Sunday, July 14, 2024

 About Jaffna -

Yarlpanam Today 

Events that changed the fate of Jaffna:

Undoubtedly throughout the British colonial period, the Sinhalese and the Tamil people remained equal in their subordination to the British Raj. When the British introduced free education, Jaffna Tamils benefited most and they were able to enter into clerical, civil, professional services, as University teachers and as university students in large numbers and remained so until independence. In 1948 when the British left this situation changed.

The events of the post-Independence period in Sri Lanka are well known. Events like proclamation of Sinhala as the official language of Sri Lanka, the planned colonisation with Sinhalese settlers of areas considered to be the Tamil homeland, the introduction of a quota system for University admissions, riots against Tamils living in Sinhala areas and militarisation of North and East by successive governments among others have contributed to the disagreement between the Tamils and Sinhalese. This disagreement made such an impact on both Sinhalese and Tamils psychologically that it has become impossible for both communities to live together as free and equal citizens.

The young Tamils of Jaffna who felt the brunt of discrimination, deprivation of language rights and indignity of living as aliens in their own country, loosing opportunities of further education and prospects of employment started the exodus to foreign countries in search of peaceful existence and better education and jobs. Still some others, after decades of non violent struggle to regain the lost rights demanded a separate state and started turning to an armed struggle.

The then mayor of Jaffna who was a supporter of the then ruling regime was assassinated in 1975 and this was the kick start of the restlessness. The historic resolution for Elam was passed by the Tamil United Liberation Front in Vaddukkoddai, Jaffna in 1976.Following further deterioration of political discussion, the Jaffna library was burnt down in 1981 which meant real upheaval in the area. As armed militancy developed, Jaffna became the centre of conflict. Failure to find an adequate compromise from the political leadership led to full scale civil war starting in 1983.

Sri Lankan military and police were using the Dutch fort as their camp, which was surrounded by various Tamil militants groups. Bombardment from air and land of the city led to damage to civic and civilian properties, death and injury to civilians and destruction the economic potential of the city. As the conflict escalated the greater part of Jaffna district and Jaffna city came under the control of the Tamil armed groups in 1985. In 1986, the Sri Lankan military withdrew from the city which again came under the full control of the LTTE.

In 1987, the Indian forces brought to Sri Lanka under the Indo- Sri Lankan peace accord led an operation to take the city from the rebels. It led to incidents like the Jaffna university hellidrop in October 1987 with the purpose of capturing the LTTE leadership who used the University buildings as a technical Head Quarters and the Jaffna hospital massacre in which patients and medical workers were killed by the Indian Army. More than 200 civilians were also killed during attempt to take the city over by the IPKF.

After the departure of the IPKF in 1990, the city came under the control of LTTE once more, but was removed in 1995 after a 50 day war. The economic embargo of the rebel controlled territories in general had a negative impact in Jaffna including lack of power, critical medicines and food. During the period of LTTE occupation, all Muslim residents were expelled in 1990 and forcibly evacuated all residents in 1995. This cruel war ended in 2009 with a great loss of people, displaced families, orphaned children, damaged buildings, lost businesses and ruined cities, not to mention military invasion in large numbers into a hitherto peaceful area.

Since the end of civil war in 2009, refugees have begun to return and visible reconstruction is taking place. The Sri Lankan dispersed Tamils who had businesses before and business interests from Colombo have invested in commercial enterprises. Countries in Europe, US and India have shown an interest in investing in infrastructure projects and other economic activities.

The Municipal Council

The Jaffna Municipal Council governs the City of Jaffna. During this conflict number of mayors of the Jaffna Municipal Council was assassinated and there was a period of 15 years without elections since 1983.

The post civil war elections were held in 2009 after a gap of 11 years. The municipal council consists of 29 members. As the original municipal council building was destroyed during the civil war, a new building is being constructed for the current municipal council.

University of Jaffna

In 1978, the University of Sri Lanka was abolished and its six campuses Colombo, Peradeniya, Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya, Moratuwa and Jaffna were each elevated to independent, autonomous universities in their own right. University of Jaffna was established on 1 January 1979.

The escalation of hostilities between the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam in late 1987 severely affected the university. The university buildings and equipment suffered extensive damage. University students and academic and non-academic staff were also killed. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, when most of the Jaffna peninsula including Jaffna city was under LTTE control, the university suffered frequent aerial bombings. The disruption resulted in shortage of essential goods due to the economic blockade, shortage of academic staff many of whom had fled abroad and a general disturbance of university life due the frequent curfews.

The Jaffna University now is based at five sites: Thirunelvely, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Kaithady and Maruthanarmadam. Four faculties -Arts, Graduate Studies, Medicine and Science, are based at Thirunelvely, two at Vavuniya -Applied Sciences and Business Studies, and two at Kilinochchi -Agriculture and Engineering. The Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts is situated in Marthanamadam and the Siddha Medicine Unit is situated in Kaithady.

A slow piecing back of life in Post War Jaffna.

The end of the protracted civil war in Sri Lanka, while presenting a renewed sense of hope, has also many challenges especially in terms of the rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement processes. Interwoven into these challenges is the issue of dealing with poverty, both in the economic as well as in the social aspect.

