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 Post subject: "No More Tears Sister" - documentary on Rajani Thi
 Post Posted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 3:05 am 
"No More Tears Sister" - documentary on Rajani Thiranagama
A human face on Tiger tragedy

The provocative NFB documentary No More Tears Sister looks at how Rajani Thiranagama became caught up in the explosive world of Sri Lankan politics, writes GUY DIXON

@ GlobeANDMail Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In 1989, a young professor, Rajani Thiranagama, head of the anatomy department at the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, was killed while riding her bike home after grading exams.

Once a supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE or more popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), she left the movement and, under extreme risk, began collecting evidence of human-rights tragedies suffered by Tamils at the hands of both Tamil insurgents and government-aligned forces. Her murder has made her the face of the underground human-rights movement in the region.

Now, nearly 16 years later, in the National Film Board of Canada documentary No More Tears Sister, her older sister alleges that LTTE insiders told her privately that Thiranagama was killed because she was undermining their independence struggle. Local protests condemning her death were crushed and their organizers threatened and killed, according to the film. Human-rights reporting in the region, as in so many conflicts worldwide, became an increasingly clandestine act.

"I think this film and the story of Rajani [touches on] many generic issues about human rights, about justice, about armed violence. They are not exclusive to Sri Lanka," said the older sister, Nirmala Rajasingam, in a telephone interview.

Both she and the documentary's director emphasized that blame for human-rights abuses should be placed on all sides of the conflict, including the Sri Lankan army and the years of repression by the Sinhalese-dominated government which helped to spark the Tamil fighting (to say nothing of the initial tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils caused by British colonial policies which were perceived as favouring certain Tamil groups).

Rajasingam, who was also once a pivotal figure in the LTTE movement, has so far accused the Tigers of killing her sister only at small gatherings. This is the first time she has come out so publicly. The Tigers have never claimed responsibility for the murder and no one has been charged, she noted.

Because of her accusations, the NFB has taken a number of precautions, such as keeping the project quiet during its two years in production and not giving out information about where Thiranagama's family currently lives. In fact, the Film Board is becoming somewhat expert in maintaining security surrounding controversial documentaries, particularly after last year's premiere of What Remains of Us, a documentary that directly puts some Tibetans at risk of imprisonment.

Security concerns are nothing new to Thiranagama's family. Rajasingam, for instance, can no longer return to Jaffna because of worries about her safety. "I'm not underground, but I'm being very cautious about where I go, what I say, who I meet, that sort of thing. Once the film is shown, I'll have to take greater precautions," she said. She won't be attending today's premiere at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto, which has a thriving Tamil community with varying views on the nationalist struggle.

"We as a family and myself personally, we made a very conscious decision to go public about the killing of Rajani. We thought long and hard about it. It was our decision. We were ready to tell the story, because really the whole discussion about Rajani's murder wasn't a closed chapter," Rajasingam said.

There has been at least one other film about Thiranagama made in Sri Lanka, but without the family's involvement. The family hated it, said Helene Klodawsky, the director of No More Tears Sister. The NFB film was shot with the full co-operation of the family, although family members did not have the final say in its content, Klodawsky emphasized. The documentary has been endorsed by a host of notables including former Ontario premier Bob Rae and former United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy. It is narrated by Michael Ondaatje.

Rajasingam, who talks at one point in the film about how she feels responsible in some ways for what happened to Thiranagama, is careful to add that she is the one making the film's main accusations, not the other family members.

But what unfolds in the documentary is not just a story of how a family got caught up in armed rebellion. It's a far more complicated story of how Rajasingam, the older sister, was buoyed by 1970s leftist radicalism and early insurrections in the country. She wound up becoming involved with the Tigers and was imprisoned by the state. Thiranagama had also become a strong supporter of leftist causes while in medical school. Her husband was a Sinhalese radical who could not bring himself to support the Tigers. This ultimately tore their marriage apart.

While studying in Britain, Thiranagama made her sister's imprisonment into an international cause, which in turn provided an important boost for the LTTE movement.

But the more the sisters were drawn into the Tigers, the more they began to question the armed struggle, particularly as fighting between nationalists and Indian peacekeeping forces escalated in the late 1980s. By then, the sisters had quit the LTTE. After another stint in Britain, Thiranagama returned to Jaffna to reopen the anatomy department at the university, while also working to document human-rights abuses perpetrated by all sides of the fighting. She was then murdered.

