Groundviews

ABC, Gordon Weiss and authoress Niromi de Soyza

Like many people I used to think that such agencies as the BBC and ABC provided balanced reviews and were relatively unbiased. No more. Further confirmation: a recent panel presentation by ABC in March 2013, entitled “Continuing Genocide in Sri Lanka” and anchored by Jane Hutcheon, exposed in blatant nudity the lop-sided perspectives within Aunty ABC.

The presentation was timed to coincide with the UNHCR sessions in Geneva where the USA was sponsoring a resolution censuring Sri Lanka. No problem with that. But this was a serious ABC review dependent on two questionable “experts,” namely, Gordon Weiss and authoress Niromi de Soyza aka Subhodini Mariatta Anandarajah – known as Subha among her pals. When Australia has a bevy of possible commentators, from Ameer Ali to Rohan Bastin, Serge de Silva-Ranasinghe, Shanaka Jayasekera, Laksiri Jayasuirya, Noel Nadesan and Suri Ratnapala to choose from, their selections on this occasion indicated partisanship.

Weiss has authored The Cage based on his experiences within an UN agency in Sri Lanka in 2008/09. Whatever the verdict on that book, he chose to launch it on the 19th May 2011, a symbolic day of mourning for the Tamil Tigers (and all Tamil nationalists it would seem). Since 2011 he has been increasingly drawn into the circuits of the powerful Tamil nationalist lobby worldwide, an extensive and intelligent network that is on a path of vengeance at the same time that it works for Thāmilīlam through the Transnational Government of Thāmil Eelam. When the National Security Research Centre organized a conference on “Safeguarding Australia” at Canberra, the Tamil lobby threatened to boycott the event if the organizers did not invite Weiss as counterbalance for De Silva-Ranasinghe (whom they wished to exclude).[i] When Rowan Callick of The Australian wrote an article on how the Brothers Rajapaksa defeated the LTTE,[ii] he was inundated with phone calls, some quite bellicose; and several voices asked him to consult Weiss in order to gain a corrective.[iii]

As it happens, Weiss and Niromi de Soyza have worked as a team before. Weiss introduced Tamil Tigress at Glee Books in Sydney[iv] in 2011 and his website refers to it as “Niromi de Soyza’s amazing autobiography.” Indeed, he is on record affirming that he regarded the book to be “incredibly moving” and “a story of redemption” (as quoted by Nikki Barrowclough — 2011).

According to her account in Tamil Tigress Niromi left Lanka in 1989 and there is no evidence that she has ever returned since then. So, one can question her competency to speak about the Sri Lankan situation over the years 2009-to-2013. Indeed, Hutcheon produced a veneer of investigative probing by asking both speakers if they had visited Sri Lanka recently. In his typically intense manner, and equally typical certitude, Weiss said that he had networks in the island which provided him with information. Niromi was categorical: “being a Tamil she never felt safe [in Lanka].” It was a platform for her to assert that Tamils cannot visit Sri Lanka safely and that they are “persecuted.” Well! Well! One must inform her and the Australian audience that according to the latest census of 2012 there are 3 million Tamils in Sri Lanka (with 2.27 million being “Sri Lankan Tamil” and 0.84 million “Indian Tamil”). Among the 2.27 million Sri Lanka Tamils 70.3 per cent reside in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, while 29.6 per cent, or 673,648 SL Tamils, dwell in the rest of the island, with Colombo District hosting 231,318, amounting to 10.2 % of the island-wide SL Tamil population (and also 10.0 % of the total populace in Colombo District); while as many as 97,690 of them make up 30.7 % of the population within the Colombo Divisional Secretary’s Division.[v]

But where the ABC revealed its most astonishing shortcoming was in the failure to do adequate homework despite having a considerable office staff to assist their front faces. Their personnel seem to be wholly oblivious to the questioning of Niromi’s reliability as witness in Tamil Tigress. Several authors, including myself, have pinpointed errors and embellishments of some consequence.[vi]

