Piyaseeli’s four decades in Kilinochchi

By Arthur Wamanan
Sunday, 10 June 2012
The Nation
Sunday, 10 June 2012

Piyaseeli’s four decades in Kilinochchi
Piyaseeli’s four decades in Kilinochchi

Her smile broadens as she hears the familiar language – Sinhala. “You know Sinhala?” she asks.
Piyaseeli, a domestic aide, has been living in Tharmapuram, 20 kilometers east of Kilinochchi, a shade over four decades. She has seen, experienced and shared the harrowing experiences of 30 years of war with thousands of people in the area popularly known as the Wanni.

Having lived in a predominantly Tamil area, it was not often that she came across people speaking the language spoken in the rest of the country. Originally from Matara, Piyaseeli moved to Kilinochchi with her husband in 1972 and has been living there since. For Piyaseeli, life brought many uncertainties after moving to the Wanni. Little did she know that the Wanni would soon be a war zone, in years to come. “We came here seeking a quiet peaceful life,” she says.

Life was not easy for her and her husband during the initial stages in Kilinochchi. Having moved from one end of the country to the other, Piyaseeli and her husband’s challenges were not limited to getting accustomed to the new environment and its people. They needed to ensure that the hosts were comfortable with them. She was not accepted by the community. It took two years for the couple to convince the people that they were in Kilinochchi to make a decent living.

“Even though my husband is a Tamil of Indian descent, I am Sinhalese and was not accepted by the people at the time. They were doubtful. They felt really uncomfortable and were suspicious about us,” she said.

Therefore, Piyaseeli and her husband lived an isolated life, until the people were accustomed to their presence. “We were virtually in hiding for some time. But eventually things changed and we were able to move freely,” says Piyaseeli.

However, Piyaseeli’s problems were not to end there. The worst was yet to come and was to remain for decades until May 2009. It was not only the final stages of fighting that affected them. The run up to the climax was also filled with tension, displacement, uncertainties and fear for the people in the former war zone. The fluctuating, volatile security situation in the country was centered around the Wanni.

Kilinochchi gained the attention of many during the war, as it functioned as the de-facto administrative center of the LTTE for decades until it was regained by the security forces in January 2009.

For Piyaseeli, life in Kilinochchi was like living in a totally different country. The Wanni was completely cut off from the South during a major part of the fighting. The people lived in isolation with no way to contact their relatives in other parts of the country. Despite all the obstacles, Piyaseeli and her family continued with their lives, as all others in the region.

“It was difficult. We could not get out. We could not keep in touch with people who were living as close as Jaffna. But, I was not the only one helpless here. There were thousands,” she said.

Forty years later, Piyaseeli looks at all the experiences she gained in a positive light. She was one of the thousands who had to run for their lives during the final stages of fighting. Having lived there 40 years, being a victim of conflict was not new to Piyaseeli. She moved there even before the LTTE came into the scene. She has gone through almost all the phases of the ethnic situation.

However, she says the final stages were the worst that she faced in her entire stay. “Every single person was affected in one way or another. We suffered a lot, not knowing where to run and where to find safety,” she said.

 Her Tamil accent is still different from what is generally spoken in the North. But, Piyaseeli has become just another person in Kilinochchi. Her husband is no more. All her children are married to residents of Kilinochchi. “This has been my home and will continue to be so. I love the place, the people and everything that is here. They have been with me in hard times. I will be with them when they are happy,” she smiles. 

The life of Piyaseeli is just one example. She is just one stone for the bridge that is needed to connect the two communities that were separated for years.

