Ilankai Tamil Sangam
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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
The Status of War Widows in Sri Lanka
A fact finding report
by Association for Women's Rights in Development, Canada, June 29, 2011
The State war executed under the pretext of eliminating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Tamils, by the Sri Lankan army over a period of time more intensively in the month of May 2009, was nothing but a well planned and executed ethnic cleansing of the Sri Lankan Tamils. It played havoc in the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians. They lost their identity and were left without their family, homes, lands and other belongings. The plight of women specifically the war consequential widows were manifold. The government of Sri Lanka continues to show to the world a glossy picture that they have totally rehabilitated the survivors through resettlements. However the reports of the international communities and human rights activists give a gory picture.
It is against this back drop that a team of five members from Malaysia, Tamil Nadu, India undertook a fact finding mission to the war affected areas of the North East. To the team’s shock it was found that over 90000 women became widows and over 40000 were mutilated as a consequence of more than 30 years of war, the fact finding mission was an opportunity to unearth the facts pertaining to the hard reality by directly interviewing the victimized women and obtaining first hand information. This report is a brief narration of the traumatic experiences faced by the victimized women and the facts regarding the current socio economic and political status of the plight of the victimized women.
Sri Lanka became an independent nation in 1948. Since independence, the political relationship between Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamil community has been strained. Sri Lanka has been unable to contain its ethnic violence as it escalated from sporadic terrorism to mob violence, and finally to civil war. Since 1983, when violence broke out in the country between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka witnessed massive civilian displacements of more than a million people, with eighty percent of them being Sri Lankan Tamils. The origins of the Sri Lankan Civil war lie in the continuous political rancor between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. The Tamils contest that the Sinhalese look upon them as interlopers. The Sinhalese were trying to disenfranchise the Tamils, alter the demographics of Tamil dominated areas, remove the Tamils from government employment, and deny access to higher education, isolate the Tamils from any support they might get from their brethren in India, disfranchise them, separate Sinhalese and Tamils and above all ethnically cleanse Sri Lanka of Tamils.
Initially, the Tamils did not demand a separate homeland. After independence andtill the 1970s, the Tamil leaders mostly demanded an autonomous province comprising the Tamil-speaking regions of the north and the east. Sri Lankan governments even signed two agreements to this effect, butwithdrew them later because ofthe objections from the Sinhalese. Sensing the strong Sinhalese protest and the government’s inability against this, the Tamil leaders felt that a separate state was the only solution available. In 1974, all major parties representing Tamilscame together underthe Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) banner. In 1976 the TULF adopted a resolution at Jaffna calling for a separate state, viz. the Tamil Eelam. The move was driven by the educated, unemployed youth since they felt that the Sinhalese-dominated government would never accede to their demands. Towards achieving this enda number of armed groups spawned.One of themwas the Tamil New Tigers, formed in 1972 and the same became later as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam that went on to dominate the civil war.
The Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was the first major agreement, signed onJuly 29,1987 by Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister of India and Junius Jayawardane, the then prime minister of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. According to this pact, the Sri Lankan government agreed to create a separate administrative unit for the northern and eastern Tamil-dominated areas. This Tamil province was to have its own governor and elect its own provincial council with a chief minister and cabinet of ministers. The Sri Lankan Government also agreed to declare a general amnesty and lift the state of emergency. In return, the armed Tamil groups were to surrender their weapons and return to the political fold. The Indian government in turn agreed not to give any further aid to Tamil fighters and to deploy a peacekeeping force (theIPKF) to supervise the disarming of Tamil groups.
The accord collapsed almost immediately after its signing and the IPKF quickly became embroiled in the civil war instead of merely acting as peacekeepers. It pulled out of Sri Lanka in 1990 after three years of conflict.
The ceasefire agreement that lasted the longest was the pact between the LTTE and the government, signedon February 22, 2002 after Norwegian mediation. Under this agreement, Norway and the other Nordic countries agreed to jointly monitor the ceasefire through the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. Despite scores of violations by both sides, the ceasefire lasted for almost five years butfinally collapsedon December 3, 2006 when Norway refused to be an intermediary anymore.
