Tuesday, September 24, 2013


          By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Poonga, the only surviving senior most woman ex combatant

I have carefully chosen the subject which I wanted to focus through photos with narratives, while giving ethnic and gender balance to strengthen the stories.  I have met the only surviving senior most female member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a senior Tamil woman, a Sinhala journalist cum activist and a Sinhala artist for the project “30 Years Ago”. Their memories are framed forever.

The only surviving senior most woman ex combatant has spoken to a journalist for the first time after the end of the war. She clearly and strongly recalls her memories, and the sole decision made by her to be a freedom fighter.

A senior Tamil woman who has witnessed numerous incidents during “Black July”, lost and suffered of being a Tamil in Sri Lanka. She has extensively shared her memories of loss, displacement, relocation and recovery.

A Sinhala journalist cum activist who also has witnessed the violence and killings of Tamils in July 1983, and has readily helped a pregnant Tamil woman while taking enormous amounts of risks, and hardships during their journey together until he has brought her home safely. He has spoken aloud about what he has witnessed in July 1983.

And, a Sinhala artist who too has witnessed what happened to the Tamils in July 1983. He has chosen art to recall his memories of 1983 pogrom while using barrels, barbed wires,bricks, blocks and so on.

Out of the above four people I have met to speak and photograph, it was extraordinarily challenging to do the story of the senior most woman ex combatant. Because I had to travel through checkpoints, sentry points, and bypass the men in plain clothes! I had to be exceptionally careful with the exclusive journalistic materials in my hands. It was the most difficult part in completing my assignment. I steadily and strongly feel it’s a risk worth taking!!!

This particular assignment has been an emotional journey, while meeting people to talk for longer hours, and recollect their painful and haunting memories (of witnessing violence and killings, displacement in our own land, rebuilding the shattered lives, and still remembering the loss of lives and invaluable belongings), and to be captured closely and widely on my camera.

Please click http://30yearsago.asia/portfolio/framed-memories/ to read my four stories in full with photographs.

An analysis of Northern Provincial Council Elections

Northern Provincial Council elections were held on 21st of September 2013 in five districts (Jaffna, Mannar, and Vavuniya), including the former war zones of Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu. Voters in larger numbers, gathered at the polling stations, at the early hours to cast their precious votes. I have been covering the election campaign trail, and elections very closely from the North of Sri Lanka.

On today’s program, we look at the political context in which the Northern Provincial election took place. Jiselle Hanna speaks with DushiYanthini Pillai, an award winning journalist in Sri Lanka and a Tamil. See more at http://www.3cr.org.au/accentofwomen/podcast/accent-women-24092013

Please click http://podcast.3cr.org.au/pod/3CRCast-2013-09-24-62059.mp3 to listen to the interview in full.

COURTESY: 3cr, Australian Community Radio

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Handbook on how to vote

Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai reporting from Mankulam, Mullaithivu District

Reading through how to vote correctly

Woman in Mankulam reads the Handbook on How to vote

A handbook in Tamil on how to vote (voting procedures) at the upcoming Provincial Council Elections was launched in Mankulam. It is an initiative by the Centre for Women and Development in Jaffna in association with Mothers and Daughters of Lanka to create awareness among the voters on how to correctly cast their votes.

The handbook clearly explains, step by step, how to vote, and is being distributed among women;s groups at the grass roots in the North, to be shared with the people in their villages. The launch was held recently in Maankulam, which was oragnised by Yuwashakthi Women’s Federation, which is a grass root women’s group in the Vanni.

