Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cast a VOTE for a WOMAN

We will destroy the idiocy
Of denigrating womanhood!
” ~ Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyaar,
(11 December 1882 ~11 September 1921), (Tamil Poet, Reformer and Freedom Fighter who supported the women and their rights)

"Vote for a Woman" is a national campaign to get more women in politics

Sri Lanka’ current population is 21.3 million. The total population consists of 52% of women. Women’s representation in elected political bodies in Sri Lanka is abysmally low. It is 5.8% in parliament, 4.1% in provincial Councils, and only 1.8% in Local Government. It is the lowest in South Asia. Sri Lanka is the only country in the region without a quota for women in Local Councils according to Women and Media Collective.

Nominations for women by the major political parties have remained almost stagnant in the last 50 years. Many women leaders at the community level are marginalized and overlooked, when it comes to nominations for elections.

Women’s organizations have used many strategies to increase representation in the last 10 to 15 years including through supporting independent women’s lists and advocacy for a legal quota for women.

Major political parties must be made accountable to give more nominations to women, while at the same time public awareness has to be raised about the problem of under representation of women at local level. United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were the most responsive while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress said that it was against the religion to have women in politics. But, we have got more than 6,000 signatures in a petition from the public from the Trincomalee District, supporting women entering into politics, and we even got a letter from the Islamic cleric attesting that women can enter politics to prove a point to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. It is noted that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has put forward a significant number of women. It is a healthy move. During the last local elections 3% ~ 4% of women were nominated, and this year the percentage has increased to 12%, which is quite impressive, but there is a lot more work to be done.

Sri Lanka has very commendable human development indicators for women, which include high literacy rates and exceptional educational achievements. However, despite almost 70 years of female franchise and the election of the world’s first woman Prime Minister, the country lags far behind most of the developing world with regard to women’s representation in political institutions at local, provincial and national level. All of these women faced a lot of hardships in the nomination race and a large number of them were rejected, Therefore, we ask the women population of the country to cast at least one of their preferences for a woman
” said Kumudini Samuel, Director of Women and Media Collective.

The political representation of women is strategically intended to: ~~

~ Improve good governance at the local level through the observance of selected Local Government bodies
~ Promote interaction between local government members and community groups to improve governance at local level
~ Increase representation of women in political institutions and decision making processes

Women candidates from Badulla, Galle, Kurunegala, Moneragala and Trincomalee districts were brought under one roof by the Women and Media Collective to share their experience while running the race for nominations to contest in the upcoming local government polls in Sri Lanka.

I have contested and won with the Tamil National Alliance last time. I have stepped out of my office and been on the street to monitor a concrete road being built. I was the first person to how the community that a woman can be out on the field and do better job. I was refused to be nominated this time due to male chauvinism!” shared Bhavani Krishnamoorthy from Trincomalee district.

The Women and Media Collective in partnership with the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment as well as six other national and local level women’s groups Sarvodaya Women's Movement (Galle), Uva Wellassa Farmer Women's Organisation (Monaragala), Viluthu (Trincomalee), Women's Development Centre (Badulla), Women's Resource Centre ( Kurunegala) seeks to increase the percentage of nominations and votes for women in the upcoming Local Government elections

Women and Media Collective alongwith Women’s Development Centre ~ Badulla, Sarvodaya Women’s Movement ~ Galle, Women’s Resource Centre ~ Kurunegala, Uva Wellassa Farmer Women’s Organisation ~ Monaragala and Vizhuthu ~ Trincomalee prepared a list 0f 181 names of women from 5 districts and the list was given to the political parties. It is noted that 72 women successfully got their nominations from this list. Approximately 195 local level party leaders from mainstream political parties in all five districts and 48 national level party leaders were met by the WMC to ensure that an equal amount of women are also in the decision making process in the country.

In 2006 local government elections, two women from Galle district, four women from Trincomalee district, two from Kurunegala district, one woman from Monaragala district and five women from Badulla district won the seats.