When the Norwegian-led international peace intervention began in 2001, over eight hundred thousand Tamils had been internally displaced whilst hundreds of thousands more had fled abroad. In the last 2 years the Sri Lankan State transformed existing institutional structures to become state sponsored purveyors of terror involving the security agencies, police, para military forces and others. Serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance, extra-judicial executions, torture and arbitrary detention, targeted the Tamil civilian population. Security officials operated with full impunity. In view of large number of complaints United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston visited Sri Lanka who explicitly pointed out to “efforts to dismantle existing mechanisms to ensure accountability of security forces for human rights violations”.
During the war the Sri Lankan Government asked all civilians to leave LTTE held areas and assemble in safety camps or else risk their lives in war shelling. However the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), on 2 February 2009, launched intense artillery barrage targeting civilian villages of Thevipuram, Moongilaru, Vallipunam, Suthanthirapuram, Udaiyaarkaddu, Valaighanar Madam, Kompavil and Puthukkudiyiruppu in the Mullaitivu District. The Sri Lankan Government steadily coerced the media into silence.
“An estimated 250,000 people are trapped in a 250 sq-kmarea which has come under intense fighting. The people have no safe area to take shelter and were unable to flee. When the dust settles, countless victims and a terrible humanitarian situation unless civilians are protected and international humanitarian law is respected in all circumstances. It is high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed because time is running out” is the statement issued by Jacques de Maio,head of operations for South Asia, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay stated on 29 January 2009 apart from people being prevented from fleeing, they have also “been arbitrarily detained in special centres”. Further, the so called “safe zones” are neither known to those trapped nor mutually agreed by the warring parties. Armed conflict in Sri Lanka —both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and the incumbent Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)—are responsible for creating a climate of fear and danger for those working in the interests of civilians in war-affected regions, whether it be journalists or humanitarian and aid workers. Once a citizen enters the camp they are not allowed out; people reportedly disappear identified by secret informers and former militants. In the last 2 years, the Sri Lankan Government has steadily coerced the media into silence. There exists a ban on reporting about the war. Threats, targeted assaults and finally liquidation have all been systematically used to silence media.
In the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s victory of May 2009, over the Tamil Tigers in their northern redoubt, vast refugee camps swelled with more than 280,000 survivors, left in limbo by a government intent on wiping out any pockets of resistance after 26 years of war. The Sri Lankan government claims that the resettlement proceedings are steadily taken. However the Aid agencies estimate that at least 60,000 IDPs could be stuck in camps for months, if not years, unable to return home.
Despite the manifest outrage of international human rights groups like HRW and Amnesty International, relief agencies and several Western states, Sri Lanka defiantly continues to brutalize the detainees.
In March 2009 the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, visited Sri Lanka and wrenched from President Rajapaksa a commitment to independent investigation of alleged human rights abuses. The agreement was subsequently denied by the president, but in 2010 the secretary general set up his own independent Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. The damning report, compiled by three leading and independent figures, was published on March 31, 2011. It reports that tens of thousands of people lost their lives in the space of three months at the beginning of 2009, most as a result of government shelling. The government shelled on a large scale in three no-fire zones. It shelled the U.N. hub and food distribution lines. It “systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines.”Random shelling in areas of fighting — including after the government had announced an end to fighting.
A notarized report of preliminary findings from a US-based forensic company that took nearly three weeks to analyze the Channel-4 broadcast video allegedly showing Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers extra-judicially executing Tamil captives stripped naked and hands tied behind their back, has reported "the video and audio of the events depicted in the Video, were continuous without any evidence of start/stops, insertions, deletions, over recordings, editing or tampering of any kind."
