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Enduring anguish of mothers whose children are reported ‘missing’

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pic by: Gemunu Wellage

by Camelia Nathaniel

Bereavement for families of a missing person is an unrelenting anguish. The suddenness of a person vanishing and not knowing what has happened, disallows the family to accept the finality of death.

Saroja Devi and Tharsalamma, the mothers of Leon Roxi and Hudson Lorantine, the uncertainty of not knowing whether their sons are dead or alive after they went missing in 2008 know the never ending feeling of anguish all too well. The trauma and grief in the eyes of these mothers is evident to anyone who sees them.

Both Leon Roxi and Hudson were forcibly snatched from their parents, as many youth had been before them, by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam in 2008. The two boys were cousins and had spent their life together as friends too. However, shortly after being forcibly recruited by the LTTE, the boys had managed to escape from the terrorists and return home. However, it was no secret that they would be hunted by the rebels, and it was evident that they could not live with their families anymore.

The fear, anguish and sheer horror of what might happen to their sons if they were recaptured by the terrorists forced the parents to hide the two youth in the jungle in order to save them. Leon’s aunt says she would sneak into the forest under cover of the night, in order to replenish the supplies needed for the survival of her two nephews. However, the families were painfully aware that it was only a matter of time before the boys would be discovered by the LTTE, and the horrifying reality of what might happen to them.

The LTTE cadres constantly came to their homes in search of the two boys, and on several occasions, they even took away the mothers and fathers for questioning. However, the parents of the boys vehemently denied knowing where the boys were and accused the rebels of having taken away their sons.

pic by Gemunu Wellage-courtesy: Ceylon Today

Speaking to Ceylon Today, the mother of Leon Roxi said the families had made arrangements to send the boys out of the country in order to secure their safety. “We had arranged for the two boys to be sent to a refugee camp in India via boat, so that their lives would be spared. However, it never occurred to me that it would be the beginning of a lifetime of anguish for me and Tharsalamma and we would face the painful dilemma of not knowing what happened to our precious sons. That was the last time I saw my son,” added Devi tearfully mother of Roxi.

Ever since that day, the two mothers had their hopes pinned on their missing sons returning home some day. “This is the fifth year I have been searching desperately for my son,” said Devi.

Families in crisis

Many families face a similar anguish following the disappearance of a loved one who they had lost touch with during the three decade long war. When a loved one remains unfound, families often respond with feelings of sheer desperation.

pic by Gemunu Wellage

It is a baffling and frightening experience, when a search brings no answers, only questions such as “Where did my son go”? “Was he killed in the war somewhere”? “Was he a victim of foul play”? “Is he in a prison somewhere in the country, Does he feel abandoned, frightened, lonely? “Does he wonder why no one has still come to rescue him, while not knowing that the search for him is still omgoing ?” These are just some of the words and questions that haunt families of missing persons.

Both mothers had contacted various organizations belonging to the government and NGOs regarding the disappearance of their sons and the constant pleas to find out what had happened to them. “Since I was in Mannar, there was not much I could do, but Tharsalamma had moved to Colombo and from there she was contacting all the NGOs and the government offices including the Army and the Navy regarding the disappearance of the boys. We were told by some people who had seen the boys just before we lost touch with them, they were seen being taken away by the Navy. However, our desperate search has not produced any fruitful results,” said Devi.

Meanwhile, after going through the papers Devi said she had identified her son from a photograph that was published in a Tamil language newspaper on 26 February this year. The photograph was of the reintegration ceremony held at Temple Trees. “My son went missing in 2008, but when I was going through newspaper photos of the reintegration ceremony at Temple Trees earlier this year I spotted my son among the other beneficiaries. However, the authorities told me that my son’s name was not on the list of rehabilitants who were reintegrated on that day,” she lamented.

Ceylon Today contacted the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi, who confirmed the mother of Kerbert Morino Leon Roxy had contacted him regarding the disappearance of her son. “We have checked all the names of the beneficiaries who were reintegrated at Temple Trees earlier this year, but the name of these missing persons were not on that list. However, we will do everything we can to try and locate the missing persons,” he had assured her.

A mistake

However, Devi who earlier claimed that her son Leon Roxy was among the rehabilitants, later said that she had made a mistake, after the Director- General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi had shown her the photographs and video of the reintegration ceremony.

