Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jaffna: A year since the end of the war

By Dileesha Abeysundera | The Sunday Leader

It has been more than one year since the end of the war and many views have been expressed with regard to getting the lives of civilians in the North back on track as well as the development work. We received an opportunity to listen to the views and needs of various people in the North and to witness the true situation there during a recent visit to the area.

Jaffna was liberated from the LTTE in 1998. Even after the lapse of 12 years, there has been no visible change in Jaffna nor any development in the area. The brunt of the war that continued around was felt mostly by Jaffna, which remained an isolated city in the North.

Many people from the South, Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamil alike, have now received the opportunity of visiting the North following the end of the war.

However, except for a few special attractions, people travelling to the North could only witness the destruction brought about by the war.

Some Tamil families have set up temporary shelters by the side of the A9 highway in areas that have been de-mined.

The false dawn

In the Kilinochchi town, one could witness mostly the remnants of buildings destroyed in the war and several shops that have been set up recently.
Yet, the many advertising hoardings that have been erected on the A9 between Kilinochchi and Jaffna, indicated the entrance of private enterprises as well as investors to the area.

Nevertheless, there are doubts whether the massive development projects have been implemented as stated by the government even a year after the end of the war. It is clear that Uthuru Vasanthaya has not dawned to the North.

The civilians who lived in camps are now gradually shifting towards temporary shelters. They have not received permission to return to their original homes as they are located within high security zones. They live with the hope that the government would return their lands back to them.

Although permission has been granted to the displaced persons to move out of IDP camps, there are close to 40,000 persons still living in the Menik Farm camp. The main reason is the lack of a place and basic facilities for them to resettle. The government says that people have been provided with the basic facilities to be resettled.

Vavuniya Assistant District Secretary, Imelda Sukumar says that the government provides persons who wish to resettle in their own lands, cash, building material like cement, tools and equipment required for cultivation. However, the problem is that these facilities have not been equally distributed among the people. While some of those who were displaced have been provided with rice, flour, dhal, sugar and other essential food items sufficient for a period of one week, some others have not received any aid for about six months. Food for the displaced and other facilities required by people in the process of resettling are being provided by the government in association with NGOs.

Houses are currently being built for the displaced in Oddusudan and Mullaitivu.
There are about 35 families living in the Kampanai camp in Pandavattai. About ten families earn a living through fishing. The other families have found a livelihood in doing odd jobs.

Expanding high security zones

Nagaraja Thavachelli, who is fisherman, is the head of the Kampanai village and he says that the families have been compelled to live in the camp since their original lands are now located within the navy high security zone.

These families have fled to the Wanni during the war and had returned to this land from Kattupulam about one and a half years back. The land they are occupying currently belongs to a kovil.

“Our land is in the navy camp. We had about two to three acres there. We had land to cultivate. We believe that we will get the land back soon. We came here by ship because of the problems in the Wanni. We are poor people. There are many widows in this village. We don’t have any facilities and live with great difficulty. We live without any freedom since 1992.”

The Sullipuram junction goes under water during the rainy season. The residents in the camps face great difficulties during such times. There are 15 families where widows have to care for children. There are also some who have been disabled during the tsunami.

Fishermen in the area have to get a temporary license from the navy on a daily basis to go fishing. They lament that regardless of the amount earned by them, one-third of their earnings are taken by the mudalali. International organizations like IFAD have provided assistance to these fishermen.

The people in camps get their water requirement from wells. Although they have been provided with wells to get water, the weather conditions that prevail in the area have posed a problem in gathering water.

We witnessed that the lack of proper health care and education facilities have not deterred these families, as they make a great effort in providing a good education to their children.

Recognizing the value of education, they say that although their parents have been unable to provide them with a proper education, they wish to provide the younger generation with the tools required for a better future. The children are educated at the Kattupulam Junior School and Victoria School.

The battle for survival

The women in the North are also engaged in an equal battle for survival. Faced with a life filled with many hardships, the womenfolk in some instances have shouldered the complete burden of survival. While the men in the Kampanai camp are engaged in fishing, the women work as labourers. The menfolk go out to sea at night and the women work during the daytime in onion cultivations and cleaning gardens at a low daily wage of Rs. 150. Since there are a large number of widows in the camp, these women have to work extra hard to fulfill their roles as single parents.

Yet, there are many issues that prevail among these families. The destruction caused by the war is such that there are orphaned children as well as elderly women living alone in the camp. These innocent Tamil women have also become victims socially as well. After losing everything, marriage has now become a dream to them. The reason being the lack of a dowry and cash required to get married. Even in some families, husbands have abandoned their wives and children. However, these people who are living in camps casting aside their personal land, lead very sorrowful lives.

A large number of people are engaged in fishing in Jaffna. Yet, the fisheries industry was at a standstill during the period of the war. Following the end of the war, the fishing restrictions have been somewhat lifted in Jaffna.

The Gurunagar area was opened for fishing recently. While a navy base is located close to the Gurunagar beach, the area has been opened for fishing. The people who lived in this area have lived away in the Wanni during the war, since 1990. Although the people have returned to continue with their livelihood soon after the Gurunagar beach was opened, they are still facing problems. Their houses located in close proximity to the beach have been destroyed by the war.

Houses on New Beach Road in Gurunagar have been severely damaged by the war.
“It is now three days since we have returned. We live in houses that belong to others. The army says that it will rebuild our homes. This is my village. We all want to return and live happily like we used to. We believe that we will get everything in the future,” a fisherman in Gurunagar, M. Duke said with the hope of carrying out his work like he did before the war.

