Anandhi Sasitharan, wife of senior Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Sinnathurai Sasitharan alias Ezhilan began grabbing the attention of Northern voters when the Provincial Council election campaign got underway. As the only woman candidate fielded by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the Jaffna district and by virtue of being given the number one slot on the candidate list, Anandhi was in an advantageous position. Furthermore, the portrayal of her pathetic plight in having a husband reported missing after surrendering to the armed forces aroused much sympathy. Backed by a well-financed, well-organised propaganda campaign, Anandhi Sasitharan began making rapid strides on the path to electoral triumph.
At the commencement of her campaign Anandhi faced an obstacle of sorts in the form of TNA Jaffna district MP E. Saravanabavan, the proprietor of the Jaffna-based “Uthayan” and Colombo based “Sudar Oli” Tamil newspapers. Saravanabavan apparently perceived Anandhi as a threat, as she was based in Chulipuram that falls under the Vaddukkoddai electorial division. Saravanabavan is the TNA organiser for the electoral division and relied mainly on votes from this constituency to get elected to Parliament in 2010. Anandhi posed a long-term threat to him, politically. As a result, the “Uthayan” blacked out Anandhi’s campaign and refused to publish even paid advertisements endorsing her candidacy.
This was a blow as the “Udhayan” supposedly retains much influence and impact with the readers of Jaffna. However, thanks to the benign intervention of a media personality known to both, a quiet meeting was arranged between Saravanabavan and Anandhi. What exactly transpired at the meeting is not known
but it appears to have been successful in achieving rapprochement. Thereafter Anandhi’s advertisements and news items about her campaign appeared regularly in “Udhayan”. A detailed interview with her was also published.
Four other developments relating to Anandhi Sasitharan during the polls campaign also helped boost her campaign. The first was a public protest demonstration by some ex-LTTE members who carried placards and shouted slogans critical of Anandhi Sasitharan. She was the only TNA candidate against whom a demonstration of such a nature was conducted.
The second development was a reported incident near Chunnakam in Jaffna. Anandhi was returning home after in the night after intense canvassing when a VIP motorcade passed her vehicle. A person on a motor cycle following the VIP vehicle tried to attack Anandhi’s vehicle. A heavy object was thrown at the vehicle, damaging it. Apparently the damage was minimal and no further mishap occurred.
"Anandhi and most of the pro-tiger elements posing nowadays as human rights champions target only the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and not Veluppillai Prabhakaran’s LTTE. They seem to think that the LTTE is “absolved” now because the leaders are dead and the movement extinct in Sri Lanka"
The third development was reportedly far more serious. A gang of armed men –some in uniform - attacked her residence in Chulipuram and damaged the house, furniture and parked vehicles. At least eight of her campaign staff were assaulted severely and had to obtain hospital treatment. Fortunately, Anandhi and her three daughters had jumped over a rear wall and escaped to a safe place shortly before the attack began. Fearful of an impending attack Anandhi’s campaign staff had compelled her to leave with the children as a precaution.
This incident received much publicity as there were many media personnel in Jaffna then to cover the historic provincial poll. Anandhi Sasitharan was the focal point of local, national and international media attention and became famous overnight. Anandhi accused the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) of being responsible for the attack. This was hotly denied by that party. Interestingly the TNA hierarchy did not conduct an official party press conference featuring Anandhi Sasitharan, thereby deriving much political mileage.
TNA inaction in this matter was interpreted in two ways by many. The first was that the TNA hierarchy was not satisfied about the genuineness of the attack and so were reluctant to endorse Anandhi’s account of the attack in a public press conference. The second interpretation was that the TNA hierarchy was worried by the rise of popularity enjoyed by Anandhi after the incident. There was concern that the management assistant may get more preference votes than the retired Supreme Court judge. Though the press conference did not materialise Anandhi was unaffected, as her individual interviews to media personnel at her home and over the telephone reaped a bountiful propaganda harvest.
The convergence of diverse elements within the TNA and within the Tamil Diaspora working towards the common cause of undermining Wigneswaran by enabling another candidate to gain the most number of preferential votes had latched onto Anandhi Sasitharan as the brightest prospect in this exercise. Alarm bells started ringing in the Wigneswaran camp as the campaign unfolded. So rattled was the camp that it persuaded the ex-Judge to engage in rabble-rousing rhetoric against the so called “military” governor and military presence on the one hand, and sing the praises of Prabhakaran and the LTTE on the other. TNA leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan who had pushed through Wigneswaran as the chief ministerial candidate against the wishes of Somasuntharam “Maavai” Senathirajah took up the challenge personally and parked himelf in Jaffna at the “Uthayan” resthouse and coordinated the pro-Wigneswaran campaign to ensure that the ex-Supreme Court judge got the most number of preference votes.
