Three Tamil women who lost their husbands during the internal conflict appeared before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in Colombo last Thursday.
At a sparsely attended public hearing at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies with two of the eight Commissioners being absent, the women from Batticaloa spoke of their husbands’ disappearances in the early 90s.
The first to testify before the LLRC was 52-year-old S. K. Maheshwari whose husband disappeared in 1991. “Nobody helped me. There was no information about my husband,” she said. Her husband was missing from the time of her son’s birth that year.
She found herself a menial job in Batticaloa when her child was just two months old. Having lost hope of her husband’s return, she filed a police complaint five years later but she remained in the dark, she said.
As time passed, Maheshwari’s family members asked her to accept the reality that her husband was dead and re-marry as they suspected that her husband was killed in 1991. The lack of sustainable livelihood, she told the LLRC, had made her life miserable since then. Next to appear before the Commission was M. Shivanthi, aged 43. The woman, originally a resident of Jaffna, had moved along with her husband first to Tuticorin and then to Batticaloa in the late 80s when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was stationed in the North.
Her husband, she said, disappeared on December 3, 1991. “He had gone to collect firewood and never came back,” she said adding that three days later her husband’s body was found along with the bodies of two other men a little distance from her home.
“They appeared to have been killed by gun shots,” Shivanthi said. At the time of her husband’s death, her son was eight months old.
D. Lolitha, the third woman from Batticaloa told the LLRC her husband disappeared on December 25, 1989.
“He had gone out of the house at around 4.30 a.m. to start his day’s work but did not return,” she said adding that more than a year after the incident, she heard that her husband had been killed.
She survived by selling firewood, Lolitha said.
A Colombo-based NGO called People’s Association for Peace and Development (PAPD) that works with 250 such widows brought the three women to the LLRC. A PAPD office-bearer Rev. Father Oswald Firth, appearing before the LLRC, said that war widows faced “social and political rejection apart from financial insecurities.”
“Their plight needs to be recognised by the State,” he said. According to him, the widows of people killed in different stages of the conflict were “often suspected of being linked to the LTTE, thereby making even their survival difficult.”
“Most death certificates do not reveal the real nature of the deaths,” he said while referring to problems the widows encountered, seeking compensation. In Batticaloa alone there were 30,000 war widows. The island wide figure, according to the PAPD, was over 70,000.