We have lost a lot. For us to come to this new place and build our life from scratch was very difficult. We had children and family. We had commitments. We could not let our children starve. At first, we had to do all sorts of odd jobs to buy our daily food. But the local people of course helped us a lot. We have somehow survived. No one is bothered/or cares about all that we have lost in the north Nothing has been done to resolve this issue. Of course we would like to resettle there but then we have to start all over again as after the war there is nothing much left there for us to go back to as well. So we feel that we should receive some sort of compensation for our loss like a house or something or cash so that we can take it with us there and start our lives. (107)
At the time of commencing the Commission’s investigations, the war had ended, the LTTE was defeated and the northern Muslims were suddenly faced with the real possibility of return and reestablishment of communities in the North. However, while some were ecstatic at the prospect of the LTTE’s defeat and their absence in the return equation, for many return was a fraught proposition. The northern Muslims were eager to talk about the possibility of return, the possibility of staying in Puttalam and in many cases, the ways of maintaining connections to both places.
This chapter is written based on the following information: Commission sittings in Puttalam and Negombo, Commission visits to Mannar, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi.58 The Commission also held meetings that were exclusively devoted to eliciting the concerns of women and youth. Findings from these meetings have also been incorporated into this chapter. While the Commission visits to the North were specifically designed to elicit information about resettlement, most Commission sittings too concentrated on return as this was the issue of greatest concern to the community due to the transformed political context.
Going Back – A Fraught Proposition
Northern Muslims have been trying return to the north since 1990. People have returned to Puthukudiyiruppu on Mannar Island, Uppukulam in Mannar town, and to Jaffna since the early 1990s. Muslims attempted to resettle in all the five districts of the north during the failed peace process of 2002 as well, but the presence of the LTTE and their anti Muslim sentiment/ feelings and their generally recalcitrant politics made return very difficult. (See Appendix 10 for problems related to return in 2002). The defeat of the LTTE in 2009 made large scale return seem a real possibility and many were hopeful of establishing Muslim communities in the north
58 The Commission was not able to visit Mulaitiwu due to the fact that we were not able to obtain Ministry of Defense clearance at the scheduled time. We obtained information regarding Mulaitiwu from the partners.
again. However, for a large majority who had spent nearly twenty years away from the north, immediately deciding to return was not easy.
What was most apparent was that most northern Muslims identified with their northern homeland, and had been waiting to return. However, when confronted with the real possibility of going back the decision was harder to make. Many were eager to return, like those from Thalaimannar Pier, that the Commission met at the Al Mannar resettlement village--and were confident of a better life in the North. The place was currently bustling, schools were good. They anticipated the resumption of the ferry service and the only regret was that they had invested in property in Kalpitiya and someone had to look after that. In relation to other areas, people were not so sure. Some areas in Mannar-- in Musali and Mannar island-- the Muslim villages are reduced to secondary forest and there is no evidence of people’s houses. Some mentioned that it took them twenty years to reach a level of satisfaction with life in Puttalam. They said that it might take a similar amount of time for them to be comfortable again in Mannar. Others who used to be farmers worried about the future of their children. None of them farmed in Puttalam and their children did not know how to hold a knife or wield a shovel (Commission sitting at RDF office in Puttalam, October 2009). What were their options if they were to leave for the North? Land was a significant issue and several matters were raised. The lack of state land in certain areas to accommodate the expanded numbers, the settlement of other ethnic communities in land traditionally considered to be Muslim lands in certain other areas, the fact that lands were sold during the conflict to Tamil residents at very low prices, complicated ownership conflicts, and further, the plight of those who were landless was discussed. Places in Musali, in the Mannar district have turned into secondary forest. And identifying property boundaries is difficult. This is true of certain areas in Jaffna as well and is probably true to some extent in all the places from which the Muslims were driven out.
One other issue that came up was whether the the plans for Vadakin Vasantham or the Northern Spring development projects currently planned and instituted by the government included the interests and aspirations of the northern Muslims. Commentators have noted that the plans do not refer to the Muslims and the statistics do not include numbers of Muslim returning (Saroor 2010, Raheem 2009).
Many complained that the government’s current resettlement initiatives were geared towards resettling those displaced during the final military offensive between the forces and the LTTE. There was no policy about and little assistance for those who were displaced prior to that. The Commission is in fact in possession of a circular that states that money from UNHCR for cash grants to IDPS is available only for those displaced after 2008.59
59 While this information was current in 2009, a visit by the secretariat in 2011 indicated that things have improved somewhat. Although the money for the cash grant from UNHCR was utilized only for those displaced after 2008, other monies were found for cash grants for Muslim IDPs. Although not all Muslim IDPs had access to all the resettlement assistance, the Commission was aware that at the policy level the state had made some effort to address the needs of Muslim IDPs.
People also expressed their concern about the lack of information regarding the military’s taking over of land owned by civilians and whether any compensation will be given. There are bridges being constructed in Mannar by acquiring traditional Muslim land with no discussion of compensation issues. The navy camp at Silawatura was also an issue of grave concern to Muslims. A large acreage of land (50 acres) owned by Muslims was in the camp premises at the time of the Commission visit. The shortage of land in Koolankulam was due mainly to the presence of the camp (Commission sitting in Koolankulam, Mannar district, March 2010).
Many are not clear as to what their rights are and the expectations for the state to provide for them are high. Many are being told that if they were granted a house in Puttalam they may not be entitled to a house in the North. People are wondering if this is indeed the case. According to our testimonies, heads of households who owned a house in Puttalam (but had little access to livelihoods in Puttalam) were resettling in Jaffna under dire conditions. They were expecting the government to assist them with a piece of land as compensation for what they had lost.
