ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 11 C
Posted on January 14th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The media said in 2011 that the security forces had hundreds of acres under cultivation in Mannar, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Jaffna districts.

In 2014 it was reported that the Civil Defence Force ‘is engaged in agriculture at Kebetigollewa’  .They have cultivated over 812 acres, of paddy, maize, kurakkan, gingelly, urad dhal, cowpea, green gram, fruits and vegetables. They use compost fertilizer only, produced through their compost fertilizer manufacturing plants in each sub zone.  There is a new paddy warehouse at Kebetigollewa. The rice is offered to the military camps at Medawachchiya, Kebetigollewa, Colombo and Padaviya.

The Army also had farms at Vellankulam, Udayarkattukulam and Nachcchikuda in Mullativu, and two farms of 360 acres and 11,130 acres at Kantale and Kandakuda. Kandakuda farm was earlier abandoned after its workers were killed by the LTTE.  Kandakuda was now exporting Cavendish plantains. Its dairy farm had 120 cows.

The continued presence of the military and its expanded role in non military sphere of daily life had created a serious concern internally and internationally said Gamini Keerawella.  UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 of October 2015, also spoke of ending the role of the military in commercial enterprises in the North.

The issue of the military running civilian businesses, such as hotels and farms, is an issue that is often brought up by human rights and political activists. But to the local population and the Diaspora community who may be less politically motivated, the army is providing a quality service at a reasonable price and from which they wish to benefit, said Jehan Perera.

 TNA did not care about that. We don’t want the military to run farms on our lands we want them out of these commercial activities which hinder the livelihoods of our people, TNA said.They wanted the farms handed over. Defence secretary agreed to release farm lands to the Provincial Council if they could pay salaries for the 11,000 people who work in the farms. The farms were running under the Civil Defence Force and salaries were paid by the Defence ministry.

Army ran three farms in Mullaitivu,  Vellankulam, Udayarkattukulam and Nachcchikuda, providing employment to around 117 Tamil workers, both rehabilitated ex-LTTE members and civilians. These farms were handed over  but Army had retained 100 acres at the Vellankulam farm, handing over the balance 500 acres. Vellankulam farm generated around Rs. 20 million in profit. Army also ran a farm close to the Palali runway in Jaffna, where around 150 rehabilitated ex-cadres were given employment.

Daily News visited Vellankulam farm in January 2019. The workers were not elated regarding the releasing of lands held by the military. On the contrary, almost all of the Tamil workers employed at these farms were worried and unhappy about these farms being released.

26-year-old S. Damayanthi, a resident of Ganesapuram, Vellankulam,  has been working on the farm for the past four-and-a-half years. She  joined the farm with the first 25 recruits and has been working there since.When we joined, there were only a few females, but today there are 10 females and 21 males. We have to tend to the vegetables, and during the cashew season, we have to pick the cashew. We pick over 300 kg of cashew per day during the season. Each of us is given different duties. We grow pumpkin, beans and other vegetables here too. The farm spans around 600 acres. For me, I live nearly two kilometres away from the farm and it is easy for me to travel here.” .

Niluka, who is an injured ex-LTTE member, had lost a leg during the war and now, an artificial leg supports her as she gets about her work. Most of us employed here are recruited by the Army to work in these farms and are paid by the Army. After the war, I was rehabilitated and thereafter I started my life. Now, both my husband and I are employed at this farm and we take home a good salary.”

Many of these farm workers have obtained loans for constructing their houses and purchasing necessities. According to some of these workers, they have to pay as much as Rs. 25,000 as repayment for their loans. With the salaries they receive by working in these farms, they are able to manage their loans. Many of these farm workers live in the vicinity of the farms making it easier for them to work in the farms and keep an eye on their children as well.

Daily News also spoke to Rajive Ghandi, Jeromeson, Manivanan, Sri Kala, Padmajayanthini and Maniwanan who work at the Udayarkattukulam farm, which was also scheduled to be handed over by the Army. They too have the same fear and uncertainty as those in the Vellankulam farm and fear the loss of their source of income. All these farm workers were recruited to work on these farms on the promise that they would have their jobs throughout their service period. However, now they face an uncertain future, as they do not know what would happen once they lose these farms. There is no clear decision as to what the land would be used for thereafter.

The Udayarkattukulam farm is around 120 acres in extent, and there are around 50 Tamil farm workers employed here, who claim that they have worked happily at the farm all these years, but now their entire future is again shrouded in uncertainty.

There has been much controversy about the Sri Lanka Army engaging in farming activities in the North, especially in Jaffna. However, despite the outcry of the Tamil politicians about the army engaging in farming activities, the Tamil youth, especially those rehabilitated ex-rebel cadres who are given employment at these farms feel that it has given them an opportunity to earn a decent living and live with dignity in society. The benefits they enjoy does not merely mean their salaries, they are also entitled to all the medical and welfare facilities enjoyed by the rest of the army and even their families are provided with free medical assistance, which according to them, is a great blessing.

