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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2767

Political Icon: Sivanesathurai Chanthirakanthan alias Pillaiyan

By Dayani Panagoda

For more than three decades we are aware of the child soldiers; we criticized the recruitments, commented on the need for rehabilitation and also were worried about their adulthood. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do much for these children. None of them joined the armed groups on their own; they were abducted from their families and forced to become child soldiers. any of them had been forced to commit atrocities against their own families and communities. Pillaiyan demonstrate how ineffective the national and international mechanisms and processes were in helping these tormented children.Pillaiyan demonstrate how ineffective the national and international mechanisms and processes were in helping these tormented children.

The effect of such trauma was to break these children’s relationship with family and community and make them totally reliant on their new family; the LTTE. In Sri Lanka both male and female children were abducted and their fate varied from serving as combatants or as sex slaves. The recent interview by the Asian Tribune with Mr Sivanesathurai Chanthirakanthan alias Pillaiyan demonstrate how ineffective the national and international mechanisms and processes were in helping these tormented children.

“I was a child recruit of the LTTE at age 14 and no one came to my aid. At that time there was no local or international agency to speak on my behalf and take me back to enable me to join my family and lead a normal life; neither did the USA State department or Ranil Wickremesinghe. I took over the TMVP leadership by late October 2007. After that, I am confident there were no known cases of abduction and there was no need for such abductions. I have instructed our members very strictly about it. I will not allow anyone to recruit children as armed soldiers…”

Transformation

What made this individual to transform himself? Where were those mechanisms that the UN recommends in rehabilitating child soldiers? Why weren’t they implemented? These questions may never be answered, but what is on record is that Pillaiyan like many other fellow cadres have come into mainstream politics. By engaging in the recently concluded election process they have proved that despite their traumatic life as child soldiers they aren’t totally scared or inhuman in their behaviour and by winning the elections have demonstrated their abilities to serve the humanity. I believe it is the self motivation that had driven these former militants to come out as civilian leaders. The one who suffered knows it best, thus is committed for the change. It is the leadership traits that Pillaiyan possesses which helped him to come a long way in this democratic process. His journey was not alone, but with many others who suffered the same way.

“As I said earlier, I was a child soldier some 16 years ago; I know the pain and the agony of being a child soldier. When I was a child soldier no body came forward to take me back form the clutches of the LTTE. I know the pain of grief of a child soldier better than any one of my critics. I will endeavour to do my best to safeguard the children of East from being abducted by any other organizations in the future.”

Pillaiyan, now a thirty year old believes in political pluralism and is respecting the wishes of the people. He nominated Mrs Sivageetha Prabhakaran alias Pathmini (as she got the highest number of preferential votes) as the Mayor, even though previously he selected Pradeep Master (who was also a child soldier) as the mayoral candidate. How has he matured in politics just within two years to demonstrate these skills that are required to become a good leader? He is not a graduate of Harvard or Colombo, no is he a student of political science or international relations. It is his experiences of the realities of life that had moulded his leadership qualities.

“This was not a decision made by an individual – it was a collective decision taken in our Politburo meeting. During the time when the nominations was filed, it was decided that our candidate, whoever it may be, who gets more preferential votes than any other would be permitted to lead our team in that particular local government body and serve either as Mayor or as Chairman.”

What made him to change from being a soldier with a gun whose word is law into a person willing to listen to the will of the people? Who helped in changing his attitudes? It can’t be the organisation that he served blindly for more than a decade? We have to assume that it was ‘self transformation’. What motivated him to adhere to a democratic procedure, which is ignored by those who had served in democratic institutions for many decades? How many of us have gone through such an agony in such a short period? Perhaps he does not wish to waste his people’s future by stifling democracy.

“Until 2004 March, I was with them. In 2004 I left the LTTE and came out with V. Muralitharan and we formed a separate group”

There were eight regiments each comprising of three hundred cadres when they broke away from the LTTE as the ‘Karuna’ faction. It was V Muralitharan alias Karuna who led this faction until towards the end of last year and his record hasn’t been good; there have been numerous accusations of forcible recruitment of child soldiers and other abuses. Pillaiyan, who took over the control in October 2007, believes in democracy, development and peace building. Despite criticisms and threats from many groups, lack of financial assistance; the one time child soldier invested his time and strengths on democracy.

