“MULLAITIVU SAGA – exploring the textures of a planned genocide” my film web site.

my film mullaitivu saga website
“MULLAITIVU SAGA – exploring the textures of a planned genocide”
A video Documentary on last days of srilanakn war

‘Mullaitivu Saga’ an episode of planned massacre of the suppressed people in the name of Final War,
while most of the international human rights machinery remained a silent witness.
Incidentally the injustice is recounted through Mullaitivu Koothu played for the last time
in this very same historic land.
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Cradle of Jaffna’s early settlements cries out for attention

By: S. Somitharan – Feature
 Northeastern Monthly

Jaffna’s belt of rich red soil, which farmers of Valikamam are denied access to cultivate due to the high security zone, has been in the news of late. But red soil alone does not necessarily mean bountiful harvests. The land thirsts for water either from the rain or from perennial sources such as rivers. And the Jaffna peninsula is one of the few places where water from the rains that lash Sri Lanka’s northeast is retained and flows down to the sea as any conventional river would. What is more, waters of Valukkiyaaru is retained in the soil long enough to irrigate the fields enabling two cropping seasons.

But the network of channels, tanks and wells fed by Valukkiyaaru lie neglected. They await rehabilitation and restoration by foreign experts while the Jaffna farmer who possesses the expertise that comes from traditional lore lives in a refugee camp.

Valukkiyaaru has sustained a population whose origin recedes into the dim mists of time. Two important archaeological sites, Kantharodai and Aanaikottai lie near Valukkiyaaru and there is little doubt that these settlements sprang up because of the availability of the life-nourishing water source nearby.

Water is always plentiful between November and May because of the northeast monsoon; then the dry summer months begin. “If the barrage at Araly was built, we will have enough water till August,” say farmers.

There are three barrages that manage flooding, irrigation and freshwater supplies in the peninsula – Araly, Thondamannar and Ariyalai. The barrages control the volume of water from the land flowing out into the sea. Water is retained underground in layers and a freshwater lens forms on top of the layer of saltwater below. The barrages prevent water from flowing into the sea, thereby increasing the volume of freshwater available for irrigation and consumption.

Dutch engineers built the Araly barrage in 1748, which was the first and only comprehensive attempt at developing the Valukkiyaru for irrigation. There have been periodic attempts at repairing it when damaged, the most recent being in 2000 when the Department of Irrigation built a one-foot concrete wall – but none of them were as comprehensive as the work undertaken by the Dutch.

The nine-mile course of Valukkiyaru feeds six large tanks, the largest of which is Mudaliyar tank that was built by renovating an existing tank. The six large tanks have eight satellite tanks, which in turn feed smaller tanks. There are altogether 40 – 50 tanks fed by Valukkiyaru. There also are around 12,000 wells between 8’and 22’ in depth in the area.

Despite poor maintenance there is enough water to irrigate the fields enabling two cropping seasons. Water from network of wells is used to cultivate subsidiary food crops.

The ravages of war and the mere fact there have been no people to do basic maintenance work have damaged most of the tank bunds. What is more, the channels have progressively grown narrower with farmers moving their fences covertly forward to expand acreage. “In some areas the six-foot wide channels have look like a conventional drain. This impedes the flow of water,” said a farmer, now too old to ply his trade.

Farmers feel the restoration of the scheme would need widening of the channels to a uniform width. If there is grass on either side it could also be used to graze cattle.

Perhaps the most pernicious environmental damage in the area has been brought about by the saltern at Kalundai neglected due to the war. Improper maintenance has resulted in the salt dissolving into the groundwater and salination has affected productivity of the soil. It has made farming is almost impossible in the areas.

Farmers feel that if the rehabilitation of the scheme is done properly subsidiary food crops could be grown successfully because they need comparatively little water that could be provided by the wells.

What little maintenance Valukkiyaru has seen, has been provided by the Department of Irrigation. However, restoration of the irrigation system including its myriad channels, subsidiary tanks, wells etc is being undertaken by without involving the state. Norway agreed in December 2001 to give Rs.10 million for a two-year project to restore the system that is being undertaken by a private party. The preliminary survey and planning was to have been completed in eight months. However, critics say no work has commenced up to date.

