The survivor group of 06 member Sinhala and Tamil women headed families, left for war-torn North on the 18th of April 2013 in search of women headed families in the Mannar and Kilinochchi districts.
In their search, the survivor group of the Human Rights Office Kandy had the fortune of meeting 20 “Women headed Families” in the Thevanpitty resettlement area in the Mannar District and 30 “women headed Families” (in MulankavilIranamathanagar) in the Kilinochchi district.
Since last year a group of survivors from Kandy attend an outreach program in a war-torn area in the North of Sri Lanka for “an emotional sharing “with the wider community. Outreach programs are social instruments of healing. As the mirror would say “I find in you my pain and joy and you find in me your pain and joy.” A listening ear with compassion enhances self-healing of the traumatized person.
For nearly three decades, Sri Lanka was scarred by a bitter civil war driven by ethnic tension for many years. Much of the Mannar District was under the control of the rebellious Liberation tigers of Tamil Ealam.
The fact finding report by the association for women’s Rights in Development in Canada of June 29, 2011 records that in 2009 war alone has rendered 40000 women as homeless, landless widowed.” Widowhood is a global issue. All over the world the widows go through more or less the same pain in their struggle to survive.
As one widow righty says, ‘I feel restless to the very core. I feel like everyone else’s life is moving, and I stay in the same place. Like I’m running on a treadmill as fast as I can, and everyone else is jogging past me on solid ground, waving. Some of them are cheerfully enjoying the exercise, others are complaining about how tired they are, but their lives are still moving past mine while I struggle and sprint and still stay in one place.’
There is a formal structure in these villages. Civil coordination, protection and security of the village are under 02 Army personnel. The village headman or “G.S is in charge of the administration and the coordination with the funding agencies.
The widows welcomed the survivor group to their homes. It was a friendly encounter at their homes as they happily displayed their achievements since the time of the resettlement.
As a result of the war the people at Thevanpitty and Mulankavil dispersed, disappeared and were killed. When they returned in 2010 after the war, they found themselves alone with their children without the head of their families. It was a severe traumatic period for the women folk. They felt insecure without the powerful hands of their husbands to protect them, earn for them and be a support to the family. Zoa, a Netherland funding agency has contributed to the material and financial sustenance of the women headed families.
As Richard F. Mollica in his “Healing Invisible wounds “says, the “powerless” and “unworthy” survivor no matter how deep his or her humiliation, is able to share something, even if it seems small with another. Through this sharing the survivor has a powerful, positive impact on someone else’s life. The essence is “I heal you and by doing so heal myself”. Those who engage in outreach programs whether they realize it or not, are on the road to self-healing. They gain greater spiritual benefit. According to Lord Buddha such an action gives “One more merit than holding religious ceremonies in a hundred temples.
On the 23rd of May 2013, Nandasena, Dayawathie and their two children took part in the ceremonial delivery of testimonies at the Jesuit Retreat House Lewella. Nandasena is an ex-prisoner who had been in Bogambara-Kandy, Anuradhapura and Jaffna prisons for a period of time and was released from the prison on 19th May 2009.
Nandasena was selling fresh fruit on the pavement close to the Hatton main bus stand, and improved his business gradually but unfortunately the other traders began to harass him. During an attempt to kill him by adding poison to his lunch packet, his son aged 08 was poisoned by an unknown person. Nandasena who was lamenting over the death of his son was arrested, accusing him of possessing narcotics. Having being released by the magistrate, he was once again arrested and was detained for 02 years at the Bogambara prison.
When the political prisoners, during the time of Pinochet in Chile, gave testimony of their traumatic experiences, it resulted in diminishing their post-traumatic symptoms. Based on this experience, testimony therapy has been developed and used in the treatment of traumatized victims of war or other forms of organized violence. Many countries use testimony therapy in treating traumatized people, adapting it in different ways. Since 2008 The Human rights Office in Kandy uses testimony therapy in the form of a ceremony after a process of counseling.
