22nd year of Ethnic Cleansing of Northern Muslims By Latheef Farook
The enterprising Arab traders had long contacts with the North of Sri Lanka where they settled down later. They were present in the north of the island long before the advent of Islam more than fourteen centuries ago.
According to some schools of thought, the early Arabs who came to the island settled down first in the north established good relations with rulers, lived among the Tamils in peace and harmony and over the years integrated well with the Tamil community to an extent that they adopted the Tamil language as their mother tongue. There were some others who came from the Tamilnad coastal areas of Kayalpattinam and Keelakarai where they had already settled down and started speaking Tamil before arriving in Sri Lanka. They then spread out to other areas in the island.
Many believe that much historic evidence of early Arabs in the north was destroyed by the Portuguese when they brutalised Muslims, deprived them of their trade, destroyed their properties and mosques and looted their belongings before driving them into the interior areas. According to Peradeniya University graduate teacher M.S. Abdul Raheem’s book “History and Culture of Jaffna Muslims”, (in Tamil) which was the result of his extensive research , there were numerous historic records highlighting long Arab ties with the north of the island.
Though the Muslims lived all over the Peninsula, historians identified five important settlements of early Muslims in the north, most important being Aluppaanthi, which included Iranguthurai, Parangiththeru, Sinnakkadai, Fort and Police Station. The others include Usaan in Meesali, Sonakan Pualu adjacent to Chavakecheri, Nallur Kandaswamy Temple area and the east of Naavaanthurai besides Muslim settlements in Chavakacheri, Kodikamam, Point Pedro, Kilinochi, Pallikuda and Naachchikuda.
There was also evidence of their presence in Nainativu, Mandaitivu, Mankumban and Karaitivu. There were plenty of title deeds to Muslim owned lands in areas described as Sonkana Vadali, Sonakaveli, Sonakavadi, Sonaka Adi and Sonkakaradappu. Muslims do not live in Mandaitivu and Karaitivu now. Yet there are title deeds of lands which they donated to mosques there. Even today there is an area called Sonakaradapu in Karaitivu.
They established warehouses for conducting trade and lived in and around these warehouses. It was during this period that they established their first burial ground at Kottadi.The Christian Church, “Our Lady of Miracles” at Sinnakada, was the first Jumma Mosque with a capacity to accommodate around 1000 people. This mosque was demolished by the Portuguese on 8 May 1614 to construct Our Lady of Miracles church which was first called Our Lady of Victory. This church is still found in Sinnakkada.
Muslims who lived in this area were brutally persecuted by the Portuguese, as they did in the south, and were forced to flee to other areas such as the Vanni, the south, east and even the central hills when Jaffna was ruled by Pararajasekara Pandiyan.These restrictions eased a little later when title deeds for lands were written both in Tamil and Arabic Tamil. The Arabic Tamil title deeds were written by Notary Inayathullah on blue paper. Though schools were set up Muslims were reluctant to send their children to these schools fearing conversion to Christianity. To some extent Muslims in the north, unlike those in the south, were economically rehabilitated during the Dutch period while, during the British period they managed to recover most of the rights and privileges lost under the Portuguese and to some extent under the Dutch.
According to Author Abdul Raheem’s findings during the time of Portuguese there was a fairly large Muslim settlement in Nallur with a Jumma mosque which could accommodate more than 1000 people, in the premises of Nallur Kandaswamy Temple with an adjacent Muslim burial ground. The bulk of the Muslim settlements there were located west of Kandaswamy Temple and this mosque was demolished by the Portuguese around the year 1660. During the Dutch period, people began renovating the mosques and temples destroyed by the Portuguese. Hindus who tried to renovate the Nallur Kandswamy Temple realised that they could not do so without damaging the nearby mosque and without acquiring Muslim-owned lands.
The Tamils requested the Dutch authorities to remove the Muslim settlements to renovate the temple. But the Dutch refused since the Muslims helped them to drive out the Portuguese and they were also useful in conducting trade. The Tamils then requested the Muslims to move away, but they refused. Then some Tamils slaughtered pigs and dropped them into wells that were the only source of drinking water for the Muslims, causing them immense sufferings without drinking water. No one came to their help. The Muslims decided to leave, and gradually settled down in the east of Naavanturai.
