A Field Visit to Puttlam:
by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
Puttlam district is situated on the coastal belt of North Western Province of Sri Lanka. Its total population is 8,14,000. Sinhala population is 5,85,000, Muslim population is 1,49,000, and Tamil population is 80,000. There are currently 75,000 Internally Displaced Persons from Northern Province in Puttlam. These statistics are from a survey carried out by the District Secretariat of Puttlam.
The Muslims of Jaffna were forced to leave by the LTTE in October 1990. LTTE made announcements over loud speakers that, Muslim should assemble at Jinnah Grounds of Osmania College by twelve noon on October 30th 1990. And the LTTE went from house to house, and made sure they attend the meeting. The message was conveyed to the Muslims of Jaffna by the then LTTE commander of Jaffna Anjaneyar (who was also known as Ilamparithy), all the Muslims in Jaffna peninsula have to leave in two hours. This was an order by the high command, and neither more explanation was given nor questions were answered. Any Muslim who fails to leave Jaffna will be punished, said clearly by the LTTE.
Muslims lived in Pombaiveli, Sonakaththeru, Beach road and Chavakachcheri. The Muslims who were living happily in Jaffna have started to pack and leave. But they were stopped and checked by the male and female cadres of the LTTE during their journey. The Muslims were allowed to carry only Rs. 150/=. Other items were confiscated by the LTTE. Muslims from Jaffna district were given only two hours to leave the peninsula, whereas the Muslims from Mannar, Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi districts were given few days to leave. They left their houses and moved to Puttlam by boats, buses, tractors, and lorries. As a result there were approximately 85,000 Muslims who were expelled by the LTTE from Northern districts.
Most of the Internally Displaced Persons are living in thatched houses, and are frustrated about staying there for more than 17 years. They lack the normal living standard of an average Muslim. They are very frustrated about the ration, which is irregular. The dry ration per person includes 5kilograms of rice, Â½ kilogram of dhal, 1 kilogram of flour, 1 kilogram of sugar and a cake of soap. They complain that, these are not given at regular intervals. Sometimes they get the ration in every two months, and some other time in every four months.
The Internally Displaced Persons say that, they cannot depend on the ration. Women go the agriculture fields and earn Rs. 200/= per day. They need Rs. 40/= as up and down bus fare. They have to manage the balance Rs. 160/= for their family. The men go for fishing or day labourer, but they are not paid well either. And they have to compete with the host community.
The older generation of course is dreaming of going back to their home towns. But the younger generation does not want to return, because they have adopted to a new lifestyle, and unable to adjust if they go back.
Many voices were heard during the visit. The largest concentration of Internally Displaced Persons from Jaffna district are living in Thillaiyady. It is a small village occupied by the Muslims from Jaffna district. It's called "Little Jaffna". Everybody in Thillaiyady spoke typical Jaffna Tamil. Nobody wants to say that, they got displaced; instead they want to say that, they were evicted. They continued to languish in abysmal conditions.
Muslims from other three districts are spread out in Nuraichcholai and Katpity. The resettled villages have separate small houses made of hard board or wood or mud. Very dark inside; they pay Rs.20,000/= to get electricity. Cadjan fences give a village touch to the houses.
The Internally Displaced Persons say that, the Politicians make a lot of promises during their election campaigns, but once the election is over, they always become broken promises. And they have no hope; they have learnt to live with what is available.
Youngsters have no nostalgia for Jaffna
"I was two year-old child when I left Jaffna in 1990. I canâ€™t recall anything. I went back to Jaffna in 2005 by bus on A9. I was happy to see my parents' birth place. My father is currently in Jaffna, who does business. I got used to a different lifestyle, and very difficult to go back to Jaffna and live there. I have finished my G.C.E. (A/L)- General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level), and awaiting results. I have almost settled down here, will not go back to Jaffna to live" said Rameez Sajath (19), who lives in Thillaiyady- Puttlam.
I met few women who got expelled from Jaffna in October 1990. These women are from Moors Street in Jaffna, now living in Sathamiyapuram in Thillaiyady. There are 365 families-1,825 members are living in these temporary shelters. They find it very difficult to manage, because of language barrier, and cultural change. Some shelters have more than family. Toilets are shared; wells are common.Children complain about discrimination at school among the children from host community and IDP community.
Pushed to poverty
"This is not my land. My land is Jaffna. I like to go back to Jaffna to live, if the situation improves. I have three sons, and two daughters. I went to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi as a house maid to earn a stable income for my family. I worked abroad for eight years. My husband died a year ago, and after his death I could not leave my children and go back to earn. I live in a thatched house, and have no way to settle my daughters, who are 17 and 19 years old. Because the groom side demands a huge amount as dowry. And I do not have any money or belongings to give my daughters in marriage" lamented Fareena Fariz (41)
Ameera Iyub Khan
"I went back to Jaffna during the peace time. But most of my Tamil neighbours have already left the area because of fierce fighting. My house was in rubble. I gathered nothing, except anger, desperation, frustration and hatredness. If my house was intact and the neighbours were there, I would have thought to stay there" said Ameer Iyub Khan (40)
"My family lost everything due to displacement. We have hidden the jeweleries in a thermos flask, and in the folds of clothes, which we were wearing during the journey. But all were confiscated by the LTTE cadres. I was 17 year old, when displaced. My parents managed to send me to school in Puttlam, and I have finished my education. But most parents found it difficult to let their children to continue their education. Because they were pushed to poverty after displacement; forced to stay in camps; and they were jobless; and could not afford to send their children to school.
