28 May, 2017

Caste & Camp People In Jaffna: Landownership & Landlessness

By Thanges Paramsothy

Thanges Paramsothy

Thanges Paramsothy

The issues confronting the Tamil IDPs in Jaffna have not been resolved for the last twenty-five years mainly due to the continuing presence of the so-called “High Security Zones” (“HSZs”) created by the Sri Lankan state and its forces. Tamils who were displaced from their lands of origin such as Palaali, Myliddy, Thaiyiddy and Kangesanthurai during the internal armed conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan state have not yet been resettled in their lands even after more than six years from the brutal end of the war.

Before going to discuss the caste and land issues of the IDPs living in IDP camps, a brief classification of the displaced people from the northernmost costal parts of Jaffna would be useful to get an overall picture of the IDP population in Jaffna. Those who were evicted can be broadly divided into four categories. The first group includes those who have been living in the IDP camps established in the Valikaamam and Vadamaraadchi regions following their displacement in 1990. The second group comprises those who are living with their friends and relatives. The third group has managed to buy land and built their own houses in Jaffna and elsewhere in Sri Lanka. A substantial number of individuals and families who make up the fourth group have migrated overseas following their internal displacement. In this piece, I discuss the challenges facing those who remain in the 32 IDP camps in Jaffna.

The IDPs living in the camps face a number of problems in their everyday lives. Poor infrastructure facilities, limited privacy, lack of employment, poverty, limited access to land, water and places of worship, the social stigma of living as IDPs for many long years in the IDP camps and so on can be listed as some of the issues that they face in their day-to-day lives. I do not look at all these issues in this piece. Limited or no access to land is one of the core issues that need to be resolved for any betterment to happen in the lives of these IDPs. Landlessness has indeed created other problems so that I call it a core issue.

A total of 32 IDP camps are now located across seven Divisional Secretariat (DS) Divisions in the Jaffna peninsula. According to the data collected by these DS offices in Jaffna, as of November 2015, approximately 11,500 families (38,500 individuals) have been identified as IDPs. The total number of families remaining in these 32 camps is approximately 1,158 (4,238 individuals).

Caste and Camp IDPs

Information pertaining to the caste composition of the people who live in the 32 IDP camps was collected in order to understand the correlation between landownership and caste. Surprisingly, certain caste groups, rather than a mixture of different caste groups, are predominantly present in all these IDP camps. Of the 32 IDP camps located in the Thellippalai, Uduvil, Sandilippai, Koppai, Nallur, Karaveddy and Point Pedro DS divisions, the inhabitants of 25 camps predominantly belong to three oppressed caste groups namely Nalavar, Pallar and Paraiyar, who were respectively known as today tappers, agricultural labours/toddy tappers and funeral drummers/cleaners. The remaining 6 IDP camps in the Point Pedro DS division only consist of Karaiyar, traditionally known as fishermen. However, it is well known that the individuals from these caste groups now do different occupations without limiting themselves to their traditional caste-based occupations. It is much difficult to decide one’s caste background based on their employment in today’s Jaffna, as each individual belonging to the different caste groups does various jobs after completing his or her higher education and obtaining professional qualifications.

Photo: by Thanges Paramsothy, an IDP camp in Jaffna affected by the recent flood

Photo: by Thanges Paramsothy, an IDP camp in Jaffna affected by the recent flood

A recent report titled “Nilamum Naangalum (land and we): Understanding Post-war Land Issues in Northern Sri Lanka” published by the Maatram Foundation in November 2015 identified caste as a cross cutting issue affecting land. However, the impact of caste on people’s access to land is discussed only briefly in this report. The report fails to offer a nuanced analysis of the caste dynamics as they relate to people’s ownership of and/or access to land in Jaffna. There are a number of reasons why the displaced people belonging to only certain caste groups (continue to) live in the IDP camps whereas those coming from dominant caste groups like the Vellalar and other wealthy people have managed to have their own shelters in Jaffna or moved to other parts of Sri Lanka or migrated overseas using their economic wherewithal, professional qualifications and social capital without having to living in the camps with minimum facilities, limited privacy and the stigma attached to such conditions of existence.

Firstly, the oppressed castes generally did not own lands in Jaffna or other parts of Sri Lanka except their ancestral landholdings. Most of them are economically poor to buy lands or build their houses elsewhere in Jaffna. Once they were evicted from their lands, they are unable to create separate shelters, as other relatively wealthy and dominant caste groups do. Their survival depends largely on the subsidies provided by the government and the NGOs. Secondly, most of the oppressed caste groups did not have networks outside their own community. As a result, they find it difficult to move out of the welfare centres (camps).