Those Muslims who left Nallur started to return and visit Muhammad Ibrahim’s shrine in the temple premises. This led to an agreement between Muslims and Tamils who permitted these visits and the observation of religious rites during Muslim festivals. The agreement also paved the way for a doorway in the west of the temple to enable Muslims to enter the premises. However, in subsequent years, this entrance was closed and covered with a built-up wall.
Author Abdul Raheem further disclosed that there were talks of efforts made by Hindus to lay the foundation for the temple on the shrine of Muhammad Ibrahim. But this move was dropped as the labourer who tried to break the shrine was hit by the very same implement he used to try to break the shrine. As a result, the foundation arch was laid a few feet away from the shrine and there were even talks of a dispute over the temple in the courts during the British period. Though there was no proper evidence, it is said that a person called “Kulandayin Mahan” was instrumental in filing this case and even winning it and, upto date, the shrine has been preserved.
This was the only major incident that strained Tamil-Muslim relations in the north where they hitherto lived in peace and harmony for centuries. The relative peace and prosperity that the Muslims enjoyed during the British period paved the way for the creation of many literary works such as Poet Badurdin’s “Mohiyaddeen Puranam” in 1811. In 1822, new streets were laid to ease the congestion in places where the Muslims lived in Jaffna. Today’s College Street is one of them. They also performed well in works of art, and in 1898, well known artist, Cader Muhammad, was honoured by the government.
Though there was understanding, peace and harmony among the average Muslims and Tamils yet, there were complaints by Muslims of discrimination against them after independence at the hands of some Tamil government officers who treated Muslims shabbily and insulted them openly with derogatory language when they applied for state lands for cultivation. One of the biggest problems faced by Tamils from the East and Muslims in general is the traditional refusal on the part of northern Tamils to accept them as equals.
An often talked about story is the fierce opposition of large number of Tamils in Jaffna at the appointment of a Muslim government Agent, Zubair Mohideen. The Tamils stated that no high caste women could go before a Muslim and get their work done. The opposition was so fierce, the story goes, that finally the government yielded to the Tamils and cancelled Zubair Mohideen’s appointment.
There were so many other incidents that the Muslims recall. For example it has been customary for ordinary people to wear good clothes when they go to meet high government officers. Once some Muslims went to see the Assistant Government Agent in Jaffna who made them sit on the floor, stating sarcastically that they were “kaakaas”, dressed like bridegrooms and asked them how they could do cultivation in the field? He also asked one of the elderly Muslims, almost belonging to his father’s age group, “you already have so many children; will you produce any more?” In another incident, on the recommendation of their MP Mr G.G. Ponnambalam, Muslims met an officer, V Kumaraswamy, who asked “what agriculture for people selling needles and thread?” On the advice of Mudaliyar S Muthuthamby, those Muslims seeking agricultural lands from the government formed an association with Muhammad Meera Sahib as its President. Initially this association had 125 members.
In 1953 a delegation from this association met their MP G.G. Ponnambalam in Colombo and put forward their request for state lands. In their presence Mr. Ponnambalam had spoken on the phone to then Lands Minister Bulankulama Disava and requested him to give the Muslims 125 plots of lands. He told the delegation that the lands minister had agreed to their request and they would be given lands for cultivation.
The delegation was very happy that their long journey from Jaffna proved fruitful. After profusely thanking Mr. Ponnambalam for promptly speaking to the lands minister and getting them land the Secretary of this Association M.E. Sahul suggested that it was nothing but proper that the delegation meet the lands minister and thank him personally. They then went to Parliament where they met All Ceylon Muslim League President Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel, who was in the parliament canteen with Sir John Kotelawala, M.D. Banda and W. Dahanayake. They explained what had transpired to Dr. Kaleel who in turn briefed the others.
Perhaps knowing G.G. Ponnambalam well, Sir John Kotelawala rushed into the parliament chamber, brought out Lands Minister Bulankulama and asked whether what the Muslim delegation stated was correct. He also told Bulankulama that the delegation had come all the way from Jaffna to thank him.Bulankulma was shocked and flabbergasted. When M.E. Sahul said “This morning around ten our MP Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam spoke to you on the phone and you agreed to provide lands to us” .This disturbed Bulankulama who asked whether they were dreaming as there was no such telephone conversation and no such promise was made.