A follow- up visit by the Commission staff in September 2011 revealed that the government had issued a circular to the effect that people who received government housing assistance in Puttalam would not be entitled to assistance in the north.60 Given that the northern Muslims have been displaced since 1990 and that their families have expanded during this time it is important that some flexibility is practiced in relation to this principle. We were also told that such flexibility is being practiced and that all who own land will be eligible for housing assistance. We hope that this is indeed the case. It is important that all government decisions regarding land and housing is conveyed to the people.
People are undecided as to whether they should stay or go back. While the Commission encountered many that were very emphatic about not going at that particular time, it was not clear if they would in turn register as Puttalam residents. There was a serious dearth of information about the need for and the consequences of such decisions and people were wary of making such choices. The lack of a clear policy on the part of the state and the lack of information on any policy matters was exacerbating the confusion felt by the people.
The “Old IDPs” versus the “New IDPs”
The Musali DS division was – prior to the expulsion-- the only Muslim majority DS division in the entire Northern Province. When the government commenced its “180 day plan“ to resettle 80% of the new IDPS by December 2009, they started the process in Musali. It was also the first area opened up as part of the Vadakin Vasantham (Northern Spring) development program. Mirak Raheem writing in 2009 stated matters very clearly in relation to the Musali resettlement process.
Only those displaced from Mussali in September 2007 and still living in displacement within Mannar District were allowed to resettle. This effectively meant that those Muslims who had been displaced from Mussali in September 2007 but had moved back to Puttalam or (were displaced )in 1990 and living in displacement outside Mannar were not
60 Meeting with DS of Musali S. Ketheesvaran, 14. 09. 2011 included into the resettlement program. Without any official information as to a process or timeline for return, the Mussali Muslims became increasingly apprehensive. As it appeared that there were no Government programs to facilitate the return of families and therefore, communities had to organise their own arrangements. Efforts to spontaneously return were initially foiled as returnees were told they could only stay in Mussali for three days and were unable to secure permission to stay longer. Community representatives repeatedly lobbied political actors and after the issue was raised in Parliament and in the media the authorities began a process of facilitated return. The Government initiated a new resettlement phase in Manthai West and other parts of the Vanni two weeks ago. Once more there is no information provided to the northern Muslim IDPs as to whether they are eligible to be resettled in the on-going process. (Raheem 2009)
As Raheem pointed out in 2009, the government has had no clear policy on the resettlement of the old case load of internally displaced persons. The emphasis deriving from the international pressure in the post war context has been to resettle IDPs who were displaced during the most recent fighting between the LTTE and the government forces that culminated in the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. The northern Muslim IDPs constitute a large percentage of the old case load. Others include Tamils displaced from the high security zones of the Jaffna peninsula. The state has no policy on the return of either group. When the Commission inquired in late 2009 and early 2010, many of the northern Muslims had no information about their options with regards to either staying back in Puttalam or of returning, no information regarding possible compensation money that they can access, and about how to resolve different land issues that emerge. Those who had returned to Mannar, Jaffna and other areas also complained about the transfer of rations. Rations needed to be suspended in Puttalam in order to be eligible for assistance in the North. However, there was a significant time lag between the cessation of rations in Puttalam and their commencement in either Mannar or Jaffna. People were also concerned about the delays in mine clearance in Muslim areas, and the fact that information regarding such clearance was also not freely available to the community. It is only in 2011 that there was any progress made on the issue of Northern Muslim return. The government’s delay in bringing the Muslims into the picture has caused problems and has resulted in Muslims feeling like they are a very distant priority for the state and all other actors connected with the resettlement process.
People were distressed at the manner in which Tamil villages in Mannar seemed to be getting assistance while Muslim villages were ignored. During the sittings in Musali, on 24th March 2010, people spoke of the two neighbouring Tamil villages of Kokupadayan and Saveriyapuram. The people of these villages were displaced in 2007 to Nannadan and on their return they had received Rs. 500,000/- worth of fishing equipment. Northern Muslims displaced and returning after twenty years hadnot received such assistance. Many people also complained of the magnitude of the tsunami response and the state’s failure to match that in its assistance to those affected by the conflict. While this was perhaps an issue that would be resolved in time the Commission considered it worth recording. The people of Musali complained of the development of the village of Saveriyapuram which, according to them did not exist in 1990. They claim that the village was established in 1995 and is now undermining the development of the older adjoining villages. The issue of concern at the time of the Commission visit was that there was a UNHCR funded waterline being taken from Musali to Arrippu and Saveriyapuram (two Tamil villages) that was going across the Muslim village. The Muslim village was being bypassed at this stage of the project and Muslims were compelled to travel over 1 kilometer to access drinking water. This was one of several examples of the feeling on the ground that the Muslims were a distant priority to all of those carrying out resettlement work.
Women’s Perspectives on Return
Women were at the forefront of categorically stating that they will only return if proper facilities were provided for them. They did not want to go back to a life in a hut. They did not want to live like they were displaced again, they said.
It should also be noted, however that economic imperatives may mean that people have to move. As was brought up in a meeting with women community leaders in June 2009 (meeting at ULI)— most of their husbands and brothers worked outside of Puttalam. There were so few employment opportunities in Puttalam that they were compelled to seek jobs elsewhere. Further, farmers in Mannar and Mulaitiwu owned agricultural land. Land available for cultivation and beaches with traditional fishing rights were attractive and many braved the lack of government assistance to return, lack of infrastructure and even the presence wild animals to reclaim their land.61 In these circumstances women have no choice but to face the consequences of the move. Some women moved with their husbands and lived under great hardship. Some mentioned leaving their grown but school going children behind with relatives. In many cases they reconnected with Tamil women neighbors and laid the foundation for the interactions between the two communities which was their way of life prior to the expulsion. Others stayed behind in Puttalam and incurred the additional cost of maintaining two households. In some instances husbands started liaisons with other women in the North and women feared abandonment.
