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A sad but inspiring story of a widow

By Thilina Weerasinghe

(September 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A gloomy background prevailed around the Catamaran Beach Hotel in Negombo. The sea behind the hotel was dark and rough, while rain was falling from time to time. The air-conditioned auditorium was decorated with purple and white orchid flowers, with a cloth banner displayed with a slogan “The North and South convention on Peace and Development” in a corner of the room. Four seats were arranged for the guest speakers with a microphone fixed to the table.

The convention was organized in early August. 2003 and the participants were Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil representatives, in the fields of human rights, farmers and fishing societies and media personnel which came to a total of around hundred. The purpose of the seminar was to exchange numerous experiences they had undergone, during the year the Memorandum of understanding was signed by the government with the L.T.T.E. to maintain temporary ceasefire.

The inaugural lecture was delivered by Dr. Suseinathan of the Jaffna University after the objectives of the convention was explained by the organizers. Dr. Suseinathan spoke about the problems faced by the fishing community of Jaffna, with data and other information as evidence around 102,808 fishermen had lived during the pre-war period, and around 2003 in the post –war period this amount was reduced to 65802, which was about 60% a significant reduction. This was analyzed when in 1983 –the fish products which amounted to 48,776 metric tones annually after the armed forces captured Jaffna. Property and equipment of the fishing community amounting to about Rs. 1800 million have been destroyed due to war situation, while many women have become widows as a result of the conflict. Thereafter a lecture was delivered by Mrs. Sivachandran, representing the Jaffna women’s’ Development foundation on the present living conditions in the Northern area. She stated that war has created about 20,000 widows in the Jaffna Peninsula, wheel most of these women are displaced and abused continuously. These statements created a heated situation among the audience.

After the tea break women of the Northern area started exchanging their experiences. A young woman who was seated at the back came forward. Her long hair was plaited and she was wearing a yellow colour blouse and a black dotted skirt or era yellow background. The immediate attention of the audience was focused on her, she did not sit at the special seat already allocated, but stood up facing the audience. She started talking in Tamil with the help of a small microphone given by the boys. The translator set on the seat to translate her speech in to Sinhala language.

“I am Menaka and am 26 years old. I represent the Widows Association of Jaffna.” She spoke while looking straight at the audience. Deep silence prevailed thought out the audience.

“We listened to speeches delivered by the scholars on the issues of fisher folk, on the abuse of women and on human rights. While sitting at the back, I noticed that our brothers of the south were deeply impressed about what was said. I felt totally sensitive to the feelings of the people of the south who are seated here on the tension we undergo.”

“Now I would like to explain about my experiences. Please take these details to your communities. Tell your relations, brothers and friends of the south, that we need support in these situations, through their love, assistance and cooperation. Also please tell them that we expert their solutions for these problems”.

“I am not a learned woman and have studied only up to grade 10. I am not experienced in addressing an audience of this nature. I learnt to speak in front of a crowd, with the tough experiences I had undergone, I joined the Jaffna widows’ society last year. That was about six years after the navy arrested my husband and was disappeared thereafter.”

“My father suddenly died when I was sixteen years old. He died due to the deep sorrow he had, after my two brothers were arrested by the army and were not released. Every morning he went closer to the checkpoint and was seated on the ground till noon looking for my brothers. But he couldn’t know anything. One day while father was coming home from the checkpoint he had fallen on the ground and had died there.”

“My mother thought that an old woman like her couldn’t look after a young girl like me due to heavy war conflicts in our village-hence I was given in marriage to my cousin who was 21 years of age while I was only 17 years. He too belonged t o a traditional fishing family as myself. In his young age he had to look after his old mother, father, his sister and my mother, too. I became a mother when I was 19. We lived with many hard ships since the prices of the goods were unbearable, as fishing was prohibited by the naval forces from time to time, due to security issues. Due to these hard ships finding execs one meal per day too was a problem.”

“One day we came to know that seven people including my husband who went fishing had been taken in to custody by the navy on the grounds of suspicion. Two brothers of my husband, two cousin brothers and there other young boys were in the group, sometimes our people would have entered the zone prohibited by the Navy. Since we were traditional fishing folk, we thought that the sea belonged to us.”

