Thursday 31 January 2019

Gajalakshmi Paramasivam

31 January 2019

Torture of Displacement

Today is the birth anniversary of my uncle Ratnam Durai, known as Sinnathamby within family. My uncle was part of United States Intelligence during World War II  and was caught and tortured to death by the Japanese. Below is an extract from my book about this painful experience:

Q:        Do you have any information concerning the death of one RATNAM DURAI at the New Law Courts Building, Rangoon, Burma? If so, please state what you know of your own knowledge concerning the incident?
Capt. Maloney: When I was placed in the New Law Courts Building, RATNUM DURAI was already confined in a cell adjacent to the one to which I was assigned, and was moved to my cell in about 10 days. On nearly every day for several weeks after I arrived, one or more interrogators, usually the interpreters, would come to the cell and ask him questions. I understood from the questions that they were seeking information as to the radio frequencies and codes he used as an agent for the United States intelligence, where he was trained, and the names of other natives trained with him. The interrogators would frequently beat him with a heavy club or rubber hose while in the cell. At other times he would be taken from the cell and be gone for a period of from a few hours to 2 days. When he was returned to his cell his body would show evidence of very severe beating, and frequently he had been so badly mistreated that he could not walk. About half the time he was given nothing to eat and did not recover. He died in January 1944, about 6 weeks after I arrived. He had no diseases or injury, except from apparent beatings, when I first arrived.

On days such as this, I remember as if my uncle’s pain was mine. My uncle’s income from this was saved towards dowry to my mother. Hence it is my duty to remember and keep that family structure strong and reliable.
This morning – in that mindset I read the Aljazeera report headed ‘Ten years after end of war, Tamils still waiting to return home’ about Keppapulavu, Mullaitheevu women:

[…Keppapulavu's residents fled their houses in 2008 during the bloody last phase of Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war, which was fought between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist group that sought an independent homeland for the minority Tamil population in the Buddhist-majority South Asian nation.
The military occupied over 202 hectares of Tamil-owned residential land in Keppapulavu, subsuming the former residents' homes in expansive camps.
"I'm willing to die for the chance to go home," said Shanthi (name changed on request), a 52-year-old single mother of three, tears streaming down her face.
When the war ended in 2009, Keppapulavu's former residents were moved to Manik Farm, a military-run displacement camp plagued by widespread human rights violations, according to a 2015 United Nations report.
Manik Farm was closed in 2012, and the 560 former Keppapulavu residents remaining in the camp were resettled on small plots of the undeveloped jungle in Sooripuram, a village that borders Keppapulavu.
Shanthi says that before 2008, she would earn an ample income by selling the mangos and coconuts that grew on her two hectares of land, which now lie within the premises of the army camp.
But displacement left her family impoverished. "My children had to stop going to school so that they could work. It was the only way to survive," she said….]

I identified with their pain as if it were mine. They are protecting their dignity as self-sufficient human beings. TNA leader Mr Sampanthan wrote as follows to the President on 09 November 2017:

[There is plenty of other land available for the Army to use –if they so need, without the payment of any compensation whatever.
In the context of the determination that these civilian people have shown to get back their land, denial of their legitimate right to their land would be immensely harmful to reconciliation .This would have an adverse impact generally on reconciliation.
I would earnestly urge that this extent of 73 Acres be returned to these Civilian people at the earliest.
I request Your Excellency’s intervention in this matter.]

But there has been no solution to this problem through the External process. I thought about what I did in 1998 here in Australia – at the University of NSW when such external measures did not work. I went direct to the Vice Chancellor’s office on the basis of my belief based entitlement. No, the Vice Chancellor failed to deliver – and I ended up being charged unlawfully for Trespass. So long as the authorities in power had the ‘outcome’ they liked – I was a ‘forgotten’ person. But my victory happened and is continuing to happen through other avenues. At no time did I act in breach of the law – even after the courts sometimes upheld the trespass charges and dismissed my claim that the reason was racial discrimination. But I believed in Gandhi and relative to Gandhi’s sacrifices and difficulties mine did not seem unbeatable. It’s the Iru Kodugal / Two lines philosophy. How do you make a line shorter without erasing it? By drawing a longer line parallel to it.

‘Waging Nonviolence’ reported about a similar experience in Iranaitheevu in Sri Lanka:
[While such a victory may seem unlikely or even just lucky — given the risk factors involved — the WDS actually employed a methodology developed and honed by civilian peacekeepers. Known as protective accompaniment, the practice involves positioning a respected third party to be visibly present in close physical proximity to vulnerable civilians in order to deter potential perpetrators from engaging in violence.] - How women led a peaceful flotilla to reclaim their island from the Sri Lankan Navy

In 2016, at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, I played the role that  WDS - Women’s Development Society  and civil society leaders played in the Iranaitheevu experience. I placed myself as the interpreter of a group of Nursing Aids who were warned that they employment would be terminated. As a working woman – I was able to identify with their belief as mine. Had they gone on their own – they would have been fooled and denied their just expectations. I presented our case at the escalated professional level – where the warning happens intuitively from mind to mind – belief to belief. Towards this one has to feel common with both groups. I have done that at individual level, many times here in Australia – resulting in the other side withdrawing.

In Australia, I distanced myself from institutions that according to my interpretation were disorderly and failed to identify with the other’s belief or at least respect the other’s belief. Given that my pathway was as per the law – my belief was healthy for Australia. So, I continue to believe, undisturbed and adversely as the opposition of the custodians of power. That was how I was able to identify with TNA earning the position of Opposition Leadership in 2015.

I identify very much with the torture of displacement experienced by the  Keppapulavu folks. TNA and the Diaspora needs to become the ‘protective accompaniment’ needed by Keppapulavu folks who would function best in their home areas of belief. Sri Lanka needs that to protect it from wars. The Diaspora needs to believe at that level. I know of some who do. But they lack the global status as individuals. They need institutional support of NGOs who must be passive  - which then paves the Truth to manifest Itself as the combined belief of all participants.

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