by K. Mylvaganam
I have just returned after being in Vanni for four months. I have come back with mixed feelings. I am overjoyed by noting the positive changes and the peaceful atmosphere that is prevailing there but sad enough in noting the dreadful poverty prevailing among the people in Vanni. Since I had lot of time to move closely with people from all walks of life I was able to feel the pulse of varied type of people both living there permanently and those who visit Vanni on business.
To start with the positive changes I may point out the proper place the working class has been given in Vanni. There may be two reasons for it. One is that there is a grave shortage for the work force. It is extremely difficult to get someone even to do an odd job at home. For example I was trying to get our barbed wire fence repaired. It took me two weeks of waiting before two young men to do that job for me. This applies to all type of work. A severe shortage for work force is prevailing there. This includes not only manual labour but also all categories of workers like masons, carpenters, engineers, doctors, managers, teachers etc. etc. The other reason for the respect given to workers is the attitude of the management existing in Vanni. Irrespective of whether the person is a manual worker or a technically qualified person they are treated alike.
The police talk to you politely, the officers in government institutions are, receptive, respectful and nice to you. The people in general are also friendly to each other. The shops have their shelves filled. Only petrol is in short supply due to the restricted supply from the south. Hence most of the vehicles either run on petrol or on duel fuel - mixture of Petrol and Kerosene. Lot of building activities are going on. The consumption rate has gone up since I was there a year back.
The other reason is the way it is managed. There is no corruption even in the lowest ranks. To give an example my wife and I went into a hotel - Seran - for lunch. The girl who waited on us politely turned down the tip offered by me. This applies to all works of life in Vanni.
The police for example are very polite and courteous but they are strict in their own way. You had it even if you talk about bribery. So don't get ideas if you were to get caught even for speeding. One day I seem to have driven my vehicle at 45 km.p.h where the speed limit is 40. The police officer gave me a ticket for Rs.250.00. But he did it with an apologetic smile on his face and I did not grudge in paying that fine because I was impressed with his attitude and behaviour though it was annoying I admit. There is fair play and justice in every field. The judiciary is functioning exceptionally well. They celebrated their tenth anniversary of the judicial system on 14.09.03. There is no partiality shown to any one. The cases are heard in open court except in certain sensitive cases like a divorce case. Even there the parties are first heard in the chamber and given a stipulated time to think it over. Even if one of the parties insisted for the case to be heard in an open court then it is allowed as requested. I shall write more about it in my next insertion.
Plenty of new shops have come up. For example there were only two small tea kiosks in the vicinity of the Murugandy Temple twenty-five years back. But I was surprised to note that there exist nearly thirty shops now. Even the local co-operative society has put up one. Their plain tea that cost me Rs.3.00 was exceptionally good. Further, parking of vehicles became such a big problem, that the police have marked out special places for parking the vehicles. The town of Kilinochchi too is heavily packed with vehicles. Motor cycles are plenty. One has to be extra cautious while crossing the road.
The negative side of the situation in Vanni is the manner in which the vehicles are driven. The drivers have no civic sense and they will not hesitate to over take you if they find some space on the wrong side even. A motorcyclist darting out of a side lane on to the main road is a normal occurrence. I spent more time on the horn and brakes than on the accelerator. Pedestrians have no respect for the traffic either. If someone wants to cross a road he or she will simply cross over without paying any heed to the on coming vehicle. Such an incident happened to me too once. A man in his twenties walked coolly right across the vehicle I was driving. I had to stand on my brakes and sound my horn. When my vehicle pulled by his side I asked him "do you want to commit suicide"? To this he just smiled and walked away. I started to wonder why our people are behaving like the way they do now. Those days we showed a lot of respect for the traffic and practised great amount of road courtesy. I felt that there exists the "Law of the Jungle". I posed this question to a senior police inspector.
He said "Aiyah, for the past two decades the people in Vanni have got used to living in a "vehicle free" atmosphere. Due to the severe embargo on fuel, imposed by the government of Sri Lanka there was hardly any vehicle on the road. The tractors too were garaged and the bulls replaced them. Now suddenly there is an influx of vehicles and the people are finding it difficult in getting used to this sudden change. So we have to give them the time necessary for them to get used to it. And that is why we imposed the speed limit to 30 km/hr which has since been increased to 40 km/hr". Then only it dawned on me that, we the Tamil Diaspora who are used to the fast lanes, motor ways, traffic signals, pedestrian crossings etc. expect miracles to happen in Vanni. It is not them but we have to be patient until they get acclimatised to the changing environment.
New hotels, restaurants and lodges have propped up. Many more are being constructed. The A-9 Lodge had only lodging facility when I visited Vanni in September last year. I wrote about it in my article "Trip to Vanni Part I". Now they have introduced a top class restaurant by its side. When I visited it one evening with a friend of mine I was really bewildered at its layout and its looks. There is a beautiful fountain, well lit, in the centre with a rocky touch in it. It is surrounded with small round shaped huts. It reminded me of the holiday sites in the Spanish and Hawaiian Islands. One could order any western or Indian food and while waiting for it order either an appetiser or sip an icy cold beer - or both if you are game for it.
Since it is in the open you also enjoy the cool breeze and they do not levy any charge for it. I would suggest you go slow or rather very slow on the beer and the appetiser as the food is specially being cooked for you on your order and it takes time - a lot of time. Unless you look out you will be too drunk to eat the food that gets served at last.
I will strongly recommend to anyone a voyage to Kilinochchi. I can assure you that you will not regret it. You should take your family with you. The children are sure to enjoy it. But book your hotel room well in advance. I will give more and detailed information about it in my next article.
Section II of Part III will follow soon.
from Circle Digest Oct. 13, 2003 #3235
Posted October 15, 2003