“The introduction of a private party to do the restoration will bring in an external entity. The Department of Irrigation has the knowledge and capability of undertaking the repairs and the restoration of the irrigation system. The involvement of the private party will only bring about needless conflict,” said an official with the Department of Irrigation, who wished to remain anonymous.

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Human rights: Fear stalks the survivors of Allaipiddy

By: S. Somitharan
Courtesy: Northeastern Monthly – July 2006

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?We are scared. We d not know why they kill little children. After the massacre that night we peeped through the window. Children were swimming in pools of blood. My uncle was also in the same state,? said a young girl.

Another girl added ?Those who did not see the actual scene saw pictures of the dead kids. We like to live at Allaipiddy but we are scared.?

These children (whose names like those of most others in this article are withheld for security reasons) are displaced in a Catholic church in Jaffna town after the massacre at Allaipiddy in Kayts on 13 May. Like this child others too are bereft of their homes and cannot return.

Ironically, none but the Sri Lanka navy and the EPDP cadres in Allaipiddy are willing to give protection to the civilians. Let alone being reluctant to accept security guarantees from the navy and EPDP, the civilians are also apprehensive of residing near camps in fear such places might be attacked by the Tigers.

The people of Allaipiddy returned to the village they abandoned in 1990 after the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002. They rebuilt their homes and businesses. Till 13 May this year they believed they could live in Allaipiddy though fighting was raging elsewhere. Today however residents feel the killings at Allaipiddy are without precedent because unlike on other instances where people of the area are arrested on suspicion after an attack on government forces, in the case of Allaipiddy, the navy deliberately targeted civilians, including children, without cause.

?I am quite certain the victims had nothing to do with any subversive activity. It is precisely this reason that we feel there is no guarantee for the lives of anyone at Allaipiddy. That is why the whole village fled elsewhere for refuge,? said a displaced resident from the village.

Residents however believe that the navy was interested in acquiring the house where the family was massacred, but its owners were unwilling to part with it. This could be the punishment.

Allaipiddy, as was the case in most of the villages that are now within the 144 sq. km. high security zone (HSZ), first suffered displacement in 1990. Many of the survivors are fishing families from coastal areas such as Kankesanthurai and Keerimalai, while others are from the interior farms of Tellipalai.

The Sri Lankan security forces moved into Allaipiddy in 1990 because of a need to establish a camp to facilitate troop movement and supply lines to the Jaffna Fort, which was at that time under the control of the Sri Lanka government. The disappearances, extrajudicial executions and sheer terror perpetrated by the security forces on the civilian population at Allaipiddy forced them to vacate the village.

It is believed more than 100 persons were either killed or disappeared from that village during the military campaign of 1990. (An account of the depopulation of three villages: Mandatheevu, Allaipiddy and Mankumban are set out in a North East Secretariat for Human Rights ? NESOHR ? report published in 2005). What remained till resettlement began after the CFA was initialled were the navy and the EPDP.

Allaipiddy will remain a contentious spot because it occupies the strategically important position it does. As long as the LTTE retains its base at Pooneryan, the navy needs Allaipiddy to control LTTE sea movements between its base and the government facilities at Kankensanthurai. It will also be of some importance as a supply line for troops in Jaffna.

Rev Fr. Amalraj a Catholic priest attached to the parish at Allaipiddy rescued some injured people from certain death by taking them to hospital on the night of 13 May. The navy tried its best to prevent him in fear the survivors would later identify the killers. Through his prompt and humane action three persons survived and are now witnesses ? two old people and a child. It is believed that the woman took a glancing shot and fell down and the killers had left her for dead. The man was severely injured and was admitted to hospital, but lived to tell the tale. The child was hiding behind a door and saw all what happened.

