Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Farmers in Vanni

by LTTE Peace Secretariat, September 11, 2008

The Sri Lanka military regularly fires artillery shells into the rice fields to stop farmers working on their land...

On the day when we visited Meena’s farm a spy plane was hovering over her farm that is entirely capable of picking out the farmers busy with harvesting. Yet, shells fell inside the paddy fields regularly.

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, …whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.  (Fourth Geneva Convention, Protocol I, Article 54) [ -- Sangam Ed. Comm.]

The sudden displacement in Vanni forced many farmers to abandon their cultivation, effectively forcing them to give up a relatively large investment. Indeed, farmers from Nedunkerni, a good soil for vegetable farming, have lost lives to claymore attacks while attempting to salvage some of their farm produce. Rice farmers have lost lives to shelling while trying to harvest the rice. This report on the situation of a woman farmer in Akkarayan in Kilinochchi best exemplifies their plight.

 

Meena Rasenthiran, a ?? years old widow with six children from Akkarayan in Kilinochchi, farms 10 acres of rice fields. She was born and bred in Akkarayan and inherited her farm from her parents who settled in Akkarayan 70 years ago. Living in the same village for 70 years is significant in an area where the majority of the people have displaced several times. The rice farming has been the livelihood of her family which she has continued after the death of her husband.

Her farm and all the rice fields in Vanni are presently in the harvesting phase and the displaced farmers who have displaced but are near enough to their farms are making every effort to harvest. Meena too is displaced from Akkarayan but she is also trying to do the same. At other times she would hire farm hands to help her out for the season. But she faces problems this season.

The Sri Lanka military regularly fires artillery shells into the rice fields to stop farmers working in their land. On 8 August, a farmer was injured in Akkarayan. On the same day, one farmworker was killed in Kumulamunai in Mullaithivu and another one was injured. As a result, farm workers are demanding very high rate which Meena cannot afford. She has therefore got together with her neigbouring farmers and they are assisting each other to harvest their fields.

The traditional practice is, to harvest, then to separate the grain from the stalks, then to pack the hay, and only then to transport the two separately. Otherwise a lot of grain is lost during transport. However, due to the fear of shelling Meena and all the other farmers are harvesting and then transporting which they consider to be better than losing their entire harvest. Even while they harvest, they have to run for cover several times during the day when the Sri Lanka military starts shelling.

On the day when we visited Meena’s farm a spy plane was hovering over her farm that is entirely capable of picking out the farmers busy with harvesting. Yet, shells fell inside the paddy fields regularly. Meena said that three days earlier her farm was bombed and five expensive cows were killed. These cows could be seen lying dead in the farm because no one dared to risk their lives to remove the carcasses. Dogs could be seen eating them.

Meena’s own words:

“Our lives are bunker lives for sometime now. The other day we were eating whenthe bombers came. We left the food and ran to the bunker. When we returned the dogs were eating the food. We were in no mood to cook again so we went hungry. We have never experienced shelling before yet I thought I will manage without displacing but I could not.”

At this time shells started to fall and she told everyone to seek safety. After a while everyone who was working returned to the harvesting.

“When the bombers came three days ago 25 of us were working. I do not know why they bombed this farm because they could have easily seen that we were harvesting."