Unheard Voices

Don't test the color of my blood

Situation of The Internment Camps in Vavuniya July 2, 2009

Note: I have posted some examples of the situation of  the Internment Camps in Vavuniya from a source. We hear similar stories from our families and friends. I would welcome further information that confirms or corrects this report. That we need to know what is going on in the camps, and that therefore outside observers should be let in, e.g. human rights groups and ICRC.

These are some examples of the situation of The Internment Camps in Vavuniya.

Chettikulam Internment camp consist 4 zones. Each zone has more than 20,000 – 25,000civilians. Zone 1 is the oldest of These 4 zones. Zone 4 contains the people came on last days (after May 15th) of the battle. These zone 4 people are considered as hardcore LTTE supporters or family members of LTTE cadres. Zone 1 is the best of all these zones (or hell) according to facilities available which is also below the least acceptable living standards. Ban ki moon like people visit this zone 1 and only after severe temporary face lift make ups of the camp.

Water facility is severely limited

Water facility is severely limited. Only 3 tube wells were constructed for each zone. No pipe lines. Water has to be collected for drinking or toilets or washing clothes from these wells and they have to use these wells to bath too. People cannot get required volume of water. People are always dehydrated. (Feeding mothers cannot give breast feeding due to dehydration.) These wells are situated in open space. Men and women of all ages have to use this to bath. When young girls taking bath all security personnel who are free of duty will take seats around these wells and watch. There is one canal going along these zones which channels water from a tank to fields. Some people use this to bath. But this goes by zone 1 then zone 2 then zone 3, as so on. So zone 4 people have to use the water that all three zone people have already washed. When the water reach zone 3, 4 it stinks.

Toilets are also not enough

Toilets are also not enough. People start to make queue from 4am. Waiting will go on beyond 9 / 10am. If people are in hurry they have to use bare land in front of all people and security personnel.
Tents given are very thin as they are see through on day time and specially in nights when lamps are light. In day time these tarpaulins tents are very hot. Temporary sheds are also made with tin sheets.

Peaple eat spoiled meals and get diarrhea and typhoid

People get meals as parcels. Breakfast come around 9 – 11am. Lunch arrives not before 4pm. Quality is very poor. Not only the quality, but due to the delay all most all of the time meals are spoiled. But people have no choice they have to eat it as there are no alternative meals. There are no special meals for infants and kids. Even one year toddler has to eat same meal. Many of the kids still refuse to eat these meals and becoming malnourished. Even who eat get diarrhea and typhoid.

prostitution for getting some money to buy food for their kids

Sinhala business men bring goods in Lorries and sell in the camps but many people has no money to buy even for their kids. In order to buy some biscuits or some other thing to give to eat to their kids many young mothers who lost their husbands were persuaded for prostitution by security personnel for one hundred rupees. This prostitution for getting some money to buy food for their kids is very common and very much open to public awareness.

People have to be always in queue throughout the day. Queue to use toilet, fetch water, bath, get meals, and get treatment. If one was delayed in getting treatment he will lose all other provisions.

People are getting sick very often

People are getting sick very often. Few doctors go to see the people as OPD patients. Even these doctors were under surveillance during their visit by Intelligence officers. The queue will be too long. Some Acting Physicians are also going. These doctors are Tamils. If they think a person need a hospital admission patient has to be sent to the medical coordinator of the zone with a transfer form. The coordinator has the power to reject or authorize the transfer of that patient according to his knowledge. These coordinators are not only always Sinhalese but also they are people from the batch who has just finished their internships and waiting for their post intern appointment. These juniors even reject consultants’ transfer requests. They said that army officers asked to restrict the number of transfers of IDPs. Now some coordinators are getting Rs.500 – 1000 as bribe from the patients for authorizing transfers. After their approval people will be transferred by ambulances or by buses. On the way to Vavuniya there is a main check post. That check point camp has one military doctor. If he was in the check post while these buses or ambulances were taking patients he will re – scrutinize the transfers. He is lack in clinical medical knowledge. During early part of this month two children transferred to Vavuniya GH for management of pneumonia were send back to camp as no need for transfer by this military doctor were died even before the ambulance reach back the camp. Even after this incident he is still taking decision on transfers.

even children are dying in high numbers

Before mid of May most of the deaths were among elderly people in these camps. But now even children are dying in high numbers. Also Within 18 days of this month Vavuniya hospital has 5 maternal deaths among IDP population. Last year Jaffna hospital had only 2 maternal deaths and those are also unpreventable.

neonatal deaths and maternal mortality are very much higher than any other war torn countries

