No More Tears Sister

Begining on Tuesday night (but staggered depending upon where you live) on PBS, the series P.O.V. will be featuring a must-watch episode titled “No More Tears Sister: Anatomy of Hope and Betrayal.” This one’s a no brainer. You got to Tivo it at least.

If love is the first inspiration of a social revolutionary, as has sometimes been said, no one better exemplified that idea than Dr. Rajani Thiranagama. Love for her people and her newly independent nation, and empathy for the oppressed of Sri Lanka — including women and the poor — led her to risk her middle-class life to join the struggle for equality and justice for all. Love led her to marry across ethnic and class lines. In the face of a brutal government crackdown on her Tamil people, love led her to help the guerrilla Tamil Tigers, the only force seemingly able to defend the people. When she realized the Tigers were more a murderous gang than a revolutionary force, love led her to break with them, publicly and dangerously. Love then led her from a fulfilling professional life in exile back to her hometown of Jaffna and to civil war, during which her human rights advocacy made her a target for everyone with a gun. She was killed on September 21, 1989 at the age of 35. [Link]


p>You can view a trailer of the episode on the website. I recommend switching it to Quicktime mode as it seems to stream better.


p>There are a host of interviews on the site including one with the filmmaker, Helene Klodawsky:

I’m very interested in subjects that we don’t hear about often in the normal press. So I was very, very interested in ethnic nationalist war from the point of view of women. We’re always hearing about wars between different factions, different ethnic groups, but rarely do we hear about those wars from the point of view of women. And I was interested in Sri Lanka — it’s one of these wars that have gone on forever and nobody understands it. I knew that Sri Lanka was entering a peace process, so I was curious to see how women would be engaged in that peace process.

Once I started looking at the conflict, someone said, if you really want to understand Sri Lanka and ethnic war, you must look at the work of the University Teachers for Human Rights. [Link]

After you watch this episode come back and leave comments here. I think it could be an interesting discussion. Check your local listings here.

See related posts: All-American girls in Calcutta

14 thoughts on “No More Tears Sister

  1. thanks for writing abotu this, Abhi. saw this doco early this month over here, it’s excellent. enlightening portrait of an extraordinary woman who dealt with these issues with conviction and intelligence. it was a pleasure to hear from her family, including her parents as well. the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) folk are still around posting other perspectives from the North.

  2. THANK YOU for posting about this. My parents went to a screening with the director in attendance and I always regretted missing out….I’ll finally get to catch it on PBS, yay.

  3. “more a murderous gang than a revolutionary force”? within the same site, PBS has well known anti-LTTE critic Jo Becker articulating that the many Tamils support the Tigers militarily and politically. which in turn argues that many tamils are in support of this “murderous gang”, despite 30 years of satyagraha protests of the Singhala majoritarian chauvinism (in contrast to Gandhi’s scenario of an extreme British minority). to write off the LTTE as that is not only intelluctual dishonesty, but an insult to the countless thousands of lives that have been lost in this bloody war.

    shows the ignorance that plagues this channel’s piece. this is an example of what robert fisk has denounced as “hotel journalism”

    anyway, it was interesting after the premiere of NMTS at HotDocs in Toronto, a group of us approached Nirmala (Rajani’s sister) to express our disagreements with the documentary and her wholly one-sided portrayal of the LTTE in the Q&A that followed the premiere, she totally brushed us off and even raised her voice telling off one of my friends. she, my friend, actually jumped out of shock at Nirmala’s reaction. it was totally evident she wanted no business highlighting or giving context to LTTE excesses in light of the Sri Lankan Government atrocities, and mass murders.

  4. it’s too bad the poster didn’t dig or research for further information, because he or she would underearth, that it was actually the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force), which occupied the Tamil North and East from the years 87-90, that Rajani documented the most, in terms of human rights abuses, (i.e. mass civilan killings, rapes, torture, etc) in her role at UTHR.

    in fact, it is widely known and accepted that the female suicide bomber Thanu, who was raped by an IPKF officer, was given the mission of assasinating Rajiv Gandhi not for some geo-political or military strategy, but rather for revenge on behalf of the Jaffna Tamils, who suffered greatly under Indian occupation. also, its interesting to note thanu activated her bomb shortly after she garlanded gandhi, as if to “marry” the one that had taken her chastity.

  5. Parthi

    Your support and excuse of the LTTE would be laughably naive – if not for the fact that fools like you aid and abet murderous fascist thugs like the Tigers from the comparative safety of your diasporic homes. Rajani was not the first Tamil to be assasinated by the LTTE who have done more than the SL govt to eliminate all moderate, peaceful Tamil leadership. You are a fine one to talk about intellectual dishonesty!

