“The Tigers killed between 20 and 30 people in the group I was with as we tried to run,” V. Sivalingam, one of the final Tamil detainees released on Tuesday, recalled. “There were four or five of them. At first they argued with us. Then the crowd around them grew bigger. They began to panic. People started to push past them. Then they opened fire. Close range. Waist high. Directly at us. It was chaos. The military were shelling us at the same time.”Sivalingam, a cook from Mullaittivu, had miraculously survived, and succeeded in reaching the army’s lines with his wife of 20 years and five children after an epic flight that involved wading through neck-high sea water for ten hours. Within a matter of days he and his family found themselves interned by the authorities in a Zone 2 camp of the infamous Manik Farm complex, where they remained until Tuesday.
The Tigers didn't want the Tamil civilians to leave the shrinking zone where their fighters were holding out, leaving them open to shelling by the (mainly Sinhalese) army. In the camp Sivalingam spotted one of the LTTE men who'd shot at them.
“I did nothing. I told nobody of his identity. I could have had him arrested but I didn’t. The LTTE had fought long and hard for us. At the end of it all they did terrible things — we know that. But they didn’t have much choice.”It's not that, though. It's this :
“I said goodbye to my wife of 20 years for good when I walked out of the camp gates,” he said. “We had been through so much together. We had escaped through the fighting knowing it could be the end of our lives. But we survived. I loved her. But in the camp she consorted with the military for extra rations. That association disgraces her. She’s gone to Jaffna. I’ll never have her back.”
Did she do it for the kids ? Who knows ?
Pass on his decision. You really have to be in the shoes, methinks. I can hardly imagine any of it, but I was reminded of the scene in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward where former Gulag inmate Kostoglotov tells a sympathetic medic (Vera Gangart?) what happened to his imprisoned wife. I paraphrase :
Solzhenitsyn knew worse than that, of course.
"On the first day the guards arrange for the new women to shower so they can take a look at them. Then they get told, you'll sleep with so and so, you'll live in this hut ... if they refuse, they'll starve them or work them to death as an example to the others ... I don't blame her. She did what she had to do to survive. But we both knew it was over for us."
When young women like Laurie Penny argue for the right to be pissed up, half dressed and completely safe on the streets I wonder if they realise how slender is the divide between civilisation and 'do what thou wilt' - and how fortunate we are and have been in this country for the last few hundred years. We've not had anything in England like 1947 India or 1945 Berlin for at least a thousand years, since the Norman Harrying of the North and before that the Danish/Viking invasions.
Historically, our relative peace and civilisation over such a long period is most unusual. My fear is that the utopians of the Cultural Revolution, in well-meaning attempts to turn good into best, are well on the way to restoring us to the historical norms.