Fast of the Faithful

By Rukshana Rizwie
“Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good and you will find that your enemy has become your close friend” (41:34)
O you who believe! Observing as-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may become Al-Muttaqun (pious)” – Qur’an (2:183)
Muslims all over the world will begin fasting on Tuesday in observation of Ramadhan – a pillar of Islam and the blessed and holiest month, when the faithful abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.
That is, if, Ramadhan begins on Tuesday.
Every year, identifying the start of Ramadhan for Muslims is like a waiting game until Islamic scholars sight the new moon in the night sky. This greatly anticipated announcement officiates the begging of the fast from the next morning and ends with the sighting of the birth of the next new moon – a period of a month.
Many wonder what purpose fasting serves, among mainly, the  experience of fasting is intended to teach a Muslim self-discipline and self-restraint, and understand a little of the plight of the less privileged. A Muslim will have one meal (Suhoor) just before sunrise and break the fast exactly after sunset (Iftar).
Ramadhan for Muslims is like an intensive course intended to help him/her cultivate the essential virtues. People today live at a superficial level of existence with emphasis on the physical realm or attachment to material dimensions forgetting the identity as human beings. The first few days of Ramandhan are usually difficult on the believing Muslims because it restrains the mind, body and soul to discipline ourselves.
A Muslim has to guard his tongue and restrain his anger. Do good deeds and exercise personal discipline. It is a blessed month of peace and love in which individuals are encouraged to bury differences, forget and forgive and renew both human and spiritual relationships. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) had said, “The best of people are those who benefit most, the rest of people.” 
“When Ramadan comes, the gates of Heaven are opened, the gates of Hell are closed, and the devils are chained.” — Sahih Bukhari Hadith 3.123
Muslims don’t make New Year resolutions, they make Ramandhan resolutions. In Ramandhan we starve our body to feed our soul. Fasting imbues in a Muslim the genuine virtue of effective devotion, honest dedication and closeness to God; because when he fasts he does so for Allah and Allah’s sake alone.
Fasting cultivates in man a vigilant and sound conscience; because the fasting person keeps his fast a secret even in public. In fasting, there is no mundane authority to check man’s behavior or compel him to observe fasting. He keeps it to please God and satisfy his own conscience by being faithful in secret and in public.
Fasting in Ramadhan is obligatory on every responsible and fit Muslim. But there are other times when it is recommended to make voluntary fasting, after the traditions of Prophet Muhammad.
“The month of Ramadan is a blessed month, a month in which Allah has made fasting obligatory. This month contains a night greater than a thousand months. Whosoever deprives himself of the blessings of that night truly denies himself tremendously.” (An-Nisa’iee)
The night referred in the paragraph above is Laylat-ul-Qadr(meaning the Night of Power).  It was during these nights in the year 610 C.E that the holy Prophet received the first of the divine revelations through the Angel Gabriel. This event is annually marked by Muslims on the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadhan.
The end of Ramadan is marked by a festive celebration called ‘Eid-ul-Fitr, the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. Muslims not only celebrate the end of Ramadhan, but thanking Allah for the help and strength that he gave them throughout the previous month.
There are special services at mosques and Muslims partake in a special celebratory meal eaten during daytime, the first daytime meal Muslims would have had in a month.
Eid is also a time of forgiveness, and making amends. On this day, Muslims dress in their finest clothes, give gifts to children and spend time with their friends and family. At Eid it is obligatory to give a set amount of money (zakat) to charity to be used to help poor people.
The Nation wishes its readers a blessed Ramadhan!

Burqa: Should it be banned?

A woman’s beauty is believed to be in her face. As this is the first part of the body seen, it is considered to be what creates desire in a man. This is why women of the Muslim faith are asked and depending on their beliefs, forced to wear a burqa. A very basic description of this would be an enveloping outer garment that covers a woman from head to toe. This is both to leave a woman’s beauty to the imagination and also for the Namus or honor of Muslims.

The world was thrown into turmoil though, when a few years back, the French attempted to prohibit it by ‘The Bill to forbid concealing one’s face in public.’ This gave an opening for women suppressed by the burqa and also officials fearing security risks to oppose the wearing of a burqa. This enveloping garment prevents defining a woman’s body shape and also results in difficulties in identification.

