A Hero’s Farewell
When commanding officer Rathnapriya Bandu was transferred, residents in 3 districts sobbed at a reception held in his honor.
“The reconciliation process will be disturbed if Tamil youth in the North fall prey to people with ulterior motives,” warned Lt.Col. Rathnapriya Bandu, “due to unemployment and a lack of financial support.”
Bandu, the former commanding officer of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) in Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna told The Catamaran cautionary tales about the fate of young Tamils in the wake of his departure as a community leader.
At a recent farewell ceremony in his honor organized by residents in Kilinochchi, Bandu was garlanded with colorful flowers and he rode like a hero on the shoulders of former LTTE cadres. Young and old residents became emotional over his transfer, and their reaction went viral on social media.
After being controlled by a military leadership for over 30 years, people resettled in their villages in Kilinochchi and Mullaithvu. The former strongholds of the LTTE were left with a vacuum for community leadership.
“As a soldier of the Sri Lankan Army,” said Bandu, “I gave them that leadership.”
At a time when recruiting Tamils to the CDF was being criticized and challenged by some who believed that Tamils would not join the army, Bandu and his staff were able to recruit over 3,500 men and women to the force, he said, which offered recruitees monthly salaries instead of meager daily wages.
Apart from Jaffna, over 70% of the people in Kilinochchi and Mullathivu are considered to be low cast Tamils as they are from the Indian origin estate Tamils. “Cast is a serious issue in these two districts. But the doors of my office were opened to everyone,” said Bandu.
“First, we tried to uplift the education standards among the children by taking all pre-schools under the CDF, trained pre-school teachers and also conducted extra classes for school children,” he said, recalling how his office was converted into a makeshift court house with people from all corners of the two districts who came to redress their grievances, including marital issues.
Having studied the culture, lifestyles, food habits, behavior, religion and rituals of people in three districts, Bandu changed his appearance by wearing outfits to match a South Indian to bridge the gap between him and the people in the North.
“We adopted a concept called ‘one family,’ which promoted trust, zero weapons, honesty and dedication to win the hearts and minds of those people,” Bandu told the Catamaran.
Living under the LTTE for nearly 30 years, over 90% of the people, especially in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, were strongly connected with the LTTE but the CDF, according to Bandu, did not punish them for their past.
“I never carried a weapon to make them feel that I trust them. Being neglected by their own people, they are struggling to forget their past and yearn for respect. We enrolled them in the CDF and used our private connections to support them financially. But they need long-term support,” he stressed.
He invited the wealthy Tamils in the diaspora to set up some industries or self-employment projects in the North to create jobs.
Bandu said they also lack means for entertainment. “There is no single film hall in the two districts and the play grounds are overgrown. Most of the parents are unable to buy even a soft ball for their children. There are no sports activities to attract children to playgrounds.”
Bandu pointed also to an alcohol problem, which has led to an increase in public drunkenness, theft, and a variety of family problems that have begun to erode the social fabric of the conservative Tamil culture.
“The ex-cadres fought for separate land nine years ago but today they want a steady income generation to feed their families and to live a respectful life,” he said.