For the ceremonial delivery of the Testimony of Nandasena and his wife, there were around 60- 70 persons including the Members of the Prison families, the members of the support- group, and well-wishers. The Guests of Honor for the occasion were Nandasena, Dayawathi and their two children. They were welcomed with a sheaf of beetle leaves signifying the blessings of God Naga and were accompanied to the hall with dancing and music.
The lighting of the traditional oil lamp was done by Nadasena, Dayawathi and Fr. Nandana the Director of the Human Rights Office. The oil lamp was decorated symbolizing the new life after the freedom from the Prison. It is not merely a freedom from the dreadful emotions like “I cannot, I am imprisoned.” It’s also a new birth, arising to new life to stand on one’s own feet with self-respect and dignity.
It was the moment for Religious observance. The visual song depicting the mental agony of the prison life, composed by a well-known prisoner raised the minds and hearts of the participants to the higher powers, to shower blessings on the survivor family.
The testimony stories of Nandasena and Dayawathie were read out by a family- counselor couple. The reading of the testimony was highlighted with visuals in the background. Visuals on the different aspects of the testimony made it possible for the participants to enter into the traumatic story with compassion and empathy. After the presentation of the testimonies, everybody gathered at the ceremony expressed their support and encouragement to the survivor family.
Fr. Nandana the Director of the Human Rights Office explained his vision and mission on the prison ministry. He admired and congratulated Nandasena and his wife Dayawathi for their courage and their efforts in starting life all over again after their traumatic experiences. Each participant offered warm wishes to the survivor family, encouraging them to live bravely and to look forward to a happy beginning once again.
Then the group took part in the celebration of the survivor family by taking part in a tea party.
Human Rights Office Kandy organized a two day residential workshop from the 22nd to the 24thMarch 2013 for the families of the Torture victims and the families of the Prisoners, based on the theme “Beyond Victim Mentality” to raise their mindset to maintain a holistic life style and acquire a sense of control over their lives. The goal of the workshop as defined by Steve Maraboli is “I am not a victim. No matter what I have been through, I'm still here. I have a history of victory.” There were 30 participants for the workshop. The workshop was held at the Fatima Retreat House at Lewella Kandy.
A victim is someone who is victimized. Victim mentality is to live without a sense of hope, to feel defeated and be unable to exercise the free will. Anxiety, fear, and lack of self-belief all contrive to make one feel like a victim. But it is possible for so called ‘victims’ to refuse to give in totally to a ‘victim’ mindset and 'set rules' in one’s own mind. People under the greatest of stress can still maintain some sense of control even if externally they seem like 'victims'. It is less likely for them to suffer persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and still maintain a sense of personal control.
The input sessions brought home to their minds their past and present experiences as a victim. The realization of what it is to be a ‘Victim’ was an eye opener for them to move beyond the victim mentality. While sharing their own life experiences they were slowly directed towards adopting a positive mind set which would help them reformulate their lives in the future.
Group Art Therapy and personal art work put them back to their original state of their child like creativity and visualization. Slowly but steadily they became aware of their own strengths and capabilities and began to value their personal worth and appreciate themselves.
Walking meditation, Relaxation exercises, Yoga exercises, and Water Therapy relaxed their bodies and minds which were severely affected by past traumatic experiences.
Towards the end of the day a medical doctor explained the effects of trauma on the body and the ways and means of body recovery. The medical clinic organized for the survivor group was well received and remedied many of their mental and physical aches.
By the end of the two day workshop the feedback of the participants was positive and they were refreshed and relaxed. They now look forward to the future with a sense of hope.
“The problem that we have with a victim mentality is that we forget to see the blessings of the day. Because of this, our spirit is poisoned instead of nourished.” Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free.
Anuradhapura – the sacred city is one of the most venerated places in Sri Lanka. To go on a pilgrimage to sacred city to worship the eight sacred places is regarded as most valuable merit and a great blessing for a Buddhist devotee.
45 members of the families of the disappeared were fortunate to visit this sacred city recently as another step in healing their memories. When the suggestion came up for the pilgrimage for many of the members, to their surprise it was one of their unfulfilled dreams coming true. At their age it was a great opportunity to gain merits for themselves and give merits to their missing loved ones.