The children who were displaced had to face discrimination at schools. I was not allowed to take part in any sports or extra curricular activities. Our talents were wasted" said Nazreena Fowzy (34) who is pre-school supervisor.
"I was eight year -old, when we had to leave. I was crying throughout the journey from Jaffna to Puttlam. My other family members tease me about it even now. I will not go back to Jaffna, because I am used to this place and people, and itâ€™s very hard for me to go back and adjust. The Internally Displaced Persons are still called "Agathi" or refugee by the host community. We did not choose to be Internally Displaced Persons. Even the National Identity card has house number and camp address instead of our home town address" said Hasana Farwin (24).
I met another set of females in a resettlement village known as Karambai A Camp. They got expelled from Mannar in October 1990. There are 450 families-2250 members living in this village. They are faced with similar problems as Sathamiyapuram people.
We have no hatred feelings
"I do not hate Tamils. Tamils and Muslims lived in harmony before 1990. Even after we got expelled, we have no hatred feelings towards the Tamils. They were not responsible for the expulsion. We gave refugee to Tamils from Periya Kadai, Sinna Kadai, Ezhuththoor, Thaalappaadu and Pallimunai during the heavy shelling and bombing in 1989 and 1990 in Mannar. They stayed with us. We gave them food and accommodation. Tamils and Muslims have had a very good understanding" said Ramzia Muththalif (38), who got expelled from Thaaraapuram in Mannar.
"I will go back to my home town, if the LTTE gives a guarantee internationally that "Muslims will be safe in North, and we will not hassle them in the future". I used to live in fear, while the fighting was going on between the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE. During the war I used to manage with one kerosene lamp to cook, then keep it off, and light the lamp again only while eating. Because kerosene was at scarce. We were caught in the middle. If any incident happened near our house, we would be targeted. I did not allow my children to shout, laugh, play or cry. Whenever I heard the noise of someone walking outside the house, I immediately clung and closed everybodyâ€™s mouths and asked them to keep quiet. Because if any noise was heard, the warring parties would come to my house to ask questions and search. I have suffered enough during the warâ€ mentioned Kasina Umma (55).Her frustration was visible in her voice. She left Silavaththurai in 1990.
"I am very worried about the relationship between the Tamils and Muslims. Before the displacement, Tamils and Muslims shared a lot and had a lot in common. But the displacement made a huge gap, which is growing. I wonder who is going to fill the yawning gap between these two communities. Muslims attended the weddings, funerals, house warming ceremonies, age attaining ceremonies and various other ceremonies of the Tamils before displacement, and Tamils attended similar function of Muslims. Now we hardly attend any ceremonies of this nature. I am very saddened about the current trend, which will lead us nowhere except for more misunderstandings between the communities.
Muslims from the North spoke the same Tamil which is spoken by the Tamil brothers and sisters. I called my father "Appa", like the Tamils call their fathers. I never called my father "Vaappaa" just like Muslims call their fathers. We lived like own brothers and sisters. I am looking forward to a day, when Tamils and Muslims will forgive each other and forget the bitter past, and live as one family. That will be the most happiest day in my life" tearfully said Juwariya Uvais. She got expelled from Erukkalampitty.
Loss of identity
"I was 13 year-old, when I was expelled along with my family from Thaaraapuram in Mannar. I have lost my cultural identity due to displacement. Women were not allowed leave the house and go on their own in Northern areas. Women are allowed to go out on their own here. I think that, it has been the tradition for several decades in the North, and I find it quite difficult to accept it and change myself accordingly" said Nusra Shariff (30).
Future of children
"I have three children, who were born in Puttlam. They do not know anything about the ancestral house. I wanted to take them to Mannar to show the culture I followed. But the situation does not permit to take them and stay there for a while. These children will grow up without knowing the values of our culture and tradition. And on the other hand I do not want to take any risk, and go and settle in Mannar, because of their education" said Thaslima Sajun (32), who also was expelled from Thaaraapuram in Mannar. She is Montessori school teacher.
I met a woman who was expelled from Mankumbaan Islet in Jaffna. She now resides in Karambai A camp.
Afraid to return
"I was expelled from my house with my husband and two children-1 Â½ year old and 3 Â½ year old. Someone arranged a vehicle for us to go. We came to Puliyankulam, Vavuniya and Puttlam. It took three days for us to reach Puttlam. Initially I was in a camp along with the others. Food and immediate needs were met by various organizations. I went back to Jaffna in 2005. But my house was in debris; and surrounded by the military. I am too frightened to return and settle down in Jaffna" said Jemila Sherifdeen (43)
Kids in Karambai
Kids play in the by-lanes; there is not enough space in their houses
Kids at play in Thillaiyady
Mohamed Sajan (5) at his house
Hasana Faiz (9) wants to become a teacher
Women returning home after dress making lessons
Kids watch while their parents meeting the journalists from Colombo
Women complain that, there is no privacy in the houses as there are extended family members
Kitchen utencils are washed and kept to dry in sunlight
Space is very limited
They wonder when they will get the permanent houses
Journalists and Internally Displaced Persons are engaged in discussion
[This article is written based on the information gathered during a field visit to Puttlam, organized by the Sri Lanka Women Journalists Network]
A Field Visit to Puttlam: