The LTTE built a culture of martyrdom around its dead. But the price of losing a war is that all these martyrs cemeteries that dotted rebel held areas were destroyed by the victors.

Nine years after physical hostilities ended between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ex-combatants of the rebel group are struggling to survive.

This, despite the government’s massive rehabilitation programme at the end of the war, which saw approximately 12000 ex-combatants undergo training and re-skilling with hopes of becoming productive members of society.

A total of 594 Children ,9374 males and 2032 females underwent the rehabilitation programme and were trained in Information Technology, Mechanical training, Education, Handicrafts, Carpentry, Beauty Culture and Cake Decorating. The training also included Psychosocial Development, Counseling, Meditation, Spiritual Development and exposure to cultural activities

Almost nine years later the ground realities are different.

Several of those who went through the rehabilitation program shared the challenges they face with Counterpoint on condition of anonymity.

Thirty eight year old G.Sujitha (not real name), who lives in Wiswamadu in Kilinochchi is the wife of an ex- combatant and the mother of one daughter. “My husband joined the LTTE in 1989. He was caught by the army during the last stage of the war in Mullivaikal in 2009 and sent to several prisons in the country. He was released in 2015”. She claims he suffers from a nervous problem as he had been tortured while in prison.

Sujitha herself has asthma and her daughter who has issues with her eyesight, rely on the farm for their livelihood.

“The farm was made available to us through a Child Development Initiative program run by catholic nuns. We have 20 hens and two cows. We can earn Rs. 15000 per month but food and maintaining the hens and cows cost Rs. 7000 therefore our profit is only about Rs. 8000 “.

‘My husband gets help from his brother to look after the farm, as he feels faintish very often and cannot work very hard. I too visit the Jaffna Hospital often for treatment.”

Nishanthan, (not real name) 54, who joined the LTTE in 1983 supervises a Home for Elders. He lost a leg in 1990 and has an artificial limb.  According to Nishanthan, most ex-combatants have found jobs on their own, instead of through the government.

“They engage in fishing, selling ice-cream and also work as drivers. Some are differently abled, but they manage to find work and look after their family.”  Nishanthan was released from prison in 2012.

Can rebuilding infrastructure erase the memory of a loved one? Restoring a feeling of self-worth is the real challenge of reconciliation.
Can rebuilding infrastructure erase the memory of a loved one? Restoring a feeling of self-worth is the real challenge of reconciliation.

According to Nishanthan, even though the war ended nine years ago, the bigger problem faced by rehabilitated LTTE cadres is their security.

“Three of my four children are girls. I work at an orphanage in Thriukeethiswaram and my wife and children are alone at home. In December last year, around 9 in the night someone had knocked on our doors and windows. The police station is just 100 meters away from our house. My wife had not opened the door, instead she had phoned our neighbour and asked that the police be informed that a thief was on our premises.  After they informed the police, my wife had looked out and had seen a man running out of the garden. When they chased after him, he had run into the police station. They got to know later that the man was a policeman under the influence of alcohol at that time. But, one person would not have been able to knock on the doors and windows at the same time. Somebody else would have also been there,” he added.

Ex-combatants are also harassed when there is a change in security officers, says Nishanthan.   “Whenever new security officers are appointed they come again and check the names of the ex-combatants who are still in the village. Many of my friends face such security issues.”

Dr. Jeevasuthan Subramaniam, Senior Lecturer at the Jaffna University, who has studied the issues faced by ex-combatants extensively, claims security is one among many challenges they face. They are still unable to gather together for a common purpose due to potential military surveillance.

“They are watched and their movements are restricted even though they have undergone rehabilitation implemented by the military.  Sometimes police and military intelligence persons tend to blame them for some crimes such as robbery, murder, drug trafficking and taking ransoms.”

Ananthy Sasitharan, (whose husband was a senior political leader in the LTTE), a Minister in the Provincial Government confirms the issue of surveillance. “If one or two ex-combatants get together and start a self- employment initiative, the CID will come and inquire how they get money. Due to this reasons they prefer to stay in their homes”.

Sasitharan who is in charge of Women’s Affairs, Rehabilitation, Social Services, Co-operatives, Food Supply and Distribution, Industries and Enterprises Promotion, Trade and Commerce accuses the government of not recruiting ex-combatants for Government jobs even though they are qualified.

“Some ex-combatants have A/Level education and are nearly 40 years old. But they are not recruited to work for the government, because those are mostly political appointments. Differently abled ex-combatants should be recruited to work for the Samurdhi Authority instead, they get jobs in the Agriculture farms.”

There is no special policy by the government to help with the livelihoods of the ex-combatants, Sasitharan points out.

“As a minister, I was very saddened that of the 13,700 differently abled people who requested loans from the social service ministry only 3000 were approved, and that too they were given only Rs. 3000.”

Names of dead or missing carved on simple stones. Memories don't need huge structures.
Names of dead or missing carved on simple stones. Memories don’t need huge structures.

“Many ex-combatants are not eligible for the Samurdhi Program. In the Mullaithivu district there are two villages Devipuram and Vallipuram where many ex-combatants and their families live.  They are not eligible for the Samurdhi, says Sasitharan.  Her husband, code named Elilan was the LTTE political head for Trincomalee.  He disappeared allegedly after surrendering to the Army during the last stage of the war.