Thirdly, each caste group in Jaffna, even after the repeated displacements, shows a keen desire to live near or with members of their own caste group. Even though the caste geography of Jaffna and its villages was in a flux during the conflict and the disasters and due to the overseas migration of oppressed castes and the formation of “new middle class” in the midst of civil war in Jaffna, the people have managed to set up separate caste-marked territories excluding other caste groups during their long-term stay outside their lands of origin. In other words, in post-war/post-displacement Jaffna, one observes the re-territorialisation of old caste boundaries in host locations perhaps with small-scale differences and adjustments. Most of the oppressed caste groups do not have the social and economic capital necessary to escape the armed conflict and the political violence. All these reasons forced oppressed caste communities to live in the IDP camps. Even though the IDPs living in the camps developed links with their host community in Jaffna overtime, they have been systematically discriminated against when it comes to issues like access to land, temples and places of worship, water and employment due to their socially constructed caste status and the competition among different caste groups over the limited resources available in the region.

Camp People as Visible IDPs

As indicated at the beginning, the IDPs can be categorised into a number of groups on the basis of their relationship to their residential arrangements. All these IDPs except the people living in the camps are not visible. The only visible IDPs are the ones occupying the camps and have been residing consistently in the same places for the last two and half decades. They are presented as one of the most vulnerable sections of the community at every local and parliamentary election. They are also the people who have often been portrayed as the people badly hit by presence of the “HSZs” in the representations made by the Tamil political and civil leaders to the international community and humanitarian organisations. For example, when the Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron visited Jaffna, he was taken to one of these IDP camps. When the Tamil media and political discourses present these IDPs in the camps as one of the communities rendered acutely vulnerable by the war, they hardly mention the ways in which the caste identities of the IDPs have compounded and exacerbated their social, economic and cultural hardships resulting from the war and the displacement.

In contrast, the Sri Lankan forces on a number of occasions attempted to relocate the camp people in different areas in Jaffna in order to reduce the amount of IDPs. However, their attempts repeatedly failed due to the unwillingness on the part of the IDPs to move to other places for a number of reasons. Uncultivable land, lack of infrastructure and the long distance between the proposed settlements and their work places are some reasons detailed by the inmates of the camps in Jaffna for not accepting the offer made by the government and its forces. The state attempts time and again to reduce the number of IDPs in a camp rather than taking steps to solve the long-term problem of landlessness, which poses a challenge to their physical and social existence as individuals and communities.

While the Tamil political leaders attempt to use the people who are living in the camps to regain the lands occupied by the forces in the name of “HSZs,” the government and its forces try to reduce the number of visible (camp) IDPs without releasing the people’s lands in “HSZ” for their use. Both parties have failed to understand the complex socio-economic forces undergirding the landlessness of the camp people and to offer a permanent solution to their demands for land and resettlement. The data, which was collected from the DS offices, show that a substantial number of camp (oppressed caste) residents do not own land either in the “HSZs” or elsewhere in Jaffna.

Land Ownership and Landlessness

A large portion of the private land in the “HSZs” is owned by the Vellalar caste and other affluent sections of the community rather than people living in the IDP camps. The IDPs in the camps who have been living away from their ancestral landholdings of minuscular size for the past twenty-five years have become absolutely landless due to the war and the displacements. A new generation of this community has come of age without ever witnessing their parents or grandparents owning land. A number of young people and new families experience a sense of powerlessness as they have no claim over any land. According to the data collected as of November 2015 from the DS offices in Jaffna, there are approximately 1,158 families living in the IDP camps. Nearly 869 families out of the total 1,158 do not own land either in “HSZs” or elsewhere in Jaffna.

Photo: by Thanges Paramsothy, Thalsevana Holiday Resort built in “HSZs” in the northern costal Jaffna called Kangesanthurai

Photo: by Thanges Paramsothy, Thalsevana Holiday Resort built in “HSZs” in the northern costal Jaffna called Kangesanthurai

The data show that they are going to remain in the same places with minimum facilities and limited privacy, even if the “HSZs” are dismantled and the land is released for the use of the civilians. Most of the camp people who have been used and displayed as the victims of state aided discrimination against the Tamil community by Tamil nationalist actors are not going to be the direct beneficiaries of the moves to reclaim land from the “HSZs.” There are many housing projects underway for the war-affected people following the end of the civil war. The fundamental criterion used for granting financial support under these housing schemes is that the beneficiaries should have a piece of land in their name. If they do not own land, they will not be eligible for getting financial support to build houses. As most of the war-affected IDPs in the camps continue to live as landless people, they are also going to be homeless in their own country even when the “HSZs” are released for the use of the people in the North.

