Claiming land, claiming home, claiming justice | Daily FT

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In October 1990, 75,000-80,000 Muslims were evicted from their northern homeland in the wake of increasing hostilities and armed conflict in the north and east; return and resettlement has not been easy for any community


One day, on a day after tomorrow,

I too will return to my land

with mine and my own, and all around me,

to give life to a lovely spreading tree,

touching the skies,

growing from the root, still breathing.

On that day, your

brothers, and sisters, little then,

now grown, will have made

a new place in a new time.

Will they embrace us in a warm welcome

or turn away? Or, will they merely turn around,

without welcome, without word.


– Mullai Mustheefa in ‘Iruthalin Azhaippu’


Thirty years ago. In October 1990, 75,000-80,000 Muslims were evicted from their northern homeland in the wake of increasing hostilities and armed conflict in the north and east.

The LTTE which was dominant militarily in the north at that time and controlled large swathes of territory ordered an entire community to leave the province in two days with only a shopping bag and 500 rupees. In Jaffna peninsula they were given a mere two hours’ notice.

Today, 30 years later, as we remember the eviction and memorialise it, and as we remember the pain of its brutal injustice, we also remember that all of us, Tamils and Muslims, lost a part of ourselves that day.

The war had been cruel, and both our communities had been torn apart. Both the communities had been uprooted from their domiciles repeatedly, in the bombing and shelling, in the brutality of State militarisation and in the brutality of militancy. 30 years later, we are still looking for answers to all our concerns and feel the need for solidarity.

A viable political solution

While it is 11 years since the war drew to a close, the ethnic conflict and the issues it spawned are far from resolved. The quest for a viable political solution from a majoritarian state is a primary concern for many of us.

Continued insecurity in the face of militarisation is an urgent matter. Armed militancy and a political culture of violence that characterised the past, have further eroded into the democratic fabric of society. Resettlement and rehabilitation remain unresolved problems.

Distribution of land, access to State and social networks, language parity, devolution of power, inter-ethnic reconciliation and the continued presence of gender, class and caste stratifications are a part of the political landscape.

Also, the ongoing crisis triggered by the pandemic will lead us into an economic depression and greater authoritarianism, creating a sense of overwhelming fear and polarisation of perceptions, locally and nationally.

Public disavowal of the eviction

Today, as we are compelled to forge new paths of activism for our own survival, we need to formulate responses that are born out of dialogue between and among communities. This is essential if we are seeking a just and democratic political solution.

As a step toward this, there has to be a public disavowal of the eviction from all parties concerned, political and civil. We shall wholeheartedly say that never again will such a heinous act like the eviction take place amidst us. Never again shall we condone such acts of ethnic cleansing amidst us.

Our survival in the north as human subjects rests on the social, political and economic inter dependence of Tamils, Muslims and other communities in the region.

Return and resettlement

Return and resettlement in the war-torn north and east of the country had been a thorny issue from the very beginning. Return has not been easy for any community. It has not been easy for the Tamil community. In this fraught reconstruction process, the return and resettlement of Muslims has received scant attention.

Return is costly as it involves building a home and society from scratch. It entails finding a viable path to a livelihood in a new and often hostile environment. The natural increase of the community during the 30 years of displacement implies that in resettlement one needs to acquire more land to meet the needs of a community. Land and dwellings had been lost of jungle in many places.

Often returnees found in their lands and homes that they left long ago displaced Tamils, who themselves had lost their own land over time in the war. Two displaced and marginalised communities often find themselves locked in a contest for land, and other resources. Competition over allocations, jobs, schools and other distributory mechanisms are mired in battles that bring up old wounds. The younger generations have no context for this return and resettlement, which exacerbates the situation.

The establishment of military bases in some areas, the appropriation of land for roads and development projects have further complicated the problem, complicating the politics of reclaiming land. These have exacerbated relations between the Tamil and Muslim communities. But these are not intractable problems. We can resolve them if there is political will.

Appeal

In that spirit we appeal to:

the political leaderships of Tamils and Muslims to constantly engage in dialogue across ethnicities, and be inclusive in their actions, in a recognition that neither community can survive without collaboration. Our political leadership should constantly act against militarisation and authoritarianism in an inclusive manner.

the northern bureaucracies to address the needs of the displaced, the returnees, to address the problems that make return difficult, and thereby facilitate an easy process of return.

educational institutes and other civil organisations to make a concerted attempt to make dialogue, discussion and dissent central features of its democratic practice.

to leaders of religious organisations to make an effort to build bridges among communities.

