Sinhalese resettlement irks Tamils

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: Times of India
| Date: 20000621

TRINCOMALLEE: Sociologists call it demographic racial equalisation; the Tamils refer to it as `state aided systemised colonisation.' The process of settling Sinhalese families in large, vacant tracts of land in the eastern provinces, which began soon after Sri Lanka obtained Independence, has changed the demographic nature of what were thought to be Tamil strongholds.

In Trincomalle, figures supplied by the divisional secretariat are a pointer: According to the 1991 census, sixty four per cent of the 265 000-strong population belong to the Sinhalese and Muslim communities, while less than a third are Tamils. Four decades back, Tamils constituted nearly 70 per cent of the population.

"The policy of successive Sinhalese governments was to make the minorities, minorities in their own area. Trincomallee was one such constit ency which had a Tamil MP, but now with the proportional district representat on system, there are two Sinhalese MPs from this area, one Muslim and one Tamil," P Abraham, organiser for the local wing of EPDP.

Officials in the secretariat reveal that in 1965 the government brought into effect the `Kantellai Scheme' - a water irrigation scheme which brought an additional 13,000 acres of land under cultivation. In the additional land which became cultivable, only five per cent was distributed among Tamils while 95 per cent went to the Sinhalese community.

What has become an additional bone of contention between the two communities in these parts is what is perceived as state intervention in resettling the Sinhalese community in the eastern province. "After all when Tamils migrate to the south and form strongholds, it's a natural process, they are not given crown land," argues Andrew Pubalasingham, a resident.

The stories of hutment-dwellers who till large tracts of land, west of Trincomallee, are telling. B G Jayatillake, a resident of Kandy was given a small patch of land by the government in 1959 and he has been living here since.

What was once a barren, desolate landscape is now dotted with concrete houses and swaying paddy fields, and in a few decades, a village called Gamonopura came into being. En route to the Kantellai area, Gamonopura the village houses 150 families in a three square mile area.

But not one of these families are Tamil. The examples are endless. When contacted, officials from the ministry of land or the ministry of e hnic affairs and national integration offer no answer. For the already irked Tamil population in these parts, this becomes yet another cause for discrimination.