Thushi, in her thirties, is the wife of a LTTE leader who disappeared, and Nilani, in her twenties, is her sister-in-law.
Thushi: At the time I joined the LTTE they didn’t force recruitment, instead they gave speeches at schools and I was motivated by Ilamparithi’s description of the Tamil struggle. I joined when I was 16. Ilamparithi described the injustices of the government against Tamils and explained of why we must have a separate nation. After a group of us joined we went to Manalaru. My mother searched until she found me, but I wouldn’t return with her. Upon completion of our training in Polihandy, Vaddamarachchi, they sent those of us who were young to study English, math, communication, and other courses in Chavakacheri and Kodikammam. Around one hundred of us studied together for two years. After that, I started to work in the communication unit, passing communication through walkietalkie and high frequency sets. I was in charge of the communication from 1994-1996. I learned how to take video footage and how to edit footage, and from 1997 until 2003, I worked in video. I was not supporting Nitharsanam, but a different unit. Then I studied a computer course and worked as an officer for an (unnamed) LTTE department until 2005. The LTTE owned several computer companies.
I first met my husband in 1992 when he organized our classes. He was very handsome. At the beginning I talked to him about our studies, then we started to work together in the same unit so we conversed about our work.
He proposed his love for me in 2003. I explained that I needed to wait until my elder brother and sister married. I asked if he was all right with waiting…(gestures of shyness). We told our unit superior about our love in 2005. We also had to inform our superiors for the women’s unit and the men’s unit. I told the superior of my women’s unit by myself. There was a marriage group, so we also informed them. The age of marriage rule was twenty-four for women and thirty for men. They had known us since 1992 so they didn’t need to give us advice. I informed my family through his father.
We bought land in Vanni and built a house there. When the house was constructed, we were married on March 27, 2006, in the LTTE wedding hall. Altogether there were about two hundred and fifty people at our wedding, including the LTTE. My mother, sister, and three other relations came from Jaffna, as did about twenty of his relations. There wasn’t any Ayer or priest tradition, but there was an LTTE registrar.
We dressed at home – I wore a purple-red saree (onion color). There was a standard oath that we recited, repeating after the registrar, and then we signed the document and our parents also signed that. After the oath we tied the gold tali that looked like Tiger’s teeth. The LTTE gave watches and we exchanged them; we exchanged flower garlands; then the LTTE gave one and a half laks (150,000 rupees) for wedding expenses and for starting life together. The LTTE gave the same amount to others, except if the bride was a civilian and the groom was in LTTE (or vice versa) they gave only 75,000 rupees.
I can think of about ten LTTE women who married civilian men they met in offices. The next day we also registered with the government. We wanted to register as a family with the GS who already had our data since we built a house there. Then we took two weeks vacation to visit relations.
On March 3rd, my relations came from Mullaivaikal and urged me to shift to the hospital there. Then they took me in a vehicle. In the hospital at Mullaivaikal they put a fresh dressing on the wound and after two days more they put stitches in the wound and gave me some tablets for pain. Every third day they put a fresh dressing. The same LTTE doctor removed the stitches. I had known him for a long time.
He did a skin graft and when the anesthesia wore off it was very painful. I walked with crutches. A friend who got a Jaipur leg gave me the crutches because he didn’t need them. That doctor disappeared after surrendering to the Army. The doctors in the LTTE medical unit surrendered in Vadduvakal and the Army separated them and took them away in a vehicle.
I was in a bunker from the beginning of March until the 10th of May, because we had to be prepared for exploding shells or bullets continuously. I only went occasionally to the hospital where I could get a fresh dressing for my wound. My husband dressed my wound.
We moved to the border between Mullivaikal and Vadduvakal on May 13th and waited there for three days. On May 16th we went into the Army controlled area after 5 pm. We walked on the main road where all the civilians were walking. I was with my husband and husband’s friends. We were about 200 meters from the Army, and the LTTE was just behind us. The LTTE allowed the civilians to go at that time. My husband was with me, but they stopped my husband and allowed me to go.
My husband said, “First you go, they will release me and then I will join you.” I held the hand of a small child about five years old that belonged to the family that was walking with me. By then, I could walk without crutches.
After we reached the Army area, my leg was swollen and it was extremely painful. My husband didn’t come. I went to the checkpoint area on May 19th searching for him where there was a big crowd. They took us to Omanthai on May 20th, where the army announced “Everyone who was in LTTE for even one day should come and register their names.” I went to them. Males and females were mixed. They took all the details on the 21st, asking, “When did you join? What did you do?”
On the 22nd they took us to Pampaimadu Rehabilitation Center. The amputees didn’t have to do physical labor, but the rest of us had to clean the whole place and we cooked our food. They brought in some medicine and identified those who had experience with medical treatment from serving in the LTTE medical unit, and they used those people to give medicine. Sometimes even the Army came in and received medical treatment from them. Rarely a doctor came from outside, and sometimes the doctor recommended transfer to the government hospital, so permission was given.
