The widow of the late LTTE political wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan, Shashirekha in an exclusive interview with The Nation goes back to her youth, learning Bharata Natyam, becoming a dancing teacher, meeting with the LTTE leader Prabhakaran and Thamilselvan. She recounts her experiences in the terrorist group-controlled north including the fate that befell her. The unknown agonies she suffered after the death of her husband and the plight all Tamil people fell into under the LTTE and the warning that the Tamil diaspora is trying to drag the Tamil people into danger and destruction are told by her in this candid interview.
Following are the highlights of the interview:
Question: Could you recount the experiences of your childhood and early youth?
I was born at Bambalapitiya, Colombo and our family had seven members including our parents. My father had a shop opposite the Majestic City shopping mall. My mother was a housewife. I studied at St.Anthony’s Girls School up to grade three.
Q: Why did you leave school at that grade?
We left Colombo after the 1983 Black July and went to live in Chullipuram, Jaffna.
Q: Did your family leave Colombo for fear as you were victims of violence of the Black July?
Mobs set fire to our shop during that time and we went back to Jaffna out of fear.
Q: After going back to Jaffna did you go back to school?
I was admitted to Vaddukoddai Vidyalaya where I studied up to the GCE Ordinary Level.
Q: Why didn’t you continue your studies after the GCE Ordinary Level?
At school I became interested in dancing. I studied for dancing examinations and passed the level four exam. I became a dancing teacher but my parents had decided to return to Colombo by that time. My parents deciding to return to Colombo was one of the reasons that prevented me from going up for higher education. When they returned to Colombo I stayed back at Nallur. While I was conducting dancing classes I also took part in the public performances organised by the LTTE at that time.
Q: What made you stay back in Jaffna while your parents returned to Colombo?
It was about the year 1990 and my desire for higher education was lost. All I wanted to do was to further my career in dancing and achieve a high position in dancing. At the same time I was becoming sympathetic towards the LTTE. Therefore I decided to remain and refused to join my parents. My parents became very angry with me and they came to Colombo, angered over my decision.
Q: Did you continue to have relations with your parents after they came back to Colombo?
No. For a long period I did not have any relations with my family. I stayed with a friend of mine Revathi at Nallur. She was also a dancing teacher. I did Bharatha Natyam.
Q: How did you come to join the LTTE?
No. At the beginning I had not joined the LTTE. But when they invited me to perform in their public shows I accepted such invitations. During that time the area was under the control of the LTTE. When the Army recaptured Jaffna I went to the Vanni. Till I got married I had taken part in all the public shows put on by the LTTE.
Q: Why did you follow the LTTE into the Vanni. You could have remained in the area recaptured by the army?
Since I had lived in an area controlled by the LTTE I went to all the other areas that they controlled. On the other hand they sent me a number of invitations to take part in the public performances as a dancer.
Q: Did the LTTE pay you well for dancing in their public shows?
At that time I was paid three or four thousand rupees for each show and at that time I had enough money. Sometimes they presented clothes or dresses but there were times when I was not paid anything.
Q: It appears that you were a highly skilled dancer but it is difficult to understand how you came to be associated with a killer terrorist group. Any comment?
Since I had been living in an area under the control of the LTTE I did not feel very much to go to an area controlled by the army. On the other hand it was necessary for anyone living in a LTTE controlled area to obtain a permit to enter an area under the army and that was difficult. These were the reasons that made me remain in LTTE controlled areas.
Q: From when were you, Shashirekha, came to be known Isaichelvi?
After I got married to Thamilselvan.
Q: How did you come to know Thamilselvan?
I met him at a public performance and later the LTTE’s Anton Balasingham brought the proposal to marry Thamilchelvan.
Q: By that time he had become a physically disabled person?
Though he was disabled he had an artificial leg.
Q: What are your reminiscences of marriage to Thamilselvan?
Our marriage took place suddenly. Within a month after Balasingham brought the marriage proposal we were married. Prabhakaran and his wife Madivadini acted as the parents of Thamilselvan. Anton Balasingham and Adele acted as my parents. At that time Balasingham’s kidney ailment had turned severe and he needed to go abroad for treatment. Therefore he insisted that the marriage should take place soon. Even Thamilselvan’s family was not aware that we were getting married. When his mother who was living abroad had asked why she was not informed earlier Thamilselvan had said that he too was made aware only four days before the marriage.
Q: Where did the marriage take place?
It was at Pudukudirippu in the house Anton Balasingham was living. The members of Prabhakaran’s family including the parents of his wife Madivadini, Karuna Amman and many others were present. Nadesan was the registrar of the marriage.
Q: Did Prabhakaran and others in the LTTE have a frame of mind to take part or view public performances like dancing shows?
They used to come to see such shows.
Q: After your marriage did the LTTE help you?
We were given a house to live in but there was no special security though my husband had four security men accompanying him. When he came back home they came to leave him and when he went out they accompanied him.
Q: What sort of person was Thamilselvan?
He was a calm person with whom anything could be discussed. He told me to continue my dancing career and said I should be able to stand on my own.
