By Sarasi Paranamanna
Attending a mass marriage ceremony is quite an unforgettable experience, because, being part of a marriage ceremony always gives a joyous feeling, and when it is on a mass scale, the celebration is amplified.
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The mass marriage ceremony I attended last Sunday had its own reasons to be considered unique and special. For the first time in history, rehabilitated ex-combatants were wedded, and the occasion’s expenses were borne by the Rehabilitation Commission, with the support of other NGOs, Hindu Congress and the Council for National Unity.
Tears of joy
Not more than a year ago, Vavuniya was filled with gunshots and the weeping of innocent people, but last Sunday, the Pompaimadu camp area was filled with the loud joyous tunes from the trumpets and the drums at the marriage ceremony. The occasion was held at the Pompaimadu Campus Hostel area where 53 rehabilitated ex-combatants stepped into a new life they had been looking forward for years.
The LTTE robbed the innocence of children, lives of beloved ones and they had forbade people to have relationships, and these youths were couples who have had relationships in secret, while they were in the LTTE. “We weren’t allowed to get married nor have relationships with girls, when we were recruited to the LTTE by force,” said Simson, one of the bridegrooms. The couples were seated dressed in traditional garments and the brides were holding their grooms’ hands shyly. The colourful saris, jewellery and the traditional wedding decors added a vibrant, vivacious mood to the ceremony.
According to the Rehabilitation Commissioner General, Brigadier S. Ranasinghe, many rehabilitants, who were already lovers, had requested to legalise their marriages and the Rehabilitation Commission had spent over Rs.20 million to organise this event. These rehabilitants, who were once cursed by the cruelty of war, can look forward to a better future now. The marriage ceremony was indeed a grand occasion in its fullest sense, because all the needful, starting from the decorations to the wedding suits were presented to these couples.
Organisations such as the Hindu Congress had generously sponsored these couples, their wedding saris and the “thali kodi”, which is a gold necklace given by the bridegroom to the bride during wedding rituals. Priests and marriage registrars were also present on the occasion and it was truly a cheerful moment for all these rehabilitants, as an important day in their lives was celebrated on a grand scale. To think that, not more than a year ago, they were taken into custody by the army, when they had nothing but the garments they were wearing.
Minister of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms D.E.W. Gunasekara was the chief guest. Prominent personalities such as Deputy Minister Vijith Vijayamuni Zoysa, Ministers Dilan Perera, Douglas Devananda and Rishad Bathiyudeen signed as witnesses to the marriage registration. MP Namal Rajapaksa, who also signed as a witness, stated that all the young MPs are dedicated to the long-term procedures to integrate these youth, who were in the wrong track, back to the normal society.
All the couples were overjoyed to see Bollywood film star Vivek Oberoi at their wedding ceremony. The film star signed for several marriage registrations as a witness, and the couples were indeed thrilled and excited by his presence. Vivek Oberoi congratulated the newlyweds and said, “This historical moment is indeed a celebration of humanity, because, as “udayam” (sunrise) these people now have hope to start a new life, with events like these only, the government can win the people’s hearts and bridge the gaps which the 30-year-old conflict created.”
The couples walked around the sacred fire and the bride keeping her feet on the grinding stone, vowed to be together with the bridegroom in both happiness and sorrow.
Former Rehabilitation Commissioner Major General Daya Ratnayake said that the newlyweds will be placed in the Peace Village at Pompaimadu, as they are still going through the rehabilitation process. The couples were provided with separate houses in the Peace Village and bank accounts at People’s Bank, with Rs.10,000 gifted to each couple. “These couples will be provided further assistance to build a life on their own, which will include vocational assistance and financial aid. We were fighting against each other before, but as soldiers, we are more than happy to see them starting a life on their own, because so many soldiers sacrificed their live to see these misled youth receive a permanent solution to their problems. With all the assistance, for at least three years, we will also monitor how these couples are progressing in building their lives,” said Major General Ratnayake.
After the rituals were performed, and the brides were adorned in the “thali kodi” and “sindur,” the joy was celebrated by eating sweet “laddus.” I also got the chance to taste the sweet yellow “laddus” and share the joy and celebration of the occasion. Speaking to one of the relatives who attended the occasion, I realised the courage these people have, because going through all the hardships, they have been able to come to a new turn with new hopes in their lives, forgetting their bitter pasts. “I am very happy to see my sister starting a new life, and even our lives are changed now, because we do not have such a hard time. We can make a living, as my father is working as a priest in the Nallur Kovil, now all we want is to see my sister come out of the camp,” said Sumathi, an elder sister of one of the brides who had come all the way from Yal Panam.
There were 41 Hindu couples, 11 Christian couples and 1 Catholic couple, with each couple allowed to invite 10 guests for the occasion. I saw the mothers hugging their newlywed daughters, friends congratulating the couples, and it almost looked like a miracle, because not more than two years ago these people were separated from their loved ones by force.
The occasion was made more vibrant and cheerful by the performances of the rehabilitants, who were trained by veteran actress and founder of Abhina Academy, Anoja Weerasinghe. The dances were indeed pleasant and enjoyable because to see a group of youths using their lives for a good cause and enjoying their lives at the same time indicates a major psycho social reform in these youths who once knew only to handle weapons. While the performances were proceeding film star Vivek Oberoi joined their dance which augmented the excitement of the event.
Turning back to return home with a happy heart, I saw the couples going towards their old rehabilitation camps. They were bidding goodbye to their friends still undergoing rehabilitation, and behind the thorny fences, their friends were wishing them luck to start their new life. The sight was indeed touching. One group is walking towards a new life, and the other group is looking forward to a new life.
That sight itself is enough to see that the freedom we gained is too precious and too valuable, because hope is what keeps people alive, and peace allows these people to hope for a better future, which is indeed a blessing to the land once cursed by the hopelessness and the futility of war. - courtesy: Nation -