A team of concern citizens visited Mullikulam people who are now living at Marichchikattu village at Musoli. We were not able to trust our eyes. Are we visiting the so called resettled Mullikulm people or a place where a pilgrims at various religious places living under trees when they visit those places. Is this a true picture of the situation of our fellow citizens who are resettled in many parts of the country. We overheard, one FM radio had broadcasted that Mullikulam people has been resettled with the government mediation. Is this the resettlement of the war affected people of our country.? It is important to see the realities of the resettlement schemes of the country as there is a big voice of high recognition of the resettlement schemes by various diplomats and foreign delegates who visited the resettled communities.
The Mullikulam village is located at Musoli D.S. division, in Mannar district in the northern province of Sri Lanka. The first settlers of Mullikulam village were living since 1800 A.D. They are 100% Tamil by ethnicity and Catholics as their religious background. People were living with agriculture and fishing for their livelihood. People have permanent deeds for agriculture lands mainly paddy field up to 1200 acres of land within the village. They were rain fed by 5 tanks and water provided with major irrigation scheme with one tank in the village. Fishing was the other major occupation for most of the villages. The 3 decades elongated brutal war caused serious damage to Mullikulam community's social, economic, cultural, environmental and political rights seriously.
What has happened during the past 2 decades?
First time in the history, Mullikulam people were became displace in 1990. They were displaced till 2002 until the MOU the peace agreement signed between GOSL and LTTE. They were able to live in their village only 5 years and they became displaced again in 2007. When the final war began, military approached the people and said to vacate their homes immediately and without carrying anything. The promise was given to them that they will be returned home within 3 days and no need to bring anything belong to them. On the 7th September 2007, they vacated their houses with empty hands and were living in many places around Mannar nearly 5 years now. There were more than 400 families living in Mullikulam when they were evicted. Most of them were living in Thalvupadu, Valkeipetrankandal, Thalaimannar, Nanattam, Madukkarai, and also at Mannar town for the period. They were attempted to get back to their own houses with the support of Bishop of Mannar, parish priest of Silavaturai and other priests of the diocese, many other officials including district secretary, divisional secretary and navy area commanders etc. Finally, Bishop of Mannar together with other bishops approached the President and expected to find a solution. However, according to the villages whom the NAFSO team met at Mullikulam, there was no positive response except the secretary to the defense ministry had agreed to visit the place and find a solution. That was the time of February 2012 and till today there is no substantial response received by the community.
Why there is no resettlement for Mullikulam People?
In Mullikulam area, there is a proposal to establish a naval base which needs 1000 hectares as Ravaya news paper reported. However, the demand of the people was very reasonable.
"Let the military use our land even we have our land titles to those lands. After using the required area they can allow us to live in our village. As much as we can, we live in the remaining homes", says a community leader prefer to be unknown. The reason behind why the authorities do not allow people to get back to their original village is not known and not revealing.
Mullikulam people expected to celebrate their church feast in September last year with the permission of the authorities. At the beginning it was permitted though in a later stage this was not allowed claiming with security reasons. So this is clearly violation of the socio, cultural, economic and environmental rights of the people. At the end, the only time they got the opportunity to have a mass was to celebrate the first holy mass of the village priest who was ordained recently.
What way the people attempted to regain their own Land?
Millikulam people had attempted many ways to regain their land and homes back which was not successful. They approached all possible politician including the president, also approached all possible government officials including GA of Mannar, DS of Musoli, Navy commanders in the district, secretary of defense ministry, UNHCR, and church leaders. They organized peaceful march in Mannar town, attended many of the meetings in the south to express their grievances and seek the assistance from the southern brothers and sisters concern.
However, there was no single response received from the authorities giving signal to resettle in their own village. How long do they continue this pathetic life? They had approached Bishop of Mannar and through him the GA of Mannar and other higher officials to find a solution. What the response they received from the authorities were, "Mullikulam people will be out of their original places."
But no substantial reason given them for the decision behind that. In the mean time, those people were permitted to go to neighboring village. In a meeting the additional GA of Mannar expressed, "Mullikkulam people can go and resettle near Mullikkulam."
After long attempts, people are tired with all the burdens. They have made their minds to face the situation and had decided to go back to nearer village of Mullikulam which is Manangkadu and Periyakulam. However, so far they were not allowed to settle the place where they expected. Rather they are now living under the trees of thick forest in Marichchikattu with elephants and other wild life.
The final solution: People agreed to settle in neighboring village of Manangkadu
"There was no any other choice for us other than to come to this place. We can't be a burden to the families who were helping us for more than 5 years and decided to settle at this place last Friday, 15th June. We need to build our lives again after 30 years. So, we decided to come to Marichchikattu at this point with the aim of settle at Manangkadu village which is adjacent village of Mullikulam." Said another community leader who was also preferred to be un known due to understandable reasons.