"Anandhi Sasitharan, wife of Ezhilan strives to seek justice for her missing husband. The critical question is whether Ezhilan was a victim or perpetrator of human rights violations or both. In that context, is Anandhi Sasitharan a voice of the victims or that of the perpetrators?"
As Election Day drew near, it appeared that Wigneswaran was going to garner the most number of preference votes. Conservative Jaffna that respected education and position was going to throw in its lot with the learned ex-judge. With a house-to-house campaign afoot requesting voters to cast a solitary preference vote in favour of Wigneswaran and nobody else, the chances of increasing his preference tally increased.
The dawning of polling day on September 21 saw the fourth Anandhi-related election development occur. This was not one of a violent nature. It was an
exercise in duplicity. A fake “Uthayan” newspaper with the same format as the original newspaper was printed with the sensational news that Anandhi Sasitharan had deserted the TNA and crossed over to the Government. The fake “Udhayan” news aroused much interest but was dismissed with disbelief and contempt. The Jaffna voter was not to be conned so easily, as the forces responsible for the counterfeit edition had naively expected.
The duplicitous exercise however did churn a wave of sympathy towards Anandhi Sasitharan. Why was this woman alone being singled out as a target among the many TNA candidates? Was it a case of the Tamil saying “Kaaitha Maram thaan Kalladi Padum”? (only fruit-bearing trees are stoned).Whatever the motives behind the attacks on Anandhi, the cumulative effect was the formation of a massive sympathy wave. So huge was the perceptible sympathy that the Wigneswaran camp once again feared a neck-to-neck preferential voter race with the possibility of the chief ministerial candidate being edged out. The final results however saw the pro-Wigneswaran camp fears turned into liars and the anti-Wigneswaran camp hopes turned into dupes. CV Wigneswaran topped the preferences poll with 132,355 votes while Anandhi Sasitharan came second with 87,770 votes.
Anandhi’s victory had a stunning effect on many people, particularly some Western diplomats. One woman envoy from a powerful nation was particularly impressed and had a meeting with Anandhi. This envoy also played a crucial role in persuading the TNA hierarchy to agree that one of the two bonus seats to which the party was entitled to should be given to a defeated woman candidate who could provide moral support to Anandhi Sasitharan. This was adhered to and Ms. Mary Kamala Gunaseelan who contested in Mullaitheevu was appointed.
After the TNA victory the party was assailed by multiple pressures over the appointment of provincial ministers. There were numerous claims and counter-claims strengthened by respective pressure groups and influence peddlers. The Anandhi Sasitharan camp demanded that she be given a ministry post. This demand was also supported by some women organisations. However, this was not to be so. Chief Minister Wigneswaran apportioned duties to Provincial Councillors without portfolios by devolving certain subjects under the purview of different ministries to them. These were in an advisory capacity and the respective Councillors had to report to the Line Ministers. Wigneswaran accommodated Anandhi under his purview by allocating a role to her in subjects such as “Property Rehabilitation of Destitute Persons and families, Rehabilitation and Welfare of Physically, Mentally And Socially Handicapped Persons, Relief of the Disabled and Unemployables (focus would be on social aspects and special emphasis on war affected women and female headed households, children and elders) & Gender Mainstreaming”.
Despite CV Wigneswaran’s attempt to co-opt Anandhi Sasitharan into the administration by allocating functions in humanitarian spheres, the wife of Ezhilan seemed to have set her sights on other things. She revealed what her future ambition could be by stating in an interview that she would espouse her cause at a higher level if the Provincial Council forum was inadequate. Anandhi also firmly planted herself in what could be termed as the “extremist bloc” within the TNA.
During the totally unnecessary brouhaha about oath-taking Anandhi Sasitharan was one of the original nine who wanted to do so at Mullivaikkaal but later she backed out, leaving Sivajilingam as the solitary oath-taker by the shores of Nandhikkadal lagoon. Anandhi was however aligned to Valvettithurai’s Sivajilingam in many matters. She joined him in walking out and boycotting the Council when Governor Chandrasiri attended sessions. Anandhi was clad in red and yellow - the colours of the LTTE during the inaugural session of the Council.