When neonates and mothers send back to camps after delivery significant number of babies die during neonatal period.
Vavuniya GH only receives daily 10 to 25 corpses from Internment camps. Among the deaths are neonates, infants, children and elderly people are most in number. There are only 272,000 people are living in these internment camps. For this population this amount of morbidity and mortality is very much high. We don’t know there are any other places they are sending dead bodies. Patients are transferred to other hospitals too. These rates of neonatal deaths and maternal mortality are very much higher than any other war torn countries in the world. One who analyses these statistics must also compare the statistics of Vanni before this displacement. Even with all medical restrictions imposed by the government those vital statistics(Health Indices)are much better than many other South Asian countries.
The most prevalent illnesses among these internment camp people are
1. Chicken pox
2. Typhoid
3. Typhoid complication such as perforation
4. Pneumonia – mostly in children and elderly
5. Pneumonia complications such as even pyo thorax – most children die from pneumonia almost always had pyo thorax.
6. Malnutrition

Camps for prisoners who are militants and who the army things as militants

There are camps for prisoners who are militants and who the army things as militants. These camps are separated from others. Some camps are under ICRC visit schedules. Many are not allowed for ICRC visits. Even in the camps ICRC knows, there are hidden sections where prisoners kept secretly. These prisoners not known by ICRC. Prisoners frequently beaten. When they get ill only a doctor among them can treat them. If someone becomes more ill, an outside doctor will be called. He/she can prescribe more medication. But there is no chance of transferring them to hospital. So they must get well with the drugs or have to die.

Patients all over the wards

In GH Vavuniya, there are patients all over the wards on the beds, under beds, between the beds, on corridors, on waiting halls, duty rooms, under the trees, etc. Patients will grab your legs when you go by the ways and beg you for food, money, dress etc. you can see lot of children getting treatment without any by standers as they don’t have one.
The Vavuniya hospital actually needs more men and material, Even though the number of patients transferred is restricted by Sinhala doctors who are coordinators for the camps and by the military doctors it is very high.
Some Sinhala Doctors, many Police and many Army personnel are demanding for bribe from people who are in the camps and who are visiting to the camps. To see people, to get approval for transfers, even to give a lift in their vehicle inside the camps (camps are very large –may take more than two hours to cross the camps from bottom to the visitors area).
People are provided with at least some ‘food’ and some ‘water’. Nothing provided by the government other than these meals and water. But for all other thing that they need to have for living they need money. Most of them don’t have any money in hand to buy the other necessary things and even to bribe the police and army. This leads them to beg, and some ladies go for prostitution with army and police.

families separated between camps

There are families separated between camps. Even children are separated from parents. There are no any mechanisms in practice to find the missing parents, kids or relatives and reunite them. ICRC was not allowed to enter or take any information from these camps. They are allowed to go only to some prisoner camps.

Courts ordered to hand over Orphan children from camps to two approved orphanage homes of Vavuniya few weeks back. But presidential secretariat informed not to release and they said that they will be adopted by the first lady and will be taken to some area in South. The children are still suffering in the camps.
The children from ‘Senjcholai’ are not seen. People from Vanni said they have surrendered with the employees worked there to the forces. There are some rumors they were detained in Omanthai.

no recorded data about the people residing in the camps available other than army

There are no recorded data about the people residing in the camps available other than army. So people gone missing cannot be found whether they stayed in a particular camp.

UN workers are going in to the camps in restricted manner but they are not saying anything to outside world

UN workers are going in to the camps in restricted manner but they are not saying anything about the situation they are seeing in the camps to outside world.

There were more than 335,000 people in Vanni. But now only 272, 000 were reached Vavuniya. No one knows anything about the rest. Some friends of Sathiyamoorthy and Varatharajan the heroic duo said while they were in Vanni told media only about the deaths they were sure. These two and some other Doctors who were there till those last days did magnificent and brave job that Tamil history cannot forget. These doctors about 06 – 07 in number were held in Colombo. Except three(Sathiyamoorthy, Sanmugarajah and Varatharajan), details of others are not published by government.

equal to Nazi concentration camps

These camps are not IDP camps or not even internment camps but they are equal to Nazi concentration camps. There are no gas chambers. But people are allowed to die naturally. Or if saying correctly the circumstances are purposefully created to hasten the death of the inmates. The situation is more than a hell described in the Hindu Puranas.

Our people are going to die in these camps

Our people are going to die in these camps. Only those who survived from these camps will be resettled but not in their lands but where the government wants to settle. Now the officials are saying only a very small fraction of people of Vanni have own lands and others lived only in government (Permit) lands. (This number is not correct). So the people those who have not own a piece of land cannot ask to be settle in the lands where they lived before the displacement. So the demography of the Vanni is going to be changed.