As the film shows, those who are left behind to brave the fighting, most often women and children, change armed struggles into multifaceted, humanitarian crises. What often lingers is a fearful silence, which perhaps only a foreign documentary can help pierce: At least that's what some from the Sri Lankan community have said after attending early screenings of the documentary, according to Klodawsky, the film's director.

"One man described it in a very moving way, 'We're surrounded by barbed wire. Our houses are not surrounded. The barbed wire is around our minds,' " Klodawsky said. "So, on the one hand, there was a very strong desire to see this film made. On the other hand, people could not talk [on camera]."

Filming the documentary was very intense for the family, and one of Thiranagama's daughters even plays her mother in a number of re-enactments. This is a family which describes itself as very ordinary and middle class. The father had been a schoolteacher and administrator. Education was stressed. The daughters read Jane Austen and George Bernard Shaw and sang Christian spirituals (which the remaining sisters sing again in harmony in an opening scene in the film when they are reunited in Colombo). But after Thiranagama and Rajasingam's radical student days and subsequent activism, the family has had to get used to being in the political crossfire.

Sri Lanka is in "a really bad and very dark period," Rajasingam said. Atrocities continue and dissidents are increasingly being targeted, while Tamils receive little protection from the state, the film notes.

It's as if they aren't considered citizens, Rajasingam added. "The state has kind of washed its hands and doesn't appear to be serious about ultimately achieving a soon-enough political solution," she insisted. "It is in this climate that this film is coming out."

The hope among those involved with No More Tears Sister is that it will encourage others to speak. "Now, even though killings are continuing at a very high rate, other voices are cropping up, inspired by the [human-rights movement's] long and arduous, very insistent, courageous work," Rajasingam said. "Rajani remains an inspiration. They keep her memory alive."

 Post subject: Rajani Thiranagama: A true heroine
 Post Posted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 1:11 pm 
Rajani Thiranagama: A true heroine of our times

By D. B.S. Jeyaraj

More than fifteen years have passed since Rajani Thiranagama nee Rajini
Rajasingham was brutally gunned down at Thirunelvely, Jaffna on September 21st 1989 as she was cycling back home from the Jaffna University. She was Professor of Anatomy at the Jaffna Varsity medical faculty. The 35 year old mother of two daughters was also a human rights activist, feminist, critic of narrow nationalism and opponent of irresponsible militarism. No one has officially claimed responsibility for her killing and several attempts have been made by those close to the perpetrators to deflect blame elsewhere. Despite these moves
the people at large know who the killers were though not many dared to say it publicly.

A decade and a half however fails to erase the indelible memories of Rajani among those who knew her. Her brutal murder has not been forgotten. Whenever the human rights violations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are referred to in detail her name always crops up. Whenever the tragic plight of women caught up in Sri Lankas long drawn out "Machismo" war is highlighted her murder is usually focussed upon. Whenever the story of the Tamil liberation struggle going terribly wrong is discussed the murder of Rajani Thiranagama is always an issue cited.

She was truly a heroine of our times and an unforegettable symbol of its
enveloping tragedy. As former UN special rapporteur on violence against women and current chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy observes . " Rajani had a vision for her people, the Sri Lankan Tamils. She envisioned a time when they would live in peace and dignity enjoying democratic rights and freedoms. Standing against oppression and brutality in all its forms, she is a beacon of light for a community living in fear and struggling for self - respect. She will never be forgotten; an icon for everyone in Sri Lanka fighting for freedom ".

One agency that has remembered Rajani is the National Film Board of Canada. The land of the Maple leaf has made a name for itself in the realm of documentary films. "No More Tears Sister" - the anatomy of hope and betrayal is the title of an 80 minute film on the life and times of Rajani Thiranagama produced by the Canadian Film Board.. It is written and directed by Montreal based Canadian film maker Helene Klodawsky. The narrator Michael Ondatatje the Sri Lanka born reputed author now domiciled in Canada. A novel feature in recreating the life of Rajani is the portrayal of her mother by Sharika the younger daughter now in her early twenties.

The Canadian feature documentary will have its world premiere at the Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival being currently held in Toronto. "No more tears Sister" will screen at 9. 45 pm on April 26th at the Isabel Bader theatre and at 7. 30 pm on April 28th at the Innis Town Hall.

Unlike most recreations of a contemporary personality the story of Rajani
provided a stiff challenge for the filmmakers. There was very little documentation or authentic correspondence. Many of those who knew her or were associated with her were too scared to be filmed. Moreover filming in Jaffna where Rajani grew up, lived and died was out of the question because of the political climate. One also supposes that an element of screcy had to be maintained at all times due to the sensitive content and theme of the film.

