So I finally made my way to Jaffna. It has been something I wanted to do ever since the end of the war in 2009. The best part of my trip was talking to the locals about how their lives have changed since the end of the war – their stories moved me, so I wanted to share it with you.
“We have been travelling since Sunday to all the temples in the North because of Shivaratri (Hindu religious festival), and we return home to Batticaloa tomorrow morning. Things have changed quite a bit since the end of the war. We don’t have to fear war anymore, but we lost our houses so we now live in rented houses. Before the war we could sit at our own home and eat peacefully, we had our own money, but life is hard now. I live with my daughter and son-in-law. He is a farmer so they take care of me. And in return I do all the household work. I pray to God to get younger”
Paramsothi at Nallur Temple
“When we look at the history of women’s day, it was about getting the rights for women, and now the world has moved beyond getting just equality. In Sri Lanka this issue of the prevalence of violence against women and girls has increased. Even within this month we have identified three cases in this particular area. So even though we usually celebrate International Women’s Day, this time we felt that this is not the time to celebrate, because we need to get justice. So we are proposing men to stop violating women, and we are asking the government to push the laws and orders to get justice very soon. For example, if someone files a case it takes a long time to get justice and we don’t find who the perpetrator is. This is a national level campaign, with a silent protest in each city across the country, some of the women activists are a part of it and we’re raising awareness”
Sinthu, Women’s Rights Activist at Dark March Silent Protest, Jaffna
“I came from Batticaloa to visit this temple with my grandchildren. We have been awake through the night and fasting, because of the Maha Shivaratri festival. So we came here to break our fast by first taking a bath in the pond of this temple. We can go to any temple, but this pond is special because it is a holy pond, it has holy water. The water is new every day because they let the water out to the sea, and the new, clean water comes back. So it is a blessing to bathe in this pond. It is easier now to travel and come every year to this temple. Before, we were not allowed to travel here, and we had to come through a lot of military check points. But now we have the freedom to travel where we please”
At Keerimalai Springs
“This is our generation temple. I was born and raised here. During the war we had to abandon our temple, everyone was asked to leave. For eight years there was no one here. In 1998 the temple was destroyed by a bomb, everything was gone. This was a high security area. My father is a very intelligent man, and he spoke to Chandrika (President at the time), and he got a special order for the temple to be released. He collected money and rebuilt it. At that time every day we would hear sounds of bombing and shelling. Now we know peace. And I’m happy because all the people come and visit our temple; Sri Lankans and tourists. Before we did not see people from other countries, but now we have more and more people visiting us”
Kumaraswamy, Head Priest at Naguleshwaram Temple in Keerimalai
“I never knew a normal childhood. We didn’t have toys. We lived in fear. We learnt to hide for days and live in hunger. After 6.00pm it was curfew and we had to lock our doors. Sometimes we would wake up in the morning and find army personnel in our house doing a random search with no notice or warning. My family was lucky because we managed to survive and stick together through everything. But we were displaced about three times. When we were first displaced my mother was 9 months pregnant. we had to evacuate our home and then it was destroyed. Ever since then we have been moving from place to place. Through everything my mother made sure we completed school, and I went to Bangladesh and completed my degree. It is different now because we dont have to worry about these fears and insecurities anymore. But we, the people here, still want to go back to normalcy, we still want our homes back, and we want our livelihoods back, and we want answers…”
Anushani, Activist and Researcher
“I used to be in the army. About a year ago I came to work as the caretaker of this temple. This temple is very significant because it was attacked several times by the LTTE. But people around the country have been helping build it up again. Tamil buddhists in this area played a big part in protecting this temple, it is because of them that it still stands here. I speak to everyone who visits this temple, because it is all I can do to create awareness that we should all live together in peace, after all we all share the same blood – it is only the family we are born to that decides what religion or ethnicity we are. So why do we shed each others’ blood? We need to unite together to build up this country”
Ranaweera, at Naga Vihara Temple, Jaffna
Photo credits: Anushani Alagarajah. Special thanks to Anushani for the help in collecting these stories.