Dr. Kaleel, who explained how Mr. Ponnambalam deceived the Jaffna Muslims, tried to summon the All Ceylon Muslim League. But later a delegation of Muslim ministers, parliamentarians, Muslim senators and the Speaker met Bulankulama under the leadership of Senator A.M.A. Azeez and explained everything in detail. Bulankulama agreed to provide lands for 100 Muslims. He personally spoke to the authorities concerned and got 30 plots of lands allocated. Judge M.M. Abdul Cader spoke to the Government Agent, Navaratnarajah, to expedite the process, but the Muslims were given only 15 of the promised 30 plots.
In a move to appease his Hindu supporters in 1969, Jaffna G.G. Ponnambalam tried to shift the Muslim burial ground from Kottadi, stating that it polluted drinking water in the area. This sparked off fierce opposition from the Muslims who made representations to the Health Minister E.L. Senanayake, whose investigation disclosed that the well’s drinking water was deliberately mixed with some kind of chemicals and had nothing to do with the burial ground.
Later G.G. Ponnambalam tried to acquire Muslim-owned lands and distribute these among landless people. The Muslims took up the matter with Sir Razik Fareed who spoke to the Government Agent, Vernon Abeysekera, and stopped this move. In fact it was these hostile moves that earned the wrath of Muslims and resulted in Ponnambalam’s defeat in the 1970 parliamentary elections. Muslims had very good relations with Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappa and Jaffna MP Mr. C.X. Martin.
Thus over the years, the Muslims became part and parcel of northern soil and society. Over centuries and, after several generations, this was their only place and their Tamil neighbours were the only people they knew. Most of them often felt alien when they visited the island’s south as they found it somewhat uncomfortable there due to the different social environment especially when it came to speaking in Sinhala. Even around the late 1980s, the bulk of their concentration was in Jaffna city where they lived predominantly in three densely populated areas, namely Sonaka Theru, Ottumadam and Bommaively which were collectively known as Muslim ‘vattaaram’ -zones.
Unlike in the East where there is a considerable number of Muslims, in the north some estimate the total Muslim population to be relatively small – around five percent. Though the Muslims were small in number compared with Tamils, they have every right to claim this as their homeland as much as it is the homeland of the Tamils.
In keeping with the tradition of the area, they also concentrated on education in the subsequent years and produced eminent people. When it came to education they were, for long, far ahead of the Muslims in the rest of the country. This is the reason why there were also many Muslim teachers in the north. But by and large they remained traders. Their main activities were retail and wholesale hardware trade, lorry transport, jewellery and tailoring besides agriculture and fisheries. They owned houses and properties besides paddy lands and fishery boats.Muslims dominated the trade at one stage to such an extent that two-thirds of the blocks in the new market in Jaffna, built by the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah, was monopolised by them.
They avoided getting involved in the ethnic crisis.Yet the ethnic crisis had its devastating impact on the Northern Muslims as their traditional life was disturbed. Political developments elsewhere in the country also affected their lives especially after the Tamil youth took to arms to win their political rights. Every time fierce fighting broke out between the security forces and the LTTE, there was intense shelling and mass scale bombing, compelling residents, both Tamil and Muslim, to flee their residences and business houses. They would suffer great losses and would only return when the fighting subsided to rebuild their lives and their businesses.
Over the years this became a recurrent affair with both Tamils and Muslims alike losing a great deal and being subjected to various hardships. This situation took a drastic turn after 1990. With fighting escalating in September 1990 many Jaffna Muslims left their businesses and vacated their homes, fleeing to Mankumban and safer areas where they remained for weeks, before it was safe to return home. Even during these difficult times there remained a spirit of helping each other since Muslim and Tamil civilians were the main victims of the conflict. But political developments in the east of the country began to strain this healthy relationship.