A shift in the political wind forced by international pressure compelled the Sri Lankan government to start sending the detainees home. Almost 200,000 Tamils have left Sri Lanka’s postwar refugee camps – some for tin-roof shelters or relatives' homes. Their resettlement is seen as key to national reconciliation after decades of war against Tamil rebels ended in May 2009. Now some 100,000 refugees remain, to the relief of international aid agencies running low on emergency funds. The fate of these people, and of returnees trying to rebuild their lives, may hold the key to a lasting peace in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated north.
Mandate for fact finding
Now after the war is over the pervasive apparatus of state terror, the focused targeting of Sri Lankan Tamils by security agencies, forced deportations of population, torture and enforced disappearances have become the order of the day in north and eastern Sri Lanka. Ordinary and non combatant Sri Lankan Tamils are currently living under extremely dehumanized circumstances amidst daily threats to their lives from security forces and armed gangs of police supported informers. Despite widespread international alarm and concern, Sri Lanka continues to keep hundreds of thousands of Tamils penned behind barbed wire in militarized tent camps. Since May, when the Colombo government declared victory over the Liberation Tigers, the entire population of the Vanni has been locked up.
The plight of women specifically the war consequential widows are manifold. The government of Sri Lanka continues to show to the world a glossy picture that they have totally rehabilitated the survivors through resettlements and deny and disclaim any human rights violation meted out on the Tamils. The international communities have raised alarms over the resettlement opportunities and the so called quality (?) of resettlement.
The panel of experts found credible allegations of serious violations of international law by the Sri Lankan government and the L.T.T.E., some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. “Men and boys taken away from refugee camps — and they are now out of contact. Tamil life treated as fourth or fifth class. Government failed in its legal obligations to its people and Constitutional pledges of equal treatment for all Sri Lankans denied to Tamils. If foreign policy is about anything, it should be about stopping this kind of inhumanity”, reported David MilibandandBernard Kouchnerthe foreign ministers, respectively, of Britain and France.
There are widows and the elderly, and landless refugees, including those whose land has been zoned for military usage. “Some people don’t have anywhere to go,” says Rajiva Wijesinha, an official in the Disaster Management Ministry.
According to the authorities, in addition to the first batch of resettles of 50,000 people, 10,017 people were resettled in Poonakary and Karachchi in Kilinochchi district; 6,631 were resettled in the city of Mannar, 16,394 in Oddusudan, Manthai-East and Thunukkai, Mullativue district, and another 2,583 families resettled in Vavuniya.
The government has provided each family with Rs 25,000 (US$ 220), kitchen utensils, farm implements, and roofing sheets to start a new life. The government contends that it has provided them with two weeks of food rations. Humanitarian workers say that livelihood schemes, a staple of post disaster planning, are missing in the Vanni because authorities want to keep out prying eyes, amid international controversy over the camps and the fate of returnees. Tamil politicians have warned of a land grab by conquering military forces.
It was learnt that over 90000 women became widows and over 40000 were mutilated as a consequence of more than 30 years of war, facts that were hidden from the world. Hence it was decided to unearth the facts pertaining to the hard reality by directly intervening with the victimized women and other sufferers.
Many national leaders have voiced that one can comprehend the condition of a nation by examining the status of its women. Whether the statement hold true during situations of internal conflicts, is what the fact finding team set out to explore. The primary objective was to analyze the livelihood situation of the war widows in Sri Lanka.
SAROJINI RENGAM-PAN AP- MALAYSIA
BURNAD FATHIMA.N-SRED-TAMIL NADU
PADMAVATHY- RESEARCH ASSISTANT -CHENNAI
SHANMUGAPRIYA-TAMIL NADU SOCIAL WATCH
The Fact Finding Mission:
On day one, the team travelled from Colombo to Vavuniya by a private vehicle. A look into the Vanni territory showed both the challenges and the resilience of a war-ravaged population. In the ruins of concrete houses, tents and tin roofs have sprouted, and cramped shops sell soap, fried snacks, and sugar. Land is being cleared for crops. But there is little work and only a trickle of cash to lubricate the local economy.
In contrast to this in Colombo the team got to observe the posh preparations being made to celebrate the second anniversary of the Sri Lankan government’s victory in the war.