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.


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.


Our lost dark nights of war in Sri Lanka: Women and rape May 28, 2009

I feel frozen. My neck is starting to tighten and my heart is beating like a drum. I don’t know why. I thought the memories are erased but it is not. It is buried in me and in many other women. Our eyes are telling so many stories. No one can read or listen or hear but as sisters we feel the pain and the fear among us.

Each time the sounds of the guns come closer to me, my body is shaking and we ran and ran to the place where there is no smell of the army. Each time we hear the news that army is coming closer I wanted to crawl and hide my face between my legs in the dark corner.

When we heard the noise of the army boots, my mother scuffled our hair and asked us daughters to wear clothes that covered our bodies fully with long gowns as many other mothers. My mother put me and my sisters inside the cupboard and  under the bed as her hands are shaking and her eyes are watering with fear. Her hands are tied as her options are blocked to save their daughters.

We learnt when we hide we get assaulted, so we decided to stay together but they the terrifying men selected us by the look of our body and asked to go to the rooms for check up  with them. With their gun inside our mouth they tested if our breast are bombs or if we carry guns in our vagina. Our voice were blocked inside the gun barrel stuck inside mouth. Our body become the frozen ice as blood became frozen inside our body as our eyes were looking for help. There is no rule or hands to wipe our tears of blood. We let our entire body to be frozen.   There are so many tests happened to my friends and sisters like this but we keep quite and only told our mothers.

Our mothers kept quite to save our fathers and brothers life as they would be killed if they asked questions as many times our fathers and brothers think that they are responsible for us.  On the way to school and to home, passing that army camp is not easy or safe. Our bodies got frozen as they checked our bras and between our thighs. Our brothers and fathers were beaten up and taken to their custody for speaking for us. I saw my sisters peeing on the streets as they were checked out and assaulted. We pass the sentry point as we pray the God. Even the God did not hear our cries or wounds.

Each time the army capture our homes(space) many of our sisters bodies are destroyed, assaulted, raped, killed and targeted as war tools to celebrate their victories. Our future turn dark. Many of my sisters quit school and we stayed home avoid the army and the camps.

Our homes are checked on a daily basis especially if there are women. Each time they check, they assault us by saying they are checking to see if we are terrorists and have any thing inside our clothes. Some of our sisters get raped too.

Our Tamil armed group brothers of freedom fighters who helped the army watched us being sexually assaulted; but some I saw had tears in their eyes as their hands are tied.

The army did not even leave me as a 13 years old or my sister who is 6 years old. My  sisters’ bodies got frozen and never talk about any thing. Our mothers told us not to say any thing to our neighbors or the world as she did not trust the world and worried that our future will be destroyed as we were told. One  day a sister from our neighborhood committed  suicide. We asked what happened, the parents kept quite. Later my mother told me that she was raped and killed herself as she does not want to see this terrifying world. We know so many sisters’ disturbing stories are buried in our backyard and in our streets.

As Tamil women, we were raised to not talk about our sexuality or our body as women. It is a secret. And we were brought up with a sense of shame to openly speak about our bodies.  We did not even talk about our sexual issues infront our fathers or brothers. We were told  that without virginity our lives are over.

I saw so many of them and still feel the wounds as someone who have worked in many villages and in Poorani  Women Centre. Poorani Women Centre is the first women centre that gave space to say and build hope for women who are being affected by (raped women, lost parents, lost homes, other…..). Working class women were in more vulnerable situation as we did not hold any status or contacts or as only we acted as with feelings and our voice already in the bottom of the agenda in our society.

I was involved from day one on as committee member and then staff at Poorani. It was seeded by Pat Ready who was a Burgher women who lived in England and Dr. Rajini Thiranagama and many others. As someone who was part of Poorani from the beginning and as someone who translated and communicated  the stories of rape  and their dark life to Pat Ready. I got to know more unheard voices which are still echoing in my ears during IPKF arrival for to bring so called peace.

Sothi(not real name)

“ they destroyed my life. Ariyandom, ariyandom. (dirty, dirty)” Her words hide from her mouth as she was trying to re-live and her body shakes.

“7 army tied me up on the bed. Both my legs and arms are tied…”

I did not want to hear any longer and stopped translating as women we feel and connect. She continued to stammer while her words get lost in her tummy.

“All 7 raped me until my vagina got trashed.”

She was pregnant  which she even did not know until we asked her and had to go through abortion.

