Image by Selvaraja Rajasegar
The scorching heat beats down on the field. A herd of cows shelter under the trees that are scattered across the field. I went in search of Mr. Selvarathinam. His wife told me that he had come this way along with his cows, but I could not see him anywhere. I too looked for a tree, sat in its shade and looked idly around. After some time, I saw an old gentleman accompanied by a young man walking my way. I soon realized that this was the person I was looking for.
He was breathing heavily as he sat down beside me. “I can’t walk like I used to, son. Walking even a short distance makes me short of breath. I can’t stand for too long either.” He sat with his legs stretched out and with his hands firmly on the ground behind him.
I had already spoken to Mr. Selvarathinam over the phone and so I didn’t waste any time and got straight to the point.
“When did they arrest you? When did they release you?”
“They arrested me on two occasions, son. The first time, the TID arrested me after the end of the war. I was taken to a camp after I reached the military-controlled area through Mullivaikkal. They released me after questioning me for two days. I never worked with the movement (LTTE) in any capacity. They (LTTE) used to call me to help dig bunkers and that was all I did. After returning from the camp, some people of the TID came in a white van on a later day. They told me they wanted to question me and took me along with them. Then they released me after 12 long years. Son, I was arrested when I was 58 and released when I was 71. There was no case they could bring against me.”
He gazed at the dry field as he spoke and glanced at his son’s face.
“I have to live with their support until I die. They are the ones who will bury me after I die. I am unable to do anything on my own. I will be a burden to them until I die.”
Selvarathinam is one of the many who lost out on their lives after being arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. As a result of this draconian law, many people like Selvaratnam, who would have lived with their families in their old age, had to spend the rest of their lives in prison or in poverty after their release. He is also compelled to visit the town frequently to treat a serious wound in his intestine. “I do not know how long I will be alive. I just want to spend the rest of my life without being a burden to anybody and then die.”
*Name has been changed
Watch the video embeded below to see Selvarathinam relate his story to Maatram Editor Selvaraja Rajasegar (In Tamil)
Click here for a transcript to the full video.