Unheard Voices

Don't test the color of my blood

Our Terrifying Memories of Bloody Childhood, Buried Inside Our Wounds for Lives June 21, 2009

Poonari Nursery Children coming out of Bunker - Jaffna

Nursery Children coming out of bunker at Poorani Women’s Centre, Jaffna

“All I want (as a 12 year old child) to do is to crawl back into my mothers’ womb.  So I don’t starve for food or see all those blood and the scary guns or lose my mother’s or my father’s voice around me. I feel safe and hugged and nurtured in my mothers’ womb.”

At first, I was very excited to see the plane flying on the sky and hearing the sound of the bomb as it was far away and we do not have to go to school or follow the rules of the house. Our mothers always told us that some of our fathers went to make some money to feed us, somewhere far from our land and they passed us in the plane that flies in the sky. My friends and I enjoyed running behind waving our hands.  We ran behind the plane, until one day our 11 year old neighborhood friend got killed by a bomb.  Now I see my family, friends and neighbors being bombed and destroyed by the same white plane.

As a child I still wanted to run behind the plane even though many of my friends were scared because this is only a children’s game available to us. And the only freedom we had to move around which kept us away from scary dark bunkers and long hours of sleeping and sitting in one place. But Still, I wanted to know why. We asked our mothers. But, they just showed their empty hands. I still don’t understand why but we feel the pain in our mothers’ eyes and sorrow in their hearts. We kept quite to keep our mothers’ tears in.

I was a targeted child in my family. I was seen as a troublemaker and was told that I will never be a good homemaker in the future as I always had questions and talk a lot. I love going out and talking to people. As a girl child and as the war gave us very little space to express our feelings and took away our little freedom of going out. I managed to get out by taking the task of filling drinking water every day for my family which helped me to know what was happing in my neighborhood and in the community as it was where people gathered and talked. I was confused and was afraid of seeing so much blood in our streets.

I asked many questions to myself in many dark nights, why our family members, friends and neighbors are missing and destroyed. I don’t even know what death is as we had never been taken to a funeral or talked about death before. All I remember is my grandmother’s scary stories of death and not wanting to die. Now my mother tells me that our friends went to heaven and are staying with God. But I want to see them. I want to play with them. I want to say good bye and ask them why they left me. I want to ask them if I can bring my family along to play with them. I want to ask them if there will be food to eat and hands to care and space for me and our mothers along with my sisters and brothers to sit in a space where I can sleep in our mothers’ lap with out seeing tears in our mothers’ eyes and blood around us. I want to ask them if there are no scary dark bunkers.

I still remember talking about our life long wishes we have prayed to God for. When we ran to save our lives for kilometers, my sister told me that she wanted to be like my infant brother who was a few months old so my mother would carry us and do not have to run for long with out food and water. I said my wish was for a lot of food and water and place to play, as I don’t want to see my sisters digging and eating poisonous roots. I almost lost my sisters. I also don’t want to continue to see my friends’ destroyed dead bodies on streets, bunkers, in our own homes, churches, schools and hospitals and later on in refugee camps. These are not stories. These are endless pain and wounds.

Stories that filled our eyes and needling our wounded flesh:

We did not understand what’s happening around us and asked many questions. But, our mothers told us to keep quite as they got irritated and said that we don’t understand the seriousness and did not pay attention to us. Now I know why. Their concern was for our physical safety and not for our feelings.

I got mad and sad and angry at my mother for not letting me out to play, for not giving me food. I told her how my tummy is crying out for food but my mother said few more hours. But we continued to cry for days in that dark bunker and we are still continuing even after 30 years. I lost my voice and got tired of crying for food, in the dark night for light and to play with my friends. After awhile no one heard our voices not even my mother. I got tired and went to sleep while holding and blocking my ears from the sound of bombs.

