The sight of scores of disabled military personnel protesting opposite the Fort Railway Station must surely have tugged at the heartstrings of all responsible Sri Lankans. It has been made known that these war veterans have been agitating for many moons over their demands before taking to the streets as a last resort.
Whatever the fairness of such demands related to pensions and compensations of these warriors should be given a hearing and pronto. After all, these heroes were responsible for the demolition of the Tamil Tiger war machine at the risk of life and limb. Sri Lanka’s Security Forces in May 2009 took the nation and the world by complete surprise. Our armed forces succeeded in what was thought an impossible mission by wiping out the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit off the face of the earth.
Since then, there has not been a single terrorist attack in Sri Lanka. The nation’s battling forces displayed clearly and forcefully that they were second to none in the sphere of armed combat. They did so admirably and the country should be eternally grateful to them.
The Defence Ministry says it will soon submit proposals in respect of pension rights sought by retired disabled officers and men to the Director General of Pensions. But the pertinent question on most minds will be why the damnably infernal delay? Surely, the concerns of these war heroes should have been taken seriously and acted upon, not just ignored once the immediate fuss subsides. If we expected these people to put their lives on the line for their country, then the least their country can do in return is to ensure they are well looked after if they suffer physical or mental injury as a consequence.
The administration and the Ministry of Defence should have provided as much time out-processing as they do assimilating. It behoves them to give military members the support necessary to return to society, and integrate into civilian culture. A moral obligation to give them decent care should have been implemented ages ago. Both the present and previous administration should be held accountable for delays in treatment or lost paperwork.
But there is another aspect of the conflict besides the physically wounded that many are unaware of and that is the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Many of these armed forces personnel have recurrent nightmares and problems with intimacy, can’t sustain jobs or relationships, and won’t leave home, imagining ‘the enemy’ is everywhere.
But lost in the reports of these disabled soldiers are the stories of family members who often sacrifice everything to care for them, with little or no resources.Almost six years after Sri Lanka’s bloody civil conflict came to an end, an underreported legacy of the fighting is finally being acknowledged – the extraordinarily high number of war widows struggling to make ends meet. The Sri Lankan government claims 23,790 military personnel were killed since 1981 in the island’s civil war, with 6,261 of them being killed in the last stage of the war from 2006 to 2009. The end result has been a legacy of thousands more widows and orphans.
Now with the conflict seven years behind us there must be a concerted effort to help this unfortunate segment of the population to ensure their basic survival. After decades of being caught up in the crossfire of war zones they have more hardships to endure which will continue to aggravate their lives.
Politics apart, every citizen of this nation has a right to protest against such oppressive encumbrances on their lives. But, citizen’s action must be peacefully and carefully planned. There should be a decency and credibility to the outlook of such demonstrations of ‘people’s power’. But it must and can be done without any political attachments.
Yes, any such demonstration should be well-coordinated to ensure it does not breach the peace or cause public disorder. Few Sri Lankans will question the propriety of these efforts to aid our nation’s men and women in uniform. The desire to help veterans in need reflects a fitting gratitude for service rendered and sacrifices shouldered. But precisely because we know we owe our soldiers a great debt, we tend not to question the particular ways in which our government goes about helping them.
But again in a jaded age when many are convinced that we have multiple celebrities but few heroes and heroines, many politicians but few real leaders, surely our battling forces should be showered with the acclaim they deserve. It would be a crying shame if these courageous warriors who battled for their motherland were left out to languish in the cold when several political panjandrums only attempted to bask in their glory. In any democracy justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. Justice delayed is Justice denied.
But civil society must not let up on pressuring the powers that be. It must keep critically and relentlessly engaging in these issues and demand accountability from the Government. When will the time come when true justice will prevail so that the country’s people and resources will be protected? If true justice prevails resources won’t be squandered away in the name of development, nor would legislative lunatics have the freedom to slaughter, rape and plunder.
No one is above the law. Criminal acts cannot be overlooked or condoned. Perpetrators must be dealt with summarily without fear or favour. It must be done now! Not surprisingly, personal profit has been a recurrent refrain in the symphony of abused political privileges and perquisites from pensions to the buying and selling of tax-free vehicles, which has now been proclaimed legal.
The last thing we should let slide is the wellbeing of those who risked their lives for peace.