Handbook helps the voters to get familiarized with the procedure
Grassroot women listening to instructions of how to vote
Creating awareness on how to vote

Courtesy: Ceylon Today

"I will continue to raise my voice against human rights violations" ~ Ananthy Sasitharan

  Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai reporting from Chulipuram, Jaffna District

Tamil National Alliance's Jaffna District candidate Ananthy Sasitharan's posters in Chulipuram

Ananthy Sasitharan's shares her experiences in contesting in an election for the first time

Ananthy Sasitharan is the wife of Ezhilan (Sinnaththurai Sasitharan), former Trincomalee District's Political Wing Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. He surrendered along with many other senior combatants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the last phase of the war. A well known Catholic Priest Reverend Father Francis Joseph too has been in the same group which has surrendered to the Sri Lanka security forces on the 18th of May 2009 in Selvapuram in Mullaithivu District. She is the witness to the surrender, and has filed a Habeaus Corpus along with four other Tamil women, who also happened to be the sole witnesses to the surrender. Ananthy Sasitharan is currently contesting under the Tamil National Alliance's ticket in the upcoming Northern Provincial Council elections.

Campaigner for Ananthy Sasitharan

"There are thousands of Tamil families whose loved ones have either gone missing during the war or after the war. And, there are numerous Tamil men and women who are detained and imprisoned, they languish in prisons without justice. I have decided to contest in the Northern Provincial Council elections to bring justice to these people. I will continue to raise my voice against human rights violations, and work hard to bring justice to affected people. We have the right to know what has happened to our loved ones who have surrendered. We need justice sooner than later. 

It's a challenging experience for me in contesting in the elections for the first time. Not a single woman has come forward to support me during the election campaign due to fear of intimidation and so on. Some people shouted at me saying "you come to get our votes, but after winning if we invite you for our village's temple festival, you will not come. Most politicians do this to us. Politicians fail to respect our invitations" they shared. It was discouraging, but I had to respect their views" says Ananthy Sasitharan.

She says that her three young daughters are concerned and worried about her decision of embracing politics. But, "I have to work for justice with dignity" reiterates Ananthy Sasitharan .

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"I want to serve my people because I feel their pain" ~ Gnanasakthy Sritharan

Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai reporting from Koovil, Jaffna District

Gnanasakthy Sritharan's poster in Kokkuvil, Jaffna District

Gnanasakthy Sritharan in Koovil (former High Security Zone), Jaffna District

Gnansakthy Sritharan is a former politician and an ex cadre of Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (Pathmanabha Wing), and is currently contesting in Jaffna District under the United People's Freedom Alliance banner in the forthcoming Provincial Council Elections in the North of Sri Lanka. I met passionate politician to be Gnanasakthy Sritharan amidst her hectic schedule durng the last week of the election campaign, at one of the worst affected villages in Jaffna District, known as "Koovil". A tiny village which had lost numerous lives and properties during the war, a handful of women and men joined the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front almost 30 years ago as combatants. Many of them have left the country due to safety reasons, while a few of them have decided to return after the war ended in May 2009.

Gnanasakthy Sritharan joined the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front in 1981, and was trained how to shoot, and handle weapons. She was in exile like her fellow cadres, and returned to Sri Lanka recently.

A woman supporter pasting poster in Koovil

"I will work hard to protect every woman's basic rights, including all women ex combatants, irrespective of their political views, and which armed organisation they were involved with. Tamil women have been used by all the parities, which were involved in armed struggle. The women became the permanent victims of war - killed, disabled, raped, made as single mothers, and so on. Tamil women who have either contributed to the war or been victimised due to war are left to lurch, nobody comes forward to empower them in post war Sri Lanka. They continue to suffer in silence. There are no sustainable livelihood programs for these women in need" says tireless Gnanasakthy Sritharan.

She contested almost three decades ago, won and elected as a member of the former North and East provincial Council. There are a handful of women candidates who are contesting in the forthcoming Northern Provincial Council Elections.

"Patriarchy plays a major role in politics. Fellow male candidates feel threatened when there are women candidates. They don't encourage women to embrace politics. More women should enter politics, and become decision makers. But, the adequate space is not given to the women who have the courage to become politicians.

