n October 30, 1990 the entire Muslim population of close to 75,000 people living in the North were evicted by the LTTE. It is now 25 years since the Muslim community fled the North fearing for their lives and leaving behind their homes, livelihoods and histories. Compelled to leave without most of their belongings, they were allowed to take only 500 rupees and no jewellery. As the country attempts to move towards reconciliation and a political solution, the Friday Forum calls for reflection about this tragic eviction. This is not merely about condemning the LTTE’s ruthless dispossession of an entire community, rather, it serves as a crucial reminder of the deep divisions within our society that need to be recognised and addressed. Injustice against any community requires all of us to reflect and together find solutions.
Despite the war having ended more than six years ago, the Muslims are in limbo in places like Jaffna and their resettlement has for the most part been a failure. Of the nearly 8,000 families that originate from Jaffna Town more than 2,000 families registered for resettlement soon after the end of the war. However, only about six hundred families now remain in Jaffna and that amid tremendous social and economic problems. The loss of their original lands and houses, most of which were destroyed, has complicated the resettlement of the Muslim community, and many are on the verge of giving up on their resettlement and returning to the camps in Puttalam.
As the Government prepares to initiate the long overdue process of reconciliation and a political solution, it needs to realise that such processes are inextricably linked to rebuilding relations among communities.
There still seems to be little acknowledgement of their economic and infrastructure needs. They lack housing, land, jobs and even decent schooling for their children. When resettlement fails and families move between Puttalam and their places of return in Jaffna, the children’s education is a major casualty. In the Muslim quarter of Jaffna town, where a section of Muslims still live in camp-like conditions, problems of water, drainage and flooding during the monsoon rains add to their travails.
For both the Jaffna Muslims in particular and the Northern Muslim community as a whole, what is needed first and foremost is a credible and immediate resettlement policy. This is a right for all those displaced during the war. Unfortunately, for the Northern Muslim community, when it comes to forging a resettlement process, they have for the most part been abandoned by the State and by the Muslim and Tamil political parties.
The Northern Muslim community needs resources, but with the process of return it also has to rebuild relations with neighbouring communities. Rebuilding Tamil-Muslim relations is a priority to ensure successful resettlement as well as for future coexistence.
The Tamil community in the North, in particular, should reflect on the suffering endured by the Northern Muslims and extend their support to the Muslim community. Moreover, as the Government prepares to initiate the long overdue process of reconciliation and a political solution, it needs to realise that such processes are inextricably linked to rebuilding relations among communities. The Friday Forum believes that addressing the problems of the Northern Muslim community is an essential and urgent part of working towards meaningful reconciliation throughout our country.
The Friday Forum is an informal group of concerned citizens pledged to uphold norms of democracy, good governance, the rule of law, human rights, media freedom and tolerance in our pluralist society. Its members include Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Ms. Suriya Wickremasinghe, Professor Savitri Goonesekere,Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, Mr. Danesh Casie-Chetty, Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Professor Camena Guneratne, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda, Professor Ranjini Obeyesekere, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Dr. A.C. Visvalingam, Professor Gameela Samarasinghe, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. D Wijayanandana, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Mr. Javid Yusuf, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. J. C. Weliamuna, Mr. Faiz-ur Rahman, Ms, Damaris Wickremesekera and Mr. Chandra Jayaratne.