Thursday, 10 March 2016

His Royal Highness, The Tamil Tiger - FICTION

Kathir Bala Sundaram

Chapter 3
Hit and Run

Grasping Pandit Manka’s hand in terror, Principal Vasantha gasped uncontrollably. The rest of the teaching staff stood like statutes, spell bound by the bleating students. Hardly one of them could believe that the students would be so rude to refuse the Smiling Minister’s invitation to participate in the ‘Condemnation Procession’ and to carry the larger than life pictures of His Royal Highness.
“Piriya, I don’t understand,” Vasnatha cried to her Vice Principal. “Why are the students bleating like this?”
“Madam, it’s because of the Tamil Tiger’s ruthless totalitarian rule. They’ve violated so many human rights that this is the result. Even their own community hates and curses them.” She turned to regard her superior, trying to get her to understand. “They have cells in every town and village and they keep records of taxes each individual pays. Madam, their tax system is killing our people and the students too, suffer under its heavy burden. They hate the Tamil Tigers.” The Vice Principal looked back at the outraged Minister. “It will be their death, eventually.”

The explanation didn’t put the agitated principal at ease. “Yes, Piriya, but—”
“Madam, they treat Jaffna Tamils like animals. Last night around midnight, the Tigers knocked on my neighbor’s back window and ordered him to go to Kilinochchi. He is just a small shop owner, but he couldn’t pay the two thousand rupees they demanded of him in taxes each month. The poor man has never even seen two thousand rupees of profit in his entire life! He threw his shop keys at them saying, ‘You run it then!’ His family has been crying ever sense. Madam, they are already lamenting as if he was already dead! That is what the Tamil Tigers have done!”
The drama playing out up front drew the women’s attention. The Smiling Minister stood near the lectern, his body swaying slightly as he pondered the fates of those he would order to Kilinochchi for investigation. The principal for sure, but he had others in mind as well. He would target at least ten of the other teachers…his deadly musing was interrupted when he noticed the girl, Monitor Sendhoory, standing up from her seat in the midst of the crowded auditorium.
“Why are you standing,” he demanded, turning his sternest glare on the girl.
“I have a question,” she replied boldly.
“Sit down, you bloody whore! Sit down!”
The students roared in protest. Students leaped to their feet and waved their arms, shouting challenges, and creating such a thunderous protest that the Minister and his men recoiled in surprise and shock. A few of the soldiers shifted nervously in fright.
When the noise died down a bit, Head Prefect Mehala taking her courage from all the students managed to shout over the crowd in her high pitched voice. “We’re not puppets for you to control as you wish! The old days of treating us like cows and sheep are gone. Apologize, Minister! You must listen to our views and answer our questions! Either apologize or we’re all leaving!”
The Minister stood seething in dumbfounded rage. He didn’t know how to respond to such a blatant threat. This was the first time in memory that the Tigers ever faced such opposition from the Tamil civilians. Even minor disparaging comments were practically unheard of. But this! This was nearly open rebellion! How the Minster longed for the days when he could drag anyone he wanted to out to a lamppost and put a bullet in his or her head! Just toss a sign on the dead bodies proclaiming them to be traitors and the rest of the people were cowed into submission. But he couldn’t do that here! Not with the Cease Fire Agreement in effect.
The Tigers on the stage gathered around the Minister, talking in low dangerous tones. Lieutenant Earless having finally been aroused to the tense situation said, “We shouldn’t leave until we have a commitment from the teachers and students that they will attend the protest march. If we return in failure, His Royal Highness will strip us of our rank and toss us into prison to rot.”
Another Tiger blanched at the thought. “And,” he whispered, “We haven’t even told them that His Royal Highness wants their marching band to play the music in the protest march. His Royal Highness was very specific about that!”
Velavan, the oldest soldier in the group, looked more worried than the rest. “Mob mentality is dangerous,” he explained, prominently displaying the fact that he had somewhere lost his three upper front teeth. “Typically, if not controlled, they’ll become violent. We may find ourselves fighting these girls right here on the stage.” He glanced at the crowd again to gage its mood. “Be careful, these are intelligent people. They may have contacted the Sri Lankan army. It would be better if we apologize and just let them say what they want. If we go back without having accomplished our mission, we’re dead. You know this to be true.”
