‘’Our agriculture lands which belonged to us for years and years, have been captured and our residential lands also have been forcefully occupied. Now, our days just come and go without giving a single hope or happiness and we live like orphans. At least, Nobody is ready to listen to our painful stories and help us’’, shared a lot by Nataraja Kanagaratnam aiya who is the leader of Kuveni tribal community of East Moothur.
We met him recently at his village ’’Nallur’’ and also we visited some other villages like Paattalipuram, Santhosapuram where still, the tribal Tamil community exists. In this visit, we made several useful conversations with the local people and what they reported us at the time caused anxiety and agony.
They live in the Moothur East areas like Seenanveli, Uppural, Nallur,Neenaakeni, Veeramaanagar, Ilakkanthai, Paattaalipuram, Shanthosapuram, Seethanaveli, Saalaiyoor, Santhanavettai, Venthakaattuvettai, Malaimunthal, Koopalapattanam, Paalakkattuvettai, Maavadiyootru for years and years.
In the earlier days, the lifestyle of indigenous people of Sri Lanka had been set up with cultivating weeds, collecting fruits and honey and hunting wild animals. Later on they engaged with fishing, cutting and selling woods. But, they were forced to change their source of livelihood when the country announced that hunting wild animals, deforestation and collecting honey and fruits are subject to the country’s legal matters.
Therefore, now, they have moved towards agriculture, mercenary activities and selling firewoods. Apart from this, the most worrying and agonizing thing is, a huge number of women have chosen ‘begging for money’ as a source of income.
On our journey, When we were near to the Kinneya bridge, we show some women (3,4 and 5 of them as a group) were coming from Moothur East who did not even have shoes on their feet. Dr. T. Sathiyamoorthy – The director of Jaffna Teaching Hospital – intercepted those women and raised a question ‘’ Where are you all going now..?’’ ‘’Moothur, Thooppoor’’ they replied. Again he made a question ‘’Why..?’’. But, this time, the answer which was given by them left us as speechless and shocked. They told us without any hesitation that they were going for begging. ‘’ Do you go everyday..?’’ again Dr. Saththiyamoorthy asked them and they said ‘’yes, we do, sometimes we get around 500 rupees, 600 rupees… sometimes one thousand. If we go for begging only, we can run our family’’.
Most of them were from women-headed families. Their livelihood Is begging. Later on, when we made a discussion with the local people, we got to know that there are hundreds of women doing begging as their main source of income. Every day, they have to walk 30 to 40 kilometers for collecting such an amount of 500 or 600 rupees. So sadly, when we went to Moothoor East, felt like entering into one of the East African countries seen in the films.
The people had thousand acres of own agricultural lands with properly stamped documents that were issued by the Srilankan government in the 1950s. but, unfortunately, now, they only have the documents with them, not the lands. On the other hand, since 2015, those lands which were under the Tamil tribal community have been occupied by others. A historically important tribal community has been fully affected by capturing their lands which were being as their source of livelihood, under the supports of politicians and authorities. Further, Nadaraja Kanagaratnam –head of Kuveni tribal community- told us that new documents for those captured lands are being prepared now with the backing of the politicians and authorities.
He said to us that the villages’ names where their native agricultural lands were located also have been changed n 2015 and 2016 that Paalakkaattuvettai as Irfan Nagar, Koopaalapattanam as Arafa Nagar, Venthakaattuvettai and Maavadiyootu as Thaifu Nagar and Malaimunthal and Uppoooral as Shahip Nagar. In these illegally captured and renamed areas, Shahran also has constructed around 50 wells for his supporters. Finally, he expressed his concern that ”in this difficult situation as nobody is behind us to raise their voice for us. Now, we are so sad and feel like abandoned’’.
Further, he stated that ‘’they have seized a fishing harbor also. Actually, This is not new and these kinds of planned activities are being done frequently. Unfortunately, if it continues in this way, we will definitely become landless in another 10 to 15 years.’’
‘’Our agricultural and residential lands have been exploited with the backing of some political and bureaucratic power, by using our weaknesses such as poverty and illiteracy. On the other hand, our authorities and Tamil political parties who should have spoken loudly are not ready to fight against these inhuman activities.’’
He continues ‘’ most of the families in our community continuously face poverty. In this situation, loans are given to meet certain basic needs such as food and provisions. After a few months, they will have to repay these loans. But, these poor people do not have enough money to pay back. At this point, they will be asked to give their signature in a document and most of the tribes are unaware of writing, so the vulnerable aboriginal people sign up wherever they say. Then, the person who made the loans for this tribal community uses the documents to change the land ownership in his name. In this respect, more than three thousand acres of our lands have been taken away from us in the last few years.’’
As a result of this kind of exploitation, a huge number of families from Moothur East Tamil community have become landless. If this situation continues, there is a big risk in their life which will make them as landless, right less and even lifeless.
All the schools in this area are functioning with a great lack of physical and personnel needs. As most of the officials use these schools to get their personal benefits like promotion and higher positions, even these basic needs of an educational institution are not taken into account. In fact, educational officers do not care about these schools and therefore the problems have been unsolved. As I know, only one student from this area has entered to the university and one public servicer works in an ordinary position.
According to the Srilankan education system, all subjects up to grade 5, are taught by one teacher. But, in these schools, most of the teachers who teach up to grade 5 are Muslims but students are Hindu and Christians. Therefore, the students lose their right to study one of the subject (religion) as the teachers can’t teach their students’ religion. As a result, our students’ opportunity to get to know about their life and religion is fully denied.
In addition to this, there are some issues like classroom shortage, lack of teachers for Maths and English. When we talked to a randomly selected grade 4 student at a school we went to, we could see that he was unable to continue the English letters after ‘H’ and also the exercise book for the subject of Religion was empty. In this respect, the schools of this Moothur East area are running with many problems.
Political leaders on this issue.
‘’Before 2009, we were safe and happy. After that, when ‘Pillaiyaan’ was the prime minister of Eastern Srilanka, our villages had so many developments including permanent upstairs buildings for schools. Reason, behind those developments, he got to know more about our community during the time he was a member of the LTTE’’, said the local people.
But since then, nobody returned to their villages. Even during the election time, Tamil politicians do not even come to their villages for a vote. On contrast, they will bring those local people in a public place and do a meeting there, most of the time only one or two politicians are available there, and others will not even come there.
Further they shared that ‘’Once, our representatives of ‘Kuveni’ tribal community went to meet then leader of opposition party ‘Sammanthan aiyya’ and shred about the issue of land exploitation and lack of educational needs. But, he did not bother and said in a sentence as ‘’ Oh.. Is It..? do not worry…I will have a look ..’’. That is all. Till today, nothing happened.’’
So, special attention should be given to this tribal community who are gradually coming as abandoned and their problems such as school infrastructure, lack of staff, unemployment and transportation should be acknowledged and solved as soon as possible. They said to us that ‘’More importantly, the inhuman land exploitation should be stopped immediately to prevent our native lands’’.
Finally, if their demands are not fulfilled as soon as possible, there is a chance that every one of us will be responsible for a great loss of historical evidence ( which can simply say that we are the native of ‘’Ceylon’’). Because, if the problems of Moothur East Tribal Tamil community, are not solved, unfortunately, within decades, it will be seen a record in the history that there was a tribal Tamil community in Eastern Srilanka. If it occurs, everybody is equally responsible for that.
Translated by: Mugilnila