They were taught life skills at the camp
His upper limbs are underdeveloped and his fingers crippled. He has only three fingers on his left hand and two and a half in the other. He also has a hump on his back and walks with a limp. All these congenital abnormalities have not deterred 12-year-old R. Agumani of Mottamalai next to Vilacheri near here from enjoying his childhood. But if there is something he is nervous about, it is the police!
The articulate and enthusiastic young boy, who can catch and throw a ball much better than any other normal child, says that he has stood witness to the numerous atrocities allegedly let loose by the police on his family members including his 13-year-old aunt whenever the men in uniform visit their locality in search of male members in connection with theft cases.
“I belong to the Kuravar tribe. My father is a trader and he sells bangles, combs, toys and other such articles. The police often come to our house either in search of my father or my paternal uncle. If they are not there, they use to torture all of us. Once, my aunt was kicked with boots. The policemen also banged her head on the wall for pleading ignorance about the whereabouts of my uncle,” he recalls.
Not so different is the case of sixteen-year-old A. Kalaivendan, of Maruthapandi Nagar near B.B. Kulam here, a direct victim of torture.
The boy, who had just completed his X standard, claims that he and his family members were taken to a local police station on February 15 and assaulted brutally for not disclosing the whereabouts of his maternal uncle Kalmandaiyan alias Murugan.
“We were tortured to the core until my uncle surrendered. However, he was ultimately killed in an encounter on February 16. After all these incidents, I was mentally disturbed and could not go to school regularly. But somehow I regained my exposure with others' assistance and appeared for the public examinations. Otherwise, things would have worsened for me,” he says with fright.
Fifteen-year-old N. Vinitha of Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam district has a different tale to narrate. Her father and elder brother, both fishermen, were allegedly tortured by the Sri Lankan Navy for entering the island nation's territorial waters. “My father could not go for fishing after that incident and the earnings of our family dropped significantly. Even my brother is yet to come out of the trauma,” she claims.
The teenage girl, now in her ninth standard, wants to study law so that she could fight for the cause of victims of human rights violations. “I am deeply moved by the plight of every other person here,” she says pointing to a group of around 100 children who had gathered for a weeklong summer camp organised by People's Watch, a non-governmental organisation based in Madurai.
The child victims of torture have been taught life skills at the camp titled ‘Sangamam 2010, a celebration of child rights.' They are also provided with free boarding and lodging facilities at the Mahatma Residential School campus at Alagarkovil near here for the entire camp period spanning between May 1 and 7. Entertainment activities such as playing games and staging dramas also form part of the programme.