The war diarist

Updated on Feb 21, 2009 12:00 AM IST

Writer Anthony Thasan was an LTTE child soldier in the 80s. In exile in Paris, he has offered solutions to the region’s oldest civil war. But who is listening? Paramita Ghosh reports.

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Hindustan Times | By

On his blog, Shobasakthi, a former LTTE child soldier, has offered solutions to the Sri Lanka crisis that Tamilians on both sides of the Palk Strait say are rich. “He says the political solution is with President Rajapaksa, that the LTTE is finished and that it is time for peace,” says a student leader of the ‘Voice of Eelam Tamils’ delegation in Delhi. “No liberation struggle is perfect,” adds poet-activist Thiyagu. “The African National Congress’s wasn’t, and the LTTE’s isn’t. But in this time of crisis, you have to stand with them”.

Shoba’s balancing act of being “100 per cent anti-LTTE and 200 per cent against the Sinhala state” may not win him friends on either side. Exiled in Paris for the past 10 years, his underground status is now running the risk of becoming mainstream. Gorilla, a fiction on his life as a boy soldier-turned-dishwasher-at-fastfood-places, has become his calling card. It has been translated into English by a major publishing house. His next book, short stories on war, is on its way. “I have so many names,” says Shoba on the phone from Paris. “When I joined the movement, I was Maniyan. I am also Shobasakthi. I was born Anthony Thasan.”

When Anthony left home to join the Tigers at age 15, his world was unsafe but alsouncomplicated. The enemy — the Sinhala state —was one. Prabhakaran was “Father and God”. And victory, a cinch. “Please St Antony, I said kneeling beside the statue in my village, let us obtain Tamil Eelam as quickly as possible…,” he recalls. He became the LTTE’s political campaigner in Jaffna during 1983-86, headed a group of a dozen, carried arms, and lobbed grenades. A copybook insurgent, if you please.

He left the organisation frustrated with the 1986 India-brokered ceasefire in Sri Lanka. “In 1983, we were trained in camps from Uttar Pradesh to Madras,” says Anthony. “In fact, when India went into Bangladesh in 71, we cheered. We had hopes from India.” By 1986-87, he was on the run, fleeing the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (by then a law-enforcer) in Colombo and escaped to Thailand. Paris came later. “I didn’t choose Paris,” he says. “The French gave me travel documents and a residence permit.”

The 80s was a watershed in many ways. Ragavan, Anthony’s friend who had joined the movement a decade earlier, says 83 was the “year of betrayal”. A government-sponsored riot against Tamils broke out. More than 2,000 people and 53 political prisoners were killed. It forced the LTTE to resort to military action even before it could mature politically. Formed in 1975, it grew from a group of five into thousands in a short span of time.

Ragavan, one of the band of five, who had known Prabhakaran “in shorts”, recalls that it was this subordination of the political to the military that sealed its fate: the LTTE, not unlike many other liberation struggles, began to fight Sihala fascism in the shadow of the State.

“There was no discussion on politics,” agrees Anthony. “The only ‘literature’ we read was on armed struggle… My first gun was a sub-machine gun. I also had an M-16 and an AK-47,” he reveals resigned to opening old drawers. In France, where his status is of a political refugee, Anthony says the version they know is “that I have fought for the Tamil cause without weapons”. The asylum depends on that crucial lie.

Anthony’s life is, strangely enough, rather well-lit. He reveals his personal history. He has admitted to being ‘creative’ with his story while applying for official documents. But regarding the current crisis, it is difficult to gauge his terms of engagement — especially at a time when expat Tamils worldwide and in Tamil Nadu, and many Sri Lankans themselves, are crying off the refugee-rich press releases of the Sri Lankan government.

“What devolution of powers will happen at the point of the gun?” asks Sunanda Deshapriya, former editor of newspaper Yukthiya, and a Sinhala who came over to India last month. “The LTTE is a phenomenon. It is an idea supported by many. The root of its rise is the injustice and suppression of Tamil’s rights by the majoritarian Sinhala government. Criticising the LTTE must happen with the criticism of the State. Right now it’s more important to stop the civilian suffering.”

Anthony’s diffidence, perhaps, has nothing at all to do with who he is. He has to be understood from the point of view of his exile; a political refugee is something of a loose canon. He could perhaps be busy working on his second book. But what if he loses his voice?

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    Paramita Ghosh has been working as a journalist for over 20 years and writes socio-political and culture features. She works in the Weekend section as a senior assistant editor and has reported from Vienna, Jaffna and Singapore.

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