We also met several women in Puttalam who were abandoned by their husbands who now have other wives and other families. Many of these women are barely surviving on their ration and any minimal income that they have. While some of these vulnerable women headed households have income earning opportunities in Puttalam, they had no plans to go back to the North. In a place like Mannar, rural, with minimal infrastructure, they feared that they would not be able to cope. In many cases, the lack of a male breadwinner who could either do agriculture or fish, precluded them going back. As women without partners they could not engage in such income generating activities. Another woman stated that she had a young daughter and implied that protecting her would be difficult in such an environment. (Women’s sitting – Nagavillu, November 2009).
Many lived in conditions of extreme poverty and were barely surviving in Puttalam. They did not have the economic wherewithal to imagine returning to the north.
61 We met an extended family living on two sides of the main road in Periyamadu who were engaged in onion and vegetable cultivation in the clearly very fertile land. They casually mentioned that they needed to lookout for snakes, elephants and bears on their land. (Field Visit to Mannar September 2011)
One woman talked about how their one asset in Puttalam, their house was given to the eldest daughter as dowry upon her marriage and how as a result they live with the daughter in the one household. In one instance a similar story was recounted and the woman told us that she now lived with her husband in a shack with only a kitchen.
One woman described how she was abandoned by her husband and raised her children on her own with great difficulty. She gave her daughter in marriage and now the daughter’s husband too has abandoned her. She now lives with her daughter, her other two children and her grandchild. They eke out a living by selling kadayappam or breakfast food.
Another woman spoke of a disabled husband who was unable to work and sons who knew nothing about fishing. They too did not have any plans to go back.
Many of the women asked “What will we have to face when we go there? What will happen to our land and property here?” Apparently many people were already attempting to buy land owned by Northern Muslims in Puttalam at very low prices.
Many stated that there were livelihood opportunities in the North, unlike in Puttalam. “But we will need all other facilities as well if we are to move. We will need schools, houses to live in, health care facilities. We can’t go back and suffer again. We can’t move backwards.” Said one woman. She seemed to reflect the sentiments of a large majority of women.
The women’s perspective captured above represented another important aspect of return that is unique to the northern Muslims. During twenty years of displacement northern Muslims had built up lives for themselves in Puttalam. One half of the population had opted to move out of the welfare centers into more permanent housing. Their children were in schools, and a generation of them had grown up outside the north. They had strong and abiding ties of kinship and property in Puttalam as well as a history of overcoming hardship. These ties and this history was not something that could be easily left behind or forgotten. Therefore, northern Muslims who were returning to the north, too were not completely abandoning their ties with Puttalam. The administration in the north, however, is not sympathetic to this particular aspect of Muslim return. For instance, one of the administrators that we met,the DS of Musali, saw the Muslims’ predicament of “one foot here and one foot there” as a problem. He stated that the entire Musali area was quiet during the month of Ramazan because almost the entire population of his area had moved back to Puttalam. He saw this as a problem both of commitment on the part of the Muslims and also one of planning. When NGOs visit to plan interventions, the people, who on paper are registered as returnees to Musali, are not physically there. Therefore they are considered to be “difficult to work with.” (See also the section on Registration as Returnees).
This feeling of belonging to both places is a condition of northern Muslim return and should be recognized and accepted as such. People cannot be expected to abandon their lives of twenty years to accommodate administrative processes and live in a manner that falls in line with standard NGO assistance packages . Administrative processes should, ideally, find ways to accommodate the specificity of the northern Muslim experience and address their problems related to return. NGOs must engage closely with the community in Puttalam and the north and design programs that address their specific circumstances.
Women’s Activism Regarding Return
In the above section, we have illustrated women’s concerns regarding return and the predicament of some extremely vulnerable sections of the community—women headed households—and their inability to consider return at this point of time. Return was, however, very much on the agenda of for many women activists from the northern Muslim community. Within community activism regarding return, women activists have played an important often unrecognized role. For instance, the Mannar Puttalam road that cuts across the Wilpattu Wild Life Sanctuary was a matter of some controversy shortly after its opening. Environmentalist organizations argued that the road should not be opened up specifically for IDP use since it was a threat to the wildlife of Wilpattu. And environmental groups in fact went to court to have the road closed. Northern Muslims for whom the road was an important link between Puttalam and the North—especially Mannar-- made an intervention in the case. Muslim women’s groups initiated an Intervening Petition in the case pointing out the importance of the road for IDPS and urging the court to maintain restricted access. The road cut the travel time and travel cost from Puttalam to Mannar by a significant percentage. Northern Muslims IDP women as well as Tamil women from the north jointly drafted a letter on the issue and forwarded it to the President, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and the Minister of Justice (See Appendix 6 for letter). Currently the Supreme Court has requested a report from the Police of Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Mannar regarding the illegal activities that are ongoing in the Wilpattu area. The road remains open although it is impassable during the rains. The IDP women activists who initiated the action are fairly optimistic that the court will decide in favour of keeping the road open to provide access to IDPs.62
Concerns of Youth
Many young people said that they were reluctant to go back. Many said that they were used to living among Muslims and did not want to live among Tamils again and go through the hardship that was experienced by their parents. Their relationship with the host community was closer than that of an earlier generation and they felt that they belonged. One young person who had visited Jaffna recently commented that the place was “smaller” than he had imagined, seemed crowded and did not have enough room to accommodate the current population. Therefore he preferred to stay in Puttalam. Education of children and brothers and sisters who were now in school was a concern and also properties that families now owned in Puttalam was part of what made people reluctant to return. Some would like to stay back as they prefer the Muslim culture in Puttalam-- because in the North it was still “mixed.” One young woman stated that Muslims should have been asked to return twenty years ago. Asking them now, twenty years after, when they have built up alternative lives in other places was unjust, she said However, Puttalam itself did not offer many opportunities for the betterment of youth and therefore their options were limited and many were frustrated.
