jaffna_280Jaffna, the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, is inhabited primarily by Tamils, most of which are Hindus, with a few Christians and small number of Muslims. After Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948, the relationship between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils worsened. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (commonly known as the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers) was founded in May 1976 as a separatist militant organisation fighting for the creation of an independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for Tamil people. This campaign evolved into the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ran from 1983 until 2009.

During the war, insurgent uprising, military occupation, extensive damage, expulsion and depopulation have marred life in Jaffna. The city was partially destroyed and the majority of the population fled to avoid death. In 1986 Jaffna came under the full control of the LTTE, but in 1995 the Sri Lankan military ousted the Tamil Tigers after a 50-day siege and have stayed in control ever since. The city remains under military authority even now. The army is omnipresent: there are approximately 45,000 soldiers in Jaffna, while the civil population is only 10 times bigger.

Jaffna town and its environs are paradoxical. By day, they are bustling. Electricity has been partially restored, markets have opened (they now have a supermarket), there are traders from the south, there is petrol and kerosene to pump. But at night, Jaffna is like a ghost town with a self-imposed curfew on the local inhabitants, who dare not venture out as soldiers take up positions at street corners. It’s even more eerie in the countryside with people locking themselves in, anxiously awaiting daybreak.

In 2009, the A-9 highway (the main road in the North) reopened, allowing refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) to return to their homes. But the returning population creates complications: most of the refugees and the IDPs who lost their homes during the war are not able to claim land. Consequently, they are forced to live in shelters on the outskirts of town in horrible conditions (no electricity or water, and unsanitary conditions that lead to recurrent illnesses such as tuberculosis, typhoid and Dengue fever). The humanitarian aid on the ground is very limited and social welfare is non-existent.

Today Tamils and Muslims have great difficulty earning a living. And Tamils live under significant restrictions, limiting cultural expression as well as social freedom. The Sri Lankan government seems unwilling to improve their quality of life. Its latent indifference only increases the ongoing injustices and makes the future of these communities very uncertain. I believe it is crucial to see what’s behind the façade. The Sri Lankan government tells one side of the story, their side of course. When President Rajapakse says “Sri Lanka is The Wonder of Asia”, is he talking about the unpunished crimes and the atrocious result of the civil war for Tamils? I wonder…

I would like to thank Thiru for his support and Rajeevan for his precious help in the field.

Jeremy Suyker