“When Indian Peace Keeping Forces came to our villages they often punished us for no reason. One day while returning from school my friend and I got caught to IPKF soldiers. They got us to kneel down hold our ears and wait in the hot sun. I got angry. I decided to join the LTTE. Altogether 15 of us joined. It was the 1990 and I was only ten years old. First we were admitted to a children’s home. There were about 300 of us, all in my age group – ten. Among many things they taught was the use of firearms. I received training in handling AK 47”
AK 47 is a Russian made FIREARM. Designed and launched during the later stages of the Second World War. The AK-47 is the weapon of choice for child soldiers around the globe, as it is light and easy to use but can discharge 600 rounds per minute. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, an independent think tank, recently released a report on the international arms transfers. All five permanent members of the UN security council are listed in the 2012 top 10 arms exporters list. USA, Russia, China, France and United Kingdom. According to the SIPRI Arms Transfer Database the USA was the largest arms exporter for the period of 2008-2012 accounting for 30% of world deliveries. RUSSIA 26% FRANCE 6% CHINA 5% UNITED KINGDOM 4% But funnily these are the biggest players in campaigning against human rights violations around the world. According to SIPRI report Sri Lanka’s immediate neighbor INDIA was the largest arms importer for the period 2008-2012 accounting for 12% of world deliveries.
SUJI’S STORY CONTINUES >>> When I was sent to the battlefield first I served in the medical corps. But later I too fought on the front line. Soon I got sick and tired of things I experienced. We were fighting for a cause, so they said. But we treated our own people in a brutal manner. During the dying stages of the war they created a human shield to guard the leadership. When people tried to escape we were ordered to fire at them. There were over one hundred thousand civilians trapped by the LTTE. They abducted kids and sent them to the front line without offering any weapon training. Hundreds of children died in vain. I witnessed that.
Parents tried various ways to protect their children. In fact LTTE forced every able person to fight the war. Those who did not hand over their kids received severe punishments. When militants came to abduct children parents fought with them. Some able elders grabbed militants own guns and fired at them. But they were a force more powerful. My father died in the in the war. My brother received injuries. I too got injured very badly. Even now I can’t walk in the sun for long, I feel faintish. I now am married. We have a little baby. We have started life all over again. All over again.
I MET SUJI. He is my first subject. He lives in a remote village. Married with three months old kid. He refused to talk on camera. i said its alright, put him on top of a huge rock and started shooting long shots. Suji’s wife never left us. She carried her baby and waited in the vicinity. i realized these people still live in fear. i asked them whom do they fear. For my surprise they said “we fear our own people“ According to the information they were given by the TNA politicians >> Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman is still alive – They are going to start the war again – When they start they will eliminate those who betrayed first.
This is ridiculous. Do we want a war again? i am sick of it. i was born to Sri Lankan parents. Spent most of my childhood in a village in Kandy. But wasted my youth sandwiched between two wars. They were both Violent, ruthless and murderous. My friends fled the country in fear. I did not have a choice but to stay back to experience the war in full. In the thick of the war I visited refugee camps in the war ravaged North and East. Taught children peace building through theatre and music. Now the war is over. Or at least the mass killing has stopped. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – NEVER AGAIN PLEASE.
I got off the train from Vauniya. For decades Vavuniya was the border town between the North and the South. It was so complicated. During the war i visited Vavuniya often, to work with refugee children. In Vavuniya I started off my mission in a remote village. i knew this is not going to be an easy task. Traveling all alone with few thousand rupees in my pocket. But still i wanted to embark on this journey. Many of my friends discouraged me. They thought i was going to risk my life. What risk? i am not going to meet criminals. Even so why not. They are part of humanity. FEAR IS A DIRTY WORD FRIENDS.
I am sitting in the Yaal Devi express with bag full of fond memories. In the olden days this train was the bridge between the North and the South. My last visit was with my uncle in a packed train to Jaffna to listen to M L Vasanthakumari a prominent South Indian vocalist. That was more than 30 years ago. When the ELAM war reached its first peak during mid eighties, militants attacked the YAAL DEVI near the Kokavil station triggering a land mine. Twenty-eight soldiers and eleven civilians lost their lives and hundreds suffered injuries. As a result YALL DEVI stopped running. With that tragic end Sri Lanka’s North South love story came to a grinding halt.
This is that YAAL DEVI train. Corroded – just like our country. Its parked near the KKS station right inside the Palali camp. i had this rare opportunity to photograph this train while at another shoot.
The LTTE began recruiting child soldiers after they decided to take on the Indian Peace Keeping Force, which arrived in 1987 as part of an agreement, between Sri Lanka and India. Child soldiers were originally recruited into the LTTE’s baby brigade. They were sent to a training camp in the southern Indian coastal city of Pondicherry. In the beginning a majority joined voluntarily because of the poor economic condition of their families. In return they received money as well as a heroes welcome. The rest joined because they wished to take revenge from the enemy for death of a member of the family, or simply because they wanted to experience the thrill of holding a gun.
It was not easy getting permission. i submitted my proposal to the defence ministry. Thats ridiculous. Anywhere else in the world filmmakers submit their scripts to the film sensor board. But here in Sri Lanka everything has to go through military. In a way i cant blame them, especially after the release of BBC Channel 4 documentary series. Today the government is extra vigilant filmmakers visiting once war zone. Ministry took nearly 10 months to issue a permission letter. Hilarious it was. So finally i embarked on my journey.