Child soldier turned author HITS OUT
By A Correspondent
@ LBN / 25May2008
A former LTTE child soldier turned revolutionary writer is urging the Tamils to revolt against both the Tigers and the Sri Lankan state, saying the intention of each was to oppress people.
Shobasakthi, the 40 year-old author of Gorilla - a fascinating and ground-breaking novel - now lives as an exile in France, filling supermarket shelves. In an exclusive interview with LAKBIMAnEWS last week, he said he had no objection to the exile literary movement naming the Tigers as their number one enemy as they were a curse upon the Tamil people.
“But the murders and human rights violations being committed by EPDP, TMVP and PLOTE... how can they tolerate them?” he asks. “Just because one is opposed to the Tigers, does that make you a democrat, and does that alone make any movement a movement of the people?”
The outspoken leftist author - whose real name is Yesuthasan Anthonythasan - has drawn heavily upon experiences in his own life in writing Gorilla. Critics have called the book ‘auto fiction’ where real and fictive incidents are woven together to produce a documentary effect.
“I was born in a poverty stricken village in Jaffna,” he recounts in his interview. “One might say that my family lived so way below the poverty line that we could see it hovering above us. My father took no responsibility for the family and was a local thug. Half the time, he would be in the police station or in the hospital with my mother living a life of permanent strife, depression, and hunger.”
Shobasakthi’s first school books were the free ones the government gave him when he was in Grade 7. He studied up to Grade 10 before the 1983 July riots against the Tamils happened. He was deeply affected by the murder of Tamil political prisoners and the return of Tamil refugees in ships.
“From August 1983, I tried my best to join the Tiger movement,” he said. “With the greatest difficulty I managed to obtain contact with a Tiger activist and began to work for the Tiger movement, putting up posters and distributing leaflets. I began to pester the Tiger movement to enlist me as a full time member and send me for military training. I realised my dream in early 1984.”
After training, Shobasakthi was assigned responsibility over three villages. His tasks were to recruit members, collect funds and gold, and arrange propaganda meetings.
“Militarily, my contribution to the movement was very little,” he said. “I have only participated in a couple of attacks in the island, and also in a couple of self defensive operations.”
The LTTE carried out propaganda against the Thimpu talks. Shobasakthi participated in the campaign by taking on a role in a street theatre play called Viduthalai Kali or Liberation Goddess. Sometimes, it was staged more than ten times a day.
The Thimpu talks signalled the first death knell to Shobasakthi’s dreams about their struggle. “I felt cheated when the LTTE participated in the Thimpu talks,” he admits. I really lost all heart when I heard that we were going to get provincial councils instead of a Socialist Tamil Eelam. For the first time, a slight shadow of doubt fell across my unassailable faith in the movement. After that, when TELO was attacked and even though I also participated in it, I was in a very disturbed state of mind about where we were going.”
He recalls being in turmoil and not knowing what to do. At the time, Shobasakthi was a member of Gnanam Amman’s team. “To this day, I consider him a respected comrade,” he said. “He left the movement in mid 1986. In a few days, when the Tigers tried to arrest him, he took cyanide and died.”
Gnanam’s death was a severe blow to Shobasakthi. “Even then, I did not contemplate leaving the movement,” he said. “I thought that the Tamil people had no one else to turn to even though there were problems within the Tiger movement.”
After Gnanam, two authoritarian men took over the running of his unit. Ordinary cadres like Shobasakthi were treated like unpaid coolies. “I was already in great turmoil and was naturally rebellious,” he said. “I could not, for the life of me, function as an enslaved liberation fighter.”
The Tiger movement had rigid hierarchies. “There was no opportunity to complain about my leaders in my unit to people above,” Shobasakthi said. “The dissatisfaction I had with the movement then began to grow fast.”
“After I left them, the movement detained me and my close friend Uruthiran (at that time ex PLOTE cadre) on the false charge that we had dug out the claymore mine that they had planted for the army,” he related. “We were kidnapped and kept in the Tiger dungeon and tortured. It is still a wonder to me...it defies rational explanation... that after 10 days we were released. My close friend Uruthiran died last year in India. One of the dogs that tortured me is living in London now and the other dog lives in Canada.”
The Indian Peace Keeping Forces tried to detain him twice over his past involvement with the LTTE. They jumped his house twice and he fled to Colombo. In 1990, the government sent him to the Mahara prison. A month later, a friend from the hill country bribed an MP and had him released. He fled to Thailand where he spent three years as a refugee. “For a short time, I was a slave to a Tamil mafia boss called Denmark Vikki for basics like food and drink,” he said. “I lost one of my kidneys when I was stabbed in a street fight in Bangkok.” He escaped from Thailand in 1993 and came to France.
Racism in exile
“There is safety for me in exile,” he says today, of his life in France. “I have money to spend on food and drink. This alone is a great luxury for me. When the white man shows me his racism, I never hesitate to show off my black arrogance even for a minute. Apart from that, I have no longing for my land... or for my so called ‘motherland’. This is because I have no happy memories of my ‘motherland’.”
“I still do not own a French passport,” Shobasakthi reveals. “I have thought about obtaining one, many times, but have not set off to do it. I feel that it is not just laziness that has prevented me acquiring French nationality which would be a huge convenience in Europe. Coming to Europe as refugees sometimes could be as risky as trying to escape from the army or the LTTE in Sri Lanka.”
“On their way into France, many refugees have died caught in snowdrifts or drowned in the Atlantic Ocean,” he narrated. “France has thousands of refugees, called ‘Sans Papiers’ who are living like thieves in daily terror of the police. They have no rights and those who get arrested by the police are sent back to the death fields by the French government in the name of deportation.”
“Once you get here, you face French racism everywhere, on the streets, in the shops in the places you work. Sometimes it is subtle; at other times it is very direct. I have worked as a dishwasher, waiter, chef’s assistant in restaurants. I now work filling supermarket shelves.”
“These are the jobs available to us, refugees and immigrants, particularly if we are black. I live in a poor suburb of Paris, where, at night, one hears the constant sound of police sirens, hunting Algerian and African youth.”
“And when I was being interviewed for this paper, from my window I could see a burning car, and the police arriving with screaming sirens trying to chase some of these youths around. Sometimes, they even come in helicopters. The 2005 Paris riots started right under my flat. This is the reality of life in a black suburb of Paris.”