The Muslims as a community did not side with or join hands with any Tamil militant group, although a handful of Muslims who never represented the Muslim community, did join and were involved with these militant groups. The Tamil militants began to view Muslims with suspicion and this turned into hostility between Muslims and Tamils in the east. This hostility intensified in 1990 when some LTTE Muslim cadres were reported to have deserted the LTTE. It roused the anger of the LTTE. Karuna was the military wing leader and Karikalan was the political wing leader of the LTTE in the east. It is not clear why the Muslim cadres left the LTTE, but this resulted in the LTTE executing several of its Muslim cadres. The rift between the Tamils and the Muslims widened tremendously.
Some sources believe that the government exploited the opportunity and aggravated the situation by inducting some Muslim elements as home guards who were accused of collaborating with the government forces and promoting anti-Tamil violence. In fact Muslim home guards were created to protect the unarmed Muslim villages. The LTTE took revenge on the Muslim community and committed gruesome massacres of Muslim civilians in the east. These atrocities included the attack on the Kalmunai police when hundreds of Muslim and Sinhalese policemen together with the ASP Ivan Boteju were taken, shot dead and dumped in Tirukkovil. This was done when Karuna was the LTTE military commander in the East.
Even while these massacres were taking place in the East, Muslims in the north lived peacefully with the Tamils, but, according to reports, Karikalan was all out to destroy this harmony and take revenge on the Muslim community in the North in spite of the fact that they had nothing to do with the developments between the two communities in the East. As part of this plan, he was reported to have brought pressure on Prabahkaran suggesting harsh measures against Muslims in the North to send a message of warning to Muslims in the East. In the midst of this growing tension, an incident took place in Chavakacheri that prompted the LTTE to suspect, without any valid reason, that the Muslim community was collaborating with government intelligence forces. As subsequently proved, this suspicion was nothing but the Tamil Tigers paranoia about security.
During a search of Muslim houses following an intra-Muslim dispute, LTTE cadres reported the discovery of a sword at Chavakacheri where Muslims lived in an area called Dutch Road. Later the LTTE were reported to have discovered a large quantity of swords at a shop belonging to a Muslim businessman whose lorries were used for trading with Colombo. Though these swords were no match for the sophisticated weapons used by the LTTE, they suspected the businessman of subversive or spying activities against them. This businessman was an individual and he didn’t represent the whole community. Therefore an entire community cannot be held responsible for what an individual had done. But this was exactly how the LTTE looked at it.
In one heartless move, the LTTE expelled the entire Chavakacheri Muslim community at gun point. It was a clear case of ethnic cleansing. In doing so the LTTE cadres never took into consideration the long-established centuries-old ties or any other human considerations between the Tamils and the Muslims. Taking action against an individual or a group of people is one thing. But suspecting an entire community as fifth columnists and driving them out of their homes is another thing. In fact this was the first ever instance of ethnic cleansing of such proportion in the history of the island. Though described as a preventive measure, the move not only constituted a clear violation of basic human rights but also served the racist agenda to which the LTTE was becoming fast attuned.
Muslim businessmen were not the only people travelling to and from Colombo. Tamil businessmen too travelled to Colombo. There were also many Tamil businessmen who were accused of treachery and punished. But the LTTE never expelled the entire Tamil community for the suspected crimes of a few Tamil individuals. But in the case of Muslims they expelled the entire community because they were unarmed and defenceless with no political clout or goal.
The only known similarity was the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes and lands by Jews who grabbed Palestinian lands to be colonised by them in the setting up of their own Zionist State of Israel. As rightly pointed out by a Tamil writer, the Brahmin community in the north is smaller than the Muslim community. Yet they never dared expel the entire Brahmin community for the misdeeds of a few Brahmins. Muslims were confused and aimless though they became aware of an increasingly Tamil racism by the LTTE and, once ordered to leave, there was no alternative but to obey without showing any protest or hesitation.
More than 500 Chavakacheri Muslims started running for the safety of their lives. Their hearts were crying to leave their homes and belongings, but to whom could they complain? The government had no control over the area. All they could do was wipe away their tears and head for unknown places and an unknown future.