A friend that guided the team shared that most of the cadres recruited for the war were low caste dalits. They were either agricultural laborers or fishermen who were recruited as frontline cadres. Taking us back in history, she explained that Tamils had constituted about 90% of the Government’s administration during the British regime but the percent has [become] as low as 2%. The exposure put the team to hard realities that could not be easily digested. The long war has rendered 90000 women, mostly young girls as widows. The team could witness mutilated and crippled people who had lost their parts either in the war or to the brutality of the Sri Lankan army. Each family had suffered in one way or other in the forms of loss of their family members or mutilation of body and loss of property and other belongings.
Not all are resettled. It is estimated that 100,000 refugees still remain in two camps undergoing the agony and under inhuman conditions. The resettled were provided with small piece of lands. They had to establish everything in the new place where there is no basic amenities like, the drinking water, toilets, electricity, medical support, road etc. The properties of the Tamils have been encroached by the relatives of the Sinhalese army. These areas are gradually turning as Sinhalese areas. The symbols of Tamils and their religious deity have been destroyed. Even after an expiry of two years of the war the military forcers are established in the Tamil areas of North Eastern districts of Vauniya, Mullaitheevu, Kilinochi, Mannar, Trikonamalai, Mattakalappu and Yazhpanam. Amidst these miseries the resettled Tamil are compelled to establish their new life under the close watch of the Sri Lankan army and other Sinhala inhabitants.
The posh preparations being made to celebrate the second anniversary of the Sri Lankan government’s victory in the war, upholds the fact that the rulers are voicing for the annihilation of the Tamils. The attitude encourages and promotes Sinhala fanatics against the Tamils. The safety of the Tamils is not ensured. The state discrimination and the denial of protection are clear violation of human rights enshrined in the international and national standards. The girls have been subjugated to sexual violence by the Sri Lankan army and the survivors have not overcome the traumatic experience. They still apprehend danger from the army.
The demands of the Tamils for an autonomous province comprising the Tamil-speaking regions of the north and the east, agreed by the Sri Lankan governments but withdrawn later because ofthe objections from the Sinhalese, clearly indicator that the government is prejudiced and biased against the Tamils and favoring the Sinhalese. Suppressing these the Government continues to proclaim that the war is over and all is well. This is not true. The Tamils are still deprived of dignified life, right to equality, equal opportunity for education, health care and protection etc. They have no employment opportunity and are denied of opportunities for livelihood. Women are the most sufferers in this situation. These could be very visible and the same needs the attention of the international communities.
Each day under the pretext of suspicion and checking innocent women are threatened under gun-buts they are put under apprehension. On the one side the government declares that the war is over and at the same time large number of armed military is placed in the Tamil resettled areas. The Tamils are forced to live under apprehension and surveillance. In contrast to this from Colombo to Anurathapuram in the areas of Sinhala dwelling no military could be visible.
The international aids sent by the philanthropists and nation states have not reached the Tamils. Instead they have been given with hard lands. Women find very hard to till these lands and cultivate the same since the machines are not given to them.
The army gives a list of names of people as released from the camps. But all the named people are not send out. They were either dead or killed, but listed as resettled. No question in this regard can be raised to the army. The army is vested with supreme power.
There is ban and declaration of emergency in most parts. The people cannot gather as groups, they cannot have hall meetings and other meetings. Rights to freedom of speech and liberty are deprived. The recent attack on Tamil MPs in Jaffna [on June 16, 2011] by the military is revealing that there is no freedom to express or discuss for the future of the Tamils.
The Tamils are forced to lead a life of internal refugees. They are internally displaced but are denied of the equal opportunity guaranteed for citizens. The families are scattered and they are not sure whether their family members, children and spouses are alive or dead. If alive where are they and how to look for them since the scattered people are not sent to different areas of resettlements and not to their own places?
