He is middle aged,
among the foremost Tamil writers, gentle in mind, softspoken, and highly cultured.
Though hailing from Kalmunai, he acquired sturdy roots in Jaffna through long
association with its university as well as library circles there. His enthusiasm
in working for a more rational political environment and in campaigning against
the ideology of Sinhalese chauvinism, was not second to that of any Tamil.
He was in so many ways the ideal university don, very thorough, painstaking,
articulate and willing to devote much time to the concerns of students. The
beneficiaries of his labour were mainly Tamils. Today he is classed as an
untouchable, unable to return to Jaffna, because in a new turn of its ideology,
Tamil chauvinism turned against a large and important section of the Tamil
speaking peoples - the Muslims.
Recent developments have left him a broken man. In October 1989, when the TNA's rout was beginning,three members of his family in Kalmunai were among those 12 Muslims killed by the TNA in Kalmunai - his brother, sister and brother-in-law. It barely took half a dozen months for the conquerors - the LTTE - to turn against the Muslims collectively. In the East today, Muslims are being hunted by this group wherever they are exposed. Even this criminal indignity has not prevented well heeled Tamil expatriate promoters of this ideology from eloquently addressing international fora about the oppression of the `Tamil speaking people'. What is equally bad, the group styled the `moderate Tamils' who influence the western media and agencies, do not readily acknowledge the serious disabilities and threat to life faced by the Muslims of the North-East.
Today our university don is a `Scholar Gypsy' with no permanent abode. An old friend meeting him was surprised by his answers to the questions: "Where are you coming form?" - "I don't know"; "Where are you staying?" - "I don't know". The Southern universities, for their own reasons, have not accommodated him so far.
Our next interlocutor is a young Muslim intellectual from Eravur. Unlike our scholar gypsy whose state of mind is characterised by resignation and fatalism, in the case of this young man the fiery anger he feels is evident. Yet he has commanded the discipline not to blame the fate of his people collectively on the Tamils. He said, "With all that has befallen me, that I could yet sit and talk about it in this fashion, owes to a peculiar ability which God has given me".
He related the tragedy of his family: "My father is a man of moderate means who had his fields in the neighbouring Tamil village. My uncle next door had a shop. The LTTE camp was near my house. My brother had joined the LTTE several years ago. For him it was at that time mainly a thrill. About 100 youths from Eravur had joined the LTTE, many of them when the IPKF was around. My brother had risen to become the youth organiser for the Batticaloa region (SOLT leader). On the surface at least, Eravur was a bastion of the LTTE. But I knew that important political issues relating to the Muslims lay unresolved and were being increasingly bungled. We were not generally sympathetic to the SLMC. I went to the local LTTE office a number of times and spoke to the regional commander, who used to come there. I discovered that he was a fathead where politics was concerned. Nothing would pierce his head. I realised that disaster would come sooner or later. The LTTE in the meantime got everything they wanted from Eravur, whether it was money or food. Two months before the war, in April 1990, the LTTE came to my cousin's house during the Ramazan festival. We gave them food packets for 40 persons. It is also remarkable that after the Kattankudy massacre on 3rd August, Eravur remained calm until they massacred in our village.
"I will give you incontrovertible proof that it was the LTTE that was responsible for the massacre in my village on 12th August 1990. There were firing noises and those at home thought that the LTTE and the army were fighting. Everyone gathered at my cousin's house. LTTE men then came to my cousin's and called him by name. He went out thinking they were tired and wanted water. They were the very persons who had come home and collected food packets from us during Ramazan. Those who survived can swear to this, though their names are not known with certainty. The others were then dragged out, including the children. Everyone was asked to face the wall. Realising what was coming my cousin, who was a Tamil poet, went down on his knees and pleaded. When the Tigers opened fire he died on his knees. My father and mother and two elder sisters were among those killed. The second of my elder sisters died shielding my eldest sister's daughter and son. The daughter was killed while the son escaped. All were killed except the boy mentioned, my uncle and my 19 year old younger sister. They fell, injured by riochettring bullets. Among the 13 members of my family killed were 7 children - one of them just 4 months and another a year.
"My younger sister later stayed with me in the South and received medical treatment. These beasts took away my father and mother, the very things most precious to me in this world. I can only call them mindless and heartless beasts. They completely extirpated my links with Eravur. I am orphanned in this world. If I am to go to Eravur and ask for food, it will have to be from some distant relative. They killed 30 people in the area where my extended family lived. It was here that the killing was most intense.