?Returning to Allaipiddy is almost impossible. There is no security for Tamil civilians. However, there is no difference between Allaipiddy and the rest of Jaffna. When I ride a motorbike even in Jaffna town I feel the small of my back tingling in fear of straying into the crossfire,? said Amalraj.

Many people in Jaffna think similarly. Rather than the day-to-day killings that are the order of the day at present, the period when there was total war was better they feel. After four years of the CFA, terror has suddenly re-emerged with disappearances and murder that make the residents feel very vulnerable.

According to the Human Rights Commission (Jaffna) 153 disappearances have been reported recently. But it is well known that those whose names are reported form only a fraction of those whose rights have been violated in some way. Due to the multiplicity of possible perpetrators, the public is scared to complain to the authorities. Second, it is mostly the educated and the city dweller that has access to the HRC not those in the outlying villages who have to cross checkpoints manned by the military to reach Jaffna. Young people do not complain nor do families with young people ? the high risk category.

Human rights activists feel that people living in groups are harassed more than others because if the military enters a place with a large group of people, they abuse more people. This could be because the demonstration effect of such abuse could have greater impact than in the case of few individuals. It could also be because nobody takes ultimate responsibility in an IDP camp and the security forces can behave with impunity.

An example of what happened recently is illustrative. When a claymore blast occurred near a welfare centre, soldiers entered the centre on suspicion the perpetrators could have run inside. When they could not find them they turned violent hands on the young males within the camp. Then they told the males and the older folk to leave the makeshift huts while the girls were kept inside. The soldiers and the girls remained together for around half an hour.

?The victims are unwilling to speak because they might be victimised again. They are scared to report to the HRC either,? said an NGO worker laconically.

Another reason the public is scared to complain is because the perpetrators of violence are not easily identifiable. It could be the military, the paramilitaries or the Tigers. The confusion and the culpability of all parties in some way or another have given rise to distrust towards all of them.

?A woman having love affair with EPDP cadre is killed, as much as the man who gives meals to the LTTE. The Jaffna public was trained to protect themselves when there was full-scale war, including air raids, but today, since individuals are the target there is no escape,? the NGO worker said.

?The only option is to run away from Jaffna, but it will be better to go overseas,? said a resident.

It was when the Jaffna public was under such stress that the bodies were discovered at Kopay. The body of a Hindu priest was exhumed and identified. He had no political connections. The body of a youth was also discovered there, wearing a watch that was eerily still ticking. He too was identified but there was report about him with the HRC. Nobody had complained to the HRC he was missing because he had gone to his grandmother?s home and was not missed anywhere till the fateful news arrived of his corpse.

What is more, though there are details of killing people look at it as news and sensation. It has not acted as a preventive of further killing. Therefore, the acts of violence continue unabated. This is partly because the law enforcement machinery is impaired, but not entirely.

?Civil society has lost its voice and the state acts as if it has no obligation towards one as a citizen. So even public opinion carries no weight,? said the NGO worker.

An existence wrapped with fear is beginning to tell on people?s minds. Psychological disturbance is not only telling on them in the way they handle conflict-related issues but also in other matters that they confront in their day-to-day lives. Amongst the groups vulnerable are children.

?The next generation is badly affected because they see pictures in the media as well as in real life, which leaves them scarred,? said Dr. S. Sivayogam a psychiatrist at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital.

The public believes that anyone can kill anyone else and get away with it. It creates a great sense of vulnerability and futility, which is affecting their emotional well being.

Civilians do not carry arms. But in today?s war it is they who are worst affected. It is the government and LTTE that should guarantee civilian protection and how well they do it will play an important role in defining the politics of the future.

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Sightless victim of a blind bombing in srilanka

One morning in 1995, five-year-old Selvanayagam Sasiraj was playing outside his house. His father, a mason, had gone to work, but Sasiraj’s mother, Pathmawathi, was home; so was Sasiraj’s elder brother, Chandrasekaran. Their home was adjacent to the Navaly Roman Catholic Church.

Military operations were in progress and armed aircraft were circling. Realising perhaps they were circling a zone almost over the house and growing anxious of what it portended, Pathmawathi had asked the boy to get into a bunker.

