My trip to Vavuniya
Though I have been following the news about the war in Vanni, and the damages made to human lives and properties, I never thought it would be so bad until I went in person. I got a call from one of our parish members from one of the interim camps saying our foster son Rev. Daniel was killed in the war. The first time I experienced the steps in grief, which I had lectured several times to my students. “No, No, it can’t be” I cried. I straight away went to the Anglican Bishop’s office. I couldn’t control my tears when I saw Rev. Nesakumar. They told me that he was safe and is in one of those camps.
The next day I booked the seat and took the train to Vavuniya. I started early morning and reached Vavuniya in the afternoon. My foster daughter was waiting for me at the station. We straight away went to the camp. Nobody was allowed to get into the camp.
The schools are being used as the interim camps. But they were putting up sheds which I would call tents about 5-6 meters in length. They had put barbed wires around the camps like those around the army camps. People could see those inside only from the other side of the road. The security was very tight. I went to the army person who was in charge of the camp ignoring the shouts from other soldiers, “You dare not get closer… run away, run away!” I approached him, and spoke in English as my Sinhalese was very bad. I told him I just wanted to see my son who is a priest and that I was sure he was in that camp. He was kind enough to send word for him, but asked me to wait on the other side of the road, and said he would give me only five minutes. In ten minutes time Danny came out. He looked haggard tired and traumatized.
They had been running for their lives from place to place. The shelling was so intense that they hardly came out of the bunker. Every now and then there was bombing and gunfire. He was in charge of Karunanilayam. They had mentally handicapped inmates along with the young school going girls as well. On Sunday morning (15th Feb.2009) they had short worship service, and in the evening they had decided to leave. However they left around 1.30 a.m. I could just imagine how terrified they would have been. Since we worked in Vanni, I could imagine the dangers they faced besides the rain of shells and bombs. They had to watch out for ‘all creatures great and small’ from elephants to poisonous snakes in the thick jungles. They walked for hours in the dark, trying not to stumble on the dead bodies of those who got killed and the parts of the limbs of the human here and there. They finally saw buses which could take them to Vavuniya. As they got into one of the buses, here comes a shell and the other bus got blasted. Fourteen of the inmates were missing he said. (Later, I heard six of them were found).
As we were waiting, luncheon packets were brought in a van. We noticed the packets looked very small for a lunch. Later I heard from a reliable person that they were expected to give a parcel of minimum 650 grams. But each parcel weighed not more than 300 grams. As I went to the other camps, I noticed of course from the other side of the road, hundreds of men were having shower, may be for the first time after a long time. Ten showers were there in the open space and they all had to push and shove each other to get to the water. After some time the water would be stopped. I wondered how the women were going to manage! In the open space in the presence of the men and army! What would they do for toilet facilities!
The hospital visit was heart breaking. Almost all of those in the accident wards had undergone amputation. By standers were not allowed to many. The patients didn’t know where their family members were. They looked traumatized. In the nights used to scream and cry because of pain and of nightmares. Many had lost both legs, and some had lost their hands. A pregnant mother had lost both legs and both hands, and was lamenting that the nurses should help her die. Quite a few had been paralyzed because of the severe damage done to their vertebras. I was drawn to one of the boys. His head was shaved. When I went towards him tears started to roll down his cheeks. He had undergone surgery in the brain. He asked me whether I could find out where his father and youngest sister were. His mother and two brothers got killed. He didn’t have any one with him. “Now that I have survived, what is my future going to be like? They say they are going to transfer all of us to Trincomalee” he said. I had no answer for him except to listen to him empathetically.
Once the patients are ready to go, they would be sent to the camps. Permission was denied to those who had relatives in Vaviniya who were willing to take them. Hardly any had all their family members living. They were being sent to different places like Kinniya, Polannaruwa, Mannar etc, which means even the slightest chance of a family reunion was questionable.
A mother sat with a blank look. As they started to run, one of her children got killed. She had the guts to wait there, got the mammotty (Shovel) and buried the child. She didn’t want her child’s body to be eaten by the wild animals. She didn’t cry but sure she was in the stage of dissociation. There are incidents where shells landed directly into the bunkers. I have no doubt that thousands would have got killed. Those who remain in Vanni are scared to come out for various reasons. For them getting killed is better than getting tortured.
Elsewhere in the island, especially in Colombo, the army checking has been increased. If a person has the national identity card, with the birthplace from Vanni or Mullaitevu or Kilinochchi or even Jaffna, he/she will be in trouble. Our apartment was checked thoroughly last week, and my 16year daughter’s room was checked including her wardrobe and her cupboard and she was questioned. So even if the people want to come out of Vanni, they are aware of this problem as well.
Now, what is happening here is genocide in many forms. Needless to say scattering people all over to unknown and unfamiliar places will ultimately lead to a weak population and result in damages done to our culture, education, and relationships. I can foresee a maimed Tamil generation with no hope in the future. The international community can make statements. But none will pay heed. For me the future looks dark and gloomy!