"My brother in the LTTE was in Kokkadichcholai when he received news of the massacre, and the deaths at home. He was told that the army had done it. It was 3 days before he discovered the truth. He then escaped and surrendered to the army. He is in Colombo now. Most of the Muslim cadre deserted. Those who surrendered to the army were released. Many just came back to the village without surrendering. Several of them were later picked up by the army on tip-offs and were killed.
"Why did the LTTE do this to my family? I am convinced that they hoped that by killing a family with LTTE connections, the blame would fall on the army. In this they miscalculated and failed. The LTTE's intention is to enslave the Muslims. Eravur has only recently started producing intellectuals. Why do you think the LTTE killed our cluster principal, Dawood? They want to get rid of educated Muslims. There is no prospect of peace between the Muslims and the LTTE. If any Muslim deals with the LTTE, he cannot be a Muslim. Nowhere have Muslims been so insulted. Even the Israeli Mossad has not murdered Muslims worshipping in a Mosque. These beasts have done even that. There is only one solution. The Muslims need a region which they can call their own."
The foundation for a Muslim politics articulating the slogan that Tamils cannot be trusted has thus been firmly laid. The parallel with the recent history of Tamils in connection with the Sinhalese state is evident, as is the ultimate destructiveness of such politics. The murder in the Mosque among others and the prevalence of such feelings described above, give the lie to the contention of LTTE backers (for example the expatriate journal, `The Tamil Nation') and several peace makers, that the warring parties being deadlocked are now back to square one (ie. June 1990), and hence it is simply a matter of going back to the arrangement prevailing until 10th June 1990. The contention ignores people, their tragedies and consequently, the serious loss of legitimacy the warring parties have to contend with. How will they contend with an airing of the past which any political settlement should allow for?
We moreover note some parallels to what Tamils commonly say about Muslims. Each community in the East appears to feel that the other has a conspiracy to eliminate its intellectuals. [Top]
We give here some incidents which demosntrate the continuing attitude of the LTTE towards Muslims in the East. The massacre of bus passengers in Lahugala has been given in 2.2
The LTTE attacked fishing
craft of the coast of Mutur, after forcing them to beach at Foul-Point. 11
bodies of fishermen were recovered by the navy. 50 others were injured.
Other reports said that nearly all the victims were Muslims or Sinhalese. [Top]
Sixteen nearly all Muslims,
including two women and children were slain by the LTTE in the village of
Puddur about 11.00 p.m. The victims had been dragged out of their houses and
shot and hacked to death. The dead included a one year old infant. Many of
the victims were refugees from Eravur temporarily settled in the predominantly
Muslim hamlet close to the Mahaweli river.
The victims were identified as A.A.Premarathna, A.Ilyas, Wellathamby, Aneza Umma, S.Aliyar, Hanifa Azwer, S.Lebbe, S.Wellathamby, S.Abubakkar, A.Mohamed, K.Jamaldeen, A.Mohamed, A.M.Mohideen, A Hameed, M.S.Omerlebbe Wijesekera died later in hospital. Among the injured was Ajmeer (6).
Earlier in the day the same group is said to hacked to death eight and shot one of a group of ten Sinhalese migrant fishermen plying their trade in the Karapola tank off Welikanda. Among the dead were H.Dayaratne, T.Somadasa, K.V.Ariyapala, K.W.Gamini, W.B.S.Fernando, Jinadasa Jayakkody and Dhammika.
Tension was running high in the area and many families indicated that they would leave. Security forces put down these attacks as a bid to keep troops tied down here and thus reduce deployment in the North.
While the LTTE which acknowledged no responsibility can afford such methods, the Tamils who are exposed throughout the country obtain whatever protection such as exists against reprisals as in July 1983, not from the LTTE, but from the internationalisation of human rights concern. [Top]
About June 1991 some
LTTE notices appeared in the East which were seen by a large number of people.
These read `Pardon for Kattankudy, Death to Eravur and Inquiry for Oddimavady'.
This same slogan having been loosely spoken of in Jaffna some weeks earlier
by LTTE cadre, points to its conception at a high level. Others saw it in
part as a demand for protection money. It would take an abnormally thick skin
to pardon a people after murdering 120 of their close kin in a Mosque.
This was not the first time that the LTTE used Sri Lankan army methods to bring Muslims to heel. There was a massacre about New Year's day 1988, when the LTTE killed over 60 Muslims (Report by Jehan Haniff, Sunday Island, 17th January 1988). This went unnoticed in the heat of the war between the IPKF and the LTTE. The massacre followed the killing of Nazeer, an LTTE man who exercised considerable power in Kattankudy, by ex-home guards on 29.12.87. Several bodies were dumped near the Muslim school. Among those killed were Muslims of Kattankudy orgin returning home after fleeing the fighting in Jaffna. They had plied trades such as vending popsicles.