"Since she claims to have personally witnessed the surrender of her husband to army officials on May 18 2009 at a point near the Vattuvaahal Bridge, Anandhi’s testimony has a ring of authenticity about it. This is why her testimony is received well and most people who hear it cannot help being sympathetic towards her situation"";
Anandhi Sasitharan also teamed up with Sivajilingam and members of other Tamil parties in protest demonstrations aimed at embarrassing the TNA hierarchy trying to pursue a relatively moderate and rational course of action. This was most visible in Jaffna when British Prime Minister David Cameron paid a visit to Jaffna during the CHOGM. One TNA faction led by Mavai Senathirajah undertook a protest demonstration over the land-grab issue at Maaviddapuram while another group consisting of people like Sivajilingam and Anandhi were part of a gathering protesting over disappearances. The TNA trio of Sampanthan, Wigneswaran and national list MP Sumanthiran kept engaging with premier Cameron. This three-fold manifestation illustrated clearly the divisions within the TNA.
While being involved with the agitation, Anandhi Sasitharan also captured much media attention. Easily accessible and also providing colourful copy as a woman with a missing husband seeking his whereabouts after winning a democratic poll, Anandhi Sasitharan got a lion’s share of media publicity. She also engaged in puerile antics like running up to a British media vehicle and handing over a file. All these were publicised in detail by LTTE and pro-LTTE media organs abroad. The image of Anandhi Sasitharan was being inflated into gigantic proportions by the tiger media.
This enhanced image has resulted in Anandhi being a highly sought-after “trophy” at Tamil Diaspora gatherings. After being elected she has visited the USA, Germany, Denmark and Norway. More visits to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, France, Belgium and South Africa are in the pipeline. In Germany she testified before the Permanent Peoples Tribunal at Bremen. In Sri Lanka she had a meeting in Jaffna with Stephen Rapp, visiting US Ambassador-at-Large for War crimes Issues and the US Ambassador in Colombo Michele J. Sison. All three posed for the camera after the meeting. Anandhi also testified last week in Kilinochchi at the Presidential Commission to probe disappearances.
"C.V. Wigneswaran topped the preferences poll with 132,355 votes while Anandhi Sasitharan came second with 87,770 votes. Anandhi’s victory had a stunning effect on many people, particularly some Western diplomats. One woman envoy from a powerful nation was particularly impressed and had a meeting with Anandhi"
Anandhi Sasitharan has been courageous and consistent in speaking out on the unknown fate of her husband Ezhilan. Since she claims to have personally witnessed the surrender of her husband to army officials on May 18 2009 at a point near the Vattuvaahal Bridge, Anandhi’s testimony has a ring of authenticity about it. This is why her testimony is received well and most people who hear it cannot help being sympathetic towards her situation. There is also admiration for her boldness in coming forward without fear of consequences.
This column does not intend at this juncture to either support or dispute Anandhi’s assertion about her husband surrendering to officials in May 2009. What it does intend doing at this point of time, is to draw attention to the role and conduct of Ezhilan himself as a senior LTTE leader. Even as one sympathises with Anandhi’s predicament one must also think of the numerous victims of the LTTE in the past. It is pertinent in this regard to briefly examine Ezhilan’s record in this respect. This does not diminish Anandhi’s personal grief or sorrow in any way but merely depicts the dichotomy of the situation. Ezhilan as stated earlier was an active member of the LTTE’s political wing. He was involved to a great extent in propagating LTTE policies and ideology to the Tamil public. He also served as the LTTE’s political commissar for the districts of Vavuniya and Trincomalee. It is openly acknowledged that there has never been a clearly defined demarcation between the military and political wings in the LTTE. During the ceasefire period after February 2002, the LTTE set up political offices in Government-controlled regions where they engaged in acts of taxation and recruitment.
Ezhilan himself came into global prominence in 2006 when serving in Trincomalee. He played a key role in planning and executing the blocking of water supply via the Maavilaaru River to Sinhala inhabitants in the Moothoor division of Trincomalee district. The blocking of water supply is regarded as a crime against humanity. Ezhilan was also responsible for justifying that act publicly. It is indeed a fact that the Maavilaaru blockade was a colossal blunder by the LTTE and afforded the Government the moral high ground with which to prosecute the war intensively. This does not absolve the role of Ezhilan in the matter. His close identification with the exercise earned him the title “Maavilaaru Ezhilan”.
