Hero or Zero? The Struggles of the ‘War Heroes’’ Families

Karunawathi is a Sinhala 63-year-old mother who lives in Vavuniya. It should be the time to enjoy her old age in peace now, but Krunawathi is still doing a lot of heavy work every day. She digs well, makes bricks and prepares soil form plaints with her daughter.

All these hard work failed to knock her down. The only one thing that really broke her heart was the country’s betrayal.

Karunawathi and her husband started farming in Agbopura, Vavuniya in 1974 on a land of 4 acres. In the 1980s, the army ordered the couple to leave because of the accelerating war. Their financial situation had gotten worse since they lost the land, and therefore their son-in-law decided to join the military, hoping to reduce the family burden. In 1998, the couple had no choice but to send the only son to the military as well. Now her son is still in service and the poor son-in-law died in a battle in Mannar in 2007 after all.

These sacrifices did not get Karunawathi and her widowed daughters the reward they deserve. After her husband passed away, Karunawathi has only her daughter and three young grandchildren. She has agricultural skill that could feed a family, but there is no land to cultivate. They tried to return to their land in Agbopura several times during and after the war, but were stopped by the army. Karunawathi decided to turn to the Divisional Secretary for help, and the Divisional Secretary promised that he will provide the deed after she placed fence around the claimed land. As she visited the Divisional Secretariat again, the new Divisional Secretary had taken the office and assured her that the land will be cleared and returned to her for cultivation.

Unexpectedly, the Divisional Secretary called another group of people, ensuring that Karunawathi’s land will be provided to them. She cried desperately in front of the Divisional Secretary and the military who came with land-clearing machineries. ‘My son and son-in-law joined the army, serving and sacrificing the country, can I get my land back to feed my families?’ She said.

However, the response from the military, the unit that she has always regards as the last hope of her life, was: ‘It is the government’s order, and we are just doing it.’

Exhausted Karunawathi borrowed a piece of land from a nice person. She sows seeds, makes bricks, and lives in a shelter made with dirt and dead branches. ‘There are so many government lands. Why did they give my land which I had cultivated for nearly ten years to the other 16 families who already have lands in the other areas? Why at the very least the government was not willing to give me another land as compensation?’

What would she do if the time goes back to 1998? That was a question that I have never bothered to ask.


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