A Story from North
Acceptance, Freedom & Development
“We only need acceptance, freedom and development.” says Nadaraja Sivamalan from Omanthai
“We suffered immensely due to the war. We need no more wars. We want to see this country developed. Also, we trust the new President will take care of us. We only need acceptance, freedom and development.” said Nadaraja Sivamalan (63), a woman from Omanthai in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.
I met Sivamalan her by chance when we shared a traditional ‘vadey’ and a cup of tea. She lost everything during the war and no longer has a permanent shelter. To support herself, she makes an income as a mobile seller of ornaments.
“I lost my family during the war. Both my parents died. I was qualified to attend university but could not afford the higher education. We had a good house and a plot of land but we lost that too. My house is a heap of rubble now. However, I do not hate anyone. Although I have no proper house to live in, I try to serve the country. I even engage in social work when I can,” she continued.
“It is good the war was over. However, the country did not develop as much as we expected. Also, the governments had no programme to change the war mentality of the people of both the north and the east. The two polities have distanced from each other so profoundly as a result of it.”
Sivamalan’s house is a hut made of several tin roofing sheets over her head and a couple of sarees to cover from sides. The army helped her to build the hut, similar to many such houses scattered across the north of the island.
“How do you live here? Do you have security?” I asked Sivamalan.
“When it is sunny, I roast here whereas when it rains the house becomes a mud pool. On rainy days, I have to starve. However, I make a living without begging,” Sivamalan said.
Along the same road as Sivamalan’s house are several others. One looked in slightly better shape. Two adult women lived there with three children. One woman, Lingeswari Indrani told me they had no permanent income.
“It is very difficult to find casual labour nowadays. The wages are also low. We get a mere Rs.400 after working an entire day. Six people can’t live on that. We do not even have rights to the land we live on. The access road to the land is inundated on rainy days. We have to walk for miles to fetch water. There is no one to solve our problems. No one even came seeking our vote during the elections. They have isolated us.”
Indrani’s house too is covered with tin sheets, polythene, cardboard and sarees.
Subramaniam Senthil is a 32 year old father of two from the same village. He lives in a small house with his family. Their main problem is also the lack of a permanent income.
“We have no big hopes. Our main problem is living for the day. We lost everything due to the war. We never thought that the war would end. However, the war did end. But we have not received any dividend of this peace. Our main issue is water scarcity. We could have made a living if we had water. No politician has served us. Please write about our problems in Sinhala newspapers so the rulers might know of our issues,” Senthil appealed.
The only public officer who willingly spoke with us was Upali Chandrasiri, the manager of Samurdhi Bank of Omanthai. He is a man from the south and sees the development difference between the north and the south as sky and earth.
“Even the byroads to houses in the south are concrete-laid. Other roads are carpeted. But in the north, no road has been developed other than for the A9 highway. People face transport problems. They have to walk several kilometers to access public transport or fetch water for their homes. The resettled people have no houses and have not been guaranteed any basic human rights. We must change this situation as soon as possible. Politicians and officials must visit our villages and know our problems. The people here have been suffering for many years due to war and we must be provided some form of relief. As a person from the south, I must say that a special programme to prioritize development in north is essential.”
Upali has a valuable proposals to bring the north and south closer.
“I propose we send the best public officers to serve in the north. I have had very good experiences. I came here reluctantly. I did not even understand Tamil then. I was initially afraid to work with the people here. Eventually I understood that it was very easy to work here. As a result of my work here, the peopel have begun to respect the people of the south. Sometimes, politicians in the north may not like this, but I believe the new President can do this. Likewise, officials from the north must be deployed in the south.”