  6. I second Mirax on the response to Parthi’s atrocious comments.

    The intervention in Sri Lanka is widely acknowledged even in India as a colossal mistake, especially the handling of the peacekeeping operations, and it is also acknowledged that there were many excesses committed by the IPKF. But using that as an excuse to justify a Bollywood style ‘revenge’ (that whole garland story was puke-worthy) that involved Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination is just shocking. On a scale of reprehensible terrorist organisations in recent times, LTTE is second only to the Al-Qaeda/IIF/whatever.

    I saw a documentary about Dr.Rajani on SBS (Australia), not sure if it was the same one, and she and other Tamils were victims of ruthless oppression, LTTE style. Not that we should take the piece as the whole gospel truth, but there is enough truth there to remind the world of the LTTE’s dark deeds.

  7. Blather from Parthi #3 and #4: Imagine that, a bunch of supporters for LTTE, an organization that killed her sister, gets the brush off from Nirmala. Shocker isn’t it.

    The LTTE are a barbaric, bloodthirsty, bunch of f*wads that have imposed themselves as the sole spokesmen for the Tamizh people.

    I am sure the EROS, TULF, EPRLF folks would have lots of love for the LTTE, if it weren’t for the fact that the LTTE hunted and killed their membership/leadership in the same manner as they did the main protagonist of the documentary, Nirmala.

    However, if it weren’t for the blatantly exclusionary policies of the Singhala government in 1972 a lot of this may not have come to pass.

  8. The documentary is quite good. I watched it when it premiered at HotDocs about 2 years ago now. You can buy the DVD from the National Film Board of Canada. I wrote about it briefly at my site some time ago.

    As Parthi pointed out, there was non-violent resistance to Singhla nationalism in Sri Lanka from the 50s through to the middle of the 70s which netted the Tamil people nothing. A lot of Tamil people feel that the LTTE are their only option when it comes to addressing the grievances they have with the government. As such, they are going to be sharply critical of anything that casts the LTTE in a bad light. Them’s the breaks.

    The IPKF did some pretty horrific things in Sri Lanka; I have family friends who hate the country for what it did in Sri Lanka. But, that really has nothing to do with a post about a movie on the LTTE killing an innocent women.

  9. I watched this last week and was pretty clear when it ended who the documentary pointed to as the group responsible for her killing, but since then I’ve read at least one article (that I can’t find the link to right now) suggesting the ending was far less cut-and-dried that it seemed to me.

    I’ll be interested to hear other folks reax after they see it.

  10. I had randomly caught the documentary midway last night and watched it till the end. It was deliberately one-sided and even though Rajani in her letters speak of the IPKF’s atrocities, their role is never highlighted. I agree that its hardly an excuse for what the LTTE committed and Rajani was taken aback at just that..Her words at the end predicting her death was poignant. ps-thanks Ganesha for the ‘Tintin and I’ heads up..I love those comics-it’d be interesting to see it when it airs..

  11. I think the reason it comes off one sided is because it’s a film about the LTTE killing this women; everything else is a tangent. Someone could and should make a great film about the IPKFi n India. This film isn’t it.

  12. I think the movie’s pretty good, and also relatively fair, considering that it is not supposed to be an exhaustive look at the Sri Lankan conflict, but a story about one woman. (Fairly summarizing the whole conflict would take a movie of Gone with the Wind’s length, or maybe Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet–the unabridged version.) The LTTE has committed many atrocities; so has the Sri Lankan government; so did the Indian troops. Anyone looking for a pretty reasonable basic rundown of everyone’s human rights violations (to start, anyway) should read Rajani’s book (co-authored with three others from UTHR). It’s called The Broken Palymra. Copies are hard to come by, but the whole thing is available online on the UTHR website… another good book: Only Man is Vile, by William McGowan. There are also a couple of relatively recent histories of the Tigers by an Indian journalist–one is a bio of Prebhakaran, and the other a history of the LTTE. Both are pretty objective and well done. The bio of Prebhakaran is called Inside an Elusive Mind…

    Hope this is of interest to those who care about what’s happening over there.

  13. It has been realesed by National Film Board of Canada on DVD for $30 with Running Time: 78:28

    This version is 45% LONGER than the version shown on PBS USA recently with running time of 54:02 and sold for $195 !!

    Is ther a major difference in the content bias.

    BTW don’t miss reading CV of the cause