Absurd survival

A war that has been too long in the waging gets whittled down to cold statistics about the dead. Over 50,000 killed in 15 years: that´s the Tamil-Sinhala figures.

Tragic as it is, the dead, we should remind ourselves, can take care of themselves.

It´s the survivors, some two million of them, about whom the world should be shocked into paying attention. These survivors, most of them Tamil and Muslim civilians of the Northern Province of Vanni, are living out a ghastly nightmare, diseased and starved, helplessly caught between the Tiger and the Soldier.

Reports from the Vanni districts -Mullaittivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar – make tragic reading, bearing all the pain of a massive humanitarian disaster. In Vanni, if anything can go wrong, it has, already. If the army has destroyed homes, hospitals, churches, temples and schools, the Tigers have killed thousands of civilians.

And of those left behind, it´s a desperate struggle for survival. Cut off from their normal livelihoods, each basic need becomes a luxury that cannot be afforded. Life in Vanni has all the trappings of an absurd drama in its pathetic dimensions. Here, then, is a burlesque survival kit for the suffering civilian:

Put up with woefully inadequate dry rations in the time-honoured sour-grapes principle.

Shopping lists are waste of paper.

If you´re young, even just into your teens, fight to feed yourselves, either join the Army or the Tigers.

Don´t fish in banned waters (Northeast coast), stick to the piece of land you don´t have.

Learn to live with daily inflation (the height of inflation: a Sri Lankan paying, actually paying, 35 rupees for a kilo of coconuts).

Essential drugs are perennially scarce, buy Paracetamol tablets on credit.

If you´re a patient, patience of course should be an important virtue. You may wait for hours, yet not manage a glimpse of the doctor. As all hospitals are ridiculously understaffed, life is in your hands, not the doctor´s.

Don´t panic when you hear about all those thousands of cases of malaria. Seek solace from the malaria veterans – a normal sight in Vanni – who have caught the disease 7-9 times. But don´t ever buy the expired medicine that the government doles out. Since the government also has restricted the availability of sugar-coated quinine tablets for malaria, it´s better to die without it.

And if you don´t have malaria, but typhoid, tuberculosis, diarrhoea, scabies, rabies, etc, not to worry, many are in the same boat.

Do understand the challenge faced by your doctor, who, because of lack of minor facilities such as blood tests, relies on the deadly trial-and-error method.

´No kerosene´ is a blessing in disguise in these hard times. At least it should deter those bent on self-immolation.

As for shelter, mother nature´s Emerald Island lap is the best.

No schools? Enjoy the vacation!

War is a lesson in economising. No excess baggage; the old and the disabled are liabilities, leave them alone.

Ultimately, the best survivor is the one who goes mad.

The many lonely women on Vanni´s roads, wandering blissfully, belong to this exclusive tribe.

That´s the kind of gallows caricature that the Colombo government´s "War for Peace" throws up. It´s also the spin off of the economic blockade – an euphemism for state-sponsored starvation – that has been in place in the Vanni districts since 1990. The humanitarian agencies have difficulty providing relief, as the government wants to play the sole distributor for fear of supplies falling into rebel hands. NGOs have been forbidden from supplying food and drugs; other than the government, only the Red Cross is allowed to distribute medicine. But even for that they have to wait for days to get the military´s permission.

Now that´s the lot of Vanni´s civilians – the endless wait – for food, for shelter, for clothes, for medicines -and this awful war to be done with.

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Himal Southasian