The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps Empowers 95 Women Ex-combatants

By Camelia Nathaniel - Picture by Lalith Perera

The first ever batch of 95 Tamil girls from the Kilinochchi district who were enlisted to the Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps (6 SLAWC) on 17 November 2012, passed out after around three and a half months of basic training during a landmark ceremony at its headquarters at Bharathipuram, Kilinochchi last week.

Although initially 103 girls enlisted to join the army women’s corps, due to numerous reasons 08 of the girls had dropped out.
These recruits have proved wrong many allegations and speculation that Tamil female recruits were unhappy and unwilling to wear the military uniform and be part of the army. According to the recruits this opportunity accorded to them has been a blessing, where they and their families have benefitted immensely. Furthermore the families of these new recruits will also receive assistance for the construction of houses. As an initial step 20 families of the new recruits will receive these newly constructed houses.

The new recruits commenced their initial period of training at Kilinochchi itself at the Advanced Infantry Training School subsequent to enlistment to the 6 SLAWC of the Volunteer Force, managed by the 57 Division Headquarters.

According to the army upon completion of their initial period of training, these women soldiers are to be deployed in the Kilinochchi area to assist in civil-military coordination work and other related administrative matters, within their own villages.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader 20 year old Kanapathipillai Jeewitha said that this decision to join the army was the best decision she had made in her life. “At first when I heard of the army recruiting Tamil females, I asked my mother, she was a little reluctant, and my older brother was totally against the idea. However I managed to convince them both, and today even my brother who was sceptical of my decision is very happy for me and what I have achieved,” she said.

Jeewitha lives with her mother in Paranthan, as her father had passed away several years ago, and her brother lives separately with his family. “I was very happy when I received my first salary after the first month of training, and I handed it over to my mother who deposited it to cover the loan we obtained to repair our home. For us who live in these areas earning a salary of Rs. 33,000 is an enormous achievement as most of the people here are engaged in farming. This salary could not be earned engaging in farming, having slogged and slaved in the hot blazing sun the whole day. Now that I have completed my training, I will be able to report for duty at the civil office from home and I look forward to building a bright future for me and my mother,” she said with great pride.

Another recruit Nagendran Subajini, a 20-year-old from Paranthan, who joined the army just after sitting for her Advanced Level examination, said that she always wanted to join the government service.

She said that she too had to encounter many negative objections that were in her path. “However I was not deterred by these elements who were trying to sabotage our progress for their own political agendas. I have a younger brother and four sisters. My family had to face pressure from the members of our society, because I made the choice to join the army. There are also a lot of allegations in the news that we were being forced to join the army. I however categorically refute all these allegations as a load of lies, as my family and I were well aware that I was joining the army. I am not denying the fact that we all had our doubts at the beginning though, but since I have been in the army for the past three and a half months all those doubts have been cleared. I am really happy about my decision to join the army and today stand proud as a member of the Sri Lanka army,” she said, adding that her future ambition is to pursue a career in nursing.

For 19 year old Rasendram Thamilchelvi the decision to join the army was one of mixed sentiments. “My father lost both his legs, and I too received injuries to my stomach due to an air raid by the government forces. However, neither my father nor I blame them for the injuries suffered as the LTTE was using us as shields at the time. My father too harbours no animosity toward the forces and in fact he was the one who encouraged me to join the army.”

A resident of Vishwamadu, Thamilchelvi obtained her education at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Collage in Killinochchi. She is the 2nd in a family of five. “Due to my father’s disability he is unable to engage in any form of employment as he is confined to a wheel chair. Prior to my enlistment our family faced great financial difficulties, but since I am now earning a substantial wage, I am able to sustain my family and also contribute to educating my two younger siblings,” she said.

Meanwhile the Killinochchi Security Force Headquarters Commander Major General Udaya Perera, explaining as to why the decision was taken to recruit these Tamil girls told The Sunday Leader that when he had come to Killinochchi, his women’s corps members were restricted to clerical duties behind desks. But having seen that the women in Killinochchi were in need of support to uplift their economical standards and empower them he had sent his women’s corps members into the villages and wanted them to interact with the people especially the women and children in order to assist them. “That was when we realised that they had not even their basic sanitation standards and my staff began educating them on these key areas, such as sanitation, child development, health care and vocational training projects. Initially when my staff went to these villages the villagers were not very cordial and a bit hostile. But after about a month of constant visits and assistance, the women in those villages eagerly awaited the visits of the women’s corps members and accorded them a rousing welcome in appreciation of their services. Of the many programs the beauty culture program gained immense popularity among the girls,” he added.

During these interactions with the villagers, there had been several requests made by the young girls, to consider enlisting them to the army as well. “So when that request came, I immediately considered it, as we too had a drawback in our efforts with the Tamil community as we were facing a language barrier, due to the fact that the women’s corps members were predominantly Sinhala speaking. It then dawned on me that if we are able to enlist some Tamil girls from these areas itself to the women’s corps, it would definitely enable us to do a better job for the people. With that idea and also having vacancies in the women’s corps battalion, I requested the Army Commander to grant me the permission to recruit a batch of Tamil girls from Killinochchi to fill up the 100 vacancies,” said Major General Perera.

Asked what future plans the army had with regard to the LLRC recommendations, suggesting recruitment of rehabilitated ex LTTE cadres, the Killinochchi Commander said “even as far as these girls are concerned, my policy is that once they have been rehabilitated and reintegrated, they are no longer considered ex combatants. They automatically become regular citizens of this country and I do not want to refer to them as ex cadres or even rehabilitated ex cadres for that matter. Even though there were a few cadres that is not an issue any longer as they too are part of our society, and if there is to be true reconciliation we must stop branding them. Hence if any young person has the required basic qualification to join the army then they can most certainly do so without any hindrance irrespective of their cast or creed and all they require is to be citizens of this country,” he added.

The passing out parade of the first batch of Tamil recruits took place in Killinochchi, while the salute was taken by a senior Tamil army officer Brigadier Ravi Ratnasingham. For these girls it definitely marked a new beginning of hope and having experienced hard and dark times. However deep within them they have tried to forget the sad and traumatic past and not be overshadowed by the sad times they have had. These girls and their families now eagerly look forward to a fresh start, and the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.

However the TNA maintains that these girls were recruited contrary to the regular army procedures. TNA Parliamentarian and Attorney-at-Law M.A. Sumanthiran told The Sunday Leader, “This recruitment is highly irregular as there was no gazette notification and no posts that were advertised. If you recruit to the army there are certain procedures that have to be followed according to the army act. However none of those procedures were followed in this instance, and to date no one knows to what rank they were recruited.”

He said that the girls were told that they were not being recruited to the army but for certain ancillary services to the army. “But we don’t know what those ancillary services are as there are conflicting reports. These factors give rise to very serious doubts and questions, hence we have asked questions but so far we have not received answers to them,” he added.

4 Comments for “Sri Lanka Army Women’s Corps Empowers 95 Women Ex-combatants”

  1. J Wijeratne

    This is great !! At last we are moving forward.

  2. nandan

    Sadly the TNA MP cannot see the positive side of this as the true reintegration is against the pro LTTE plans.

  3. Donald M

    I never knew there were such stunning girls in Vavuniya. Don’t waste their looks in the armed forces. They should join Mihin Air.

  4. Tilak Ratnasekera

    Great job,SL Army forge ahead.

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