Niromi claims that she joined the fighting ranks of the LTTE in mid-1987 [when, I note, the Tigers were still a guerrilla outfit[vii]]. Her book opens with a riveting first chapter in “Ambush” which describes in some detail how their unit was ambushed by “soldiers” who are identified on the back cover as “government forces.” This chapter details how both her bosom friend Ajanthi and platoon leader Muralie were killed. Now, Tamil friends have told me that there indeed was a Tiger functionary named Muralie who died in December that year and that a young female fighter with the nom de plume Nirmala died during a skirmish on 23 December 1987. Nirmala was Doreen Ajanthi Andrew (a Christian Tamil, Catholic in this instance).[viii] Sarvananthan has now been in touch with another female combatant who was part of this platoon and believes that Niromi’s claim that she went along to Mullaitivu jungles with other survivors of the foregoing ambush is suspect.[ix] This issue will soon be resolved by Sarvananthan’s further investigations.[x]

The issue here is that the Sri Lankan government was not battling the LTTE on land in the north and east from October 1987 to early 1990. The Indian government had intervened vigorously to aid the Tamils in the face of a GSL army advance in mid-1987 and sent what is known as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) into the north and east to maintain order. They twisted the arm of Pirapāharan in doing so. The uneasy entente ended in early October and the LTTE took on the massive IPKF contingents in guerrilla warfare, which lasted till late 1989.

Virtually all Sri Lankans would be aware of this background fact; but not so most Australians and outsiders. With a huge Tamil migrant market to cater to, it would seem that both Subha Anandarajah and Allen and Unwin considered it best to tweak the tale a ‘little’: the Sri Lankan forces were a more acceptable enemy for the opening gambit. It was this considerable fabrication that aroused my initial questioning in “Another Demidenko? Niromi de Soyza as a Tiger Fighter” written in August 2011.

The question mark in the title at that stage indicates that it was just a suspicion. Helen Darville had adopted the pseudonym Helen Demidenko and written the story of a Ukrainian called Fiona Kovalenko in a prize-winning novel The Hand that Signed the Paper, which eventually achieved notoriety when Malcolm Knox led the way in revealing that it was wholesale concoction. Knox’s “Darville made me do it” (2005) was an important intervention and a landmark in Australian literary history.

Subha Anandarajah’s work is not quite on the same scale of deceit. Her biographical details seem to contain a considerable degree of facticity. She may have possibly joined the LTTE and undergone preliminary training. But whether she was engulfed in that December 1987 skirmish is in serious doubt. One cannot think of a soldier who takes aim in the general direction of the enemy without pinpointing some target – a point she reiterates in both book and public appearances.[xi] There are, in addition, several detailed incidents where she appears to be on an ego trip. By way of example take two: (1) when she tells us how she was permitted to approach and chat with Thileepan, a LTTE Leader who was fasting unto-death beside Nallur temple in Jaffna town in protest against the presence of the IPKF. This was a momentous event and here was Subha, aka Niromi the raw recruit, honoured like few others;[xii] and (2) when she describes how she had personal chats with Pirapaharan on several occasions (e.g. TT:114-15, 131) and on one occasion Niromi and Kanchana were given monies by the talaivar (leader) to purchase combat-ready clothing for the female fighters (TT: 167). Are these “little embellishments”? Are they such for a biography presented as a tale grounded in fact rather than a mix of biography and fiction?

It was a little after I had voiced my initial reservations that a friend directed me to a version of the same tale under the same nom de plume in the Daily Telegraph on 3 May 2009.[xiii] One can find a highly abbreviated report of the same version in The Australian on 23 May 2009 under the revealing title “Cause remains for Tamil Tiger in Our Midst.”[xiv] Here Niromi says: “At dawn that day, Indian soldiers had surrounded our hideout.” Later in this same account she notes that “fighting the Indian soldiers made no sense to me.” This realization, according to this account, was one factor in her decision to extricate herself from the commitment to fight for Tamil independence under the LTTE.