62 The Commission also made an intervention regarding the importance of the road. See appendix 7 for Commission statement on the road. The statement was published in the Daily Mirror of 25 June 2010. It should be noted however, that reluctance to return was not a uniform sentiment among youth. Some said that they would follow the dictates of their elders, and we encountered some who had returned, especially to areas in Mannar where many had left behind large tracts of cultivable land.
According to several youth’s perspectives the North was going to be developed. There are enough facilities for education, and job opportunities. People also feel they can engage in farming and fishing if they don’t find other jobs as there are lands available and the area is close to the sea. The fisher families of Slavathurai wanted to go to their village as soon as possible. The other important reason that Muslims wanted return was due to the discrimination and mistreatment they suffered at the hands of the host community. They did not like being called refugees. We encountered this comment again and again. The differentiating perspective of the host community—calling them refugees—coupled with the problems of sharing limited facilities in Puttalam --especially in education and employment opportunities made return a pleasant prospect. The youth felt that many of their parents who had important positions in society in the north were psychologically affected by the expulsion – Being referred to as refugees wherever they go – at hospitals, and by government functionaries-- were distressing to them. As another of our testimonies stated—“they think that we are coming as beggars; they don’t know how we lived.” Therefore they prefer to have a free and comfortable life without this labeling in their native lands. Another reason for returning to the north for many youth was the high cut off mark for university entrance from the Puttalam district. The northern districts (other than Jaffna) are considered to be backward areas and therefore according to government quotas students from these areas are able to enter the university with a lesser amount of marks. Young people feel that they will have a better chance of entering universities from the north. They also said that if the prevailing situation of peace and the accelerated development activities in the north continue, then they too would like to go back and take advantage of the new opportunities in the north. They wanted the government to provide the necessary facilities for them to return -- education, electricity, hospital, roads, transportation etc. to enable them to live a decent life like their families did prior to the expulsion in 1990.
Concerns about Land: Information from the Testimonies
As already state, land was a significant issue to the displaced community anticipating return. Complicated ownership conflicts, land changing hands due to the context of the conflict, loss of permits and deeds etc. were constantly talked about and this section will reflect some of the issues raised by the testimonies.
Suhara Umma of Thannangilappu Road, in Chavakachcheri had this narrative regarding a mortgage to someone she knew. However it is now over twenty years since the transaction and the manner in which it was conducted – with a basis on trust rather than on documentation poses to be a problem.
In Chavekacheri we had twenty perches with a large house. It was in my name. We mortgaged it 1987 because of financial problem. To redeem it we collected money. During that time we were chased from there in 1990. They took all our money. We could not redeem the property. We could not find the people to whom we mortgaged it for about 15 to 18 years. At one time, there was peace and the road was opened. At that time I went there and told the person to whom I mortgaged that I will give the twenty thousand as well as the interest, and I asked him to give me back my property. He refused. It is the property of my young girls. He said time has already passed and that the property is destroyed. I came back and through Red Cross I filed a case in Jaffna. They are people who helped me. Still the case is going on and they are only seeing to the expense of this case. In 2006 the road was closed. They stopped the case and sent a letter. Thereafter the case took place in Chaavakachcheri. The road was opened again and the case was taken up. Tomorrow I will be going there alone. I know some people there. I stay there because of the case. There, the people I know are Tamils. They are very friendly with us. I am staying with my children in their friends’ house. We had to pay tax when they opened the road. They wanted me to pay tax which I did and I have the receipt for it. They asked me three questions. First they wanted my husband’s death certificate. Second they wanted to know if I have the V.C. to build the house. Thirdly they wanted to know if I have the right to build the house. They asked for the three documents. By the time I wanted to take the documents the road was closed. The person to whom I mortgaged the house says that I sold it to him. I did not sell it. He took my signature on a blank paper. I trusted him he must have written that I sold it to him. ( 00075 )
Shahul Hameed of Periyamadu had the following narrative about the loss of his land as well as a visit to the north while it was still under the LTTE. He did not mention what measures he has taken to access his property in the recent past.
I have my own land and houses, I visited the village twice and I was able to see that different people have occupied our lands and houses. Mostly non Muslims lived in those houses. However we could not do anything because we were not given any other rights than to see the village. We could not do anything because the LTTE had captured some of our family members, so if we did anything they would have harmed them. We have our house deeds and we took it with us thinking that we will be given back our properties. All of the village assets are destroyed and some of them are demolished due to the Bomb Blasts. The houses are still standing only in certain areas. Other than that all other areas have turned out to be forests. Some people are handling the agricultural lands as well. We have the deeds to those lands. (0119)
We have a similar story from Iranamadu as well. M. Jasmin of Iranamadu described returning to the village and discovering many changes—including the fact that others were utilizing their land.
We went in 2002 but the village had been virtually destroyed, it was so sad to see the village. We showed our home town to our children, They told us that the village looked dangerous to live in. We have half an acre land. They also fear to stay there because the present surrounding is sound and we have a lot of neighbors but our village looks deserted so they are not willing to stay there. There are Tamils in our lands, we tried to evict them but they did not give it to us as they had the support of LTTE. So we came back here again. (133)
Ameerkhan of Nachchikudah, Kilinochchi told us the story of how his family land was lost as a consequence of the economic losses suffered by the expulsion. This is evidence of the complicated manner in which land changed hands among family members and was ultimately lost in a manner that the owner considers to be unfair. Whether anything can be done about this based on the law is not clear.
