I haven’t shared these stories with my wife or close friends. I am sharing it now because any man, woman or child shouldn’t have to ever experience the things that happened in Sri Lanka regardless of the language they speak, or religion they belong to. I have to share my own experiences and educate others about the war and how people’s lives were affected, so these things never happen again. This is my contribution to reconciliation.
- Ponkalan, 37
A good step forward would be to come speak to us and listen to our problems. Usually, most just stand at a distance and speak on our behalf, but it is only when they come close to us affected people that they will find out our problems. For example, a family I know in Colombo didn’t know anything about the war. When I went there recently, I explained to them about the war; what we went through as LTTE cadres, and how people were affected. They started crying after listening to me. Likewise, you have to meet affected people in person or have group discussions to find out the issues they have. Listen to their stories. Become close to them. Only then will the affected people share their true stories with confidence.
- Kumaran, 44
At first I was very excited to join the SLA, I didn’t realise the hardship we would have to face. We had to stand in line to get our food. We were given a thahaduwa [metal sheet] for a plate. There were around 300 of us. Sometimes I was the 300th person in line to eat. At the start, I wanted to leave but after a while I got used to it. I was sad and missed my family. During our training I couldn’t speak to my mother for a few weeks. My mother had once called the camp and my friend had told her I was in Kilinochchi. She became so sad and cried, as she was worried I was in the thick of the war zone. My sister said the whole household was eating rice and tears. Whenever I spoke to my mother, she always cried. I still think of the metal plate I had to eat in — if it fell, it made a loud noise for a long time.
After the war, our duties in the camp were very different to those we had in the jungle during the war. Here, we can’t be the way we were in the jungle. Here, you need lots more discipline. People may think it’s easier to be back here as we didn’t have electricity or water in the jungle, but it is actually harder for us. Especially, to adjust to our new tasks. Even menial tasks like ironing were difficult for us. We didn’t need to iron our uniforms before. But when we came here, we had to present ourselves neatly because we were around civilians more often. At first, I was scared to return to the camp and to even speak to civilians. It was difficult to get used to the new environment, but over time I did.
- Shanuna, 29
Sri Lankans have forgotten what we did for our country. And now, when they talk about the war, all that is discussed is either us killing them or them killing us. No one knows the reality. We saw things with our own eyes. Most people think during the war we were just trying to kill each other. Only people who were there really know the truth. I know how we women soldiers helped the LTTE. We didn’t go home. We forgot our families and helped them. But people don’t talk about that. It’s human to suspect the worst. But it wasn’t like that. Only those who were there can inform the people and educate them about what truly happened. The male SLA soldiers also helped a lot. We saw with our own eyes the way the male soldiers suffered to help those crossing over in Nandikadal. They would carry the aachchis [grandmothers]. They worked tirelessly. So I get really sad when I hear these accusations of rape and killings… We all did so much. We had to wear the same clothes for so long. My feet would get so hot from wearing boots for so long. We suffered a lot for the country... I would like people to just be open to understanding this. If they only knew and remembered what happened during the war and how much we did, people would treat us very differently... They don’t know how much we suffered.
- Shanuna, 29
I will teach my children that nothing can be achieved by taking up arms. Future generations shouldn’t be affected by war as we were. We carried weapons for 30 years, and now it’s finally over. It took 30 years of fighting. It might take another 30 years to experience the peace. Or it may take longer, and I might not be alive then. But our children should be able to enjoy freedom and peace. They need to be aware of the value of peace, so that they don’t destroy it.
- Sritharan, 43
These monuments… shouldn’t be here. They’re saying we should forget the past but they keep these things and so we can’t forget. They should make a school or nursery there instead. Every time we go past these things, we are reminded of all the pain. The wrong we did and the wrong that happened to us. People from the south come to see it.. and then when they see Tamil people, they look at us in anger. Maybe in one place they should have a memorial for both sides. We are heroes too. Both sides have heroes. When you keep things like this, it’ll take over 100 years to move on.
- Senthooran, 47
I don’t let my disability limit me… I have come this far, from being a former cadre to being in a position where I can contribute to society now… I help train disabled people, particularly those in wheelchairs. They are affected not just physically, but also mentally. Even though they try to integrate, society and the environment don’t allow them to. For example, buildings are not disabled friendly; and when a child is disabled, their family won’t take the child out as they don’t want to show their child to society. Disabled persons don’t have control of their urine or bowel movements. So we carry out awareness sessions for the disabled on how they can manage themselves. We train them on how to manage their bladder problems, and how to integrate into society. Living as a disabled person is also expensive. When you’re on a wheelchair for a long time, you get sores on your body which require medication. You also need different catheters for bladder control, which have to be changed frequently. When a normal person goes out they worry about cream or cologne. But for us, it’s the catheter and diapers we worry about. So the disabled are usually reluctant to come out. We provide training on how to prevent skin infections, sores, and urine infections. It took a year for me to learn how to be independent and integrate. Earlier, I was dependent on others. At the time, I tried several ways to manage myself. I noted down the useful points I learnt and I overcame that struggle. I discovered many things on my own, for example how to come down the stairs. I also learnt wheelchair rotations on my own. I discovered new techniques through my own effort, and shared them with others who were disabled. I feel we shouldn’t only train disabled people; we should also train and have awareness sessions for normal people too. Only then can the disabled integrate. And when it comes to counselling, only a disabled can understand another disabled. They won’t open up to a normal person. That’s why I say, ‘Nothing is without me,’ which is to say, do not talk about our issues without including us.
- Ponkalan, 37
My understanding of peace is that we should have the liberty to say whatever we want. We should have basic rights. Everyone should be treated fairly and equally; even the president’s son should stand in a queue. When people learn to queue and maintain order — that is an example of peace in practise… And if — as a former cadre — I can walk on the road peacefully, that is peace.
- Kannan, 27
I wouldn’t want the person who put me in a wheelchair to be harmed. Wrong has happened on both sides of the war. Both sides are equal. We should all unite. We are all Sri Lankan…
Now there’s no war, but the peace is incomplete. We haven’t achieved 100% peace... We think the wrong way about Tamils, the Tamils think the wrong way about the Sinhalese, and the Muslims think the wrong way about the Sinhalese, and so on. We have to put an end to these misconceptions and race divisions. All three religions should be taught in schools, and this should be in people’s minds from childhood. If we all think of each other as Sri Lankans, then everything will be okay.
- Dinesh, 33
Problems might emerge again in our country. It’s in our history: kings have been fighting one another throughout Sri Lanka’s past. Now, there are some delinquents trying to stir up issues between Muslims and Sinhalese, because they have nothing better to do. If it turns in to a conflict we will have to sacrifice our lives again and go back to war, not them. We are the ones who have to suffer. We gave up so much to end the conflict, it pains us to see our efforts treated so carelessly. I am really sad to see what is happening. I hope it never happens again.
- Pasan, 42