Batticaloa, Elections, Human Rights, Human Security, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Polls, Post-War

Jaffna and the East today: Harsh ground realities, opportunities and challenges after war

Shanthi Sachithananthan, the Chairperson of Viluthu, has been featured several times on Groundviews in the past, including an interview two months ago looking at significant developments in Sri Lanka after the demise of the LTTE and her views on the July 1983 pogrom against Tamils.

In this recent interview, Shanthi, who recently campaigned for political office in the parliamentary elections in April 2010 after forming an independent political party, speaks about her experiences interacting with voters from the Batticaloa district – the issues they confront, their aspirations and the extremely poor awareness of governance, representative democracy and electoral processes. Shanthi’s approach to campaigning is also revealed by her as a vehicle to prise open vital debates and issues amongst voters mainstream political parties would rather not address, or seek to underplay.

I asked Shanthi whether Tamil representation in parliament now would engage in politics of antagonism or engagement with the Sinhala majority, and whether the overtures being made to the TNA by government were seen by her to be a positive development. After Shanthi offered her thoughts on the space for strategic engagement by the Tamil polity with government, I asked her what she felt would be the foundations for such engagement, if were to take place.

We talked about the Tamil diaspora, and the means through which they could engage with Tamil politics in the country, with the State and civil society if not government per se.

At the time of the interview, Shanthi had just returned from Jaffna. What she says about the situation on the ground, the breakdown of the rule of law and the fear psychosis is disturbing to hear. Although the allegations of the deterioration of law and order have been, unsurprisingly, strongly challenged by the government, Shanthi’s accounts of random abductions of children, violence and the ensuing anxiety amongst parents and other civilians is not an account dismissed easily.

I finally ask her what she wants to do with party politics in the future to strengthen citizen engagement with governance in the East and North in particular.