In the group there were few elderly mothers who were unable to walk they came in wheel chairs to take part in this meritorious act. It was a very hot day. When they reached the sacred place it was noon. In the middle of the day it was very painful to walk without shoes on the sand. But our devoted mothers walked barefooted with joy in the hot sun to the sacred Boo Tree for some distance. They were doing walking meditation around the sacred Boo Tree few rounds holding their minds and bodies in uttermost piety.
It was a long 03 hour trip from Kandy to Anuradhapura for the mothers. On their way to the sacred cities they enjoyed very much. They talked with each other leisurely. Sang spiritual songs and played musical instruments. It was their day for relaxation and enjoyment, and to do meritorious acts. It was 22 years back that mothers lost their sons and loved ones.
Since then they had never step out of their homes on long trips or on pilgrimages and neither any of their relations taken them out to visit a place of worship to ease their minds and hearts.
It was a blissful moment. With grateful hearts and tears in their eyes they thank Fr. Nandana the director of the Human Rights Office and the staff for bestowing them with this opportunity of visiting the sacred city. As many of them remarked “For a moment we felt as if we were in the heaven when we were under the sacred Boo Tree”.
Survivors with their fragmented traumatic memory become a source of conflict in their family life. Failure of the family members to understand the survivor create more problems within the family. Survivors become uneasy, irritated, and angry in their relationships. Family bonds shatter. Relationships appear to be threatening. Human Rights Office understanding the fate of the survivor families organized a workshop for survivor couples on Conflict Resolution.
The workshop was held at Fatima Retreat House Lewella, Kandy form the 1st to the 3rd June 2012. A resourceful couple of the Family Services Colombo conducted the two day program.
Communication skills of a married couple in building up warm relationships were elaborated step by step with practical examples of family life. The sharing of the lived experiences of the resource persons enriched the survivor group. The most intensive moment was the face to face personal encounter with their married partner. It was a blissful moment to share their conflicting areas in their lives. It was a blessing in disguise where they discovered their own genuine self and the genuine self of the partner. They committed themselves to each other once again to restart their wedded life together.
It was the happiest moment when shedding offs their masks they spontaneously dramatized their own conflicting situations with their partners. The seriousness of life became so relaxed that they were able to laugh at their own mistakes. All troubles vanished like a bubble when they realized that their Life is short and enjoy it when they have it.
As customary Srilankans celebrate the New Year in April and this year too it was celebrated on the 12th-13th April 2012. The gathering of the survivors of Torture, rape, families of the disappeared and the families of the Prisoners came together on the 21st April to celebrate the Tamil/Sinhala New year to St. Mary’s church premises, Ampitiya Kandy. There were more than 250 participants for this annual celebration.
Preparations for the event began early that day. The HRO staff team worked very hard on the previous day and in the morning to ensure the smooth operation of the day.
For some survivors it was their first gathering of this nature and for other they looked forward to this event to enjoy, leaving aside all their worries and anxieties. Guests began to arrive from 09.00 am onwards, with attendees including victims and their families who are being assisted by HRO, parishioners, members of the Support Group and those from the wider Kandy community.
It was noteworthy that this year several families of the remand prisoners from different part of the country, even from very distant part came as participants of this annual event with children. The released prisoners and their families too joined the event with torture/ rape victims and the families of the disappeared. They had so much to share with one another. Special honored guests were: Rev. Sr. Martin, Rev. Sr. Esther of the Welcome house Kandy along with Dr. Clotilda and Mr. Suren Perera (Attorney-at-Law), with the director of HRO Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
With religious observances and lighting of the traditional oil lamp, the annual Tamil/ Sinhala New Year gathering was inaugurated at 10.30am. Attendees gathered and sat together on benches and chairs set up outside next to the church. Father Nandana explained the significance of the gathering and welcomed all those who were present.
The games began with a race to inflate a balloon first until it pops and then proceeding to the finish line. This competition was opened to children, youth and the adults. Following this was a competition to see who was closest at drawing the eye on an elephant whilst blindfolded. Numerous attempts were made by the participants – culminating in hilarious consequences as many of the crowd had to duck and avoid being drawn on themselves rather than the elephant.