My father was not given land so my father wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth saying, I am an Indian, right now I am in Sri Lanka, and since I am an Indian they are rejecting my claim for land. Later Queen Elizabeth had written back immediately saying my father should be given land. So they gave my father 5 acres of land. I helped my father clean that land because it was very wild. We planted coconut trees on two and a half acres, my father passed away afterwards. My brother took 5500 rupees from my uncle on credit, and he asked to write the land in his name as guarantee for the money. Later they have sold the land to someone else without our knowledge. During the ceasefire they had sold it for 5 lakhs. (099)
Sitthi Aseema of Kathi Aboobakr Road, Jaffna stated that she no longer had the deed to her land in Jaffna and seemed to feel that it remained lost due to the war. The house and the land we had in Jaffna were given to me by my mother. But we do not have the deed for it now we left it all behind. Now it has been completely destroyed. We have nothing to return to even if we wanted to. My children also told me they are willing to return if proper arrangements and compensation for all what we have lost is made. (112)
We also heard stories of people who had successfully engaged in litigation and recovered their lands
A.M. Mansoor of Kilinochchi is one such case. In 2002 I went and saw my home town and I recognized my land. But the house was destroyed. I saw a person was illegally occupying my house, so I went to court and I got my house back in 2008. Since then I regularly went and used to visit it for nearly six month. After problems occurred I have not visited it. I have three granddaughters and they are very small. Now I like to go to my village and like to earn well and live peacefully. All the neighbors were my relatives. So we lived peacefully. I would go and settle in my village if government provided me with necessary facilities. (304) Mansoor of Vattakachchi hopes that his land sales under duress to the LTTE will be considered illegal and that he will get his land back. He sold land that he received under a government land grant and is aware that he cannot sell such land except under certain conditions. I also like to go back to Vattakachi and live. But we have sold our land. We intended going back to Vatakachi and getting our land back. But there was nothing we could do. Now we have a plan for that. There is a boy who is connected with the government and I spoke to him regarding this. Without redeeming this land we can go to other places and be sad about this one. Every time we think of the land we were living in it makes us sad. What the government gave us we cannot sell. But all who brought them are under the control of the LTTE. They would have thought that it is a Tamil state and it’s their kingdom. None of them would have thought there would be peace like this. The LTTE told the Tamil people to buy these lands, that’s why they brought these from us. They thought that this would be their land. Now it is no longer the case. It has proved to be an illusion. Now we have the desire to get our land back. illusion . (217)
Many had sold their land due to poverty during the twenty long years of displacement, and though legal remedies for their losses were probably untenable we considered their predicament worth recording as one of the sadder consequences of the displacement. M.T. Saleem of Jinnah Road Jaffna had the following rather sad narrative of being a landowner in Jaffna who was compelled to sell his land due to poverty.
I was the only person to have 40 perches land inside Moor Street while others only owned about 2 to 3 perches. Even if you forget your own mother you should never forget your birth place. So returning there is still a dream for me. The land I had in the town I sold it for Rs. 5 lakhs. I want to return but my children as they are married and settled here they don’t want to leave. With this money I arranged marriage for my children. So now even if we do return we don’t have a place to stay. (249 )
Findings from Field Trips: March 2010-September 2011
There were a host of problems that the returning Muslims encountered by virtue of the fact that twenty years had passed since they left. In both Mannar and Jaffna but more specifically in Mannar the administrative boundaries of their areas had changed, what used to be one DS division or ward has now become 5 different divisions, Villages had emerged where none existed before, their lands were encroached upon by the state, other institutions and individuals, and generally the slow process of erasing Muslim presence by the vagaries of time itself was occurring. Additionally long years of war and neglected had destroyed valuable irrigation systems that served the Musali area and water was a problem. (Commission sittings in Mannar town, Koolankulam, Errukkalampiddy, Rasool Puduweli, Moor Street, Uppukulam, Thalai Mannar Pier)
In Mulaitiwu the Sinhalising imperative of the state was felt. All name boards to places were in Sinhala- this was true of Kilinochchi as well. The Muslims were restricted from fishing and felt that the military was favouring the Sinhala migrant fisher people who were also now fishing off of the Mulaitiwu coast. Further, traditional Muslim prawn fishing areas off of the Nandhikadal lagoon were given to a multinational company. Muslims also felt the dire need for land. While 1500 families were expelled there are now over 5000 families wanting to return. Therefore the reassertion of their presence was something that the returning Muslims seemed to need to struggle very hard to do. It seemed clear that the return would not be easy or successful without the intervention of the Muslim leadership in particular and the state in general. It seemed clear especially on Mannar Island that the intervention of the state to recognize the legitimacy of Muslim return and to assist in its success was essential.
Land Issues in Mannar
Kulankulam- there are no government lands to give to returning Muslims. Many are building houses on their agricultural land. The issue of natural increase needs to be addressed. In this village alone it was reported that at the time of the expulsion the numbers of residents were two hundred and twenty families. But now it has exceeded to Six hundred and fifty. The fact that the Silavaturai Navy camp was encroaching on 50 acres of land owned by the Muslims was a further problem.
In the Kondachchi area too there is a severe shortage of land due to the natural increase in the population. But residents reported that there are adjacent government lands that could be given to the people. They reported that they also had no toilets and had a problem accessing drinking water. In Uppukulam many people seemed to feel that the government (the minister) had compelled them to resettle and had not provided adequately for their resettlement. For instance close to 700 families had returned but housing assistance through the ASB organization was available only for 23 families. Land and houses were being provided to returning Muslims in Tharawankottai. This was considered too far and too close to other communities. Muslims feared the loss of their community support networks if they were compelled to relocate there.
