06/24/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Jaffna, where women weep

by Melani Manel Perera
The civil war has widowed tens of thousands of women in Jaffna, their husbands, civilian victims of the conflict. The women have to cope with an unhelpful government and social prejudice in Tamil society. Private groups provide aid so that they can regain their dignity. Our correspondent continues her reports on the aftermath of the war.
Jaffna (AsiaNews) – Tens of thousands of women lost their husbands, innocent victims of the civil war. The government however appears indifferent to their fate, and even Tamil society is keen on marginalising them. The correspondent of AsiaNews continues to cover the aftermath of the long and disastrous civil war.

Anyone who visits Jaffna for pleasure is in for an agreeable time these days. The Jaffna Peninsula is a pretty place, and is slowly modernising, both in the city of Jaffna and along the A9 Roadway. Roads, railway lines and bridges are being fixed. Sites like the Nagadeepa Viharaya Buddhist Temple are increasingly popular. Everything is beautiful.

However, anyone interested in knowing know how people live will find a different story. In Jaffna, the civil war between the Sri Lankan army and Tiger Tamil rebels has left so many women without husbands. The government and public institutions have no plan to help or protect them. Often, these women have four or even five children, to be raises on their own, doing odd jobs. The children sometimes go hungry. Only private groups provide some help in finding jobs for them.

Subajini Thurairajah, coordinator of the Women Cultural Centre (WCC), told AsiaNews that on Jaffna Peninsula there are about 26,300 widows, and that many tens of thousands more can be found in the northern and eastern provinces, especially Tamil and Muslim.

Many widows have had “troubles” with Sri Lankan soldiers, with some people suggesting they “get married,” Thurairajah said. However, soldiers who are temporarily stationed in the area just want “to have fun”. Many locals are upset that, with so many women without a man, the government does not issue orders to Sinhalese soldiers to respect them and refrain from taking advantage of their situation of need.

“These widows are still living the trauma of the cruel events of the war, especially the horrible moment when their husbands died, often before their eyes. Some do not know how to tell the children that their beloved father is no more. It is hard to tell children that their father died hit by a nameless bomb, without rhyme or reason.”

Only women who lost their husbands before 2008 were given a death certificate, which was denied to the others.

Making matters worse is a certain prejudice widows suffer from within Tamil society, for they are seen as bearers of bad luck. Women who lost their husbands are not invited to happy occasions and upper caste Tamils avoid and exclude them.

“We do not like this pattern,” the activist said. Instead, “we want to help these women. We must help them develop a different outlook to life so that they can find a place for themselves in society. We must give them greater dignity as women and mothers.”

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