Shunned, destitute and pushed into prostitution in some cases, Sri Lanka’s Tamil widows have returned to northern Jaffna since the end of the separatist war only to discover they are not welcome even in their homeland. Now, six years after the war ended, the women who fled the fighting on the peninsula in their thousands are pinning their hopes on the nation’s new president for a better future for their families. “Widows are despised in our society,” said Baskaran Jegathiswari, 50, fighting back tears at her home in Achchuveli village in Jaffna, heartland of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority. “People look down on us. They think we bring bad luck,” said Jegathiswari, who lost her husband to military shellfire just months before the war ended in 2009. The women are closely watching President Maithripala Sirisena who took office in January pledging reconciliation to “heal broken hearts and minds”. Official figures show 27,000 widows head households in Jaffna, where the conflict was centred, while local politicians put the figure much higher. “I can’t think of rebuilding my life now,” said widow Evin Selvy who struggles to feed her family, earning 500 rupees ($3.80) a day as a farm labourer. “But I hope the new government will make it better for my three daughters.” At least 100,000 people were killed in the war between 1972 and 2009 when the military finally crushed Tamil rebels fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic minority. Thousands are still unaccounted for, including suspected rebels rounded up by security forces or who surrendered in the conflict’s final phase and then disappeared. Widows left behind say they feel vulnerable, with reports of physical abuse by members of their community. Others are ostracised – considered bad luck by the conservative Hindu society. Many struggle to find jobs and cannot make ends meet, with some forced into prostitution, according to social worker, Dharshini Chandiran. Several widows said even family friends were trying to take advantage of their plight, seeking sex in return for financial or other assistance. Despite all the problems, Ananthi Sasitharan, 43, a member of the local Northern Provincial Council, said she was optimistic Sirisena would eventually take up their plight, with signs his government was moving towards reconciliation. “He appears a simple person... I feel we can even call him directly to discuss any problem,” Sasitharan said. Sirisena on Friday ordered the dismissal of parliament, clearing the way for a general election expected to be held in August, in a bid to strengthen his party’s numbers and bolster his mandate for reform. Sirisena has also pledged a domestic inquiry into allegations by a UN panel of atrocities committed in the fighting, including the killing of thousands of civilians and sexual violence by soldiers. Previous president Mahinda Rajapakse, an autocrat in power for a decade, rejected Western pressure for an investigation, saying no civilians were killed.