A large number fish of the variety of sea cucumber are captured from this area. The species, considered a delicacy, earns between Rs. 14,000 and Rs. 15,000 per kilo. About seven to eight fishermen go out to sea at night on rented boats.
A large number of houses in the area have been damaged and destroyed due to the shell fire by security forces from the Duraiappa Ground during the war. There had been over 5,000 families residing in the area before 1990, but the current population is around 20,000.

An ice factory was recently opened in Gurunagar. There are 18,000 fishermen who have taken membership with the Jaffna District Fisheries Cooperatives Federation, which include nine fisheries societies from 17 areas. The total number of fishing families in the Jaffna District amount to 25,000.

The largest fishing community is recorded from Gurunagar. Permission has been granted for people to resettle in an 8-9km stretch near the Gurunagar beach.
Fishermen in the area stopped all fishing activities about 20 years ago, as far back as 1990. The fishermen use 40 feet long multi-day vessels for fishing.
President of the Jaffna District Fisheries Cooperatives Federation, S. Navaratnam explained that they received permission from the navy to fish in the Karainagar area about five to six months earlier.

“Security restrictions on fishing have been somewhat lifted. Yet, we do not have the necessary facilities to carry out our livelihood. The fishermen in Jaffna are faced with a great problem. The problem is that Indian fishermen encroach into our seas and forcibly take away resources of our fishermen. About 2,000 Indian fishing boats enter our waters at one time. Our fishing activities came to a standstill during the war. The Indian fishermen have poached in our waters for about 20-30 years. When fish become less in their waters, their officials have themselves asked them to come to our waters. They did it for 20-30 years. Not only the fish, but the natural resources in our waters have also been destroyed. These resources cannot be replaced. It takes a long time for them to develop. The Indian fishermen are continuing with it. No one is taking any measures to stop it. This is one of our biggest problems,” he said.

One of the main issues of the Northern fishermen is the encroachment of Indian fishermen in to Sri Lankan waters and they are hopeful of some resolution to the matter.

For about five years, the Northern fishermen were permitted to do fishing only during day time. Although the boats belonging to the society could be used for fishing, they do not have any other facilities. The anchor boats do not have the necessary facilities as well. They do not have radio facilities.
During 1983, there has been an excellent reserve of fish in the Sri Lankan coastal line amounting to about 48,000 metric tons. However, it has now been reduced to about 5,000 metric tons.

Rising unemployment

Simultaneous to the development in the North, are the problems faced by the youth in the area. Unemployment is one of the key issues faced by the youth in Jaffna. There are over 4,000 unemployed graduates in Jaffna. Although the unemployment problem in Jaffna is similar to that experienced in the South, the youth in the North, who were trapped by a war that lasted several decades, are not equipped with technical, IT and English knowledge that are now a pre-requisite for gainful employment.

When the government offered 42,000 graduates with employment in 2005, 6,000 graduates from the North were also granted employment. There are currently close to 1,000 students who graduate from the Jaffna University.

Since 2001, there is a large number of unemployed graduates in Jaffna. Although there are several private sector companies who have opened up in Jaffna, the companies have opted to employ people from the South rather than from the North.
The annual general meeting of the Jaffna Unemployed Graduates Association was held on the 6th of July.

Head of the Association, Thyagaraja Dhanam said that the Association has decided to inform the government of the exact number of unemployed graduates in Jaffna and to launch a joint campaign with the Unemployed Graduates Association in the South.

“We graduated with the greatest difficulty amidst a 30 year long war. Yet, our futures have not changed. We are hopeful of being employed in the state sector. We don’t have a proper knowledge in technology, computers and English. Since we managed to get our degrees amidst great difficulties and a war, we could easily get the necessary know how within about two months. Although private companies come to Jaffna, they bring their people along with them. We ask that our people be employed and get their services as well without just taking away profits. We didn’t have electricity during the war. But now we can operate computers and follow courses, but none of us have the money to do that. There is no communal issue here. It is a problem about knowledge. The number of students who have graduated from Kilinochchi are less than in Jaffna. Even if there are vacancies in that area, people are not employed from here. Although there are a large number of NGOs, they do not offer us jobs because they fear we will be given government jobs.”

Most graduates now earn a living by working as labourers. Some graduates are married with children, but are still unemployed. The Unemployed Graduates Association expressed displeasure at how some public officials continue their jobs in the state sector even after the age of 60, when there is a large number of unemployed youth. About 65% of the unemployed graduates are women and 35% men.

The unemployed female graduates in Jaffna are faced with social issues as well.
Gunaratnam Wimalaramathi said that most young women who are unemployed in Jaffna have been compelled to stay home single, as they are unable to get married without a proper job or a dowry.

“Although development programmes have commenced in the North, we cannot see that they are carried out with great speed. Plans have been made to construct the A9 road with six lanes. Yet the resettlement programme is ongoing. We hope that amidst the development work, the needs of people who are living amidst great difficulties would be addressed.”

Trading in Jaffna is on a high scale these days with visitors from the South and foreign countries purchasing goods from jaffna.

No 'free life'

However, the people in Jaffna cannot be considered to be living a free life due to the fear to express their thoughts. Although a similar situation prevails in the South, the influence of various political groups and security forces has brought about such a situation in the North.

Independent media personnel in the North confirm this situation. They are faced with many challenges when reporting news and it was the journalists in the North who headed the list of media personnel assassinated during the war. The number of Tamil media personnel killed during the war amounts to 36 and this has instilled a certain fear among journalists in the North.

At a discussion held at the SIKARAM media institute in Jaffna, they observed the lack of facilities required for media reporting. These media personnel said that they were committed to keep people informed even amidst difficulties.

We consider it a great fortune to be able to visit the North in a peaceful environment. The people in the North are happy to see their visitors from the South. They are also hopeful of being able to live in peace with their needs being addressed.

© The Sunday Leader

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