Fact, fiction and reality
Musali South in the Mannar District has traditionally been a
predominantly Muslim populated area for centuries. Their peaceful life
was devastated in October 1990 when they were kicked out of their homes
and lands within two hours by the LTTE when it ethnic cleansed the
entire Northern Muslims.
Since then, they languished in refugee camps and temporary shelters
in extreme hardships.
Huts in Wilpattu National Park.
After the military defeat of LTTE in 2009, Muslims started to return
to their lands to resume their devastated life. However racist forces
with their own sinister agenda, hell bent on causing problems to
Muslims, have falsely accused them of encroaching Wilpattu and triggered
off a controversy to them from returning to their lands to which they
have deeds and permits.
Explaining the situation in her preface to a document on Musali
South, Prof Sivamohan Sumathy of Peradeniya University said, "the return
of the Displaced in Musali South has evoked a variety of responses and
competing claims that have taken on national and nationalist
The returning population of Musali South have tried to eke out a
living in the midst of harsh conditions, unaided by state forces for the
most part. Yet, the region has become needlessly entangled in a
controversy over environmentalism. While the Navy has claimed large
acres of land for its own entrenchment in the region, environmentalists
have accused settlers, the IDPs, who have returned and staked out a
claim for their lands, as destroyers of forest.
The displaced people of Musali South, account for some of the most
marginalized sections of the population, but the debate that the
putative return has spurred in the media and in political circles has
cast them as adversaries of both nature and the state".
A six member team of academics led by Prof Shahul H. Hasbullah of
Peradeniya University has prepared an extensive research document on the
issue of Musali South Muslims returning to their lands under the title
"Denying the Right to Return - Resettlement in Musali South and the
Wilpattu Controversy." With a plea "Help Us Return Home" people of
Musali South appeal to all to help them return to their lands and homes
with dignity and self respect to end their more than three and half
decade old sufferings.
Explaining the background in his author's note, Prof Shahul H
Hasbulla stated that;
"When the "Wilpattu controversy" flared up, the turn of the debate
surprised me. I knew for certain that the contested area in question was
not located in Wilpattu. In a published newspaper article, I emphasized
the issue of returnees, which in my view, is the crux of the matter. But
the ongoing debate paid no attention to this issue. To the contrary, the
public discourse continuously labelled returnees as 'criminals'.
"The bleak situation spurred me to take on the mission of uncovering
the truth. I visited all corners of "Musali South" to get to know its
history and its peoples, reflecting on the claims and counter claims of
"I learned from the people who were paddy, chena and cattle farmers;
sea, lagoon, river and tank fisher folk; teachers, religious
dignitaries; men, women, young and children of all ethnic (Tamils,
Muslims and Sinhala), religious (Catholic, Hindu, Muslims, Buddhist) and
linguistic (Tamil and Sinhala) communities.
"According to our findings people have lived in the Musali Region for
generations. They toiled on this land and roamed the region for various
livelihood activities without any interruption, while keeping the
tradition of protecting the forest and the environment.
"They are a part of the nature and culture of the region. For more
than two decades, the people have been displaced - until today. They
have a right to return to their homes". Thus concluded Prof Hasbullah.
Muslims, in fact, had nothing to do with the devastating ethnic war
between successive governments and the LTTE. However sandwiched between
the two they suffered immense and the plight of Musali South Muslims was
While Musali South Muslims were in refugee camps the Rajapaksa
Government had acquired a major part of their traditional lands under
various pretexts knowing very well that the owners would claim this land
once the ethnic war ends.
First around 40% of their traditional lands in the Musali South was
acquired. This was followed by the acquisition of another 30 percent of
their land without any consultation or consent to establish security
Establishments. Added to this Muslims owned lands were acquired to
establish a naval agricultural project. Furthermore, a Navy Regional
Commanding Office was established in two prominent villages and the
Muslims were prevented from entering their lands, dwellings and other
Thus, Musali South Muslims were deceived and deprived large extent of
their traditional lands.
Judging from the subsequent anti Muslim campaign under Rajapaksa
government aimed at virtually eliminating the Muslim community it is not
difficult to realize now that Muslim owned Musali South lands were
acquired deliberately to deprive Muslims of their lands.
Commenting on the controversy Prof Arjuna Parakrama of University of
Peradeniya stated in the special document that;
"The issue of resettlement in Musali - Wilpattu has divided and
destroyed relationships built up among "progressive" groups who hitherto
shared similar positions on other national concerns. Environmental
activists allowed this discourse to be narrowly ethnicised, and emulated
populist majoritarian rabble rousers in their passion to "save Wilpattu"
from what they saw as corrupt and opportunist minority politicians.
"A small band of human rights professionals and academics who took up
the cause of the displaced were unable to disentangle themselves from
the political leadership that was using the issue in at least of the
ways that the environmental lobby claimed.
"The media exploited all of this - generally on the side of the
single-issue environmentalists - to rekindle anti-Muslim sentiment among
the Sinhala polity. As a result, those who had no interest in the
preservation of wildlife became passionate campaigners, while dedicated
eco-types transformed into ethno-nationalists overnight. In all of this
the affected people remained voiceless - pawns in a series of chess
games - and this denial of agency is as damaging as the continued
deprivation of their rights".
Meanwhile, Prof M.A. Nuhman lamented that six years have passed since
the war ended and the ethnic relations in the country further
deteriorated because of the short sighted political leadership that
encouraged ethnic tension and fear in the country to further their own
Resettlement of internally displaced people is one of the major
issues today that demands an immediate solution in post war Sri Lanka.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all three communities were
displaced internally during the war, losing their houses, land and
sources of livelihood; most of them are not resettled so far and they
are longing for return to their own soil to live peacefully.
To this day, we have not been able to formulate a national policy of
resettlement to resolve the problem of the displaced people justly and
permanently. Therefore, resettlement programmes are being carried out in
an ad hoc manner and have led to further problems and tensions among the
communities. Resettlement in Musali South is a case in point.