Losing Santhia: Life and Loss in the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
On a small stretch of sand in north-eastern Sri Lanka 2009, the armed forces slaughtered tens of thousands of Tamils. The Tamil Tigers, who had waged a three-decade-long war of national liberation, were militarily defeated. But some of their ranks survived. Santhia was one. After the war, she and her infant son tried to reach Australia but were stranded in Indonesia. Santhia died in a Jakarta hospital in October 2017 aged just forty-two.
Sponsored by the Tamil Refugee Council, Ben Hillier travelled to Indonesia and Sri Lanka after Santhia's death to piece together her life. In this essay, she appears as an individual expression of a nationals fight for liberation. The piece is paired with a seminal document, Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam freedom struggle, written in 1983 by Anton Balasingham on behalf of the Tigers' political committee.
"A remarkable essay ... All those interested in contemporary struggles for self-determination should read this."
"An excellent background to the ongoing Eelam Tamil struggle"
"A compelling account of the struggle for independence"
"An important and moving contribution"
"An honest appraisal of what happened to members of the Tigers"
What people are saying - Write a review
“An important and moving contribution. This is a story of loss, not only of a person, and perhaps more than a hundred thousand others, but of a dream crushed, for the moment at least, in dreadful pain and suffering. Santhia’s story brings us a glimpse of that dream and shows us another side of the often demonised Tigers. In so doing, it can help build solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and other war-torn countries and with the ongoing struggle to build a better world.”
– Helen Jarvis, vice president of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal and former head of the Victims Support Section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
“A remarkable essay. Not only does Ben Hillier provide a startlingly lyrical account of such terrible events, his balanced assessment of the Tamil Tigers’ choice of a military strategy is of considerable interest in these days of resistance to authoritarian and exploitative corporate state regimes. The inclusion of the seminal document on liberation and self-determination by Tiger theorist Anton Balasingham provides essential background reading. All those interested in contemporary struggles for self-determination should read this.”
– Gill H. Boehringer, former head, now honorary senior research associate, Macquarie University Law School and co-chair of the Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People’s Lawyers
“A fascinating account. Losing Santhia interweaves the stories of an individual, an organisation and a nation, all pursuing liberation. The stories are tragic, ending in a defeat that resulted from a flawed strategy and the combined power of domestic and international forces that imposed or supported oppression. But they are also stories of heroism and hope – because oppression inevitably gives rise to resistance and resistance is not inevitably doomed.”
– Rick Kuhn, winner of the Deutscher Memorial Prize and honorary associate professor in sociology, Australian National University
“This elegantly written essay is an excellent background to the ongoing Eelam Tamil struggle. Mixing the history of military battles with the history of social change and personal stories makes it an absorbing read. Ben Hillier gives an insightful account of the struggle and shows sensitivity towards the struggling people – a rare quality among writers of politics in today’s neoliberal world. Losing Santhia captures the loss of an individual and symbolises the loss of a people. For me the title perhaps more importantly alludes to the loss of a new kind of Tamil woman who was emerging in the now destroyed de facto state of Tamil Eelam.”
– N. Malathy, author of A fleeting moment in my country: the last years of the LTTE de-facto state and Tamil female civil space: its evolution and decline in Tamil Eelam
“A compelling account of the struggle for independence waged by the Tamil people. Importantly, Ben Hillier provides significant insights into how the struggle was brought to an end through global actors pursuing their own interests. He invites readers to evaluate many of the criticisms levelled against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the light of ground realities, particularly the demand to live up to international standards without institutional preconditions.”
– Ana Pararajasingham, editor of Sri Lanka: 60 years of “independence” and beyond and author of Sri Lanka’s endangered peace process and the way forward
“The smell of death lingers over the pages of Ben Hillier’s Losing Santhia. It is confronting but necessary to read what happened when tens of thousands of Tamils were corralled on the Mullivaikal beach in so-called no fire zones. Hillier provides an honest appraisal of what happened to members of the Tigers in this period. While the setback for Tamil self-determination was massive, there is also a positive story from the heart of the struggle: the commitment to eliminate the caste system, end gendered violence and consolidate women’s equality has