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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 forget:

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 by them.

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 property.

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 expulsions.

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 the North."

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 Karikalan.

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 people.

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