The Minister heard all this with a sinking heart. He didn’t want to apologize; he wanted revenge. But he knew that if he returned now, he would likely be thrown into prison and tortured for his failure. Better to swallow one’s pride, he decided. He waved his men back and turned to address the crowd that looked to be on the verge of leaving. “Vembady students, please accept my apologies for my distasteful language. Please sit down. Your concerns and views will be heard.”
The students, somewhat taken aback by their easy victory, gradually quieted and sat down—except for Monitor Sendhoory. She had remained impassive throughout the entire demonstration, and a small smile played across her lips as the Minister nodded for her to speak.
“Honorable Minister of Political Affairs, first of all I want to thank you for giving me this chance to express my opinion. You told us of the assassination of Mr. Joseph, Member of Parliament for the Batticaloa electorate. You told us that we were to march to condemn his killing. I agree with this. The student body of Vembady Girls’ College feel as do you, that such atrocities should be emphatically condemned. But why do you wish us to carry placards displaying a massive picture of His Royal Highness? Why must we shout ‘Long live His Royal Highness the Tamil Tiger?’ It seems ridiculous and inappropriate to do such things while we are condemning the murder of someone else.
“Why don’t you provide us with pictures of the slain M.P. Joseph? We would be honored to carry his picture and shout ‘Long live the memory of M.P. Joseph for the Batticola constituency! Long live the memory of M.P. Joseph for the Batticola constituency! Long live the memory of M.P. Joseph for the Batticola constituency!’”
Having said her piece, Sendhoory sat down, only to have the rest of the student-body roar to their feet to give her a two minute standing ovation. She basked in the applause resolving to ask more questions of the Minister.
The Smiling Minister had long since lost his smile. He was so furious that he barely held himself in check, so badly did he want strangle the life out of the upstart girl. Gaping at Sendhoory, the Minister nodded menacingly at her, holding his cane up in the air. This silly demonstration only fueled Sendhoory’s resolve and she stood up again.
“What do you want again?” the Minister demanded
“I’ve a question.”
Bloody bitch, he said to himself.  “Go on then.”
Somewhere in the back, another student shouted, “Go Sendhoory! Unveil their Ponku Tamil deception!”
The Minster stretched his neck to try to identify the heckler, but he could not. This only emboldened Sendhoory.
“Honorable Minister, if you will recall, you took us to participate in the Ponku Tamil celebrations held in 2001, 2003, and 2005 at the University of Jaffna. There you also made us carry huge pictures of His Royal Highness and made us shout ‘Long live His Royal Highness the Tamil Tiger.’ It seems to me that you should have allowed us to hold pictures of Sangam* Poets and shout ‘Long live classic Tamil literature! Long live Vallurvar, the great Poet-Sage! Long live Auviai Patty, the greatest Tamil poetess!’” Sendhoory ignored the livid face of the Minister and continued her criticism. “Everything you have ever condemned, even in the western countries where you force the Tamil Diaspora to protest the human rights violations of the Sri Lankan government, you always make them hold pictures of His Royal Highness and having them shout ‘Long live His Royal Highness the Tamil Tiger!’ Is not this a mockery? You seem more interested in worshiping His Royal Highness than you do in condemning the atrocities of the racist Sri Lankan forces!”
Practically seething in rage at being challenged by a teenage girl, the Minister retorted, “Yes we do this. We do this because His Royal Highness is not like other men. He is an incarnation of God Muruka!”
 “Uooo…uoo…uo… Uooo…uoo…uo!” someone concealed near the back wall howled in a long low-pitched moan like that of a grey fox of the Vanni jungle. Many of the girls recognized the voice belonging to Head Prefect Mehala.
All students packed in the hall howled in chorus. “Uooo…uoo…uo… Uooo…uoo…uo!”
The Tamil Tigers were sweating profusely. They couldn’t remember the last time they had been so challenged. Before the Minister could finish his argument, Sendhoory continued, “You’re insane, my dear, poor minister. You have lost whatever wits you ever had about you! Why do you continue to try to fool us? You just want us to think that His Royal Highness has everything under control. You don’t want us to know that he is cowering in some underground bunker in Vanni. That’s why you want us to carry his picture, because he is too cowardly to show his own face out of his own dungeon!”