It remains as a challenge to get more women into politics

Banners for women contesting in the upcoming local government elections

A few women's organisations have been working since 1990s to get more women in politics

Women interested in active politics share their experience and views

Women’s organizations have been demanding for 30% quota for women at least at the local level

The race for women to get into politics is made tougher

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Commemorative Lecture in memoriam of Lasantha Wickrematunge

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” ~ Martin Luther King Jr, (15 January 1929 ~ 4 April 1968), (Activist, Clergyman, and prominent leader in African ~ American Civil rights movement)

Candles are lit to pay tribute to journalists who sacrificed their lives

A commemorative lecture to mark the second death anniversary of Sunday leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was held today. This is the first commemorative lecture to pay tribute to Late Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was killed on 8th of January 2009 in Ratmalana, suburb of Colombo.

Christopher Warren, former President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) delivered the key note address titled ~ “Role of Media in Post-War Democratization”. Candles were lit around the cement monument of pen with a human hollow to pay tribute to the journalists who sacrificed their lives. The monument stands on a barrel painted in white. The monument was created by the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA).

A large number of human rights activists, diplomats, foreign and local journalists, politicians, artistes and members of the civil society attended the commemorative lecture. The event was held at Hotel Janaki on 15th of February 2011, and organised by the Free Media Movement.

A banner carrying the portraits of the journalists who sacrificed their lives

Special monument of pen with a hollow human figure made by Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA)

Hana Ibrahim, Assistant Secretary of Free Media Movement welcomes the gathering

Deputy Leader of United National Party Karu Jayasuriya lights a candle

Elmore Perera, Former President of Organisation of Professional Association (OPA)and Surveyor General presides the event

Another section of audience at the event

"We cannot compromise our craft~JOURNALISM" says Christopher Warren

Sunil Jayasekera, Convener of Free Media Movement addresses the gathering

Audience at the first commemorative lecture

The Chairman of Sri Lanka Press Institute Kumar Nadesan addresses the gathering

Sunila Abeysekera, Human Rights Activist shares her memories at the event

Viewing a short documentary ~ “Death of a Journalist” made in 2009

Christopher Warren delivers the key note address titled ~ “Role of Media in Post ~ War Democratization”. He is the immediate past President, International Federation of Journalists, and Federal Secretary, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance

View of audience through lit candles and hollow human figure of the monument of pen

Capturing the moments

Dilrukshi Handunetti, Director ~ Advocacy, Transparency International Sri Lanka reads Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge's reflection

"Social media like Twitter,Blogger,etc add immeasurably to the mix" says Christopher Warren

Seetha Ranjanee, Secretary of Free media Movement delivers the vote of thanks

A scene after the event ended

The following is the key note speech by Christopher Warren ~ “Role of Media in Post ~ War Democratization”. He is the immediate past President of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and Federal Secretary, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

Speech by Christopher Warren on “Role of Media in Post ~ War Democratization

These last few weeks have been exhilarating for those of us who believe in democracy, human rights and freedom of speech and the press.

First Tunisia and now Egypt have embarked on the exciting, tumultuous journey to free and democratic societies. There can be no doubt that the most difficult part of that journey is still to come and those countries – and the dominos that will inevitably follow them – will require all the support possible from the international community of friends and supporters of democracy.

And there can be no doubt that there will be stumbles and disappointments along the way. But there can be no doubt that the end result will be a freer, more open – more normal – society.

The events in north Africa are exhilarating not just for their own sake. They are a beacon to the world.

Partly this is due to the significance of Egypt as a central player in Africa and the middle East. It will force every country in the region to confront this question: If Egypt, why not us?

But it is significant beyond its own borders and its own region. It is significant because it marks the renewal of the global march to democracy and human rights.

Over the past decade, this march has stumbled due to two influences. First, the ill-named Global War on Terror came to justify restrictions on human rights in the name of security, to encourage the democratic world to compromise with authoritarian regimes in the name of fighting terror and conflated the spread of democracy with the use of armed force in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These restrictions came although as that great journalist Benjamin Franklin warned us over two centuries ago: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Yet the sacrifices made in traditional democracies acted not only to set back human rights in those countries. It sent a message to authoritarian regimes around the world that human rights was no longer the central concern that it should be for all democratic nations.

At the same time, the economic growth of China within the strict authoritarian rule of the Communist Party gave new life to the chimera beloved of leaders with authoritarian tendencies everywhere that economic growth occurs best when coupled with strong man rule despite the corruption that goes with it.