When I was in Pampaimadu Rehabilitation Center, I tried to get information from the Vavuniya camps because there were several camps with former LTTE cadres. I learned that my husband was not there. I asked the Sinhalese person in charge of Pampaimadu to ask if my husband was in the camps. I was released from Pampaimadu on September 20, 2010, after one year and four months.
They trained me in sewing for three months only. They didn’t give this training to everyone, mainly they just tried to keep everyone busy, and they taught sewing to say they were giving training. Once in a while we saw a film, and we read books and newspapers. We played volleyball and cricket at 4:00 pm when they allowed free time outside. Sisters gave us karam boards and there was a TV that we were allowed to watch anytime.
Five or six of the women were mentally disturbed. They broke the TV. One day Major General Daya Ratnayake (Minister of Rehabilitation) came to the camp and gave a speech in which he said things like, “It will take five years to release all of you,” and one woman was so disturbed she swallowed many piritin tablets without anyone’s knowledge. She was admitted to hospital, and afterwards she looked normal but if you spoke harshly to her she would definitely hit you. She hit Army women also. In the next year she tried twice to jump over the wall and gate. Then the Army added razor wire across the top of the gate. She was released, but I don’t know where she went. The others who were mentally disturbed didn’t eat well, and were always distracted by their thoughts. Women who knew them said that when they were in the Vanni they were also mentally disturbed.
In my block at Pompaimadu there was one woman who was mentally ill. She was in Vettrimanai in the Vanni (a place for mentally ill civilians and cadres that was managed by the LTTE). She was very silent and didn’t interact with others. We don’t know if she was an LTTE cadre, but she was in Vettrimanai earlier. She told different places when you asked her where she was from. She also told different names if you asked about her parents. When we were working in the kitchen she would tell us that she knew us from many different places where she had seen us before, but it was her imagination. But she could speak both fluent Sinhala and Tamil. Vettrimanai was in Akkarayan Kilinochchi. The Army handed over former women fighters without any family relations to Catholic Sisters. I think this woman went to the Sisters.
I always ask everyone to please find out where my husband is. A girl I knew well was in the Pampaimadu Rehabilitation Center. She told me that when she was coming into the Army controlled area, she went to get water from a hole the Army dug, and she saw my husband. She described him wearing the same shirt and sarong he was wearing when I last saw him on May 17th. She saw him up close because my husband didn’t talk to her but he was there with another person and that person talked with her, and this happened in the Army controlled area. At the time, the army announced, “Everyone who has been in the LTTE must surrender to us.” But most of the people didn’t surrender to them in the Army controlled area; they surrendered later in Omanthai or in the camps. The people who surrendered in Mullaivaikal and Vadduvahal, before Omanthai, have disappeared.
When I went to get my wound dressed in the Army-controlled area in Mullaitivu, I saw around fifteen people who were surrendering to the Army. Six of them I knew very well. There is no information about them. A woman who was in Pampaimadu told me she came with her husband into the Army-controlled area, and he surrendered when they made the announcement to come forward and surrender; since then there has been no information about him. The persons who surrendered in the Army-controlled area in Mullaitivu have all disappeared. The Army took one of the Priests in Mullaitivu, Father Francis, and there is no information about him either.
I have no plans to go abroad because I want to find out about my husband.
Nilani (sister-in-law of Thushi):
After we saw the photograph we went to Boosa and several detention centers, including the fourth floor of the CID in Colombo. My sister-in-law went and asked if there was a person by this name in detention at these places, and she showed the photograph. They told her they would inform her in two or three days, but she didn’t get any information from them. We searched in Vavuniya detention centers. We couldn’t locate him. We made a complaint with the Vavuniya and Point Pedro police. We spoke with a lawyer in Jaffna. We gave a written complaint with the LLRC (Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission).
I was the last person in my family to see my brother, on May 17, 2009, in Vadduvahal, around 4:00 pm. I was with my brother’s friend’s family in a hut on the side of the road. My brother and his friend came together and met us. We begged them to please come with us. He looked all right, but he said, “First you go into the Army-controlled area, then I will try to escape from here, I can swim, I’ll come through the sea, or else I will surrender to the Army.” That was the first time he thought of escaping.
I held his hand and tried to pull him into the Army-controlled area but he refused. He joined when he was eleven years old. He was interested in swimming, but our parents didn’t allow him to go to the beach, so he thought he could have more freedom, so he joined. He wouldn’t come with me because he was with the LTTE for twenty years.
We saw on the internet that there are coconut trunks on top of the bunker in the photograph. We saw some films on the internet with dead bodies without clothes. We saw another film with a truck carrying bodies, and it dumped them in a place and they were burned. And we saw some footage of one of the men in the photograph walking with the army. We watched these films in a communication centre with fear because of all the people coming and going including army personnel.
We went to a man in Batticaloa who speaks oracles (vakku sollurathu) and to a woman in Anaikkodai named Mallar by the Amman temple – she uses cowries. We gave his real name and his LTTE name, and they both said he was alive.