If Only the Trees Could Speak Justice Could be Served
Photo courtesy of Selvaraja Rajasegar
Sachithanandam Padmaranjani has been waiting for 14 years to hear news about her husband whom she handed over to the army in May 2009. Padmaranjani, who fled into the army controlled area at the age of 31 with her seven year old daughter and five year old son, handed her husband over to the army in the hope that he would be released after investigations. “My daughter is 21 years old today and my son is 19. I don’t have an answer when they ask where their father is,” she says.
Padmaranjani says that there was a big tamarind tree and a palm grove at the place where they registered their names adding that if the trees could speak, justice would have been served by now.
This is her story.
“There was a big tamarind tree where he surrendered and we registered. There was also a large palm grove. Whenever I pass the tree I always remember it was under this tree that I handed over my husband to the military.
“I was wearing a thaali when I left. My husband took the thaali from me. He told me not to identify myself as a former combatant because of the children. He kept the thaali on a lower branch of a palm tree.
“Even when we were escaping the war, he was reluctant to go into the army controlled area. He said he does not know what they would do to him. But I persuaded him to come. I told him there were many people going and to come for the sake of our children. If I had left him in the war zone, I could have had some closure with the assumption that something had happened to him. But now I suffer when I think that I took him to the other side and handed him over to them. Now I don’t have my husband or the thaali. I am not allowed to be at any important function since I do not have a thaali.
“My husband, two children and I came out of the war zone on May 18, 2009. He was a combatant and so was I. An announcement called for all combatants to register and that they will be given amnesty. My husband told me not to reveal myself as a combatant and that he will give in his name. Since we were the same family, we went in together. They told us to register saying that we were in the LTTE so both of us gave our details as ex-combatants. My husband was taken to a spot within a palm grove. There were around 50 others seated on the ground. They asked us to move away despite our cries and pleas. We were taken to a checkpoint where we had to strip completely to be checked. I had some jewellery, clothes belonging to my children, batteries and torch. They told us that they would let him go after questioning and asked us to get into a bus. We were taken to Puliyankulam.
“There too we were asked to register if we were combatants. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem as I had already registered myself as a combatant. They asked me when I had joined the LTTE and other questions and took photographs of me.
“When I returned, I could not find my children. They told me to get into a bus and said that everyone was being taken to the same place. I got into the bus. I was weeping the whole time. I met my children again and we were taken to the Zone 4 camp. It was a field of hedges and bushes. The palm grove was fenced with barbed wire.
“Afterwards a man who was detained in Puliyankulam tracked us down and sent a message asking me to meet him there so I went to a special camp in Omanthai. The man had been with my husband. He handed over a pair of jeans, a shirt, a bedsheet and a towel that belonged to my husband. He conveyed a message from my husband that he was fine and he had no problems. Even today when I fold his clothes, my children ask me to check his pockets to see if he had kept anything. I smell his clothes and keep them.
“There was a commission that investigated these incidents. They asked details about where I handed him over. They asked for evidence to prove that I has handed him over to the military. They asked if there were numbers on their uniforms and what uniforms were they wearing.
“If the tamarind tree and palm trees could testify, justice would have been served by now. The trees cannot speak therefore they continue to hide everything. We have no choice but to continue.”