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Sri Lanka attacks: Children of Easter Sunday carnage



  A boy lights a candle after a burial after a funeral for a person killed in an attack on St. Sebastian on Easter Sunday

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Getty Images

A week ago, many dozens became Children killed Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday attacks. Dressed in the finest attire for one of the most important church services of the year, this was the first generation in decades to grow up non-violently. Their stories ̵

1; and the struggle for the surviving children to understand the carnage – lead the island on a devastatingly well-known path.

When bubbly Sneha Savindri Fernando went to Easter Sunday in St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, her opinion was quite different. For weeks she had excitedly made plans for her thirteenth birthday – a day she never had the opportunity to celebrate.

  Sneha

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FAMILY HANDOUT AT BBC

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Sneha was looking forward to her 13th birthday

"She was like a little bird, she loved dancing, she danced to everything, and if you asked her to dance, she would immediately jump into a sari or a long skirt and pledge herself," says her mother, Nirasha Fernando. Sneha, Ms. Fernando and their neighbors Gayani and Tyronne all went together in Tyronne's Auto Rickshaw.

Only Nirasha came back.

Sneha was one of many children who died when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Negombo church in Katuwapitiya. Almost at that very moment, five other places, churches and hotels were hit by bomb attacks.

The softest target

It was the first thing that first responders I addressed noticed as soon as they entered the churches: the large number of children among the dead. The total number of victims in the attacks is unclear, but officials believe that children could end up making up more than a fifth of the final death toll.

This is because the bombing raids were the softest – all they had in the morning in all services – a significant religious festival and luxury hotels, where families settled in Sri Lanka's hearty breakfast buffet.

Now Sneha's mother Nirasha looks at the photo of her daughter. Part of the bomb embedded itself in her upper lip-a constant irritation, a permanent physical mark, and a memory of her loss.

  Sneha Banner

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There are banners throughout the city of Negombo – this banner is reminiscent of Sneha

"We called her Duwani (daughter) at home, she was my first one, I rocked her to sleep … I held her in my hands … I raised her with so much love and now she left. "

They were in the third pew – very close to the front – when the bomb went off. The damage to Sneha's body was so great that she was brought home in a sealed casket.

"I could not even see her face," says Nirasha blankly.

  Sneha's mother

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Part of the bomb is embedded in Nirasha Fernando's upper lip – a constant reminder of the violence of the day

A hall in another Negombo house houses an unbearable scene Four open caskets lie side by side. Three contain corpses of children: siblings Rashini Praveesha at the age of 14, Shalomi Himaya (nine) and Shalom Shathiska (seven years).

Shocked relatives continue to enter the house to confirm the truth about what they see.

An elderly relative enters and becomes immediately disconnected from grief. "Shalom! Shalom! Our youngest, our baby," she says, almost falling on his coffin. "You've always been so naughty, you've always loved playing pranks on us, get up, baby, please get up!"

Relatives rush in and take her away as she continues screaming.

It is similar in the eastern coastal town of Batticaloa on the other side of the country. Like Negombo, Batticaloa adorns banners in memory of the dead, many of them children.

"He went to drink water"

Below is the banner for 13-year-old John Jesuran Jayaratnam dressed in his finest red shirt and suspenders. He had just finished his Sunday class. His mother told the BBC that she had been outside with him when they were waiting to go to the Zion Church for the Easter service.

He told her he would drink water from the well and come back. That was the last time she saw him.

In front of John's house, a basketball hoop attached to a dusty wall sways in the wind.

  John Batti

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The banners strive to show the children the best of their Sunday – this hangs before John Jesura's home in Jayaratnam

"He loved basketball, I sat here and watched him play," his mother says as she looks out the living room window. The youngest of three sons, John, was her baby and a regular worshiper in the church.

For Sri Lankans, the loss of so many children was one of the main features of these attacks. It is not the bombers that are the topic of conversation – but the children. In the days immediately following the attacks, WhatsApp and Facebook began versions of events involving the children, family talks, and even exchanges on the street.

There were stories about the children who died. People said that there were so many of them because bombs exploded when children were called to bless, or because a choir was at the front when the bombs were hit, or they were all dressed up as angels.

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Media Caption "My heart broke when I saw the corpses"

It was difficult to confirm such details – and some of these stories seem to have a foundation

A survivor of the Negombo attack told me That so many women and children were just among the victims just because they were sitting inside, where it was cooler, while the men were standing outside.

But the stories about the children spread more and more.

The First "Innocent" Generation

Counseling psychologist Nivendra Uduman says such narratives can be used for a variety of reasons – it could be considered a sense of being useful in times of crisis, an important link.

Whatever the reason, it was the images of innocence that aroused public imagination.

  People light candles at the funeral of Dhami Brindya, 13, on Easter Sunday, victims of a suicide attack on churches and luxury hotels on April 25, 2019 in Negombo, Sri Lanka. </span><br />
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Reuters

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At the funeral of a young girl in Negombo, candles are lit. This is the first case of mass violence that children under the age of ten have faced in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, however, these children also represented the first "innocent" generation. War, division and brutality were not part of their daily diet.