“I do not want the child. I will kill the child if I had him.” Thanks to God it was not too late to do abortion.

As we hugged her, Sothi’s story went into my blood and touched and tore my heart. Seeing her washing her hands and feet all the time and screaming at sleep, feeling lost, I wanted to be with her and other women who are in same situation. I quit my school and forgot my age as teenager, as my life was full of these stories.

Another women who had passed the abortion deadline and could not accept her pregnancy or the baby, kicked her stomach to take revenge on the baby. She eat green Papaya and other medicine to kill the baby. But the baby was born. As the baby lay crying for milk, she refused to even see him or feed him. The Indian Peace Keeper destroyed the peace in this woman and her child, like many other women and children to prove their victory.

I can go on and on about women who have lost their hope and their self due to rape and effect of war. Poorani gave a space for women and gave hope. It was destroyed by the Tamil armed group to take over the power of the centre.

After that many women went in many different directions. Some women who had families went to their family and got married. Some of the raped women joined the LTTE as black tigers.

Few years later, Sothi’s destroyed body was given to my mother in a bag as she had requested and felt that she was part of our family. I do not know what happened to other sisters, therefore, defeating the LTTE and killing them does not make me happy or enjoy their deaths as they are my sisters, friends, classmates, neighbours and fellow human beings  even though they have chosen different path.

Even at the Poorani, in the beginning the army came into our bedroom and watched while we were changing clothes, taking bath, in wash-rooms day and nights until the authorities were challenged by us, especially Pat Ready and Rajini.

There are many dark nights that our eyes were not closed and our bodies were frozen:

Example: One day Pat Ready and I went to the army camp and informed Captain George that we are a non-violent group and his soldiers should not come to our centre, especially inside without permission. Pat told him that she will be travelling to Colombo and asked him to tell his army to not to come to our centre or frighten the women who are living there. She informed him that if proper action is not taken, she would report to the International Community. He agreed and came to see and toured the centre.

The day Pat left, Captain George came to our doors at late night, drunk with his gun slung over his shoulder. We had hired a new administrator from Jaffna University.  As soon as we saw Army Captain and his gun, many women and my sisters who came to visit the centre on that day and my grandmother hide themselves under the bed and in rooms. The administrator and two other women tried to talk to him while the Tamil armed group who came with him waited outside. I hid myself behind the front door. The administrator started to talk. George was asking all the questions as he pretended not to know any information about the centre. He requested her to take him to show the place that we are going to use for nursery which was filled with bushes and was dark. The administrator started to shake and cry but her feet were moving. I know why he asked her and what he wanted. I came out and said “Hi Captain George! Why do you want to see again. You came here before and were informed that you and your group cannot come here. Why are you here?” He was startled to see me there. He said that he was just checking to see if we are all safe. I said if there were any problem, we would inform and requested him to leave. He  left. Even though I was so terrified and shaking, I had to do this to save our sisters and me. I felt very strong at that time even though I did not belong to the same status as Dr.Rajini and Pat and was very young at that time. I spoke out for the first time against an army and have never seen even my mother or neighbours challenge the army.

That night, we slept in one of our neighbor’s house. The old woman had asthma. So many boots walked in the SARUHUKAL (dry leaves) and kicked Poorani’s doors throughout the night. The sound squeezed our hearts. The old women, our neighbour’s asthma started acting up  and she could not breath. She was making so much noise, we had to hold her mouth and block her breathing on and off to save all of us. That night our eyes did not close. I can not explain the fear and sorrow till the boots and the smell left us that morning.

Our nights continued to be full of these stories for years. We never wanted to live with those boots and gun and smell of army. But the Tamil human rights activists, media and the International Community talk about how some of our brothers and sisters being kept as human shields. But they buried our feelings and fears and our belonging in their reports as women, especially as working class women who do not have contacts, wealth or education. Our fearful faces and nights of terrors buried in our villages. We never wanted to pass this army camp even if we had to pass to save our lives, lives of our children.


I was told by a trusted source close to me, that women are being raped and have disappeared. Families are being separated on the way to safe zone. This information  would not be new to most of us, as we see reports everyday.

“A woman was raped by 26 army on the way to safe zone and her vagina and uterus were torn to shreds. She did not tell any one but her pain brought the truth to attention, but she does not want to say anything to anyone.”

Our wounds hidden and buried in the safe zone are slowly emerging.

Continuing effects in diaspora:

It did not stop. We, as women carry the dirt feeling and effect with us everywhere we go. I have counseled many women who do not want to let their husbands touch  their bodies. And their voice is again buried within themselves as they were afraid that they would be abandoned by their husbands and society.