Representatives from the villages of Sirukulam, Mathanweli and Walayyadi complained that there was very little development in their areas. They had spent Rs. 100,000/- of their own money to clear the area but little had been done consequently. 250 families who have come live in temporary huts and have to share 10 toilets. Access to drinking water is 1 km away, by foot. In spite of it being a densely populated area, they do not have electricity. Appeals to the authorities to provide electricity have not been successful to date. Furthermore, their lives and assets are threatened by elephants who have become a major hazard. Considering the difficulties, a majority of them want to return to Puttalam after harvesting because of the lack of facilities for decent living (Commission sittings in Mannar district, March 2010).
In the years following 2002, most of the evicted Muslims of Nannadan sold their paddy land. The raging war which showed no sign of ending, the loss of livelihood, dire need for finances, and painful living conditions in camps compelled them to liquidate their assets. Looking back at the conditions under which they sold their land to Tamils, they feel that they have sold their valuable property ‘under duress’. They seek justice by a reversal of those transactions by which they sold their land so that they can be owners of their original property (Commission Sittings in Mannar district, March 2010).
Paadu is an area where boats are kept on the beach. It is considered to be an important place in the fishing industry as it serves as a parking space for the boats and also provides room for the fishermen to sort out their catch. Much to the disappointment of the fishermen who had hopes of engaging in their traditional livelihood, were instructed by the military to keep away from the Paadu as it has been demarcated as the ‘high security zone’. The knowledge that the paadu which was supposedly the HSZ has been given to the Sinhalese has made the community very angry (Commission Sitting in Koolankulam, Musali Division, March 2010).
Alienation of government land for the use of the displaced is an urgent need. Fortunately, in certain areas in Mannar there is ample government land through which to do this. Residents of certain villages may have to relocate. It is hoped that this will be done with some consultation of the displaced. Muslim communities emphasized the need for collective relocation to maintain community networks.
There is an urgent need for land and housing. Most returnees are unaware of government plans. It was reported that Minister Athauda Seneviratne had visited the area and spoken of assistance from the Saudi Government to build three hundred houses. But nothing seems to have come of it. Need assistance to access water. Mannar people often spoke of the lush green landscape and the waterways of the villages that they left behind. However the irrigation systems have fallen into disrepair, well and water ways have dried up and water remains a serious problem. The environmental degradation that has occurred as a consequence of the conflict should also be taken into account when calculating assistance to people.63
As stated earlier life has gone on for twenty years after the Muslims left, and especially on Mannar Island land disputes were severe and felt very strongly. The following quote from a mosque leader captures both the complexity of the context and the feeling of alienation that the returning Muslims are encountering.
The first problem is that the individual lands have been taken as governmental lands and we have filed a case in the courts, even though there is a case filed, the courts we not given a proper decision or judgment till now. We also can see that there are few individuals resettled in our lands forcibly with the support of the other communities. Due to this problem we went to investigate our deed documents in Land office but there aren’t any documents as they have been spoilt/damaged. And we also reported this to the Bishop, but he is requesting the deeds. However the copies of these deeds are with the Survey department and when we requested it from them but they requested a letter from The Divisional Secretary, But the Divisional Secretary is not cooperating with us. Some school buildings have been built in some lands as such, we found that the children of the DS are studying in those schools, so they are not willing to go against those schools even though they know that these schools are built in such lands. There are twenty five
63 On our visit in 2011 we were informed that the Ahathimurippu irrigation system was being repaired with assistance from JAICA.
properties in Mannar and there are more than thousand acres in such lands we have the information of those lands, but do not have deeds, those lands are more than hundred years old.
Presently I got a few deeds of such lands from someone. I have visited those lands, and I am in the process of getting those back. There are more of those lands and I also have not yet got the deeds to prove ownership to the remaining lands I might get them some times. This is the same with the other Muslims of Mannar and such lands have been forcibly taken away from the people as they don’t have the Deeds. (Report of Mannar Visit of the Commission: March 2010)
The land issues on Mannar Island were a recurring problem that was leading to some communal tension. There was a disputed land adjoining a prominent Catholic school that Muslims were arguing was given to them by LDO permit. The Church claims that it was granted to the Bishop of Mannar by the Bishop of Jaffna in the 1950s. Although the church has agreed to give some small land allocations to the families that lost out on that land the Muslims feel aggrieved. Some protest action that the Muslims had engaged in was dealt with through the law – the Muslims were made to appear in court and they felt they were further humiliated. Ill feeling was rife on both sides due to what the Commission felt was a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts due to poor communication between the authorities and the Mosque trustees.
Muslim Return and the Catholic Church
Local representatives of the Tamil communities as well as the Buddhist priest at the Jaffna Temple that the Commission met were uniformly welcoming of the return of Muslims in Jaffna. This was not so much the case in Mannar. Although the local leaders stated that the Muslims had a right to return, comments also reflected the element of competition. The Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph for instance stated that the Tamils who stayed behind were displaced over 26 times, lost children to the LTTE, lost family members to death and disappearances lost limbs etc. The Muslim community on the contrary missed much of the war due to the displacement. He even stated that the expulsion was probably a blessing in disguise. There were also ongoing land disputes between the returning Muslims and the Catholic Church. It was evident to the Commission that the church was yet to accept the legal ramifications of Muslim return. For instance, in Kokupadayan, the church had claimed 15 acres of land from the neighbouring Muslim village of Tammatamusali.
