The Sunday Leader

Beyond The Fields Of Kilinochchi

By Camelia Nathaniel

Lack of employment opportunities is one of the main factors affecting the people of Killinochchi
and One of the biggest issues affecting the majority of the farmers is the lack of water

Kilinochchi, a town that was most affected by the 30 year conflict in Sri Lanka  is located in the heart of the Northern Province with a floating population of 135,605, many of whom were displaced in the conflict. These displaced families underwent severe trauma having lost many of their family members during the conflict. Even though the conflict ended, their current status has been a severe impediment to normalize their lives. This has been the main challenge in areas that suffered prolonged deprivation due to the war.

Having been an area that experienced intense fighting between the LTTE and the government forces during the war, landmines were the biggest obstacle faced in the resettlement process. Sri Lankan Army and UN-sponsored de-mining teams have however  cleared 83% of mine-containing land in Kilinochchi, while 8% mine clearing activities and currently ongoing and 9% of the jungle area still remains to be cleared. Last year the mine clearance teams and the army recovered 31,505 small ammunitions, 701 grenades, 487 Anti Personnel mines, 1170 mortar ammunitions, 172 Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and 3 unidentified explosive devices. In January alone this year 6,150 small ammunitions, 17 grenades, 20 AP mines, 35 Mortar ammunition, seven RPGs and one IED were recovered from the Kilinochchi area.

In total there was an area of 77,363,408 sq. metres to be demined, while of this 64,057,713 sq. m has been demined and a further 6,852,194 sq.m remains to be cleared.

 

Resettlement

 

Kilinochchi town, one time LTTE’s main administrative town, and its infrastructure facilities were completely destroyed by the LTTE when troops liberated the area in the final phase of the battle against terrorists.

The government has launched multi directional development projects including water supply, infrastructure development for education, infrastructure development for sports and entertainment, assisting and promoting trade and commerce, BOI projects, irrigation projects, fisheries industry projects, electricity supply projects, telecommunication, housing, and development of road projects.

The A-9, A -32, A-34, A-35, B-269, and B-357  road networks spanning 176 kms at an estimated cost of Rs. 15,096 million is currently underway, while the interior road networks too are being constructed in many areas.

In order to facilitate the resettlement process and provide better facilities for the resettled families in the Killinochchi district alone the government had spent Rs. 70,445.96 million for education, rail and road development, irrigation, housing and sanitary projects, electricity health services, postal and economic development projects. 42,580 families have already been resettled with the assistance of the government and several INGO and NGOs.

The security forces in Killinochchi have assisted in the resettlement of 22,023 persons in Poonakary, 65,723 persons in Karachchi, 23,366 persons in Kandavalai, 3,978 persons in Puthukudi Iruppu, 1874 persons in Manthai west, 9,742 persons in Thunnukai, 5,285persons in Oddusudan and 3,614 persons in Manthai east.

 

Land and farming

 

The main source of income for most of thepeople in this area is fishing and farming. In order to assist the fishing community the  Australian government has funded a boat manufacturing project with the assistance of the fisheries ministry and the ILO. This project is carried out by the Poonakary fisheries cooperative society union. The manager of the boat yard Sinharasa Kiruba said that currently there are around eight youth employed at this boat manufacturing yard and it provides them a daily wage of around Rs. 800. The fibre glass fishing boats are sold to the local fishermen for around Rs. 500,000 in order to assist them.

However one of the biggest issues that is affecting the majority of the farmers in the area is the lack of water. The Kariyalanagapattuwa tank is the main irrigation tank that feeds the paddy cultivations in the Komalamunai, Kariyalanagarpattuwa, and Kallawarayankaddu divisional secretariat  divisions. According to the farmers in the area if the tank is renovated it would enable the farmers to cultivate around 1,520 acres of paddy. Speaking to The Sunday Leader the president of the farmers association in Poonakary, Gnanasekaram said that all they ask is for the tank to be renovated so that they could make a decent living. “There is nothing else that we ask, except that this tank be renovated and given to us. If that is done it will certainly benefit around 1,600 families in the area cultivate their lands.”

