War, hope and survival: Sajirani’s story | Sunday Observer

War, hope and survival: Sajirani’s story

Sajirani   Pic : Shan Rambukwelle
Sajirani Pic : Shan Rambukwelle

Trapped in someone else’s war for two decades of her life, one woman from Mullaitivu rises above, starting with a single frying pan and a kerosene cooker inside a displacement camp

Mullaitivu: Krishnadas Sajirani (39) was born in Kumulamunai, Mullativu around the time that the civil war started. Until 2009, she had only lived in a world controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). She had never met a Sinhalese person or known what life was like outside the borders of Tiger-controlled territory.

War has been the defining feature of her life experiences. Third in a family of five, Sajirani’s father was killed in shelling by the Indian Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) in the late 1980s. Her mother began a peanut business to keep her family alive. In 1998, Sarjini married a LTTE cadre who worked in the Tigers’ ‘tax collection’ division. He finally quit the organisation in 2002, when the Sri Lankan Government signed a ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. Years later, he abandoned Sajirani and their two year old boy.

In 2009, as the war neared its finish, Sajirani and her family were forced into the designated ‘no fire zone’ in Vellamullivaikal, a narrow strip of sandy beach at the very edge of the Mullaitivu district.

When their village was besieged by shelling , her family got together with neighbours and dug a large hole in their garden to use as a bunker. The makeshift bunker had space to hold 10-15 people. “When the firing stopped, we would cook food. We were inside the bunker all the time. My son was very reluctant to go inside the bunker. But he later saw shell bombings and Kfirs flying.I always held him tightly in my arms” Sajirani recalled the harrowing experience.

On January 10, 2009, the family fled to Vellamulliwaikkal, a No Fire Zone (NFZ) declared by the Government. “We were the last family to leave our village. Because my mother didn’t want to abandon everything she earned through her small business. On the other hand, we did not know that the LTTE was losing the war” said Sajirani.

In January 2009, the Government forces occupied Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s de facto capital and stronghold. The fall of Kilinochchi marked the collapse of many of the LTTE’s administration functions including their banking services. “All my jewellery were in the LTTE bank. They were worth around Rs. 700,000” said Sajirani. As she recalled memories of Vellamullivaikkal, her voice shook.

“For two months, we lived near a tree, taking shelter under an upturned boat. It was my mother, my son and I. Every moment of those two months, we were scared to death,” she recalled bursting into tears. Sajirani recalls getting some rice from the LTTE cadres and cooking it with seawater to make a kanji. When the family could not take the fear and deprivation any longer, they made the decision to escape the no fire zone and flee to Government controlled territory across the lagoon.

“It was around 1a.m. We tried to escape from the NFZ but the LTTE started shooting us. We were stranded in the lagoon. Then the Sri Lankan Army yelled at us asking us to hide in the water and join them in the morning” she said.Sajirani and 50 people were stranded in a cross fire between the LTTE and the Army. They had no option but take deep breaths and go under water

For Sajirani, that was perhaps the longest night of her life.

Six hours later, they were rescued by the Army. Her brother’s son had nearly drowned in the lagoon. Once they crossed over to government controlled territory, the boy was taken to hospital, but did not survive. “I had never met a Sinhala soldier before. Initially, I was so scared. But they gave us food and treated us well” she recalled.

As there were no women soldiers on the frontlines, soldiers had to check everyone who fled from the NFZ. When Sajirani’s turn came her mother volunteered to check her.

Soon they were taken to a camp in Nellikulam with all other displaced war victims. Sajirani who had nothing except the piece of cloth on her body, had to start life all over again at the camp.

“I sold the dry ration packet given by the Army for Rs. 1300 and bought a kerosene cooker and a frying pan” said Sajirani. She made hoppers and sold them to people who were coming to the camp.

“Even government soldiers bought hoppers from me” she said.

The journey which began with a single frying pan in a displacement camp got Sajirani to the thriving business she heads today. She is now the proud owner of a registered food business known as Sathu Star. Some of their products including Cantella Papadam, Cantella Cordial, Cantella Energy Flour have hit not only Colombo markets but super markets in Canada and UK too. Her son is sitting for his A/Ls this year.

With her savings, she has rebuilt her home and a warehouse for her business activities. Re-building the house was another epic adventure. Unable to contract a mason, she learnt construction and built the house herself, slowly putting the walls and a roof together. Her life altered considerably for the better in the decade since the war ended but Sajirani still carries the memories of a darker time, trapped in someone else’s war she did not understand.

When they were holed up inside the bunker during the last phase of the fighting in 2009, Sajirani says her little boy could not understand what was happening. Clutching him tightly, she would tell him that the Sinhalese and Tamils have a problem and they are fighting with each other”.