Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Comments on Expulsion of Jaffna Muslims - the Motive

by F. Justitia, Canada.

In reading the article by Dr. Sri Kantha on the motive for the expulsion of the Jaffna Muslims, I was reminded of an incident that took place one day in 1985/86. A young girl in her early twenties went to my house in Sillalai and narrated a tale of woe to my wife. Her story was very pathetic. She said she was from Batticaloa and her father, a labourer, and mother  have been killed by the SL Army during the 1983 riots. She and her four siblings had no means of livelihood there and, as such, with the help of neighbours, they had managed to find their way to Jaffna with the greatest difficulty and reached Pandateruppu.

Western Jaffna peninsula, showing High Security Zones in green & army camps in red. Sillalai is at the center top.

Since then the girl said she had been begging to sustain herself and her siblings. She has been getting help from the Sillalai Parish Priest and in 'fact,' he had recommended her to the Fatima Church Priest at Pandateruppu, who had allowed her to put up a small hut for them to live, in the church property there. In the meantime, her younger sister had attained age two days before and she did not even have extra clothes  to change. My wife got melted by the girl's story, as anyone else would have. Giving some reason, the girl declined any food. My wife gave a good saree for the girl's sister, clothes for the others and a fifty rupee note.  Although my wife had some doubts when she observed the girl playing with the fifty rupee note as if it was a plaything of not much value, it was only for a moment, and she sent her off with the request that she come at the end of every month so that she may help in whatever way possible.

Two days later, my wife met the Sillalai Parish Priest by chance and asked him about the lady he has recommended to the Pandateruppu Parish Priest. He at once denied having done so emphatically, saying, "No, no, I never referred anybody to the Pandateruppu Parish Priest, but I hear that a girl has gone to other houses also and repeated the same story. I am looking for her to ask about it and check her bona fides."

The aerial attacks in Sillalai on the second day after the girl's visit to our house passed off as a routine attack by the SLAF. But on the third day, the LTTE intercepted a VHF message and rushed in that direction towards Thiruvadinilai (Mathagal) beach and caught their quarry behind a bush in the act of communicating through VHF. It turned out to be the same girl with the 'heart-rending tale.'. The LTTE's interrogations revealed her true identity as a Muslim military intelligence operative of the SLA. After further inquiries and verifications on aerial attacks in the past few days in the neighbourhood, she paid with the supreme penalty at the Pandateruppu junction.

There is a strange phenomenon of the Sri Lankan Muslim factor. To my knowledge, nowhere else in the world do people identify themselves by their faith or religion, instead of by language or nationality. I have worked with Muslims of other countries. A Muslim from Tamil Nadu calls himself a Tamil, one from Kerala/Bangalore/Bombay calls one a Malayalee/Kannada/Hindi and so on. Moreover, Muslims living in different states in India, have assimilated with the rest in the respective states with regard to language, politics,culture, etc. But in Sri Lanka, inhabitants are classified as Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, the first two by language and the latter by religion, although the latter speak Tamil and their mother tongue is Tamil! A critical analysis of this phenomenon would be interesting.

Be that as it may, there have been many write ups in the past giving reasons and explanations for and against the expulsion of Muslim residents from Jaffna. It is easy to pass judgement now, after fifteen years of that painful episode and it is a fertile ground for chameleons and parasites, mentioned by Sachi, for whom writing is their bread and butter, to rub salt on a healing wound with sensational trash. On the contrary, the incident must be looked at in the proper perspectives with a balanced view.

The example of US President Roosevelt confining 120,000 US citizens of Japanese origin to internment camps at the height of  World War 2 may not hold much water since they were only placed in 'quarantine'  and not expelled wholesale from the US. And such confinement in the Jaffna situation could be said to be possible now, but it may not have been at that time (for a growing movement) due to the logistics involved and manpower requirements at the war fronts to halt the onslaught of enemy forces.

It could be asked whether such an extremely drastic measure, affecting a whole people for the opportunism of a few, was warranted. Though not nearly fully comparable, this was something like the ubiquitous road blocks and security checks which existed in Colombo before the signing of the CFA, affecting the entire Colombo population, in order to detect a few militants.

But then,  it was a war time measure when the foremost consideration was to throttle all forms of assistance and information passing to the enemy and, consequently some could say the 'end justifies the means' and a 'desperate situation needs a desperate remedy.'

Arguments for and against, like these, will go on endlessly. But how is it going to help in the present context of sad memories slowly fading and genuine attempts being made at reconciliation and resettlement? Now is the time for all right thinking people to strengthen such attempts in order to restore harmony and better understanding.