The church’s claim and the issuing of the land to the church by the authorities had occurred over ten years ago. The fact that there was no opposition for ten years seems to indicate to the church that there should not be grounds for dispute. But the Muslims were driven out twenty years ago. And all transactions on land belonging to Muslims or within Muslim villages conducted over that twenty year period will necessarily have to be reviewed. There seemed to be a lot of ill feeling over the issue of land. And little of the good relationship that many Northern Muslims had talked of seems to have survived. Muslims complained of the statue that had suddenly come up in Oosimukkuthurai, a ward of the Muslim village of Errukkulampidy. There had been serious clashes over the issue in 2003 with Muslims destroying a structure that was built to accommodate a statue. The issue was resolved later with the intervention of Muslim politicians and a decision
was made to halt all construction there. However a new statue had appeared recently. Muslims generally fear that the large tracts of land that the Muslims owned in Mannar island will be gradually taken away from them. In a more recent interview with the Vicar General, father Victor Soosay, we heard that the Catholic Church was taking measures to meet with the Muslim mosque leadership and build better community relations. The Tamil communities of Mannar, especially in the areas where large numbers of Muslims are currently returning to, are feeling a measure of insecurity and fear for the future of their children. They fear that they will not be able to own land because of the large numbers of Muslims who have appeared after twenty years. These are circumstances that require attention from the leadership of both communities. And the Commission was appreciative of the efforts made by the church in this regard and felt more intense engagement would be necessary. The Bishop also seemed to reflect the Tamil Catholics beleaguered sensibility in the face of an increasingly Sinhalising state. The Bishop stated that the Tamils had no representative in Parliament while the Muslims had a minister implying thereby that the Muslims had greater access to resources.
On a follow up visit in September 2011, the Commission met many Muslim communities on Mannar Island who spoke well of their Tamil neighbours. The community in Uppukulam for instance, who had returned in 1991, stated that they had no problems at all with their Tamil neighbors and that they moved very closely with them. Although there were land disputes and the leadership of both communities were suspicious of one another the common people seemed to have maintained the good relations that were the norm in Mannar prior to the expulsion. We also spoke to a family in Talaimannar Station who also said they have very good relations with their Tamil neighbours. The village received only two houses as government assistance. One was given to a Tamil family and one to a Muslim family. Such examples of good relations are heartening and augur well for the future of an ethnically diverse north. However, the actions of the leadership of both communities are sure to do much to either fulfill this promise or to bring about its failure.
Concerns Regarding Return and Education
When the Commission visited in early 2010, the poor infrastructure facilities was a recurring complaint in Mannar. Additionally persons in all areas to which the Muslims were returning complained of the lack of properly functioning schools to which they can send their children. Families in Nannadan complained that they had to travel five kilometers to schools and there was no transportation. They needed bicycles. During the follow-up visit in late 2011 Commission staff encountered many of the same issues. The Principle of the Vepamkulam school stated, in fact that the dropout rate was high due to some of the above problems. The schools do not have functioning toilets or water, there was a severe shortage of teachers for Mathematics, Science and English, and the children had too far to travel. There was no regular transport system and children had to walk for miles. When the staff conducted the interviews they observed children arriving home after school at 4 p.m. The Principle S.H.M. Mufti stated that while people were returning in significant numbers and children were attending school, he worried that many of them would drop out if some steps were not taken to address the above conditions.
In Nachchikuda, Kilinochchi, the absence of sympathy upon return was felt quite strongly. The ancient village, that claims to be one of the first Muslim settlements dating back to the 8th Century is currently hemmed in by new Tamil settlements less than 20 years old. Lands that the Muslims considered to be their entitlements in the event of expansions have been given to Tamils. This was again a consequence of the Muslims’ 20 year absence from the area (Commission sitting in Nachchikuda, June 2010).
People were returning spontaneously even without state assistance because many feared that they would lose their land. People reported to the Commission that government officials in the north are not all equally sensitive to the Muslims’ problems. In Nachchikudah they mentioned that the officials were “very young” and suggested that they were from a generation that did not know and were not sympathetic to the Muslims’ problems. There was anxiety regarding the Tamil communities’ presence on land that Muslims considered to traditionally belong to Muslim villages. In Nachchikudah Tamil people from Jaffna had settled on Muslim land after Muslims were expelled in 1990. The government official of the area says that he cannot move people who have been on the land for twenty years. During the twenty years since the expulsion Tamil families have been settled in the surrounding areas according to official state practices and given land grants. (they have deeds of ownership) Most expelled Muslims who lived there before the expulsion in 1990 only have LDO permits. (Given temporary ownership under the Land Development Ordinance in order to develop the land).
Nachchikudah was an example of another development that has occurred in the north during the twenty years of Muslim absence. The people who are settled in Nachchikudah are from Jaffna. The Tamil neighbours that some Muslims encounter are sometimes not just young and unaware of Muslims in their neighbourhoods, they are from different areas and strangers to the same neighbourhoods. They themselves have little history in a given place—the conflict is the only shared past that many of them have.
People in Nachchikudah also complained that there was no bus service, limited infrastructure facilities like water and electricity. They also had no financial assistance from the state for resettlement or to start livelihoods. Many families have gotten into debt in order to go back to the north.
Issues Specific to Jaffna
The situation in Jaffna with regards to land availability was especially serious. There were no government lands that were available other than a large plot of land in the Mankumban area. This plot was identified and sectioned off to accommodate 50 landless returning families. However, due to funding difficulties the project is currently at a standstill. Housing is such a serious issue in Jaffna that Community leaders in fact urged the Commission during its visit to inform people in Puttalam and elsewhere to not come back if they do not have their own lands and houses since there were no hopes of obtaining government land and housing grants in Jaffna. However, the people were rightfully indignant that they needed to postpone return to their home town due to lack of land ownership. There were many who had come for business purposes – we met butchers and scrap iron collectors—who were very keen on expanding their business interests regardless of their landless status. They were currently residing in rented houses and engaging in their business with some difficulty. Community leaders also stated that they were engaged in discussions about purchasing property that becomes available in order to provide housing for the landless. (Commission sitting in Jaffna, March 2010) Funding such projects remain a problem. The government too seems affected by a lack of funds.
