“Be the change you want to be in society” - Mahathma Gandhi, was quoted by Rev. Fr. Mervyn Fernando director of Subodhi Institute at the opening message of the workshop, ‘Dignity of Being Human - Dignity of Being a Woman’.. The workshop was organized by the Human Rights office Kandy at Santhana Retreat House, Galaha from the 06th to the 09th of November, 2013 for an in depth encounter with widows of Mulankavil Kilinochchi and the widow survivors of Kandy after the outreach program to Mulankavil in April 2013. The inauguration of the workshop took place on the 06th November at 6.30 p.m. with an introduction made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights office to the workshop and welcoming the resource persons and the participants from the north who were accompanied by Fr. Ananda Kumar and Sr. Ivon HF from Mulankavil.
Mrs. Getsy Shammugam resource person of the programs in the resettled villages of Kilinochchi, Mulative and Batticoloa, conducted the healing sessions for the Tamil group while Rev. Fr. Mervyn Fernando worked with the Sinhala group on a process recovery and rehabilitation.
At The in-depth sharing session with the women headed family members revealed that they live daily humiliation and social rejection. Having lost their husbands to the 30 year conflict, these war widows have become the breadwinners of their families. However, with many a limitations enforced by culture, constraints and gender inequalities as widows, these women are faced with struggles and a great deal of difficulties in supporting their families and themselves.
A major problem that concerns the economic survival difficult is of been low-paid and temporary jobs. The types of work available to them hardly ever matched their skills. They were never made permanent in their employment, and were therefore deprived of employee benefits. On quitting these temporary sources of income, they were often empty-handed carrying with them the same feeling of financial insecurity that has been the lot of nearly all war widows.
They revealed their long history going back to as far as 300 years. Their grand ancestors were from Negombo and around 1970 have migrated to Katchchathive Island for fishing industry and have been settled down in the island and had worked under the Mudalalies. After the war with the good idea of rescuing the them from the so called slavery bondage they were brought to Mulankavil Iranamathnagar originally a land belonged to a priest who gave it as a donation to the refugees to settle down. Therefore it is now named as Iranamathanagar – meaning “God devoted land” by the priest. Without realizing their own dignity to live as free human beings they Still yearn to go back to the same life conditions in the island.
The marginalization of Tamil widows is a real social stigma. These women are often alone and insecure, and are treated as a symbol of bad luck in their own circles. Widows of war are certainly among the most vulnerable groups of society.
The group given the opportunity to visit Mulloya tea estate in Hewahetta for an exposure with the Tamil estate population. It was an eye opener to see the livelihood and the struggle people go through with their living conditions.
At the culmination of the three day workshop the whole group played, danced, and enjoyed together. It was a hard experience to wish them Good Bye. They left Kandy with the hope of meeting again.
‘Yes the world is complicated, and the challenges we face are enormous. But we mustn’t just throw up our hands in despair: all the ingenuity and determination we can master will be needed. We have to believe that we can make the world a better place, and act to make it one…’ New scientist, 22/29 December 2012.
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Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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