The latter was brought to the surface recently when an Army Captain hiding beneath a burqa attempted to rob a bank in Kandy. The incident was shocking as it made people realize just how difficult it is to know the person beneath the burqa. It is definitely a foolproof disguise that is quite easy to obtain.An individual speaking on behalf of the Police Spokesperson commented that it is important to be aware of the different behaviors of a man and a woman. He also added that although during the years of conflict and war, clothing that prevents identification posed many security risks, during a supposed time of peace, it wasn’t posing any sort of threat. The Army Captain was suspected and searched by the officials due to his suspicious behavior which portrayed him both as a nervous individual and also a man in women’s clothing.

Always willing to deal with controversial issues, the Bodu Bala Sena Secretary, Ven. Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara Thera commented on the issue saying the organization has not taken any official action for the ban of the burqa and that it had only been brought in to discussions.The ACJU Media Coordinator Aslam Zubair said a ban of the burqa or any sort of clothing was unfair and breached human rights. He added that the burqa cannot be banned due to a handful of incidents. If such action is taken, sarongs and T-shirts should also be banned as they are often used by robbers to conceal their faces. Zubair explained that even talk of such a ban was an insult on both women and Muslims in general.

He also discussed social issues dealing with clothing. Prostitution and rape is often encouraged by the indecency in which the victims dress. He drew many comparisons, an important one being the following. Who is a man more aroused by, the fully covered Muslim lady or the half clad European woman? It is the latter than stirs a man within, no matter how religious or intelligent he is. Today most Muslim women have abandoned the burqa and others rarely cover their heads with a scarf. Zubair’s opinion on this is that such women need more education on Islam and they need to have more faith in the religion. Only the faithful put what they are told into practice and adorn the body-covering garment.

Looking at the Sri Lankan and mostly Buddhist culture, it is apparent that changes have been made to the traditional dress of the redda and hatta or cloth and jacket. The outfit that was once worn in a modest manner has now been reduced to a naval exposing, sleeveless dress. Aslam Zubair sadly commented that culture is changing too rapidly, and that too in a negative manner.

The burqa is reserved for the faithful Muslim lady and there is a certain beauty in a covered woman. People who do not respect other religions and beliefs feel no fear though to denounce such clothing and ‘borrow’ them for their personal evil purposes.  As a nation that is believed to promote a multicultural community, it is our duty to encourage the freedom to dress according to one’s beliefs. The sad truth though is simple; the actions of a few shameless individuals create uneasiness within this nation.

The Buddha is believed to have said, “If a person foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my boundless love.” Buddhism encourages tolerance. So does Islam. Thus the wise man would rather tolerate and accept other religions and beliefs than try to ban the burqa.

The Nation
Sunday, 24 February 2013

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 15

The fifteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

In this article, we would be looking at another important lesson from Nelson Mandela. (Refer installment 4 and installment 14 for more)
Nelson Mandela holds up his clenched fist in triumph the day after his release from prison in 1990 after 27 years at the age of 72. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

“Nothing is black or white”-Nelson Mandela
Life is never either/or. Decisions we make are always complex, and there are competing factors. To look for simple explanations is the bias of the human brain, but it doesn’t correspond to reality. Nothing is as straightforward as it appears. In our lives, we find many situations that require decisions. Be it a simple yes/no or a complex answer, we still have decisions to make. When we attempt to find the answer, how do we approach? Do we analyze the situation and approach in a pragmatic manner or do we approach in a solely idealistic manner? It should be noted that though Mandela was an idealist, he was a pragmatic idealist. We find that each and every problem has many roots. While Mandela was indisputably and clearly against the apartheid, the causes of the apartheid were complex. They were historical, sociological and psychological. Nelson’s calculation was always: what is the end I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?
The civil conflict of Sri Lanka has many causes. Most of us know only a few and as a result we do not have a clear understanding of the issue. As citizens of Sri Lanka, we should gather information and clarify our doubts. It means being unbiased and obtaining knowledge on the conflict. This is not easy. People are usually driven by emotions. The country needs leaders who can control their emotions and approach issues in an intellectual manner. We need to sharpen our minds to find practical solutions to problems. The country has several intellectual leaders whose ideas are often termed ‘out of the world’. As future leaders we should be able to develop the skill of coming up with practical solutions. We should not lose sight of our vision. It is the cause that should drive a person. When the vision of the cause becomes blurred, the journey towards the goal becomes difficult. It is important to always remind yourself of the cause you stand for, and make wise decisions that would benefit both the cause and the people.   