The ex-combatants who are employed on the Palaly farm  were appreciative of the fact that the Army had given them back their dignity by providing them with the opportunity to be productive citizens of the country and a steady source of income for their families.

Speaking to the Daily News, Rasiah Lochana, who had been employed by the Army for the past five years said she was a teacher previously and had served in the LTTE during the war and after the conflict ended, she had not received the acceptance of her people. In a family of four, she is now married and is the mother of two children. Lochana noted that initially, she and her family had reservations about joining the army and her parents were scared. However, after I joined, I realised that the army personnel are not bad at all and they, in fact, accepted us and treat us better than our own people.”

Sudhakaran Navaneethamalai, another employee engaged in farming activities on the Army farm in Palali said, I have also been in the army for the past five years. They have treated me well and I am happy. My family is also accepting of my job. I have four children and the oldest son is 14. My husband does not provide for us and I run my family with what I earn from this job. When I am at work my sister looks after my children and since I get to go home every evening, it is easier for me to take care of them. I am originally from Kilinochchi and as an active member of the LTTE, I know how much we suffered as we were the ones who had to go to war. Both my parents were killed during the war and all I want is to ensure that my children never have to undergo the same hardships as I did.”

Kirindika Jeganathan who had joined the army just three months ago said she was still adjusting to the work. At 21 years, she was initially employed elsewhere but had later decided to join the army as she could earn better and the army provides better facilities. Her family was initially afraid to send her to the army. However, having seen the progress of those already in the army and hearing their stories, she too had eventually decided to join. Now, she says she feels safer with the army than with civilian organizations.

Earlier, we were scared to death of the army after the stories we had heard. However, now that I am with them, I realize that all that we were told are not true. I feel very safe here and even the Sinhala soldiers and superiors are very kind to us and we don’t face any discrimination or harassment. We work together on the same farm as brothers and sisters, share our meals and work happily. Now I see that they are no different to any of us, but we were initially scared because of all the wrong impressions that we had about them,” she added.

Nidharshan a 24-year-old youth had joined the army just two months ago. I worked in a lathe workshop earlier. My friends who were in the army told me of the many benefits they receive and I too decided to join. When I first came, I was sceptical, but now that I am here with the army, I have a totally different opinion of them. I have lost all that suspicion and I am comfortable working with the Sinhalese soldiers and I see no difference among us.

 Now when we go out, I always tell the people that army treats us well. Hence I personally would encourage anyone among my people to join the army without any fear of all the negative things we have heard about them are all fabricated lies. There is no issue working with the army and it is a safe and secure place to work in. We never ever want a war again and all I want is to educate my sisters and see a free and safe society once again in the North,” he said.

Rahul said, there are some who try to ridicule us that we are with the Sinhala forces. It is the army that has given us the opportunity and I am grateful for it.” Karan said all these people who criticise us for joining the army did not come forward to help us. Now that they see that we are living well, they are coming behind us asking us to help them get employment within the army too.

There are about 120 Tamils working within the army farm. These females  need to serve for a period of just 15 years in order to be entitled to a pension. This, they say, is a great blessing for them. Despite what is being said by the Tamil politicians, for these Tamil civilians recruited by the army, life for them has changed dramatically and so has their perception of the army and the Sinhalese people, concluded Daily News.

It is alleged that the army-run farms are posing a threat to the local farmers and that they have to compete with the military-run farms. However, the Jaffna Security Force Headquarters Commander Maj. Gen. Dharshana Hettiarachchi, vehemently denied these allegations and added that the produce from these farms are not sent to the open market, but instead they are solely for the consumption of the military establishments and the military personnel.

The army says that their intention is to help these people manage their daily lives and these farms and gradually, they would step back from these civilian activities and hand them over to the people of the North to carry on these activities.

The army also  runs  coconut plantations in collaboration with the Coconut Development Board, Palmyra plantations in collaboration with the Palmyra Development Board, and does reforestation, in collaboration with the Forest Department.

Fifty unemployed  Jaffna youths, including rehabilitated former LTTE combatants, were recruited by the Sri Lanka Army  for the coconut cultivation project in the Army farm in the Palaly Army Cantonment.

These recruits are entitled to a monthly salary of Rs. 40,000 in addition to many other privileges. They are provided with meals, transport, medicine and pension rights in the Army on retirement. Their family members including parents have access to Army medical facilities depending on their marital status. They were required to work a regular 8.5-hour work shift and  were able to travel from their homes daily.

These ex-combatants, who were actively engaged during the war, have found it very hard to be accepted into society once the war ended. As much as they were hailed and feared during the rule of the LTTE, once the war ended these very combatants were shunned by the general public. As a result of it, they were not given employment by society as they were perceived to be violent. This situation left many of these ex-combatants unemployed.  ( Continued)

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