Liberated fear

by Kavitha Muralidharan

(December 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Life in Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka, which was 'liberated' from the LTTE by the army in 2007, is no better. Caught between the factionalism of Tamizh Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), which rules the province, and shootouts, the people of Batticaloa live in constant fear. "Liberation has meant nothing to us. We cannot walk around freely. We live in fear of being abducted or killed," said Batticaloa resident Neelakantan. On the day I travelled to the region, an inspector was shot dead by unknown persons at Saintha Maruthu. Following the killing of a Sinhala doctor in Batticaloa, the doctors were boycotting work in the east.

Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan of the TMVP, said there was a plan to annihilate the council in the same way the Northeast Provincial Council under Chief Minister Waradaraja Perumal had been destroyed in the 1990s. "I face the same fate as Waradaraja Perumal," he had said in November.

A few weeks ago, Pillaiyan's secretary Raghu was killed in Colombo, 300km from Batticaloa. Pillaiyan ruled out the hand of the LTTE in the murder, leading to speculation that TMVP chief Karuna Amman and the government could be involved. But Karuna ruled out factionalism in the party and told the writer that the rivalry between him and Pillaiyan was a "fabrication of the media".

Batticaloa has not recovered from the shootouts in November. "Some 40 people have been killed in Batticaloa in November. There is absolute disorder. As a Tamil, I feel unsafe to step out in the evenings," said Neelakantan. But Karuna said the shootouts were an attempt by "opposing parties to create trouble to the administration in the east". "They wanted to prove that by liberating the east, we have achieved nothing," he said.

Last week, the government imposed curfew in the east and picked up Tamils suspected to be in connivance with the LTTE. Human Rights Watch blamed the government for the disorder in the east. "Far from being a responsible party, the TMVP is involved in serious human rights abuses," said Brad Adams, Asia director of the group.

Karuna's supporters gave a rosy picture. "Development has been made possible after Karuna took over. Shops have been opened and development works are on. People are happy," said Ranjan, TMVP in-charge of Batticaloa. Julian, a TMVP worker, claimed that the government had taken care of the basic needs of the public. "Under the LTTE, people lived in fear," he said. Ariya Nethran, a Tamil National Alliance MP, said peace mattered more than development. "That my people have not been able to live in peace speaks volumes about the liberation. They have not got their due rights. This liberation has been rejected by the people."

The 'liberation' of the east dealt a blow to the LTTE's dreams of forming a 'Tamil Eelam' in the region. But the LTTE is far from wiped out from here-that the Tigers held 13 'heroes day' ceremonies in Batticaloa is proof of this. Said Ariya Nethran: "One day a Tamil Eelam will be born. There will be a time when Tamils will live in peace and prosperity."

But a normal life is nowhere in sight for the people. Said Darshini, a Batticaloa resident: "I keep living over and over again in my dreams the freedom I had enjoyed during my visit to Tamil Nadu. That was perhaps the first time I knew what it was like to be independent. I wish I could enjoy the same kind of independence here."
- Sri Lanka Guardian