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 14

The fourteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

It is true that we learned valuable lessons from Nelson Mandela in a previous article as well, but there are many more lessons that we can learn from him; lessons that could make our homeland a better place to live in. We would also like to wish this great leader a speedy recovery… 

“Know your enemy – and learn about his favourite sport”

The Afrikaners are white South Africans whose favourite sport was rugby. The blacks in South Africa preferred football. During Mandela’s time, the white South Africans treated the blacks as inferior to them. This made Mandela and several others voice against the apartheid policy. The blacks and whites in South Africa continued to fight with each other. The blacks would always support the team opposing their National Rugby team. The gap between the two groups got wider and wider. Mandela made attempts to narrow the gap. He started learning Afrikaans, the language of the white South Africans who created the apartheid. His comrades in the African National Congress (ANC) teased him about it, but Mandela wanted to understand the Afrikaner’s worldview; he knew that one day he would either be fighting with them or negotiating with them. Either way, his destiny was tied to theirs. This was strategic in two senses: by speaking his opponents’ language, he might understand their strengths and weaknesses and formulate tactics accordingly. But he would also be ingratiating with his enemy. Everyone from ordinary jailers to P.W. Botha was impressed by Mandela’s willingness to speak Afrikaans and his knowledge of Afrikaner history.
How many leaders in the country are trilingual? How many people around us speak both Tamil and Sinhala? It is a very small number that actually speaks the two languages commonly spoken in the country. Many leaders fail to see the importance of learning the other group’s language. They think that since they speak Sinhala, they can connect with the majority and that is enough to secure the majority votes. Only a few Sinhalese leaders attempt to learn Tamil, the language of the minority in Sri Lanka. The Tamil leaders on the other hand are compelled to learn Sinhala as they need to use that language when negotiating and speaking with the Sinhalese leaders. The language barrier is a reason for segregation in the country. The majority will start to think that since their language is the most widely spoken in the nation, they are superior to others. The minority on the other hand starts thinking that they are inferior to others. This creates room for issues and leads to violence.
To solve most of the problems in Sri Lanka, the leaders, irrespective of their background, should have a sound knowledge of Sinhala and Tamil. When this is achieved, the leaders would face fewer problems in connecting and speaking with the other group. They learn to see the way the other group had felt all this while. When this happens, the leaders would understand the challenges the opposing group faces and would try and work joining hands with the formerly opposing group. It is after Mandela learnt Afrikaners that he understood that blacks and Afrikaners had something fundamental in common: Afrikaners believed themselves to be Africans as deeply as blacks did. He knew too, that Afrikaners had been victims of prejudice themselves: the British government and the white English settlers looked down on them. Afrikaners suffered from a cultural inferiority complex almost as much as blacks did. If Mandela had not learnt Afrikaans, he would have never understood the common ground and South Africa would still be fighting amongst itself. We can see the importance of learning the other groups’ languages which serves to create opportunities for unity among segregated groups.