“Before I could I could run bombs began falling. Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion. That is all I remember till I woke up in hospital,” said Sasiraj, now 12 years old.He has lost his sight completely.

It was this bomb the ICRC reported had been dropped on civilians who were herded together in the church taking refuge from military operations. And in the wake of the negative fallout alleging the air force had engaged in an act that could be interpreted a war crime, Lakshman Kadirgamar, the then minister of foreign affairs, went on to chastise the ICRC, stating the bomb was not targeted on refugees in the church, but on an LTTE facility nearby. He said the bomb had inadvertently exploded in the church’s compound. Others, however, dismiss the argument as preposterous.

Pathmawathi died, but Chandrasekaran escaped virtually unscathed. Today Sasiraj’s father supports Chandrasekaran through his meagre earnings, while little Sasiraj is at Valvagham home for the visually handicapped.

The history of Valvagham, now situated at Maruthanamdam, Jaffna, and the trials the organisation and its administrators had to put up with are as heartrending in the tragedy, but also as encouraging in their persistence and fortitude, as the personal story of Sasiraj and the 30 other visually handicapped inmates of that institution.Valvagham has led a peripatetic existence. It has had to move out whenever military operations threatened the security of the institution and the lives of the children. The last of these relocations was in 1995 when the home was in Uduvil, but had to be vacated due the to shelling and fighting at close quarters.

“We were so handicapped we had to take these children who cannot see, walking to Tellipalai to safety,” said one who had been there and experienced it all.Interestingly, the permanent building the home occupied at Uduvil has now become part of the military complex of 513 Brigade, which took it over after Valvagham’s vacation. It has been acts such as these, done with scant regard to human suffering that has prompted the LTTE and the Tamil public to demand the army vacate private property it has acquired in high security zones and outside.

Around 1997 persons working with Valvagahm visited what had been their home at Uduvil, now turned into 513 Brigade’s military complex. There were only a few benches that belonged to the home remaining, which the visitors had requested be returned to them since they were in the process of building a new home at Maruthanamadam. But the army refused.

Despite such cussedness there were sections of the government that was prepared to help. Relief and Rehabilitation Authority of the North (RRAN) put up the new building for the home at Maruthanamadam; UNICEF constructed the water tank and Hindu Culture Affairs Minister T. Maheswaran donated a trishaw. ‘Official’ assistance for building up movable and immovable property is largely confined to these.

The bulk of the donations even today come from individuals. And this, mind you, in a Jaffna that had been wracked by war, displacement and terror till the ceasefire agreement was signed in February 2002. If funding from these sources were to dry up, the institution might have to close. “The people who were displaced with us and bore the brunt of our privation know our problems and continue to support and make contributions towards the home’s welfare,” said Annaluckshmy Sinnathamby, who runs the home and whose brainchild Valvagham is.

The sacrifice and personal commitment that has gone into setting up and running Valvagham borders on the fantastic. It began in 1971 as a school that taught children with visual impediments. By 1988 with the war for Eelam having undergone various phases and military engagements and economic deprivation causing tremendous distress, it was decided Valvagham be transformed into a home, where children did not study but were resident.

A private house was acquired at Tellipalai for the home. Valvagham was there till 1990. The first round of displacement came that year due to military engagements as the army began expanding the perimeter of its Palaly camp, which has now become the high security zone. Expecting the worst, the children were sent home.

The home was resurrected in 1993 at Uduvil, where a permanent building was constructed. When displaced in 1995 in the wake of Operation Riviresa the home was in transit in Manipay briefly, before being relocated at its present premises at Maruthanamadam.

Though Valvagham has evolved into a home from a school, education forms the core of the institution’s focus. The inmates do not attend special schools for the visually handicapped. They go to regular schools in the area such as the Maruthanamadum Ramanathan College for girls and Union College, Telipalai for boys.

