by K. Mylvaganam
I have visited Vanni thrice in the course one year. My first visit in September/October 2002 lasted for only two weeks. The second trip in January/February 2003 extended for four weeks and my last trip (May to September) gave me the opportunity to be there for four months. Actually it was during the last visit that I was able to feel the pulse of the system of governance, the thoughts, feelings and wishes of the people quite closely.
I should say at the outset that my observations are not necessarily be 100% correct and I do stand to be corrected. I will be a hypocrite if I were to emphasise that my observations and the information are undoubtedly true. It is quite possible I may have misunderstood it in full or partly and made wrong conclusions in my inferences. The sources I talked to may have had a hidden agenda, which I may have not grasped properly. I might not have read between lines. But I wish to underline one thing that whenever I had the slightest doubt on a particular matter I dropped it completely in order to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused.
We, my wife and I spent most of our time both in Puthukudiyiruppu and Kilinochchi. First two months we were in Puthukudiyiruppu and the last two in Kilinochchi. We took two short trips to Jaffna each extending only for two days. The reason I am sorry to say is that we have only two people known to us left in Jaffna. The rest of our relatives have either died or moved out to Colombo or overseas. It was really hurting to miss those who were once near and dear to us.
Even though I had personal interest in Kilinochchi yet I prefer Puthukudiyiruppu for its climate, relaxed atmosphere and the people are very friendly. On the contrary life in Kilinochchi is terribly hectic, lot of traffic and people are always on the run. Here again I should admit that some of my friends in Kilinochchi would never agree to stay in Puthukudiyiruppu as it is too boring for them. Hence this is a matter that depends on the tastes of the individuals. But when it comes to climate Puthukudiyiruppu is definitely much cooler. This may be because the houses are situated in large compounds. Each house is built in units of a minimum of one acre or (16 larchams). And the compounds are filled with huge trees such as mango, Jack and Nim (Vembu). This provides lots of shade and contributes to the cool atmosphere prevailing there. And Mullaitivu, which borders the Bay of Bengal, is close by. This brings the cool breeze I guess. In Kilinochci too the early mornings and evenings are very nice. There is a tank near the "Tank View Guest House" called the Kannakai Amman tank. Its massive bund runs from west to east. My wife and I make it a point to take a stroll on it daily in the mornings. It is extremely rejuvenating. The rising sun with all its colours mesmerises everybody. A cool breeze that blows from the south takes away the heat of the morning sun. Even though the 40-minute walk tires you a bit yet quite paradoxically you feel refreshed. Instead one could walk up to the Iranamadu tank which is only about 4 km from the "Guest-House". But I would not recommend this as the road is laid with gravel and the vehicles that pass by at terrific speed will coat you with lot of dust.
Now let me come to my experiences with the system and the people in Vanni. By system I refer to the authority in power that is the L.T.T.E that is running a parallel government to that of the Sri Lankan. At the outset I should say that everything is not rosy there. But show me a government that is completely rosy anywhere else in this world. Taking the negative side first I may start with the lack of management techniques in the different establishments. Punctuality is unheard of in that area. When it comes to lack of punctuality I think it is applicable not only to the Tiger-controlled area, but also to the entire Sri Lanka. This is a trait among us in general. I could quote one striking example. We have some lands in Kilinochchi inherited from my beloved father. Due to the war that prevailed there I could not go to Kilinochchi for over twenty years. The person (Rangan) who was looking after this land seems to have taken it for granted that we would never return. He sold a portion of it to one Mr.Veeran. Rangan even had the audacity to approach the L.T.T.E. as well, asking them whether they would buy a portion of my land. The L.T.T.E personnel were not aware then that this land belonged to me. But they were only too willing to buy it as it was situated in a central place quite close to the Peace Secretariat, where S.P.Thamilchelvan has his office. Rangan was asked to bring the deed for the property and he never went back because the deeds were with me. In the meantime Mr.Veeran had begun constructing a 1000 sq.ft concrete house in my property. It had come up to lintel level by the time I went there. I got an injunction from the Tamil Eelam court for him to stop construction until the hearing was over. I got an approved valuation officer from the "Prathesa Sabai" (the local body) to value his construction and received a report saying that the building would have cost him Rs.150,000.00. But Veeran demanded Rs.375,000.00 Hence this was taken to courts. One day I was asked to appear in courts at 9.00 a.m., for the hearing. I was there precisely at 9.00 a.m. and waited and waited. At 12.30 p.m. I was asked to come back at 2.00 p.m. Nothing happened until 4.00 p.m. when the clerk of the house informed me to come on the following day. This made me furious. When I asked why, I was told that the judge has not turned up. I told the clerk that I lived in Puthukudiyiruppu, which is 45 km away from Kilinochchi and it was not possible for me to travel that far without knowing whether the case would be heard on the following day even. I demanded that they arrange me a place to stay overnight. The poor clerk did not know what to say. He went in and returned with a gleaming face to inform me that the third judge had just arrived and that they were willing to conduct the hearing. During the hearing I refused to pay even a cent to Veeran as compensation as he constructed the house in my property without my consent and the land did not belong to him anyway. I submitted the deed for perusal. But it was ruled that I should either pay Rs.150,000.00 or let him remove the building as demanded by him and that he should vacate the land. Hence I had to very reluctantly let him remove the building including the foundation. Initially I was very hurt that the ruling appeared as if it was in his favour, but later I realised that justice was done and it was done in nobody's favour. One plus point in this matter is that, even though the time was nearly 4.30 p.m. when the third judge arrived, yet the case was heard simply because of the fact both myself and the defendant had waited the whole day for them. Normally the sessions close at 4.30 p.m. That amount of flexibility was very much appreciated by me and it cooled down my temper, too.