Women and Children:
The women and children are the most sufferers in the situation. The 2009 war alone has rendered 40000 women as homeless, landless widows. Several women are let to take care of their physically challenged (Maimed) husbands. These single women and the other women are forced to take care of their families without any income and any other livelihood opportunities. There is no support from the government. The women that lost their husbands are paid Rs.100/- (just over 2 USD) and to get that they have to travel and spend Rs.50/-
Any discussion on the plight of women inevitably leads to the narration of war situations and the lives in the post war army camps. The best illustration was the mention of a media person (Ms Isaipriya) who was raped after being killed by the army.
There are more than 12000 young widows from the age of 17 to 28. They are put to the challenge of taking care of young children, safeguarding them from the sexual brutality of the army and police. As they have no other source of income they struggle for their survival. Some of them go to the city where the officials cheat them and sexually abuse them. There have been several instances women conceive prior to their marriage.
All of them had moved from their native place to a camp, camp to the resettlement area and very few could make it to their native places. Whenever there was a fight, people had to move, leaving all their belongings and the dead bodies behind.
There are about 18,000 children in the camps not knowing the whereabouts of their parents. The children of parents, who have migrated, are being abused by their relatives and sent to work. In one village, Pattalipuram itself there were 63 children without parents.
The life of the women is very uncertain. Few of the interacted women have not been able to find the whereabouts of their husbands for more than 25 years. They live under the apprehension that anything could happen at anytime. Any of their dear ones could be arrested, kidnapped or killed. There are also mothers who had requested the organizations and bribed the Army to send their sons abroad, away from all this nightmarish existence. A woman shared that her husband was shot while he was bathing. They narrated the horrendous, traumatic experience of moving amidst firing from both sides through the forests.
In the camps cardboards are used as walls for separating one family from another. In such a situation sexual exploitation is very probable.
They narrated the incidents of girls taken for enquiries being raped and forced in to prostitution. However, they did not protest out of fear of losing their dear ones and with the expectation of their dear ones being spared by the war. Unable to tolerate any more many young girls have committed suicides.
A woman exclaims that she could identify her land through the half burnt drum stick tree near the well. There were 70 bags of rice and sugar which were all burnt during the war. They were caught in between and all they could do was to run for their lives, carrying their children.
A pregnant woman managed to reach the camps with a 2 year old child on her back.‘Some mothers cannot even identify their son’s graves’. Women not knowing the whereabouts of their husbands wear bindis everyday, failing which, they believe, their husbands would be harmed.
Having been refugees for so many years, some for more than 15 years, has had a long term impact on the socio-economic conditions of the women. Widows or half widows, none of them considered the possibility of re-marriage. Organizing the local women it remained a challenging task for fear of being kidnapped or killed by the army. Even interacting with a neighbor has been so sensitive for these women who are living under continuous surveillance.
40,000 widows is the official estimate from government sources. The present circumstances have been accelerating this estimate at an alarming rate.
Instances of kidnapping have increased manifold of late, further adding to the number of widows and orphans. A family got frantic calls demanding 1000 bed sheets plus a huge sum of money to be paid in two days. In another instance a woman was asked for ransom for the kidnapped husband, with the deadlines prescribed. In another case, a war widow had migrated for work, leaving her daughter with the relatives, who in turn made her work in Colombo as domestic help. The girl was abused physically, with cigarette marks all over her body. Later she was rescued and brought to the ‘Illam’, run by a local group in Trincomalee. Now she is given counseling and support for education.
Life in the camps:
The extent of physical separation among the families in the camps could be measured by a simple ruler. Cardboard sheets are used as walls. Anybody could lift it and enter into others house (?). There is no privacy.
Many unmarried young girls ranging from 16 to 25 years have been registered/reported to the army as wives of some men for fear of sexual harassment. The husband of such a girl from Mannar is now in the detention camps. She lives with her co-sister, whose husband is also in the detention camps. She too, like many other women, is waiting for the return of her husband.
Listening to the traumatic experiences it was clear that the livelihood support is required to be supported not only by the war widows but also to the young girls between 16 and 25 years of age, who were shown as wives of men while approaching the Army during the war.