Subsequently Devi changed her mind and leveled allegations at the Ministry of Rehabilitation claiming that she was threatened and forced to say she had made a mistake in identifying her son as the boy in the photograph.

In a bid to establish the sincere intentions of the Bureau, Brig. Hettiarachchi had arranged for the boy in the photograph, E. Kuhanraj, and his mother to meet Saroja Devi at his office on Monday morning (25). However, in spite of Kuhanraj repeatedly claiming that it is him in the photograph and not Leon Roxy as claimed by Saroja Devi, she refused to accept it.

Devi alleged that the boy in the picture was different from the boy that was produced at the office of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation on Monday.

E.Kuhanraj, who according to the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation is the boy in the photograph, insisted that it was he who was at the reintegration ceremony at Temple Trees and also identifies the other beneficiaries around him. “If these people don’t believe me they can contact the other boys in the photograph and find out from them if it is me in the photo or not. Furthermore, my mother too was at the reintegration ceremony on that day in order to take charge of me as my guardian,” he added.

When checked against the records at the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, it was revealed that E. Kuhanraj had surrendered to the security forces at the Nellukkulam Technical College on 1 June 2009. He was then transferred to Trikonamadu on 9 August 2010, and again to Nellikkulam on 10 June 2011. Again on 5 July he was transferred to the training camp in Campus Hostel in Pompemadhu, while he was reintegrated on 30 September 2011.

The Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi, said “We had the reintegration ceremony on 30 September 2011, and during that ceremony around 1,800 former LTTE cadres who had undergone the rehabilitation programme were released into the custody of their parents. After that a photograph was taken by a Tamil language newspaper and it was published around a month back. When these two mothers saw the photograph they claimed that their two missing sons Leon Roxy and Hudson Lorantine were among the group. This claim by Saroja Devi and Tharsalamma were given wide publicity even in international websites. When we got down Devi and showed the video taken on that day in order to assist her locate her son, she said it was a misidentification and that it was indeed not her missing son Leon Roxy,” added the Commissioner General.

“However, she later claimed that she had said it was not her son due to some influence or threat by some officers of my Bureau. Therefore, in order to clear the matter we got down the boy in the photograph, Kuhanraj, and his mother from Mullaitivu so that Devi will finally be able to verify the identity of the boy she claims is her son. However, now Devi has come up with a new allegation that the person in the photograph is not the boy that was brought to the Bureau on Monday. Well, we have done everything in our power to help this mother who was suffering from the heartache of losing her son.

Beyond this, it is impossible for me to do anything else as I have done everything in my power to help her find her son. We have even checked all our records from 2008 to find out if he was enrolled in any of our programmes and have come up empty handed. He is not enrolled in any of our rehabilitation programmes. It is a clear case of misidentification, but she keeps insisting that it is her son perhaps due to some other external influence,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Tharsalamma, the mother of Hudson Lorantine told Ceylon Today that her son had gone missing on 10 July 2008, while on his way from Vidathalthivu to Mannar. “The boys were being sent to Mannar in order to save them from being captured by the terrorists and were on their way to a refugee camp for their safety. However, we were told by the fisher folk in Mannar that the Navy had apprehended our sons and they were taken away. I have searched everywhere, but have not been able to find out what happened to my son and the other boys. It is very hard for me as I cannot put a stop to my agony, not knowing what happened to my son. I am a mother and I cannot simply give up trying to locate my son or at least know what has happened to him,” she said tearfully. Both Tharsalamma and Devi constantly pray to the gods and ask them to return their sons.

Helpless

Feeling helpless these mothers have resolved to solve the mystery of their sons’ whereabouts. For them, this period of intense grief and searching has gone on for the past five years and still continues. It is a baffling and frightening experience when a search brings no answers.

People are often unaware of the changes in the grieving person’s perception of the world when there is no body. For many in traumatic grief, the world is no longer a safe place to be in. They feel that the ones they love can disappear and that terrifying things can happen.

The two mothers are in a perpetual state of grief and could sometimes cling onto the slightest glimmer of hope of finding their missing sons. The anxious anticipation of news of the loved one is constant. courtesy: Ceylon Today

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