Imagine the feeling of people who were forced to abandon everything, their lifetime possessions, to leave at gun point. What did the government, NGO’s and the so-called international community do to protect them? NOTHING! And this was only to be expected! Even today, they are not thought or bothered about and they have no status other than being refugees. One after the other, under a well-calculated scheme, Muslims were mercilessly expelled from Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar districts, all part of the Northern Province. Years later it was revealed that an eastern contingent of Tamil Tigers in the north under Karikalan was, to a very great extent, responsible for these expulsions.
In this regard the quarterly magazine Nethra, [April-June 1998 edition, Volume 2, Number 3] stated in an article: “Just like the government, the LTTE fed the growing antagonism between Tamils and Muslims to strengthen their own position in the east. Subsequently they used this polarisation to carry out their ethnic cleaning in the north”. The Tigers knew that unlike the eastern Tamils, the northern Tamils most probably would not collaborate with their aggressive policies towards the Muslims. Therefore, the LTTE allegedly used Tamil cadres from the east who forcibly expelled in October 1990 the entire Muslim population from the north .
Even while Muslims were being expelled in different parts of the north, Jaffna Muslims felt safe. They thought that what was happening to Muslims in the other parts of the north would not affect them. They thought of themselves as an integral part of Jaffna society and could not even imagine that the LTTE would come after them. Such was the degree of trust and faith they had in their Tamil friends and neighbours and even the Tamil militants. Little did they realise what the LTTE had in store for them.
It didn’t take long for them to face the reality. They woke up on 30 October 1990 and went about their routine life. Muslim traders went to their shops and other business establishments; children went to school, while housewives were busy with their household work. Their hopes were shattered around 11.30 in the morning when armed LTTE cadres arrived in vehicles fixed with loudspeakers. They went around densely populated Muslim residential areas asking all Muslims to assemble at Jinnah grounds of Osmania College within half an hour – by 12 noon.
Shocked and frightened Muslim men, women and children, not knowing what was in store for them, rushed to the Jinnah grounds. There the senior LTTE Leader Aanchaneyar, the LTTE Jaffna Commissar who called himself Ilamparithy, addressed them at 12.30 pm. He delivered a brief but terse message declaring in no uncertain terms that “the LTTE high command had decided that all Muslims should leave Jaffna within two hours. This was an order and failure to abide by it would mean severe punishment”.
Some Muslims tried to question Ilamparithi to clarify their doubts. But Ilamparithy lost his temper and started firing his gun in the air shouting loudly that” Muslims should simply follow the order or face the consequences”. His body guards also began firing their guns in the air, terrorising the already-frightened Muslims who yet thought that they would be able to return to their homes once the situation was normalised. But the Tigers surrounded them even as they rushed to their homes to collect their belongings, valuables, cash, jewellery and clothes, and reach the buses made available by the Tamil Tigers. The Tiger plan had all been pre-arranged.
Then came the second shock. There was a fresh order asking all Muslims leaving their homes to queue up at “Ainthumuchanthi” junction where the LTTE cadres, both male and female, demanded that Muslims hand over all their belongings including their valuables, jewellery and money. They were allowed to take only Rs 150 per person and one set of clothes. Among the Muslims were wealthy people who owned large businesses; wealthy farmers and those who owned fleets of lorries. They were all forced to wait in a queue with an enamel plate for a meagre meal of rice.
Some Muslims resisted. But were silenced by the LTTE weapons. The Tigers then began grabbing everything from them including all documents and national identity cards. They also mercilessly stripped Muslim women and girls of their jewellery. The LTTE women cadres were so heartless that they wrenched the ear rings from Muslim women and girls in so brutal a manner that blood flowed from their torn ear lobes. Even the children were not spared, and not even the wristwatches they were wearing were allowed to be taken away. This senseless pillage, which also included the abduction and detention of 35 Muslim businessmen, was supervised by Karikalan.
That was not the end of the ordeal. The LTTE cadres wanted to know where the Muslim jewellers were hiding their jewellery and money. To extract information many Muslim jewellers were beaten and tortured. One of them was beaten to death in the presence of others. The LTTE demanded huge sums as ransom to release the detained Muslim businessmen. Some, who could afford it, paid up to three million rupees to get their loved ones released while in the case of others they were released after several years. There were cases where detainees were never released and never returned. Perhaps they were killed by the LTTE.
