The truth & lies of life in Post-War Jaffna
Posted on January 12th, 2011

Shenali Waduge

My first impressions of post-war Jaffna peninsula was certainly not how it was made out to be by both western and local media, missing too was the horrific scenarios supposed to be taking place on a regular basis. Instead, my visualization was of towns abuzz with shoppers, young girls a few even dressed in jeans freely roaming around in bicycles some even on motorcycles, kovils full of worshippers, most of all an aura of relief despite the presence of military personnel whose conduct was applauded by practically every Tamil civilian I spoke to through the journey leading to Jaffna.

 It is only by visiting Jaffna, walking amongst its residents, speaking with them, joining residents in prayer will one really find out what the pulse of the people is like. It is totally different to the versions that are being circulated amongst vested groups in the South, by certain media channels paid to ensure that Sri Lanka’s peace is only in name & by those who are all out to create some division or the other. It is not remotely near the horrors that are being portrayed as taking place. To gage the feelings of the people it is essential to think outside of the mental framework with which we function in Colombo. It is only by showing concern & interest in those that one talks to will that feeling be reciprocated. Likewise, I spent a bulk of time visiting kovils, mingling with the ordinary people, going to their homes, sitting down next to them, going to the market places, speaking to people on the roadsides, to find out how those newly resettled are starting a new life and even speaking to those that had once out of fear supported the LTTE and with each conversation it was clearly evident that a handful of sordid souls had ruined the country, played with innocent minds, fed them with untruths & sustained a misery that had lasted almost 30 years..

 To understand what the people of the North & East especially those that have lived amidst a terrorist group armed & ruthless enough to kill their own, steal their children & turn them into child soldiers it is imperative that we place ourselves in similar circumstance. It is perhaps opportune to think of how much we suffered during the late 1980s & early 1990s when the JVP was causing mayhem throughout the country with just a note of paper! We seem to have forgotten how much we lived in fear. How many of us especially those in JVP strongholds would have had to support the JVP for fear of being killed. The LTTE was far more ruthless than the JVP so we need to understand & empathize with these people.

 The journey nearing Jaffna is a sight of destruction, houses that have been destroyed or left neglected”¦..houses that are unoccupied as its residents would have either moved southwards, or been killed or are now domiciled abroad. A rough estimate would leave over 150,000 such houses. It was evident that much of the destruction took place in the 1980s & 1990s & certainly questions the commands given during those times. Given that the population has declined drastically though the LTTE as well as the present Tamil parliamentarians would not have desired to reveal so, a census on population needs to take place. It does raise the argument that given that 12% Tamil population out of a total 20million population leaves only 2.4m Tamils (out of which 1m are said to be domiciled overseas). Exactly, how many LTTE soldiers actually fought & died & whether they could have been imported from India given that India has been sadistically involved in terror activity in Sri Lanka while pretending to be our friend. A closer view of the journey to Jaffna & Mullaitivu does also make one wonder why such a large presence of Churches prevail all close to the main roads & immediately one can understand that the newly built houses closer to the main roads must belong to LTTE families. Immediately calling to mind is one single question”¦”what have the NGOs placed in the North done all these years”¦.where are the buildings they were supposed to have built”¦?” “¦there are no new school buildings, no hospitals, no community centres”¦.what were they actually doing up North amongst the LTTE all these years? With so many churches set up It is then easy to ascertain how these NGOs with “Christian-based or Catholic-based” against their mission statement would have been doing in an area that was solely under the dictates of the LTTE.

 It is while talking to Tamil residents that one begins to realize the divisions amongst Tamils themselves & now free to talk some of these high caste Tamils openly denounce the LTTE claiming the bulk of them are low caste & one then begins to understand the caste factor where the majority of these LTTE members including the leader were of low caste and also poverty stricken which easily facilitated Christian & Catholic movements through the NGO circuits to brainwash them into converting & this is how these NGOs function in countries stricken with some form of terror. When asked why people never galvanized against the LTTE (as the Sinhalese did against the JVP during their terror campaigns) the answer is visible in their eyes & the fear of what the LTTE would do to them & their families makes one understand how the LTTE would have sodomized these people. Another reason that needs to be mentioned is that while the LTTE may have applied ruthless tactics to create their “supporters” elements down in governance had not helped to actually win the much needed “trust” of the Tamil people. For this the politicians of the past, police establishments, military leadership of the past & some Sinhalese who betrayed the integrity of the nation for commercial advantages need to accept part accountability. It is also at this stage Tamils living quite comfortably in areas outside of the North & East & especially those Tamils living overseas & in Colombo may like to feel more than a pinch of guilt for they knowingly allowed their own people to suffer so that they could apply as refugees & go to greener pastures while others benefited by joining international organizations that were all the while assisting the LTTE to prevail. 

