This war has taken the lives of tens of thousands of men, women and children. Hundreds of thousands more are displaced, and the abnormality of the war and post war situation is fast and painfully becoming normalcy to most people, some don’t and didn’t even live to see that.
Hundreds of children are being born into such conditions, by virtue of the fact that the Muslim IDP’s displaced in the early part of the conflict are still languishing in Puttalam, I won’t be surprised if a decent amount of these children born would die (possibly as adults) in the same conditions to which they were born to.
Studies suggest that post war trauma is conceivably more painful than the emotional stress suffered during war. During periods of war and despite the aggressive conditions that ensue, people subjected to these live in pain and indescribable stress. However, the hope that these abnormalities will diminish and normalcy would resume lingers on and this is a solace of sorts to those who look for solace in the most difficult of times. In a post war situation, when there is no conceivable military conflict taking place and the people continue to suffer in difficult conditions it is inevitable that post war trauma will tighten its venomous grip.
Because of its brutality, this has become the paradigm for traumatic experience, with the constant need for psychological and psychiatric help for victims long after its end.
My father was the architect for a project called ‘Food for Education’ by an Italian NGO. Thus he had to make several site visits to seventy schools in the Trincomalee District. In addition to the war, Trincomalee was also severely affected by the tsunami of 2004.
Due to poverty, lack of infrastructure, the loss of hope that school education will achieve little and for fears of safety, school attendance amongst children was very low. It was also known that malnutrition was rampant amongst these children. The project aimed to build Kitchen & Sanitation facilities in these schools and free food was distributed to students who attended school. Thus this incentive helped mitigate absenteeism of school children to a certain extent in the Trincomalee district.
I joined my father in several of his site visits and I remember going to Trincomalee at least ten times during 2005 – 2006.
In spite of all the pain and suffering that was around, the faces of the children depicted a remarkable sense of resilience to the pain they and their families endured. These children coupled with the ready and mischievous smiles in their faces disguised the very painful story many a parent I spoke to in my limited Tamil told me.
There is now an end to a military conflict, and a year has gone by. And yet, there is years of work to be done in these areas to rebuild shattered hopes, dreams and society in general. These photographs can only attempt to ask questions about and to do justice to the untold story of many a child.
If not of most, this conflict didn’t manage to wipe out the smiles of all children in conflict zones. We must ensure that they never are, at least by planned yet hastened resettlement of all affected men, women and children.
Protect Wilpattu Park and The Right of Movement of Expelled Northern Muslims
We, the undersigned organizations call on the Government to take immediate action to prevent the destruction of the Wilpattu National Park, while continuing to provide access through the road from Puttalama to Mannar via the park. We believe that through taking corrective measures the Government can ensure that both issues are addressed in order to protect the rights of the expelled Northern Muslims and the natural heritage of the area.
We call upon the Government to ensure that steps are taken to maintain an access way through the park as it is vital for civilians in the area, especially the Northern Muslim population in the area who were forcibly expelled by the LTTE in 1990. The road which was a unpaved track used by civilians in the past, is proving crucial for the return of Northern Muslims, the majority of whom were displaced in Puttalam for over twenty years. The expulsion was a painful process where the entire population was instructed to leave the area by the LTTE with only Rs 200 and they are now attempting to return and rebuild. This road provides easy access from Puttalam to Mussali in Southern Mannar as the alternate route which goes via Medawachchiya takes double the time. On humanitarian groups we are appealing to the Government and the Wildlife Authorities to allow for reasonable usage of this road. We are not asking for a new highway to be built through the park.
We are greatly disturbed by reports in the media that the Wilpattu Park is being destroyed as a result of illegal felling, mining and the construction of new roads through the park. Wilpattu Park is a unique habitat for both fauna and flora, and needs to be protected. As people of the area we recognize its value. We call on the Government to take steps to ensure the further destruction of the park is immediately stopped. We feel that a balance has to be and can be found between the demands of the people of the area and nature through preventing actions that damage the park while providing reasonable access through one road through the park. Access roads through national parks are not unusual either in Sri Lanka or internationally and we fully recognize that measures will have to be taken to ensure that the wildlife and the forest are not impacted negatively by the movement of civilians.
After twenty years of displacement and living in suffering in welfare camps in Puttalam the Northern Muslims Community now have the opportunity to return. Access through this road will be one critical step to support this process.