Narrating their lives within the camps, they told that they were given one liter of water for bathing. Later there was improvement. Drinking water had to be brought from a distance of 3 kms. Three families lived in a tent. During rains because of the lack of proper drainage water clogged and they had to spend the entire night on the water. The worst condition was of the toilets where there were worms and insects around and the women found very difficult to use them since the insects came in large numbers floating.
After the war 250 grams of sugar was sold at Sri Lankan (SR) Rupees 500 and milk powder at SR 5000. The people struggled hard to acquire their necessary daily supplies. There were students who paid huge sums of money to be allowed to leave the camps for studies. The army accepted bribe. The Army was the very powerful and influential force during that time that decided the lives of the detainees.
Increasing Chinese presence – Who should be worried?
Representatives of the various organizations that the team visited informed about the increasing Chinese presence in the country. Around 40,000 Chinese prisoners are brought there for work in the post war zones. Laying of roads and other public works are given to these Chinese and not to the Tamils and this deprived them of a minimum employment opportunity.
The organizations visited are being numbered to protect their identity.
Organization 1, Vavuniya – It is a women’s group focusing on women and child development, which is basically a federation of small groups of women formed in the villages. It has been acting as a liaison between the children in these villages and the government department to have the schemes implemented. Credit support for agriculturists is also being provided at the rate of 12% per annum. In terms of health care, the organization directs women to the nearby health centres. Uterus cancer and kidney problems are said to be more prevalent among women, besides malnutrition. They also run youth clubs undertaking evening classes and provide assistance to continue education. Expressing disappointment over the futility of their elected representatives, the women were very categorical about the bleak prospects of a political solution to the crisis.
Organization 2, Vavuniya: Acknowledging that there are more women headed households in Vavuniya district, than in the rest of Sri Lanka, the representatives were categorical about the long term socio-cultural impact and the barriers within which they had to work with the people. In the case of children, collaborating with the National Child Development Authority also yielded limited results. ‘The sound of a wheel blast could reveal the sensitivity towards war’. Grouping women and children did help originally. But now, village level mobilization is a task in itself. ‘The military is constantly watching and questioning’. Such circumstances further alienate the people from organizations like us and their community as well. With the social structures being totally ruptured, concerns of oneself and family abound, over that for the community. Talking about the recovery initiatives, the officials say that it has almost come to saturation in Vavuniya district. Work is underway in Killinochi and Mullaitheevu. The focus on Vavuniya could be explained by the population ratio of Vavuniya North to that of Killinochi and Mullaitheevu combined, which is about 1:10. They have not made it to interact with the people in the camps for restrictions due to security concerns.
Menik Farm: We could interact with the students in the school and learn that Sinhalese has been made compulsory. In case of any problems in the village, the army intervenes at the behest of the Village President. Commenting on the situations in the camps, people say that they need to seek permission three days prior to see their relatives and friends. This, for them, is an infringement on their freedom to move to meet their dear ones. For those who had no one to be visited, they could not go anywhere until resettled.
Karpagapuram Village: The village is inhabited by 370 families since 2009. The women here clearly emphasized that only self employment could help better their lives. One of the women, who had resettled here from Vanni, lost two of her son-in-laws, mother-in-law and a daughter. This reaffirms the fact that every family had lost at least three members during the war. She explains that there were women living with bolts in their head, ribs…. All of them wounded while moving towards the Army during the war. Bullets traveling through the arms and waists – we could not imagine, and they did not want to relive those memories. It was the civilians who died the most. They repeated it – ‘we did not expect such an end’.
One significant characteristic of this village is the fact that the land here was given to people by an organization. The land is believed to be owned by Sri Lankan Tamils who had not come back for years. As it was not the government which initiated the resettlement here, there is no support from the government. Of late, the people had chipped in SR 1000/- per family to have the roads built. Given the land, it remains the efforts of the people to take care of the rest of their needs. The resettled Sri Lankan Tamils have not been given their land entitlements yet.
