Feature: Sightless victim of a blind bombing

By: S. Somitharan

Photos by: Buddhika Weerasinghe

One morning in 1995, five-year-old Selvanayagam Sasiraj was playing outside his house. His father, a mason, had gone to work, but Sasiraj’s mother, Pathmawathi, was home; so was Sasiraj’s elder brother, Chandrasekaran. Their home was adjacent to the Navaly Roman Catholic Church.

Military operations were in progress and armed aircraft were circling. Realising perhaps they were circling a zone almost over the house and growing anxious of what it portended, Pathmawathi had asked the boy to get into a bunker.

“Before I could I could run bombs began falling. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion. That is all I remember till I woke up in hospital,” said Sasiraj, now 12 years old.He has lost his sight completely.

It was this bomb the ICRC reported had been dropped on civilians who were herded together in the church taking refuge from military operations. And in the wake of the negative fallout alleging the air force had engaged in an act that could be interpreted a war crime, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the then minister of foreign affairs, went on to chastise the ICRC, stating the bomb was not targeted on refugees in the church, but on an LTTE facility nearby. He said the bomb had inadvertently exploded in the church’s compound. Others, however, dismiss the argument as preposterous.

Pathmawathi died, but Chandrasekaran escaped virtually unscathed. Today Sasiraj’s father supports Chandrasekaran through his meagre earnings, while little Sasiraj is at Valvagham home for the visually handicapped.

The history of Valvagham, now situated at Maruthanamdam, Jaffna, and the trials the organisation and its administrators had to put up with are as heartrending in the tragedy, but also as encouraging in their persistence and fortitude, as the personal story of Sasiraj and the 30 other visually handicapped inmates of that institution.Valvagham has led a peripatetic existence. It has had to move out whenever military operations threatened the security of the institution and the lives of the children. The last of these relocations was in 1995 when the home was in Uduvil, but had to be vacated due the to shelling and fighting at close quarters.

“We were so handicapped we had to take these children who cannot see, walking to Tellipalai to safety,” said one who had been there and experienced it all.Interestingly, the permanent building the home occupied at Uduvil has now become part of the military complex of 513 Brigade, which took it over after Valvagham’s vacation. It has been acts such as these, done with scant regard to human suffering that has prompted the LTTE and the Tamil public to demand the army vacate private property it has acquired in high security zones and outside.

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