they took my son away…

No one knows the empty, dull ache of a mother’s heart searching for her long lost son.

For thousands of Sri Lankan mothers, both Sinhalese and Tamil, that dull ache had become a daily pain they must endure. Whether the sons were taken away during and in the aftermath of the war in the North or during the infamous youth insurrection of the South, what remains is the heartache common to all mothers. A heartache that refuses to go away, no matter how much you cry. A heartache that lasts as long as there are tears to cry.

They took away my son.

It was a regular Friday and I was reading my favourite Sinhala newspaper Ravaya – I try to savour the excellent articles it always contains and this Friday was no exception. What caught my eye – and touched my heart, was the story of two mothers. One, Mihindukulasooriyage Asilin Nona, a woman who made her living selling wares at the Divulapitiya Junction in Ja ela Sri Lanka, whose son was abducted and never seen again during the insurrection of 1989. And the other was the mother of a young man taken away in 2008 by uniformed men. His name was Loganathan Pradeepan.

Asilin Nona had searched high and low for news, any news of her son at the time. She had letters requesting to know the whereabouts of her son, letters that were thrown away by the powers that be. She cried and pleaded, spent nights yearning for her boy but never found him.

Some twenty years later, in the thick of the civil war, Pradeepan’s mother has the misfortune no mother ever wants – to watch her son taken away by men on trailer bikes. She cried and ran behind the men. They took him and went away. She saw him once just once – and would give an arm and a leg to see him again.

She received letters – written in Sinhala – about her son. She couldn’t read them so she had to walk around – for a month – to find someone who could read Sinhala. Her visits to Colombo usually meant they had to pawn jewellery or borrow money to make the trip.

On one such visit to Boosa, she was questioned. She saw a young man there and for a moment frozen in time, she thought it was her son. No, he didn’t look like her son but maybe, just maybe it was him, now changed after some years. But the boy broke her dream as he told her to tell his mother to come get him – before he was taken away once again.

She has gone to every kovil, worshipped every god there to ask for the safe return of her son. But he never came. She waits to taste death , the same death that most probably took him, and she waits for it with the kind of pain only a mother can understand.

In between Asilin Nona and her, thousands of mothers lost their sons and daughters. Their tears have been frozen in time, seeking justice that would come.

I remember other mothers too – mother of Nimala Rueben, the young man who was murdered while in custody. How she cried when she had to bring out traditional decorations for his funeral -she had been wanting to decorate for his wedding. Mothers whose hearts ache for the sons they held at their breast, fed and clothed, brought up with love and laughter as only a mother can. Only a mother can know the deep bond that severs when one half of her life is taken from her – her children.

I look at my son, a strapping young man, and know instinctively in my heart what pain they must have experienced. This is not about political opinions, vengeance, who’s right and who’s wrong. This is about the mothers who have had to experience the excruciating pain of watching their sons taken away, never to return. Mothers who live and relive a million times in their hearts, those final minutes when their sons were taken away.

It doesn’t matter if they are Tamil , Sinhalese or Moslem. It doesn’t matter that they have been implicated in some way in the political abyss of this country. I am a mother and I can understand and relate to their pain. No one else but a mother can know the dull ache, the ever present nagging emptiness losing a child brings.

I am a writer and when my heart is touched, I express it best in words. When emotions rush and tears crowd my eyes, I let it go in words and words are my refuge this Friday night. Things have changed, I try to assure myself, good governance is firmly in the saddle now. And justice will be delivered.

May mothers who have lost sons and daughters in Sri Lanka be comforted and may they be able to seek the kind of justice they deserve.

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