“The Government does not give drivers licenses for the differently-abled people.  They can’t even do some sort of business by using a specially designed motorbike for the differently –abled because of that.”

In a bid to boost employment opportunities amongst this community the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation distributed Sewing Machines, Water Pumps, Zinc Sheets, Bicycles, Fishing Nets, Equipment to open electrical repair outlets and beauty salons, Welding Tools, Motor Mechanic Tools, Boats, Computers, cameras, Printers, Coconut oil processing Machines, Tyre Re-treading machines and Cement Block Makers in Mannar and Batticaloa in early April this year.

According to Dr. Subramaniam, despite such assistance the rehabilitated members and their families continue to encounter psycho-social and economic challenges. Better re-socialization schemes to assist these former combatants adjust, from one where fighting a war and living in constant danger to leading a normal social life is necessary, he points out.

Apart from lack of employment opportunities, they need help developing soft skills and restoring their faith in the non-governmental organizations and government offices. They need to learn a second language, get over the inferiority complex, social status and pride, and feeling of disempowerment and demotivation.  There is “no collective effort to unite the ex-combatants and launch a meaningful rehabilitation programme. Absence of a comprehensive rehabilitation mechanism is a prime issue acknowledged by a majority of the ex-combatants”

Through his work counseling this group of people, Dr. Subramaniam has found that ex-combatants struggle to be accepted socially and feel that the public must be educated about the obstacles they face.  “Those who got married are struggling to lead a decent life, conforming with generally accepted standards of respectable life conditions, while neighbours and people living around them are not even prepared to listen to their grievances.  This has resulted in several of them choosing alcohol and smoking as alternative coping mechanisms.”

Many ex-combatants who obtained loans from the state banks have found it difficult to repay the debt, and have received letters of warning.

In a recent interview with a newspaper, the Security Forces Commander, Jaffna, Major General Dharshana Hettiarachi had commented that ex-combatants face problems due to unemployment, caste issues and low acceptance within their own society.   Dr. Subramaniam agrees that lack of employment opportunities and low social acceptance can be clearly seen, while issues around caste are subtle and less obvious.

“Employers tend to be hesitant in providing employment opportunities due to various reasons. It could be a mismatch between the expectations of ex-combatants and the employers regarding work norms and salary, fear about the unpredictable behaviour of ex-combatants, lack of desired skills expected by employers etc.”

Dr. Subramaniam claims that most of the rehabilitated cadres say they did not receive any training, knowledge or attitudes   needed for semi-skilled employment or for a particular profession though the government speaks highly about the quality of the rehabilitation programme.

There is also the feeling amongst them that public servants such as Grama Niladhari’s, Samurdhi Development officers etc. ignore them and their selfless contribution during the war.

In our culture the dead must be remembered for the living to live.
In our culture the dead must be remembered for the living to live.

They also feel that they have wasted their productive life for these people and now have to struggle to even get small favour from government officials.

“During counselling sessions, I have to urge them to accept the social reality that this is the normal life situation and now as ordinary citizens one cannot expect any special privilege unless we are entitled for that.”    The issue is two-fold; while some tend to isolate themselves from the rest of society, others feel they are ostracised for the role they played previously.

Shortage of employment opportunities, acceptance in society and security issues are not the only problems plaguing this group.  A good number of people in these areas, many of them ex-LTTE cadres are dealing with spinal cord injuries, resulting in their having to seek assistance from family members for almost everything, even to answer a call of nature. Many cannot leave their beds. According to the Centre for Persons with Disabilities, of the nearly 200 people dealing with spinal cord damage, almost 50% is below 35 years of age, says Dr. Subramaniam.

According to statistics from the Sri Lanka Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, the number of war-inflicted disabilities has been estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 in the Northern Province after the end of war in 2009, and many of them are former combatants. “There are many women who have been permanently injured; their situation is even worse than that of physically sound women, who are subject to the norms and prejudices of a patriarchal society. The lot of a permanently disabled injured or economically deprived woman in a society dealing with war-related socio-cultural damage is worse.”

A pilot project in August 2016, with a group of selected ex- combatants with disabilities revealed that the challenges they face are unique, and have not been investigated with a neutral perspective, points out Dr. Subramaniam.

In his research, Dr. Subramaniam has found that the high number of households headed by disabled former LTTE cadres, is a critical social phenomenon.

“These households generally consist of disabled ex- women and men fighters raising children or taking care of their dependents/families after undergoing a year-long rehabilitation.” Simultaneously, they are aspiring for a better tomorrow, and though the officers responsible for rehabilitating them claim they have been provided many opportunities to improve their talents and skills, the socio-economic hardships mentioned earlier are obstacles in their way, says Dr. Subramaniam.

While they have also received small grants, skills training etc. to take up livelihood opportunities on their own, the research found that there are no consistent support programmes to help this particular group. “The disabled ex-combatants have emerged as a new sub-social aspect within the major social phenomenon of rehabilitated ex-combatants.’

Dr. Subramaniam is of the view that though some politicians and NGOs’ have made an effort to help these ex-combatants overcome their economic and social hardships there is no meaningful program yet. “Livelihood programmes should be designed based on a scientific need assessment and psychological aspects must be considered when designing a programme for ex-combatants and their family members.’




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