Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 31 July 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

A new lease of life for former LTTE cadre

She likes fashion just like any young girl. Newly applied red nail polish shines on her nails and her handbag matches her outfit - the shalwar. The new pair of high heels she wears still makes her slightly uneasy. Used to a rough life since 2004, Devakumari Esmini needs time to adjust to her new life as a normal youth.


She knows that forgetting the past is the best remedy, but sometimes bitter memories from the past continue to haunt her. Erasing those painful memories which are firmly buried in the back of her mind is as serious to her as her struggle to find a job suitable for what she had learnt.

Devakumari forces herself to smile when she recalls her story, but tears make her vision blurred. It was on a fateful day in 2004 that terrorists dragged her away; she had just returned from school - Udayarkattu Maha Vidyalayam. The pleas of her Amma had fallen on deaf ears. The white van, where eight girls in school uniforms had been packed in, carried them to the Puhalini Training Base at Wattakachchi, Ampakamampuram, where over 175 children were being given weapons training.

Devakumari was hand-picked for the special two-months training at the Kutti Sri Mortar Brigade under the leadership of Bavanithi. She was deployed to a base in Pallai and after a one-month stay she was sent to Nagar Kovil.

The ill-trained cadre, especially child soldiers, died every day on the battle fields. The same way the LTTE had brought us for the training, they had abducted many small children since 2008 as the government had intensified attacks on the LTTE. The LTTE had to fight in several fronts and there was a severe shortage of man-power to fight. Some parents who came in search of their children were threatened and some were shot dead”. Devakumari who was deployed in Mannar in 2008 to prevent the military thrust, said.

The girls and boys with special training were deployed in batches. Devakumari was injured twice - in Mullankavil and Thewapuram. Her services as an LTTE child soldier were discontinued when she got a serious leg injury.

During the final months of the last battle in 2009, when the LTTE kept nearly 300,000 displaced people as hostages in a small stretch of land - Puthumathalan, Devakumari who was isolated by the LTTE, found her family. She says even when all the people were running for their lives, the LTTE continued to snatch small children who could hold a gun or throw a grenade, to fight with the Army.

Ready to fight

“We had to obey our group leader; if she deploys us to fight, the cadre should be ready to fight. If we refused we would be either punished or assaulted. Those who continued to be stubborn and refused to go to the battle front would be killed. Or else, they would be dropped at the Forward Defence Lines to fight. Those poor children did not want to fight. They were not trained enough to face the trained Army soldiers. But in fear of death, they fought despite knowing only how ti gikd a T-56. Whenever they got a chance to abandon the LTTE, they surrendered. But many who were caught while trying to run away were killed by the LTTE police”, she explains.

Devakumari says many children starved as there was a severe shortage of food. “We never ate three meals a day. We got only one meal with dhal curry, but during the final months the LTTE completely neglected us. When the small children cried in fear of going to the battle front or in hunger, the LTTE hit them with wooden poles. Some were not given food to eat and treatment for their wounds”. Devakuamri who still aspires to make her childhood dream - to become a teacher - a reality one day, says.

Her mother, Thewakumar Ranjani weeps when she listens to her daughter’s ordeal. She loses her voice for a moment. Tears gush down her face. After a pindrop silence, she says she did not know that her child had undergone such risks. “I pleaded with them not to take her, but they threatened me that they would take my other children. We really thought that she was dead and prayed to the gods to save my other children. But my family is lucky, we got reunited, Ranjani says.

Ranjani says all mothers, like her, now have a common wish and pray for to the gods. It is, not to leave space for a future Prabhakaran to be born to destroy the future of their children. “We don’t want such a dark era again.

We want peace for our children and we are now happy as there is no one to snatch our children,” she says.

Devakumari brushed up her skills on sewing while undergoing vocational training at the Thellippalai centre for rehabilitation of ex-cadre in Vavuniya.

After a one and a half year stay at the centre, she returned home to Iyattalai, Varani in Jaffna, with a novel challenge - sitting for the Advance Level examination. Now she is fully engaged on catching up her missed lessons.

She says there is no chance for the LTTE or any similar organisation to make a comeback. “We were misled by the LTTE. They from the school to the training centre, created hatred towards the Sinhalese and the Sinhala Army. We the schoolchildren did not know why we were fighting with the soldiers. They told us that soldiers are coming to capture our land, to rape girls and kill boys as the Sinhala government want to sweep out Tamils from the country. So they asked us to fight for a separate land which they were going to create for Tamils,” she says.But, Devakumari says, like her, thousands of other Tamil youth felt that they were misled by the LTTE towards an unwanted cause and they lied to them about the Army soldiers. “For over one and a half years, I was at the centre run by the Army. They save us when we were running for our lives. They never harmed us. We were well looked after by the soldiers and they taught us about the value of living and saving lives,” she says adding the ex-cadre in the North are now looking forward to a better future and knows the value of peace.

Devakumari who used to wear oversized shirts and trousers in combat, now wears fashionable shalwars and kurthas and gold jewellery. A gold pendant - with the letter “T” on her chain. It seems her young heart which had forcibly shut out love is gradually opening up. She smiles shyly.

Pic: Thilak Perera



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