Yet we know from within our own region how false that is. All authoritarian regimes sooner or later hit a wall of economic growth that only genuine democracies can break through. We saw it in Korea and Taiwan in 1988 and in Indonesia in 1998. In all those cases, the crisis of authoritarianism could only be resolved through democratization.

And now, the risings in Tunisia and Egypt have again put a full stop to both these lies. They reopen the understanding that you can only fight terror through democracy and only a democracy built on respect for human rights can guarantee a strong and vibrant economy that eliminates corruption.

There’s a further development that makes the examples of Tunisia and Egypt so exciting. They’ve been driven by the same groups that have been working for democracy throughout the world – human rights and press freedom NGOs, independent trade unions and working journalists.

They have not been driven by the traditional political or oppositional groups but from broad based networks reflecting the frustrations of the people.

For me – as I suspect it would have been for Lasantha -- the example of journalists is particularly exciting.

We need to be honest – many journalists do well out of authoritarian regimes, particularly in cases like Egypt where so much of the media is state-owned. They get the perks of status and public recognition. They get to pontificate on national television about the inevitability of strong man rule. They get to hobnob with political heavyweights and get invited to drinks with the president. They are relatively well paid. Too many of our colleagues fall into the trap of comfort and compromise.

Yet, as in case after case of democratic revolution around the world, individual working journalists – particularly the rising generation -- have rushed to place themselves at the centre of the north African risings.

Even within the state-owned media, journalists have been fighting for – and winning -- a free media, for the right to report in the interests of the people, not of the State and the ruling elite. Some have walked out, rather than compromise their journalist principles.

And now we are seeing their battles paying off with the likely break-up and democratization of State-owned media built on the principles of independent public service broadcasting and publishing and the strengthening of independent and private media.

It will be these reforms, more than any others, that will ensure that Egyptian and Tunisian democracy continues to surge forward. And it is these battles that must lie at the heart of the campaigning commitment of journalist communities.

It is clear from this, that there are many lessons to be learnt from north Africa, not least here in Sri Lanka.

As I said, in most of the world, democracy has marked time over the past decade.

Would that were the case here in Sri Lanka. Instead it has gone backwards. And the murder of Sivaram in 2005, of Lasantha Wickrematunge two years ago, the trial of Tissa, Jesiharan and Valamarty, the effective exiling of friends like Poddala, Sanath and Sunanda, and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda last year all stand as chilling monuments to that deterioration.

Each of these marked a different phase of that deterioration. The murder of Sivaram and the treason trials of Tissa, Jesiharan and Valamarthy all in their own way marked a common goal of both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE – the elimination of any independent, questioning space in the Tamil community.

The bashing of Poddala Jayantha and others and forcing into exile so many other friends marked the attempt to eliminate the sort of independent network of journalists, human rights NGOs and independent unions in the media that, as Egypt and Tunisia shows, can be so challenging to an increasingly authoritarian ruling elite.

And the murder of Lasantha and the subsequent disappearance of Prageeth marked the attempt to eliminate a questioning and challenging media. I doubt there is a journalist in the country that didn’t hear and understand the message that these two events sent.

Lasantha’s powerful message from the grave And Then They Came for Me indicates how well he understood that the attacks on free and independent journalism did not come in a vacuum – they came as part of a concerted push against democracy and human rights.

He also well understood that, in being attacked, he was not being singled out. As he said, he did not travel the journey alone: “Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands.”

And yet, though his murder was only one of many, his standing in our craft meant his killing was more shocking than most. Here was one of this country’s most senior journalists, a fiercely independent editor of one of its leading independent papers, publisher of critical investigative exposes of corruption and wrong doing.

And yet, if his standing could not protect him, how should the rest of the craft stand up?

And yet journalists do. And that’s because, as the actions of many of our colleagues in north Africa have reminded us this year, free and independent journalism can only exist in a free and democratic society built on human rights.

We are like fish who cannot live without the sea of freedom of expression surrounding us.

An independent Sri Lanka is about the same age as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so it is no surprise that the challenge of human rights has been intertwined in the history of an independent Sri Lanka from the very beginning.

