End of war special edition, Human Security, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Trincomalee

The untold story of a child

This war has taken the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Hundreds of thousands more are displaced, and the abnormality of the war and post war situation is fast and painfully becoming normalcy to most people, some don’t and didn’t even live to see that.

Hundreds of children are being born into such conditions, by virtue of the fact that the Muslim IDP’s displaced in the early part of the conflict are still languishing in Puttalam, I won’t be surprised if a decent amount of these children born would die (possibly as adults) in the same conditions to which they were born to.

Studies suggest that post war trauma is conceivably more painful than the emotional stress suffered during war. During periods of war and despite the aggressive conditions that ensue, people subjected to these live in pain and indescribable stress. However, the hope that these abnormalities will diminish and normalcy would resume lingers on and this is a solace of sorts to those who look for solace in the most difficult of times. In a post war situation, when there is no conceivable military conflict taking place and the people continue to suffer in difficult conditions it is inevitable that post war trauma will tighten its venomous grip.

Because of its brutality, this has become the paradigm for traumatic experience, with the constant need for psychological and psychiatric help for victims long after its end.

My father was the architect for a project called ‘Food for Education’ by an Italian NGO. Thus he had to make several site visits to seventy schools in the Trincomalee District. In addition to the war, Trincomalee was also severely affected by the tsunami of 2004.

Due to poverty, lack of infrastructure, the loss of hope that school education will achieve little and for fears of safety, school attendance amongst children was very low. It was also known that malnutrition was rampant amongst these children. The project aimed to build Kitchen & Sanitation facilities in these schools and free food was distributed to students who attended school.  Thus this incentive helped mitigate absenteeism of school children to a certain extent in the Trincomalee district.

I joined my father in several of his site visits and I remember going to Trincomalee at least ten times during 2005 – 2006.

In spite of all the pain and suffering that was around, the faces of the children depicted a remarkable sense of resilience to the pain they and their families endured. These children coupled with the ready and mischievous smiles in their faces disguised the very painful story many a parent I spoke to in my limited Tamil told me.

There is now an end to a military conflict, and a year has gone by. And yet, there is years of work to be done in these areas to rebuild shattered hopes, dreams and society in general. These photographs can only attempt to ask questions about and to do justice to the untold story of many a child.

If not of most, this conflict didn’t manage to wipe out the smiles of all children in conflict zones. We must ensure that they never are, at least by planned yet hastened resettlement of all affected men, women and children.

More photos by the author can be found at Tableaux of Aufidius.

End of War Special Edition

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    In our eagerness to make claim to the war and its bloody fight to the finish most postings and writings have centred on Tamils and Sinhalese.

    I have visited Puttalam refugee camps where the Muslims chased out of Jaffna and Mannar by the LTTE took succour. The camps were in arid lands with perhaps a hundred in a small area the size of a cricket pitch. This would have been in 2000.

    Then I also visted Kathankudy, Kalmunai and other places in Batticaloa where the Muslims have lived for ages in abject poverty.

    We tend to forget the Muslim refugees living in makeshift homes.

    In the grand scheme of things Muslims’ plight is ignored. Tamils in the North and East eye them with suspicion and ditto for the Sinhalese in Kandy and South where Muslims are a sizeable minority.

    Thankfully Muslim politicians like the late Minister Ashraff, Rauf Hakeem, A.H.M Azwer and Alavi Moulana once elected to parliament gave Muslim grievances priority unlike our own Tamil politicians who are often afraid to speak out or are found dozing during parliamentary sessions.

    But there is a need for cementing relations with the Muslim community and address their grievances which are not unlike those of the Tamils. They too suffered in this. They too were displaced, their homes and businesses looted and burnt.

    Camps are only a band-aid solution. Reaching and addressing the core causes of the displaced should be the priority of NGOs and the government.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    Could Groundviews look at the conundrum of the Muslims for a change? There are serious issues which need addressing in this post-war scenario.

    Unless and until we address the grievances of all the ethnic gropus we cannot arrive at a just solution that the JVP, LTTE and the encroaching Muslim militancy ( remember the Muslims are second in par to the world’s population) and their dominance is something the world cannot ignore.

    Sri Lanka is a multi-racial and multi-religious society and any marginalisation of a part of this ethnic fabric would create more virulent forms of insurgency that the majority would be the one to take its brunt.

    You only need to look at India, Uk and Us and let’s not forget 9/11.

  • concerned citizen

    a sensitive and revealing account of the plight of Muslims. Can such stories melt the hard hearted grip of the state over their sad circumstances. I doubt it. Hope fully, the rich Muslim world will see the injustice and neglect of their bretheren and use aid as a lever for accountability and good governance like the EU.

  • Outsider

    Well said, Concerned Citizen, However it will take more than 1 century for world Muslim nations to respond like the EU to leverage good governance and aid. The current plight of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan are few examples of world Muslim inaction.

    In the case of Sri Lankan Muslims, I believe world Muslim or the International community action is not relevant. Muslims being a well enmeshed part of the Sri Lankan social fabric, the Major communities’ (Sinhalese & Tamils) overture towards positive nation building and Muslim reciprocation would solve most of the issues.

    The current state of the Muslims of Sri Lanka is deplorable and is not good for the country as a whole, as they have no caring government nor a people in the country to respond to their suffering. The Muslims neither asked for a separate state nor allied with non state actors on both side of the divide destroying the country to deserve this neglect and ostracization.

    What portends here is a weak Sri Lanka for the next few decades to come, as marginalization of Muslims is looming in every corner more by negligence than by design due to failure of the state to build a robust and homogeneous Sri Lankan society with pluralism that benefits all.

    The state and the society has failed to get the best out of he Muslims for nation building, the positives of the Muslims being multi lingual, free of caste & race barriers, cosmopolitan and universal world view and their potential to network with world Muslim community are not harnessed for the benefit of the country.
    Their role as bridge builders between the Sinhalese and Tamils are lost in the country but very prominent amongst the Diasporas in the west.

    Some of the western scholars of political science who are studying the issues of minority politics in the west are looking towards Sri Lankan Muslims as a model community due to their 1000+ years harmonious relationship with both the Sinhales and Tamil communities. They consider that even Sri Lankan militancy (LTTE & JVP uprisings of 70s/80s) did not propel the Sri Lankan Muslims to militancy in spite of the ambient global Muslim militancy world over. Their naturalization within the Sri Lankan social fabric while maintaining their distinct Islamic character which are well respect by both the communities in Sri Lanka are their long term socio political contributions vital for nation building.

    Therefore it is vital that while Muslim issues require serious response by the state and other stakeholders in action for Nation Building, the positives of the community should be harnessed to build a homogeneous Sri Lankan society by deliberate action to protect their 1000+ years contribution to Sri Lankan society and polity and project to the next millennium to propel Sri Lanka as a model nation in the 21st century. A model the west is struggling to build.

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