted to the LTTE after listening to talks given in school by tiger recruiters. She joined the LTTE formally on July 27th 1991and underwent military training in two LTTE bases at Kilaly and Neervely in the Jaffna peninsula.She was enrolled in the LTTE under theID card number 1736.Sivakamy adopted the nom de guerre Thamilini.She was stationed at various parts of Valikamam region in the Peninsula.Later she was moved to the Kilinochchi and Kilaly areas.
Initially Thamilini was part of the LTTE fighting formations and participated in many skirmishes.Her first experience of a major battle was in September 1993 during “operation Yarldevi” when the army advanced from Elephant pass and attempted to capture Kilaly. She was also involved in the LTTE’s amphibious attack on the Pooneryn and Nagathevanthurai camps codenamed “operation Thavalai”(frog)in November 1993.
The LTTE seized a T-55 Battle tank from the Army in Pooneryn. Thamilini was part of a contingent assigned “sapper” duties.They had to quickly create a route through jungle terrain to facilitate rapid transport of the T-55.
LTTE political adviser Anton Balasingham and wife Adele were impressed by Thamilini after a discussion and got her transferred to the political division.Thamilini was put in charge of a coir factory and a farm run by girls. She was also made an editorial board member of the LTTE women’s magazine”Suthanthirapparavaigal”.Greatly influenced by Adele Balasingham,Thamilini became an ardent feminist.
After the successful “operation Riviresa” conducted by the Army in 1995-96 the LTTE was forced to relocate in full to the Wanni.Thamilini continued to work in the political division.But when the Army launched “operation Jayasikurui” in 1997-98 to retake the Wanni,Thamilini was compelled to join the fighting units.She was deployed in the Mankulam area and experienced much hardship. At one stage they had run out of cooked food and had to survive on fruits growing in the wild for days.
Thamilini made a good impression on Balasingham and Suppiah Paramu Thamilselvan who was then the Political chief of the LTTE.This enabled her to rise rapidly from the ranks and eventually become womens division political head in June 2000.Despite this Thamilini had to engage in combat again when the Army mounted “operation Agnikheela” in 2001 to recapture Elephant pass.
After the Oslo facilitated ceasefire of February 2002 the LTTE set up a permanent political secretariat in Kilinochchi. Thamilini being a doughty feminist fought for equality within the LTTE structures and gained some success. Earlier the women’s political division was treated as a component of the main political wing. Now Thamilini fought and gained functional autonomy.She also got “ status symbols “. A double cab with back up vehicles and bodyguards!
The ceasefire period also helped Thamilini to broaden her horizons in more ways than one. She led a team of LTTE women cadres to Colombo to participate in seminars and discussions concerning women’s rights and issues. She was also part of LTTE delegations that toured Europe in 2003 and 2005. While in Europe Thamilini interacted with several Diaspora groups.She addressed many meetings and made a terrific impact on her audiences.
It was during this time that a romance of sorts flourished between Thamilini and a former member of the LTTE whom I shall refer to as “Kay”.Earlier when LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran was pairing LTTE men cadres with women cadres and marrying them off, Thamilini had declined marriage.But now during her sojourns abroad she came across this former LTTE member now settled in Europe.There was mutual attraction and some love at least was lost between them.”Kay” also came over to the Wanni and spent some time in Kilinochchi. They are not married yet.
The ceasefire ended and war erupted and intensified.Slowly and steadily the Armed forces advanced and the LTTE retreated. Finally the tigers were boxed into a narrow strip of the littoral in Karaithuraipatru AGA division of Mullaitheevu district. The outcome became a foregone conclusion after the battle of Aanandapuram on April 4 -5th 2009 where the tiger northern commander Theepan was killed.
The women commanders Vidusha and Thurga were also killed in this battle.Thamilini also participated in this battle and was feared dead but it later transpired that she had only been slightly injured. The deaths of her long standing comrades -at – arms, Vidusha and Thurga shattered Thamilini. She also realized that defeat was inevitable but continued to stay in beleaguered Puthumaathalan due her loyalty to the movement.
With the end drawing close in mid-may 2009 the LTTE hierarchy was forced to let go of those who sought safety by going over to Govt controlled territory and surrendering to the armed forces. Thamilini ,her mother and sister too did so on May 15th. Thamilini discarded her weapons,uniform, ID card and tell tale cyanide capsule and mingled with the large scale civilian influx along with her family members. They were all accepted as non –LTTE civilians and brought to Vavuniya on May 20th 2009.They were lodged in a welfare camp.
But the high-profile Thamilini was soon recognized by other inmates. The authorities were tipped off and Thamilini was arrested on May 27th 2009.She was brought to Colombo for interrogation by the Criminal Investigation Department(CID)Police. She was also interrogated by operatives of national and military intelligence.