"Even if the tiger hierarchy is no more, the acts of omission and commission perpetrated by the LTTE must be delved into in detail. If the truth must be told to bring about justice and reconciliation then that truth must be the whole truth. One-sided truths or truth in parts will not suffice"
The LTTE political wing members were at the forefront in conscripting youths based on the dictum “Veetukku oru veeran allathu veeranganai” (a hero or heroine from each home).Excessive force and sheer cruelty was shown in this conscription drive. These acts have been publicised by this columnist in earlier articles. After Thamilselvan’s death in November 2007, Ezhilan was placed in overall charge of recruitment which was in reality conscription. Ezhilan and Thamilini the woman political wing chief acquired a notorious reputation for forcibly recruiting young men, women and children in the years 2008- 2009.
The LTTE escalated its conscription to very high levels after being restricted to the Puthukkudiyiruppu and Karaithuraipattu AGA divisions in the Mullaitheevu district. Ezhilan continued to play a terrible role in this along with other senior LTTE political wingers. As the war continued to intensify along the Mullaitheevu coast the trapped civilian population were in a tragic hostage situation. A movement claiming to fight for the liberation of the Tamil people was holding its most vulnerable component in bondage and exposing it to danger and hardship.It was during this time of an unfolding humanitarian catastrophy that this writer appealed repeatedly through these “Daily Mirror”columns to “Let my People Go”. These pleas however fell on the deaf ears of the LTTE and what happened thereafter is now history.
During this tragic phase of war when the Tamils of tiger -controlled areas were regarded as the wretched of the Wanni earth that the political wing of the LTTE descended into despicable levels. The LTTE political wing was involved in three tasks even during those perilous times. Firstly the political wing continued to forcibly recruit youths and children in huge numbers. They were thrown into war as cannon fodder without adequate training or experience. Secondly the LTTE political wing acted repressively to prevent civilians from trying to escape from tigercontrolled areas to armycontrolled areas for reasons of safety and security. Thirdly the political wing dealt out inhuman punishment to the civilians apprehended while trying to flee. Ezhilan played a significant role in all these.
Among the many cruel acts of Sinnathurai Sasitharan alias “Major Ezhilan” three horrible acts stand out as illustrations of the depths of depravity one could sink into in a crisis situation.The first is the incident in Puthumaathalan when an ICRC vessel had berthed to transport injured persons for medical treatment. The LTTE as usual prioritised injured cadres - supporters and family members of Tiger members first instead of on the basis of seriousness of injuries. There led to frantic attempts by relatives of injured persons to show their injured family members to ICRC officials and seek priority in being transported by sea for treatment.
This was resented by the LTTE. Instead of firing guns and alerting ICRC officials the tigers used swords,,knives and poles to hack and assault the civilians and block them from meeting the ICRC. Ezhilan himself brandished a sword and was seen wielding it with much gusto on the helpless civilians. The Maathalan people’s revolt continued even after the ICRC ship departed. Now the LTTE suppressed the protests of the people by firing. At least seven civilians were killed and over fifteen injured in the firing. The tigers opened fire on the orders of Ezhilan it is alleged.
The second incident was at the Catholic “Our Lady of the Rosary” church at Valainjarmadam. Over 900 men, women and children had sought refuge at the church and were looked after by the Catholic priests and nuns who fed them “kanji”or porridge. The refugees in the church consisted of people without any form of shelter, forcibly recruited cadres fleeing LTTE clutches and families with children facing danger of tiger conscription.
A tiger triumvirate comprising Ezhilan, Ilamparithi and Malaimahal paid frequent visits to the area and demanded that the Catholic priests turn out the people or allow the LTTE to go into the premises and inspect the refuge seekers. The catholic priests stood firm and refused saying the people had sought sanctuary in the church. After repeated endeavours Ezhilan lost patience and set in motion an operation to clear the church. Armed LTTE cadres assembled outside the church as if for a military assault. Ezhilan informed the Catholic clergy that members of Tamil groups proscribed by the LTTE were occupying the church and had to be weeded out.
