Facing a lonely battle
vulnerable group of women, the war widows ask for a chance to live
again. Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports
began when she tried to pick up the pieces of her shattered life
and build a tiny home for herself and her little daughter. Her world
had earlier come to a standstill when she was just a month pregnant
and was told that her husband was missing in action while on duty
in Trincomalee in 1995.
who had been married only about a year before being widowed, had
the baby and with his salary, pension and Widows' and Orphans' payments
which amounted to about Rs. 20,000 she began building a home. She
was living in a one-room plank hut with her daughter.
were the worst. Stones would hit the roof and there would be strange
noises. I was terrified. I was all alone, there was nothing I could
do," she says, explaining that hooniam had been done to her
property. But help came in the form of volunteers of the Ranaviru
Family Counselling Service who advised her and gave her moral support
to build part of her new home and move in.
She is reluctant
to mention a male neighbour's involvement in this intrigue, which
she found out much later. She had trusted him and laid bare her
soul but she had been betrayed.
Kanthi Chandra, 30, the pressures came not only from an amorous,
middle-aged neighbour but also from her own mother, soon after the
plane her husband was travelling in disappeared between Negombo
and Chilaw in 1995.
"Not a scrap of metalfrom the plane wreck has been found,"
says Kanthi, hoping against hope that he would walk through the
door some day. Even her daughter of eight who never knew her father,
for she was only a few months old when the plane disappeared is
expecting him back.
Life has been
full of trials and sorrow from the day her dead husband's salary
came. Her mother wanted the money to build a brick maha gedera instead
of the wattle and daub, cadjan thatched place they already had.
When she refused, planning to build a home for the little one and
save the balance, they were thrown out of home. She wept at her
father's feet and took a tiny plot way up on a hill to build herself
She does not
have water and the way to her home is up a steep climb of about
two kilometres or 300 rock-cut, slippery steps. She treks down many
times a day, first to drop her child in school, then to wash her
clothes at the public tap and bring back a pot of water on her hip
for the cooking. The afternoon journey is to carry back her girl
I can face but the harassment by the neighbour, who spread malicious
rumours about me and even put up kele paththara broke my spirit,"
she recalls. There was also an unwelcome visit from a soldier from
her husband's camp.
These are a
few of the dangers that the widows of war heroes, numbering nearly
4,000 face. "They don't have money problems because they are
adequately compensated. They receive the husband's salary, pension
and if he was a permanent soldier even the payment from the Widows'
and Orphans Fund," says Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonetileke,
Chairman of the Ranaviru Family Counselling Service, explaining
that there are other grave issues facing them.
Most of the
widows are in the 22-35 group. "They are young and there is
a humane problem we need to take into account. They need protection.
Also what of their sexual or biological needs?" he asks.
protectors come after their money. Sometimes these women are tempted
to have a clandestine affair because of the loneliness. What happens
is that they are led up the garden path and swindled by men who
come in the guise of helping them. They themselves do not want to
marry again because they lose their financial security as all payments
are stopped forthwith.
is a social problem. We cannot close our eyes to their needs. That's
why we are requesting a compromise - if the war widows do get married
not to stop their payments but to pay at least half to them so that
they can lead a comfortable life with their children," says
words, he says, "Give us a little bit and we'll get married."
These war widows feel the loneliness of an empty marriage, though
hesitant to say it outright, and long for love and security again.
Is that unnatural, even though the love for their dead husbands
is still strong and the pain of their parting is felt? They face
a life of loneliness, struggling alone to bring up their fatherless
Some of these
widows have been married a few years, others a few months and still
others only a few weeks. Revonne Hewage's husband died just before
peace dawned in the country. She had been married for three years
and has a girl of five. "It is very difficult. Thanikama denenawa,"
only seven months and with no children, Anojani Yatiwawala, 30,
is hesitant to find herself another husband, though family and friends
urge her to do so. "Everyone tells me to get married but what
if he comes back," she says adding that her husband too has
been declared missing in action.
need to look at this group of vulnerable women who have faced many
a vicissitude, with sympathy and understanding. Do we condemn them
to a life of loneliness or allow them to seek a bit of happiness
once again, without cutting off that all-important financial lifeline?
for the widows
It was a forum to air the grievances of the widows of soldiers,
an opportunity for them to meet Defence Minister Tilak Marapana.
was organized by the Ranaviru Family Counselling Service (RFCS),
a project of the Association of Retired Flag Rank Officers on October
4 at the main hall of Royal College. Acting Army Commander Major
General L. C. R. Goonewardene, Navy Commander Vice Admiral D. Sandagiri
and Air Force Commander Air Marshal G. D. Perera also gave ear to
the grievances of about a dozen widows, representing 10 districts.
Amid the numerous
problems presented, the issue of remarrying seemed to take precedence.
RFCS President Air Vice Marshal Harry Goonetileke proposed that
the government should continue to give the women at least half the
sum they received as salary and pension if they remarried. "Most
of these widows want to remarry for reasons such as security, emotional
dependence and companionship. They also want someone to share the
responsibility of rearing their children, as it is a hard task to
be both father and mother to them."
4,000 war widows, a large number want to remarry. Many of them have
suitors or companions, ready to marry them. Rationally thinking,
we could come to the conclusion that these men are interested in
marrying them solely for the adequate sum they receive every month.
But by cutting down the sum by half, we could keep away such impostors.
Since the government allocates almost Rs. 40 million for this purpose,
this arrangement will also reduce that sum by half," he said.
Among the other
problems faced by these widows was the non-validity of the identification
cards issued to them by the forces. As people treated this document
with suspicion, it was suggested that it should have the signature
of a higher official. Most of the women also asked that they be
allotted a permanent building in each district, where they could
meet and discuss their problems.
responded to a few problems immediately, explaining that the others
needed procedural solutions. "The widows have to submit a certificate
issued by the Grama Sevaka every three months, claiming that they
are not remarried, to receive their dead husbands' pensions. But
in future, this claim needs to be proclaimed only verbally,"
he said. -Vidushi