It has been a history punctuated with human rights abuses from the denial of citizenship to the upcountry Tamils in its very early days through to the murder of Lasantha and the disappearance of Prageeth. It has included some of the world’s most terrible events from the anti-Tamil Colombo pogrom in 1983 to the presentation of suicide bombings as the LTTE’s most enduring gift to the world

Balancing these human rights abuses have been an enduring democracy, flawed and inadequate as it has been at times. A simulacrum of an independent judiciary has survived. Civil society has grown.

What intertwines human rights so deeply in the history of Sri Lanka is not that it has been the worst of societies, any more than it has been the best. It is that from the very beginning of the country’s independence, human rights have always been the central contested terrain of struggle.

I have long believed that the history of Sri Lanka can only really be written and understood as a history of the struggle for human rights.

With the murder of Lasantha, the disappearance of Prageeth, freedom of expression has become the centre of the struggle because you cannot have a society founded on human rights without the right of freedom of expression. And, you cannot have freedom of expression without a society founded on human rights.

Freedom of expression underpins some other rights directly – the right to practice your religion freely, the right to peaceful assembly as well as freedom of speech or, narrowest of all, freedom of the media. None of these rights exists without the right to freely express

It’s integral to the rights of women, minority groups and disadvantaged groups. They cannot be empowered without being empowered through their own freedom to express themselves. That’s why I have no truck with those who argue that freedom of expression is marginal to the struggles of the disadvantaged. Those struggles cannot even have the words to express themselves if they are not empowered to speak.

It’s bundled up in the right to a fair trial – part of a fair trial is to be tried in the open.

And it underpins all other rights – rights of security, rights against arbitrary arrest, rights to citizenship, rights against torture because it – along with an independent judiciary – is the means for enforcing these rights. It’s the means for exposing abuse and by exposing end them

Freedom of expression is the catalyst that enables every other right to be freely exercised.

While freedom of the press is really only a subset of the broader right of freedom expression, traditionally, it’s been through journalists like Lasantha and Prageeth bravely exercising our craft here in Sri Lanka that the struggle for human rights has been reported and made known.

And that’s why they and so many other journalists have become the target.

Like every other person, a journalist has a right against abduction, against illegal imprisonment, against torture and against murder. Yet now, for reporting, for analyzing, for questioning, for – in short – doing their job, too many journalists have found themselves in the vortex of spiraling human rights abuse in Sri Lanka.

And so Lasantha was murdered and Prageeth disappeared.

It is easy in this environment to think things will never get better.

But Tunisia and Egypt show the decade of marking time is over.

Yet again, authoritarian rule has failed the people – even the sort of soft authoritarianism that uses the veneer of elections to conceal the abuse of human rights.

And it will be up to journalists to make a difference – but it will not be up to us alone. We need to learn the lessons that our friends and colleagues in Tunisia and Egypt have taught us all over again.

First, we cannot compromise our craft. Journalism in the service of an authoritarian state is not journalism at all. It is merely words on a page or voices in the airwaves. Journalism must stand, as it always has, for respect for the truth and respect for the public’s right to know.

Second, we must continue to stand together. The solidarity of the organized media community in Sri Lanka – reflected in the coming together of the six organizations – is a model for the island. The media community – the journalists community -- is the only community that appears to be capable of transcending the divisions that cause so much havoc in Sri Lanka.

I know that solidarity has been tested over the past two or so years. It is understandable that under the unbearable pressure that journalists have been under, that tensions have broken out. We all know some friends and colleagues have felt abandoned as a result.

Yet that support and solidarity has largely endured and made bearable the pressures that journalists have faced. And now, it lays the basis for renewing the struggle for a genuinely free and democratic media.

And third, emerging information technologies are shattering the monopoly we used to enjoy as the sole conduit of information to our communities.

Now, newspapers, radio, tv are no longer the sole source of information. Social media like Twitter and Face book and Web 2.0 like bloggers, citizen journalists and news web sites all add immeasurably to the mix, although none of them are a substitute for independent journalism. We can see the challenge they pose to elites with the recent burning of Lanka eNews.

But they do more than simply add to the total volume of information.