As we shared our stories among us and see the injustice and cruelty, my voice got stronger with other sisters voice.

I have my own stories. But, I could not just only see my pain alone as there are unbearable  pain in scores of women and innocent terrifying experience..

We cannot let any longer let our voice and open wound be ignored. we cannot any longer let the torn vaginas and uterus be ignored. We cannot any longer allow powerful men to use our bodies as tools for their victories.

As Tamils, as human rights activists, as international representatives, as human rights and aid organizations, as humans we have a basic duty, to follow and make changes in these innocent lives, to save their future. Some of the ways we need to immediately address are,

  • send – DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) as they did during Tsunami
  • Should push UN and international community to stand firm and stop the killing, rape, disappearance and torture of innocent civilians and provide basic humanitarian aid.
  • Speak for innocent civilians and should pressure other countries to follow international law to stop the killing, rape, disappearance and torture of innocent civilians.
  • Canada and other countries have to get involved in finding a REAL permanent solution to save many innocent lives in Sri Lanka by organizing a real peace talk by clearly telling the Sri Lankan government that there would be repercussions such as economic and political sanctions.
  • By facilitating a real dialogue between all parties.
  • Most importantly women from the grass root level, who are the most affected has to be part of the discussion and decision making.
  • Let our families and children to live where they grew up, away from the camps.

Until the real solution touches us, our lives remains dark.

By Regi David, Toronto,  May 27, 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.


Culture, Class and Resistance of the Tamil Working Class in Toronto – a presentation May 27, 2009

Note: This is the presentation I gave at the Tamil Studies Conference, Toronto 2009. The formal paper might be published later.

This paper is based on field research and work done with the Workers Action Centre in Toronto and particularly by Tamil activists and workers. Through this paper I explore the issues facing labour changes keeping large numbers of immigrant Tamils in Ontario trapped. I present cases of systemic racism, working below the poverty line, and vulnerable and unstable employment. Furthermore, I will discuss the cultural norms formed in Sri Lanka which affect workers in Toronto, such as accepting hierarchy and authority without questions.  One of the important issues I want to address is the barriers facing Tamil working class here, especially systemic discrimination and language barriers.

This paper also explores how Tamil workers developed their own forms and practices of resistance, challenging both the system and the discrimination of mainstream Canadian society. It tracks the growth of this resistance and shows how apparently powerless Tamil workers strive to create a new home in the unlikely space of poverty in Toronto.

Most of the Tamils from Sri Lanka come to Toronto as refugees fleeing the war. However like many other immigrants, Tamils even if they have high education or experience end up with low-paid and precarious employment and have to work through TEMP agencies to get the Canadian experience and to feed their families. This happens even to those who are highly educated and skilled like Doctors, Engineers from our countries whose qualifications are not recognized here.

In 1999, when I was with Toronto Organizing For Fair Employment, we (TOFFE) interviewed over 200 workers in contingent jobs. We found that the majority of workers we interviewed were immigrant workers among whom most were Sri Lankan Tamils.  Nearly 70% earned less than $1500 per month, and that time the minimum wage was frozen under Mike Harris’ government for years, which was $6000 below the poverty level. So, people had to work 2 – 3 jobs just to meet their basic needs.

Many women who came to Toronto, entered the labour market for the first time in their lives, where they worked alongside men and people of different cultures and languages. They were particularly vulnerable to exploitation.  Many of them were not aware of their basic rights. For example:

There was a woman I worked with, who called me for help to if she could get some financial assistance as she had she could not pay the bills and had a baby. I assumed that she would have claimed Employment Insurance benefit. I found out that she did not even know that she is eligible for EI benefit, for which she had contributed while working for a year. We were able to backdate her claim and get all the money for a year. Without our help and not knowing the system, having the language barrier, she would have just lost her basic rights to the benefit.

According to Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 72% of women who were low-paid in 1996 were still low-paid in 2001.

Tamil working men and women are also often disabled by the cultural norms we bring with us.  To begin with, there is a hierarchy in most societies, especially in the Tamil society of the so-called mainstream class of society of lawyers, doctors, teachers and their families and the working class. The mainstream class and even our own working class does not value the labour and dignity of working class Tamils who slave away in factories, and in industries. There is a sense of shame that is internalized by workers who are cleaners or delivering newspapers.

Without us workers, the cleaning workers, the dishwashers, servers, paper delivery people, hotel workers, and factory workers there is no economy.  Yet our labour, our struggle will never find a place in the awards ceremonies in our own Tamil community.

