Monday, April 19, 2010

Four “New” Sinhala Doctors Conduct a Medical Camp in Mandaitheevu

The North- South Dialogue Desk of The Lanka Centre for Social Concern organized a Medical Camp conducted by the recently passed out doctors of Colombo Medical College from 5th April to 7th April 2010.

In Vavuniya, we had a visit to VAROD (Vanni Rehabilitation Organization for the Disabled- Differently Able). The Sinhalese doctors were thunder struck to see the young wounded inmates and listen to their stories of agony during the war. Sewwandi was so immersed in their stories of pain; we had to extend our stay at VAROD by a half an hour.

“They are like us. Their wounds although healed or is healing but their hearts need to be healed. Today I realized the cruelty of war especially the gravity of cluster bomb attacks and haphazard shelling. I could not bear the pain of the youngster who is paralyzed forever and more than that his loosing all of his loved ones. Still some of them carry the pieces of shells in their bodies and that shows they carry the pieces of hatred towards us in their bodies. We need to remove these pieces of venom from their hearts”.

These were the on the spot comments of the doctors on their first exposure to the realities of war. Anuradha, who works in the rehabilitation Centre for the War- Victim Sri Lanka Soldiers said, “I too treat the soldiers who are going though wounds of war. But these Tamil war victims look really hopeless, depressed as many have lost all they possessed including their loved ones and surely their suffering is more acute.

The A-9 journey was a special attraction for these medical doctors on their first visit to Jaffna. “I felt that A9 is neither a pathway to Jaffna nor a link between North and South of Sri Lanka. I could see only army sentry points and extended army camps throughout the journey to Jaffna. Why are there so many Buddha statues along the A9 route? Are they in memory of the Army personnel engaged in war?

Were there Buddhists along this path other than the Sri Lankan forces?

MandaitheevuThey we were able to meet Clinton Anandeshan and Vishnunathan, aged sixty and sixty two respectively. Both of them are related through marriage, had come to Paranthan after the 1983 July riots from Kandy. They were estate Tamils and had to find a safer place for their children and their cultivation.

They related their story of displacement with laughter, fear, anger and some moments in tears, “We lost everything we had bit by bit in this displacement and at last we became beggars. Now we are beggars.”

Clinton has three girls and a boy. Vishnunathan had lost two sons, aged nineteen and twenty two in the final battle, those who were conscripted four months before. His son in law lost his hand and the old aunt’s stomach was ripped open in a shell attack.

“From Paranthan, as other people were leaving, we too joined. It was terrible as the air attacks were fierce and the ground attacks were merciless. Some of our relations were killed with their little ones. Attacks were random and haphazard. We collected all our belongings including the asbestos sheets, door frames, furniture and the sacks of paddy, loaded them in a tractor and moved towards Murasumottai. We just settled there for a few months, midst heavy shelling. We put up a small hut for us only to sleep and built a bunker for safety. When it was unbearable we collected all we could take and moved towards Dharmapuram. On this journey we did not have a vehicle, so we had to take all we could on foot. The journey to Udayarakattu was very hard.

Some of our own people, three of them died due to the tiresome, hard journey and bombardment. A few weeks there and we moved to Suvandirapuram. Every displacement reduced our traveling baggage.

Then to Vaikkal, Vattuwal and Rettai Vaikkal (Double Canal) were the last places of our displacement till we crossed over to the Army controlled areas. In all these places we suffered.”

They answered two of our questions posed to them, “Do you enjoy peace now? What do you expect from the Sri Lankan government?”

“There is some kind of normalcy, no more arms and fierce war but there is no peace. Still we are struggling to live. There are so many of our children in detention camps, some more in the IDP camps. There are armed groups and the Chavekachcheri incident (A seventeen year old boy was murdered by unknown persons) proves the point. There is continuous checking in our resettled areas in Paranthan. We are suspected. Then do you think we enjoy peace in freedom?”

“We want the government to compensate our loss. We lost everything. At least the government must help us in self employment by income generating projects. We were not beggars but today we have been made beggars. Recently we had to come to the convent to beg for some cash to buy some food to survive. We need employment”

Just before the camp Medical Camp at Mandaitivu, the doctors visited the Mandaitivu village and the people in their own displaced huts. For the past twenty years, the Sri Lankan Navy has captured the Mandaitivu village with these peoples’ houses and made it a High Security Zone.

The people were displaced several times in different places and have last come back but they are staying outside of the naval camp in huts just gazing at their own homes occupied by the Navy. The doctors spoke to the people and observed their utter poverty.

There were about sixty patients, infants, children, young and old. These young doctors attended to the patients with care and concern. Rev Fr. Paul and Sr. Priscilla acted as translators.

We will always remember them” During the visit to the Mandaitivu village, the southerners met some excombatants.

They listened to their stories of struggle and the life in the detention camps. In one house, we discovered a photograph of a young man garlanded. The young doctors inquired about it from the lady who was at home. She said, “This is my eldest son. He was in the Sea Tiger unit. He was killed in battle. He is my beloved son”.

When we were returning after the visit to the village, some of them were arguing, “Why did they join the movement? Why does this mother venerate her son who was in the LTTE?”

Within the group we could hear the whisperings, “Surely there must be a reason for the Tamils to take up arms. They saw it as a Struggle for liberation. That is the reason for these youngsters to volunteer and commit for the cause. As we see in our villages, the war heroes are honored, roads named after them and statues are made, these people honor their young leaders who sacrificed their lives for a cause”.

On the same day late at night the youngsters met a first year student from the Faculty of Arts in the Jaffna University. He explained his last hours in Vanni with shelling , a few months in the IDP camp in Zone 5 of Cheddikulam and his release to be in the university to pursue his studies.

He recalled with deep pain that his parents are still in the IDP camp and he had visited them recently.

On our way back to Colombo, we visited The Holy Family Sisters at Kilinochchi. It was a revealing episode. We could see their convent just shape up upon return. One sister shared with us, “Seventy one of my students from Kilinochchi Maha Vidiyalayam were killed in this recent war. Many are missing. When I go to school, I feel the loss and the immense pain.

Recently I asked the children, who had survived, displaced, lived in the IDP camps and just returned to Kilinochchi, to write about their memories of the final stages of war. I meant it to be a therapeutic exercise. They wrote so many pages in tears, sobbing and some moments with anger and fear.”

We had an opportunity to glance through these letters of pain and anguish. Almost all of these were ended with “Nandri” (Thank You Sister). That means the writing of the letters initiated by the Teacher sister of these little ones had brought some kind of relief to relieve their pain.

As we coming out of the Holy Family Convent we were introduced to the lady cook of their house. She had lost two of her children in the recent Civil War. She lost her son as he was a victim of a Sri Lankan Army kfir attack. She had to bury her son hurriedly as they were running away in fear and in the dark. She does not know where he is buried and how he was buried.

The loss of the daughter she was unable to recall. She was lost in the rush in the final hours of the battle as they were walking back into the Army controlled area through the waters. Although her friends pacify her saying that the eighteen year daughter is still living, she believes that she is no more on earth. She says that she experiences sense of a deep loss.

This mother, a widow was gazing at Fr. Sudam for awhile and began to weep and wail. She cried, “He looks like my son, my own son who is no longer on earth. My son was killed”