Land allocation is also an issue reaching serious levels of contention in the province. Issues relating to effective distribution, disparity in the distribution to new settlers and claims by those living abroad to traditional lands are issues that demand serious and immediate attention. One can not avoid the issue of land anywhere here. A young person approaching the authorities with a file relating to a land issues is in fact a common sight in these villages. From the minor roads to the AGA Office, the cries for more land and ownership are deafening.

The post war demand for land has risen many fold in the province as the settlers have now come back and desire cultivation as a main form of livelihood. A majority refuse land allocations less than an acre on grounds that as their families grow there would be little for distribution between children upon marriage. One farmer family claimed that it was not worth the effort to ‘even toil over a land unless there was at least two acres to begin with’ as the income would be few and far in between.

Government plans to distribute traditional lands to which Tamil people who now reside abroad but hold legal deeds to, is an issue that threatens any moves for peaceful co-existence within the community in a post-war scenario. Informed of moves to distribute such traditional lands, these legal owners have approached Grama Niladharis and demand that their rights are not impeded upon. The deeds denote large chunks of land that people fear the government may desire to block into smaller blocks for distribution among the resettled. People feel that any mishandling of this issue could lead to a greater deprivation that a reconciliation process as envisaged by the government may hamper.

Land issues have many diiferent faces in the North. Four youth who had arrived at the Nagathambiran Kovil festival from Palali, were concerned that land still held within the High Security Zones had affected their livelihood of farming. They express satisfaction that the war is over and there is freedom, but believe with restrictions on carrying out their livelihoods such as farming, life during peace times might entail the same difficulties of war.

“We need to be able to freely engage in farming. That is all we know. If we can go back to that and our lands are free we will be okay,” says one youth in the prime of his life. Understanding the needs of the youth in the war torn areas is a necessity that can not be overlooked. It is imperative that the government speeds up the process of land distribution so that room left for youth to question the validity of reconciliation measures is completely and effectively removed.

“Most of the farmers in this area had received lands in 1966 and they are able to cultivate on these lands. The newer settlers are given around half an acre of land, but we don’t grumble about that as we understand that there is no land available to distribute to all the people. However until such time the main priority is that the government provide us the water to cultivate our lands so that we can at least feed our families,” added Gnanasekaram.

During the recent floods around 690 acres of paddy land was destroyed, while the harvest from around 400 acres only was saved. “The farmers were badly affected due to this factor and many farmers had to suffer severe losses. If the tank is repaired and the farmers can cultivate all their lands, they could obtain about 300,000 kilos of paddy harvest. Another issue affecting the farmers is that while there is around 100,000 kilos of paddy stored in their storage facility, they have not been able to sell this stock of paddy to the traders as they are reluctant to come to this area due to the terrible road conditions. The traders claim that they have to replace many parts of their vehicles by coming on these roads and that makes it unprofitable for them. This situation has also affected the paddy process and we are today unable to even sell a kilo of paddy for a mere Rs. 23.”

It is clear that until and unless there is an efficient system of purchasing their produce in place, much of the benefits of peace will remain limited to the files. The reality of the needs of the people is very simple. To many of them assistance in the form of carrying out their traditional livelihoods such as farming, an efficient school system are sufficient grounds on which to accept normalcy in their lives. These are a people now ready to forget the past and get on with everything lost to them during a three decade war. But, they need the dignity with which to carry this out. They are insistent that handouts are replaced with assistance to get their lives back in place.

The people of Kilinochchi are today enjoying the luxury of freedom, and are more than content about their ability to finally be able to live in peace without having to worry about being killed or most importantly having to lose their children to the war.

For many mothers the anguish still continues as they still eagerly await the return of their missing children, as they are unable to put the past behind them as until today they still don’t know what happened to their children. They are hopeful that information on the fate of their children be afforded them so that they can lay rest the anguish and move forward. Many hold the faith that the children are alive and believe they will return.

