To Be Heard…Talk or Shoot?

August 21, 2007

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“Nation, is the geo-social entity
providing maximum security for the survival of a community,
Nationalism, is that fundamental desire
For the assurance of a Nation
Nations uniting and dividing
Of their own volition, is the
Expression of their urge for that assurance
Alas, as usual, this time too
Our Nation lost the basis of its existence”

 

V I.S Jeyapalan

 

By Shanthi Sachithanandam

Bathed in the glare of the media and a high-pitched war rhetoric, the military operations in the East were the visible war efforts to most of us in this country and abroad during the past few months. But simultaneously, elsewhere in the East, the government had stealthily opened up another war front away from all the publicity and fanfare. This particular battle was part of a longer term strategy than anything that had been envisaged by the security forces in the North-East. Extraordinary gazette notification was its hardware that carried ammunition in the form of legality, which was deadlier than the biggest multi barrel rocket launcher. Once ground control is consolidated, it is going to use the so called agents of development as its forces of occupation.

It is none other than the declaration of the Muttur East/ Sampur area within the Trincomalee district as a high security zone, and also as a special development zone.

On 30th May 2007 the Sri Lankan government enforced the Muttur East/Sampur high security zone of around 5000 acres of land comprising of 12 GS divisions, through an extraordinary gazette notification. “No person shall enter the area comprising the Muttur (East) / Sampur High security zone, in any boat or vessel or any other manner, or having entered, remain within or ply any boat or vessel within the Muttur (East) / Sampur High Security zone, except under the written authority of the Competent Authority. ..” said the notification. And Maj. Gen. Parakrama Pannipitiya, Commander, Security forces – East, was instituted as the competent authority. With the stroke of a pen, over 15,000 Tamil people who had occupied these areas for generations, were rendered homeless. 28 villages were lost and along with them, access to deep sea fishing, cultivable lands, and cattle grazing areas, not to speak of the local agriculture tanks, schools and hospitals. And this was done while the people were displaced in another district, having been there for over one year .

The HSZ notification is a regulation made by the President invoking section 5 of the Public Security Ordinance. This section is there to execute regulations which are temporary in nature, as deemed necessary for National security. How could the President, under this section, bring into force a regulation which could permanently take away from communities their very basis of existence? Then, one could argue that any government has the jurisdiction to designate areas for development projects. But, when this development leads to the displacement of communities from their lands of habitation, this certain right begins to tread on dubious grounds; more so if it involves the decimation of the economic, social and cultural life of any minorities, clan groups or tribes. For, in the case of such vulnerable communities, this act disrupts the ‘geo-social entity’ so essential for their existence. And no government shall endanger an ethnic minority, which is really tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

Tap on the shoulder of any Sri Lankan Tamil (note, ANY) to pose the question on the bona fides of this recent declaration. The answer, without any doubt, will identify it as the latest move in the long line of the colonization process carried out during the past sixty years or so by consecutive Sri Lankan governments for the dilution of the demographic constituency of the Tamils in the North-East. This list will begin with the Gal Oya scheme in the then Batticaloa district in the 1950s, afterwards continue through Kantale, Morawewa ( changed from the name Mudalikulam), Gomarankadawela (changed from the name Kumaran Kadavai) and Padavisirpura (changed from the name Padaviyal Kulam) schemes, all within the Trincomalee district. On 16th April 1988 a similar extraordinary gazette notification displaced 13,288 Tamil families living in and around 42 villages, though not ancient villages as in Muttur East, in Weli Oya (changed from the name Manal Aru) in the Mullaitivu district. 9,289 Sinhala families were settled there instead, ostensibly under the Mahaweli Development Programme.

Not only development programmes, even the discovery of ancient Buddhist places of worship provided equal enough excuse to ‘Sinhalize’ the area, completely denying the Tamils their own Buddhist heritage. The Seruwila colonization scheme under the Mahaweli system B project, was one such case, again within the Trincomalee district.

Connect all these schemes, and an astonishingly congruent wedge bifurcating the contiguous Tamil territory of the North-East will emerge. What a coincidence! A coincidence made possible by the strategic placement of only Sinhala officers as Government Agents and authorized land officers in Trincomalee district. Progressively, these senior posts in civil administration are being turned over to the armed forces. In Sri Lankan English parlance, “Easy No ?” At present, both the Government Agent of Trincomalee and the Governor of the North and East are ex- officers of the Army and Navy respectively. It is strongly rumoured that the same fate also awaits the post of the Chief Secretary of the Eastern Provincial Council.

The Muttur East HSZ declaration, therefore, is one part of the strategy to prise the whole of Trincomalee district from the North-East Province. Why else would the authorities bother to rename the fishing village of Ilangaithurai Muhathuvaram, situated at the tip of the adjacent coast, as “Lanka Patuna”? And swiftly announce, even before the war is over and normalcy returned, that 675 sq.km of this land is to be acquired for the creation of a special development zone?

Ever since the gazette notification, the members of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance have expressed their objections inside and outside of the Parliament. The Tamil press continues to be filled with long articles of lament by both regular columnists and other individuals. The Federation of Tamil Organizations of the Trincomalee District, the Batticaloa District Inter Religious Peace Union, the New Democratic Party, all issued statements of condemnation. The New Democratic Party referred to the HSZ as a tactic to provide protection to the projects of the State, not for the people as claimed by the government.

The Muttur Pradeshiya Sabha unanimously passed a motion denouncing the HSZ. This motion mentioned the fact that as a body, it had repeatedly appealed to President Rajapaksa, the Governor of Eastern Province, the Government Agent of Trincomalee , Minister of Resettlement Rishad Badurdeen, and the Minister of Disaster Relief Services Amir Ali, to facilitate resettlement. They also alleged that the government suddenly went back on its initial assurance of allowing resettlement once de-mining was over.

In June on the International day of the refugees, thousands of people from the Muttur East region now displaced in Batticaloa district, staged a silent march through the main town of Batticaloa carrying placards which stated in particular that they will not settle anywhere other than in their own villages. They handed over a signed petition to the district representative of the UNHCR. On the 25th July, total Hartal was observed in the North-East despite the intimidation by the Military, STF and the renegade Tamil groups.

Thus, the totality of the Tamil Nation now in turmoil, the government in the guise of Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake chose to respond. The Prime Minister categorically stated in Parliament that this notification will never be revoked. He might also have wanted to humour those present. ” Even Katunayake and Kolonnawa are declared as HSZs. People continue to live there. The government has not violated their land rights..” he said indignantly. Surely, he must know that HSZs in the North-East mean total expulsion? Are people from Katunayake and Kolonnawa languishing in refugee camps, sometimes for over 15 years, like those in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Trincomalee districts as a result of HSZs? That is why we thought that he was cracking a joke.

But then we have heard these jokes many times before. When the Sinhala Only Bill was brought before the Parliament, when the whole house debated on the colonization schemes in the North-East, when all the Tamil parties staged a walkout in protest of the proposals for the 1972 constitution, when the 6th Amendment was passed rendering the Tamil parties illegal, we heard them over and over again. Every time, armed with political power and backed by the judiciary, they rode rough shod over Tamil opinion and bulldozed through with their own project, joking all the way. Perhaps this was the reason for Prabhakaran to conclude that not voices but the frequency of a gunshot was all that the Sinhala South could hear.

Muttur East people demand that their existence is ensured through the assurance of the continuance of their geo-social entity. How can they make themselves heard? Are their voices sufficient, or should they resort to Guns? Do please tell them.

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