Vanni Farmers and Indian Fishermen

by Gaja Lakshmi Paramasivam

(August 05, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) I respond to the report ‘Indian External Affairs Minister makes statement on Sri Lanka to Lok Sabha, published by Sri Lanka Guardian.

As per the report the Hon S.M.Krishna, Minister for External Affairs said The relationship between India and Sri Lanka is based upon shared historical, cultural, ethnic and civilizational ties and extensive people-to-people interaction. In recent years, the relationship has become multifaceted and diverse, encompassing all areas of contemporary relevance.’

I am able to identify with this. This then means that Tamils who have stronger ties with Indian culture as it is today – need to lead the relationship from Sri Lanka’s side.

The Minister says ‘Sri Lanka has borne the brunt of terrorism for nearly three-decades. The end of the long period of armed conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009, left around 3,00,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in camps in Northern Sri Lanka and general devastation of infrastructure in the affected areas’

So, according to the Indian Government – the Sri Lankan Government who has primary responsibility for the 300,000 IDPs is part of the terrorism.

The Minister says ‘The Government of India has accorded the highest priority to the welfare of IDPs in Sri Lanka. In June 2009, the Prime Minister announced a grant of 500 crore Rupees for relief, rehabilitation and resettlement work in Sri Lanka. Towards this humanitarian effort, India dispatched family relief packs, deployed an emergency field hospital, conducted an artificial limb fitment camp and deployed seven de-mining teams in Northern Sri Lanka. It also gifted more than 10,400 MT of shelter material, 4 lakh cement bags, 95,000 agricultural starter packs and 500 tractors to revive agricultural activities in Northern Sri Lanka’

My question is ‘How many Indians of common culture with the IDPs were facilitated by Indian Government? An outsider gives. An insider shares. It’s alright being an outsider – so long one does not pretend to be an insider.

The Minister takes credit ‘India also announced the construction of 50,000 houses, mainly for IDPs in Sri Lanka. During my visit to Sri Lanka in November 2010, I inaugurated the pilot project for construction of 1000 houses at Ariyalai in Jaffna. I am happy to convey that work on ground has already started and houses are beginning to come up in what is being seen as a model project. I also carried out the ground breaking for railway line restoration projects in Northern Sri Lanka, under a Government of India Line of Credit of about 800 million US Dollar. India is also assisting in the rehabilitation of the Kanakesanthurai harbour, restoration of Duraiappa stadium, construction of a Cultural Centre at Jaffna and vocational training centres at Batticaloa and Nuwara Eliya.’

How many local residents of Ariyalai are being employed in building these 1000 houses? I know the Ariyalai community fairly well as an insider. Their main anxiety was/is due to the armed forces in that area. At one time one lady who was fearful of going to the netcafe to send me some papers regarding her daughter’s education said that they usually locked themselves up inside the home from about 10 a.m. and pretended no one was at home when the armed officers came to check and ask questions.

Ariyalai is an area from where the attacks on Pooneryn (prior to November 2008) by the armed forces were heard through the nights. They said they were anxious and feared when SLAF planes flew over their roofs causing strong vibrations on the ground. They said they usually threw themselves on the floor and started praying – primarily to Ariyali Pillayar (Ganesh).

The question is – how much of this development funds come with adequate structures and systems to ensure that locals feel genuinely compensated for their pain and loss? Economic progress as with the refugees to money rich countries like Australia, would help locals not dwell on their past. But unless the progress is ongoing, the problems will surface again due to lack of completion and closure of the difficult experiences that caused them the pain and loss. People to People healing is more effective than money handed out without appropriate backing or in the spirit of sharing. Tamils do NOT need handouts.

I note that as per the report ‘The Prime Minister observed recently that “the Tamil population in Sri Lanka had legitimate grievances and our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan Government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect. That is our outlook towards the issue”. ‘

The quickest way to become equal is to have a ‘business’ / ‘economic’ relationship. We need more business development in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka.

The Minister says ‘There have also been public reactions to the telecast of the ‘Channel 4’ documentary entitled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”. Presently, our focus should be on the welfare and well being of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Their rehabilitation and rebuilding should be of the highest and most immediate priority’

The Minister says also ‘There have been reports of incidents of attacks on Indian fishermen, allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy. Government, through Diplomatic Channels, has consistently and immediately taken up any reported incident involving arrest or violence against Indian fishermen to ensure their safety, security, early release and repatriation. The Government has conveyed to the Sri Lankan Government that the use of force could not be justified under any circumstance and that all fishermen should be treated in a humane manner. The Sri Lankan side, while denying that their Navy was involved, has promised to seriously investigate these incidents.’

When the Minister is able to reconcile the statements by his side with those provided by the Sri Lankan Government – he would already have the essence of the reconciliation in relation to the two ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. Indian fishermen are the parallel of the folks of Vanni.

What’s good for Vanni farmers is good for Indian fishermen and v.v.

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