She was later produced in courts under the emergency regulations on June 17th 2009 before then Colombo chief magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi. Officials submitted a preliminary dossier on her activities in the LTTE.Court was told that further interrogation had to be conducted.The chief magistrate ordered that she be produced in courts again on July 17th 2009. Subsequently another two weeks time was allowed.
A noteworthy feature of the Thamilini saga has been the praiseworthy interest and concern shown by the court in ensuring that the LTTE women’s political head was receiving a fair deal. Courts made it a point to ascertain that Thamilini was being treated well and that further detention for interrogation was really necessary. Former Colombo chief magistrate Hapuarachchi utilized powers under emergency regulations to visit CID headquarters personally on August 5th 2009 and examine the situation there before granting a further date.
Both he and present Colombo chief magistrate Rashmi Singappuli have been giving only short periods of time to the law enforcement authorities to conclude their investigations thus curbing the tendency of protracted detention in Police custody.
After investigations concluded and Thamilini’s file went up to the Attorney-Generals department she was remanded to custody.Courts continuously issued short dates thus making sure that Thamilini case was not put in limbo as in the cases of many others.She has been produced more than a dozen times in courts.The AG’s dept continued to procrastinate.The chief reason being the lack of definite intention on the part of the Defence establishment
The Defence ministry that was overseeing the investigations into detained ex-LTTE members has been adopting twin principles in dealing with them. Each case wa treated on its individual merits and scrutinised. They were then categorized as hard and soft. Those found to be “unrepentant”, those who had taken the “black tiger” suicide oath and those found to be involved in incidents amounting to brutal terrorism were treated as hard.Others including those who had fought directly in battle were treated as soft.
Of the detained ex-LTTE members 1235 were initially classified as hard core and housed in three separate detention facilities including the one at Boosa.11989 were classified as soft and housed in eighteen camps termed as PARC rehabilitation centres.They were given rehabilitation training and released in batches on a staggered basis. As more and more were released the “soft”welfare centres were closed down. According to Rehabilitation ministry sources, currently there are now 635 persons housed in four PARC welfare centres in Maruthamadhu, Kandakkaadu, Welikande and Poonthottam.
The specific case of Thamilini posed a curious dilemma for the Defence authorities. Though Thamilini had engaged in combat there was no evidence that she had been involved in any instances of terrorism. She was also not implicated in any action perpetrated by the LTTE in Colombo or any of the Southern provinces. Moreover Thamilini had been a well -known head of the LTTE’s women’s division political wing and was regarded more as a political activist than military combatant in spite of her being the highest ranking tigress or ex-tigress in custody.
Against that backdrop there was no compulsion or necessity on the part of the defence authorities to target Thamilini and penalize her. Despite her high –ranking seniority few in the defence establishment wanted to charge her in courts and convict her to a long term of imprisonment. Had Thamilini been involved in a horrible civilian massacre, assassination of a senior political leader or explosive attacks causing innumerable deaths the situation may have been different. But her hands were clean in those respects and hence there was no overwhelming desire to prosecute and convict her.
There was however a hitch in releasing her from custody too.The problem was not in Thamilini’s past but in what her future course of action would be. What would she do after her release?She had been a high ranking high profile leader of the LTTE. Would she be used by LTTE and pro-LTTE elements among the global Tamil Diaspora to engage in campaigns against the state? Would she go abroad and be utilized as an instrument of propaganda by vested interests abroad?Would the hardliners among Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka entice her into their ranks and raise levels of confrontational politics?
On the other hand the defence authorities fully realized that Thamilini could not be kept in custody indefinitely.Already the phenomenon of her being produced in court at regular intervals was projecting a negative image of the Government and Defence establishment.Prosecuting and securing a long term of imprisonment for Thamilini was also not desirable as a harsh conviction of a political wing chief would reflect badly on the regime. Besides the frank manner in which Thamilini had disclosed her past LTTE activity and her present predicament had aroused a lot of sympathy.Few wanted her punished.
The authorities agonized over Thamilini. A senior defence official involved in Thamilini’s case candidly confessed” Believe me when I say that we have no intention or desire to keep her in prolonged detention.We want to release Thamilini but the worry is about potential consequences in the future.How can we be sure that she would not engage in negative action after her release?”
This then was the difficulty faced by the Defence establishment over Thamilini!
The problem however was resolved by resorting to the device“ Deus ex machina”.
Deus ex machina is a latin phrase meaning”god from the machine”. It is a plot device “ whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object”.
Its origins lie in the Greek dramas of old where a crane was used to lower or raise actors playing Gods onto the stage. The famed Greek Tragedian Euripides was well known for resorting to the device of deus ex machina as both plot and prop.
Who or what was going to be the deus ex machina in the modern Tamil tragedy of Thamilini?
NEXT:Thamilini’s Road to Rehabilitation
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org