Batticaloa, Development, Environment, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Trincomalee

Rebuilding Sri Lanka

A perceptive and sensitive Sri Lankan has noted;

“It is reported that the people of the North, especially in the Jaffna district, have developed a feeling of dissatisfaction, disaffection and contempt towards the people of the South, who post the end of the war are now engaging in pilgrimage and sightseeing related visits to the North in large numbers, and in the process totally disregarding the need for privacy, encroaching on meagre infrastructure resources and services of the district, causing significant negative impact on the environment/cleanliness and pollution in the area, and behaving in a manner unacceptable by the cultural and religious values of the Northerners.

These negative feelings are expressed in relation to the following issues highlighted in support of the claim;

1. Large and unrestricted numbers of pilgrims are traveling from the South to the Jaffna District especially to visit Naghadhipa, Nallur Kovil, Madhu Church and other places of religious worship and there are no adequate infrastructure facilities for this level of inflow

2. Following the pilgrimage these visitors engage in sightseeing and visit war damaged areas, IDP resettlement areas and places of religious and cultural heritage of the Northerners

3. During the sightseeing tours visitors do not effectively engage with the people of the area, do not respect their need for privacy nor empathise with their present status and enquire and try to extend any help or even express feelings of solidarity as citizens of one nation in brotherhood. They state and look at them in a manner that they feel that they were once captives of the Terror groups, then displaced persons and now destitute looked on by their southern citizens as animals in a cage or helpless people in a hopeless state. These feelings are heightened as the people in the North do not see their plight, lifestyles and challenges of life and livelihoods are shared by the southern brothers and sisters.

4. Large numbers use Duraiappa Stadium and areas in the vicinity and these areas are not capable of providing the necessary housing, waste, sanitation, garbage clearance facilities to the present level of visitors and therefore they use open areas and their resting areas for washing, toilets, cooking and leave the areas totally polluted with garbage, polythene, waste and toilet waste causing great inconvenience to residents

5. These pilgrims indiscriminately use the water and other resources of nearby temples, kovils and Churches and use water for washing, cleaning after toilet use etc without consideration of the cultural and religious values and use of these premises and the state they leave behind after use with no concern for residents who use the same facilities thereafter

6. Visitors who are not actual worshipers crowd temples/kovils during poojah time and crowd out actual users and disturb the sanctity and value of the poojahs

7. These pilgrims use religious places and culturally significant places like the Jaffna Library disrespectfully ( in shoes) and use it for lying down, relaxing and entertainment including some times for consumption of alcohol

8. High Ace Vans are sometimes parked in front of Kovils and other places of cultural significance and visitors have food and at times alcohol and dancing with blaring music disrespecting the places of worship and cultural values

9. Ladies and Young Girls on bicycles are subjected to harassment, whistling, hooting and negative comments by visitors

10. Insensitive behaviours all round by not recognizing and aligning with the the socio-cultural values of Northerners.”

I have not been to the North post war, but vividly remember my post cease fire (2002) visits to Jaffna, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee where I encountered scenes and reactions very different to those described above. Those scenes were of the joyful mingling on equal terms of thousands of visitors and locals. Now, it appears, the meetings are of the victims and the vanquished. The primary fault is with neither the visitors nor the locals but with the manner in which the end of the war was treated by the national leadership and the media. The atmosphere of triumphalism, yet prevailing, is deeply damaging to inter ethnic harmony and to the prospects of healing wounds and reconstructing the Sri Lankan nation. There is much physical construction work but the locals remain disempowered and marginalized.

Under Apartheid, South Africa had been burdened with incomparably greater inter-ethnic hostilities and institutionalized racism and oppression than Sri Lanka ever was. But with the inspired leadership of Mandela, Tutu, and the others, they successfully dislodged those burdens in a manner that few predicted, and achieved a level of success that seemed impossible. Leadership of that quality may not appear anywhere on our planet for decades to come, but can we in Sri Lanka not find ways to bridge our much more modest but yet widening ethnic divides? We surely can, though, sadly, we see very little of even acknowledgement of the problem, still less of meaningful steps to address it. Our problems today are of our own creation and not of meddlesome foreigners or of the Diaspora or of the LTTE, dead since mid May 2009.