From their time at the Batticaloa General Hospital in the week that followed, the doctors say the health sector responded at full capacity. Where one would usually see a single doctor and several nurses attending to a patient, the aftermath saw a single patient being treated by four or five doctors. Doctors from towns hours away, and even retired medical officers, reported to work.
Some of the staff and doctors serving in Batticaloa were prepared for emergency responses due to their work during the years of war and the tsunami. Among them was a female paediatric surgeon; at one point during the war, she was the only surgeon at the Batticaloa hospital, who has experience treating the injured from both the Army and the LTTE.
All the surgeons in the Kattankudy hospital, most of them Muslim, came to the hospital in Batticaloa to help their counterparts deal with the casualties. “We could tell the day got harder for them as it moved along, with news breaking about the identity and origins of the bombers,” say the young doctors, who felt that their Kattankudy colleagues saw this as a responsibility they shouldered.
Within a few days of the attacks, the police set up camp at churches across the country. Some churches politely declined when the STF asked to do the same. “We were worried because we saw the STF officers talking to the young kids who’d come to our youth groups, and asking them questions. We weren’t sure what they’d tell the soldiers, or how what they said would be interpreted,” says a social worker at a church north of Batticaloa.
‘We don’t want you here’ read the fliers, distributed to Muslim shop owners in the Batticaloa town by mobs of young men. The mobs were also aware that these shops were employing Tamil women as salespersons or clerks. ‘If you don’t stop, blood will flow’ more fliers read, and the owners collectively decided to close their shops.
The mobs then took to motorcycles, riding through Batticaloa yelling abuse at Muslim citizens, sometimes through loudspeakers. In residential areas, they would pull people out of vehicles or houses and harass them. Rumours of Muslim people putting sterilisation pills in the food they prepared and sold – which have been used to stoke tensions for years across Sri Lanka – reignited and spread like wildfire. A prominent Muslim caterer, the regular choice for most large functions in the city, found all their orders being cancelled.