In contrast, in the opening account in 2011, the enemy are just “soldiers;” while the back cover explicitly proclaims that “two days before Christmas 1987, at the age of 17, Niromi de Soyza found herself in an ambush as part of a small platoon of militant Tamil Tigers fighting the government forces in the bloody civil war that was to engulf Sri Lanka for decades (emphasis mine).”[xv] In short, in 2011 the Indian presence has been obliterated at this critical juncture, though they figure occasionally at other points deeper in the book (pp. 162, 164, 168, 227, 264). The ambiguities, as Ratnawalli has suggested (2011), indicate a confused mind. On the other hand there are indications that Niromi may have carefully mined Narayan Swamy’s Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka and used his information to flesh out the Tiger struggle and provide an aura of authenticity for her so-called ‘experiences’.[xvi] A careful textual study is likely to reveal borrowings as well as the repetition of errors in the Narayan Swamy book.

Despite challenging questions from several voices,[xvii] including some Tamils, Niromi aka Subha Anandarajah has carried on with aplomb. Speaking to the world at the Adelaide Writer’s Week in March 2013 she referred in passing to her fighter experiences against “the enemy.” A useful blanket category is it not for an uninformed audience – “enemy” [or “soldiers”]? Moreover, on at least three occasions her platform appearances have been featured by an emotional welling of tears.[xviii] She is a seasoned presenter of herself as an ex-Tigress. She thinks she would be in danger in Sri Lanka today, but has no hesitation in adapting her original book and amending the last chapter suitably so that it can appear on Sri Lankan bookshelves courtesy of Sarasavi.

The literature devoted to Tamil Tigress in Sri Lankan circles is considerable. One essay in Groundviews even received 16,466 hits and drew 407 comments. ABC, however, remains in the dark. Whatever excuses Margaret Throsby may have had in her defence in 2011 when I questioned the simplistic perspectives guiding her [Throsby’s] interview with Niromi at that stage, the ABC today has no excuse for its ignorance about the literature around Tamil Tigress that has burgeoned subsequently. What a colossal failure in homework! They trot out as expert a ‘celebrity’ who left the land over 20 years ago, has few ongoing links and has an established capacity to obscure truth and wield tears.

Hold on however. Ignorance may not be the reason or the only reason. The Niromi-Weiss performance was arranged in March on the eve of Sri Lanka bashing in the Western media prior to the sessions at Geneva. Liberal circles in the West have been hostile to the government for many years because of its unwholesome record in intimidating if not killing local journalists.[xix] The Fourth Estate worldwide has, with good reason, been alienated by the ‘white van’ phenomenon responsible for some of these acts of violence and intimidation. Recent attacks on the Uthayan offices[xx] in Kilinochchi and Jaffna towns by grey elements suspected to be Tamil political outfits linked to the government or military agencies continue to keep this issue alive.

Thus it may be that Aunty ABC is indulging in payback. In this theory a balanced discussion of the present circumstances in Sri Lanka was NOT its goal in the public TV airing under review here. Its weighted thrust was directed towards a survey of the Sri Lankan scene by two partisan siblings-in-arms who possessed a veneer of authenticity that could convince an Australian constituency (with its limited background knowledge) that Sri Lanka was a rogue state. In this instance in my conjecture facticity and even-handedness are not an ABC concern. The Aunty can foul.

REFERENCES

ABC 2013 “Continuing Genocide in Sri Lanka – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) http://www.lobbyforpeace.com Sri Lanka, OR http://search.mywebsearch.com/mywebsearch/video.jhtml?searchfor=ABC+VIDEO+ON+SRI+LANKA&id=UXxdm014YYau&n=77edea53&ptnrS=UXxdm014YYau&ss=sub&st=sb&ptb=BCB5529D-57B4-40DA-B145-2649C52BFBCF&tpr=&si=maps4pc&vid=e05NpvXpeKc.

Ambalavanar, Arun 2011 “The farce of a fake Tigress,” The Sunday Leader,  www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/08/21/book-review-20 and http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2011/08/farce-of-fake-tigress.html.

