Displaced people in the northern Mannar district of Sri Lanka. Photo by Peter Balleis/JRS International
Mannar, Sri Lanka, May 10 2011 – Shakti is one of thousands of Sri Lankans who were caught in the crossfire of the civil war between the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and the now defunct insurgent group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

I was born in the village of Kokkilaai in Mullaitivu district in 1983, the year of the “holocaust” for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, when they were targeted in widespread rioting, and also the time when the Tamil militancy was coming of age. Like the rest of the north-east, our village had militants and, when I was one year, it was evacuated by the SLAF at gunpoint. We reached Mullaitivu town and stayed with relatives. In 1990, when Mullaitivu was captured by the SLAF, we had to move again and this time settled in Mulliyawalai in the Vanni region. These were years of battles and we learnt to live in this situation.

In 1998, JRS extended its services to our area in the Vanni and my father became a close collaborator of theirs. This was my first encounter with JRS and I was taken by the commitment of the Jesuit priests, by their way of life of simplicity and generosity. Their presence and companionship was of great support to our family. When the Jesuits returned to the Vanni on a new mission in 2003, our relationship with them continued.

In March 2007, all hell broke loose in the Vanni with fierce warfare. Displacement was so rapid, we moved from village to village; a Jesuit father was accompanying and supporting us. Pounded by SLAF bombs and shells on the one hand and facing the forced recruitment and cruelties of the LTTE on the other, we were uncertain of our very existence. Death was almost at the ‘doorstep’. Sorry, makeshift tents didn’t have the luxury of doors.

On 18 May 2009, as we were escaping from the battle zone, my father stepped on a landmine and was bleeding profusely. I ran to help him and stepped on another landmine. Today, both of us have become ‘amputees’. The Jesuit father visited us in hospital and was a great consolation indeed. He continues to accompany us today.

Just when life was full of frustrations and uncertainties for me, JRS came forward and provided me with a computer. This has proved to be a big turning point. I am preparing for computer classes and have regained meaning in life once again. I am grateful to JRS for this act of generosity and understanding.

Meanwhile, we are still displaced and living under the tight control of the SLAF. We are not free to express our pain, to mourn the death of our beloved. Young people who had been in the Vanni, like me, are under surveillance (the Vanni region used to be under LTTE control). We feel that although the war is over, a different kind of war is being waged against the ‘conquered’ people.
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