Q: What sort of relations did you have with the wives of other LTTE leaders?
There was nothing special about them. We only met at functions and public events. Soosai’s family was good but the families of other leaders cannot be described as ones with an understanding. But Prabhakaran’s family had a very close association with us.
Q: Weren’t you aware that the families of leaders lived in luxury? Did your family also enjoy such luxuries?
We were given houses by the organisation. When I was pregnant with our first child we were given a two-roomed house at Pudukudirippu but it was not a luxurious dwelling.
Q: You said you came from a high caste family in the north and Thamilselvan from the barber caste. Was that not a problem for your marriage?
I was aware that he came from that caste but I did not consider that a problem.
Q: When your parents became aware of your marriage what was their reaction?
They got afraid. At that time I was working for Save the Children Fund but no one was aware that I was Thamilselvan’s wife. I sent a message to my mother through another person from my village who too was working for Save the Children Fund. I asked him to give the message about my marriage when he came to Colombo.
Q: What are your brothers and sisters who had had higher education in the universities of the south doing now?
They are living abroad. But my parents are now living with me.
Q: Do you remember that Thamilselvan went abroad to take part in peace talks several times. When he came back did he discuss things that happened at such talks?
He was never in the habit of discussing anything in connection with the activities of the organization. Sometimes when leaders of the LTTE were away from home for long their wives wrote letters to Prabhakaran complaining about their long absence but I never did such things.
Q: There was a rumour that Thamilselvan once worked as a barber at Kotahena. Is that true?
No he never worked in Colombo as a barber because he had joined the LTTE when he was only 16. He was the youngest child of the family, the mother’s pet. Others of his family were dark complexioned but he was fair complexioned and he had never been employed anywhere.
Q: How did you hear about the death of Thamilselvan and what happened afterwards?
When the news reached us that he was killed I was not taken to the place where the tragedy occurred. Though the LTTE sent several persons there they did not tell me anything about it on their return. Some of those who went there did not come back but about 9.30 in the night of that day one LTTE cadre who came to see us told me that my husband had died. He said he did not see his remains but the bunker was completely destroyed. His remains were later taken to his brother’s house in Kilinochchi. I reached the house around 11 a.m. and I could not stop crying but I called him my father when I was crying as I did not know what the LTTE had told the media about my husband’s death.
Q: What was Prabhakaran’s emotion when he came to pay his last respects to Thamilselvan?
He was visibly moved and he was not in a frame of mind to speak to us. His face betrayed his emotions as he had implicit trust in my husband.
Q: After the demise of your husband did the LTTE or any leader of the LTTE see to the welfare or feelings of your family?
No one came to see us. One month after the death of my husband I requested one of the leaders of the LTTE women’s wing Rekha to send our family including my parents to India and she said LTTE leader Prabharkaran did not agree to accede to our request. She said the leader has said it could be done only after one year. Then in desperation I requested that we be allowed to go to army controlled area but I was told that the leadership would inform me of their decision in a few days. But the LTTE neglected me and my children and after the death of my husband the leaders of the LTTE became disunited.
Q: Do you say that your family was kept in the area controlled under compulsion?
Yes, that is true. But I was aware that the end of the LTTE was almost certain. By May 2009 the LTTE did not tell our people that they were facing defeat and most of the leaders who were on the same status as my husband including Prabhakaran’s son Charles Anthony were killed.
Q: How did you really come into the army controlled area at the final phase of the armed conflict?
When I was in a corner crying one young man came and asked me whether I was the widow of Thamilselvan and he volunteered to escort me to the army controlled area. Since firing shells were going on at the time I with my children got into a bunker in the LTTE area with no one to look after us for more than three hours and I saw that all Tamil civilians were making their way to the army controlled area but it was not easy as both sides were still fighting with light and heavy guns. But after some time we started fleeing from the LTTE controlled area into the army controlled area and all of us were in a queue to reach safety.
Q: When you finally reached the army controlled area did you carry white flags of surrender?
No one carried white flags and came to surrender to the army. The story that some LTTE leaders came with white flags is not at all true. When we reached the side controlled by the army they did not harass us and we felt secure from the way they treated us but before that we were living between life and death. The Sri Lanka armed forces have treated us very well and afforded us all the facilities we never had before that. Today we are living happily with my children who are continuing their education well. My parents are also living with me.
The story about certain LTTE leaders coming to surrender raising white flags is a fairy tale. None came to surrender with white flags. Today as a Tamil I have to say that we don’t need any conflict with the others in Sri Lanka and I would like to tell the Tamil diaspora that their activities will not benefit the Sri Lankan Tamil people. The diaspora by their activities is trying to destroy the Tamil people and I also would like to tell them that we do not need a war.
We are being looked after well by the government and the armed forces of Sri Lanka but the diaspora who are living abroad do not know that the Sri Lankan Tamil people do not need any further armed conflicts. I have deep faith in my religion Hinduism and I would continue to live with my children according to the tenets of my religion and I would like to tell the Tamil diaspora that their efforts to mislead our people will not succeed.
Source: The Nation – By Chamara Lakshan Kumara