by Rev.Fr.Lasantha de Abrew s.j.
Although I am no more involved in the North- South Dialogue Desk of the Jesuit Ministry, I keep my awareness alert to the suffering and pain of our own in the North in various ways to kindle the fire of my Priestly Life. Recently I had an opportunity to join the junior religious sisters of the Sister Formation Program, their Dean, Rev. Sr. Rubika A.C. and Sr. Cynthia P.H. one of the senior lecturers on their exposure program to the Northern Sri Lanka.
We had an opportunity to visit Sannar in the District Mannar where the people are living in temporary huts donated by the UNHCR. They were told that they would be resettled in their own land but it had been a wild dream as they are relocated in a jungle as their own land has been named a High Security Zone under the Sri Lankan Army. The sisters had a wonderful opportunity to visit the so called re-settled ones in Red Barna village in Vishwamadhu and Kallaru which had the disaster of Tsunami in 2004.
In Vishwamadhu, Red Barna village there were sixty five families and most of them are up country Tamils who sought peaceful living in these areas after the Post Election 1977 and 1983 ethnic riots engineered by the Politicians. The Vishwamadhu people are living in very horrible conditions. Some of the people got agitated when we were visiting them and when they told us of their helplessness. The kallaru people did not lose their houses which were built after the Tsunami, during the fierce war.
At the last phase of our journey to the North, we visited the Holy Family Sisters and the war victim orphans at Uruthirapuram and in Mankulam orphanage of the girls organized by the Good Shepherd Sisters. On the last day of our exposure, the young religious spent some time in silence at the Madhu Shrine reflecting on what they have heard, seen and felt. They begged the grace of God’s divine light to know what God is asking from them personally and collectively as young radical disciples of Jesus.
In all these places, the sisters had an ample opportunity to speak to the suffering persons, the war victims especially the women and children. They were enlightened by the priests and religious who were accompanying the suffering people in many quiet, unknown and in silent ways.
Some aspects which we need to pay attention had been highlighted.
· High military presence and the inherent insecurity among the people
The high military presence in these areas makes the resettled persons more tensed, uncomfortable and uneasy. The regular visits of the soldiers to their half built houses and temporary sheds, frequent arrests of the young males on various justified and unjustified charges, and inviting the children to the camps to watch films make them uneasy. With scars of war within they feel insecure. Their main query is that if something happens to whom are they to report. They need to make their living to restore what had been lost and destroyed.
· Development of roads and government offices could be seen but the resettlement of IDPs by rebuilding their destroyed houses is false and not the truth
There are visible signs of building roads, especially on the Mannar- Puneryn Road government buildings are coming up. Most of the IDPs who returned are living in huts some on their own land but others in jungles as their land had not been reallocated. The people are building with their own savings, on their gold, on the donations sent by relations in Diaspora or helped by the Church organizations through their parish structures. They were not compensated for all they lost and had been destroyed. The Government is very slow in granting permission to the NGOs and the INGOs on rebuilding, resettling and rehabilitation programs. It is heartwarming to see how these people are building their houses with hard toil as families. The parents and children are working till late evening to lay the foundations, building the walls etc with hard work. Some told us “We do not want the government to build houses for us but let them give us the compensation. We will build with the sweat of our brow.”
· Caring for the war victims
There are many war widows, most of them young ones and orphans. As the bread winners are no more, these war widows need to be channeled for self employment. Unemployment has led them to destitution and some to immoral manipulations and prostitution. Most of the war widows are eager for self-employment in rearing animals, sewing, making household food items, and whatever possible according to their talents. But with all these crying desires, there are no government sponsored self income generating ventures but the government bared the volunteer NGOs helping in such opportunities.
The war victim children are the most affected. The credit goes to the various Catholic women religious congregations sacrificing their resources and personnel to care for a few of these victims especially the orphans who have lost both the parents in their children’s homes. The facilities in these homes are commendable. We heard in some schools there are counseling sessions, in formal and informal ways. There is a crying need to attend to the traumatic experiences of these young children in a systematic and progressive way. Some teachers of the area noted, “They have lost interest in studies because of lack of concentration. The IDP camp life style, war experiences, physical and mental wounds, back into unstructured housing atmosphere and the easy availability of DVD shops, liquor, smoking even promoted by the soldiers could be the causes for such lack of interest. If so, what will happen to the Tamil Culture in the Wanni?….” The need for structures to promote studying after school hours, means to promote and protect the Tamil identity and the trauma counseling felt very acutely.
· Need for a political solution in the context of growing Symbolic violence
I shall innumerate this point through an incident of our exposure. As we were traveling by the A9 road, the soldiers would stop the bus and get into the bus without any consideration to the passengers. There were many Tamil passengers in the bus. All of them were carrying weapons. I could see the faces of the passengers. They were not happy and especially the Tamil persons were uneasy and uncomfortable.
This is unknowingly or knowingly exercising one’s symbolic power over the other, “The role and the uniform of the soldier” to intrude into the personal-private space of the other without consent. This is symbolic violence which is more subtle but very strong on the discriminated or the oppressed one. These are Sinhalese soldiers who enjoy their war victory as the underlying base and the others are the Tamils who had been crushed by the Sinhalese especially architected by the Sinhalese soldiers.
The symbolic violence affirms the unequal treatment to the other although they live together. The newly decorated bo-trees and Buddhist temples along the A9 road and other resettlement areas in and around the army camps, War victory monuments, government sponsored institutions of security forces coming up speedy and the other side of the road, their own destroyed school buildings and children are studying under trees and high military presence are some the catalysts of symbolic violence. Therefore the timely need of our nation is that we have a political solution to the inherent causes led for a brutal war on justice and affirmation of human dignity to all as earliest as possible.