One such mother, 48 year old Ramakrishnan Pushparani  told The Sunday Leader that she is still unable to step out of her home for fear that her child might return and find her missing. “Every time I take my plate of rice to eat I think of my daughter, and wonder if she is in hunger or if she is dead or alive somewhere unable to return home. I have four daughters and one son, and in 2009

the LTTE abducted my older daughter Kanitha, but fortunately she managed to escape from them and returned home after five days. But the LTTE came looking for her and since she was in hiding they took away my second daughter Subadhira on the 13th of March 2009 and until today I am not aware of what happened to my child. She was only 17 years at the time she was snatched away from us and I cannot get on with my life as I still don’t know if she is alive or dead. This is a nightmare for me and her father,” she lamented.

For Pushparani and many other mothers not only in Kilinochchi but right throughout the country who still have no clear knowledge of what happened to their children the anguish continues. When the army decided to recruit Tamil girls from Killinochchi two of her daughters 21-year-old Kanitha and 19-year-old Keerthika decided to enlist. “However it was too much for my mother to handle and she was badly affected for fear of losing her children. Subsequently my younger sister decided to drop out, but I completed my training. Currently I am the only one in my family with a stable job, as my father too is a labourer. I want to educate my younger siblings and support them to achieve their dreams. Today we are free and that is the biggest joy for us, as we no longer have to live with the fear of being abducted or killed,” said Kanitha.

Lack of employment opportunities however is one of the main factors affecting the people of Killinochchi currently. While the government has invested heavily in rebuilding the infrastructure facilities in the area, and the security forces have ensured a peaceful existence for the people, they are still unable to make a substantial living to sustain their families. Many private entities have however come forward to assist the government in providing employment opportunities for the people of Killinochchi.

One such endeavour is the  investment by MAS which will provide a conduit for assisting the youth of Kilinochchi to access the post-war economic boom of Sri Lanka. This will be yet another important milestone in MAS Holdings’ legacy in Sri Lanka. The huge factory being constructed in Killinochchi is said to be the largest of their factories with a capacity to provide recruitment to around 3,000 youth of the area.

However the main Tamil political party, the Tamil National Alliance says that apart from the fact that several main roads in Killinochchi being constructed, there has not been much done for the people. TNA MP Suresh Premachandran accuses the army of interfering in all the civil administrative functions of the area and says that nothing has changed. “The army involvement is ever present and until today school functions and all other civil functions the army plays a key role. We have raised our concerns regarding the army administration for the past four years. The government constantly denies the involvement of the army to the outside world, yet at each and every function and even the day to day lives of the people the army is present, and we vehemently disapprove of it,” he said.

Commenting on the development taking place in the area he said “the main roads such as the Paranthan Mulaitiv road, the Mankulam road and several other main roads are being constructed while some schools have also been developed and electricity provided to some areas. The government claims that they are reconstructing the infrastructure and hence developing the area. They are taking photographs of the things they do and showing it to the world claiming that everything is going smoothly. On the other hand the government  recruited around 300 rehabilitated ex cadres to the Civil Defence Force and deployed themfor farming projects,” he said.

Premachandran also accused the government of manipulating  these CSD personnel in organising demonstrations and other pro government activities. “Recently the army organised these CSD persons to hold demonstrations against the US and India, in Killinochchi and Jaffna. It is clear that the government is using these people for their own purposes. They are also intimidating the public and saying that unless they participate in these government sponsored activities, they will not receive any of the benefits. This is how things are moving in Killinochchi, while employment is a big problem in Killinochchi. There are around 400 volunteer teachers for the past four years, and the government as well as minister Douglas Devananda have given promises to these people that they will be made permanent. However so far nothing has been done, and they are simply using them for their own purposes giving them false promises. The government does not have any sort of program to improve the employment of this area,” Premachandran charged.

Meanwhile Security Forces Commander Killincochchi, Major General Udaya Perera claims that even though the army has taken measures to pull out of civilian activities, they are constantly called upon to carry out many of the tasks for the people. He said that while initially there were around 400 army deployments in the Killinochchi district, it has now been restricted to just 40.