In just a few weeks, the country is said to be 10 years after the end of a 30-year civil war between government forces and militant separatists. It was a conflict that triggered bombing across the country and brutal violence on both sides.

The "pre-war" generations witnessed two bloody Marxist uprisings – first in the late 1970s, late 1980s and late 1980s early 1990s, which included violent and violent disruptions in daily life months of closure of schools. A brutal retaliation by the government saw even more bloodshed.

The death of so many of these children on Easter Sunday was particularly poignant because it was the first generation in decades for which violence was not part of their daily lives. That does not mean that there was no dispute – there were anti-Muslim uprisings and attacks on churches. Religious tensions increased, albeit never on this scale. However, the bloodshed, which had routinely hit Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims from generations before, had almost disappeared.

For Dr. med. Ajith Danthanarayana, director of the Lady Ridgeway Children's Hospital in Colombo, the aftermath of the bombing raids is a bitter reminder of the past

"These are all children, there is no race, no religion, we've lived through 30 years of war and tsunami "We've seen so many bad things, and we've managed to do the best for our patients, that's all we can do."

The station feels the same way.

"At least I was used to it, we all knew or heard about people who had been killed by violence, and we kept watching pictures on TV and in the papers, but how can I explain that to my son? Wasantha Fernando asks me, as I stand in the hospital at the bed of his son.

  Akalanka

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Akalanka, 7, has a ball bearing anchored in his muscle, but still does not fully grasp what happened to him

Seven-year-old Akalanka was one of the victims of St. Sebastian's Church. An iron ball bearing had torn itself into his leg, breaking his bones and nestling into his muscle. He was released that day, but still had no clear idea of ​​why he was in the hospital.

"He heard us use the word bomb and asks us what it means, I told him it's something that makes a loud noise like a firecracker, he does not know it hurts But I have to say something to him because so many of his friends and colleagues have left, "says Fernando.

Rumors Worry Children

This represents the second major challenge facing a population already plagued by the brutality of these attacks. How do you explain to your children, many of whom are already traumatized?

Dr. Gadambanathan, consultant psychiatrist at Batticaloa Hospital, visited some of the injured children immediately after the attacks.

His employees had identified a number of immediate challenges: panic attacks, sleep disorders and nightmares, worries about facial injuries due to injuries, parents overwhelmed with grief who were unable to take care of their remaining children, or Adults who have had trouble communicating to the children. Loss of a sibling or a parent to a child.

A psychiatric and psychosocial support worker in Batticaloa who does not want to be identified says that the most obvious impact on the children was directly related to the attacks. Watching videos of the attacks, experiencing the rumored panic, or recognizing the fears of the adults around them could also affect children who are a long way from the events, he says.

"I was in contact with parents from all over the island, whose children were startled by the idea that bombers could attack their homes or cities that can not sleep, have questions about why this happened or express strong feelings the anger towards the perpetrators, "he said.

  A woman holding a crying child as she throws earth on a coffin during a funeral for a person killed during St. Sebastian's Easter Sunday attack </span><br />
                 <span class= ] Getty Images

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A series Organizations seek to help adults talk to their children about what happened

A number of organizations, including Unicef, have issued guidelines to help adults talk about what happened to their children in an age-appropriate manner. These have become widespread in social media, as well as with parents and medical staff in hospitals and teachers.

In fact, returning to school is another great way to help children process such events. Dayani Samarakoon, who teaches children between the ages of seven and twelve at a school in Colombo, describes how she had prepared for the return of her students. Her approach, she says, depends on the age group.

"The youngest may or may not know what happened, I'll make them talk to me about what they know, some of what they might know The truth may be the rest, but the important thing is Listen to them and listen to their fears, "she says.

To what extent such services are freely available is unclear. In Sri Lanka, finding help for mental illness is still considered a taboo, and adults, many traumatized by themselves, may not have the tools to comfort their children.

Why can not one of you stay? In the meantime, loss and funerals are still consuming a living.

Back in Negombo a woman wails in pain and strikes in pain on the chest. She has lost her husband and two children through the attack of St. Sebastian. Her daughter Sachini Appuhami was 21 and Vimukthi, her son, 14 years old.

Her brother-in-law, Jude Prasad, says both children are bright students. Sachini had completed secondary school and completed a course in accounting. Vimukthi apparently never had to be tormented to do his homework.

  Vimkuthi and Sachini

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FAMILY HANDOUT / BBC

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The siblings Sachini and Vimukthi were depicted when they were much younger

"We've tried so many times to get them interested in sports, but they've been more interested in their books," he smiles. But Vimukthi also has great interest in music.

"When he passed his five standard exams, he asked his father about it," he says, breaking his voice. He points with a thoughtful drum to adjust the mezzanine.

"My brother and I went all the way to Wennappuwa (a big city 21 km away) to get it for him, he really loved it."

At this moment another relative comes in and goes straight to a wall where framed photographs of the family are shown.

She touches the faces of the two children in a photo they took when they were much younger. "Why could not one of you live for your mother?" she demands to become more and more hysterical. "Why could not at least one of you stay?"

Additional reporting in Batticaloa by the BBI Rajini Vaidyanathan


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