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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Monday, October 03, 2005

Tragedy beyond compare

The Island: 25/09/2005" By Namini Wijedasa

The lives of some human beings are too tragic to even contemplate. Trapped in a cycle of birth and death, they grapple to survive with a grief so acute that it leaves them questioning their very existence.

Koneshwari Kiripeswaran stares out the door of the tsunami camp, eyes heavy with sadness. Nothing remains of her home in the village of Thiruchenthur. Her four-year-old daughter is dead, killed by the waves. Her parents are dead; they too had been swallowed by the swelling sea.

Her husband is also gone, shot by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the self-professed sole representatives of the Tamil people. "I have nobody," she said, blandly, speaking through a translator.

Koneshwari is 36-years-old. She lives at the Paddy Marketing Board warehouse in Batticaloa. She has no job and is supported by other friends at the camp. They had been neighbours back then`85 when their village was still standing and when little Vithuja was still alive.

"She was only four," said Koneshwari, the inevitable tears springing to her eyes. "I was carrying her on my shoulders as I ran but when the sea came, I couldn’t hold on to her."

They found Vithuja’s body at the morgue. They also stumbled across the bloated corpses of Koneshwari’s parents. Ironically, it was more than what hundreds of other people could wish for — most of them could find no remains of their loved ones.

The tragedy caused Alagiah Kiripeswaran, Koneshwari’s 37-year-old husband, to come rushing back to Sri Lanka from his job in Qatar. A former member of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), he had left the country in search of a new life.

"He left PLOTE," Koneshwari said. "He wanted to live a normal life. But he knew that he was under threat. Once, in 2002, they (LTTE) summoned him to their camp but he didn’t go because he was scared they would kill him."

Alagiah secured a job as a domestic driver and left for Doha. He worked there for one year and three months, before the tsunami swept him back to Sri Lanka. "He was sending money for us and we were able to build our house," Koneshwari noted, relating a common enough tale.

Distraught and anxious, Alagiah returned on December 27 with Rs 400,000 in hand. Much of it was spent on funeral arrangements. Later, he and Koneshwari moved into a camp for the displaced set up at St Michael’s College, Batticaloa. They shifted again to Hindu College before moving into the Paddy Marketing Board warehouse. He was living there when he was killed, in March.

"He went out on an errand," Koneshwari said. "They shot him in front of the Batticaloa police station."

It wasn’t what Alagiah had been planning for himself. "He said he will go back to Doha for six months, to earn a little more money," Koneshwari said. "He promised to come back after six months. We needed the money because we had nothing left."

Those dreams went nowhere. Today, Koneshwari waits with 38 other families to move into temporary housing. Shelters have been erected in Thiraimadu but they have requested electricity supply from the benefactors. "The houses have been built in what was earlier a jungle area and we’re scared to take little children there because there can be snakes and other animals," explained Ahamed Sabamalai Mary, the 53-year-old acting camp leader. "We are also worried about security. The divisional secretary has promised us protection but `85"

Three men from this camp have so far been shot by the LTTE. Several children have also been taken.

Koneshwari doesn’t weep. She even wears gold jewellery. Occasionally, she stares at nothing. She appears deceptively normal. "She’s depressed," commented Mary. "She really has nobody to turn to."

"He never thought he would be killed," Koneshwari mutters, remembering her husband. "He thought humanity was alive after the tsunami."


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