By Hilmy Ahamed –
A Tamil saying goes thus “Stealing the neighbour’s chicken for the mother’s almsgiving“.
President Sirisena in his total betrayal of the Muslims did just that with one stroke of his pen from Moscow on 24th March, 2017, when he signed the gazette notification declaring Mavillu, Weppal, Karadikkuli, Marichchikadi and Vilaththikulam forests as Mawillu Forest Reserve under 3A of the Forest Conservation Ordinance. He satisfies his ego and is pampering to extremist Buddhists by taking over Muslim agricultural lands, which have belonged to them for generations.
Rishard Bathiudeen, the current Minster of Industry and Commerce and leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress crossed over with his party members in November 2014 to the Opposition and supported Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate of the Opposition at the Presidential Elections in January 2015. His crossover was with two Parliamentarians, 4 Provincial Council Members, 63 Pradeshiya Sabha members, totaling 69 elected representatives. No other member crossing over brought in so many elected representatives to the common opposition against Mahinda Rajapaksa. Its time for Rishard Bathiudeen and other Muslim political leaders to rethink their support for Yahapalanaya, without sticking to their selfish motives of perks and privileges. They should reconsider their support for Yahapalanaya, not because the IDPs who are being discriminated against are Muslim, but the injustice meted out to a group of innocent Sri Lankan citizens. I also remind here that these people were ousted from their homes as they refused to join the LTTE in their cause, and stood for one Sri Lanka. No other community who was not part of the warring factions had to pay such a heavy price.
Rishard had one simple request- that a Government elected under Maithripala Sirisena would ensure the right of his people to return to their former lands and to treat the Northern Muslims as equal citizens in the Northern resettlement process.
The brutal terrorist force of Velupillai Prabhaharan, the fascist leader of the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE), forcibly evicted the entire Muslim population of the North in 1990 in the biggest ethnic cleansing exercise in Sri Lanka. Some were given 24 hours to leave while the others had just two hours. They left minus all their assets, cash, and wealth as they were allowed to take with them just Rs. 500.
They trekked through jungle, took risks with tiny boats in the mighty ocean, and walked hundreds of kilometers to reach safety in Puttlam and other parts of Southern Sri Lanka. They have been languishing in refugee camps for over 25 years with dreams of returning to their former homes and lands. To this day, the Government has treated them as a “FORGOTTEN PEOPLE”.
The Muslims were forced to abandon their lands with their eviction in 1990 and there was obvious jungle growth in the 25 years of their displacement. The LTTE and the Army which occupied thousands of acres of farm land did not allow the Muslims to go to their lands until the end of the war in 2009. With the resettlement of the entire 300,000 Tamil Internally Displaced Population by 2013, the Government under Basil Rajapaksa’s Presidential Task force for Northern Development started allocating 1/2 acre of land to the Muslim IDPs. The local government officials in the districts undertook this task, fulfilling all necessary Government criteria for resettlement, but no infrastructure or other support was provided to them. Some benevolent Sri Lankan Muslims and a foundation from Qatar build some houses, but there were no schools, health facilities, or transport provided by the State.
Extremist Buddhists, with the jubilation of winning the war in 2009 started targeting the Muslims. They started with Halal food, attacking their businesses and the resettlement of the Muslim IDPs. They found a willing ally in Mahinda Rajapaksa with his deep-rooted racism and hatred of the Muslims when he lost the Presidential elections.
The Buddhist extremists led by some monks started a campaign along with some Environmentalists to halt the resettlement or allocating the former Muslim lands back to them. Now, they have found a new ally in Maithripala Sirisena.
The forest reserve controversy started with the prospect of a humiliating defeat at the 2012 Provincial Council Elections, upsetting the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his fascist regime. They foresaw the damning defeat of the Sinhala backed politics in the North to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Due to this, with a single stroke of Anura Priyadhashana Yapa’s pen, thousands of acres of Northern arable lands were declared as forest reserves or watershed areas. This included thousands of Muslim lands in the Mannar District in the Musali South. This was mainly done to prevent the Northern Provincial council having jurisdiction over vast tracks of arable land.
While the President has declared Muslim lands as a forest reserve with the stroke of his pen, there has been organized colonization along the Wilpattu Reserve on the Welioya road by Sinhalese from Hambantota and families of armed forces personnel. The following are the available statistics for the Sinhala settlements:
1 Veratenna – 520 families
2. Bogaswewa 1- 500 families
3. Bogaswewa 2 -560 families
4. Namalgama – 470 families
5. Senaleenigama – 450 families
6. Nandamitragama -360 families
There are no protests or challenges by the Environmentalists or the President for clearing thousands of acres of virgin forestland for the resettlement of the above. None of these settlers are from the area. These 2860 families who have been settled in these new townships have been provided with three acres of land each compared to the half an acre for the Muslims. From where did the land for these settlers come? Large extents of jungle and forest reservations have been cleared and handed over for their resettlement, grants and allowances disbursed, and all other facilities including schooling have been provided by the State. Neither land kacheries were held nor deforestation undertaken with proper approvals. It is also alleged that the Army built the houses for these alien settlers from Hambantota, Suriyawewa and elsewhere. Further, over 500 acres of these lands has been taken over by the Navy and are planting cashew nuts. Derana TV’s Health camp of 25th March 2017 (Manushath Derena) showed visuals of a large road built across this virgin forest territory. The highly developed infrastructure including schools, hospitals etc., in the once virgin forest is evidence of the destruction that was caused to this land by Sinhala settlers from the southern most part of the country. Our Environmentalist President, the racist Buddhist monks and the terror Environmental organizations are blind to these developments.
There are 21 Muslims in the current Parliament. The Muslim community expects them to act without compromising the land rights of these Forgotten people.