NOTE: The author is an activist based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, working with war-affected Tamil communities. This piece draws from conversations with families of the disappeared in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka who have for years been fighting for justice. It seeks to shed light on the inner tumult of those often celebrated as icons of resistance. The author is grateful for the men and women who shared their stories and their courage, and trusted her with their vulnerabilities.
The mother holding her last piece of jewelry
wonders whether to sell it
for bus fare to the protests.
She’s torn by the choices:
raise her voice,
or sit idle.
She’d rather die than ask others for money
The little girl who cries at school each day
feels unloved at home
thinks her mother hates her
yearns for her affection
doesn’t understand how you can
love someone who’s no longer present
The husband who considers leaving
isn’t getting what he thinks he needs
the fire is out
the food isn’t good at home
is what we say when he strays.
He’s searching for shreds of joy
while his wife longs
for her daughter and brother to return
The young wife with a constant headache
wants to crack her own skull
and find a peaceful corner inside.
Though the days are long
working and raising her children alone
there’s no time for her needs
when there is time, her thoughts become too bleak
Another young wife, strong and beautiful,
is told to stop searching for her husband:
marry another man and move on.
She refuses, sassing the military and men with bad intentions,
ignoring those calling her a loud-mouthed slut.
In the daytime, she wears a mask
when night falls, she wants to peel off her skin
The father who doesn’t work
disgraced that he’s unable earn to for the family
and alive while his son is disappeared.
Guilt eats him from the inside
he’d give his life to bring back his son.
He spends too much money on the fortune teller,
for the last five years she has predicted
his son would return in three months
The old amma who feels alone in the world
the children’s whereabouts unknown
husband splitting time between work and protests
the loneliness grows too loud to manage
she adopts and feeds stray dogs
hoping someone is doing the same for her children
Mothers and wives and fathers and sisters
thinning, aging, dying, raging
their skin too tanned, their eyes too glum
getting sicker each day, counting the days
They ignore the rising death toll.
Resistance always looks good from the outside
but at what cost.
It keeps me awake at night.
The following videos are drawn from the Legacies of Conflict In South Asia Archive, a collaborative project between the University of California Berkeley and Stanford University Digital Libraries.