Despite these problems that would have defeated most film makers of Cinema verite Helen Klodawsky has accomplished her task well. She was fortunate that family members and a few fellow human rights activists and feminists were courageous enough to come out openly. Rajanis parents the Rajasinghams, sisters Nirmala, Sumathy and Vasuki, Daughters Narmada and Sharika, husband Dayapala Thiranagama and some unnamed activists have all been interviewed and the life of Rajani unfolds on screen through their accounts mainly.

The vivid and perceptive comments made by Nirmala and Dayapala are the chief strengths of the film. The story of Rajani is inextricably inter- twined with that of her elder sister Nirmala a political activist not allowed feminist in her own right. Rajanis story cannot be told without without relating the story of Nirmala also. In that sense this film is as much about Nirmala as it is about Rajani. Nirmala has broken her long "public" silence on Rajanis death in this film. While not dwelt on forcefully the film leaves no doubt in the viewers mind about the forces be hind Rajanis assassination.

Dayapala Thiranagama comes off very well. Both Rajani and he came from contrastingly different backgrounds. He provides many fresh insights into Rajanis life. The scenes showing Nirmala and Dayapala in conversation are illuminating. A revealing moment of truth for anyone familiar with the rise and fall of the Tamil liberation struggle would be the one where the comment is made that political activism is no longer the armed struggle but that of upholding human rights.

The story of Rajani is interwoven with the violence of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. What made Helen Klodawsky the daughter of a concentration camp survivor herself take up this tale? This is what she says - "I wanted to understand how ethnic conflict and national struggles impact women - be they victims of war, militant fighters or peace builders. I wondered whether there was a feminist critique of both state and guerilla violence It was well known that the Sri Lankan military and the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were both guilty of torture, illegal detention, disappearances and extra - judicial executions. I wanted to explore whether women were, on the one hand, torn between loyalties to their
ethnic communities and on the other hand the community of women. Did
oppressed minority women imagine fighting injustice in different ways than their male counterparts?

The story of Rajani Thiranagama - her courageous life, unique vision and tragic assassination - offered a compelling narrative to pose many of my questions. Rajanis evolution into a spirited champion of the Tamil peoples rights in the seventies and eighties paralleled the escalation of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Moved by her peoples complex struggle against ruthless state violence, she believed Tamil militancy was the answer and joined the Liberation movement. But when she witnessed the corruption and cruelty within, she felt compelled to document what she saw and urged her people to resist blind adherence to any leader or movement. Embracing feminism and a belief in human rights, she felt that women in particular were the primary casualties of war.

I believed that by following Rajanis life story and the circumstances surrounding her untimely death, several themes could be explored. Nationalisms anti - nationalism; the lives of women as both participants and innocent victims of war and the belief in armed struggle vs a critique of militarism.

Though "No More Tears " is set in Sri Lanka, a similiar story might have been explored in Africa, other parts of Asia, the middle - east, Eastern Europe or Latin America. In the sixties and seventies, Rajani was part of a generation of young political activists in post - colonial societies around the world - activists who dreamed of radically transforming their societies to achieve equality and justice for all. But this idealism continues to be ruthlessly thwarted by narrow nationalist agendas in countless Countries.

Cinematically, I wanted NO MORE TEARS SISTER to reflect the passion and beauty of Rajani's ideals. Together with my talented team including Francois Dagenais (director of photography)Patricia Tassinary (Editor) and Bertrand Chenier (Composer) I aimed at making a film that is political, feminist and aesthetic.

 Post subject: Rajani Thiranagama documentary movie
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 04, 2006 12:46 pm 
I wish to provide a contra-view to the soppy sentimentalism portrayed in this biopic-propaganda documentary. I was an acquaintance of Rajani Thiranagama nee Rajasingham, when she was an undergraduate at the University of Colombo, in 1974-75.
Though she was a qualified medical professional, her fault lies in taking upon herself with missionary zeal to publish her criticism on the Tamil liberation movement, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Her bizarre infatuation with Christian fundamentalism aligned with her political alliance to the racist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) - a hodge-podge porridge of Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism not allowed Marxist Communism, blinded her deeds. Its simple as that. Isn't her husband Dayapala Thiranagama a JVP activist, who was on the run when the then Government of Sri Lanka waged a war against this insurgent group during 1988-89? Isn't the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) organized by Rajani Thiranagama, a front organization for the JVP? Check the dates again. Rajani Thiranagama was assassinated in Sept.1989. Rohana Wijeweera (the leader of JVP) and his coterie were put to death by the Sri Lankan government in Nov.1989.

Sachi Sri Kantha

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