 Those who have had a chance to visit Jaffna, Mullaitivu & other areas that the LTTE dominated for almost 3 decades would agree that the LTTE stands out amongst all terrorist groups worldwide in the manner it has functioned. Al Qaeda would certainly come nowhere near to what the LTTE think tanks did in terms of the manner they ran a default Government in the territory they dominated by virtue of the guns, armour, locally produced grenades, landmines & fisticuff methods that helped establish their might & the illegal international networks they ran. The teak plantations were enough evidence of how far the LTTE had gone to carefully plant trees that would be commercially viable for them, Prabakaran’s house & swimming pool would have amazed any architect in the manner how 3 floors were built into the ground fully air conditioned & tiled with plumping for the bathrooms, the swimming pool was 22ft deep & 83 ft in length with a fibre hood & flood lit, with mechanism to rotate & chlorinate the water and this was situated some 30 minutes drive deep into the jungles. This was probably built during the time of the Cease Fire Agreement & clearly establishes how the CFA was misused & enabled the transportation of such men & material to the Wanni and also questions why some key Government heads & even foreign dignitaries who would have frequented these premises kept mum about its location & details. Much of the drive to Pudukirrippu passes thousands of vehicles of all types, motorcycles, vans, buses, lorries, trucks, backos, heavy vehicles all now practically rotting for want of owners. Most of these vehicles have LTTE number plates which again depicts the length the terrorist movement went to.

 One of the hottest topics that is often debated is the presence of the military. True, a large number of military personnel are present, at key checkpoints, at close proximity encircling the high security zone areas but from the many residents that were directly asked the question of whether they like the military presence or feel uncomfortable at their presence they all thought the present day military was far superior to those that were stationed in the 1980s & 1990s. This was certainly a shift in thought & something echoed by not just the old or young but people of different walks of life”¦many were to even say that they feel safe as a result of military presence & felt far more safer amongst them than other Tamil political parties & their stooges who are showing signs of desiring to upset the status quo and these are the random burglaries, the thefts that are taking place & which are being bloated in Colombo. These incidents however, small should not go unpunished & it calls for the Government to immediately ensure that political parties even those in Government realize that they cannot threaten & win votes or political support & this needs to be strongly vociferated to these politicians. If the people have no problems with the presence of the military the same cannot be said of the police. Similar to how we feel about the police the same thoughts are echoed in Jaffna. It is easy to see why”¦a few observations into shops, cafes & kiosks it is easy to see police personnel inside”¦& immediately realize why! Journey towards Jaffna & returning to Colombo too”¦police emerge from the wilderness & slap a story, threaten to book you & people have a choice of returning to obtain one’s license or giving a hand out! IGP seriously needs to look into these malpractices for these are certainly not random incidents & they take place frequently throughout the island.

 There is no country without some form of crime taking place, two of the countries that enjoy dictating terms to Sri Lanka may like to be reminded of situation of crime in their own country. There were 14,180 victims and 16,277 perpetrators of murder and non-negligent homicide reported by law enforcement agencies to the FBI in 2008. 43% of all arrests were white Americans while 47% of victims were black Americans. one murder every 22 minutes, one rape every 5 minutes, one robbery every 49 seconds, and one burglary every 10 seconds. And the cost of crime continues to mount: $78 billion for the criminal justice system, $64 billion for private protection, $202 billion in loss of life and work, $120 billion in crimes against business, $60 billion in stolen goods and fraud, $40 billion from drug abuse, and $110 billion from drunk driving. When you add up all the costs, crime costs Americans a stunning $675 billion each year. In the UK, there were an estimated 9.6m crimes in 2009/10 (British Crime Survey).

