Kandasamy’s Story

I have been living in Mullaithivu since my childhood. There used to be six members in my family, but one of my brothers died in the final phase of the conflict. Others have married and living with their own families. I am 52 years old. I have suffered many losses since my childhood. It was my childhood, particularly my school years, that gave me a lot of joyful memories. Some of those that studied with me have died in the conflict; some have migrated to and settled in foreign countries; some live in this country. Some have been suffering from illness, and some are disabled.

When I was 12 years old, war was ongoing between the LTTE and Sri Lankan armed forces. I was, at that point, living in a small village in Mullaitivu. Given that the village was very resourceful and full of green, it had many animal farms. In addition to dairy, goat and chicken farms, the wealthy farmers would cultivate almost 100 – 200 acres of land with grains such as urad dal. During 1982 and 1983, most of the farms of the Tamils were robbed by Sinhalese. Not only were the animals and goods on the farms extorted, but those that went to stop it were also subjected to attacks. As this state of things continued, villagers were compelled to move out to other areas.

During the period in which the 1983 pogrom was carried out, the Sri Lankan army, alleging that LTTE members were hiding in our village, roamed through our village several times a day, allegedly trying to capture them. After that, one by one, Sinhala settlements started to encroach upon our village. In 1984, an operation was carried out by the LTTE to remove the Sri Lankan army and the Sinhalese that had settled. Enraged Sinhala villagers came back to our village three days after the incident, searching every house in the village and seizing 32 villagers. 27 of them, with their hands cuffed, were dragged behind a workshop. They, with their hands-cuffed, were shot to death. My father was one of them. With all the young amongst the seized shot dead, those that remained were the eldest who struggled to walk. With their hands cuffed, all five of them were thrown inside a tractor box. The door of the box was thrown on top of them, and the soldiers, while standing on it, transported it to the edge of the village. A few days later, the tractor, along with the box with the elders inside, was found in a burned state that indicated they had been set on fire.

Following these mass murders, people from the villages adjacent to ours started to move out in fear. It was the continuous violence, such as murders, robbery, and rape of our women, that brought forth in us the impression that fighting for our rights was the only option. We were cornered into a situation in which, unable to continue our studies or work, we were left with no option but to fight.

With the continued fights starting from the fight with the Indian Army in 1986, the renewal of fighting with the Sri Lankan armed forces and then Operation Jayasikuru in 1996, people from our area started to move out from one place to another, ranging from Nedunkerny, Oddusuddan, Mankulam, Mallavi, Thunukkai and Vavuniya District, Mullaitivu District and Mannar District. When we were getting displaced, we did not carry with us any of the valuables or jewellery from our home; instead, we carried only those that were essential in polythene bags. In 2009, when we gradually moved from place to place, such as Mullaitivu, Mullivaikkal, Mathalan, Suthanthirapuram and Puthukudiyiruppu, the artilleries kept on firing. During the last moments of the war, when we were all stranded in Mullivaikkal, we could only move only one or two kilometres at a time. Our movement-from coincided with the places against which attacks occurred.

I was injured in a shelling incident in February 2009; my family and relatives carried me along as they moved. When we were staying safe inside a bunker in a place that we had moved to, there came from Kilinochchi six or seven families with children. The bunker that we stayed in could safely house ten individuals. My wife and I, along with our children, stayed inside. But when I saw a mother with several children standing outside the bunker, we called them to come inside the bunker for safety. The bunker, when they came in, was not large enough to hold everyone. I tried to move out to a corner to give space to the children; at that moment, I was hit by an artillery piece. I would have escaped without injuries had I not on that day shared the bunker. That would, however, have left many children dead. Nonetheless, I do not regret getting injured or spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair. If I get melancholic, I will remember the ten children that were saved.

Medicines and medical facilities were extremely limited there. Medics and government doctors treated the wounded despite shortages of medicine. In the event of a shelling attack, the paramedics rushed to the spot, treated the injured and carried out their duties with dedication, which included removing and burying the bodies of the dead. Other than saline, there were no other proper drugs available during the final war. There was no gauze to bandage the wound. Instead, the coloured cloth was cut into pieces, soaked, washed, dried, and used as gauze. No proper surgical units were found there. The tree shade itself was used as a surgery room. During the last war, the service of our boys, medics, and government doctors was immense.

During the last days of the war, people kept dying not only due to bullets and artillery attacks but also of starvation. It was during this period that we experienced cluster bomb attacks. Hunger was more testing than the loss of our belongings. For 1kg of rice was sold for 5000Rs, and coconut was also 5000Rs. Even if we could buy it, there was no guarantee that we would make it back home alive with the goods. Many that went to get food did not return; similarly, many of those that went to their home to get supplies did not return; those that went to get firewood also did not return; similar was the fate of those that went out to fetch water; to that extent, the artillery strikes were powerful.

Three or four days after the end of the final conflict, throngs of people, having identified from a distance the places the army was encamped in, started entering into the zones controlled by the Sri Lankan army in groups consisting of 50 or more individuals. Within two to three hours, people started leaving the high-risk zones. When 1000 people tried to enter the zone controlled by the army, only 750 of them made it alive inside. The others were shot dead or died in other attacks. The army then kept all that entered the zone alive in camps. Two to three families would be placed in a single tent. We were gradually allowed to return to our places.

Prior to the final phase, we lived happily even though what we earned was meagre. Now, however, even though I employ others for work, the situation is so worse that the profits I gain are insufficient to meet my living expenses. Nor is there the same freedom we used to have before the final phase of the war.

See the story in in full in Tamil here and in Sinhala here.