Anon 2009 “Life as a female Tamil Tiger guerilla relived by one of first female soldiers,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/srilanka/5283438/Life-as-a-female-Tamil-Tiger-guerilla-relived-by-one-of-first-female-soldiers.html

Cooke, Michael C. 2011 “The singer might change but the song remains the same: A critical look at Roberts and Sarvananthan ‘outing’ Niromi de Soyza,” 10 December 2011,

http://groundviews.org/2011/12/10/the-singer-might-change-but-the-song-remains-the-same-a-critical-look-at-roberts-and-sarvananthan-%e2%80%98outing%e2%80%99-niromi-de-soyza/

Barrowclough, Nikki 2011 “Tigress, interrupted,” Good Weekend, 9 July 2011, pp. 26-28.

Callick, Rowan 2010a“Brothers who tamed the Tigers,” Australian A Plus, 18 Oct. 2010.

Callick, Rowan 2010b “Sri Lanka urges hard line on Tamil asylum-seekers,” Australian, 18 Oct. 2010.

Cooke, Michael C. 2011 “The singer might change but the song remains the same: A critical look at Roberts and Sarvananthan ‘outing’ Niromi de Soyza,” http://groundviews.org/ 2011/12/10/the-singer-might-change-but-the-song-remains-the-same-a-critical-look-at-roberts-and-sarvananthan-%e2%80%98outing%e2%80%99-niromi-de-soyza/, 10 Dec, 2011.

[De Soyza, Niromi] 2009 “Life as a female Tamil Tiger guerilla relived by one of first female soldiers,” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/srilanka/5283438/Life-as-a-female-Tamil-Tiger -guerilla-relived-by-one-of-first-female-soldiers.html.

Facebook 2011-13 “Tamil Tigress: The Fake Memoirs,”  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tamil-Tigress-The-fake-memoirs/426676137369106?fref=ts

Furier, Mark 2011 “Book gives boat people a voice…,” Serendib News, October 2011, p. 13.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011a “From Shenuka to Niromi: True Tale of a Tamil Tigress,” http://dbsjeyaraj. com/dbsj/archives/3160.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011b “The ‘Flying Pigeon’ Rider who sang ‘Una Paloma Blanca’,” 23 December 2011, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/3378#more-3378.

Jeyaraj, D. B. S. 2011

Journalists of Democracy in Sri Lanka 2011. “Extra judicial killings, abductions, burglaries haunt Sri Lanka’s North,” 7 January 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.jdslanka.org/2011/01/extra-judicial-killings-abductions.html

Knox, Malcolm 2005 “The Darville made me do it,” 9 July 2005,

http://www.smh.com.au/news/books/the-darville-made-me-do-it/2005/07/08/1120704550613.html

Mariampillai, Judy 2012 “Unfolded truth about the Tamil Tigress – book written by Niromi De Soyza,”  19 Sept. 2012, http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2012/09/unfolded-truth-about-tamil-tigress-book.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+srilankaguardian%2FIGKI+%28Sri+Lanka+Guardian%29

Niromi de Soyza 2013 “Niromi de Soyza Adelaide Writer’s Week,”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9uWKa5YfKQ.

Ratnawalli, Darshanie 2011 “D.B.S. Jeyaraj finds some fatal slips in Niromi De Soyza’s narrative And Quietly Ignores Them Hoping They Will Just Go Away,” Sunday Leader, 18 Dec. 2011, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2011/12/18/and-quietly-ignores-them-hoping-they-will-just-go-away/

Roberts, Michael 2009 “The Rajapaksa Regime and the Fourth Estate,” 9 December 2009, http://www.groundviews.org/2009/12/08/the-rajapakse-regime-and-the-fourth-estate/

Roberts, Michael 2010 “Aussies swallow lies & Rajapaksas miss a trick,” 31 October 2010, www.thuppahi.wordpress.com.

Roberts, Michael 2011a “Another Demidenko? Niromi de Soyza as a Tiger Fighter,” http:// thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/another-demidenko-niromi-de-soyza-as-a-tiger-fighter/.

Roberts, Michael 2011b Forbidden Fruits: Niromi de Soyza’s “Tamil Tigress”, Noumi Kouri and Helen Demidenko?” 31 Aug, 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/08/31/forbidden-fruits-niromi-de-soyzas-tamil-tigress-noumi-kouri-and-helen-demidenko/

Roberts, Michael 2011c “Niromi de Soysa’s Path of Redemption with Deception? Or Both?” 27 October 2011, http:thuppahi.wordpress.com, October 2011.