Thus the entire Muslim population of the Northern Province (Estimated at around 75000 persons in 1990) were forcibly driven out from their traditional villages and towns in the following manner.
After driving out the Muslims, the LTTE cadres began looting Muslim houses and grabbing almost everything from cash jewellery and other valuabes to doors, windows and wooden frames. They also looted the Muslim owned commercial and industrial establishments. They descended to such low levels in their greed that they even stripped Muslim-owned houses of their roof tiles. The looted furniture and all other items were sold to Tamils in the LTTE shops called “Makkal Kadai” — Peoples’ Shops. The LTTE also sold Muslim-owned houses and Muslim-owned vehicles to the Tamils. Elaborating the atrocities committed by the LTTE and the sufferings of the Muslims further, columnist Sharika Thirangama had this to say in an article in Himal Magazine which was reproduced in the “Daily Mirror” on 7 Monday January 2008 and continued on Tuesday the 8th:
“In 22 October 1990, throughout the five districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Mannar, Vavuniya and Jaffna, the LTTE announced that all Muslims living within the Northern Province must leave within 48 hours. On Mannar Island, the LTTE announced that all Muslims must report to the LTTE office by the 24th of the month, and leave by the 28th. Despite protests by a delegation of local Tamils and the Catholic clergy, the LTTE sealed off Erukkalampiddy town in Mannar on the 28th, and forbade all further dealings between Tamils and Muslims.
“Muslims from Puthukudiruppu, Tharapuram, Uppukulam and Erukkalampiddy were subsequently assembled on the beach without food, water or sanitation facilities, and forced to begin their outward journey. On the Mannar mainland, on 25 October, the LTTE announced that the area’s Muslims must surrender their possessions, register with the LTTE office, and leave the following day. They were allowed to bring five travel bags per family, one gold sovereign and 2000 rupees. At the final checkpoint leading south, in Vavuniya, all additional items were removed.
“The orders for the Muslim eviction came from the highest rung of the Tigers. This was an LTTE-only military operation, and there is no evidence of civilian collusion; no ordinary Tamils participated in the eviction. Neither was any reason for the operation ever offered. Did the LTTE, faced with a numerically and politically stronger Muslim minority in the east, simply decide to evict a much smaller and more politically vulnerable Muslim minority in the north? Precise reasons are difficult to establish. What is certain is that this was a decision to remove an entire community, and without any attempt to legitimize the action through popular campaigns.
“Few commentators have systematically reflected on what this means for the LTTE’s relationship to both the Muslim and the Tamil communities, or even to its own local cadre. Certainly, the eviction order from LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran caught many local northern LTTE cadres by surprise. In many places, cadres were moved from their home area to other areas in order to carry out the exercise. One man from Mannar told this researcher, ‘We did not recognise the faces of those who came to evict us.’ Another man’s story told of the young LTTE cadre, who he had known all his life, crying as he instructed the family to depart. The rebel leadership obviously feared that its cadres could disobey the eviction order.
“The Jaffna Muslims made their exit through a route carefully laid out by the Tigers, which took them through LTTE checkpoint after checkpoint. At each they were searched and more and more of their possessions removed. Jewellery was taken from the women. The thefts form some of the bitterest recollections of the Jaffna Muslims. Tareek, a former resident of Jaffna, tells a common tale:
“People believed you could take what you could carry, but at every junction the LTTE took things from us. At that time my eldest son was not even one year old, and they took even the milk packets that we had for him. As they did so, they told us, ‘If you ever talk about this, we will shoot you.’ In the end, we had only the clothes we were wearing … My younger sisters couldn’t even keep the jewellery they were wearing; they even took earrings from their ears. For us Muslims, it’s a vile thing when these young men are touching our women’s ears and necks to take the jewellery off. When the women cadres searched our young women, they took them behind a screen… Inside, they took all the money… We came here with bare pockets. That’s like everybody behind us.’
“Muslim evictees were also stripped of land deeds, electrical goods, bicycles and even thermos flasks at the checkpoints. According to a 1991 report by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), dozens of rich businessmen in Jaffna were held for further ransom, as were the well-to-do in other districts. A 1991 survey by the Research and Action Forum for Social Development, an organisation that works with northern Muslims, sought to calculate the financial loss suffered by this population during the eviction. The final estimate puts the collective loss of the evictees at around US$ 110 million. In Jaffna, after the Muslim eviction, the LTTE made further profits by holding a massive sale of Muslim goods.