In remembering the eviction and its continuing legacy, we the northern people make a commitment to forge lines of solidarity across cultural, ethnic and religious differences; and to attend to concerns of class, gender, caste and other forms of marginality among our communities and across communities. Thus, we in the north can shape a common vision for its future founded on social cohesion, democratic practice and political justice.

Signatories:

Naina Mohamed Abdullah, Jaffna Kilinochchi Muslim Council

A. Ajitha, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Ragavan Alphonsus

Mohamed Ameen – Rosa Textile

Abdul Gaffoor Anees –Research and Action Forum (RAFF)

Sengarapillai Arivalzahan, University of Jaffna

Rev. Stephen Arulampalam – Theological College of Lanka, Pilimathalawa

Swasthika Arulingam

Bisliya Bhuto – Social Activist

Najeeha Buhary – Jaffna Women’s Development Centre

Jancy Cafoor – J/Kadeeja Maha vidyalaya

Rengan Devarajan, Attorney-at-Law

Cayathri Divakalala, Independent Researcher

Mohamed Easteen – Thaha Foundation

S. Easwary, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

S. C. C. Elankovan

Mohamed Faais – Lawyer

Prathaban Francis

A. Girithy, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Sahul Hameed – Kamal Mosque

Prof. Farzana Hanifffa – University of Colombo

Jafar Hasbullah, University of British Columbia

K. Hemalatha, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Elijah Hoole

Rajan Hoole

Hasanah Cegu Isadeen

S. Ithayarani, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Very Revd. Fr. P. J. Jebaratnam. Vicar General, Roman Catholic Diocese. Bishop›s House, Jaffna.

S. Jeevasuthan – University of Jaffna

Thivakaran Jeyabalakrishnan

J. Prince Jeyadevan, University of Jaffna

S. Jeyasankar, Eastern University Sri Lanka

Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna

Niyanthini Kadirgamar

Rev. S. Kadirgamar

Mohamed Kais – JMA

S. Keetheswary, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

S. Kopika, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

R. Kounthini, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Rasaratnam Krishnakumar

Prithiviraj Kulasingham

Mahaluxmy Kurushanthan MWDF

J. Thayalini, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Jensila Majeed

S. Mariyarosalin – Vallamai –Movement for Social Change

Jamal Mohideen – Mohideen Mosque

Juwairiya Mohideen – Muslim Women’s Trust

Azeez Movlavi – Sivalapalli Mosque

Jafir Movlavi – Mohideen Mosque

Nisara Nawas – J/ Al Hadeeja Pre-school

Rufinas Nawas – Jaffna Women’s Development Centre

M. Nirmala, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

S. Nithika, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

S. Niventhini, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Siyana Niyas – Jaffna Women’s Development Centre

M. A. Nuhman – Retired Professor, University of Peradeniya

Ven. Fr. Samuel J Ponniah, Archdeacon of Jaffna, Diocese of Colombo, Church of Ceylon (Anglican)

Angel Queentus, Jaffna Transgender Network

Rusiya Sajeeth – Sarvodaya Shramadana Society

R. Rajany, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Vasuki Rajasingham

A. Rahman, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Fathusa Ramees – Osmaniya College

Bahirathy J. Rasanen, University of Jaffna.

Mohamed Razeen – Elders’ Society

S. H. M. Rizni –Research and Action Forum (RAFF)

M. M. Saburudeen, Attorney at Law, Mannar

The Rev. Jurinesz R. Shadrach, Church of Ceylon (Anglican)

Mohamed Samees – JMA

V. Shamini, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

K. Saranhan, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

K. Sathiyaseelan, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Muttukrisna Sarvananthan, University of Jaffna

Sutharshan Sellathurai – University of Peradeniya

S. K. Senthivel, New Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party

Shreen Saroor

V. Sinthuka, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Mafasa Siraj – Osmaniya College

N. Sivapalan, University of Jaffna

Navaratnam Sivakaran, University of Jaffna

S. Sivasuthan, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

M. Sooriyasekaram

A. Sornalingam

Sivamohan Sumathy – University of Peradeniya

S. Suganthi, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

Sivasanthirabos Sureshkumar, Oppuravillam, Church of Ceylon

Saba Thanujan, Co-Secretary, Mass Movement for Social Justice

S. Tharsan, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Selvy Thiruchandran

S. Thileepan, Vallamai – Movement for Social Change

Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna

Thisanthini Thiruchelvam

Yathursha Ulakentheran, Undergraduate, University of Peradeniya