Development, Economy, Human Rights, Human Security, Identity, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Reconciliation

Ground realities in Jaffna and its environs: Two key perspectives

From the psycho-social trauma and destruction of the social fabric in Jaffna after close upon three decades of brutal war to the challenges of post-war development, entrepreneurship and economic revival, these two interviews focus on two leading Tamil civil society activists who have lived in Jaffna from when the war was still raging.

Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvananthan is the Principal Researcher at the Point Pedro Institute of Development and author of three well read articles on Groundviews. Our conversation was pegged to the socio-economic aspects of post-war scenarios in the North and East. Dr. Sarvananthan’s key ideas for post-war development are captured in SL Govt monopoly impeding economic revival in NE and forestalling private entrepreneurship, an article published in April in the Tamil National. In this scathing critique, he points to a number of problems with the Government’s misguided approach to development in and around the North and ends with a novel idea to kick-start sustainable local entrepreneurship in the region. These are points raised and discussed in detail.

The conversation with Sherine Xavier, an activist born and now living in Jaffna looks at life in the city after the end of war. Sherine returned to Jaffna around 3 years ago, and talks about memories of growing up in Jaffna, comparing it with the social fabric post-war.

We talk about the persistent levels of violence and trauma in and around Jaffna as flagged earlier by Shanthi Sachithananthan, the Chairperson of Viluthu, appearing on the same interview series. Sherine also touches on aspects of economic development in the region, and clearly notes that plans by the central government drawn up and enacted with piecemeal consultation with the local population stand little chance of success over the long-term. Given her time in the diaspora, Sherine also talks about the politics of diaspora engagement with post-war Sri Lanka, the perception of the hordes from the South who visit the peninsula with little sensitivity over, inter alia, the lasting trauma and scars of war and related to this, the key challenges facing reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

She repeatedly spoke of those in Jaffna as a resilient peoples, and I asked her at the end to speak about the well-spring of hope guiding her own work and life in Jaffna.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    The light of Dr Sarvananthan should not be hidden under a bushel and I am pleased that Sanjana chose to repeat his interview on Groundviews.

    In this interview by Groundviews editor Sanjana Hatthotuwa, Dr Muthukrishna Sarvananthan highlights a predicament faced by many think-tanks that their voices do not reach a wider audience.

    My intention in this article is to reach the wider audience by writing the gist of his interview which I found very interesting and educational and the data he possesses are priceless.

    Dr Sarvananthan who heads a socio-economic research institute in Point-Pedro had some solid findings on the economic impact of the war and the pattern of the agricultural nature of the North and East gradually changing towards a more business-oriented approach and increasingly towards educational upliftment. Unlike Colombo based researchers Dr Sarvananthan must have had an uphill climb to gather material for his research amidst the civil war, economic hardship and lack of resources.

    He says that some 2.34 billion of LTTE’s revenue went towards building its war machinery and most of these funds were changed into black money and a considerable part of this is with the diaspora. While pointing out 2003/2004 were better times economically he emphasizes that this still did not bring the North East economy to the levels of pre-war era.

    An interesting point he makes is that the militarised zone is suffocating North’s economy in restricting fishing and agriculture which had suffered irrevocably. He argues that removing the HSZ is quintessential to the recovery of the agrarian sector which suffered irreparable damage.

    Descendents of traditional farmers and fishermen do not want to remain in these practices any longer. Agrarian sector is no more the prime source of economy in the North and East. Youth are opting to go abroad or pursue higher education and public sector jobs.

    In a very understated manner he brandishes the government for not empowering IDP returnees but rather allowing the South to control the finance allowed for North East. Not only Dr Sarvananthan but many concerned Sri Lankans are sending warning signals that these IDP returnees who harbour frustration at their plight even after the war ended could still make a comeback as disgruntled forces due to the government not heeding to their immediate needs.

    He argues that most people do not desire to live on handouts and were the government to give each household Rs one million to start a business this in turn would generate its own cash flow and profit in the form of business expanding and employment to more people. He pointed out that the government only needs to spend some US$500,000. In other words the people of the North and East will control their economy and once this is in place the government need not continue to support them.