In Jaffna problems between supporters of different Northern Muslim factions were articulated. Some local authority representatives claimed that it was this, more than other issues that stifled progress on matters relating to the Muslim displaced. The Commissioners felt that while this may be a problem it did not explain the state agencies own delinquency in delivering the needed services to the returning Northern Muslims. At the time of our visit there were a large number of people who were not receiving rations – whose registration was not finalized by the GA. While we were told by the administration that the Muslims were not organized enough to present their concerns the Muslims that we spoke to were indignant and insisted that that was not the problem. They reiterated the fact that the administration was not sympathetic to Muslim concerns. One person at the Jaffna hearing stated:
We have been living in Jaffna from 2002, there is a GS region in Section J86 but there have been three different GS for these years. I have a good relationship with him but still he pretends not to know me when I go to meet him. Even Sufiyan Moulavi is unhelpful and we are requesting for a GS to recognize our needs and to do things without a letter from the mosque.
In Jaffna people were also coming to resettle but going back due to the lack of housing.
Land Issues in General
The Commission encountered a variety of different issues regarding land – including the inability to access rental properties where people had shops and other businesses. The Commission recommendations call for some specific measures to address these problems. On the Commission’s follow up visit to Mannar in 2011, we were informed of the Bimsaviya program that is to be implemented from September 2011. There are northern Muslims who have lost all documentation, some landowners have passed away and the children have no way of accessing the land they are entitled to by inheritance. These should be sorted out through circumstantial and other evidence. For these reasons, the Bimsaviya program, if implemented properly will be a great strength. However, the people must be informed and given adequate time to do the necessary paperwork. Further, returning Muslims complained about the administration’s lack of cooperation in such matters. This too is an issue that must be speedily addressed to make the program a success.
Registration as Returnees.
The Secretariat for the Northern Displaced Muslims (SNDM) released statistics in April 2011- just before the institution was disbanded that indicated that a majority of the northern Muslims registered to receive rations in the Puttalam district have discontinued their rations and registered as returnees in the north. According to the SNDM figures obtained by the Commission 77,965 persons have returned to the north. Of these 62,052 have returned to Mannar District, 7658 to Jaffna District, 6296 to Mullaitiwu District, 1577 to Kilinochchi District. However, the Commission also found that a large majority of persons continue to live and work in Puttalam despite registering as returnees in the North. This was due to the lack of housing and infrastructure facilities in the north, lack of access to jobs, the continuing education of children already in schools in Puttalam – many do not want to interrupt their children’s schooling in the well established Puttalam schools in favour of the institution in the north that are just restarting. Additionally many felt they were compelled to register in the north for fear of losing their future entitlement to return and obtain assistance. This was due to confused and sometimes erroneous information that many received. There is a problem that is caused by this situation. There government records with regards to resettlement are confused. The people who are staying in Puttalam although registered as returnees in the north go to the north to collect their six months worth of rations. These people do not have any standing in Puttalam and therefore have to travel to the north for even the most minor administrative function. Due to these difficulties the Commission has now heard that some are opting to register as residents and voters in the Puttalam district.
There were several other issues regarding registration as well. Some who owned houses or lands in the north were returning on their own with no assistance and were therefore not registered as returnees. Others who had never been registered due to the fact that they lived with family after the displacement are finding it difficult to claim returnee status. Also many complained that after they come to Jaffna they are asked to go back to Colombo to obtain a letter from the authorities there to attest to the fact of their displacement. The logistical demands of this are too much for many. Due to lack of proper housing and safety concerns they have to go back with the entire family in order to get such a letter, many cannot afford to do this.
In general northern Muslim return has been occurring on an ad hoc basis and many issues are being resolved as and when they emerge. Many northern Muslims are struggling to have the authorities give northern Muslims the same assistance as the recently displaced. While this is necessary in certain instances—the old IDPS should at least be able to access the minimum that the government policy allows them—it is unfortunate that there is no policy that addresses their specific needs. The population, after all amounts to more than 200,000 persons. The specific circumstances of the expulsion, the displacement and the specific needs at the moment of return need to be recognized and special provisions made to the general policy on IDP assistance. For instance, most returning Northern Muslims have been away from their homes for twenty years. The status of their houses and properties will necessarily be different from those that have been left for a lesser amount of time.
The Commission found that Muslims want to maintain their links with the north. At the same time many said they did not want to go back unless and until they have adequate facilities. The Commission also felt that many of the people that had returned were the very poor who had limited livelihood options in the places where they were displaced to. These findings are also consistent with the information from the SNDM that 95% have registered in the north and a majority of them are still in Puttalam. However, the sentiment of wanting to return, even in a context where people had no land or houses in the north was strong among many. Therefore the Commission wants to emphasize the need to facilitate northern Muslim return as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. We end this chapter with the following quote from M.S. Isatheen also was a person who no longer owned land in Jaffna having been compelled to sell the land owing to poverty According to him- Back in Jaffna I owned all the things that is necessary for a hotel, Oxford car, Rukmany Hi- Ace Lorry, its value today will be 50 lacks, a big house. While we were coming we did not bring anything. I would love to go back but due to my hardships I sold my land for 3 lacks and 35,000 now I do not have any land back there. My children do not know the value of that soil, but we do. I want to go and live in a rented house, if it is possible. I know the government cannot return the lands that we lost. If I go back I should be given land and a shelter, then I can hope for a better life. Many people have interviewed us like this, but nothing was done, I hope at least this interview would result in some positive action in addressing our plight. (255 )