 My next obvious question was what people thought about the President. Of course practically all the people I spoke to honestly admitted that they never thought the LTTE could be defeated and realistically speaking it appears most are still in shock, not so much because they did not want the LTTE to be defeated but because they cannot believe what had happened. To some of us who feel that these people passionately supported the LTTE, it has to be out of fear..for they have not gained anything”¦their houses remain the same, their living styles haven’t changed”¦the few allowed to even travel southwards have to either give their deeds or even leave a member of the family in LTTE custody until they return. However, those in the South who have been assisting the LTTE certainly are guilty for they have done so for their own selfish gain. So their answer is still a doubtful one & most seem to be watching the actions of the Government especially the President. One question that the media & foreign politicians & foreign leaders are seen to be presently pressurizing Sri Lanka is about a “political solution””¦. Asked the same question, all the people seem clueless about constitutional amendments, clueless about demands made by their own Tamil representatives”¦and all they wanted was for them to now at least be allowed to live in peace, to get about their work, to rebuild their lives, to educate their children & to make a home of their dwellings that had for decades being denied to them. So it certainly becomes irritating to hear our own politicians randomly express statements on “political solution” to be made “soon” because it just does not make any sense. It is evident that roads leading to Jaffna (especially near Omanthai), the railroad (destroyed by the LTTE) & other key infrastructure needs to be expedited. Giving these contracts to Government stooges has not help & will not help matters. Military personnel are themselves involved directly in some infrastructure projects & the speed with which they work far exceeds those who have been given contracts & questions the underhand dealings that must have taken place. The President & key decision makers need to realize that they cannot loose this golden opportunity that prevails. The people does not need pr consultants or media blitzes just to bloat things that are being done”¦the ability to do & deliver at a pace that is satisfactory to the people of the North (& not those in the South or those abroad) will sincerely bring the votes that are needed & if politicians cannot understand this they may be in for surprises in future.

 With much talk of reconciliation in the air another obvious question was about how people in the North felt about the Sinhalese & the Muslims. Census taken in 1981 shows that while almost 7000 Sinhalese & almost 13,000 Muslims lived in the North practically all of these numbers had been chased out of their homes by the LTTE. Many would recall how the Sinhala bakeries that functioned during these times would close during the April new year & residents would be denied bread. Many of these Sinhalese & Muslims have now decided to return to their homes & start new business ventures. In Navakuli, some 60 Sinhalese have been given land & homes & it is an encouraging sight & Tamil residents too seem to feel it a good gesture to have Sinhalese & Muslims live amongst them. A few were to even say that if Tamils are allowed to live in the South why shouldn’t Sinhalese & Muslims be allowed to do so in the North. With shops abuzz & businesses doing well especially the eateries & market, these owners are very happy with travelers from south as their incomes are increasing. The banana seller I spoke to at the Jaffna market said he earns about 1 lakh every month. Of course, travelers themselves need to be a little sensitive to the culture & traditions of these people especially since majority of them are totally clueless about what has been happening around the island over the years.

 I did wonder whether the owners of the houses that had been destroyed deeds & documentation to prove their ownership & whether they were interested to come & start a living? Most of those now living abroad are unlikely to return unless they opt to start a business venture or as senior citizens they would like to be amongst their own. Stopping most of the resettlement is the massive landmines & other booby traps that are present all over & while those that shout & demand for people to be allowed to return to their dwellings they may like to wonder whether they would like these people to return & end up without arms or limbs?

 My last question was about what people felt about the Tamil Diaspora & the transnational government that has been created and the echoes by these Tamils to take up arms once again & fight for separatism. The best answer I got was from an elderly man who had been one of the civilians held hostage by the LTTE, whose wife had been shot by the LTTE when they made a bid to get-away. With tearful eyes he expressed how the LTTE had forced the people into the final area with no food given to them though these civilians had both gold & money. He had paid Rs.2500 for one kg of rice which they had eaten until the military was able to conclude the humanitarian operation. All he said was let those abroad claim & demand separatism, in the North no single youngster will be allowed to take up arms & fight to separate ever again & he went on to say that he hoped that none of the hardcore LTTE fighters presently in camps or being rehabilitated are allowed to live amongst them & spoil the freedom & peace that prevails”¦he was so happy that I stopped to speak & his eyes told that there is much hope if only our politicians do not loose this golden opportunity.

 Of course, we may not be able to return to the golden years of mutual friendships that existed between Sinhalese, Tamils & Muslims”¦our grandparents will have interesting stories to tell of the bonds that existed during those times.

 We cannot hide from the fact that for different reasons the menace of terrorism has prevailed. Beyond the 1990s, LTTE was never about freedom or liberty of its people”¦LTTE transcended into a commercial terrorist entity, a unit that comprised not only Tamils supposed to be fighting for a separate state”¦it had even Sinhalese, Muslims & even foreigners working & being paid handsome remunerations for their role in bringing terror to our island nation. The truth of these elements is what makes the UN shy from ever defining terrorism & it is for these reasons that terror continues to prevail the world over. Why is it that the very countries that are promoting peace actually manufacture arms that serves to bring profits for their national coffer? How would a world be if no country manufactures these deadly arms & ammunition?