“Yea!” the admiring voice of a small girl echoed through the auditorium. As if a dam had broken loose, all the girls were on their feet cheering wildly.
The twelve year old cadet had had enough. Never before had he been so humiliated, so shamed in front of people, so embarrassed for his Minister. Shaking in fear and rage, thinking that a violent riot was about to take place, he jumped down off the stage and ran out, heading to the jeep and the other soldiers waiting outside. He was going to get some help.
“Cadet, why are you shuddering?” demanded one of the soldiers sitting in the vehicle.
            “What’s going on?”
“Sir! They’re going to riot!”
“Riot? Where? What are you talking about?”
“A girl—tall girl…she…”
“Fool! Stop your shaking and answer me!”
“She’s going to start a riot, sir! She’s going to endanger the Minister!”
“Start making some sense! Where is the riot?”
“Sir, in the auditorium.”
The older soldier rapped his knuckled hard on the cadet’s head. “Details, cadet! Give me details!”
“A tall girl, sir. She is arguing with the Minister.”
“Arguing with the Minister?” the soldier asked in shock. He had never heard of such a thing before.
“Yes sir! She keeps asking questions…”
“This is insane! The world won’t believe this. Not even the President of India or the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka would dare argue or interrupt the Minister!”
“She keeps challenging the Minister with questions. She almost has the entire student body ready to riot. The Minister is scared.”
“Yes sir, the bloody girls have all gone mad. They’re shouting at him like mad dogs!”
“Why hasn’t the Minister ordered this tall girl to report to Kilinochchi?”
“That would be the end of us! All the girls would riot. They will tear us all to pieces if the Minister does that!” He threw a worried look over his shoulder. “Grab the AK-47 and come with me. Threaten to shoot her or something!”
The soldier looked doubtfully at the indicated gun lying in the backseat of the jeep. The AK-47 wasn’t even real. It was just a mockup they had used to tease the sentry guard when they crossed the border. He recalled how angry the Sri Lankan sentry guard had gotten when he finally realized that he had confiscated a fake gun. He had thrown it back at the Tiger soldiers, cursing them the whole while. What could one fake gun do? Still, without a better plan, he grabbed the fake rife and followed the cadet into the auditorium.
The Minister understood after he saw the pair carrying the fake AK-47 that he couldn’t threaten to shoot anyone even if it was real. The Cease Fire Agreement expressly forbade such actions. The Sri Lanka forces would catch them before they could even get out of the city.
But the gun had its intended effect anyways. The girls saw it, and not knowing it wasn’t real, quieted down. Hesitantly, the Minister began to speak. “Dear Vembady students, I’m not here to bully you. I am just here at the behest of his Royal Highness. We must condemn the murderers of M.P. Joseph. If we fail, they’ll continue to assassinate politicians and eventually even civilians. I beg of you to take part in our protest march. I am willing to put to rest all your doubts if you have—”
“I’ve got a question,” Sendhoory said standing again.
The Minister nearly swallowed his tongue, but he couldn’t refuse her. “Okay, go on.”
“Honorable Minister, please be patient with me as I try to outline a rather lengthy question. After M.P. Joseph was assassinated last year, you brought his body all the way from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi to pay tribute to the slain leader. His body was conducted by a military parade and marching band of Tamil Tigers to the Cultural Hall. Sir, you presided over that meeting and addressed the mourners who gathered there to pay their respects. Is this true?”
“Yes. I also gave the funeral speech.”
“That’s my point.”
“Go on, my dear girl; say what’s on your mind.”
“In your speech, you promised that those who had murdered him would be found and eradicated from the face of the earth. Is this also correct?”
“Why yes, my dear, it is. I’m glad you remembered that speech.”
“Now here’s my question, sir. On July 13th, 1989 three Tamil Tigers of note went to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) headquarters in Borella, Colombo for a friendly chat with the former Opposition Leader, Mr. Amirthalingam. These three men, Visu, Commander Alosias, and a soldier by the name of Viknan joined Mr. Amirthalingam in taking tea when Visu pulled out his pistol and shot Mr. Amirthalingam, killing him. Do you think the Tamil Tigers should be eradicated from the face of the earth for such an atrocious murder?”
