A couple's mission of compassion -
Healing and awareness through theatre:

”The living conditions of the people undoubtedly
make this political awareness process to take
place, its an unavoidable phenomenon”

by K.T. Kumaran

Ms Pathmini Sithamparanathan MP is currently in US on a speaking tour.  
Her husband Dr. Kandasamy Sithamparanathan, Head of the Faculty of
Fine Arts, University of Jaffna is also visiting the US. Many friends and well-
wishers were dropping into see them last week, and
TamilWeek spoke to
Ms. Sithamparanathan, about her activities through the Theatre Action
Group and as a Member of Parliament:

“When people are left to adrift amidst several political and natural crises,
they continue to live in fear and without any hope for the future. A group
setting provides much needed confidence to begin a new life and bring
upon awareness. The Theatre Action Group has traveled to many towns
and villages in the North-East over the past several years to alleviate
these fears, and held several interactive cultural events in those
communities”, told Ms. Pathmini Sithamparanathan MP, TNA
Parliamentarian from Jaffna.

Theatre Action Group

Dr. Sithamparanathan is the founder Director of the Animators Theatre, a
group having origins in grassroots level campaigns in the early nineties to
assist the Internally Displaced People from High Security Zones in the
North. Their initial efforts were guiding these people who were then new to
living in welfare camps.

“We visited many camps and performed many cultural activities that made
the people at ease to live in such settings and also in the use of sanitary
facilities”, said Ms. Sithamparanathan.

Ms. Sithamparanathan was a teacher at Chundikuli Girls School prior to
becoming a Member of Parliament in 2004.  Dr. Sithamparanathan,
nurtured the Theatre Group through political plays such as “Mann
Sumantha Meniyar”, (Soil Hauling Mortals) since the late eighties.

The couple visited many towns and villages in North and East, such as
Vavuniya, Muttur, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, working with the children
who are traumatized due to war. They did plays in the schools to make
them laugh and forget the past. Workshops for adults were held,
consisting music, dance and meditation. Workshops were held to mark the
Human Rights Day, Torture Victim’s Day etc.

Ms. Sithamparanathan said people in the East were very forthcoming and
expressive in bringing out the atrocities and difficulties they have gone
through during and after the Sri Lankan military crackdowns.

“There are many widows in the East. The deprived of the already
impoverished and underdeveloped areas of the East bored the brunt of
the assault during the war years prior to the signing of the 2002 cease fire
agreement, and several atrocities are not known to the outside world”, she
said.

Unlike several NGO programs that function in the North-East that carry
their tasks as if the participants gather just for food, the Theatre Action
Group structures participants to come out of the work shops having
gained greater self esteem and confidence to revamp their future. Many
such people have gone onto pursue higher studies etc, said Ms.
Sithamparanathan.

Political Awareness

The Theatre Action Group’s activities are strengthening political
awareness across all segments of the people in the North-East, said Ms.
Pathmini Sithamparanathan.

“Payamatra Vazhvu Meendum Veendum” – “Want a return to life without
fear”, is the theme of such plays and Workshops.

People of all ages and segments have fears, particularly women. Being
driven out from their own homes and lands, the fears and a feeling of
living in an “open air prison” is starting to bring a political consciousness;
the workshops of Theatre Action Group strive to alleviate fears of having
such consciousness, Ms. Sithamparanathan said.

”The living conditions of the people undoubtedly make this political
awareness process to take place, its an unavoidable phenomenon”, Ms.
Pathmini Sithamparanathan said.

She recalled the 2001 “Cultural Pageant”, held at the Kailasapathy Hall, a
forerunner to the current day “Pongu Thamizh” - "Rising Thamizh” events.
The theatre goers that day were subject to a surprisingly heavy security
cordon by the organizers themselves, depicting the conditions that the
people of North-East are living under. Political enlightenment is brought by
famous plays such as “Engal nilame emakku vendum'”, (“Its our land, that
we want back”), which was titled by a mother, during a workshop at
Pavatkuzham, in Vavuniya district in 2003.

Today “Pongu Thamizh” events have more than 150,000 participants and
they are being held as mega political conventions, she said.

Tsunami Relief

Theatre Action Group has carried out several workshops and events to
eradicate the fear of going into the sea.

Programs were carried out through audience participatory workshops in
tsunami affected areas. Maintaining the entire social structure for people
to get back to their normal life and helping children and adults to
overcome the fear of sea were their goals; everything is carried out
according to local traditions and customs.

Discussions are held with Southern counterparts as well on theatre
oriented - direct participation methods.

Ms. Sithamparanthan said the tsunami re-construction is adversely being
affected due to curtailment of the enactment of P-Toms and many earlier
promised foreign NGOs falling behind on their relief effort citing lack of
funds. Some foreign NGOs are severely ignorant about local needs,
traditions and customs.

Recipients of double whammy in tsunami relief efforts are once again
women.

Many relief programs were carried without consultations and input from
women. Roofs were built without proper ventilation for smoke escape.
Relief supplies were given to women without a consideration whether they
are useful for them to make a living. Nets were handed out to widows, who
will not have means to go out to the sea.

As Parliamentarian

Ms. Pathmini Sithamparanathan said as a Member of Parliament she now
liaisons with the diplomatic community in Colombo and other Members of
the Parliament; her first hand experience in working with people living
under trauma and continuous hardship serves well for her to tell their
plight to the world.

She also said with the funds allocated to her as Member of Parliament,
Handicraft Training Centers are being established in Jaffna peninsula.
Women are being trained in making palmyrah, choir, pottery and batik
products.

Ms. Pathmini Sithamparanthan queried about the Tamil community in New
Jersey and appealed to maintain increased cultural and political
awareness about the plight of the people in the North-East.
Mrs. Pathmini
Sithamparanathan &
Dr. K. Sithamparanathan
Theatre Action Group in
Munai
Photo by Dushiyanthini
Kanagasabapathipillai
"No matter  how
much we
scrape this pot,
an empty pot
cannot deliver
any "peace"
rice from it"

- Pathmini
Sithamparanathan
MP, TNA
Parliamentarian
in NJ