I saw many of my friends and classmates join the Tamil armed group for many reasons: Many joined them to get food, to take revenge on army who raped their mothers and sisters in front of them; many were gone after the independent speech that took place in our schools and to bring light to our dark history. Many also joined the groups because of the pressure and demand from all Tamil armed groups and many joined as there is no other way to save their lives from the scary army boots. Many women joined who got raped or afraid of been raped and had no choice in our society. Some of my friends even went because they are tired of being beaten up or seeing their fathers, brothers and family members getting beaten up. Some of them joined to get their unheard voices to be heard. Many joined to free the Tamil from the Sinhalese government for equal rights to education and jobs and to live peacefully. So much blood and dead bodies on our streets. No one heard our voice.

I saw many armies’ dead bodies when they were put on the streets for viewing. Many people were happy to see they are dead but it did not make me happy even though I was very scared of their uniforms and gun and boots. I asked my mother if they had kids like us, as I did not want any children like us to lose their fathers. We continued to live in the dark bloody nights. We prayed for hands to care for us and to bring light into our future.

IPKF enters:

All of a sudden happiness filled our homes and neighborhoods to hear that Indian peace keepers are coming to our country to keep peace and save us. We thanked India through our prayers.  I don’t understand what that means so I asked my family and friends about it.

Many of our neighbors and Tamil people told me that they were happy to know that we would be free from hunger. My mother told me she was very happy because kids can go to school without fear and interruption. My sisters told me we are free from that scary gun and bombs that eat our flesh and blood. My elder sisters told me it’s a safe net to keep our bodies safe. My younger brother told me it helps us to play and sleep as much as we want in our own homes. Many mothers told me that it means bright future for our young kids and many other children of Tamil fighters who gave up their lives before their search for equality came to an end. My uncle told me with tears; it means we are free from those boot beatings and stompings. My aunty told me that wife of the army will be happy to see her husband who went to make money to put food on the table is back and safe. I was happy to know that we are free from losing our friends, relatives and free from staying in one place. There were some other people who welcomed the Indian Peace keeper (Army) by saying that one should not lose husband, wife, kids, and friends like they did in the world. My father told me it is a dam to stop the running blood in our country.

However, our happiness did not continue for long and our hopes were destroyed by those Indian peace keepers. Our schools, homes, library, churches and hospitals are being bombed. Many sisters got raped and children are being sexually assaulted and killed. So much blood and dead bodies on our streets. Peace keepers did not even care about our life being destroyed.

Colonel John Taylor, one of the first officers assigned to the IPKF said that there were no proper maps as another commander who said that the maps they were given were 200 years old and that was one of the reasons they lost their fight. This tells how much the Government and the people in power care about the innocent civilians who they claim to care about. Shame on them!

We ran from our homes to the Church to save our lives. As we heard the army coming closer and closer to our homes, we continued to stay in the church to survive from the killings and rapes. I got tried of sitting in one place. Our feelings and freedom of playing are caged up in that church and the bunkers. All I wanted to do is sleep as we sit so I don’t have to think or continue to cry but the hunger kept waking me up. My throat dried out without water. My eyes got tired of seeing so many families’ and neighbors’ dead bodies with blood. I started to look around. I saw a 5 years old boy sleeping on his mother’s lap. I looked at him and thought that he was very lucky to have a lap to sleep. All of a sudden bombing started and fell on one side of the church. A shrapnel came and struck that 5 years old boy’s tummy. He called “AMMA” and I thought he went back to sleep. But I saw blood around him. His mother cried that he had left her and the world. She wanted to hug his dead son but his body was grabbed from her and was sent to the cemetery with other bodies. From that day I do not want to see my 7 year old bother sleep. I keep waking him up to see if he is alive for days in the church. Even now I don’t like to see my brother sleeping or accept deaths.

It was heart breaking to see the fights and killing even between our friends.

