KILINOCHCHI, SRI LANKA – Thiyagalingam Kumaradasan, 39, says he was blinded a decade ago when he was caught in a shelling attack during Sri Lanka’s civil conflict.
Kumaradasan lives with his wife and 18-month-old daughter in a village in Kilinochchi, a district in Sri Lanka’s Northern province. He does not work because of his disability.
Before he went blind, he was studying to be a doctor. He wanted to learn indigenous medicine so he went to study with an indigenous medical doctor in Mullaitivu, another district in the province. But that is also the year his dream of being a doctor ended.
“Still I can remember that day in 1992,” he says. “There was huge shelling attack in Mullaitivu. Lot of people died. Some were injured.”
He says he could not remember what had happened to him immediately after the incident. When he woke up several days later, he started to scream. He felt a few people touching his body, which was in pain, but he could not see them.
“I heard voices of some people,” he says. “I screamed. Few people came and talked to me. But I could not remember what they told. Still I did not know what happened to me.”
After he recovered, he says that the hospital staff told him that he had been in the mortuary of Jaffna Teaching Hospital for days because they had thought he was dead.
“No one knows that I was alive,” he says. “Once I screamed only the mortuary staff got to know that I was alive and forwarded me to hospital ward.”
He says he eventually realized he was in the hospital.
“But I could not see anything,” he says. “Then I realized that shells damaged my eyes.”
He underwent many operations, but the doctors said the nerves were too damaged for him to regain any vision. His father looked after him until he got married in 2008.
“Still my father gives 5,000 rupees [$45] for my family every month, which he earns from his small cigarette-making business,” he says.
From September 2008 to April 2009, the year the conflict ended, Kumaradasan and his family were displaced seven different times. Finally, they ended up in Ramanadan camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Vavuniya district. He says his disability made the journey difficult.
“At that time, my wife was pregnant,” he says. “But she helped me lot with her all pains. We walked two kilometers on the water and getting to the buses.”
His daughter was born while they were living in the camp.
“I [would] love to see the faces of my daughter and wife,” he says. “But I cannot. I cannot do anything for them.”
He says he is at least grateful he has them in his life.
“Now my little daughter calls me ‘Appa,’” he says, which means father. “I’m happy at least I can listen to her voice.”
He always wears a pair of black spectacles because he does