According to channel 4 approximately 20,000 people have been killed in the final battle between LTTE and Sri Lankan army. There are reports that from more than 300,000 IDPs ‘13,000 people are missing from their camps in Sri Lanka‘. Innercitypress, an UN watchdog, comments that this information is being downplayed by UN.
‘Aid workers forced to leave Sri Lanka under strict new visa rules‘ says a Timesonline report dated June 3, 2009. While access to many IDP camps are still not possible for the international journalists and aid workers, and the information are being suppressed, it is hard to hear the voices from these IDP camps.
Regini David, a human rights, women and workers’ rights activist, has been working with vulnerable people for the past 23 years. In her blog, ‘Unheard Voices‘, she has started writing about the very unheard voices from Sri Lanka, voices of the people she worked with. Her extensive experience includes her work in ‘Poorani Women's Centre’, Jaffna, Sri Lanka. She chronicles one of her personal experiences in ‘Our lost dark nights of war in Sri Lanka: Women and rape‘.
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 traveling 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.
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.
Worse is that these women will continue to be affected by their experiences, says Regini:
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.
Washinton Post's Emily Wax wrote ‘Privacy Goes Public in Sri Lanka – During Military Checks, Modesty Is a Casualty‘ in March, 2009 confirming about these violations in the name of control. Alex Crawford of Sky News, UK wrote of ‘Claims Of Abuse In Sri Lankan Refugee Camps‘ on May 21, 2009 with an accompanying video.
Regini David, in her post titled ‘Buried for years in our backyards: Stories of Rape, Hunger, and Death from SriLankan Tamil Women‘ talks about her personal experience in a camp in the childhood and how these stories are buried:
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.
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.
Protesting the silence of international community Britain's Tim Martin, a former aid worker has been on a hunger strike for the past 15 days in London, which has gone almost unreported in the mainstream media.
The war has ended but threats to free speech still persist in Sri Lanka. A reputed journalist Sunanda Deshapriya quotes ‘Reporters Sans Frontiers’ in his post titled ‘Journalists trying to cover fate of Tamils threatened, obstructed- RSF‘. Meanwhile, J.S. Tissainayagam, mentioned by President Obama in a statement released on May 1, 2009 in honor of World Press Freedom Day still languishes in jail.
Another Sri Lanka journalist, ‘a Sinhalese this time was attacked‘ says CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists. A Sri Lankan rights group had also received some threats the day after the journalist was attacked. ‘Stark warnings for those seen traitors in Sri Lanka‘ says Reuters.
So do all these impact on the normalization of the situation? Udara Soysa comments that the Sri Lankan Govt's conduct on IDPs will determine the future Sinhala-Tamil relationship‘.