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University students living between nightmares & dreams

world Updated: Mar 15, 2010 00:12 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

On the languid campus of the Jaffna University (JU), students talk about the suicides in low voices. The boy lost his family and both legs and the girl her family in the final phase of the war between LTTE and the army. They returned to the campus from the camps for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) but not for long. "We can’t live like the other people…,’’ their suicide note said.

Another 345 students of JU – it has about 5000 students -- are trying to build their lives, once again. They got caught in the fighting while vacationing at home and could not make it back to Jaffna. About a dozen of these students interacted with HT on the JU campus and outside last week. They shared horror stories about constantly moving with the retreating rebels since 2007-08, spending days and nights in hastily built bunkers as fighter aircraft and artillery shells became routine and losing family members to the war.

Some of the boys were conscripted by the Tigers, given two months training and handed AK 47 rifles; some of the girls got married and had babies to escape LTTE recruitment.

Nandu, married with a child, said it was either marriage or an injury that could prevent LTTE recruitment.

"We were living under the shadow of death. One day, a shell fell into a hospital in Mullaivaikal (in the north-eastern district of Mullaitivu) near our bunker. More than 60 died,’’ Jasoda, an arts faculty student and mother of one, said.

After the fighting ended in May 2009, the students were interned in government camps for months before University authorities had them released. Most were from Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, the two districts reduced to rubble in the last months of fighting.

One student spent time in a military detention camp on suspicion of being an LTTE cadre. "For a month, I was tortured; hung up-side down, my head was tied with plastic bags,’’ he claimed. From the torture room, John was taken to another rehabilitation camp where he was taught MS Office and how to hoist the Sri Lankan flag.

"They want to change our minds,’’ he added.

Several students like Nathan and Akbar suffered bullet and shell injuries. Nathan reacts nervously to bright light and loud sound and suffers from periodical memory lapse.

Many dream about going abroad for a better life. But will they be able to recover the lost years?

"They have lost two-to-three years of their academic years. But they are bright and willing to study hard,’’ Professor N Shanmugalingam, JU vice-chancellor, said.

The years lost in studies could be recovered if they are able to cope with the past and move forward to the future.

(Names of all students have been changed to protect their identities)

Second of 6-part series