    But what is happening in the North is that businesses from the South are profiting from economic recovery envisaged in the aftermath of the war which ended and the international aid which is flowing in is hardly benefiting the Tamils.

    On another note Dr Sarvananthan scrutinises the accelerated Mahaweli development programme, a brainchild of JR ,which did not deliver results which it was intended for. Millions of dollars were spent but they basically went down the drain and did not profit the masses.

    There were strong voices at the time Israel was given the majority funds to carry out this project but in fact what happened was JR’s govt. in the wake of JVP insurgency and the emergence of Tamil militancy was in fact utilizing the loans from WB and IMF to build up its military and war machinery to quell pre-empted insurgencies (sic).

    These, readers, are to help you ponder on Dr Sarvananthan’s interview should you not grasp the whole interview or do not have the time to listen in full.

  • dingiri

    50,000 X 1 million is 50 Billion and not 500 million. With 500 million we can only give 10,000 per family.

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    US$500,000 and Rs one million. Conversion ratio my dear.

  • rajivmw


    I think Dr. Sarvananthan mentioned a total cost of 500 million US dollars, not rupees. Which is roughly correct.

  • Thanks Sanjana, Dialog and first hand information like these will always help, even if it is not immediate. It is a learning experience to hear people who practice what they preach. I am glad I listened to both of them.

  • Velu Balendran

    In a highly charged polarised political atmosphere as one finds in SL how well will a superb but an apolitical thesis be received?

  • ModVoice

    Great points by Dr.Muttukrishna S.

    What initiatives have the government taken to let the North and East people, particularly the war displaced, to stand on their own feet? I am sure many of these issues regarding this would have been put forward by Tamil politicians and activists alike. Instead of removal of HSZ that takes up arable land, demilitarization that will allow more spending for empowerment of people rather than on defence, the government is bent on promoting ethnic strife and branding those dissent and those concerned about human rights as pro-LTTE, pro-West/anti-Sri Lankan forces. The trend of demonizing the diaspora and continual reference to them as “LTTE diaspora,” thereby, averting the genuine concerns instead of engaging in dialogue, ain’t gonna bring any investments from the diaspora or result in long-term peace.

    If there is anything that comes from these developments that the gov’t is harping about, it is the economic dependence on India and China, both fighting corporate wars on the island, and not empowerment of the masses.

  • Ben

    Surprised that the diaspora does not wish to spend the billions that they confiscated fron the roor tamils on development projects!

  • justitia

    The Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation which did good work and even awarded a prize by the government was later labelled an “LTTE front” and was banned. Tamils abroad would like to help but they should be allowed to do so without hindrance by the government – but this will not happen soon.They even fear that they will be arrested as ‘LTTE supporters’ as is happening.As long as the society is under military supervision/suppression, projects cannot succeed.A minister is running buses along A9 and an MP is now running boats at a newly opened ferry. Businessmen from the south are given permission to usurp the businesses of those who did it for many years.
    Unless the military regime in the north and east is ended and Law & Order is established, people will not prosper. India wants to give aid direct to citizens to build houses. This is a sensible move. If tamils abroad are allowed to do so, many projects can be commenced.

  • wijayapala

    Justitia, what happened to the TRO anyway? Did it close shop because its LTTE patron was destroyed?

  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    TRO was not exactly innocent in that it misused funds meant for war victims.

    Having said that the TGTE is sprouting but the launchers of TGTE are not exactly commanding diaspora respect.

    Even funds and essential items collected for Boxing Day Tsunami are sitting idle in banks and garages. Tell a lie. The funds in the banks are being spent by individuals in the diaspora to buy property abroad.

    I, in my concern for the victims of Tsunami, visited the White Pigeon office in London and I was disgusted at the way they collected funds on the tepephone and asked for immediate transfer of funds through credit cards and many coughed up.

    I saw with my own eyes when items of clothings were brought in to sent to the East, the matriarch chose the best of them for her own family!!!

    Perhaps an investigation should be sought to find out how much of these funds actually benefitted victims.

    In this instance I agree with Wijayapala.

  • Tanuja

    Interesting proposition by Dr. Sarvananthan. Economic stability and moving out of the dependency mentality is essential in easing collective trauma.