I saw so much blood on our streets. I saw so much fear in our homes. One day one of our neighbors and my sister’s classmate who was 16 years old was chased by his classmate from another Tamil group and the army on our street. Even though, he had the gun we wanted to save his life. I did not know which group he belongs or I do not want to know. He got shot in his back and tummy many times as he run into our lane where he was trying to go to his mother. The person who shot him got scared and ran away from our street. All the neighbors came to our house as my mother, as many other women always took leadership and put themselves in front of the gun in our neighborhood to save our fathers and brothers and daughters.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force was mad and upset and wanted to know if he is dead and who he is and where he is. I wanted to tell them that he is dead, that his body is in our backyard as he tried climbing the wall to go to his mother. But he fell down crying out for his mother. I also wanted to tell them that he is our new neighbor. He is my sister’s schoolmate. He is my cousin’s friend. He is a human like you and me. He is the only child for his parent. He is 16 years old. He is a little boy who is also searching for himself as many young children search for themselves. But my mother said to keep quite.

They started to beat all the men. One of our neighbor uncle who was 92 years old was beaten up. His sarong fell down and he was naked. My mother asked the army and the Tamil armed group not to beat the old uncle. They got mad and started to beat my mother with their guns. We all cried but no one heard our voice. Our mothers and fathers are our world. Now I see my mother getting beaten. I don’t know where to turn for help like many other children. After they beat my mother they found the body of the dead neighborhood brother. They stomped on the dead body and continue to beat the body and shoot the body even after he was dead. I saw so much blood around him. His body was put on the street for days as the crow eat the flesh, as our hands were tied and our voice are buried in our homes.  They did not stop here. They have taken his two close friends from school. One of them was my cousin brother. They beat them and asked them if they were part of that Tamil armed group. Even though, they said the truth that they did not belong to any groups. The other friend was tortured and murdered. His body was full of iron box burns. His entire fingernails had been removed and there were wounds allover his body. My cousin brother was tortured and beaten up too. They tied his feet with rope and hung him down inside the well and put his head in the water for a few minutes at a time continuously. My cousin survived only because my uncle paid lots of money. But my cousin’s normal life ended. He is mentally and physically affected.

Another bloody day came near me.

I saw two boys carrying guns while I was filling water in my pot.  The gun looks bigger than what I saw from army. I heard a noise of Dushm Dushum. I ran with my friends and neighbors to see what it is. What I saw will never be taken away from my eyes. The voice of the devastating mother will always be in my heart.

I saw the mother (my neighbor aunty) crying as her son’s brain is spilled out and pulsing and his brain and body was THUDIKKA. “Her son was killed by the Tamil armed group for passing message to army to feed his little 6 years old sister and his mother who did not have any food for days. His mother who had lost her husband in the war blamed herself for not hiding her daughter’s hunger from her 19 years old son. The mother threw the plate of rice away and cried out for her dead son. I can still see the little sister who continued to eat as fast as she could to kill her hunger as she watched her brother’s brain and body cry for help to be alive with tears. Even freedom fighters did not understand the real people’s real needs. We tried to escape the smell of dead on our streets; some of us were blocked by powerful armed men.  When we pass our streets some of us were killed on the way to safe zones by those bombs and guns.

Our dark future continued in refugee camps even after we are in ‘safe zones’

Our hidden voice buried inside our wounds for life. Our dark future continued in refugee camps even after we are in ‘safe zones’, the government controlled and monitored areas in our own land. When I was working in the 13 refugee camps, I witnessed so many devastating incidents of missing people. Our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers lived in refugee camps with out any hopes. They had to struggle for their day to day basic needs. Not enough of washrooms, eating the same rice and dhal which did not even fill many people’s  half tummy, staying in one place for years with out any freedom to move around, separated from their family members, thinking about the homes they had build from their life time labour and not able to talk openly about their pain, women live with discomfort and shame of being displayed in sexual life and even asking for pads or breastfeeding their kids in front of strangers as they never had to do this before or practice of our culture, and  feelings and dangerous dark life in refugee camps.

In all these, children’s feelings and needs have been buried.

One day, when I was working in the first 13 refugee camps in Colombo, I took around 50 children out of the camp to do a trauma workshop which included Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala kids.

It was so hurtful to see how deep the war had affected their lives (6-10 years old).

