Evicted and ignored
Forced out of their homes and lands by the LTTE 25
years ago, Northern Muslims have become the IDPs that everyone chose to
The plight of the displaced Northern Muslims, abandoned by successive
governments and even the international community, speak volumes about
the island's Muslim politics and the Muslim community.
Muslim IDP girls in Puttalam Pic:taufidius.wordpress.com
Jaffna Muslims have called the North their home for centuries,
absorbing the socio-cultural conventions and identifying themselves with
their Tamil brethren.
The Northern Muslims lived predominantly in three densely populated
areas, namely Sonaka Theru, Ottumadam and Bommaively, collectively known
as Muslim 'vattaaram' - zones. Mainly traders, they dominated the
wholesale hardware trade, lorry transport, jewellery and tailoring to
such an extent that at one stage two-thirds of the blocks in the new
market, built by the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Duraiappah, was monopolized
Some of the Muslims were also involved in agriculture and fisheries,
and owned both boats and lands but they shied away from politics and the
brewing ethnic crisis. Yet they were constantly caught in the crossfire
of the battles between the security forces and the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and forced to flee their residences and business
houses along with their Tamil neighbours. In these battles, they were
one with the Tamils, suffering great losses to life, livelihood and
The Jaffna Muslims felt relatively secure, even as their Eastern
counterparts were being massacred. But that security was shattered, when
Tiger Leader Velupillai Prabahkaran began expelling Muslims from
Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar Districts, in the Northern Province.
Years later it was revealed that a contingent of Tamil Tigers operating
under the command of Karikalan, the Tigers' special leader for the
Eastern region, was to a very great extent, responsible for these
In this regard the April-June 1988 editor of Nethra had this to say:
"Just like the government, the LTTE fed the growing antagonism
between Tamils and Muslims to strengthen their own position in the East.
Subsequently they used this polarization to carry out their ethnic
cleansing in the North.
"The Tigers knew that unlike the Eastern Tamils, the Northern Tamils
would most probably not collaborate with their aggressive policies
towards the Muslims. Therefore, the LTTE used Tamil cadres from the East
who in October 1990 forcibly expelled the entire Muslim population from
Integral part of Jaffna society
Even while Muslims were being expelled in different parts of the
North, Jaffna Muslims felt safe. They thought what was happening to
Muslims in the other parts of the North would not affect them. They
thought of themselves as an integral part of Jaffna society and could
not even imagine that the LTTE would come after them.
Such was the degree of trust and faith they had in their Tamil
friends and neighbours and even the Tamil militants. Little did they
realize what the LTTE had in store for them?
It didn't take long for them to face the reality. Around 11.30 on
October 30, 1990, even as the people went about their routine life,
armed LTTE cadres arrived in vehicles fixed with loudspeakers and
ordered Muslims to assemble at the Jinnah Grounds of Osmania College
within half an hour - by 12 noon.
At 12.30 when Muslim men, women and children gathered at the assembly
point, , the LTTE Jaffna Commissar who called himself Ilamparithy,
delivered a brief but terse message, declaring in no uncertain terms
that "the LTTE high command had decided that all Muslims should leave
Jaffna within two hours." Failure to abide by the order, he said, would
mean severe punishment.
When some Muslim men tried to question Ilamparithy, he fired in the
air ordering the community to simply follow the order or face the
consequences. For added impact, Ilamparithy's bodyguards also fired
their guns in the air, terrorizing an already-frightened community.
Later the Tigers surrounded them as they rushed to their homes to
collect their belongings, valuables, and boarded the buses made
available by the Tigers. And then came the second shock.
There was a fresh order asking all Muslims leaving their homes to
queue up at 'Ainthumuchanthi' junction. Here they were ordered to hand
over all valuables to the Tiger carders and were allowed to retain only
Rs 150 per person and one set of clothing. Among the Muslims were
wealthy land owners, business proprietors and farmers. All were forced
hand over their belongings and wait in a queue with an enamel plate for
a meagre meal of rice.
Stripped off everything
The evicted Muslims were also relieved of all documents and national
identity cards. The women were stripped off their jewellery, even
wristwatches. The children were not spared either. In this melee, 35
Muslim businessmen were abducted and detained under the supervision of
The LTTE demanded huge sums as ransom to release the detained Muslim
businessmen. Those who could afford it, paid up to three million rupees
to get their loved ones released, but many had to wait several years for
their release. Some were never released and remain missing even today.
Many Muslim jewellers were also beaten and tortured, and one was
beaten to death in the presence of others.
After forcibly evicting the entire Muslim population of the Northern
Province, estimated to be around 75,000 at that time, LTTE cadres began
looting Muslim houses, pilfering everything from cash to jewellery, and
even removing doors, windows, wooden frames and roof tiles. They also
looted the Muslim owned commercial and industrial establishments.
The looted furniture and all other items were sold to Tamils in the
LTTE shops called Makkal Kadai - Peoples' Shops. The LTTE also sold
Muslim-owned houses and Muslim-owned vehicles to the Tamils.
Elaborating on the atrocities committed by the LTTE and the
sufferings of the Muslims further, columnist Sharika Thirangama had this
to say in an article in the Himal Magazine:
"The Jaffna Muslims made their exit through a route carefully laid
out by the Tigers, which took them through LTTE checkpoint after
checkpoint. At each they were searched and more and more of their
possessions removed. Jewellery was taken from the women. The thefts form
some of the bitterest recollections of the Jaffna Muslims.
"Muslim evictees were also stripped of land deeds, electrical goods,
bicycles and even Thermos flasks at the checkpoints.
"According to a 1991 report by the University Teachers for Human
Rights (Jaffna), dozens of rich businessmen in Jaffna were held for
further ransom, as were the well-to-do in other districts. The final
estimate puts the collective loss of the evictees at around US$ 110
million. In Jaffna, after the Muslim eviction, the LTTE made further
profits by holding a massive sale of Muslim goods.
"As such, one of the most common memories that the evictees have is
that they all arrived in refugee camps with nothing. Indeed, the
eviction had a tremendous levelling effect, with more or less the entire
population being impoverished overnight."
The bulk of the evictees initially went to Kalpitiya and Pulichakulam,
while the largest numbers found refuge in Thilliyady in the Puttalam
District. Some of them also went to places such as Vavuniya, Colombo and
Negombo where they were forced to start life from scratch.
Twenty-five years on, the eviction remains a continuing tragedy
because successive governments, NGOs and Human Rights organizations
including Amnesty International, have continued to ignore the fate of
the unfortunate Jaffna Muslims who are not even treated as displaced