The protest has been going on for more than two weeks. Women have taken action on behalf of 84 families displaced during the country’s civil war. Children are losing days at school. A group of Catholics and activists brings solidarity and reassurance. For one priest, "these women are not like us men. They will not give up until the government meets their demands."
Colombo (AsiaNews) – A group of courageous Tamil women has occupied an area in front of an army base and refuses to leave until they get back the land taken from them during the country’s civil war. Speaking to AsiaNews, they said "we are tired with suffering and forced displacement."
They launched their peaceful protest (sathayagrah) on 31 January after President Maithripala Sirisena cancelled a visit to the area, scheduled for 25 January. They have with them their children who are missing out on school. They have taken this action on behalf of 84 families living in Pillavukudirippu, Mullaitivu district.
During almost three decades of civil war between Sri Lanka’s armed forces and Tamil Tiger rebels, many local residents were forced to flee. Their homes, land and properties were confiscated by the military and have been occupied for years by the Air Force.
For the past seven years, the displaced have been demanding the return of their land. After they were forced out, they have been living in a makeshift village called Keppapilavu without adequate services.
Yesterday, the Mullaitivu District Secretary visited the area and invited the women to stop their protest whilst announcing talks on the issue in question. The Tamil women turned down the request, saying "We are tired of statements."
Most women lost their husbands during the war and are now left with children to raise. For the past two weeks, the children have not been to school.
One girl, Yalinin, said that she and her sister have not been attending classes because "our mother is involved in the protest. There is no one who can take care of us."
The local education department has organised evening classes for the children, but this is not the same as regular school.
A group of Catholics and activists from Colombo visited the protesters as a token of solidarity and reassurance.
"We very much appreciate the courage of these women,” said Sister Rasika Pieris. “We urge the government to return the land. This way they will be able to live after so much suffering."
“President Sirisena must immediately resolve the situation, partly because he was elected with Tamil votes,” said Hermaan Kumara, coordinator of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO).
According to Fr Father Sujaharan, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, "these women are not like us men. They will not give up until the government meets their demands."
(Photos 1, 5 - 10 Garikaalan)
In June, a huge fire damaged more than 2,000 homes. The owners of those with minor damages, about half of the total, were able to go home. The others still live in houses rented by the government. The authorities have paid for the houses but not for tools and furniture. Damage assessments undervalue losses. Many of those who lost their jobs as a result of the fire are still unemployed.