The story of a soldier’s wife
By Ranee Mohamed
@ Sunday Leader / 2000
She wears an old skirt and blouse, but never wears a smile. She walks the streets of Colombo; sometimes, if she can afford bus fare she takes her son with her.
Her twenty year old son Roshan, born a normal child, is mentally unsound today. He shoots at imaginary terrorists sometimes or crouches in fear.
For at ten years of age he witnessed the slaying of his father by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Geetha Handapangoda is a wife of a man who had to die for the country, and years later, she walks the streets, unable to fend for herself and her four children. In addition to this, she has a twenty year old son who is in a world of his own.
Isn’t it time we asked what the country has done for them? Well, nothing much it seems. "My husband, a soldier of the Sri Lanka army, our three children and I were having dinner on April 18, 1989 in our quarters in Trincomalee. It was a holiday for him and he came from Moraweva.
Suddenly we heard voices calling out in Tamil.We had to come out, my son was ten years old then. The terrorists showed us guns and asked us to shut up and close the door. They blew the lamp out and then dragged my husband into the jungle," recalls Geetha. Geetha who was 9 months pregnant at that time had fainted.
When she opened her eyes, her husband had closed his. For he lay dead in a pool of blood a few yards away from their house. Her mother who had taken her three children had hid in the jungle and escaped any harm. But from the jungle the ten year old boy, Roshan Manjula had witnessed his father being assaulted by the terrorists, he had listened to his father’s agonising cries and watched helplessly as his father was shot.
Today, almost eleven years later, he still recalls the scene in his mind. Then he begins to scream and tries to hit out and shoot at imaginary terrorists. There are times when Roshan recalls jogging with his father. There are times when he remembers playing cricket with him. Twelve years later, he stills calls out to his father. His face lights up at the mention of his father’s name and then suddenly sheer horror fills his eyes and he crouches in a corner in fear and begins to cry.
Little Roshan had always wanted to join the army and shoot the terrorists, but they were faster than him. Roshan’s dreams never came true. They killed his father and simultaneously killed something inside little Roshan. "We cremated my husband within two days and came to our village in Avissawella.
President Premadasa gave us a house and we also received a sum of Rs.50,000. Soon I found that I could not support my children. It broke my heart to send them to an orphanage.We have always been together," she said. Geetha’s husband was killed on April 18, and she gave birth to son on May 1. Geetha found that she had to not only look after her four children, including her new born, but also to ensure that they received enough financial support. Her son, mentally disturbed was joining her other children in asking her for food. "Roshan loves cake and rice and he has a voracious appetite. There are times when I cannot even give him a slice of bread," she confesses, tears streaming down her face. After walking the streets, she had walked into Tristar Apparels. When the proprietor, Kumar Devapura heard her story, he had given her employment as a helper in their embroidery department. Today, Geetha Handapangoda lives at 19, 10th Lane, Mithudampura,Soysapura, Moratuwa. Things have changed for her from the life of extreme poverty and hardship, but she still feels the weight of financial insecurity. Many are the times when they do not have money to eat. Today however there is a greater burden on her mind. Her son, who requires medical treatment in India is unable to get it due to their poverty. Roshan who is suffering from trauma needs to go to Apollo hospital in India. His mother is walking the streets telling everyone who wishes to listen to her tale of woe. But Geetha knows that her son cannot go to India - not that easily, for at the moment she does not even have Rs.10 in her purse.