Take me for an example.

n      1994, I was a board member for a reputed Women’s group.

n      Stood up for an injustice; challenged & spoke out against an action that could destroy the centre and harm the people who come there.

n      A fellow board member, a famous, formally educated feminist, a well known Tamil woman in the community, said: “You should get an education and learn English before speaking out. You don’t know anything…” she dismissed all my years of work and activism because I couldn’t speak  so called proper English.

n      But I did not stop. I brought the issue I was fighting for, and it was addressed because it was valid, whether I spoke proper English or not.

Just think about it, if this is happening to me in a women’s group, how other women could be putdown and not respected because of education, class and culture that has oppressed the working class for years.

We are raised in Sri Lanka to be respectful to social hierarchy and not question authority. Tamil workers transferred this attitude of not questioning hierarchy to their employers here, even when the employers exploited them.

For example:

n      2 WSIB workers – 1 cut off fingers, 1 cut off toes

n      when I asked have you filed WSIB claim?

n      Their response: “how can we do that, that feels like betraying our good employer who helped us for 2 months.”

n      This is certainly not a work ethic or an attitude found among “mainstream” workers.

These workers are also targeted for exploitation because of their ethnic difference and lack of language skills.  Employers assume that they will not complain or fight back.  They were frequently paid less than the minimum wage, less than other workers from other communities, and were frequently passed over for promotion.  From my experience as an organizer for the past 17 years in Canada working with many different communities, most of the low income Tamil workers who contacted me kept working for minimum wage and continue to face exploitation in many different work places where most of other mainstream workers moved on and found jobs with higher pay and better working conditions. Women are in more vulnerable situation. This is because of the language barrier, discrimination against our skin color and gender difference.

People work in these conditions because they have no choice, they need to pay their basic needs else they will end up on the streets.

As new immigrants they simply cannot take this risk. The structural changes in labour protection and minimum wage and their desperation as refugees led to Tamil workers being among the most exploited and among those who made up a large bulk of “racialized working poor.”

According to ‘Working on the Edge’ 2007 report by the Workers’ Action Centre, many immigrants work in precarious employment and earn low wages and their basic rights were violated under the employment standard act. Especially Temp workers who are treated as second class workers and they are paid 40% less than other workers who do the same work.


However, the story is not only one of exploitation and suffering but also of resistance and mobilizing for change. Here we could draw on alternative cultural norms and values that we brought with us.

There is one particular campaign by Tamil workers that I wish to highlight, as it allows us to see the difficulties of the structural and systemic challenges facing workers.  This was the campaign of workers, mostly Tamil, who delivered newspapers for a major newspaper in toronto.  In 2000, there were over 2,000 workers delivering papers.  80% of these were workers of color, and a large number of were Tamils.

–          Workers were paid $4 an hour

–          pick up papers from open parking lots between 2-5 a.m, both summer or winter

–          for many, this was the first or the last job of the day, in addition to two other jobs they do.

–          The Newspaper claimed to be Canada’s “progressive” newspaper. yet it was the working class, refugees, migrants and other racialized workers who paid the cost.

–          2,000 workers stood up to police, their bosses and threw the newspaper all over streets of Scarborough.

–          Scarborough was the strongest district of the resistance, as it had a majority of Tamil workers.

–          The power that comes from years of struggling in oppression is uncontrollable when it breaks out and runs like a river.

–          That day, the white-collar managers and office people of the Newspaper had to clean Scarborough’s streets of their newspapers, and they had to listen to their delivery workers.  In their first attempt, workers were able to unionize for 4 months and get settlements, and in their 2nd attempt, with the Workers Action Centre, in 2006, they were able to secure compensation for gas money, for wait times, and an increase in piece-work wages.

–          But the corporate world does everything it can to stop our resistance. The Newspaper sub-contracted itself, so that it could escape its responsibilities towards those who deliver its papers.

–          But the unity of those workers is still strong, and most of these workers are Tamil.

A second significant example is the role of Tamil workers in the campaign against the minimum wage that was frozen for 9 years.

We organised a campaign in 2005 to raise the minimum wage to the poverty level:

The Workers Action Centre, and the Tamil workers who constituted the largest group among its members campaigned for 3 years to raise the minimum wage.   They spoke to the media, they challenged MPP’s, and demanded that the minimum wage had to be raised to poverty level.  They have slowly been able to push to have the minimum wage from $6.85 to $9.50 by March 31, 2009 and would be raised to $10.25 by March 2010.  While not as far as we want, it nevertheless represents a significant victory for Tamil workers and all other workers in Ontario.