The people of Killinochchi however say that they have no faith in the Tamil political parties in the area, but have high regard for the army personnel who they claim are there for them at all times.

P. Paalan  a resident of Jayapuram south who is the president of the Poonaryn Rural Development Society claims that even though there is peace, they still fear that if the army pulls out of these areas there couldbe a resurgence due to the influences of foreign sympathisers. “We feel very comfortable with the army around, and considering what we have been through over the years, we are very fearful that certain groups would start-up problems. The army does not interfere with our lives, but they are just being there gives us a sense of security. It is they who assist us in every situation, be it agricultural, medical or any other emergency situation, they are always there to assist us. It is the army that assist us even in clearing the schools and constructing fences, clear the roads or even during a funeral they are the ones that are there to help us. The local government representatives are not available at every instance as they are most often residing in other areas and only come to the village on certain days allocated for meeting the public,” he said.

There are around 203 families consisting of  667 adults and 664 children residing in Jayapuram west , while over 300 families reside in Jayapuram north as well. Jayapuram is located around 44 from Killinochchi and is quite an isolated village. The roads are yet under construction and travelling on the existing roads is quite a challenging task.“Due to the condition of the roads, there is no proper bus service or any other mode of transport. During the war the people of Jeyapuram remained in their village, but as the fighting intensified they were evacuated to Mullivaikkal, while many others went to India and toward Colombo,” he said.

It is not hard to understand the harsh realities of what the innocents of these villages endured during a three decade war. Far removed from the lives enjoyed by many other parts of the country, these are a people who still suffer in innocent silence. They harbour much hope with the decision makers of relieving them from the inequalities thus far forced upon them. The impressive jargon and definitions of reconciliation holds little meaning to the farmer fighting the scorching sun, the six year old who has a one and a half hour walk to school or the young man left with no real form of employment. But, Kilinochchi is the perfect place for real reconciliation to start. The suffering these people have endured thus far demands little else…

 

6,170 families in four AGA Divisions headed by females!

The killinochchi district which is made up of four AGA’s divisions consist of around 39,296 families and spans over an area of 1237.11 square kilometres. Of the four AGA divisions Karachchi is the most populated with around 22,370 families consisting of 69,661 members residing in the area. Next is Kandawalai with 7410 families consisting of 23,898 members, Poonakary with a population of 6471 families consisting of 22,862 members and the least populated area being Pachchilaipalli consisting of 3,045 families including 10,192 members, according to a survey conducted by the District Planning Secretariat, District Secretariat, Killinochchi in 2012.

According to the Survey there are a total of 6,170 families in the four AGA divisions that are headed by females, while according to the statistics there are 140 widows under the age of 20, 490 widows between the age of 21 – 30, 1,031 widows between the age of 31 – 40, 1287 widows between the age of 41 – 50, 1,517 widows between the age of 51 – 60 and 1705 widows over the age of 60. These women were widowed due to 6,170 of their husbands being killed in violence, 350 killed in accidents, 2825 due to natural causes, 182 deaths due to natural disasters, 122 deaths due to suicide and 536 due to various other reasons.

In the Kilinochchi district it was revealed in the census that 4,814 families live with a meagre income of less that Rs. 1,500 per month. 1088 families live with a monthly income of between Rs. 1,501 to 5,000, while only around 268 families earn a monthly income of over Rs. 5000.

According to the census  carried out in 2011 it was revealed that there are around 1,871 people in the Kilinochchi district who suffer from various forms of disability. In the four AGA divisions there are 844 disabled males, 555 females, and 1,537 children under the age of 18. Of these figures 832 persons were rendered disabled due to the war. The District Probation and Child care Services of Kilinochchi, 2411 children had lost either both or one parent during the war.

 

2 Comments for “Beyond The Fields Of Kilinochchi”

  1. dagggy

    Did the diaspora through the LTTE want to eradicate all Tamils who were poor?

  2. Mahadevan

    Happened is happened like past is past, For the future of the young generation have to trust the GOSL and move along with them,Hope they too accept tamilians as one of their sons and daughters.

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