Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Ladder

by K. Mylvaganam, June 23, 2008

I will be much obliged if some of the readers could check out in your countries of domicile and let me know, as to whether there are departments or institutions that could help us with expert advice and any other help for us to reach our goal to give these detainees and their families a bright future and to reduce crime in our country.

The prevailing ethnic war has caused immense miseries and social problems to the Tamil people. Apart from the physical discomforts and the monetary losses, the catastrophe in the breakdown of their social life and the psychological effects among the people has led to depressions, delusions, hopelessness and aggressiveness. Serious mental disorders are evident not only among the adults but also among the children. One of the side effects of this situation is the increase in crime. The sudden deaths and disappearances of loved ones also contribute to such disorderly behaviours. The loss of the breadwinners in the families compels some women to resort to prostitution in order to feed the children. Finally some end up in prison.

It is our strong belief that these victims of the environment need reformation and rehabilitation. The lawbreakers go to prison but their families become destitute, especially if the prisoner had been the sole breadwinner of the family. These families also need moral and financial support.

Reform Centre Vanni 2008With these concerns in view, a few well wishers in Vanni have formed a Non-Governmental Organisation called The Ladder with the view to do the needful to bring the victims from the prison back into the society as desirable citizens, raise their hopes, impart self-respect, self-confidence in themselves and get them to contribute for the building of the nation and lead a happy and peaceful life. “The Ladder” with a man trying to climb on it is the symbol of the organisation. It symbolizes a down-trodden person trying to climb up in life. We intend to achieve these targets by providing them with job-oriented education, practical training courses and recreational facilities like sports, music and painting. Qualified personnel in psychology will be engaged to conduct classes and provide psychological treatments to those who need it.

I was taken for an inspection tour to the Reform Centre in Kilinochchi by the head of the police department – Inspector General of Police (IGP) Tamil Eelam. The words “Prison & Prisoners” are not used here as it is found to be demeaning. The Tamil Eelam police officers, who have custody over them, move very kindly with the inmates unlike the tough jailors one is used to in other prisons. But I was appalled to see the sad state of affairs under which the inmates are housed. They are packed up in rooms that are too small to accommodate the occupants. The reason is the lack of funds to put up additional buildings and the high cost of building materials. Cement that was sold for around Rs.690.00 a bag is hard to get even for Rs.9,500.00 each. There are no iron bars available here for reinforcement purposes and timber is also in short supply.

The windows are sealed off as some of the inmates have escaped by breaking them. There are no proper toilets. Only open pits are made available for their use. I found it difficult to get too close to them as it was stinking. Yet I had to go to see the true state of affairs.

The inmates have been staying indoors until the practical training programs were started. The initial training is to make Brooms and Broomsticks. To do this the required coir is obtained from the coconut husks that are available in plenty locally. The picture attached show the Trainees at work. The instruments and the equipments are crude and mechanical alright but they do the job. The Trainees are not compelled to follow this training. On the contrary, they love it as it gives them the great opportunity to come out of their cell, be in the open and breathe fresh air.

Now the training is being conducted under the shade of trees and in the open. Hence we have contacted an International Non Governmental Organisation (INGO) for help with a view to put up sheds to shield them from the sun and rain. But their (the INGO’s) resources are also limited, they say, due to government restrictions. However, in a month’s time the sheds would be in place, they said. Another organisation has agreed to construct semi-permanent toilets as well. It is semi-permanent due to the lack of cement. It will be hygienically constructed with septic tanks and tin sheets as cover.

Training in carpentry, masonry and brick making will be taught from next month. Small industries like making Pappadam, Peanut Kalwa, etc., are also in the envisaged plan.

Arable cultivation is also done by them. This brings some income. But the lack of water and space limit extensive cultivation. But we have approached the Government Agent for 10 acres of land suitable for arable cultivation.

I understand that there are two more Reform Centres in Vanni. They, too, are in the same situation, if not worse I was told. I will be visiting them also soon.

We have drawn up a plan where small units are to be constructed to house only 10 inmates in each. And the units will have only half earthen walls and chicken netting on top to prevent snakes entering the huts. For security purposes the boundary fence of the compound is to be secured with double barbed wire fences and Watch Towers. Though this will cost a lot of money, yet it will form part of the Reformation Program. This system when implemented will give the inmates a sense of “freedom” even when they are detained, but not locked up in crowded unventilated cells.

The True Victims: The true victims are the families of the detainees. I happened to talk to the wife of an inmate at the Centre. She has 6 children and all of them were there with her. They have come on their monthly visit. The eldest is only 10. The husband was sentenced for bigamy. He developed an affair with another woman. That woman too has a child by this same guy. When the legal wife complained of this to the police, he was taken to court, which sentenced him to jail. Now she wants him released because he has been providing at least one meal a day for them even though he lived with his second choice – the Chinna Veedu as it is called in Tamil. Since she has too many small kids to care for, she cannot go for work. He cannot be released either. Hence, arrangements are being made to provide some monetary help for her to survive until he is freed.

Finding Employment: The IGP, whom I found to be very kind hearted, said that the only way to solve this problem is to get the detainees employed and pay their wages to the respective families. A form is now being taken round to the families in order to collect all their details. Based on the information we collect, we intend to work out some means to provide a subsistence allowance for them to tide over until their spouses are released. These detainees will be engaged to provide the labour once the erection of the sheds and the construction of the toilets and the work on the boundary fences commence. Their wages will be channeled to their families. The coir industry is also to be widened. There is very good scope for it as supply from Sri Lanka has stopped. The inmates will be employed even after their release.

Women Detainees: I saw about 60 women detainees but they are kept separately, of course, on the opposite side of the road. Most of them are serving for thefts, prostitution and minor crimes. But there was one sentenced for the murder of her husband. I was curious to know her side of the story. With the permission from the IGP I commenced to talk to her. I was able to note a watchful policeman having an eye on us from a distance. I later learnt that it was on the instructions of the IGP for my safety. Once she developed some confidence in me, she said that her husband was a drunkard and that he beat her and her only son practically everyday. The only person who consoled her was her neighbour, with whom she developed an affair as days passed. One day when the husband started assaulting her, the neighbour came to her rescue. During the tussle she tried to hold her husband from behind and the neighbour hit the husband with a club on his head and it proved fatal. That was her story, but the husband was not there to tell his part.  

Reform Centre Vanni 2008The ladies are trained to make baskets, fans etc from Palmehra leaves. (see pic.) The IGP told me that the training is done with materials that are available in plenty. I was very much taken up when I inspected a Dust Bin woven not only neatly but it was very colourful and sturdy as well. There is a very good demand for it here. I wonder whether they can meet the demand.

I have lived in Europe for 33 years and I am fully aware of the contributions our Tamil Diaspora makes for the liberation of our motherland. Hence, I do not expect any financial help from them. But I will be much obliged if some of the readers could check out in your countries of domicile and let me know, as to whether there are departments or institutions that could help us with expert advice and any other help for us to reach our goal to give these detainees and their families a bright future and to reduce crime in our country.

I could be reached on, or, or to the email of The Ladder, which is

Thank you.

Reporting from Vanni


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