“As such, one of the most common memories that the evictees have is that they all arrived in refugee camps with nothing. Indeed, the eviction had a tremendous levelling effect, with more or less the entire population being impoverished overnight. While this has changed over the last 17 years with the emergence of considerable internal hierarchies within the refugee communities, the eviction did intertwine lives in ways that were unimaginable before.
“On Second of November 1990 the, Muslims were gone from the north, and the Muslim population in the northern province became zero. The LTTE had succeeded in converting the area into the Tamil-only territory for which it was fighting. This ethnic cleansing has since come to be known as the Eviction, and the community of Muslims created by this act, formally known as Internally Displaced Persons, refer to themselves as ‘northern Muslims’ and ahathi, or refugees. The Eviction created a whole new demographic pattern, in the aftermath of an unthinkably traumatic event that broke one set of communities in the north and created another – that of the refugees.” [Courtesy, Himal Magazine]. The bulk of them initially went to Kalpitiya and Pulichakulam areas while the largest numbers found refuge in Thilliyady in Puttalam district. Some of them also went to places like Vavuniya, Colombo and Negombo where they were forced to start life from scratch.
That was the end of Muslim life in Jaffna. They lost their property, their businesses and means of survival and ended up in refugee camps as paupers. Even today, in spite of owning huge wealth and property in Jaffna, they continue to languish in refugees camps in appalling conditions. The tragedy is thought little of by the successive governments, NGOs and Human Rights organisations including Amnesty International which ignore the fate of the unfortunate Jaffna Muslims who were not even treated as refugees.
Both Tamil politicians and civilians failed to criticize these atrocities. Only it was the President of TULF Mr. V Anandasangaree who had the courage to condemn this crime time and again.
Even as late as August 23,2008 addressing the opening of Call of the Conscience—a human rights art exhibit on the conflict in Sri Lanka—held at Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto Mr Anandasangaree had this to say ;
“Championing the cause of the Tamils the LTTE even drove every Muslim out of the Northern Province. The Muslims, merely because they are Muslims, had to leave all their possessions and the land where they lived peacefully with the Tamils for several generations. They are now languishing in refugee camps for more than 17 years in the south, with the Sinhalese, in Puttalam and Anuradhapura Districts, without privacy and their basic needs met. As long as refugee camps exist in our country, whether the inmates are Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or of any other group, we have no moral rights to boast of democratic principles.With one section of our people undergoing untold hardships, being deprived of their democratic fundamental and human rights, we can’t boast of our country as one enjoying full democratic rights. Loss of democratic rights, fundamental rights and human rights amount to slavery. Should our youths, be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or of any other group, continue to shed their blood unnecessarily and die in vain at the battle front? I am convinced that the time has come for the country to find a solution reasonable enough and acceptable to the minorities and the international community.”.
Yet many still cherish their childhood memories of their lives in Jaffna and longing for the day when they can return to their place of birth.For example, giving an insight into her childhood memories in Jaffna Marina Ismail, daughter of the well-known educationist, civil servant and senator Dr A.M.A. Azeez , said:
“Childhood memories, especially those of a happy childhood, linger throughout one’s life and bring moments of much joy and contentment. My father, who had such a fortunate childhood spent in his hometown in Jaffna, often shared his reminiscences with us, his three children. One of my father’s treasured memories of his early childhood was the happy atmosphere in his home at Mohideen Mosque Lane off Moor Street in Jaffna town. The house where my father spent his happy childhood days he always remembered with great feeling. We would often talk of the yard spread with white sand kept spotlessly clean. Around this stone-paved veranda into which the surrounding rooms opened out on our frequent visit to this house, my father would never fail to show us the room where he was born. In the compound was the famous wood apple tree. I have never as yet tasted sweeter woodapples. We were informed that when my father was young, the fruits of this tree were never plucked. Ummachchi, my grandmother, would wait until the ripe fruits dropped off the tree and then give them to her young nephew”.