At first, all Tamil kids, Muslim kids and Sinhala kids, they were sitting separately from each group. They did not even want to talk to each other. I saw so much hate and sorrow. We asked them to draw and color picture that comes in their mind and asked them to talk about it with the groups. Through their painting, I saw the whole war. I also saw the effect and how much children can absorb and continue to carry those terrifying memories with them. Tamil kids all talked about deaths and losing their fathers and family and their homes bombed and guns. Muslim kids talked about their homes that they had to leave and expressed anger about the gun. Sinhala kids who were affected by the JVP talked about losing their fathers and about homes and lives that they lost. When they told the story they were angry and sad and they pointed out each other and cried. But they also saw how they all had been affected in different ways. We played ‘game of shark’ which we used to bring people together and their strength. During this game, the kids forgot and started to play and tried to save each other from the shark. And they were very happy to be away from the camp. At the end of the session, we asked them to draw another picture. About the future they would like to see. They mostly drew their homes with families and trees under the bright Sun, which they missed having in their lives. The kids kept asking me to bring them out of the camp again. It was a long fight to take the kids out from those refugee camps. In ‘Safety Zone’, real people’s real needs, safety and health are being buried in those refugee camps.

2009:

Our family members’ and friends’ devastating stories are still continuing and the pain travels around the world as we lose and feel the pain of our family members and friends.

I organize groups for many different discussions and work with many people through my work. Especially I have organized groups to tell their stories as part of a healing process and to bring awareness to the public through ‘Justice for Sri-Lankan Women’.

Some of the unheard voices in 2009:

“my friend and ex-co-worker who was a teacher along with his wife and children ran to the bunker to save their lives told me. “My wife let us go to the bunker first. After I put my feet inside the bunker, I yelled to my wife to come quick but I saw my wife’s head on my feet inside the bunker, as the bomb blasted her.”

“Women are being gang raped; we did not even get respect as priests. God save them!”

“My 26 year old cousin brother was shot by a Tamil armed group in Colombo because my uncle supported to remove the bodies of innocent civilians and the Tamil armed groups during Tsunami with the Red Cross. My aunty attempted suicide three times. I hate Sri Lanka and never want to go back.”

“With so much fear and cry, my niece had to walk naked for check-up in public on the way to internment camps. She does not want to live any more. I am afraid for her life.”

“My brothers’ children are killed. My sister is mentally affected. There is no one to care for her. I cannot focus on my work here in Canada.”

“Our family members were beaten up for no reason. I am worried about their safety.”

“My uncle and friends who are in the refugee camp only want food and space to sleep. Not Eelam or war.”

“My sister went to prepare food, as the children did not eat for days and could not hold the hunger any longer. My sister never returned. I am worried about the children’s mental safety.”

“We wish, we were dead like many others did during battle and in Safety Zone and on the way to the refugee camps. So we do not had to go through what we are going through now in refugee camps.”

Living with war and losing our love ones and the effect of war will be always in our heart as children and adults. We carry the effect with us and try to deal with it in many different ways as no one has really given a real solution or hope or justice or wanted to hear the unheard buried real people’s voices or their real needs. Some Tamils join together to support each other for freedom, in non violent way. Many chose the path to freedom through violence as that was the only way, we had been tought to show anger and discipline in our homes, schools and society through out our childhood.  We accept beatings and hitting as part of the life when children make mistakes or during our search.  Wounded Tamils also feel that there is no other way to their voice to be heard. Some chose the path to discontinue the connection as they do not want to see or remember the past and what is buried inside them. Some use the path to take revenge even among ourselves for their personal pain even forgetting to represent the  innocent civilians they claim to be fighting for by not seeing how their actions are affecting their own families, friends and community. Even though my heart is filled with sorrow and pain, I have decided to speak the truth and contribute for change with out violence and with out affecting the wounded community that has been suppressed for years and whose voices are being blocked and hidden.

Even though some of us have escaped from war and hunger and became refugees:

Even though some of us have escaped from war and hunger and became refugees, immigrants, laborers and citizens in many different countries around the world; the effect and pain continue as we have left many of our family members, friends, neighbors and the wounded community behind. The stories continue on in the streets of the World as it is affecting our lives around the world.