Once again, the crowd erupted into hoots and cheers congratulating Sendhoory on her clever manipulation of the Minister’s words.
The stunned minister began sweating again. He felt as if someone was slowly chocking the life out of him. He remembered the story behind the killings. It had been determined that if the intelligent and clever politicians were allowed to continue to live, they would quickly assume control of Tamil nation once the war was over. The military under His Royal Highness’ command could not compete with the oral skills or the intelligence of these well educated politicians. They rightly feared that the Tamil community would simply ignore the uneducated murderous Tigers and congregate behind the TULF, since Amirthalingam was so popular among the Tamil people. That was the reason for the Tigers’ targeting TULF politicians one after the other.
Steeling his nerve, the Minister looked Sendhoory in the eye and allowed his smile to blossom on his face. “Clever, naughty girl,” he practically purred. “What is your name?”
“Vembady,” Sendhoory replied.
“I just want your name,” the Minister tried to say as soothingly as he could. “Be a good girl and tell me your name.”
“Vembady!” all the girls shouted as one. “Vembady!”
Snarling in rage, the solider with the fake AK-47 strode to the edge of the stage and pointedly aimed the weapon straight at Sendhoory. Girls scrambled to move out of the line of fire, some screaming, and others clearly preparing to surrender the debate. Sendhoory held her ground, confident that the solider wouldn’t dare shoot with the Cease Fire Agreement still in effect. She caught a subtle signal from Mehala and slowly lifted her left hand above her head.
A pudgy girl in the center threw a book at the Tiger wielding the gun. It crashed heavily into the man’s chest, knocking him back a step.
“It’s a fake!” someone shouted.
The girls regained their confidence and soon were roaring in mocking laughter at the impotent man aiming an impotent weapon at the crowd.
The stunned Minister wondered if someone had leaked the story of the fake gun to the girls ahead of time. How had they known? His eyes roamed over the teachers thinking one of them was a spy for the Sri Lankan forces. Spying was something the Minister knew well. It was a favorite activity for the Tamil Tigers. Their previous intelligence gathering had led to a lot of high profile assassinations. So the Minister knew what the feeling was like when a spy had turned over intelligence on a target. Right now, he felt like a target.
Similar thoughts were racing through the Principal’s mind. She turned to Pandit Manka and whispered, “I mentioned earlier that I thought someone was behind the students’ actions. It isn’t the army or the paramilitary.” She glanced around and lowered her voice even lower. “The person inciting this whole thing is right here in this room.”
Surprised, Pandit Manka asked, “How do you know this?”
“I’ll tell you later.” The principal looked around again. She was scared—very scared.
The Smiling Minister decided not to let the debate about the assassination of the former Opposition Leader, Appapillai Amirthalingam, pass unchallenged. He turned his gaze back to Sendhoory for a few seconds and then smiled broadly. Everyone quieted wondering what the volatile man would do next. “You, Miss Vembady, were still lying in your mother’s lap sucking milk when the Honorable Amirthalingam was murdered. That is why you don’t know the truth. The Tamil Tigers didn’t kill him. His Royal Highness and Amirthalingam’s sons were very close friends. His death came as a great loss to all Sri Lankan Tamils. Miss Vembady, you shouldn’t tell ignorant lies without all the facts just to get applause from your peers.”
“I did not tell any lies,” Sendhoory countered. “You kill anyone you see as a threat, yet you don’t have the guts to accept or admit it.”
To the Minister’s dismay, the students began clapping once again, cheering their fellow student on. The Minister spun from the podium, worried that his plans would fall apart and he would have to report failure to His Royal Highness. He held his walking stick tightly in his fist and motioned for Lieutenant Earless. They talked briefly before the Minister returned back to the lectern. “Visu, Alosius, and Viknan were indeed once in our movement, but they left our organization long before the assassination you speak of.”
“Careful, Minister, or you’ll run out of lies in your bag,” Sendhoory teased.
“You shouldn’t be calling us liars, young lady. Bad things tend to happen to people who make such accusations,” the Minister warned.
“Let us see who the liar is here. At a Colombo press conference in October of 1989, Indian Express correspondent, Rita Sebastian, said that the Tiger headquarters in Batticaloa were lauding the three assassins as heroes by prominently displaying photographs of the three men among the soldiers of the Tamil Tigers. Who is the liar now?”