The potential of these technologies shatters the paradigm that successive Sri Lankan governments have followed. They cannot shut off the faucet of news and information by political appointments to run state-owned media, pressuring advertisers to abandon independent media and threatening, abusing and murdering journalists.

Finally, we need to remember that the risings in Tunisia and Egypt were driven as much by the economic failings of authoritarian rule – and this is the blow it strikes against the so called “China model”.

The people in Tahrir Square in Cairo know what every economist knows: authoritarian rule – soft or hard – inevitably acts to conceal corruption and corruption is the major impediment to genuine economic growth and decent living standards for ordinary people.

Rising prices, unemployment and underemployment, corruption – only a democracy built on human rights can confront these challenges.

Despite all this, when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression, the Sri Lankan government is like a general fighting the last war, using the tactics that worked so well in the 1980s and at a loss to understand why they do not work this time around.

And as they have struggled to understand, the government and their military and paramilitary allies, lashed out ever more wildly and ever more journalists fell victim to their failure to understand the world in which we all live.

And, in the short term, they prevailed.

But now, the challenge for us as journalists, as believers in democracy and human rights, is to seize the historic turning that north Africa has illuminated.

We have to reassert the fundamental right of all the peoples of the world and of Sri Lanka. The right to have real meaning put into democratic structures and to have them leavened with human rights, including the right to safety and the right to freedom of expression.

Like Sri Lanka, my country is an island. But as the global march of democracy and human rights resumes, no countries will be islands for long.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Queen of Murasumottai celebrates her centenary birthday

May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine” ~ Frank Sinatra (1915 ~ 1998), (American Author and Singer)

100 ~ A Special Ribbon Birthday Cake for the centenarian Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah

Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah celebrated her centenary birthday on 6th of February 2011. She was born on 6th of February 1911 in her ancestral home in Chaavakachcheri in Jaffna Peninsula, North of Sri Lanka.It is a great miracle that she survived the brutal war. Her life, experience and challenges are unbelievable, but they are true.
She is a daughter of a priest. She had her education at Uduvil Girls College ~one of the famous Girl’s schools in Jaffna peninsula. After completing her studies, she went back to her home town Chaavakachcheri to serve the community in the Church and teach at Sunday school.

“I enjoyed cooking and serving food for all. I love to take care of others. I like all food. I led a healthy and wealthy life in my village ~ Murasumottai” says charming and soft spoken Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah who sits straight on a chair in a living room of her son’s house in Kalubowila.

Her children, daughters-in laws, grandchildren, great grandchildren, relatives and friends gathered today at St.Paul’s Milagiriya Church in Bambalapitty for Eucharistic Worship to celebrate her centenary birthday and wished her long life. Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah has 8 sons (her third son died when he was 18 year-old), 12 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren.

She moved with her family to Murasumottai on 29th of April 1959, and continued to live there till she got displaced in 2009. She was evacuated months before celebrating the Golden Jubilee of “Navajeevanam” in 2009. She came to Colombo in October 2009 after spending some time in the IDP camp in Poonthottam, and later with her granddaughter in Vavuniya after the displacement. She did not want to come to Colombo, but her children wanted her to rest in Colombo for awhile. Her husband Reverend Thambyrajah was a Priest of Church of South India and he died in 1982.

She told me, when I met her in February 2010 ~ “I am the youngest in the family of five girls and three boys. I am the first person in our family who lived this long, and I very much want to go back to my lovely village Murasumottai, celebrate my centenary birthday and live there happily and die peacefully. It is my dream” mentioned Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah in her pleasant voice in 2010.

It was a miracle that we were not injured and survived. My sons carried me on a chair all the way throughout the journey. Initially I slept on the mat on the ground in the IDP camp. It was difficult for me, so I arranged a few suitcases on the ground and slept on them. I found this was better. I have seen things that I never thought I would in my life. I heard heart-rending tales of human suffering. Myriad memoires of war are like a long and bad dream. It is a God’s blessing that we all survived unhurt. I thank the God wholeheartedly. I thank him everyday for sustaining me throughout the life” says Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah with a big smile on her beautiful face. The war began when she was in her 60s and was already a grandmother. She remembers everything with clarity such as the disturbing memories of the decades of war.

