By Dr Kan Chandradeva
The degradation of socio-economic and healthcare structure in the Northeast (NE) is devastating. At present thousands of our people in the NE are undergoing intolerable levels of hardship: no food, no drinking water, no healthcare, no basic sanitation, no shelter, no security, no economy, no transport, no education and our values and lives are brutalised everyday by the occupiers but our people are so scared to even make a complaint for the fear of reprisals.
During the last two years alone over 5000 thousand people have been killed. Our people have been rooted out from their ancestral lands by decree. There is an epidemic of severe malnutrition among children. About three years ago, the UN reported that 60% of children in the NE were severely malnourished (30% in the rest of the island). The incidence of severe malnutrition has rocketed recently to 85-95% in areas under siege in the NE according to the local healthcare workers. The devastation continues unabated.
In the light of these unprecedented events in our homeland, I have been thinking about an old man frequently nowadays for what he said to me two decades ago: let me share my feelings with you.
I visited Sri Lanka to see my family in April 1988. Just to recap the events around that time, you may know that the IPKF arrived in July 1987 and the IPKF-LTTE conflict started 2 months later in October. When I arrived, the South was in turmoil due to the JVP violence but the NE was in relative peace besides sporadic outbreak of violence between IPKF & LTTE.
One fine day I went to the Trincomalee bus stand to catch a CTB bus (state transport system) to Jaffna. I was flabbergasted to see a brand new bus at the stand. I asked the driver as to how they managed to get a brand new bus, because the GOSL had the habit of allocating only second-hand or used buses to the bus depots in the NE. The driver said to me proudly, ‘India has donated a number of brand new buses to Sri Lanka, on the condition that these buses should ply only in the NE and this is one of the buses donated by India’. I was delighted with his explanation and told myself that we would no longer be second-class citizens in our homeland.
The journey was comfortable and gave a sense of security as there were numerous IPKF check-points along the route. As you know on this very route Tamils had been burnt alive in their vehicles on a number of occasions by the Sinhala mobs when there was ethnic conflict and tension in the island.
Having arrived in Jaffna safely, a few days later I went to Nallur to meet some friends. There was pandemonium and I saw people fleeing from a burning bus. I tried to find out what was going on. An elderly man, who was shaky and visibly angry, approached me and whispered in my ears in English.
‘Thamby, Ingratitude is not our culture… this was one of the buses donated to us by India. The boys have set fire to this simply because this bus was donated by India. Thamby, our future generation will have to pay a big price for these boys’ stupid and ungrateful behaviour’. I wanted to continue the conversation but he nodded his head to say bye and moved away quietly. I think he must have realised that he had violated the curfew on his freedom of speech for a moment.
Is this the price we are paying at present in the NE as he predicted two decades ago?