A competition to weave coconut leaves was then held with the best leaf being judged this was followed by a sack race for the children. Next a rope was suspended between two poles with buns hanging on the end of pieces of string. This game was a race to eat the bun off the string and continue to the finish line – but there was a catch: the children competing all had their hands tied behind their back!
Afterwards, three pots were suspended in the air each filled with water. The winner of the game was the person who smashes open the pot filled with blue water. Participants took turns armed with a wooden bat and were blindfolded. Needless to say, there were many failed attempts by individuals swinging wildly into the air and not making contact with anything. However Malani Serasinghe, a victim of police brutality, was successful in her attempt.
In the past, our groups of survivors of torture, rape, other human rights violations, families of the prisoners and the families of the disappeared, met as three different units with their own unique experiences, ideologies and identities. Now that these different groups have started sharing their pain altogether there has emerged a sense of belonging to a greater group. This new group feeling has united the survivors closer, giving them a meaning to their pain and vitality to dedicate themselves to a common cause. In sharing, they have been healed individually and as a group. The process of inner healing through group therapy has brought them and their family members to a more stable life and strengthened family bonds.
Their identities and individuation have developed as they have formed themselves into a single group known as the Survivor Group. Group outlook and viewpoint has changed, by shedding a ‘little self’ self-image and now enjoying broader perspective.
As the survivor group started moving towards wholeness and integration, the young and enthusiastic secondary survivors (family of victims) formed a new group called the ‘Women’s Unit”. The Women’s Unit consists of selected secondary survivors of different ethnicities, creeds and languages. The Women’s Unit has a vision of reconciliation and socialization in the post-war era.
As a first step towards its goal, the women’s unit met together for a two day ‘live in session’ on the 2nd and 3rd of December 2011 in Lewella – Kandy. The theme of the event was ‘Awakening of Female Consciousness in the Cosmos’. During the sessions, a new vision of the cosmos was presented providing a wider vision of the place of women in the family in post-war era society and in the cosmos more generally.
Inspired by what they had learned, the Women’s Unit decided to reach beyond their ‘little self’ to people in northern Sri Lanka. Three Tamil-speaking and three Sinhala-speaking women of the Women’s Unit opted to visit war-affected living in the resettlement village of Nedunkerny, in Mullative District.
To share in the experiences of the war-affected in the north, the women’s unit first went through a three-day session of Grief Therapy. The therapy helped them to relive their own traumatic experiences following which the survivors-turned-healers were able to help in the healing of the war-affected victims.
The Women’s unit shared the rich experience of their visit with other members of the Women’s Unit on March 16th and 17thand look forward to continuing their project in other villages.
"Life experiences are opportunities for growth. Life experiences heal, create, and lead to a more holistic life."
Healing of memories and Reconciliation take place simultaneously. The first of such programs named as “Grieving Healing and Transformation” was held for 23 Family Members of the Disappeared from the 30th August to the 01st of September at Monte Fano – Ampitiya. Their evaluation taken after a month, validates that mourning and grieving has healed and transformed them. This first successful experience led to the second program of Healing of Memories and Reconciliation.
Venue being Ampitiya Parish Hall, from the 21st to the 22nd of October the remaining group of 11 Family Members of the Disappeared were prepared step by step for the process of Healing of Memories and Reconciliation. The primary step was the intensive training given to our group of Family Counselors on the Theory of Ambiguous Loss and the Process of Intervention to do counseling for each Family Member of the Disappeared. The day began by remembering the Memories the Missing Persons and healing through individual and group counseling by the Family Counselors. The Remembrance was further developed with a Religious Service, Meditation and Dharma Sermon by a Bhikshuni lasted till late evening. It was evident that the Spiritual Powers are a very meaningful and effective means, of Healing of Memories and Reconciliation.
At the dawn of the following day the survivors were on the ground doing walking and sitting meditation with the guidance of the Family Counselors...The input session on “How to live a happy life” conducted by a professional on mental health was very helpful to challenge them, and come to the realization that “their loved ones will not come back … and why to go on with grieving and mourning day after day and year after year… Hence hereafter we must live for our family and giving the best of ourselves for the next generation.”