Jaffna is an affluent district in comparison to the other districts in the North. But poverty from inequalities in income, employment, infrastructure, health and educational facilities has penetrated the war torn society. Prior to the eruption of the civil conflict, Jaffna enjoyed a robust economy led by fisheries, agriculture and market oriented cash crop cultivation. According to one source, out of approximately 600,000 people living in Jaffna, about half receive foreign remittances support from relatives living abroad. The rest of the population to a larger extent suffer from some form of economic hardship and the situation worsens in the context of the war displaced people coming from government run camps.

The main issues of the struggling Jaffna economy seem to revolve around fishing and agriculture. While restrictions on fishing areas placed by the military, have, to a large extent been lifted, other issues such as encroachment of fishermen from the South as well as the depletion of the sea’s resources by South Indian fishermen using large trawlers continue to remain unaddressed.

In terms of agriculture, the main problem seems to be access to lands due to encroachment, lack of unclear deeds and restrictions due to High Security Zones. Also a large number of lands are owned by people living abroad and these lands are unavailable as such to the locals for cultivation. The displaced people returning to their native soil struggle to identify their original lands due to absence of proper documents and have to deal with encroachment by new owners as a result of their vacant land being resold prior to the final offensive.

In 2012, for the third successive year, Sri Lankan Government has celebrated the end of war in Colombo causing great inconvenience to the people and their movement as preparations were being made for celebrations. However, in the North, among Tamils, where the last phase of the war was fought, the mood was mourning and grieving.

It is a happy event that the war had ended but not the way it was fought, especially the last phase. And celebrating while many others are mourning and grieving and actively trying to prevent mourning and grieving doesn’t seem to be the way towards a genuine reconciliation.

Motor vehicles including buses, vans, cars, and thousands of bicycles, damaged by the heavy shelling and their remaining rusted parts are still heaped by the side of the road. The wartime scrap heap is a reminder of how recently the fighting ended. It also underlines how Jaffna and its people are still struggling through a difficult past and present to come out of three decades of conflict and war.

Post-war Jaffna is very different from what it used to be. There is no more fear that used to fall at night, the torchlight flashing sentry at checkpoints, and the long whistle of shells as they flew in the air before landing on their target with a loud bang. There are no checkpoints; the physical presence of the Army is more discreet now. Shops are open late into the night and people are out on the streets at all hours. In place of the common bicycles and the old Morris cars that ran on kerosene defying the petrol blockade, all manner of vehicles now clog the streets.

The war, and the destruction and deprivation associated with it seems forgotten at least for the time being and this is proven by the fact that the people are trying to rebuild their lives and developing stronger ties with their religion by regular visits to temple festivals which have restarted with a vengeance.

Many Hotels large and small have cropped up everywhere in the town and out skirts and the incoming tourists have reasonable accommodation for their stay. Of course many of the Yarlpanam residents who fled are returning to see how their mother land has performed and to see any of their relatives remaining.

However, Jaffna suffers from a continuing atmosphere of uncertainty. The province continues to be ruled directly by Colombo, and the presence of nearly 18,000 soldiers, and the authority with which the military, entirely Sinhalese, conducts itself, add to the uncertainty.

Also, after years of dislocation and displacement, people neither have the documentation nor proof of their occupancy of their land most of which have lost their identitifiable boundaries.

The local economy is made up mainly of retail trading. Agriculture and fishing are picking up slowly as people return to their homes irrespective of hardships. What is lacking is industry, which means jobs are limited. Before the conflict turned into a full-fledged war, Jaffna had a state owned cement factory, in Kankesanthurai. There is no talk of reviving that anyhow.

Rebuilding Infrastructure

The return of people from abroad and from other parts of Sri Lanka has hiked up the prices of the properties in Jaffna and outskirts. This spiralling property prices in Jaffna and the construction activity all over the peninsula provide a more optimistic picture. Everywhere, people with means, which in Jaffna means those with relatives abroad who send them money, are repairing properties that were damaged, abandoned and fell into disuse during the years of conflict. Huge shopping malls and other commercial buildings are coming up.

The Jaffna General Hospital which is the main teaching hospital for the University Of Jaffna is structurally changing and well planned extensions and new building are coming up throughout the hospital boundaries. Abandoned railway is being rebuilt from where this was damaged to end of the Northern line, Kankesanthurai.

Road widening programs are going on in their paces with the Chinese Government help. Already, the A9 highway that connects southern Sri Lanka to the northern peninsula has been almost refurbished. Once known for the deadly battles over it between the LTTE and the security forces, it now eases the passage of people, goods and traders between Colombo and Jaffna. But Tamils see these roads as a double-edged facility: it eases their travel but also helps southern Sri Lanka send its goods to the North, while there is not enough in Jaffna to send to the south. Suspicious Jaffna minds see the new road network as preparing the Northern Province to be more liveable for Sinhalese.

It looks as if the Government is trying to rebuild Jaffna to former glory or even better but will the people there be satisfied by all these when their fundamental rights are denied for which they fought and had suffered for almost three decades.

 Related articles Please read: Introduction , Early yarlpanam