 There have been some Sri Lankans & most world leaders who find fault with the country for celebrating the defeat of the LTTE”¦why shouldn’t we? Not a single country in the world can claim to have militarily defeated a terrorist group while simultaneously carrying out a humanitarian rescue operation sacrificing their own military personnel to rescue these innocent Tamil people, no country can remotely know how great that feeling was when the LTTE top brass were annihilated and the remaining cadres readily gave themselves up especially since the LTTE was far superior to practically all the terrorist groups that prevail.

 The aura in Jaffna struck a positive note and while it is only fair that the people of the North be looked after & given what they were denied it does also remind the Government that the people in the South, East, West & other provinces are certainly not living in the lap of luxury & it behoves the present Government to sincerely concentrate on development & fast!

 Shenali Waduge

8 Responses to “The truth & lies of life in Post-War Jaffna”

  1. samarako Says:

    What a wonderful first-hand account! All Sri Lankans, including the partisan politicians of Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim origin should read it as they would get some constructive ideas for implementation.

    Thanks Shenali.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Many thanks to Shenali for her first hand account of the North. We were all hungry to know of what was happening there, and her honest and sympathetic account is very welcome. Conversely, the North ought to know an HONEST account of what is going on in the rest of the country, so that the feelings of being isolated is no more for those in the area.

    May I suggest that the ltte vehicles & assets that are now rotting in the north be auctioned off by the GoSL and the proceeds used for de-mining & upgrade work in the North & the East ?

    We heartily agree that the need of the hour, for the whole country, is Development & Self Sufficiency.

  3. Charles Says:

    Thank you Sonali for a very informative article.

    I feel sorry for the Police Personnel. They are always found fault with not only in Sri Lanka but all over the world. That is because of the work they have to do. They are so close to the people and yet their role is to protect the people. They often have to assure whether the people are trust worthy, honest and sincere. They have to check their identities, to asure that they are « what they are » …. they cannot relate to every one with close affection without suspicion. Because they are Policemen.

    The army personnel haven’t the same relationship with the citizens…. They keep their distance

  4. M.S.MUdali Says:

    I like this article because Shenali atleast tried to give a physical statust of the war zone. Shenali mentioned how Churches sprang out in 99% Hindu populated areas.

    I always mentioned here how the Catholic church is part of the terror and the involvements of the NGOs.

  5. Sri Rohana Says:

    MudAli! Why don’t you guys chase those NGO’s from Jaffna? Are you guys scared to NGO’s. You guys as heroes 270,000 innocent Singhalese and Muslims chased from north and east.
    Do you know MudAli most Hindus converted to Christianity to claim refugee states in Western countries? First stop is Philippines stayed in Churches and converted to Christianity. Then they go either to Canada, Europe or Australia. Christianity is a bonus for tamils to go to western countries.

  6. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    What bothers me most is to hear opponents of the Govt trying to belittle the gargantuan task the Govt is saddled with in trying to fast track development whist simultaneously resettling the displaced in war ravaged land mine effected regions, after a 30 year distruction of the country’s infrastructure due to conflict with terrorists. These people would shed crocodile tears about the rising cost of living etc but at the same time hoping and praying the Govt would fail in its bid to fast track economic development, which would help to reduce the cost of living. Are a significant number in our nation, patriotic or mere political scum?.

  7. PrabasFlaccidHead Says:

    Usually Waduge makes good points, but she ruins this whole article by referring to LTTE “soldiers.” They were and are TERRORISTS.

    Tell me, do the western backers of this terrorist group ever refer to them, even today after their destruction, as anything but “rebels”?

    People who can’t hold the line and call these monsters by their appropriate word – TAMIL TERRORISTS – should not be writing at all.

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    Shenali refer to LTTE ‘soldiers’ in one place only. In the rest of her article she refers to them as ‘LTTE fighters’.

    This is the sentence referred to : “Exactly, how many LTTE soldiers actually fought & died & whether they could have been imported from India given that India has been sadistically involved in terror activity in Sri Lanka while pretending to be our friend” is perhaps Shenali’s way of respecting the dead ltte fighters. Foe or not, respect the dead.

    In other places in her article, Shenali refers to them as LTTE fighters.

    The ltte used hastily trained Civilian Tamils to fight for them too. We have seen photos of the ltte training Tamil civilians. It is perhaps these ordinary Tamil people in civilian clothing who were really ltte fighters, were referred to as the ‘Dead Civilians’ by various NGOs & other international bodies ? Worth investigating. In warfare, civilian clothing or not, a person shooting at the legitimate army of a country is considered the enemy, isn’t it ?

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