The schools, besides allowing these children with special needs to use Braille offers them much the same facilities (or the lack of them) as it does other children; in other words they are shown no distinction, but encouraged to be part of the school as everyone else. However, education is one of the most important reasons why the children are encouraged to stay at Valvagham.

“We are displaced because of the war. I am at Valvagham because my parents want me to study and come up in life,” said Selvam Jeyaparathi (11), who was part of the exodus to the Vanni in 1995. Jeyaparathi who is an epileptic got an attack due to exposure and fatigue. There was no medical aid available and her optic nerve was affected. She is visually handicapped too.

The success of Valvagham in encouraging learning and instilling discipline that is required for academic excellence is seen by four youths, both boys and girls, from the institution following undergraduate courses at the University of Jaffna. But academic excellence is but a part of the enormous talent the resident’s at Valvagham display. Some of them are musically inclined, while others are gifted in the other arts.

Though superficially the lot of these children might appear better than the orphans who have no one to parents to turn to, the fact is it is not really so. Many of the inmates’ families have lost breadwinners that make them desperately poor so that a child at Valvagham means one mouth less to feed. In the case of others like Sujith, whose mother was killed, it leaves the home with an acute lack of the emotional support that is vital for viable family life.Similarly, atavistic and almost barbarous social beliefs in Jaffna, render the visually handicapped inauspicious and/or their families as objects of ridicule and exclusion. This forces parents to use the first available opportunity to palm off their children to a home or some other facility, which will relieve parents and families the anxieties of bringing up ‘special needs’ children.

The allocation of each child in Valvagham’s budget is Rs.300 per day, which goes for food, clothes, school requirements and extra-curricular activities such as music lessons. This works out approximately Rs.90, 000 per month for the 30 inmates. The single biggest block sum of money comes from the government that works out to Rs.300, per child, per month. In other words, the state looks after just three days of a child’s requirement in a month. The balance is from private generosity and goodwill.

The tragedy of the children’s lives will however need much more Rs.90, 000 a month. Some cases involve more than one in a family who is handicapped for life due to the war and its indescribable horrors.

Way back in 1994, Ravindrapalan, a fisherman from Gurnagar, brought home one day with his haul from the sea, a shiny rounded object. It was a present to his six children including Gnanaseelan, Lambert Ravindran and Marie Stella. Their mother who was reluctant to give the children what had lain so long in the sea, washed the object with soap and water to disinfect it before allowing the children play.The children rolled the spherically shaped article during their play. One afternoon coming home from school, they wanted to break the seashells they had collected. The shells had to be broken by dashing a heavy object on them. There was nothing else around, so Ravindran Lambert took the round heavy object they had played with in his little hand and brought it down with all his might on the shells. It exploded.

Lambert lost his hand and his sight partially, so did his elder brother Gnanaseelan due to the exploding mine. Marie Stella, hovering closest over the ‘plaything,’ lost sight of both her eyes completely. All had three had shrapnel and burn injuries all over their bodies. Incidentally, one of the other siblings, a one-year-old, was nearby too but escaped because she was crouching under a chair and the force of the blast moves upwards.

Marie Stella and Lambert were admitted into Valvagham in 1997, but Gnanaseelan came only in 2000. Though the two boys can still see, it is limited to recognising vague shapes and doctors say their sight continues to deteriorate. Marie Stella’s world is completely dark.“I do not mind my own condition, but I am worried about my sister – she has lost both her eyes,” said Gnanaseelan (15).

Marie Stella (12) is an active girl who when told about our photojournalist Buddhika Weerasinghe’s camera, held it to her eye and clicked. But all of a sudden she fell very, very silent.

“She is grieving about our eldest brother – he has gone to join the LTTE. She is very attached to him and took his departure badly,” confided Gnanaseelan.

The eldest boy had run away to join the LTTE in May 2002. Due to the entreaties of his parents he had returned to the family fold. But in September he went back – this time no entreaty could coax him away.

Marie Stella wants to become a teacher. She said, “Only the eldest of my brothers could see. He was studying; he could have helped us to study too. But now he is also not there for us…”

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