“When my husband was arrested my little son was only 11 days old. From that day I went to the Navy camp continuously with my father –in-law, taking my little infant. After about 03 months we came to know that they are not tin the Navy camp. My mother died shouter thinking of my pathetic situation. My mother in-law who had gone mad, due to the deep sorrows my mother-in-law underwent at the sudden loss of her three sons was talking alone to herself and is still waiting for their return and is looking at the sea and waiting.

“Now I am not just a widow; but a widow with a young son of 7 years. My little boy Umeshwaran, does not know anything about his father. But he knows that he had a father. Umeshwaran believes that every child must have a mother as well as a father. This inquisitive has provoked him to inquire about his father.”

“Especially from the time he started pre-school I had to face this problem. His friends in the preschool speak of their fathers. Some children have their fathers disappeared or killed. Some fathers are in custody in the army camps. Umeshwaran knows of some fathers who were released from these tough experiences. What our children speak and request completely differ from what your child may request. Sometimes it may be a slab of chocolate or a toy car. But my little son wants his father back.”

“I have never told him that his father disappeared a few months after he was arrested by the navy. As a mother it was difficult to disclose such news to a son. I did not disclose anything, since I don’t wish my son to grow with hatred and thereafter soon tile his life for hatred. But truth was known to him after some time as the froth couldn’t be hidden for a long time. Umeshwaran would have known this may be from a relation a neighbor or from a friend. I didn’t inquire about his source of information. If so, he would ask if it’s a lie. If so, I wouldn’t have had an answer to give him.

“I cannot imagine that my son would forget about it, when time passes. A small boy has told him that his father who was detained had been released after paying money. Umeshwaran urges me to pay Rs. 50,000/- to bring his father back home. He has no idea of the value of Rs. 50,000/- nor what it is. He has the dream of seeing his father and to cuddle with him like your children. I can see tears in your eyes who are in this audience. Dear brothers and sisters, I will be much grateful if you could give me an answer, instead of tears. How can I explain to my little Umeshwaran, that his father was killed, that he never could come again and that he too had been a victim of this cruel war?”

A deep silence was experienced from the audience and felt that everybody was impressed deeply. Tears were pouring from many eyes, and some wiped their eyes and noses with their palms or handkerchiefs. All sat comfortably in the seats to listen to the experiences of this widow. Though Menaks’s eyes were filled with tears, she confined to relate her experiences.

“I don’t know how you feel, when we tell about the widows of the North. Sometimes you may be knowing statistics about us. Perhaps you may have great compassion for us as human beings. But it is necessary to mention that we as widows of the North undergo a heavy and a tough struggle for our survival and to make ends meet, only a widow from the North can understand the free nature of the struggle we undergo”

“Our society is based on a parietal system. We live in a society where people are not prepared to accept us as widows, in our day to day activities. Hence I request you not to address a widow only as a wife who has lost her husband. Our lives have survived without men. As widows we have to continue our lives. In order to do it, we need your cooperation, strength and affection instead of sympathy.”

“I accept that a widow in your area is treated as a pathetic sight. But due to war situation when your sister becomes a widow, her experiences differ from ours. At least they are provided with some sort of economic strength for survival. Although is what I say not justified they are paid with a compensation by the government, on account of the death of her husband. Protection from other members of the family-mostly, from brothers and fathers are received. Being a widow, at least I am glad that they obtain consolation as such as a woman with many hazardous experiences, dare to war issues and if compared with a normal widow, the deference could be understood”

“When ever our husbands die of sudden attacks or killed unexpectedly, the government doesn’t pay compensation or any other from of monthly allowance to us. As widows of the North, we have to pay compensation for our selves for the rest of our life time. Most of our families are destroyed. We have lost our fathers and brothers. Our houses have been flattened by bombing on the roofs. Our houses and properties have become feeding grounds for cattle. Our villages are isolated with only women, having no men.”

“When your father or brother dies, he gets a respectable death and respectable last rites. Your society makes them heroes, while the death of our brothers and husbands face a cruel fate. They are killed mostly due to baseless suspicions. They are treated as terrorists or enemies, on account of their deaths, by the government. Our colleges were killed either in the camps, on the road or in their works places. Sometimes they face death together. We are really sorry as widows of the North, when sometimes your brothers and husbands become victims of the war beyond the battle ground in your areas.