There were 80 families with 125 households settled [under trees] even without a tent usually provided by the UNHCR for such displaced communities in the past. By now there are 145 families with 285 households come to the Marichchikattu jungle and stayed without any facilities.
"Mosquitoes are everywhere and no sleep in the night on one hand. On the other hand the wild elephants everywhere. We do not have any peaceful life though we came to sacrifice our lives for the future of the children. Unless we come with these difficulties, we may not get anywhere to settle after this. We are fear of losing everything" says Winifreeda Cross, a fisher woman who is belong to the first batch of the settlers in the village.
How do they survive without having any protection is one of the issue to address. Navy is helping them though they need protection from wild animals including mosquitoes.
"We are really unfortunate people. The UNHCR expected a signature from the Musoli DS to provide their assistance. But, he refused to sign the letter saying we are by passed him and gone to higher authorities and other people. What can we do? We approach anyone who can help us. Our own DS is treating to us like this." A community member stated.
People are living under the trees even without a tent to cover their heads. How long SL citizens, authorities, politicians can forget and keep blind eye to this community's sufferings. This is a million rupees question among us.
What is the Southern religious leader's response to the situation?
"I was shocked to see this situation. I am a sinner to see all these sufferings of the people here in Mullikulam. What is the crime these people committed to live under the trees like animals?. All these people are brothers and sisters of our society. We all have serious responsibility to see the situation critically and to help them. We should be shame to see these people living like this. They should get back their village...what will not be happened in future when they live here by seen their properties (houses, paddy lands and also the sea) in the hand of Navy"
Rev. Buddhiyagama Chandrarathana thero who was a member of the field team shared his utter frustration with us.
However, there is a serious question remains among us at this point. People were given the area where the land belong to forest department. Also, the land people claim for their settlements are buffer zone which part of the land belong to forest department as narrated by the community members. There should be a clearance of forest department to settle those people, unless there will be another displacement of those wearied people for several displacements.
The Navy, which control the area allowed the people to go to Mullikkulam Church and to engage in fishing activities in the sea. But people cannot go to sea as they need to start from zero their livelihoods. When they were evicted from the village, they were informed not to carry anything and vacate the village within 24 hours. All the fishing gears were left behind along with their other belongings. So, today once they have the opportunity to go back to sea, there is nothing left with them.
"Fishing is our main occupation and we want to go back to the sea for fishing. But, we need basic equipments to begin our livelihoods. We do not have even a net or a catamaran to go to the sea. So, we expect some assistance to revive our livelihoods." Says Mr. Francis Joseph a fisherman leader in Mullikulam community.
Also the frustrated voices of the youth in the community says something important message to the whole society. When the cultivable land is there in the village with the extent of 1200 acres of paddy land these people are going behind various people like beggars. What is the justice we expect from this society?
" They have captured our paddy fields, our fishing equipments, our coast and anchorage point. We do not have any income. We are jobless and surviving in hungry. Those are our properties. What is the reason for not allow to do our own occupation? What is the crime we committed?"
A youth spoke with us with anger and hate. We cannot imagine where this anger will be anchored ultimately. This is how the normal people feel on their own situation.
During this resettlement process, Thottaveli parish priest Rev. Neru, and Silavaththurai Parish Priest Rev. Rasanayagam, NASFO district coordinator of Sunesh Cross were with the community all the time. They have helped the people from the time they arrived to the place and till now.
However, these people are living without any basic facilities up to now. Navy had put up two toilets and has provided one water tank which filled with drinking water on daily basis. So, these people request to help for building their livelihood again so they need Fishing boats, Nets, Engines, Lamps, Water cans, mosquito nets, dry rations, kerosene and other basic materials for living etc..
"We cannot imagine why these people cannot allow to go back to their own village with houses and all the basic facilities there. It is unbearable discrimination without any reason they were not allowed to return their original places. Government should think twice before they implement this type of decisions with the people who were badly affected by a brutal war. They should also be gained the dividends of peace in the country as proclaimed by the politicians and people always."
Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda, a human rights activist stated with the team.
Mullikulam people are also citizens of Sri Lanka and they should have a space for live in peace and harmony in the country. We are talking of reconciliation in the country. There are number of recommendations. The Secretary to the president had mentioned that they will implement the recommendations fully as reported Ravaya news paper on 18th June.
We are awaiting to see better future for SL citizens through understanding and close cooperation among the communities. Will these actions of authorities allow this to happen? What way the Sri Lankan society can help to those affected people this is one clear example of such difficulties.
Herman Kumara, Convener, NAFSO after field visit at Mullikulam community on 18th June, 2012.