Our families devastating killings, our sisters ARIYANDA  rapes and our children’s dark future became the project, research, report, business, plat form for personal revenge and terrorism for powerful men and rich people.

International community

International community, shake their hands on one side to support the killing of our families and on other side gave some money for settling in innocent civilians into internment camps, to tell the world that they care about the civilians. First of all we know how the money always has been distributed by the Sri Lankan government to the real people with real needs.

As some one who had lived within the war and worked with NGOs and continues my work on the ground, I know how the real needs are met.  Each time the International Community gives money we get extra rice and oil and dhal and a few clothes. Some time housing where we could not even move around and where our kids could not even play.

Second of all, this is not a safe or real solution as it will not bring peace for life to innocent people every one claims to care for. In those permanent refugee camps, our basic rights and needs are squished and there is no guarantee for safety as many are still missing and are being killed with out record or international monitoring. By giving money and ignoring the real people with real needs and wounds, the International Community is supporting the killing and encouraging the Sri-Lankan government to continue their action after this disaster. The International Community is failing to follow its law formulated to protect innocent civilians under the Geneva Convention and they are not following their own rules and regulations.

Our children’s future

Our safety for life was put at the end of the world politicians’ agenda. Our struggle became part of their policy on terrorism as it happened to Muslims, Africans, Burmese, the list continues. Our wounds and dead bodies became their path in their fight for power amongst powerful men and became a bridge to plan their business for rich people. Our children’s future became dark in the refugee camps. Our basic needs and rights to live became invisible and became a heinous crime to even talk or express. We are forced to live in a situation no one lives around the world. This has not been defined or allowed under any human rights code in any other country, but still looking for evidence to prove that this is happening after tens of thousands of dead bodies in our homes.

Our dark future never lightened by the Sri-Lankan Government or human rights activists especially Tamil human rights activists or any armed groups or any international peace keepers, who claim to be the representatives to protect innocent civilians and children. Our terrifying memories of bloody childhood painted as terrorism and battle for ending terrorism. Human rights activists who told the world and worked to ban one of the major Tamil armed groups because they care for the children especially the children who had been recruited forcibly, and the civilians whom the group were using as human shields are now ignoring and are failing to protect the very children and innocent people they talked about incessantly.

Today the world is celebrating the World Refugee Day – Real People, Real Needs

Today the world is celebrating the World Refugee Day to voice the refugees and care for them with the theme being real people, real needs. But our wounds and needs are being buried in our back yards, in our streets, in internment camps, in Sri-Lanka and also in United Nations and other world leaders. LINK 1, LINK2

  • The international community should not allow the Sri Lankan Government to continue to kill the innocent Tamils. International community should pressure and take any necessary action under the Geneva Convention to protect refugees in those internment camps and monitor the refugee camps to prevent thousands of deaths of innocent civilians now and in the future.
  • Human Rights measures should be in place by electing representation from different countries and organizations especially with women’s involvement to implement real human rights and document the killings and humanitarian crisis that has been and is being buried in those homes and internment camps.
  • The International Community should prioritize their focus on the real people with real needs who are being held in those refugee camps. So the innocent civilians have the right to move back to their ancestral homes and join families without paying any money to any armed groups or the government. The working class should have the same rights as anybody else.
  • International community and the humanitarian organizations should understand that this is not just affecting people from Sri-Lanka. But that it’s also affecting their citizens and residents who contribute labour, tax and build communities. In order to provide safe and healthier community in Sri Lanka and everywhere else where Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala people and workers are living. There should be a commitment for long term solution with out guns and bombs and torture and dead bodies in our homes, streets, schools, hospitals, church, temples and refugee camps.

Nothing became our rights without  a fight for the directly affected, the working class and women. We will continue to raise our voices louder than ever until your foot print feels our wounds.

By Regi David, Toronto, June 20, 2009:

Don’t Test the colour of my blood, I also, will be destroyed.

But even then, the colour of my blood is red, just like yours, my friend.