De-mining technicians from the UK charity HALO Trust at work early in the morning, on the edges of a paddy field near Thunukkai, northern Sri Lanka. [© Russell Watkins / DFID]
c De-mining technicians from the UK charity HALO Trust at work early in the morning, on the edges of a paddy field near Thunukkai, northern Sri Lanka. [© Russell Watkins / DFID]

Sri Lanka: Former rebel speaks of uneasy peace

There has been relative peace in Sri Lanka since the civil war ended between Tamils and government forces, but discrimination is still rife.

Aarav Pradesh (name changed) is always wearing an army jacket in his convenience store, but no one understood the real reason why. That was until he decided to tell the story of how he had been a member of militant separatist group that had fought to secede from Sri Lanka.

The Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers as they are known, were made up of a minority racial group who wanted to form their own nation in the North of the island. The civil war between government forces and the Tamil Tigers had lasted over 25 years, finally ending in a defeat for the Tamils in 2009.

Fourteen years ago, Aarav decided to leave Sri Lanka and migrated to the UK where he found peace and prosperity. He prefers not mentioning when, why and how he left the rebel army, but he has a lot to say to the Sri Lankan Tamils who reside outside Sri Lanka.

“I was put up for LTTE when I was a teenager but left when I got an opportunity,” says Arnav.

After the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 against the Sri Lankan Army, Sri Lankan Tamils saw no hope and migrated in droves to countries that supported them. According to the Human Rights Watch report, as of 2008, there was an estimate of 150,000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in the United Kingdom and considerable amounts in India, Australia, North America, France and Switzerland.

“Journalists from outside are not given any information and the world only knows what the Sri Lankan press filters,” Aarav tells The Foreign Report.

After the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran was supposedly killed in the 2009 civil war, Tamils lost hope and remained subordinate to the Sri Lankans.

“Prabhakaran is not dead!” exclaims Aarvar, with sheer confidence.

Aarav explains that Prabhakaran is probably hiding somewhere, either in Singapore or UK. He claims that Sri Lankan officials have yet to produce the LTTE leader’s death certificate, which proves that Prabhakaran is still alive.

“My friends back home are waiting till everything settles down in Sri Lanka so they can start off when people least expect it”

Aarav’s wife, Shyla, got married to him two years ago and has fresh memories of what it is like to be a Tamil in Sri Lanka. “Every Tamil is considered a terrorist. We need an ID to prove everything we do,” says Shyla.

She describes how security forces had arrested and interrogated people just because they have a tiger print on their t-shirt or as a tattoo design. Shyla says that the Tamils are never given ‘the benefit of the doubt, and assume you must be a Tamil Tiger. “After 2009, it’s less noisy but we’re still the black sheep.”

Jai Arya, another Tamil who also resides in the UK is a close friend of Aarav and believes living within reality. “State fighting is old. People have migrated and Tamils should stop believing in convention,” says Jai.

Jai appreciates the fact that Aarav left Sri Lanka and found his place in UK where he can live without the fear of discrimination. He said that what happened in Sri Lanka would alarm the rest of the world. “After sometime, LTTE fought just for the sake of it,” says Jai.

Aarav, with the background he has, believes that one day they will have their own state and that Tamils around the world should believe in it too. He does not want to resort to violence but hopes that peace will make way to truce.

The civil war violence is something most Sri Lankans do not want to experience again. Aarav regrets a lot of the Tigers’ violence: “LTTE’s idea of using teenagers as dynamites was completely wrong.”

Many Tamils are still keen on seeing through their revolution, and there is a fear that the violence may flare again. Sheyla, on the other hand, is happy to be in the UK because being a Tamil in Sri Lanka was difficult. Getting a job was tough and their options were limited, but Sheyla also claimed that Tamils were paid significantly lower wages as well.

“I don’t think I care about Tamils having a different state anymore”, says Sheyla, with a slight air of contempt.

Jyoti Mansukhani

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Jyoti Mansukhani is a freelance journalist residing in the U.A.E.; a recent post graduate of M.A in International Journalism from University of Central Lancashire. She’s worked with local media firms in Dubai, and Current affairs, international relations and development journalism are her forte.

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