The LTTE led by Ezhilan then went into the church premises and began dragging out the youths and children in their early teens.When some youths resisted the LTTE opened fire and killed four persons. Over 500 youngsters of both sexes, children and able-bodied men were marched out at gun point and compelled to board buses brought by the tigers. They were taken to the battlefront. About 300 older men and women were left behind at Valainjarmadam wailing and sobbing over the loss of their loved ones. Ezhilan was present on the spot from beginning to end, supervising and directing the operation.
The third incident was also at Valainjarmadam at a place called “Kurusady Santhi”or Crucifix junction. Ezhilan and former LTTE administrative division head Thangan were leading a tream of tigers who had captured a group of civilians trying to flee to Govt controlled areas. Ezhilan was questioning and reprimanding the people as traitors for trying to escape when a young woman with an infant and two small children responded by saying that her children had no milk and that was why she was trying to escape. A heated argument broke out between Ezhilan and the young woman who accused the LTTE of being inhuman and queried “Neengal Manisar Illayaa”? (are you people not human). At this point Ezhilan whipped out his pistol and placing it on the woman’s forehead fired twice killing her in cold blood.
These are but three horrible instances where Ezhilan was involved in. There are many more, which may come to light if and when an intensive, impartial investigation is undertaken and the role and conduct of the LTTE is scrutinised at great length. Even though Ezhilan was involved in such barbaric conduct civilised norms stipulate that even persons who commit heinous crimes against humanity at one level are entitled to protection under the law at another level. Even a notorious violator of human rights is eligible to basic human rights such as the right to life and can be penalised only after due process of the law.
What then was the role of LTTE spouses like Anandhi when their dearly beloved life partners embarked on sprees of mass human rights violations and crimes against humanity against the very people on whose behalf they claimed to wage war? There is no evidence of Anandhi colluding with Ezhilan in these acts of conscription, but she does not seem to have objected to them either.When a newspaper asked her during the election campaign about conscription by the tigers she avoided a direct answer but sought to condone or justify it indirectly by stating that one segment of the population cannot distance itself from fighting when another segment was in the thick of war.
It is against this backdrop that Anandhi Sasitharan wife of Ezhilan strives to seek justice for her missing husband. The critical question is whether Ezhilan was a victim or perpetrator of human rights violations or both. In that context, is Anandhi Sasitharan a voice of the victims or that of the perpetrators?
Anandhi Sasitharan is at the interface of two contradictory positions. As the wife of senior LTTE leader Ezhilan who was reportedly involved in several human rights violations and crimes against humanity, she is at one end of the spectrum. At the same time it is a fact that her husband who surrendered himself to the Army in May 2009 is now missing. In that sense Ezhilan is a victim, and so are his wife and family. Thus Anandhi’s current situation is complicated, being the wife of a person who is both a perpetrator of human rights violations as well as a victim.
"Anandhi became a highly sought-after “trophy” at Tamil Diaspora gatherings. After being elected she has visited the USA, Germany, Denmark and Norway. More visits to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, France, Belgium and South Africa are in the pipeline"
Anandhi personally may not be involved or held liable for the acts perpetrated by her husband or the LTTE but she has in recent times been identified with the tigers because of her active political role. The essence and thrust of this political role has been that of ignoring the offences committed by the LTTE and instead demanding that an independent, impartial international investigation be conducted against the Sri Lankan Govt and armed forces and that “war criminals” be brought to justice. Anandhi and most of the pro-tiger elements posing nowadays as human rights champions target only the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime and not Veluppillai Prabhakaran’s LTTE. They seem to think that the LTTE is “absolved” now because the leaders are dead and the movement extinct in Sri Lanka.
INVESTIGATION What they seem to have overlooked or failed to grasp is the fact that if and when an independent, impartial, international investigation is launched in deference to their demand such an investigation, if it wants to have credibility must probe the conduct of the LTTE during the final phase of the war also. Even if the tiger hierarchy is no more, the acts of omission and commission perpetrated by the LTTE must be delved into in detail. One can be sure that Colombo would certainly demand to ensure accountability and promote reconciliation. If the truth must be told to bring about justice and reconciliation then that truth must be the whole truth. One-sided truths or truth in parts will not suffice.
In such a situation where does Anandhi Sasitharan stand? She can certainly testify as she has been doing in many different fora that her husband who surrendered is now missing. If however the various crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Ezhilan are also recounted during that probe, Anandhi would face a terrible dilemma! It would also add much potency to the following critical question: Is Anandhi Sasitharan, the wife of senior tiger leader Ezhilan, a voice of the victims or the perpetrators of injustice?
(DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)