“The Indian press is biased! They hate us!”
Sendhoory smiled and pressed on. “On March 15th, 1990, the Lanka Guardian published an interview its editor, Mervin de Silva, had with the second in command of the Tamil Tigers at that time, Gopalasamy Mahendrarajah—also known as ‘Mahattaya.’ Mahattaya claimed that Amirthalingam was not killed because of his differing political beliefs, but because he was a traitor acting as a spy for India.
If the senior commanders of the Tamil Tigers admitted to the assassination of Amirthalingam, why do you want to cover up the story now?”
The Smiling Minister could just gape at the girl. He wished Mrs. Piriya, the Vice Principal, would just take care of this problem and run the girl out of the auditorium. In anger, he glared at Principal Vasantha. The woman should never have let this happen! This was her fault!
Monitor Sendhoory wasn’t finished. “Honorable Minister, the Tamil Tigers are scared of the TULF politicians. This is why you killed eighteen leaders of the party including M.P. Neelan Thiruselvam, M.P. V.Yogeswaran, Senator S.Nadarajah, M.P. A.Thankathurai, Mayor Srojini Yokeswaran, Mayor Pon. Sivapalan, M.P. Nirmalan Sountharanayakam, Dr. Anton Vas, Kalkuda S. Sambanthamoorthy and others!
You are nothing but an imposter! Your master is nothing but a murderer! Jaffna University Teachers Human Rights organization alleges that your Royal Highness has killed at least 8000 fellow Tamils, charging them as traitors. You will all go to hell with your filthy lies!”
The girls erupted into wild cheering yet again. The standing ovation this time was louder than any before it.
The Minister felt as if he were sinking into quicksand. The girl was right, he knew. These men were threats to His Royal Highness—not while the civil war raged, but afterwards, when battles were waged with words and wits more than guns and bombs. Regaining a bit of his composure, the Minister realized that if he didn’t regain control of the situation, he would return to His Royal Highness in disgrace. That couldn’t happen. He allowed his huge grin to take over his face as he looked down upon the student body.
“Opposition Leader Amirthalingam was an Indian stooge and a traitor. He failed to condemn the Indian Peace Keeping Forces’ killings of innocent Tamils in the North and East,” declared the Minister.
“The Tamil Tigers instigated the IPKF* to kill civilians in Jaffna,” Sendhoory retorted. “You hid among the civilians and shot at the Indian soldiers from innocent people’s houses! You vanished while your own people suffered for your actions. How could the Indian soldiers know who really shot at them? You wanted the Indian soldiers to kill civilians hoping that they would rise up against the IPKF. The Indian army shot civilians hoping you would not hide among them anymore! Either way, your cowardly actions are to blame!”
“Stop talking nonsense,” the Minister growled. “The Tamil Tigers are like cobras!”
Sendhoory surreptitiously received a note from a fellow student. She scanned it quickly and then resumed her argument. “Honorable Minister of Political Affairs, this is not your Vanni home and you are trying to terrorize me because you can no longer wag your tail publically in the Jaffna peninsula like you once did. Your treaty partners are waiting at the front gate, Minister. They are waiting to cut off your tail!”
“To cut off your tail!” a girl in the second row shrieked.
“They’re going to cut off your tail!” the rest of the students yelled. They took up the phrase like a chant, speaking it over and over again. Each time they yelled the phrase, ‘They’re going to cut off your tail,’ it acted like a physical blow to the Minister.
He was about to say something when one of the soldiers he had left outside rushed in and up to him. “Honorable Minister!” he whispered hoarsely in the Minister’s ear. “The Sri Lankan army is at the front gate!”
The Minister’s face darkened with each thought that crossed his mind. Beads of sweat gathered and then ran down his face to drip onto the concrete floor. His heart began to pound in warning. If the army was here, he had best step carefully.
Very carefully.
He waved the messenger away and turned again to the crowd. “Miss Vembady, stop beating about the bush. Can you quote one real example? No you can’t.”
“Certainly I can. There are a lot of recorded examples. I will only tell you one, though, one about my uncle. He was killed by the Indian Peace Keeping Forces. He was killed because of your hit and run tactics!
