Sri Lanka: Tamil women suffer the worst of war

Indo-Asian News Service
In one of the biggest hospitals in Sri Lanka's north, many women patients wonder why they survived the fighting between the Tamil Tigers and the military that killed so many of their friends.
There appears to be no precise count of how many have been wounded in aerial bombings and shelling. Tamils from outside have no access to army-seized Kilincochi where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Tamils from Mullaitivu have taken refuge. Civilians who have not been injured are taken to detention centres in Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna to find out if they are indeed non-combatants or LTTE fighters in disguise.
A woman in her late 40s frequently breaks down as she lies on a bed in a hospital in Mannar, clutching her son of two-and-a-half years who has lost a leg. Her two other children are missing, residents in the region say. She was among the large number of Tamils escaping from Kilinochchi, the former political hub of the Tamil Tigers, last month when a shell probably fired by the army exploded, ripping apart her son's leg below the knee. Losing no time, she handed over her other two children, a six-month-old son and a daughter of seven years, to a friend as she tried to find help to save her bleeding and wailing son.

She managed to reach the hospital in Mannar, where she remains warded. She has no idea where the other children are - and whether she will see them ever again. She also has no news of her husband, who left their home long ago after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ordered him to serve their civilian militia. Another patient at the hospital is a girl of 16 years who is left with only her upper torso. A resident of Mullaitivu district, both her legs came off in an aerial bombing seemingly targeted at the LTTE.

There is also a 22-year-old woman, seven months pregnant. Half her body got burnt when her house in Kilinochchi caught fire in aerial bombing. Her breasts are charred.

Remarkably, all these women are officially under detention at the hospital although some cannot even stir on their own. Since they came from areas the LTTE ruled for years, the doctors have been forbidden from discharging them. Human suffering shows no signs of abating in Sri Lanka's bleeding war. Most of the pain is being borne by Tamil civilians, many of whom are destitute after repeatedly fleeing their homes.

As the Sri Lankan military remains poised to seize the last stretch of land held by the LTTE in Mullativu, civilians are fleeing from there in hundreds, desperate to get away from it all. Medical personnel say that many of the patients in Mannar are traumatised after seeing scores of bodies along the road as they fled the fighting. Many bodies were torn apart. Many of the injured, reports say, simply bled to death because no help was available. One woman told the doctor: "It is worse than the tsunami. At that time many came to help us. Now there is nobody."

Hospitals in the northern districts of Mannar and Vavuniya every day receive dozens of wounded civilians. The really critical cases are sent to Anuradhapura, at the edge of the war zone. Most victims are children, women and elderly men. While the Vavuniya hospital has all kinds of patients, the ones at Mannar are mostly amputees - those without hands and legs. Once out of the conflict zone, and left with nothing but the clothes they are in, the injured are dependent on the military and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for survival.

12 February 2009

By M.R. Narayan