The Centre for Holistic Healing held its periodic free medical camp in Mullivaikal on 12th January 2019. Mullivaikal is a village in the north-east coast of Sri Lanka, within Mullaitheevu district. Many would consider visiting Mullivaikal as a pilgrimage, as it is a place of historical importance. The very last stages of the three decade long ethnic war took place in Mullivaikal.
It was the gruesome scene of the final battle. People fled their homes from other parts of north of the Island to Mullivaikal believing this was a safe zone. According to reports by UN, since January 2009, about 350,000 Tamils were trapped in Mullivaikal in a narrow strip of land in the north east coast. There was acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone. As the Sri Lankan military advanced further into the area, international concern grew for the fate of the 350,000 civilians trapped. As the soil, by the coast, was sandy it was impossible to build bunkers for protection. There are allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed, particularly during the final months of the war in 2009.
Amnesty International began documenting widespread human rights violations against Tamils by official Sri Lankan security forces.
Mullivaikal Hospital was a makeshift hospital located in the Safe Zone. An alleged series of shellings and aerial attacks began on 23 April 2009 when the Mullivaikal Hospital was hit by three artillery shells. It continued on 28 and 29 April when the Mullivaikkal Primary Health Center was hit multiple times over a two-day period with many killed and injured, including one medical staff.
Eventually a wholesale massacre of the civilians took place. Satellite images of the Safe
Zone published by the UN, foreign governments and scientific organisations showed heavy damage that could have only been caused by bombardments. There were reports of use of cluster bombs and chemical weapons from people who experienced it firsthand. The government tried brute force to suppress these accounts. Doctors present at the time on the ground had testified to the atrocities. They were later arrested by July 2009 and paraded on TV where they were made to contradict their earlier statements. A United Nations report to Ban Ki-moon by eminent authors Marzuki Darusman and Yasmin Sooka. found that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months of the civil war due to indiscriminate shelling. A US state Department has suggested that the actual casualty figures were probably much higher than the UN’s estimates and that significant numbers of casualties were not recorded.
Initially, those who lost their homes, belongings and loved ones to the Tsunami in year 2004 were brought to be settled here. Later after facing one of the bloodiest battles in history, those who survived were taken to refugee camps. When released from camps they were again resettled in Mullivaikal. All homes were completely destroyed; they had to start from scratch, first building little huts and later small homes with help from charity organizations and Indian housing projects. There are now about 750 families settled in this narrow strip of land. Life is tuff as the land situated in close proximity to the sea is not fit for farming. Most are engaged in fishing for livelihood. A few travel to the villages nearby to work in farms. There is one primary school and a small preschool. The residents claim that the water from the wells is not fit for consumption as it has been polluted, due to heavy bombardments and use of chemical weapons. Clean water is distributed at Rs 1 per litre.
Knowing the background of the place and what the community has been through, our medical team arrived at Mullivaikal with mixed emotions; we knew we had a mammoth task ahead. To add to the misery, there was severe flooding in the area just a few months back which has further contaminated the water in the region. Respiratory tract infections are on the increase. There are worries of spread of typhoid fever, cholera, hepatitis A, malaria and dengue. Wide spread skin infections were prevalent. There is no hospital in Mullivaikal, people have to travel to the villages nearby to Mullaitheevu or Puthkkudiyiruppu even for basic tests or treatments.
Our team consisted of 3 Doctors, 3 Nurses, 3 Pharmacists, 4 Counselors and many others who helped to organize the event and saw to the free flow of operations. Those who arrived went through the basic checkups such as blood sugar, pressure etc and were referred to the doctors. After consultations they were prescribed appropriate medications which were distributed free of charge. Doctors also registered rare and severe cases and referred them to specialized centers. They were all able to speak to the counselors before leaving. Severe depression and signs of PTSD among them were prominent. There were reports of domestic violence and drug addiction; not surprising, considering the predicament the community is in. Many have been earmarked for further consultation and have been referred to “Women in Need” for further assistance and support. More than 200 attended the clinic. They were more than pleased to see us and pleaded if we could come more often.
We left with the same mixed feelings with which we arrived, hoping we could do more for this community that has been through inconceivable suffering and still going through much hardship.
Mathiarasi is 52 years old. There were scars all over her body sustained due to injuries during the war. Both her parents and 2 of her siblings were killed by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in year 1987. She also lost her 2 children to the war. They were 4 years and 2 1⁄2 years old then. Husband was also badly injured and now disabled and unable to work. Mathiarasi earns a living by repairing fishing nets and sorting out fish that’s brought to the shore. Nirmala Arulraj
Nirmala is 48 years old, has 3 children of ages 14, 13 and 6. Husband sustained deep head injuries due to shelling during the war. There are still particles stuck in his head which they are unable to remove. Due to this, he gets violent headaches now and then, hence unable to do a regular job. He is unable to stand in the sun for too long. He works 2 days a week as a security officer for Red Cross. Nirmala does chores by the sea for a living.
Anishta is 45 years old. She had 5 children. 2 died during the war. She now lives with her husband and 3 children. Husband is a fisherman. Anishta’s Mother died in the Tsunami, Father was killed during the war. She has a hole in the heart and underwent surgery. Her 17 year old daughter also has hole in the heart. She suffers from depression and constant fear that something bad might happen any time; a clear sign of PTSD.
Pushpamalar is 53 years old. Husband was beaten to death she claims, by one of the Tamil fraction parties. She had 4 children. One, at the age of 19, was killed during the war. Pushpamalar and the other 3 children survived the last stages of war. After the war, they lived in a refugee camp in Vavuniya and returned to Mullivaikal in year 2011. She rebuilt her home with help from charity organisations. One son who is 33 years old was unable to speak until he was 15. Even now he is able to speak only very little. He also gets fits now and then.
Amelia is 59 years old. She had 3 children. One son disappeared during the war. He was 22 years old when he disappeared. Husband died of heart attack in year 2008, while they were going through much hardship during the war. During the last stages of war, Amelia’s mother was badly wounded by cluster bombing. After the war, Amelia, her mother and the other children were taken to a refugee camp in vavuniya. Her mother died in the refugee camp in Vavuniya. Later she and her 2 children returned to Mullivaikal. Her daughter has been abandoned by her husband. Amelia seemed very depressed thinking of the son who disappeared and also due to the worry of the plight of her daughter.
Sadly the fundamental cause to the civil war in Sri Lanka is the nation’s inability to establish a just political system that accommodates diverse ethnic groups. Sri Lanka’s recent history has been extremely turbulent. There is no credible guarantee that widespread human rights violations and fighting will not soon erupt again.