Mandela was a lawyer, and in prison he helped the warders with their legal problems. They were far less educated and worldly than he, and it was extraordinary to them that a black man was willing and able to help them. Allister Sparks, a great South African historian defines them as ‘the most ruthless and brutal of the apartheid regime’s characters. But Allister realized that even the worst and crudest could be negotiated with. This feat was possible only because Mandela took the initiative and effort to learn Afrikaans. As future leaders, what we can accomplish now, is taking the steps to learn both Sinhala and Tamil. Though it might be hard in the beginning, you never know the benefits the nation can receive later because it has leaders who can communicate with both the Sinhalese and the Tamils equally well, leading to equality among the citizens. 


(For a bloodthirsty avenger, Sivapalan was a seriously cute kid)

“Brahmarajan…Brahmarajan, at least talk to me, my love,” she whispered. “just tell me how you feel. You told me everyday that you always loved me, but tell me why you’re so closed now. Is it the situation in Lanka? Or”-she drew back, sadly, twirling her hair with her finger-“did I do it?” Once again she moved away, slumping down onto the bed and gazing up at the stream of memories.
Her Brahmarajan, her perfect Brahmarajan. Minakshi smiled a bit and let her world spin out of focus as she let her hands explore her curvaceous frame, drawing them across her body as she hugged herself tightly, arms folded across her chest as she ventured down to her soft, gently swollen stomach. Soon, rush of heat sped in between her legs as she imagined a young man bending down, kissing her lovingly as he stroked her, moving his lips from her neck to her breasts.
This man had a rather moody but strong and rather square-jawed face with a chin dimple and warm eyes, and was built like a martial artist or a wrestler, with powerfully muscled shoulders and huge, bulging chest. But his hands were so gentle that she felt like a fawn being handled by a velvet-pawed tiger before he went for the killing blow. Yet the power of his heart was immense, so she remembered. Her beautiful, perfect warrior, her Brahmarajan. Minakshi was loosing herself again. She turned around on the bed, loving the amazing image in front of her, only to see him crumbling as he kissed her again, whispering upon the gods that he always loved her.
But she broke back into reality.
The image had now shifted away, and finally, she found herself once more, in the bedroom. “I must see him tonight,” she decided. But stopped. Was she the woman to crawl after her husband and then follow up with a dramatic breakup or death after crying endlessly for the whole night and praying for safety in a cruel world? Was she the woman who would even crawl behind anybody at all? No. She was proud, after all, truly, truly proud.
But her Brahmarajan…
And where was her pride, she mused, when he had entered her so many nights back, and blessed her with Sivapalan? Could a woman’s pride, could her pride, allow her this? Or was her true pride, the true pride of a woman, the pride at being a mother at last? Minakshi questioned herself again, then rose, straightening herself up, as she walked out, and began to search out her husband.
Or would he be her husband again?
The noises of the night around her, the gentle purring songs of crickets; the crying of a newborn baby in the neighbor’s house; the snoring of the old couple in the cozy little house parallel to theirs and the attempts of a sleepless fishmonger to restock his stall, the curses and groans in Tamil as he hefted an albacore as big as himself onto his bench, all seemed to be otherworldly and out of tangent to her now. Nothing seemed to muffle her steps as she felt the world growing misty again. The staircase with the one improperly nailed step, the rough banister, the burnt brick walls that were painted on by Sivapalan and his magical piece of charcoal, all seemed to be an alternate reality now.
“Brahmarajan?” No answer. “Are you there, Brahmarajan? Please answer me!” Minakshi suddenly felt a cold chill overtake her as a strange wind spread through the house, even rustling-or so she imagined-the palm leaf books that lay scattered around the little round table beside the entrance of her special room. Hers and hers alone, but not today, it seemed. Something was definitely in, she knew, as she pressed her ear to the door and listened intently. Curiously, she knocked, and the sound stopped.
It had been the sound of a harp, a huge, rather creaky periyazh, being twanged about.
“How in the world…must be a rat…or not,” she wondered aloud as she reached for the keys she always strung around her waist, tucked snugly into her sari. Tentatively, she opened the heavy, carved wooden door, and peeked inside.   
This room had one window, curtained like almost all the rooms in her house, and had a smooth, tiled floor. The moon showed beautifully in the sky, casting a soft glow into the room.
This made the creamy tiles shine, almost, but as she looked further in, began to smile. “Sivapalan! And I thought you were a rat!” For sure enough, seated in the centre of the room with what remained of her best periyazh, was a small child, small even for his age, with slightly darkish skin, and huge, dark eyes that almost filled up his face.  He looked nervous at first, but then a smile began growing on his face as two massive dimples appeared on his cheeks and his chin.
The excited Sivapalan ran towards his mother, hugging her legs as she laughed gently at him.