Roberts, Michael 2011d “Niromi 2009 versus Niromi Tigress 2011,” 22 December 2011, http://groundviews.org/2011/12/22/niromi-2009-versus-niromi-tigress-2011/

Sarvananthan, M. 2011 “Outing a Counterfeit Guerrilla: A Tale of Lies by Tamil Tigress Niromi de Soyza,” Groundviews at: http://groundviews.org/2011/11/19/outing-a-counterfeit-guerrilla-a-tale-of-lies-by-tamil-tigress-niromi-de-soyza/

Srinivasan, Meera 2013 “Jaffna-based Uthayan suffers second attack in a fortnight,” 13 April 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/uthayan-office-attacked/article4613921.ece

Sunday Leader 2013 “Dissent under Siege,” 7 April 2013, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2013/04/07/dissent-under-siege/

Warne-Smith, Drew 2009 “Cause remains for Tamil Tiger in Our Midst,” 23 May 2009, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/ news/nation/cause-remains-for-tamil-tiger-in-our-midst/story-e6frg6nf-1225715005848.


[i] Information form Canberra sources which I cannot divulge.

[ii] Callick 2010a and 2010b.

[iii] Personal communication from Callick when I phoned him after his articles appeared.

[iv] http://www.au.timeout.com/sydney/books/events/26193/niromi-de-soyza-in-conversation-with-gordon-weiss

[v] Tables A2 and A6 in the Census of Population and Housing 2011 undertaken in March 2012.

[vi] Ambalavanar 2011; Sarvananthan 2011; Roberts 2011a,b and 2011c; Ratnawalli 2011 and Mariampillai  2012. Also see Facebook 2011-13.

[vii] For details on the context, see Roberts “Forbidden Fruits…,” 2011b.

[viii] Information from Arun Ambalavanar (by email).

[ix] Both Sarvananthan and other Jaffna sources indicate that several LTTE fighters including some of those in the Muralie Platoon voluntarily resigned from the LTTE. So only some of those who survived the December ambush by the IPKF stayed on and went to the Vanni.

[x] My thanks to Sarvananthan for recent communications on this point.

[xi] This contention was re-introduced by Niromi during her Writer’s Week Interview at Adelaide in 2013.

[xii] See Tamil Tigress: 147-49 where Muralie “acceded to my request that I might visit Thileepan on the podium” and he whispers “have you gone back to school? do not spend all your time here. You need to get an education.” Niromi is then overcome with sobs and ordered to go home by Muralie.

[xiii] See Anon 2009.

[xiv] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/ news/nation/cause-remains-for-tamil-tiger-in-our-midst/story-e6frg6nf-1225715005848. This title was probably created by reporter Drew Warne-Smith.

[xv] During her leisurely chat with Nikki Barrowclough in Sydney in July 2011 Niromi said that her unit spent “most of the time … running and hiding from government soldiers.”

[xvi] As suggested by Ambalavanar, who finds the account of the failed assassination attempt on Kittu in both books to be similar and err in their identification of the Tamil attackers.

[xvii] See Ambalavanar 2011; Sarvananthan 2011; Roberts 2011a,b and 2011c; Ratnawalli 2011 and Mariampillai  2012. For valiant defenses, see Cooke 2011 and Jeyaraj 2011.

[xviii] Personal information from friends present at these moments. Jeremy Liyanage was quite impressed by Niromi during the lead-up conversations prior to their appearance on the same platform at a function in Melbourne; but when she cried during her presentation, he was quite alienated. Note: “Author de Soyza often uses her crocodile tears to get the full attention of the audience in most of her public meeting” (Mariampillai 2012).

[xix] Roberts 2009 and Journalists for Democracy 2011.

[xx] Sunday Leader, 7 April 2013, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2013/04/07/dissent-under-siege/. The Uthayan is a Tamil-medium newspaper associated with the Tamil National Assembly.