Organization 3, Vavuniya: The thrust areas of the organization remain education, livelihood and child protection. They have reunited about 2500 children with their families. However, being told that protection is the role of the government, they have been able to continue focus by seeing it as a fall out of economic stability, which in turn is related to income generation activities.
The case of Sambur village in Mudur Division: An interesting story for all those observers of the geo-political situation in the island nation would be the case of ‘Sambur’ village. 1228 families from this village have been living in camps and welfare centres for the last 9 years, since 2002. It has been told that the land has been cleared for plans of an Atomic Power Plant to be set up by India. On the other hand, it is also being told that Sambur village is a strategic location for the defence forces. Post war, it has been declared a High Security Zone. Ironically, the land here is so rich and fertile that it can give 2-3 harvests per year. A recent visit showed no trails of residences that once existed here. The locals say that with 43 ponds and stones rich in calcium within 2 feet, the land scape is not suitable at all for building an atomic power plant.
Jaffna: The interaction with the people in Jaffna was very resourceful in terms of the know how regarding the development projects being undertaken by the Indian Government in Sri Lanka. These projects are worth 2500 crores of Indian rupees, which include work at Kangesan Sea Port. Coming to discuss about the vocations that could be considered for initiating livelihood training programmes, we were told that ‘any training must focus on local resources and local needs’. The idea of introducing ‘masonry’ to the women did find its space, given the housing project that is expected to take off by this August end. We were told that the first phase of the project would target building 1000 houses in Ariviyal Nagar. Further, there are plans to make it owner driven from the second phase, with money provided at regular installments. The beneficiaries are likely to be involved directly. Masonry could help people build their own houses and thereafter do the same to earn a living. 40,000 widows, about 75,000 to 1,00,000 orphans and 10,000 disabled – these are numbers speaking for themselves to the extent of dependency thrust upon the people, specially women, due to the war situation. Therefore, we understood that choosing masonry could make a difference.
Organization 4, Jaffna: They provide free legal aid, livelihood training programmes (training in print, providing pumps for irrigation and others) and nutrition awareness programmes. Given the cultural backlash of the Sri Lankan Tamil population, there are plans to organize awareness sessions for school students, helping them interact with lawyers, doctors and media persons.
Organization 5, Jaffna: The first information we got from here was the fact that the permission of President Task Force was inevitable to do any work here. No narration of day to day life is complete without the mention of army and the government. Later during the day, we got an opportunity to interact with the women who had come for training. This is when we met a woman, mother of two children, who earns her living by making appams in the night from 11.00 pm, gets them delivered to shops by 7.30 am, finishes all house hold work by 12 noon and then, sleeps between 12 noon and 5 pm.
Organization 6, Trincomallee: They undertake trauma counseling, protection against domestic violence, livelihood support programmes through community based organizations in 5 regions. The network led us to Thiriyai – most of the residents of which were from the camps. There were hardly any employment opportunities for the women here. Daily wage work coupled with small scale agriculture (vegetables such as egg plants, ladies finger) around their houses gives them the economic support.
Income generation potentials
All the women here had taken training on tailoring. They were very optimistic of gaining a livelihood through tailoring, provided they are given sewing machines and assistance in marketing.
For others equipping the households with adequate irrigation facilities could make a difference in their income from agriculture. Interestingly, a woman said that the provision of a drinking water well could give her an additional four hours of work in a day. In a village called Kattukulam, there is only one well for drinking water for 180 families.
Eight of the twelve women were also trained in handicrafts using palm leaves. They needed support to market their products.
Ascertaining that the land is very fertile, they considered kitchen garden as another convenient option.
Discrimination: Sinhalese encroachment in Tamil areas such as Mahaveli Kangai has been on since 1958. Stories of rapes and incest by the encroachers are aplenty. Army and the movement, both wanted to control such resourceful villages as Mahaveli Kangai and Sambur, due to which the people were always amidst struggle. The organizations that came to help the people ravaged by the conflicts for more than 3 decades were humiliated by the government authorities. Kottiyanpuram (also known as Ilangaithuraimugathuvaram) is now called ‘Lankapatuna’ and the beach is newly christened ‘Samuthragama’.