“On May 15th, 1989 at exactly 5:30 p.m. the Tamil Tigers were hiding by a culvert in the town of Sivahalam Avarnkal on the Jaffna-Point Pedro Highway. They fired at an IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Forces) patrol, killing Captain N.K. Singh and one other soldier. Their dirty work done, the ambushers disappeared in no time. Because of this, Indian troops surrounded Sivathalam Avarankal and drove terror into the population, demanding that the assassins be turned over at once. During the search, eleven civilians were killed. One of them was my uncle, Uthayanantha Sivam. This incident is recorded in a UTHR report.
Had the Tamil Tigers not killed the two members of the IPKF, my uncle would still be alive. Had the cowardly Tamil Tigers not run away and hidden and let the civilians suffer, and fought instead, then the IPKF would have killed your soldiers instead of my uncle and others. You can’t hoodwink us any longer. We know who is responsible for the deaths of our people! You are!”
A cold chill settled in the Minister’s bones. He had no arguments left. He was powerless to force the issue…at least not here, not now. He had failed in his mission to rally the students for a protest march. He stared at the ceiling fans and wondered why the entire world shook when the name of His Royal Highness was mentioned, but this girl, this wisp of a woman, had caught the Tiger by the tail and was shaking it hard. Did this herald the end of Tamil Tiger dominance?
No, he decided. It did not. His Royal Highness would not let that happen. He would not relinquish one hair’s breadth to a foe.
A nice-looking, yet slightly portly, Year 10 girl sitting in the last row just in front of  the History Teacher stood up and began walking like a soldier towards the platform. Her left arm was obviously missing as she swung her remaining arm in an exaggerated marching pose. She was a witness of the racist Sri Lanka army’s atrocities in Jaffna peninsula before the Cease Fire Agreement of 2002.
All eyes fell on her march towards the platform. The Minister didn’t quite know how to respond and watched her approach anxiously. For a moment he feared her to be a suicide bomber like Thanu had been for the Tamil Tigers in Jaffna. Thanu had used her innocent feminine looks to get close to Prime Minister Rajiv Ganhi and set off the bomb strapped to her body, killing the both of them. Is she coming to kill me? the Minister wondered to himself. He didn’t move though wondering where she could actually hide a bomb under her frock.
The Year 10 student arrived at the platform, looked straight into his eyes and delivered a note to him with her remaining arm. The minister snatched it away angrily. The girl demanded to that he read it. 
The minister glared at her and then up at the crowd of girls watching him curiously.  He almost didn’t do it, but he feared more outbursts. So staring balefully at the note, he began to read, “On October 30th, 1990 the Tamil Tigers forcibly expelled all Muslims—14,400 in number—from Jaffna, their homeland. Their mother tongue is also Tamil. They are Tamils following the Islam faith.
“One evening a contingent under Commander Karikalan drove the Muslims through the streets of the City of Jaffna, ordering them to assemble at Osmania College. They were ordered to leave the District of Jaffna within two hours. You allowed each one to take only two sets of clothes, including the ones they were already wearing and not more than 150 rupees in cash. You confiscated all their jewels, money and identity cards. Subsequently, after they left you looted their houses. Since then, they have been living in Internally Displaced People camps in the Puttalam district now under the control of the Sri Lanka government. During those dark hours you abducted at least 35 wealthy Muslim businessmen. No one, to this day, knows what happened to them.”   
When the minister finished reading, she queried, “Why did you run them off? Why didn’t you allow them to at least take all their possessions? You are like mad ghosts that are so hungry as to swallow an innocent nation!”
The Minister couldn’t response to her accusations. He just declared, “It was an order from His Royal Highness for security purposes.”
 “He’s a monster!” the girl retorted with a snarl.
The entire student body took up the refrain.
“He’s a monster!” 
“He’s a monster!” 
“He’s a monster!” 
The Minister’s angry eyes boiled in barely suppressed anger, shooting wishful bullets of retribution at the girl returning to her seat. His limbs shook with the desire to reach out and grab her. His right fist clenched and unclenched as he imagined jumping down from the platform, yanking her white uniform right off her body, and whipping her naked body down the streets of the City of Jaffna.

The humiliated Minister glared at the crowd of girls and vowed to take revenge on Vembady Girls’ College. He began to mentally count his targets and plan his revenge.

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