“In your society, legal protection is found against murders. But we don’t know which legal assurance could be obtained when our husbands and brothers are killed. The killings of our brothers and husbands are treated as accepted norms in your society. When you maintain silence, should we accept the fact that these murders are being justified by you.”

“Seldom we get an opportunity to see the bodies of our relations or friends. Sometimes parts of bodies and naked bodies are shown in public. All these are performed by a group of brothers of this same country, which has a great culture and a heritage”

“I am not surprised about your brothers, fighting against our brothers who fight for power. Not am I surprised about the killings in the battle ground. We can understand the destruction of the rebellions, fighting for a revolutionary cause with the security forces. But what I ask you why you point a picture of our husbands’ fathers and children as enemies of the south. I ask this honorable audience, whether we should continue to live as “eternal enemies” within our future generations. You have closed all the roads which we could reach your and thereby isolated us. As a mother, I propose that at least for the sake of our children, the roads of friendship and empathy should be opened. The time has come for both parties to understand the deference between life and death”

“In another way our lives are entangled with poverty and live with it. I don’t know whether you’d understand the word “poverty” seminars on this are mostly conducted by scholars who speak on poverty. They are discussing on combating poverty of people in he lower status of society. But today I exchange our own views within our society of similar status, on eradicating our poverty lines”

“This is the second opportunity I got to visit the south, and the first time in a hotel of this nature. We never got an opportunity in the north to drink this type of unified bottled water, which is kept in front of me here.”

“I have never tasted such delicious food, which I had this morning. Our villagers find difficulty in getting at least one sufficient meal per day. Some times we manage with pieces of Manioc for weeks, to fill our hunger. When our children cry in hunger, we shed more tears as we are unable to find neither a little milk powder, nor a piece of biscuit for our infants. The word ‘poverty’ is given a profound meaning by the war”

“The meaning we can give for eliminating poverty is to find our daily meal by our selves. To be released from refugee camps and to rebuild our destroyed houses to get back our agricultural lands and the fishing grounds which we were deprived of. We as widows wish to bring up our children well enabling them to live in a world filled with men and women. To put an end, to the period where we were kept as refugees being a burden to the state. Finally we wish to get strength to face life with dignity and respect. Our final goal I eradicating poverty is to love and care for people in the south and the North equally.

“If you consider us as a community of suicide bombers, I request you to change those ideas. We too love life the same way you do. In order to save our lives from the attacks of security forces, we flee here and there looking for safety. We have made bunkers for protection in our villager, and are eternally straggling for survival.”

“As women from the North we wish to state with dignity that we will always struggle against violence. We undergo inhuman treatment discrimination and violence in silence, due to the strong desire to live. Our final wish for us, for our children and for your children is to live in harmony and humanity in this land”

“I am thankful to you for listening to my long experiences, with enthusiasm. I am glad that a new generation is coming in to form representing the North and the South.”

“Please carry my message of hope and love to the people of the south. I will take your message of love and support to the North’”

“I am Menaka Parameshwari, president of the widows Association of Jaffna and wish to conclude with hopeful wishes for a historical friendship.”

“Ayoubowan and Wanakkam”

After her long speech given at this discussion on “Peace and Development in the North and South” Menaka Parameshwari sat in a front row seat facing the audience with her inquiring eyes, with the intention of answering questions arising from them. After listening to the exchanging of their experiences, the audience was seriously upset more than the morning sea and instead of asking questions the complete audience was filled with deep silence at that moment.
-Sri Lanka Guardian


Ram Muni said...

This lady has certainly suffered immensely, and yet bears no animosity towards the perpetrators. The government must give her shelter and a job so that she can bring up her child to be a useful citizen.

Nathan said...

Brother Ram Muni,
I could not guess from which part of the world you are from, definitely not from the west. You are very cruel and inhuman.

Only the rulers have to answer for all these sufferings of tamils, army and navi people are bunch of people carry out orders, i feel simpathy for them because even if they wanted to leave the job, they can not leave, if they have any idea, they will disapear the same way the innocent tamils disappear.

Lets see what solution great God has for the tamils problem. I think better to live with dignity than live like slaves.

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