Male candidates have a lot of financial and personnel support, where I struggle to continue my election campaign. On the other hand, I don't want to waste money in printing different posters, cut outs and paraphernalia. I would like to dedicate my services to the people (especially women) who need a lot of support to rebuild their shattered lives. Women have been pushed to bear multiple burdens, most of them are living under poverty line, and are malnourished. I neither want to beautify myself nor want to give false promises to people. But, I want to serve my people, because I feel their pain" Gnanasakthy Sritharan further stated.

She says she had faced numerous challenges when she was contesting for the first time, and the challenges remain unchanged. She also says that contesting in the elections for the second time is a different experience, including she has to compete with many candidates, and is trying hard to reach out to the people in the grassroots.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Spiritual elegance of Nallur

Text and pix by Dushiyanthini Kanagsabapathipillai

Divine view of Nallur Kanthaswamy Temple

Golden temple of Jaffna

Pink Parade: Deities dressed up in pink colour during the Nallur Temple Festival

As a child, I have always been delighted and thrilled to attend the annual temple festival of Nallur Kanthaswamy temple during the second term school holidays. As a pampered only girl child in the family, I have been treated like a “princess of the peninsula” whenever I am surrounded by my family and the extended family.

Attending the vibrant Nallur temple festival brings back everlasting and enchanting memories. 25 days of festival, dressed up in 25 colourful and different “Kanchipuram” silk long skirt upto the ankle with matching blouse with decorations and designs beautifully and specially stitched by my mother, glittering dainty gold jewellery, matching pottu on the forehead, and jasmine garland on my short hair, bring back beautiful and boundless memories.
Festival Favourite: Girl children playing with wet sand and making sculptures

Numerous gifts during the festival ranging from beautiful spring bangles, colourful balloons, toys, pencil sharpeners, whistles, and different flavours of ice cream kept the gifts list growing, and filled the suitcase. A must festive nibbler is hot and roasted peanuts, and corn neatly filled in a bag either made out of a newspaper or an exercise book. We used to sit on white sand especially filled in for the festival with the family at night around the outer path of the temple under the moonlight, after the completion of a beautiful procession of divinely dressed deities. I can divinely recollect my childhood memories of listening to lively Bhajan singers who follow the five deities, getting drenched during the water cutting ceremony which takes place on the following day of the chariot festival, and getting crushed in between an instantly and constantly moving a fleet of devotees, getting separated from my parents, got lost many times during the final days of the festival, and had been reunited through repeated loud speaker announcements.

Lively Bhajan singers

Gold painted statues

A Hindu devotee hangs on hooks on A9 highway

Hindu priests too are dressed up in pink on thet particular day of the festival

Blessed parade of deities

Vibrant festival at night

The devotees express the power of devotion through various ways – women carry clay pots of burning camphor in their hands in a procession, bare chest men roll themselves up on the sandy and rough grounds, and men hang on metal hooks while either sides of their mouths and the whole bodies are pierced with metal divine items. Fervour of the festival is magnificent and unforgettable.

Yet another memory of the divine festival is my feet getting burnt in the hot sun while walking barefoot to the temple everyday. As a family tradition, we used to g
.o to the temple in a car, and walked around the temple's inner and outer paths without the footwear. But, after 25 days of an intense festival, I had to instantly treat the sun burnt feet before the school started in order to wear the socks and shoes.

Rare view of Nallur Kanthaswamy Temple in Jaffna

Memories of enduring the longest journey on Yazhdevi train, still stays afresh in my heart and mind, and I terribly miss the Yazhdevi journey!. Family members and neighbours in Jaffna visiting and shower us with traditional gifts. We used to carry bundles of freshly plucked drumsticks, mangoes jack fruit and homemade delicious vegetarian meals beautifully wrapped in banana leaf from Jaffna to Colombo. I am eagerly looking forward to the longest and memorable Yazhdevi train journey in the near future.

COURTESY: Ceylon Today