Like the Tamils of Colombo and the hill-country who voted for the UNP despite repeated bouts of racial violence, the older Muslims, at least, remained open to making up with the LTTE, although, naturally, their capacity to give guarantees for the young was declining. Even during the LTTE's triumphant return to the East in December 1989 after recruiting heavily among Muslims, there were still a number of small acts of resistance by Muslim youth, while the Tamils who had hundreds of their young killed by the LTTE, received them passively.
Despite last year's massacres, as late as March this year, many Muslim leaders from Eravur to Akkariapattu were still open to a deal with the LTTE, provided the LTTE publicly vowed to leave Muslims in peace. By July, hopes of that had evaporated. Apart from the massacre in Puddur, the LTTE had since signalled its attitude through several acts. Muslims no longer travel on the road between Kattankudy and Kalmunai after a Muslim driver from Kalmunai transporting the remains of a Tamil for internment in Batticaloa, was abducted.
During the latter part of April, a van taking passengers from Kattankudy to catch the Colombo bound train at Valaichenai was attacked between Kiran and Kumburumoolai where there was a gap in the army picket. One Ismail was killed and an injured person was admitted to Polonnaruwa hospital.
About 24th June, two persons from the Muslim colony in Batticaloa went to Kalliankadu, near the bus depot, to give Haj Festival eats to Tamil friends. The two have not been seen after they were abducted.
There are a number of fishermen living in Kattankudy wards 1 and 2. About 16th July, two Muslims fishing in the lagoon were shot dead by firing from the other side, when they dared to go too far from the shore for a better catch.
Muslim traders from Kattankudy trading in Batticaloa, have to close their shops about 4.30 p.m. when sales pick up, and rush home before the police and army pickets are off.
Thus the economic life of Muslims is greatly constricted, more particularly in the Batticaloa District. The number of pilgrims to Mecca from Kattankudy has declined to 30 in the last year from 200 in the year preceding. Morever the Muslims are increasingly boxed into small areas where there can be no satisfactory economic life.
An incident that gives the lie to the widespread belief of Muslim prosperity is the fate of the Eravur refugees in Puddur, described in the previous section. They had been hunted in Eravur. When poverty drove then elsewhere, they were hunted there as well.
Few Tamils acknowledge the difficulties faced by Muslims. The common contention is that they are trading, they are moving about and are doing well. It is also used as proof that the Tamils have been generous - a dangerous similarity to the widespread belief of the Sinhalese that they had been generous to the Tamils.
But the trauma of a community which daily feels hunted and whose birthright is being denied is daily visible and too dangerous to ignore. A typical scene was Batticaloa station. Muslims feel safest travelling by train when the train leaves from Batticaloa. Muslims, mainly from Kattankudy came to Batticaloa at dawn and joined the queue near the station. There were a large number of women carrying infants. The people are normally allowed in by 8.00 a.m., but on this day there was a delay. The sun climbed. Many of the Tamils were able to go to houses of friends or into neighbouring premises for rest and shelter. But few of the Muslims dared to do this. They clung to such little shade as was afforded by fences on Station Road. About 12.30 p.m. it was announced that the train was cancelled.
Muslims in general despair at the prospect that is widely taken for granted, that in the destructive context of Sri Lankan politics, the only conceivable end to this conflict is for the government and the Tigers to strike a deal along the lines of that which broke down last year. A group of leading Muslims put it thus: "With all its drawbacks we can survive in the present situation, if needs be, on kanji (rice porridge). But if the government and the LTTE start talking, we are finished! Our experience of the LTTE's intentions is that they would either finish us off or chase us away." Referring to other Tamil groups they said, "Their minds are not pure where the Muslims are concerned.."
At the same time many Muslims are conscious of the fact that they have to live with the Tamils. A senior Muslim in the Amparai District who is politically active put it eloquently: "We have to live with the Tamils. Otherwise we must go elsewhere. Our whole economic life is integrated with that of the Tamils. If we try to live separately, we will be left clinging to the Pallivasal (Mosque) and the thoppi (prayer cap)". It is therefore imperative that while the opportunity exists, Tamils must make every effort to seek reconciliation with the Muslims.
