10 years on...
This story starts in August 2002 when I went with my father back to the land on which I was born – northern Sri Lanka.
The Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) had signed a ceasefire agreement a few months earlier. My father and many others in the diaspora were hopeful that there would be no return to war.
At the time my understanding of the Tamil struggle for self-determination was limited and clouded in ignorance. I had found growing up in the west with conservative Tamil parents difficult and confusing. I wanted to be just like my ‘white’ friends who I felt had endless freedom. I reacted by rejecting anything related to the identity enforced on me.
The decision to accompany appa on the 2002 trip was my peace offering to him. We spent three weeks in the Vanni region, the area administered by the LTTE prior to their defeat in 2009.
The human suffering that I saw in that community devastated by 19 years of war was heartbreaking. I met children who were blind, deaf and dumb because their mothers had been malnourished from the economic embargo. I carried babies that had been abandoned under trees. I sat panicking next to parents who cried remembering their sons and daughters long dead in battle. I heard of the rapes, torture and executions committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces. I still remember everything as if it was yesterday.
In the years that followed, I went back to the Vanni four times. I developed a strong attachment to the land, a deep respect for the courage of resistance and a commitment to the Eelam Tamil identity.
The haunting question of why I had been fortunate enough to grow up in the West, created a sense of guilt that externalised through my actions.
I sunk into a surreal daze of confusion and panic as two worlds that could not be reconciled unfolded before me: one of endless opportunities and freedom in a country now my home, and the other of tremendous suffering and violence inflicted upon the community which I had fled.
My last trip to Sri Lanka was in March 2006. The rumblings of war had started. My friends in the Vanni said it would be the ‘final war’. They said that they would not be there when I returned. I didn’t believe them, so I never said goodbye. I never said a proper thank you for their courage and their sacrifices and for opening their hearts and homes to a bratty Tamil diaspora girl who never truly understood their world.
In 2009, when the Sri Lankan Government again unleashed unforgiving violence on the Tamils in the north, my appa was one of the 400 000 or so people in the 'killing fields'. He miraculously survived. More than 100 000 children, women and men did not.
Three years on, the shock, grief and guilt has subsided enough so that I am no longer overwhelmed by it. But the pain of 2009 and the continuing injustice has left deep violent scars.
The resilience of the Tamil people, their 64 year long resistance to ethnic persecution and brutality at the hands of the Government of Sri Lanka has become my inner core.
The Tamil struggle will forever remind me that there are people in this world that are oppressed, brutalised and forsaken. It is my privilege to stand in solidarity with them.
I will do this proudly as a daughter of Tamil Eelam and a sister to the Tamil resistance.
Brami Jegan, 28 August 2012*
*has been edited since.