13,000 Tamil widows are under age of 23, says Rangarajan
Tamil leaders wanted a political solution to the ethnic problem within the framework of united Sri Lanka and no one raised the issue of a separate Tamil Eelam, said CPI(M) MP T.K. Rangarajan, who was part of the Indian Parliamentary delegation that toured Sri Lanka last week.
When asked about DMK president M. Karunanidhi’s demand for United Nations intervention and referendum for formation of Tamil Eelam on the lines of East Timor, Kosovo and Montenegro, Mr Rangarajan said the team interacted almost with every Tamil leaders and none of them, including representatives of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), pressed for Eelam.
“At the citizens meeting at Jaffna and also in a session with the Sri Lankan MPs, TNA leader Sampanthan stressed for a political solution within the united Sri Lanka and never talked about Eelam,” he said.
“I am a Sri Lankan and wanted to die as a Sri Lankan,” Mr Rangarajan quoted Mr Sampanthan as saying.
Mr Rangarajan said Ms Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Indian delegation, brought to the attention of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa the aspiration of the Tamils, seeking greater autonomy for Tamil regions and elections to the North and he gave a patient hearing.
“One issue that moved all of us was the plight of 45,000 Tamil widows. In Batticaloa alone, there are 23,000 widows, 13,000 of whom are under the age of 23. I could not control my emotions when I talked to them,” Mr Rangarajan said.
The Indian delegation took up the issue with Mr Rajapaksa and he had said there were another 30,000 widows of Sri Lankan soldiers who were killed in the war.
The governments of Sri Lanka and India already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and started Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organisation for empowering war affected women.
Around 800 of them visited Gujarat, Maharastra and Karnataka to get training in information technology, embroidery, food processing and packaging of fruits, vegetables and spices, solar lantern assembling and making and roof rain water harvesting.
Some of the teachers from Gujarat were Sri Lankan and continue to teach them.
The CPI(M) leader said that in many places the Sri Lankan army had occupied the temples and the locals wanted their immediate withdrawal.
“Sri Lankan Tamils are strong Saivites and they feel the Army’s presence is a hindrance to daily rituals.
They were forced to close temples by five in the evening, while the ‘arthajama pooja’ has to be conducted at midnight. We have brought it to the notice of Mr Rajapaksa and he asked officials to look into the issue,” Mr. Rangarajan said.
Another area the Sri Lankan Tamils needed India’s help was education, he said.
“Jaffna was synonymous with education and excellence. Today it is in a pathetic state. India has rebuilt 22 schools in Jaffna, but lack of Mathematics, English and Science teachers is a problem,” he said.