Tharini's story By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
A tale of remarkable courage and the pain of loss
Her story is one of amazing courage. She entered Velupillai Prabhakaran's 'medical college' and started training to be a doctor on the battlefield, attending to the wounded at the tender age of 17. Now, after nearly six years since the war between the LTTE and government forces had ended, she reminisces about what led to her joining the LTTE, her experiences at the warfront and the pain of personal loss. But, what is more remarkable is her courage to go on with life, leaving behind the loss and pain in the dark corners of the past. This is her story.
Tharini was the tomboy in the family. She never conformed to the norms of the traditional way of life that was around her. Even when she was a toddler she was quite adventurous. "I was a curious little girl. I could never stand still even for a minute or sit in one place unlike my classmates in school," recalls Tharini, now 37 years old.
At the age of eight, Tharini was slowly becoming aware of what was happening in her village in the North. She could see groups of young men holding meetings, which made her quite curious. "They looked very serious and I used to run into them while playing and they appeared quite displeased about my presence," she says. "I knew they were cadres because that is what people talked about all the time. I can still remember the name Pottu Amman and how popular that name was among the people. In fact, he had been there in one of those groups."
Tharini had on many occasions attempted to talk to them, to know what they were doing and on one occasion was brave enough to ask one of them what they were doing. However, the men had quickly admonished her with a brusque "shut up and go home".
Life was not easy for Tharini's family. They were reeling in abject poverty; going to school on an empty stomach was the norm for her. As she grew older she started noticing that many of the boys in the village would go missing. Quite often among those who disappeared was one of her favourite persons in the neighbourhood. She was aware that the boys were fighting in the war and they were leaving their homes in secret to join the movement. It was not uncommon to see and hear parents crying and running after their children asking them to come back when they left their homes to join the LTTE.
"I was becoming keenly aware of one thing; that I too could leave." Getting a good thrashing for being mischievous was not unusual for Tharini. "Once, my father scolded me for something and I ran to a house where the men were gathered. I pleaded with them to take me along with them. But, they chased me and warned me not to visit that house again."
By the time Tharini had completed her Advanced Level examinations with three passes, the war was gradually intensifying. She was waiting for a chance to join in the battle. "I liked running, climbing and doing things the boys do. So, just like the boys did, I also left the house without telling anyone. I wasn't afraid because I knew my parents didn't like me for who I was and were always critical of my rebellious ways.
I liked the idea of being single and independent, to do what I wanted to do, and that was not possible in my society."
As soon as she became a member of the LTTE, Tharini was able to win their confidence. "They thought I could be trained in medicine as I had completed my ALs. But, before that I had to undergo rigorous defence training."
Tharini received basic training for a couple of months and was finally qualified to get into the medical field. "I was told what field would be good and I accepted the offer."
Tharini studied medical theories and major surgical operations similar to any medical student in a State-run university. Some of the senior medical students had to dissect dead humans and animals.
The labs had all the facilities. There was nothing lacking in their learning process. Tharini did not want to disclose more about the place where she had been trained to assist a wounded person.
"Although my passion was to fight, I realized that saving human lives was a better deal. I never knew I had the capacity to become a doctor and treat the wounded in the battlefield. I was an excellent student. So many senior lecturers in medicine visited the 'college' to teach us and at every exam I came on top. I learnt everything quickly. If a hand needed to be amputated, I knew how to do it."
Tharini had treated hundreds of wounded LTTE cadres and some had died on her lap.
"We were advancing right behind the LTTE cadres. Our team took care of the injured. We had to carry guns as well as the first aid equipment. At that time, I thought I was saving lives. But, now I realize that those cadres should not have been there to die in the first place.
"At that time I thought what we were doing was right. I was of the impression that I was doing commendable work."
Yet, she has no regrets as she had saved a number of lives. "Today I know what it is like to be alive." Once, Tharini and a few other girls were trapped in a house and she fought back and escaped with her team. "I was kept tied along with the rest. But I managed to remove the coir rope and save the other girls and run away. I also saw a few girls who could not make it. They bit on the cyanide capsule and perished before my eyes."
A couple of years later Tharini's focus on life began to shift. She fell in love.
"He was the handsomest man in the group," she recalls with a twinkle in her eye, "and very fair in complexion. That attracted me to him and we started talking to each other often."
Tharini's affair with the LTTE cadre began to spread till one fine day they were both summoned by one of their leaders who decided that they should get married.
"My parents came rushing to the camp after they heard about our love affair. Then they were briefed about my life story thus far. They were upset about the affair. Back at home, my parents had to feel the flak for sending me away to join the LTTE. Our relatives had stopped any links with our family in fear. It was a serious social stigma. I did not realize how bad it was until they told me."
She married the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. The LTTE had not been hard on them. She was given permission to live outside the camp. As she was a 'medical practitioner' she was in fact respected by the cadres.
"We were given provisions and I had managed to do some cultivation in the garden away from the LTTE camp."
Soon after, Tharini gave birth to a baby girl and had to quit working for the LTTE. But, she continued to provide medical assistance to some members of the LTTE while her husband was called for duty when the war broke.
Tharini's daughter Agalvili, who is now eight years old, has no father. He was called for duty during the last phase of the war. "He kissed the baby and left, without uttering a word. I was hoping for a ceasefire and I was glued to the radio for some good news. I knew that when the war became intensified he would not return."
In 2009 the war ended and Tharini had to face a number of difficulties in the absence of a husband. With a baby of only two years, Tharini managed to see the body of her husband when she was taken to the site.
"I saw his dead body. So there was no point in looking for him. I knew this would happen one day and I expected this all the time. But, I did not expect to live either, because the path I took was quite dangerous."
Today, Tharini is with her parents. She had undergone a government-sponsored rehabilitation programme to integrate former LTTE members to the society. She is no more than tomboy who wanted to be in the war, but a mother and a woman, braving again to face an unforgiving world, in order to take care of her only child. "My life was fast moving and suddenly it has stopped moving in a direction that I wanted to till my death. Today my focus is my daughter and my ageing parents. I have dedicated my life to God too."
Tharini has become a devoted Catholic following in her husband's footsteps and has started her life where his had ended.
Tharini never saw Prabhakaran and perhaps he was unaware of the struggle she had to undergo and the social stigma her parents experienced due to the life she chose with the LTTE. "That is life," she says with a smile.