Light at the end of the tunnel for Jaffna - Mayoress
Mayoress of Jaffna Yogeswari Patkunaraja
Yogeswari Patkunaraja was elected as the
25th Mayor of Jaffna, at the Local Government polls to the Jaffna
Municipal Council (JMC) held recently. The second woman to be elected to
this position. she will be sworn in as the United People’s Freedom
Alliance (UPFA) Mayoress for Jaffna before President Mahinda
Rajapaksa on October 12. In an exclusive
interview with the Sunday Observer, Yogeswari Patkunaraja outlines her
vision for Jaffna.
Q: You have been elected as the Mayoress of Jaffna. How do you see
your new position?
A: First of all, I thank my people for electing me as their
Mayoress.The Jaffna Municipal Council, which is one of the oldest Local
Government bodies in Sri Lanka, had been defunct for more than two
decades. Three Mayors, Alfred Duraiyappah, Sarojini Yogeswaran and K.
Sivapalan were assassinated by the LTTE.The majestic Jaffna Municipal
Council building, which was identical to the Jaffna Public Library, was
also blown up by the LTTE in the early eighties.
Now, with the end of LTTE terrorism,the city of Jaffna and the entire
Northern Province have to be rebuilt to regain their former pristine
glory. Therefore, as the new Mayoress of Jaffna, I see there is a huge
task lying ahead of me in rebuilding the city of Jaffna which was known
to be a clean and highly cultured city in the good old days.
Q: What are your priorities as the new Mayoress of Jaffna?
A: There are several. Jaffna was a `ghost city’ for the past three
decades. The Municipal Council limits of Jaffna had suffered severely
due to the war.
A large number of heritage sites including the Dutch Fort, schools,
hospitals, business establishments, houses, streets and places of
worship were damaged.
There was also a large scale loss of lives. However, with the return
of peace, we have to bury the past and energise ourselves to rebuild
Rebuilding the old Jaffna Municipal Council building to its precise
old structure along with giving a facelift to the Jaffna market complex
and reconstructing the damaged canals and drainage system are our
During the tenure of late Mayor Alfred Duraiyappa, a plan was worked
out to build a modern market complex in Jaffna. Before the completion of
the plan, Mayor Duraiyappa was assassinated.
Since then the Jaffna city began to deteriorate in every way. But
now, with the return of peace, the new Municipal Council administration
under me will continue to go ahead with new plans and ideas to design a
new Jaffna retaining its old values.
Q: Could you elaborate on the setbacks faced by the Jaffna Municipal
Council during the dark period which haunted the entire peninsula for
the past three decades?
A: First of all, there was no proper Municipal Council
administration. Several areas which remained under the purview of the
Jaffna Municipal Council were in negligence.
A fear psychosis reigned with explosions and clashes within the
Jaffna city limits. People were scared to come to the Jaffna city even
for medication, banking, schooling or to make purchases.
I would say the entire city was in total mess with huge pot holes on
the streets and bunkers built for civilians to take cover in case of any
There was not even any entertainment such as cinemas or cultural and
sports events within the Jaffna city like what was experienced three
So I would say that this period was like a hell in every aspect in
the life of Jaffna citizens, with deaths and destruction occurring every
now and then.
Q: As a prominent Jaffna citizen, how do you see President Mahinda
Rajapaksa’s victory over LTTE terrorism?
A: The victory over terrorism has made Jaffna see the light at the
end of the tunnel! The people of Jaffna, especially the younger
generation, was deprived of many good opportunities due to the conflict
situation. The entire North was traumatised. But now, with the end of
war, new vistas have opened for the Jaffna youth. They could now look
forward to pursue their interests in various fields and enhance their
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has highlighted his statesmanship by
utilising all his resources in rebuilding the North. We appreciate his
efforts in creating a new era in Jaffna.
Q: Being a person who had seen the worst period in Jaffna, do you
have any personal experience with regard to the turbulent days?
A: Like the others in Jaffna, my family and myself also suffered a
lot during the darker days.We had to find shelter inside the Nallur
Kanthaswamy Kovil along with thousands of others when the Indian Peace
Keeping Force embarked on their operations against the LTTE.Later in
1994, the whole of Jaffna was forcibly evacuated by the LTTE and we were
made to walk several miles towards Chavakachcheri in the Thenmaratchi
region. It was horrible. Women, elders and children suffered immensely
and some of them died while they were heading towards Chavakachcheri.
Q: The areas in Jaffna where the Muslims were domiciled were also
badly affected when the LTTE forcibly evicted them in the early
eighties. As the vast Muslim population in Jaffna remains within the
Jaffna Municipal limits, how is your new administration going to address
A: We are in the process of protecting the immovable assets of
Muslims in Jaffna.There was an incident recently when a person was
attempting to purchase a property in the Muslim area. We found that his
attempt was illegal and our timely action prevented the deal.So we have
taken every measure to ensure the safety of the Muslims once they begin
to rebuild their lives in Jaffna.
Q: What is your assessment on the post-war rehabilitation and
reconstruction activities in the North?
A: I would say the entire process is progressing in a remarkable way.
Restrictions for fishing in the northern seas have been removed and the
farming community has also been encouraged with their products going out
of Jaffna for good prices.
Trading activities have been launched and essential food items are
now flowing into Jaffna following the opening of the A-9 highway.
Earlier the prices of essential commodities had sky-rocketed. Now we
could buy whatever items we want at very reasonable prices.
The Minister of Social Services Douglas Devananda also played a very
commendable role in ensuring the flow of essential items into Jaffna,
not only during the post-war period, but even during the dark days.As
far as the reconstruction activities are concerned, under the `Vadakkin
Vasantham’ (Spring in Jaffna) program, plenty of constructive things
have been implemented. Ministers and officials representing various
ministries are visiting Jaffna on and off and we are very happy to see
that they are making genuine efforts in rebuilding the North.
Q: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which was once known as proxies
for the LTTE, is the main opposition party in the Jaffna Municipal
Council. What is your message to them?
A: Well, we cannot live in the past. We have to charter a new path
for our future generations. It is time for us to think constructively.
We should make a collective effort in reaching our goals. Instead of
dabbling in petty politics we should act with a broader outlook to
regain the lost glory.
The opposition members of the TNA have pledged their support for the
new Jaffna Municipal administration and we look forward to greater
cooperation from the TNA.
Q: Since you are going to be the first post-war Mayoress of Jaffna,
could you say something about yourself?
A: Well, I am from Nallur, Jaffna. I was an old girl of Vembadi Girls
High School, Jaffna and I had the privilege of studying during the
period of the late Mabel Thambiah and Ms Arumugam as principals.
The late Jaffna Mayoress Sarojini Yogeswaran, was also my teacher at
Vembadi. She was assassinated by the LTTE, the outfit which even gunned
down her husband and Jaffna Parliamentarians V. Yogeswaran along with
the TULF leader A. Amirthalingam in the early nineties.
My mother Mrs. Annapoorani Somasundaram was a Director of Education
and my father `Kalabooshanam’ A. Somasundaram was also a teacher.
My husband Patkunaraja is a planning officer at the Jaffna Municipal
Council and he is now my Personal Assistant. I have two sons and they
are students of Royal College, Colombo.
I graduated from the University of Peradeniya with an honours degree
in geography. I am an M.Phil holder with a Diploma in Education.I was a
teacher by profession and taught at my alma mater until my entry into