In the minimum wage campaign, every worker who spoke out to media, MPP, ministry of labour and in public were Tamil. They also challenged the media who wanted to portray the working class as poor only. Moreover, we made a remarkable change for the rights of Temp workers. (Some photos taken by John Bonn, titled ‘Workers’ Action Centre ‘Bad Boss’ Bus Tour‘)

We had to raise our a voice louder than ever during this campaign to be heard. Many times, our voice and concerns were undermined, not respected like the others. When we speak in a loud voice people were forced to listen. Loud voice, some may feel as too loud. But, voice is our only tool and strength we have.

I am proud to say these are victories of the Working class in Toronto, and especially of the Tamil workers, breaking the barriers of culture and class. These history making changes were made possible by Tamil workers who have fought hard to bring change for all the workers of Ontario along with others.

In these struggles, Tamil workers who used to passively accept authority and injustice, and who were sometimes ashamed of their work, silently accepting racism have now gone on to fight back, resist, mobilize and make change for not only themselves but everyone in Ontario.

Tamil workers, yes, the cleaners, the dish washers, the cooks, the hotel workers, the factory workers, the newspaper carriers and other general laborers. We have overcome the barriers of class and culture that has undermined our skills and respect for years.

Most of the changes all around the world has happened because of the workers resistance against oppression. The Tamil community, should learn and respect all different jobs and respect our children’s decisions in their future occupations even if they want to be labourers, because it is the working class that builds this economy. As workers, again, we have to be proud of our skills and contribution and the changes that we have made.

Note: How our family structure and education system, and suppresion of women in our culture contrubutes to vulnerable working situation in Canada was discussed by Lucya P, a former temp. worker. The rest of the paper will published soon here.


Buried for years in our backyards: Stories of Rape, Hunger, and Death from SriLankan Tamil Women May 25, 2009

The smell of the army boots, the gun, never our friend

I became an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) when I was just 13 years old. Our house was bombed out. We did not know where to go. We ran and ran. The stench of corpses was everywhere. They were not just dead bodies. They were my uncles, sisters, friends and neighbours.

My mother asks me to close my eyes. I keep seeing the gun that pointed at my face. I see my sister frozen with fear of being raped. I see us running into the church. I see my neighbours crawling without legs. I see people’s feet, stepping over small babies. I see infants crying to awaken their dead parents. I see the pregnant mother running, to save herself and the unborn baby in her stomach. And I see her shatter in an explosion near the church. I see her two legs quivering in pieces on the soil. I see the fragments of shells, raining down to destroy me, to destroy my mother.

We are all packed in a small tiny space, our neighbourhood church. Hundreds of families, thousands seek here. There is no place to sit here. I just sit in one place for five days. I want to stretch myself and go to sleep. I am numb all over. There’s nowhere to even stretch my arms. Five days, I stand or sit, circulating blood. I cried for food and water, as many other children around me did. Our mothers could only give us their tears. Our fathers were nowhere to be seen. Our brothers were taken away by the army. My sisters were hidden under their folded arms, numb with fear. My uncles went with the priest to help the wounded and take the dead bodies to the cemetery as there were dead bodies everywhere. That was the last I saw of my uncles. It was the priest whose white tunic turned red, who tried to console us saying that he had to put my uncles too in the bullock-cart, they had used to send the bodies to be buried. My uncles were killed in the shell bombing while they were helping others. I never had a chance to say goodbye. We screamed and screamed until our throats went dry. No one heard our voices.

The Sri Lankan Government told the world that my uncles are safe… The Sri Lankan government told the world that my sisters did not get raped. They told the world that it was not true. But the truth is they are all gone.

Our stories are buried in our backyards, but our nights are full of these stories.

On seeing the bloodshed of innocent people, I decided to work with the community of people who most needed it. I worked in the community at the grassroots level with women raped and affected by war in many villages around Jaffna and continued my work in the first twelve refugee camps in Colombo during the 1990s.

I still recall vividly life as a community worker in the refugee camps.

I heard many voices of innocent, helpless civilians who lost their loved ones on their way to the camps. Women’s silent cries at being raped on their way to the camp. Mothers crying over their lost and disappeared children. Scattered families who had to leave behind loved ones who did not want to leave their homes, neighbourhoods they grew up in, friends, schools, temples, fields and trees even when their lives were in danger. My family was one of them. I saw entire communities of Muslims being uprooted from Jaffna with unbearable sorrow in their hearts.

But after all this struggle to reach the “safety” of the refugee camps, more struggle awaited us.

