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From Tintin to AK-47s: A Teenage Tamil Tiger On Revolution And Terror

Listen to our new Podcast with Niromi Di Soyza, who joined the Tamil Tigers at 15.

by Mahmood Fazal
22 January 2019, 4:15am

Wiki Commons

At the age of 15, Niromi Di Soyza left her middle class home in Northern Sri Lanka and joined the Tamil Tigers—a liberation front to some and a terrorist organization to others. Her exodus was driven by romantic ideas around political revolution and change. But the horrific realities of war, including confronting snipers in dense jungle while the majority of her time on the run, quickly overshadowed her noble expectations.

She had come of age during the early 70s, when tensions between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority reached a boiling point over a proposed separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. When the Tamil United Liberation Front won every Tamil area seat in parliament—the Sinhalese United National Party banned the Tamil party from taking any of those seats. Violence broke out and riots led to the forced evacuation of 75,000 Tamils to the northern provinces.

Around the same time, a 19-year-old marxist named Velupillai Prabhakaran formed The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Tigers. Prabhakaran was a belligerent leader who exploited the ruthless nature of violence in his pursuit of a separate Tamil state. Over almost 30 years Prabhakaran's war for an independent homeland, shifted from a struggle for liberation to outright terrorism.

Violence is often perpetrated by rebels, ethnic groups or governments, to achieve political goals. Niromi was drawn in by the Tamil Tigers' revolutionary ideology; but the group were also revolutionary in their brutally innovative tactics. They used suicide belts in guerilla warfare, recruited child soldiers like her, and pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks.

The willingness to die for change, or what you believe in, is particularly seductive to young political agitators, who are desperate to make a difference. For Niromi, the romantic pursuit of fighting for her people at the age of 15 was brutally shattered when she watched her friends die on the front line. The war taught Niromi one dark and tragic lesson; that violence is an adventure best suited to fiction.

Special Thanks to Dark + Dangerous Thoughts, Dark Mofo

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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

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Culture
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Sri Lanka
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Tamil Tigers
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