Those Tamils who feel bitter about the violence that has come out of the Muslim community should also examine the context and look at the violent resposne of the Tamils themselves, to the bigotted institutional violence of the Sri Lankan state. This response lead to routine massacres of Sinhalese civilians with its degeneration. Lumpen politics breeds a lumpen response, often of a more potent and self-destructive kind. Even so, the extent of militarisation of the Muslim community has been remarkably low. There has also reportedly been talk among the armed forces of the supposedly inadequate support they have received from Muslims.
Every instance of violence by Muslims in the last ten years has been preceded by robberies, kidnappings, other acts of violence by Tamil groups and very importantly, by attempts on the part of local Muslim leaders to negotiate from a non-aggressive possition. When the Kattankudy Muslims were massacred in Kurukkalmadam on 12th July 1990, Muslim leaders sought the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church. It was the Mosque massacre 3 weeks later that triggered a breakdown of communication and the recruitment of homeguards. When violence did erupt, the Sri Lankan state did what it could to widen the rift. The provocations against Muslims in the last year by the LTTE have been far more serious. Tamils who have a vivid memory of equally deplorable violence by Muslim elements, are generally careless about the sequence of events. [Top]
The scene was a faculty meeting
in one of the two older and leading universities in the South, on 13th February
this year. The faculty concerned was presented with a request by the UGC to
take in 76 studnets displaced from the University of Jaffna. It was evident,
but not mentioned, that they were nearly all Muslims. The attitude to the
request was generally negative. One don said, "If we had space, we could
have taken in more of `our' students". Another said that there was no
provision to enable students from one univesity to follow the rest of their
course in another. A faculty member (a Sinhalese) who was disturbed by the
direction of the discussion, pointed out that a precedent existed. The Ruhuna
University lacking facilities in its early days, its medical students had
been allowed to follow the more advanced parts of their course in the University
of Colombo and be awarded Ruhuna degrees. This fell on deaf ears. The discussion
proceeded as if he had not spoken. The request was then declined in polite
language which did not reflect the crudity of the discussion. An outside member
said that he was ashamed by the communalism displayed, but had not wished
to intervene on account of its being his last meeting.
Thus among those who would shed the last drop of their soldiers' blood to keep the country united, there was not the slightest inclination to share in the trauma of their minority bretheren or to make sacrifices of the kind that would give substance to the desired unity. Such is the communalism routinely found in high places, that would make many ordinary people feel shy.
The problem of displaced Muslim students remains unsettled. Ad hoc arrangements have been made for them to follow lectures in Southern universities often without being allowed library facilities and without a sense of belonging or being cared for.
This is just one sign of the widespread prejudice that exists in the South towrds minorities, with strong hint of contempt for the Muslims in particular. This had spilled over into anti-Muslim violence in Galle and Puttalam in the 70's. A recent incident took place on 8th May when about 30 policemen in civies stormed Jumma Mosque in Yonakapura, Dickwella, assaulting Muslims at prayer, leaving six seriously injured. The incident took place after a Muslim had refused to give his motor cycle to a policeman. [The Island of 8th June, quoting M.A.C.Mohamed, Chief Trustee of the Mosque]. [Top]
Common contentions about
Muslims among Sinhalese as well as Tamils are that they are shrewd, conniving,
thick as thieves who will not give a peep into their intentions, grabbing
and so many other similar attributes. After the recent accidental fire in
a Tamil refugee camp in Kalmunai, resulting in some deaths, rumour quicly
took wing among Tamil children that some Muslims started it to chase away
Tamils. The expulsion of Muslims from the North by the LTTE was greeted outside
with casual approbation in many quarters. It was maintained that if you give
them a little room, they would climb on your heads. What we have recorded
earlier, shows that Muslims have suffered greatly and unjustly and suggests
that their behaviour is explicable in purely human terms. Given what the Tamils
have been through as a minority they should have been more sensitive to the
harm resulting from stereotyping. We shall examine some specific instances.
A large number of Muslims, about 90,000, expelled from the North mainly from Mannar, came into the largely Muslim Kalpitiya area north of Puttalam. Most of then had lost everything. A Tamil lady, a rehabilitation worker, went to some Muslim businessmen in Colombo and asked them to raise Rs.5 lakhs (the price of the cheapest motor car) in order start a self employment project among the displaced. After some prevarication it became clear that the money was not coming. The Mannar Muslims then told her, "We told you not to waste time with Colombo Muslims. We knew from experience that they would not give." The Muslim parliamentarians were no more helpful. At length she went with some refugees and met a Muslim MP belonging to the SLFP. He generally avoided the refugees and spoke to the lady. He promised to ask some Muslims in London to support the project. In the end the money came from a church organisation.
