This post by Selvaraja Rajasegar originally appeared on Groundviews, an award-winning citizen journalism website in Sri Lanka. A translated and edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement with Global Voices.
About 300 days ago, a group of Sri Lankan people began protesting across the north (in places like Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu) demanding the release of lists of secret detention camps, lists of the detained, or simply information on what had happened to their loved ones. Though the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena promised to release this information in June, he has not done so to date.
Sri Lanka emerged from a 30-year-long civil war in May 2009 when the Sri Lankan military defeated the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers. They fought almost three decades to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of Sri Lanka. In the process of the conflict, many people have disappeared, not just in the north and east, where much of the last stages of the war was fought, but also in the Sinhala-majority south as well, during insurrections from as far back as the 1980s.
However, disturbingly, many have also disappeared after the end of the war, when people handed over family members to the military (in some cases, these people were suspected members of the LTTE).
The following is the translation of a series of stories by Selvaraja Rajasegar, editor of Maatram, a Sri Lankan citizen journalism site publishing content in Tamil (click hereand here to view the series in Tamil). In some areas, across the north and east, the protests have been going on over 300 days. Their pleas, to provide details about what happened to their families, have yet to be answered. Five of the protesters have died since the demonstrations began.
The relatives of those who have been forcibly disappeared live on. They live surrounded by treasured possessions, each a reminder of their loved one’s absence. They pass by the places they once walked, and meet people their missing ones loved.
Recently, Maatram visited these families to ask them a difficult question – if they would allow their loved one’s possessions to be photographed. Upon asking this question, they wept bitterly. Their pain is difficult to describe in words.
Still, they came forward with these treasured belongings, wet with tears. They believe their loved ones will return. It was with great relief that their loved ones had survived through bullets and shellfire that they handed them over to the Army. Now, since they haven’t returned, they are suffering.
Their sadness is immeasurable. Below is part one of their stories.
(All names have been withheld to maintain the privacy of the individuals interviewed.)