I miss my beautiful village very much” says a very gracious person Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah while tears fill her eyes and about to trickle down.

She is the only surviving founding member and moving spirit of “Navajeevanam” (New Life), which was established in 1959, and provided education and rehabilitation for the children in need. It was a home for Tamil, Sinhala and Burgher boys. It is situated on Paranthan-Mullaitheevu main road in Kilinochchi district. Their motto is “Ready for Both: Service and Sacrifice”.

We built “Navajeevanam” brick by brick while facing physical and economical challenges. It withstood cyclone, floods and war. But, I heard recently that “Navajeevanam” has been destroyed during the last phase of the war in the Vanni, and the belongings were looted. Rubble and ruins are left. I feel very sad when I think about it. I pray for the wellbeing of the people I know. My heart and soul are with them” shares Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah with pain in her voice and emotions gather on her bright face.

Many call her “Amma”, her grandchildren call her “Appuchcha” while the others call her “Arul Aunty”. Her memory is intact and still strong .She is very well informed about the news from around the world. She remains a loving and caring person and strong-willed source of inspiration. She continues her habit of reading the newspapers and books daily in the morning.

As the French philosopher and Writer Michel de Montaigne said ~ “We are born to inquire into truth; It belongs to a greater to possess it”, she has experienced destruction, displacement, IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) life, loss, suffering and violence, nevertheless her courage and motivation can move the mountains.

View of St.Paul’s Milagiriya Church in Bambalapitty

Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah enters St.Paul's Milagiriya Church for Eucharistic Worship

Painting of Mother Mary carries Jesus Christ at St.Paul’s Milagiriya Church

Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah during the Thanks Giving Mass

Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah cuts the special cake

Special song composed and sung by Reverend. A. R.Mahendran in praise of her sacrifice and service to the community

Catholic priests who conducted the Eucharistic Worship to celebrate her centenary birthday

Relatives, friends and well-wishers gathered in large number to wish her

Reflection by Venerable. Chrishantha B. Mendis, Archdeacon of Colombo & Vicar, Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour. He spent sometime at "Navajeevanam"

Gift from her great ~ grand children

Kissing of her foot by a priest

Blessings by the priests

During the service

View of the Holy Bible

Holy Communion is being conducted

Another Painting at St.Paul’s Milagiriya Church

She is being helped

Greeting Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah

Dance performance by her grand daughters

Kiss for “Appuchcha” on her birthday

Songs are being sung by choir

Hear My VOICE: Ganeshwary Santhanam ~ “I am blessed to be alive”

Like many Sri Lankans returning to their homes, Ganeshwary Santhanam hopes for a better future

She joined the movement - branded a terrorist group by many - and left during the ceasefire, got married to another fighter and gave birth to a son, before being pressured to rejoin the LTTE in 2006. Like thousands of Sri Lankans returning to their homes today, she hopes to build a new future.

I joined the LTTE almost 10 years ago to fight for the freedom of the Tamils. My parents were not happy about my decision. I dropped out of school due to the war. My childhood dream had always been to become a Bharathanatya dancer, but my dream was
never fulfilled"

After serving in the movement for nearly 10 years, I left the LTTE during the ceasefire time in 2002. I got married to an LTTE cadre, and gave birth to a son. We were a happily married couple".

But in 2006, that life of normality was to change when I was pressured to join up yet again. During that time, I was given rigorous training along with other women in the village and proved myself a better fighter than most".

At the same time, it was very difficult because I was worried about my family. I always thought if I die who will look after my family? Memories of my family were always in my mind when I was on the battlefield. On the other hand, I did not have a choice to decide this on my own and I continued to fight. I prayed to God to save me and let me live for my husband and son. Later, my family and I would become displaced from our village. I gave birth to another son and am currently jobless, as is my husband".

The war was terrible – so much suffering and loss. I want to educate my children and make them better citizens. I want to forget the bitter past and forgive others and lead a peaceful life".

I have fought in the battlefield, but I managed to survive without any injury, while many of my fellow fighters died on the spot. It’s a miracle of God. I am blessed to be alive.”

She was featured in a photo journal posted on BBC website on 9th of May 2006. To view, please click on