I gave the details of the case because I thought there might be some of you out there who have similar problems. I will be only too happy to share my experiences in detail if any one of you needs me. In fact I have one more case pending to be heard soon. But my point was to show the lack of punctuality.
However, again in favour of the judge I must add that the judge seemed to have been in Puthukudiyiruppu the previous day at the court there. The vehicle he came in, an old motorcycle, broke down on the way and being Vanni there was no way for him to contact his office. He had to wait several hours before he got a lift from a lorry that passed by.
There were several instances where the management skill is in short supply. I can come out with several examples, but I do not wish to bore you. However, when I discussed it with some of their top brasses they were quick to accept it. The reason is that they do not have qualified personnel in Vanni to manage things efficiently for them. They are prepared to pay the same salary if not a little more than what the SL govt. pays for graduates. But our Tamil graduates are unwilling to work in Vanni as there is no electricity, fear of mosquitoes and life in bigger cities is more eventful for them. In order to get over this problem they are inviting management experts to come over to Vanni and train their existing staff. I was able to note a positive change towards this. I met a couple, Dr.Kumar and his wife, who are both experts in this field staying at the "Guest House" with us. They run a Management Institute in the country they live in. They have come on a two-week holiday to train the L.T.T.E. personnel who are in the executive positions. Yesterday I received an email from them stating that they are to visit Vanni again for one week in December. I only wish that there will be many more volunteers of the calibre of this couple.
The third negative aspect is with the customs officers appointed by the LTTE at the checkpoints at Omanthai and Muhamalai. Not only they are very lethargic in dealing with the passengers but are not quite polite, as one would expect of them to be. Let me quote an example. We were returning from Jaffna and at Muhamalai checkpoint two girls from the LTTE customs got into our vehicle. They appeared to be in a mighty hurry. "Right, right, open your baggage" (sari sari pettiyalai thiravungo) was the order. When one of them rushed towards a cardboard box I shouted at her not to touch it as we had a statue of Mahathma Gandhi. My father bought it in India in 1940. It is very delicate and fragile. I opened it for her and told her who it was. I was flabbergasted, when she asked me, "Who is this? Is he your relation?" I asked her, "Have you never been to school"? She did not expect such a reaction from me, perhaps, and said, "You may pack up and go." It took me some time to come back to my senses. When I took this up with a senior person from the customs in Kilinochchi, he apologised profusely and said that those are boys and girls with very little education and, however much they are told to behave, they find it difficult to follow the directions given to them. The worst part is that they cannot take any disciplinary action against them, as it is extremely difficult to replace them. I felt awful to have been harsh with those girls.
Another negative factor is that the Tamil Diaspora who visits Vanni is exempted from paying tax for most of the things they take with them. But the locals do not get any exemption at all. This is causing much displeasure among the locals. I do not disagree with the imposition of tax. The LTTE do need the funds - a lot of it - to manage their day to day affairs as they are running a parallel government and funds are a must. But my point is that the Tamils who return from abroad should also be taxed in the same way. In fact we, the Tamil Diaspora, can afford to pay the taxes more than most of the locals, who are not as affluent as we are.
The positive sides are plenty. There is honesty prevailing in every sphere of life. Have we heard of an honest police force in any part of the world? You find them in Vanni. When they visit you on official business they politely turn down even a cup of tea when offered to them. Anybody, whether rich or poor, boy or girl can walk into a police station without any fear and are treated with respect. They, of course, do not wear the fearsome-looking khaki uniform. Instead they go around sporting a light blue pilot shirt and dark trousers. Both the girls and the boys look really smart in that uniform. But they are strict when it comes to doing their duty. I was once caught for speeding and had to cough out Rs.250.00. I seem to have driven at 45 in a 40km zone. For all that the officer who charged me knew me well. But of course apologised profusely and did his job with a smile on his face - great kid he is.
If we take the judiciary there again, honesty and fair play are given prominence. The judges are quite young, but they discharge their duties efficiently and swiftly. In the case of my land dispute it took only 6 weeks for them to dispose it with only three hearings. The judges do not wear the traditional headgear. But the solicitors come in the traditional black cloak. I wish they could do away with that too - why follow the British tradition? The tenth anniversary of their judiciary fell on 14.09.03. It was on that day, they laid the foundation for the Law College building. Within this ten years there were 24,000 cases filed with the judiciary and they have dealt with and sentences delivered for 19,800 cases. That is how they expedite cases. A land case like that of mine would have taken years before it was closed in the Sri Lankan courts. The interesting and impressive part is that there were only 5%, nearly 1000 appeals against their decisions. Out of these, almost 50% of the cases were upheld by the appeal court, and the rest were in the favour of the appellants.
When you walk into any public office, you are treated with respect and your errand is attended to quite swiftly. It is quite easy to meet any officer without much delay. In fact I wanted to meet the government agent one day. I went to a clerk and told him my intentions and he pointed at a door and told me to walk in. It was simple as that.
As I said earlier there is a dearth and shortage of people with experience in Vanni. If there is anyone who is willing to go there and spend at least 3 to 4 weeks he or she will be doing a great service for our people.
Posted November 3, 2003