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.