The Mulims in Puttalam happen to be a very neglected and traditional lot, while those from Mannar were often educated and enterprising. Soon a clash of interests developed. Some of the Mannar Muslims began trading and buying up land. Having been neglected in the past , the Puttalam Muslims resented rehabilitation efforts directed exclusively towards the refugees. Once a small provocation led to fisticuffs. Two Muslim O.Level boys from Mannar who were refugees, went to watch a Tamil film outside the refugee area. Some conservative local Muslim women came to the theatre wearing veils. The two boys asked jokingly what they could see through the veils. As an angry crowd began to chastise the boys, others from the refugee area rushed to join in a festival of fists. All these experiences were an eye opener to the lady who had come with preconceived notions about Muslims. She said, "They are no different from the other communities. Like Sinhalese and Tamils in Colombo, Muslims in Colombo would be much more anxious about bombs exploding in Colombo than with the woes of their bretheren in the provinces."
We take some of the notions about Muslims in the Amparai District and compare it with the situation in the Batticaloa District. It is commonly said by Tamils in the Amparai District that Muslims commonly provoked disturbances or used such to chase away Tamils from their homes by violence to loot them, desecrate their temples and then remove all the timber, doors and windows, and chop up their fruit trees so that they cannot return. Their properties and paddy fields it is said are then bought for a song. [We have dealt with the matter at some depth in Report No.7 ]
Along the road from Araipattai to Manmunai in the Batticaloa District, one sees the remains of an orgy of the kind so vividly described. There are rows and rows of houses with rafters, titles, doors and windows together with their frames missing and walls crumbling. What remains of red polished floors and shells of shops speak of its past inhabitants as a reasonably well to do community. There is also a ruined Mosque. This was the Muslim village of Ollikulam, an extension of Kattankudy. What is more disturbing about this is that it was not done by a group of hooligans with the tacit backing of bribed policemen, but at the instigation and lead of the `sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil speaking peoples' - the Tigers - early in the current war.
Other stories one hears in Kattankudy have a familiar ring. Muslims had to flee the isolated village of Nochchi Munai and sell their land cheap to Tamils, after the LTTE's New Year massacre of 1988. Karbala village was developed as a National Housing Scheme project in 1981 and 40 houses were built on Muslim land to which title deeds were held by Fareed Meeralabai. This village, east of the main road, was also conceived as a means of linking New Kattankudy with the isolated Muslim seaside village of Palamunai to the south. Karabala village had to be abandoned after the disturbances of April 1985. Furthermore, Muslims cannot go out and cultivate, and the paddy fields belonging to Kattankudy and Eravur residents on the other western side of the lagoon have virtually passed under LTTE supervision. It is not surprising if these Muslims see Tamils in their neighbourhood as envious and grabbing. The LTTE, as well as other groups in the past have on occasions encouraged them to loot Muslims under their protection. The Muslims could also contend that they have not been wanting in generosity. The Kattankudy hospital which is situated in Araipattai was built on land donated by a Muslim.
The complaints one hears from Muslims inthe Batticaloa District, are the mirror image of complaints one hears from Tamils in the Amparai District. The two sets of grievances have different complexities involving interactions between a chauvinist state and a flawed Tamil nationalism. It was last year that the actions of the state agaisnt Tamils in the Amparai District reached proportions of mass murder paralled with qualitatively similar actions by the LTTE against Muslims and Sinhalese. However the temptation to wrongly single out the Muslims for lumpen behaviour must be avoided.
There is also a particular injustice that Muslims have suffered in the Batticaloa District. Both sections of the popuation have found the need for additional land becuase of natural increase. Thus the population of Batticaloa town has expanded into new suburbs and old villages. The common name Puthukudiyiruppu, symbolises new settlements. But the expansion of Muslim residential areas has been comparatively limited and often strongly opposed. The fates of Karbala village and Ollikulam are signs of this opposition. Kattankudy is said to be one of the most densely populated areas in the world. One passes through Eravur by bus almost before blinking a couple of times, and about 37000 Muslims live there. Many Tamils in speaking betray a feeling that they have been generous enough and that the Muslims should not expand anymore. It also contains the implication that this land does not also belong to the Muslims. The feeling of being boxed in and hunted with their economic life crippled, is unpleasant to live with, and in human terms, is one pregnant with violence. We should be thankful that things have not yet gone out of control. [Top]
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