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 13

It’s an honour to present the thirteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

The power to reconcile resides in each one of us. It is essential that we use the suitable sources of power to put it into action. (N.B. This article is a continuation of the twelfth installment)

We will now discuss the sources of power.

Positional power: It is based upon the role or position an individual occupies in a society. It is passed from one individual to another as he or she moves in and out of the role.

Relational power: This does not reside in a particular individual but is a property of social relationships. For example, when you listen to a friend and respect his or her opinion, you give that person power. When that person listens to you and respects your opinions, you are given the power. In relationships, power is fluid and hard to measure. It can be expanded or limited as you interact. It depends on both individuals involved.

Power of force: It refers to physical strength and coercive mechanisms. Individuals may use their own strength, as well as weapons, armaments, armies, police and prisons to impose their will upon others. For example, we see bullies in the school using their physical strength to make others obey them.

Power of resources and status: This comes from wealth or social standing within the society. Individuals can use their money or their family and social ties to maintain a situation that is to their advantage or to get what they want. For example kings and queens are given royal power because of their family ties. In Sri Lanka we can see such power in play.

Power of knowledge and expertise: This refers to the additional credit and influence given to those in a society with special knowledge and expertise, such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers etc. Power comes from what they know. When we enter the rural communities, they respect the doctors, engineers and teachers as Gods. The society gives these professions power.

Power of a group: It comes from people acting together for a cause. The phrase “people power” is often quoted relevant to this. It refers to the power of individuals when they are part of a group. Labour unions and mass protest movements have power due to their large numbers. The leaders of such mass movements have the choices of either non violent protest or violent protest. We see many such movements being manipulated by the leaders towards violent protest. This would only increase the gap between the two groups. One should attempt to bridge the gap between the segregated parties by non violent approach as Gandhi did.

We should also study the personal powers we posses. As leaders it is vital that we know our strengths and weaknesses. We can identify personal powers of people around us and attempt to achieve that talent. Another option is trying to get that person on board the cause we stand for and use their talents. Some positive qualities that can be seen in leaders around us are energy, sense of direction, charisma, balance, sensitivity, perceptiveness, enthusiasm, sense of justice, ability to manage emotions rather than suppressing them, etc.

We should also make sure that we know the actions that would diminish the personal power we already possess. Unwillingly complying with others, not acknowledging our skills and talents, not being assertive, being afraid to take risks, feeling that we are trapped by the past difficulties and using disempowering language are a few to be named and we should be cautioned to not fall into those traps. When I said acknowledging the talents, it doesn’t mean boasting about it; rather it means being aware of the talents we possess in a non arrogant way. Thus we can realize that real power is shared, not imposed. It is the ability to define human needs and fulfill both our needs and the needs of the people we care about.

As citizens of this nation, we should know our rights and responsibilities in the country. Thomas Humphrey Marshall, a British Sociologist defines citizenship as follows. ‘Citizenship is status given to all those who are full members of the society. All citizens have equal rights and duties.’ In Sri Lanka we often speak about equal rights not being enforced. How many of the citizens actually fulfill the duties properly? How then can we only address the issue on non equal rights? What I believe is that the duties towards the country should be fulfilled and then the rights be debated. Just as rights are important, duties are important too. We shouldn’t be biased and argue only on the topic of rights, because rights and duties go hand in hand.