Blessed are the resilient for they shall protect this land and our
days following the elimination of the LTTE leadership were justifiably
joyous for a nation that had been plagued and held hostage by terrorism
for three decades. Joy, however, is relative to place and person. I am
thinking about the three hundred thousand plus who were in IDP
facilities at the time.
True, they were no longer being held hostage by a ruthless terrorist
outfit that did not think twice about axing limbs of five-year olds
trying to flee or opening fire on the elderly, the pregnant and the sick
as thousand (including LTTE cadres) saw perhaps for the first time the
true face of the ‘liberator’ and crafted upon that terrible countenance
megalomania, revenge-intent and self-preservation. They had left a diet
of one glass of rice gruel a day. Their children would not be taken from
them. Even if what they arrived at did not have ‘Paradise’ written all
over it, they knew they had escaped from hell and hopelessness.
Still, life ‘after’, did not seem rosy in the least. In the early
days, facilities and resources did not match well. The massive influx
proved hard to deal with. Feeding three hundred thousand people, caring
for the sick, bringing together families that had got split in the mad
rush out of Prabhakaran’s hell was not an easy task. The government and
the Security Forces had to make sure that water and sanitation met
minimum standards, even while being hampered by the reality that many
among these people were LTTE cadres or sympathetic to their cause and
ever conscious of a trigger-happy international community ready to fire
accusation mortars their way.
Drinking water for IDPs. File photo
It was easy, back then, for bleeding heart I/NGO personalities who
had bet on the LTTE prevailing over the Security Forces, to complain
about the situation, accuse the government of running open air prisons,
wail about freedom of movement being curtailed etc. They were lucky.
Un-elected and answerable to no one except those who pumped dollars into
their bank accounts, they did not have to deal with logistics associated
with the above reality.
I visited the Menik Farm IDP facility in Cheddikulam in July 2009. I
realized that had it not been for the discipline and structured
authority of the Army, things would have been far worse. The authorities
were in constant communication with the I/NGOs and UN agencies that had
offered to help but naturally on their terms and not those of these
agencies whose track record in helping the LTTE was common knowledge. By
that time, there was order. The day-to-day was streamlined. Conditions
in these facilities were not ideal, but still better than in some other
parts of the country.
I was impressed by the untiring efforts by the Security Forces to
make sure that everyone had food to eat, that the sick were taken care
of, that families were reunited etc. I was impressed by the volume of
relief items that were pouring into the area. I was impressed by the
fact that there were dozens of doctors who had volunteered to work round
the clock attending to the sick.
I remember being horrified by some of the stories these unfortunate
people related. I was impressed that despite all the trials they had
been put through, most of them retained their dignity, self-respect and
humanity. Thinking back, I believe that nothing impressed or inspired me
more than how these people asserted their will to live and prosper.
I visited all the relief facilities. In each unit, regardless of size
and population, I encountered ‘education’. There were hundreds of
teachers among the IDPs and many principals as well. Naturally, there
were thousands of children. Each and every one of them had ‘returned’ to
school, so to speak, almost all of them after many months.
The authorities facilitated it all. The largess of their
fellow-citizens and well-meaning non-governmental organization had
ensured they would not lack in stationery. The people themselves,
despite all the trauma they had been through and indeed had not yet
overcome, had decided that the children must learn, even under the
harshest of conditions.
There were ‘classes’ under the trees and inside tents. They were
organized according to age. The children were being taught English,
Tamil, Mathematics and Science.
Some of the instructors were teachers attached to the Education
Department. Some were older students or adults who had been trained in
other professions. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and
the students. I remember thinking, ‘this country has reason to hope’.
That was resilience. Resilience is what our nation is all about.
We’ve suffered enough but have always made sure that the foundation of
our civilization has remained intact.
Five hundred years of colonial rule which included the killing of
thousands, burning of libraries and destroying of temples, had not
succeeded in destroying the faith of the people and their sense of
identity. A tsunami did not demoralize a people into mass suicide. Two
insurrections did not see the consecration of anarchy.
A 30 year long war against terrorism had not made embrace among
No, we are not a people ready to roll over and die, whatever the
odds. In Cheddikulam, the teachers were not unlike teachers elsewhere,
teaching under different and far more hospitable circumstances. They
were dedicated, disciplined and strict. Worthy of utmost veneration and
I have no idea what their ideological preferences are. I don’t know
if they identified with the LTTE or with the idea of Eelam. It does not
matter. What counts is that they exemplified something beautiful about
the human condition: the will to live, to do one’s best, to think and
live ‘community’ and ‘solidarity’. To me, these are the same qualities
that those who contributed in whatever way to rid the country of the
terrorist menace were endowed with.
I know we have our identity-preferences, but we also have all that it
takes to be a single people.