Film Update

No More Tears Sister - NIRMALA RAJASINGAM update

POV: Were there any attempts to investigate Rajani's muder?

No More Tears Sister - Nirmala Rajasingam as a university student

Nirmala Rajasingam as a university student

Nirmala Rajasingam: There has never been any attempt to investigate her killing, just as there hasn't been any attempt to investigate the killings of hundreds of other Tamil dissenters. These kinds of targeted assassinations by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers) have been going on for all these years, but you can't investigate them, because no one will come forward to give evidence, and no central authority has attempted to put these things together. It's not just Rajani's death but so many other peoples' deaths, hundreds of people, that have gone uninvestigated.

POV: By speaking and participating in this film, are you and your family putting yourselves at risk?

Nirmala: When Helene started to make the film, she interviewed a lot of people who knew Rajani, and almost all of them refused to speak on camera. They were frightened to be associated with the film: they were afraid that the Tigers would come after them. Some of these people were Rajani's fellow activists who have since then fled to the West. Even such people refused to appear on camera.

But yes, of course, my family and I are at risk. As a family, we sat down and thought long and hard about it, and we decided that we had to tell the truth about Rajani's killing. To us, this film was a tribute to Rajani's life. More important, Rajani's story needed to be told because of the continuing murders of Tamil activists and dissenters by the LTTE even during the recent peace process. So we had to take a calculated risk.

POV: What do you remember about the period of your life that was portrayed in the film?

Nirmala: I had fled to the U.K. when Rajani was in the final year of her Ph.D. in the U.K. She, of course, went back to Sri Lanka after she finished her Ph.D., and I stayed in Britain and sought asylum. She continued to come to the U.K. for several years after that during her summer vacations. She had actually been with me in the U.K. two weeks prior to her murder. I remember that I accompanied her to the airport for her flight back to Sri Lanka. She had received letters from the other activists asking her not to come back, saying that they were under surveillance, that one of them was taken for questioning. They said, Why don't you stay in the U.K. for a while? I also begged her to do that, but of course she wouldn't listen. She went back to Sri Lanka.

Two weeks after that I got the news that she was killed. It was a Thursday, I think, and I got the news the following morning. I was completely distraught, of course. I was talking to my family and I wanted to return to Sri Lanka. My parents said, "Absolutely not, you can't come. The situation is unsafe for all of us." They thought I would also be killed, or that something would happen to me. My daughter was nearly three then, and I was pregnant with my son. It was a very difficult time.

It took me years to recover. I don't think I've ever completely recovered from my sister's death. It wasn't simply losing a sister -- she was my friend, my comrade, our political careers were intertwined. Even though she had been politically active I was the one who got her involved in Tiger politics. And of course she died leaving my two young nieces without a mother. It was all very difficult. It is still difficult. But it is like this for many families in Sri Lanka, who have lost loved ones to either the army, or to the Tigers or to other armed groups.

POV: Do you hope to return to Sri Lanka and live in Jaffna in the future?

Nirmala: People like me, we never chose to live abroad. I always wanted to live in Sri Lanka, in Jaffna -- I thought my whole life would be in Jaffna! If you're a person who is politically involved, you feel that you can contribute the most amongst your own people, and that's what I wanted to do. Of course this yearning is there forever, it's permanent, the dream that I would one day go back to Jaffna, live an ordinary life, work in the community, for the people around me. Of course, I cannot and will not return unless there is a democratic government in the north east. It would not be safe, and I don't want to return just to be killed.

But I am optimistic that one day it can happen.

POV: What has happened in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami in 2004?

Nirmala: When the tsunami happened -- before the international aid through big agencies and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and the Sri Lankan government could get there to help -- immediate aid was provided by local neighborhoods and villages who were not affected by the tsunami. Many Tamil villages were helped by unaffected Muslim villages and Sinhalese villages, and vice versa. The first help to roll in was from ordinary Sri Lankans themselves. Everyone helped each other before the government and other organizations stepped in.

When this happened, there were Tiger cadres and army soldiers working together. This was the local people reacting to an immediate need. But soon the political biases of the leaders [came out], especially on the side of the LTTE. The motive was not for cooperation at all. It is no secret that a lot of the aid that the LTTE collected for the tsunami was not used for tsunami victims. There were many complaints about how government aid was not reaching the affected people generally due to inefficiency and corruption.

The failure of the joint mechanism for dispensing tsunami aid is because there was no political solution on the ground to deep divisions within society. The aid got trapped in this ongoing conflict between the state and the LTTE, and therefore people for whom it was intended did not get it. However much money flows in. Until there is a political resolution for the benefit of the people. This will happen again and again.

There have been many attempts at peace, the last one, started in March 2002, facilitated by the international community. After four and half years of ceasefire there was no positive result. This was because peace talks were handled as a bartering of a deal between two powerful armies. Human rights, democracy, citizenship rights were not given an important place in the negotiations.

The LTTE has not been interested in a democratic settlement as it would threaten their own power. After continuous threats of returning to war, and in fact after several months of pursuing an undeclared war that nearly destroyed the peace process, the LTTE has now been pressured by the international community to return to the talks. The LTTE has not been interested in negotiating for a political solution that will result in a democratic setup in the Tamil areas. The LTTE would prefer it if the Sri Lanka government handed all of the North and East to them carte blanche, to rule as the sole authority. But now there is increasing pressure on the LTTE from the diaspora and in Sri Lanka as well to settle this problem. There is also pressure from the international community from countries like the U.S., the E.U., Norway, Japan and India. The Sri Lankan government and Sinhala political parties have also come under criticism for dragging their feet on reaching a consensus to devolve power to the minorities.

It is important to remember that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka, yet another minority, has suffered severe aggression and violence from the LTTE and discrimination at the hands of the Sri Lankan state. Their voice is not even represented in the peace talks. People like me are campaigning for the democratic rights of both minorities and indeed the rights of ordinary people from all three communities.

The war has devastated the country and the poor Sinhala people have also faced the brunt of the war. The war has to end and the killings have to stop if Sri Lanka is to develop.

POV: What are you working on now?

Nirmala: I'm involved in diaspora-based movement for human rights and democracy within the Sri Lankan community, particularly with the Sri Lankan Democracy Forum.

For many years I worked as a legal defender for refugees from all over the world in Britain. More recently I moved behind the scenes, and now I produce training courses for British immigration advisors.

POV: What is Rajani's legacy?

Nirmala: I think Rajani is an inspiring figure, and I believe she inspires people in her community to stand up and be counted, to speak the truth, to stand up for human rights, and to fight against all violence. She felt strongly that ordinary people should come together to achieve power and [pry] open the space for democracy. She also felt strongly about the problems faced by other women. We used to talk about how "after all of this is finished, we will work with women, oppressed women in our community..." If she were alive today, she would be working with women now. We had many ideas and many dreams.