Thomas’s Story

Though 14 years have passed since the end of the armed conflict, we, still surrounded by the Sri Lankan army, live amidst all sorts of oppression without any freedom. The army still controls our land and restricts our movements.

Having lost both my legs in a Kfir bombing carried out by the army, I am compelled to carry out a living in the midst of military occupation. On ‘Thai Pongal’ day in January, I sustained severe injury in one of my legs in a shell attack carried out by Silavathurai 3rd Division and was admitted to Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital. The injury did not appear significant to me at first. On 19th January 2009, however, four Kfirs carried out a coordinated attack on the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital I was admitted at, in which attack I lost both my legs and suffered severe injuries in my hands and on my back. Now, I, unlike you, cannot walk or ride a motorbike or bicycle; I can move only with the help of my hands and am forced to spend my days in a wheelchair.

In that attack, many in the hospital and those on the road nearby going about their daily business got injured, and 150 – 200 died on that spot with their bodies dismembered. After losing my legs, I was, while unconscious, taken to a makeshift hospital that functioned on school premises in Puthumathalan. From there, I was taken to Trincomalee Hospital on a rescue ship functioning under the ICRC.

When many people who suffered injuries in attacks were getting admitted to hospitals, the medical supplies were running low. With no adequate space in hospitals, many were placed in the hall’s corners on a bare blanket. Lack of treatment contributed to the spread of infection, resulting in many deaths.

For more than a year, I was moved to several hospitals, the last of which was Colombo National Hospital. It was only after the resettlement process in my village had ended that I was discharged. Having regained consciousness after a long time, when I finally became cognizant of the reality that my legs were gone, I regretted thinking: ‘Why did I survive my injuries? What can I do now?’.

It was the rejection and ostracization I faced after resettlement in our area at the hands of those from my village who thought I was going to beg for money that provided the impulse and fortitude necessary to try and persevere in many works and to discover many work opportunities and now to do farming, fishing and to stand on my own in general.

When I am alone, I will be plagued by many thoughts. Thoughts on what I used to be when I had my legs and could walk and what I am now with this condition will flash by. But I do not generally allow myself to give in to such thoughts. Convincing myself that if I caved into regrets about what I lost, I would soon end up in a mental asylum, I go about doing my work, avoiding solitude as much as possible and spending my time instead with others.

I have suffered many losses – the death of others and the loss of possessions and body parts. The loss of my legs remained a big hurdle when I tried to find work. Only a handful showed a willingness to retain me. At first, I worked as an assistant to a shop owner, who helped me by providing household necessities in lieu of salary. Then, I joined as a casual labourer in a road renovation. Whenever I tried to drive a tractor, the traffic police would stop me and remind me every time that I was incapable of driving a vehicle. After this, I tried fishing in a river. Thinking of moving to fishing in the sea, I approached others, but none were willing to put faith in my capability. One of my friends, who also lost one of his legs, believed in me and took me in on his fishing boat. From then onwards, I have been doing stable work and spending my spare hours jovially by participating in athletics for differently-abled and artistic events.

Even though fourteen years have passed since the end of the war, the military still controls some parts of our sea, which is our resource and in which we could easily do our work, and swathes of fertile land that we could cultivate. Unable to fish in our sea or cultivate our land, most of us are, in spite of the harassment from the military, carrying out a living. It is only when our resources and work are returned to us that we will have reached one step towards achieving complete freedom.

See full post in Tamil here and Sinhala here.