I was fortunate to meet Pillaiyan couple of times; a man who is just five feet tall. He had a clear vision for his people, not forgetting those who were with him all along believing in ‘change and hope’. TMVP like all other political parties in Sri Lanka has spoilers within and their actions damage the new image of the TMVP. When I suggested that they need to work hand in hand with the other political parties representing Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities, the TMVP leader responded “we would always work with them as long as they work for the people of the East; the East requires democracy and not dominance.”

Now that he has political authority, many I’m sure have questions of his competence; does he know the technicalities of governance? His knowledge on the Constitution, the Local Government Act and the relevant areas are superior to many politicians who have been in active politics for many decades.

“Before 2004, we were all in an armed group and after that we came forward to enter the political mainstream of the country. Accordingly, with the first available opportunity we contested in the 9 local government bodies and expressed our sincere desire to convert ourselves into a political party”

Has Pillaiyan transformed himself completely? He has now become the leader of the newest political party, has a vision and a goal for the Pradeshiya Sabhas and the Municipal Council controlled by his party. Will he democratically contest in the Provincial Council? What proof have we got that his transformation from a militant to a democrat is both genuine & complete?

I have been observing him during the last one year. Once I was at a meeting with him and remember speaking for about twenty minutes without any interruption from him. He listened as I spoke about child soldiers, about loosing my husband. He didn’t disturb me as I explained the importance of giving up arms and the idea of reintegration. At the end all what he said was that he learned from me; he admitted that he had only read few books and therefore it was like going back to school again.

Visionary

Over the time he has transformed himself even though we did not run a special programme as suggested by many international organisations, the transformation started with his will and the conviction. Transformation continued fuelled with his commitment and the love for a better East. It was sustained with the gradual recognition he earned through his behaviour.

He recognizes the importance of the rule of law, democracy and pluralism. He also understands that the ex-cadres who have given up arms need to be transformed and be given a chance, a place in the society, as most of them were abducted and recruited to the LTTE when they were minors.

“By the time I took over the leadership we were left with about 25 underage children. Presently we are feeding them, providing cloths, shelter and education to them. We are ready to hand over them to those who complain about us if they come forward to take care of these children. We are unable to send them back to their homes as many of them are orphans and they have neither parents nor relatives”.

To me who had done some studies on this subject, this is a completely transformation. He is ready to take the new path that he had chosen and his desire is to do it well, may be due to his combat training where he would have been trained to achieve targets. Once he responded to me on a question of his vision and future plans as “I am ready to take the responsibility of the East, I will make sure that this district becomes the best of all and this province to be the most excellent. I will certainly look into the children’s security and education. I will ensure an equitable distribution of resources. All those who are in this district and the province will be treated equally. We will not go back to the ugly past that we left behind and we will not allow any other group to take over. We will respect the law and order and we will set an exemplary life.”

He values the association of many individuals during the last few years, and is thankful for their contribution in helping him to change. He believes in those who believed in him. The transformation takes place only when the society is ready and cooperative. “The people in the East and the people in Colombo equally believed in us. We will not let them down.”

Way Forward

Political landscape in Sri Lanka has changed dramatically since independence. Two major southern armed uprisings and thirty years of protracted war had changed the dynamics of politics by changing the players all the time. JVP had come a long way and has taken the democratic path, so has the EPDP, EPRLF and PLOTE. Now that the TMVP too has taken the democratic path it is our duty to help them, support them and educate them on norms and rules.

The TMVP has drafted its constitution with the objectives of serving the people and achieve ‘equality, social and economic justice, community solidarity and freedom’. Eastern politics is much more dynamic than the rest of the country.

Each of the three districts, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara is dominated by a different ethnic community; Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims respectively. However in the Province as a whole the ethnic composition is finely balanced with each community having a third of the population.

The province thus needs strong leadership where the three communities should not be allowed to outmanoeuvre the other. No ethnic community should feel that they are superior to other and that they are the dominant political power in the province. Hopefully the forthcoming Provincial Council election would provide a balance representation for all three communities and all political parties.

Dayani Panagoda, Director Policy, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

- Asian Tribune -

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