Ceremonial delivery of testimonies was creatively adapted to befit the occasion, rich with meaningful signs and symbols. In the multi-religious gathering the Welcome Dance with lighted candles invoked blessings of Gods and Goddesses for this great occasion.
The Welcome of the 11 survivors, the Reading of the Testimonies and Encouragement were done to promote healing effect. Each testimony was summarized, touching the core sentiments of the survivors. As the Testimonies were read out the participants were one in mind, heart, body and spirit with them. After each Testimony each survivor lit a lamp remembering the Missing Person with a heartfelt wish for a better life, in the life circle of their loved ones. Remembering the missing story of each mother, brought back to the minds, the unique memories of other people all over the world who go through the same process of pain mourning and grieving.
The Testimonies were filled with mixed feelings and sentiments. As the Testimonies were read the whole place was vibrated with negative emotions, a meditation song on Loving kindness (Metha) with movements and dramatization raised the minds and the hearts of the participants in prayer of forgiveness for those perpetrators.
It was the day of the missing mothers. The 11 mothers waited for 22 years for this sacred moment in history where they could find a burial ground for their sons. So far they were still awaiting the return of their loved ones and their dear sons. Realizing that they would never come back and that they are among the dead the mothers placed a souvenir of their loved ones with some flowers and took part in the burial service. As they pay their last respect they wept bitterly. The tears were not only of grieving and mourning and of healing as well. A Buddhist monk celebrated Pensacola and a Dharma sermon, the catholic burial service was conducted by Fr. Nandana reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place while a Muslim priest prayed for the heavenly bliss of their souls.
Finally to express their oneness and solidarity they took part in the tea party specially prepared for them. The participants, the members of the support group, family counselors, friends and well wishers shared their affection and joy with the survivor group.
IT’S ALL OVER ……
GRIEVING - HEALING - AND TRANSFORMATION OF WOMEN SURVIVORS
The Women survivor group had a unique experience of leaving their family responsibilities for 03 days from the 30th August to the 02nd of September to mourn, heal and to transform them for the first time in their lives. There were 35 women survivors of families of the disappeared and the prisoners family members of Torture/ rape survivors.
From the 30th the group was prepared step by step for the process of their grieving healing and transformation. The day began remembering the disappeared members of their families with a religious service and an almsgiving held at the Parish hall of Ampitiya. The Buddhist Dharma (sermon) was very meaningful and touching which lasted nearly two hours. The alms giving was organized by the members of the families of the disappeared. There were also family members and parishioners around 150 persons for the Dharma sermon and the almsgiving.
At the dawn of the following day the women survivors were on the ground doing walking/ sitting and meditating with the guidance of the family counselors. An input session on healing the trauma ,laid as the foundation for the process of healing conducted by a professional lady doctor on mental health. Her life experiences of losses she has gone through in her past life and her working experiences with tsunami survivors was enriching and enlightening. It was an eye opener for our survivor group. They started questioning themselves and came to a realization “why do we go on with grieving and mourning day after day and year after year? We must start living for the sake of our family and other people”.
Ceremonial delivery of testimony was rich with signs and symbols. The welcome of the survivor, lighting of the oil lamp, the decorations, were befitting for the occasion. A documentary of “Piravi” a Malayalam film depicting the story of a father waiting for his son’s return day in and day out was screened to give a better insight of the mind of an awaiting father. A Meditation song with visuals raised the minds and the hearts of the participants in prayer of forgiveness for those perpetrators. Welcome dance with lighted candles invoked blessings of gods and goddesses for the great occasion. The story of a mother whose son was missing represented the disappearance stories of the group. The whole group was in mind, body and spirit was with her. Remembering the disappearances story of one mother brought back to the minds the live but unique memories of the stories of the other mothers who have gone through the same process of grieving and mourning.