In Mullaitheevu, the ratio of population is to army is 1:1 (70,000). Such is the atmosphere of surveillance post war, casting long term impacts on the civilian life.
Sprouting Buddhist statues near ancient temples blatantly reveal the Sinhalese domination in the Tamil areas. In a very subtle tone, the locals mentioned about an ancient temple built during the period of Raja Raja Cholan period that was demolished and replaced by a Buddhist temple. For them, it was all not a surprise.
‘All we ask for is 2 out of 9 provinces or 8 out of 25 districts – in short, a federal government as in India’. From the political sphere, TNA, in short for Tamil National Alliance, has won elections in 18 local bodies, voted against Tamil betrayers – what difference can this make is to be seen in the following days.
People going past Oomandei check point have to undergo inspection every time, showing their baggage and the NIC – National Identity Card, without which they cannot go further. Informal conversations with the public made us understand that ‘issues do not come to an end with the end of the war’. Telephone connectivity, power supply and public transport – which are shown as indicators of normality by the Sri Lankan government were present even before the movement came into prominence. This proves that ‘the government is not ready to address concerns of ethnicity and equal rights for Tamils’ which has been the bone of contention for more than 3 decades.
1500 acres around a newly built Buddhist temple in Thiriyayi is now claimed to be belonging to the temple authorities. In fact it was a land of one of the Tamil families.
It is in such an insecure and vulnerable atmosphere, the women and children struggle to make both ends meet.
Concerns emerging from the members of the civil society: Being constantly monitored by the forces, the organizations find it difficult to even call for meetings to discuss the livelihood training they could offer. They are forced to work without explicitly showing that they are an organization. This evidently brings out the need for visibility of these organizations.
Understandably, NGO representatives visit the camps for trauma counseling, in the guise of conducting livelihood training programmes. Exclaiming that women and children are the most affected due to the war, they compare the post war scenario to that of the disease Cancer – one eventuality leading to another, from which women and children cannot emerge unscathed.
Coming to the networks working for the welfare of these women, the idea of ‘NORTH EAST WOMEN’S NETWORK’ came up. There was a consensus on the need for a strong network of groups working for women in the northern and eastern regions.
Networking, therefore, emerged as a strong suggestion to effectively extend the cycle of support systems that can be offered to the single women headed households.
Recommendations – women, children and differently abled:
1. The Sri Lankan Government must take responsibility for the women rendered ‘SINGLE’ due to the war by providing agricultural land, livelihood opportunities and other vocational training.
2. Armed forces, military and other men who have sexually assaulted and raped women must be identified and punished.
3. The Government must take measures to reunite the children affected by the war with their respective families.
4. White paper on the number of people rendered differently abled by the war and long term compensation must be provided properly and immediately.
1. Sri Lankan Tamils must be given equal representation in Government jobs and education opportunities.
2. Eastern and Northern provinces must be given autonomy over Land and Police powers.
3. A political solution must be sought to address the crisis.
4. Autonomy to the Northern and Eastern provinces must be given as prescribed in the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution in 1987.
5. Land, Housing Rights and Economic assistance must be ensured to all the Tamils in the Eastern and Northern provinces.
6. Councils in the Northern and Eastern provinces must be given political autonomy.
7. Forces deployed in the Northern and Eastern provinces must be withdrawn immediately to restore freedom of speech and movement to the people.
8. A Committee comprising of the affected Tamil people, Human Rights activists/organizations and Government authorities has to be formed to investigate the human rights violations and war crimes.
9. White Paper on the number of detainees in the Detention Camps, Refugee Camps and war prisoners.
10. Release the detainees in the camps without any conditions and ensure their resettlement.
11. The Indian Government should react on the UN Report.
12. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse must be declared a ‘war criminal’ and tried by the International Court of Justice.
Organizing a programme for single women of South Asia, with special reference to Sri Lankan women – in Chennai is on the cards.