My Hero – A True Story

Written & Painting By: Keerthana Nagaratnam


We all have a hero in our lives, in my family our hero is my sister. She is not my blood sister, she is my cousin sister.  She is the daughter of my mother’s younger sister. She was known as Yaal Esai, and was the only female Maveerar of my family.

At a very young age she left home to fight for freedom. Freedom that will give ethnic Tamils rights to speak their mother tongue, go to school and be treated equally.

She was a courageous girl. She had a strong personality. She had her own style, her own uniqueness. She was a different beauty. Her hair was as black as the night sky, and her brown complexion was like a chocolate river. Her attitude was sharp, with a strong personality. She had the will power and confidence to take on any challenge, but she was only 18, an age that was too young to trust. She was in the 10th grade, and was a great student. Her strongest subject was math and science. Everything in her life went smoothly, until that one day. It was a day we could never forget, a day that changed her life.

It was a school day and a rainy one too. The clouds cried rain, pouring on to the roads making it flooded with water. The streets were filled with huge mud puddles. The students had to run for cover under the nearest tree. It wasn’t like a school that we assume to see with tables, chairs, rooms or a roof. It was in an open field, and consisted of sitting in the hot sun. She was one of the children who stood under a tree waiting for the rain to stop. As they waited, an army truck pulled into the school property. Six Sri Lankan military soldiers got off the truck. They said they were inspecting and spoke to the teacher. After questioning about the school the men walked around the children. Vasanthi, was a friend of my cousin, was standing under small mango tree, which was a bit further than where the rest of the students were standing. Her uniform was soaked because of the rain, making the outline of her undergarments visible. She was a year older than my cousin, and was ripening as a woman. She was fair with skin clear like ivory, with glowing eyes like night stars. She just hit puberty and was glowing, looking ever so beautiful each day.

Looking at Vasanthi, a solider reached out and touched her cheek, pinching it and then smiling. Scared as she was she didn’t look up. Squishing her chin in his palms he pulled her face up, so close that both their noses touched. He glared at her and smiled at her. His smile wasn’t greeting, it was a molestic smile, cold and disgusting, one that will give any child chills up their spine. After a half an hour the men left, leaving the students and their teachers alone. The rain stopped and school was dismissed.  My cousin and her friend Vasanthi got on their bikes and rode home. On their way home, they were stopped by a truck, the same truck with the same men who came to their school earlier that day. They stopped Vasanthi’s bike and asked her to step out. Looking at my cousin, one of the men told her to leave and go home. Afraid of the men my cousin left, hoping that her friend too will be excused and will follow behind her. But that poor girls luck, she was never seen alive after that day. What happened to her? She was raped, by six Sri Lankan Military men. She was found outside the schoolyard covered in mud. Her cheeks were bruised and bitten, her uniform torn from the bust, her breasts were wounded and she bled from her rectum and uterus. They did not pity this child or even thought that she was a little girl, but yet used her for her innocence.  The news spread out, and soon everyone in the village knew. After hearing of her school mate’s horrific death, my cousin struggled to find justice, she wanted answers. “Justice is something that we Tamils can not get,” told her teacher. “From the time you were born in 1983, students were burned alive and beaten to death because they were Tamil. The courts wouldn’t dare to rescue someone who was killed or hurt by the army.  I had to fight for my rights to become a teacher; this isn’t something that will change. Yaal esai, you just have to move on and hope it doesn’t happen to you.” These were the words that her teacher told her, to forget what happened, to pretend and live on with her life.

She sat at home for several days, not going to school or speaking to anyone at home, traumatized by what happened and continuously questions her on whether she should step up and be a voice for her people. After a week of thinking she came to a conclusion. She wanted to join in on a student out reach, an army which programmed and controlled by united Tamil students of Sri Lanka. This was something against the government for sure, but that’s not what she cared about, she wanted justice, so she made up her mind.

She left and joined the movement. We never saw her after that, no one contacted her, and didn’t know what happened to her. After a few years, she came to visit. She saw her mother, my aunt, my chithi. But she did not smile or cry. She came bare, showed no emotion, for she was just a soul that had only one thing in mind, Tamil Eelam. She came home and ate to please her mother, and departed heading back to work. She would give surprise visits, making her parents feel safe that their daughter is alive. But all that ended on May 17 2009.

YaaleesaiMay 2009, was a month that I could never forget. It was the month that the Sri Lankan army planned to and successfully attacked Tamil civilians. It was a systematic genocide, and it was what killed my sister. How did she die? She died like a true hero, fighting till her last breath.  She fought to protect not just her identity, but to protect her sisters and mothers, aunts and nieces. She did it to protect her kind and her people. She died on the second last day of war, May 17th. She was not just an idol to me, but also to many Tamils internationally. She is my hero, a person who made me stronger, who helped me understand who I am and where I came from. Her struggle, her fight and her sacrifice will never be forgotten. Her name was not just symbolic, it didn’t just represent the music of the ancient instrument ‘yaal’, but she also became an anthem. Every moment that I pronounce her name, I feel pride as she became a sacred chime, a healing mantra that motivates me pushing me further in search for success. My cousin always said to her siblings that, “we are all born to create history and make a change”, and she is right. Her sacrifice became one of the reasons I can proudly say my identity, create a better future and realise the value of what I have now. The freedom that she never had, that same freedom that I was privileged to have gotten became my reason to carry on her struggle and fire. Because I want to pass down her dream and let her rest in peace.


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