It was the day of the mothers of the disappeared. There were 22 mothers who waited for the moment where they could find a burial ground for their sons. So far they were still awaiting the return of their loved ones and their dear sons. Realizing that they would never come back and that they are among the dead the mothers placed a souvenir of their loved ones with some flowers and took part in the burial service. The Buddhist monks celebrated Pensacola and a Dharma sermon, the catholic burial service was conducted by Fr. Nandana Manatunga reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place while Muslim priests prayed for the heavenly bliss of their souls.
Fr. Nandana then appreciated and encouraged the grieving mothers. He pledged them of his concern and support and for their families. He awarded each of them a especial souvenir reminding them that their loved ones are in a better place enjoying heavenly bliss and resting in peace. Insightful message of meaningful perspective for their future outlook was carved on it such as …..
All the survivors looked happy and with joy they greeted one another. Finally to express their oneness and solidarity they took part in the tea party specially prepared for them. The members of the support group, well wishers and friends shared their compassion and joy with the survivor group.
For “Dear You’
You know well,
It’s impossible to let go the memories…
All the little chats we had,
And the times we spent together
With Joy and Tears.
We spent our lives regretting,
Trying to search the place where you kept
Your last foot prints…
Holding all the love close to our hearts
FOR “DEAR YOU” without a grave,
Here we are to imprint your memories.
Let’s shower flowers
Bloomed with your loving memories
On your grave…
With all the Blessings and Prayers of Inter Religious Community
May You Rest in Peace…
And with this Merit may we be healed of our Minds and Bodies.
I continue this struggle because I want to break the silence and I wish that Justice be done to victims of Rape especially of my own community, the tea plantation people. I have not done anything wrong and therefore I am determined to punish the perpetrators.
It was a Friday. The staff of the Human Rights office, the members of the support group and the friends of Rita came together to the Human Rights office on the 12th August 2011 to thank God for the courage of Jesudasan Rita in breaking the silence and consistently engaged in her struggle for justice. It was remarkable that even after 10 years Rita is still firm in her decision to fight for Justice in a society where jungle laws are in place rather than the Rule of law.
Rita was felicitated during a special prayer service and blessings invoked on her journey towards Justice. There was a large gathering of priests, sisters, lawyers’, members of the support group and all those who joined Rita on her journey during the past 10 years. At the outset Fr Nandana explained the purpose of the gathering and said that it is with grateful hearts that we come to-gether to thank God for Rita and all those who stood by her during the past 10 years.
He said that it is usual for the people to come around the victim at the initial stages assisting the victim and standing by in solidarity, however as time goes by the support groups die down, but in this case, there has being a consistent campaign and assistance to Rita and this is what we call “A civil movement” for justice.
Fr. Reidd Shelton Fernando read the scriptures and explained the Justice of God in the Bible. He said that God may not bestow Justice instantly as we expect but God is always with the poor and the marginalized. Fr Miranda spoke in Tamil and encouraged Rita, her husband Shantha, her mother and her brother and thank God for their courage.
A documentary made for the event was screened to encourage Rita and all those who are discouraged with the present dysfunctional justice system and the undue delay in the adjudication process. Finally Rita addressed the gathering and spoke clearly in Sinhala and said that she would continue this struggle because she want to break the silence and wish that Justice be done to the victims of Rape especially of her own community , the tea plantation people. Further she said that she has not done anything wrong and therefore she is determined to punish the perpetrators.
When Jesudasan Rita completes 10 years 2001 - 2011 with her fight for Justice, we have to question the whole Justice system in Sri Lanka in which the victims are further victimized and discouraged. The system no way encourages the victims to seek justice rather it discourages the victims. For a victim of rape, it is an agony to shuttle between the police-- the lawyers-- the court and the media. Therefore majority of the victims decide to remain silent and as a result the perpetrators continue their way.
Rita was abducted and raped by the two accused Nalaka Piyal Samaraweera & Mohomad Thuwan Rameez on the 12th August 2001 while she was returning from St. Patrick's Church - Talawakelle after Sunday mass & Confirmation classes. There are 02 cases now on trial at Nuwara-Eliya high court and at the district court. During the past 10 years Rita has presented herself before 10 Judges and for more than 73 sittings.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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