The fortune intruders and the plight of Sinhala refugees

(29.04.2014 – Email)

According to The Sunday Observer dated 27th April 2014, 73 families who had encroached on the Wilpattu sanctuary causing widespread protests by environmental and Buddhist groups will be relocated outside the national park with the assistance of the Mannar District Secretary’s office.

Mannar District Secretary has said a 50-acre plot of land, one mile away from the spot where they currently stay, had been allocated for the 73 families and these families will be relocated shortly. The families told the electronic media last week that they were willing to move out if alternative accommodation is given to them.

Bodu Bala Sena stormed the Wilpattu sanctuary recently alleging that the Muslim settlements within the national park were illegal and moreover, the occupants were wilfully destroying the ancient Buddhist ruins in the locality. A spokesman for the Environment Conservation Trust, an independent green NGO in Sri Lanka last week said that over 500 acres of protected forest in the Wilpattu North Sanctuary had been cleared for human settlements but the authorities were turning a blind eye to it.

It is clear from the above news item that the said 73 families are intruders and not refuges as some politicians are attempting to justify  their settlement. By  allocating 50-acre plot of government land  to move out these intruders as alternative accommodation, instead of  enforcing law of the land in equal terms to all communities, it appears that the government is, knowingly or unknowingly, providing special privileges (for mere political gains) to those  who break the law and grabbing state land.

Lamentations about “the plight of the Tamil and Muslim refugees” are often heard. Organizations sympathetic to their plight and rights on humanitarian grounds, both within and outside Sri Lanka, are freely available.

The fact is, of course, that there are others who have become refugees in their own motherland and no one is there even to mention them or to have any official representation. It appears that no government institution bothers even to keep any records.

According to an article in The Sunday Times in 11 April 1999 under the heading “Forgotten and discarded the Sinhala Refugees” by Kumbakarana, 12,000 Sinhalese people have been chased out from Trincomalee town itself. A total of 18,000 Sinhalese have been displaced in the Trincomalee District alone.

According to the same article in Mannar, there were 8.700 Sinahalese in 1981, and in Vavuniya there were 15,816. As far back as 1946, there were 11,850 Sinahalese in the Batticaloa District. In 1971, the Sinhalese population was 20,402 or 2.9%. With the riots in 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1983 most of this population was permanently driven out. The ethnic cleansing was completed on October 6, 1987, when the last Sinhalese were chased away. In 1981, the Sinhalese population in Mulliativu District was 3,948 or 5.9%. As per The Sunday Times article, the only Sinhalese people in this District in 1999 were limited to few hundred living in the Weli Oya area.

Considering the number of Sinhalese people who lived in these districts before 1981, allowing for the natural increase, the writer of the said article has estimated that there are around 90,000 Sinhalese who have been driven out of their homes in Northern and Eastern Provinces. It is not known how many of these refugees have been allowed to go back to their homes.

When we consider the way the UN and other various human rights champions are behaving, to be eligible to be considered as a loss of human rights in Sri Lanka, one has to be a non-Sinhalese or, if Sinhalese, he or she should be a supporter or promoter of Terrorism.

In the face of opposition from various political parties formed on the basis of racism and also due to opposition from outside forces, even the so-called “liberated’ North and East remain out of bounds to the Sinhalese who lived there.

On the other hand, Muslims and Sinhalese live comfortably with the Sinhalese in the other parts of the country. As a result, the Sinhala population within Colombo, the Capital city, has dropped down to third place within the last twenty years and no Sinhalese will be able to be the Mayor of Colombo any more.

The fortune intruders of the day and the plight of the Sinhalese refugees are indications of the influence that various racist groups and outside forces exert on the Sri Lanka government. It is interesting to note that, while providing incentives to those who encroach state land by providing state land from a nearby spot and housing (probably as a part of resettlement) free, the government is setting up special police force to deal with religious incidents in the country. Although the writer is not in favour of any religious group taking the law into their own hands, the possible root cause of the issues should also be taken into consideration when dealing with incidents of such nature.

S. Akurugoda

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