The refugee camps were packed to explode. People just had space only to lie down in the vast open halls of former schools and community centers.

People were lining for washrooms. When people had diarrhea, the last piece of cloth they had were most of the time soiled. And they had to keep wearing them until or if  some help arrives. There were many contagious diseases such as rashes, dysentery, and malaria in these refugee camps which kept recurring again and again.

Armed Tamil groups who were given responsibility over the camps by the government misused their power over the innocent helpless civilians. I saw old men who went to get fresh air, escaping the fetid air in the camps get beaten up until they coughed up blood, by one of the main leaders of the Tamil armed groups for returning after 6 PM. When people speak out, they disappear the next day. Young women and men were watched constantly. The people in these camps were not allowed to return to their neighbourhoods or communities that they grew up in, even if the wanted to. For some people, there was no place to return because of the bombs. People were afraid to speak freely about even regular happenings. There was so much loss and sorrow they could not even think about it, as it filled them up. Many times, when I gave counselling, people were bottled up with unshed tears and pain. It took me a lot of time to build trust. The counselling had to happen inside the camps surrounded by the Tamil armed groups, which kept most of them silent. People were kept in the refugees camps for months without being allowed outside. Even children! Our future is lost in the refugee camps in our own lands.

I had to fight for months with the Tamil armed groups for permission to take the children and families out for a few hours to conduct a trauma workshop. However, I could not continue to just do my set out tasks. I went further and beyond my limitations and asked questions and challenged the authority of the Tamil armed groups. So, I was targeted and was put in jail for 12 days with my family and friends, under the Sri Lankan emergency law just because I spoke out. I was able to get out of the jail only with the support of the international aid community. If they had not come to my aid, my family and I would have lost our lives as many Tamils have.

The international community should not wait to pressure for answers from Sri-Lankan government during disasters because the Sri-Lankan government does not listen or follow international law. This is clear from how the Sri Lankan government is not even allowing the UN to send aid, or the aid agencies to provide much needed relief for the 300,000 innocent civilians caught in the camps. The Sri Lankan government is not even letting in the international media. The international community has to act now and not just send requests as it has done for months. Otherwise many more thousands of innocent lives will be destroyed forever.

Future of Tamils in Sri Lanka:

Refugee camps are not a solution as the Sri-Lankan government, other Tamil armed groups, and Tamil human rights activists would have us believe. Even the leaders and their supporters who propose all these, the question we have to ask is: would you put yourselves and your children through a refugee camp?

During the last 30 years, thousands of innocent civilians have lost their lives and homes that they keep rebuilding, along with their identities and hopes.

I can understand the feelings of this war as the 1980s, 90s and 2000s are no different. Being raped in 1990s and being raped in 2009 is not different; the agony is the same. The loss of loved ones, the hunger, the running for safety is the same then and now. Having no hands to comfort, being alone is the same in that war and this war.

The international community and the Sri Lankan government thinks that they only need food and water, a place to sleep, and medicine to heal their wounds and they can survive. Food and shelter is important, too, but that is not enough for real peace. What about their scattered families torn apart by war, the endless mourning for them, and the endless hope for a life without guns and bombs. None of this comes into the solution of a refugee camp.

Therefore, refugee camps after the mass killings of Tamils, after the torture, after the erasure of people, the refugee camps are not a solution, especially because it is the same government who kills them and their families and then offers them refuge. Where is the guarantee of real safety inside these refugee camps? As I mentioned, when I worked in the refugee camps, what I saw was nothing less than terrifying. The threats to their lives, the torture, the violence continued even inside the camps. Therefore, this is not a permanent or democratic or diplomatic solution; it is not even a solution. It will not end the war or bring peace, and any human rights activist who works without any bias or agenda except for humanitarianism would not disagree.

It is our responsibility as a Sri Lankan, as a Canadian, as a human being to support and solve the real issue for our children in the future. The powerful leaders carry out their campaigns with both guns and pens. These guns and pens bury the stories, the pain, the faces of women and working class people in their own backyards. Sometimes, Tamil human rights activists and intellectuals cover up our pain with their personal pain and loss. Our unheard voices were buried for years and continue to be buried.

The war will end and people will be in peace only if the real root of the problem is touched and addressed democratically. Banning the LTTE or defeating them or other Tamil armed groups is not a solution. The solution will be when Tamils are treated as equal citizens in a land that they have lived in for many thousands now. The solution will be when Tamils do not have to prove their belonging or their right of place in Sri Lanka. The solution will be when we all sit down and talk with an open agenda with justice in mind.

No Justice, No peace!

By Regi David, Toronto,  May 21, 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.