In order to address the issue of the landlessness of the (oppressed caste) people in the IDP camps, a constructive policy needs to be developed. The processes of distributing land for the war-affected, landless Tamil people in the North and the efforts to find them homes and shelter should recognize the historical injustice the oppressed caste communities faced and continue to face in pre and post-war Jaffna. Land and resettlement policies that fail to take into consideration the manner in which the caste-marked political economy of Jaffna shapes the individual and collective social existence of the oppressed caste groups are bound to fail and would deepen the social and economic inequalities within the Tamil community in the North along caste lines.

*Thanges Paramsothy – PhD Research Student in Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, University of East London, United Kingdom

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Latest comments

  • 13
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    Thank you Thanges, for highlighting the plight of the lower castes again. I am sure there will be those crying traitor against you, but I think your work is critical for the future of Tamils in Sri Lanka. When the Rajapaksas were “cleaning up” Colombo, they evicted the slum dwellers by giving them small apartments/houses. So whay can’t the NPC work with the central government, to find similar residences for these IDPs?
    • 6
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      Most of the Tamils killed by Mahinda in the war of 2009 were mostly of low caste in a matter of few months. 10% of population of the Northern Province doesn’t exist anymore. God bless their poor souls.
      • 16
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        Most of the Tamil youth recruited- forcibly or otherwise, also belonged to the so-called low castes. It was natural that most of the cadres who died will belong to the same castes. Most ‘ Maveerar kidumbams’ also belonged to these castes, modt Vellahla families sent their children to safe havens, hook or by crook! Dr.RN
  • 6
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    Thanges, the low caste Tamils should become Sinhala. They will be better off.It’s time to unite with us. Keep up your scholarship. May the blessings of the Triple Gem be upon you. Thank you.
    • 16
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      Make them Sri Lankans, we can all be proud of. In this process, at least a few may be convinced it will be better to be Sinhalese and probably also Buddhists! We, Tamils were once converted enmasse to Catholism through incentives and force. Those who were converted by force reverted to Hinduism. The Dutch and the British converted the Hindues through incentives, kindness and convincing. They remain faithful and devout Hindus to this day! In The north the Upper and middle class Hindu- Tamils will then be forced to care for their own under class. This will be a double bonanza for the down trodden! My late father was complaining that Mother Thersa was converting poor Hindus to Christianity through her charitable activities. I had to ask him why the Hindus were not looking after their poor, I also told him that air will enter if there is a vacuum!
      • 6
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        Make them Sri Lankans, we can all be proud of. In this process, at least a few may be convinced it will be better to be Sinhalese and probably also Buddhists! Agreed. Easier to assimilate. Probably why SJV and crowd did not want Sinhala taught in Jaffna. I am thinking of Sebastian Rasalingam.
        • 2
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          Indeed, there is an article by Rasalingam about land reform in the North. He says that justice can never happen in the North until there is Land Reform. The whole push to release the land held as High Security Zones will only benefit the rich Land-owning Tamil lawyers living in Colmbo-7. Surely they can wait. Or the land should be taken over as “Bhoomi-daan” and given to the landless “lower-caste” Tamils first, and then to the Muslims and Sinhalese ejected from the North (although this prioritization should not be done on an ethnic basis, it may be the only politically possible thing to do). Here is Rasalingam’s article which appeared in the Island newspaper: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=36740
          • 1
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            Manoharan Thanks for the Rasalingam link, saved. However easier said than done. Cant have any other takeover other than LRC 50 acre limit law. There will be cries of racism etc. Best solution would be fund to buy over HSZ released land
            • 1
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              sbarrkum, “Best solution would be fund to buy over HSZ released land” There is land available in other places also.
      • 14
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        RN, This is not confined to Tamils. Poor Buddhists (the majority of Sinhalese) face the same plight. Buddhism does not play any supportive role towards its congregation. Hence there is room for the western evangelists to take advantage of the situation. Economic, education, marriage and family conflicts are some areas they support. Individual attention to these poor by visiting their homes and inquiring about their well being raise their self esteem too. So whom to be blamed?
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          Eusense, “Hence there is room for the western evangelists to take advantage of the situation.” They were banned a long time ago. I know that foreign nuns and missionaries left Jaffna. Today local evangelicals do the work. Some of them have studied abroad but all are Tamils. I assume that it is the same in the South.
      • 1
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        Dr RN, “I had to ask him why the Hindus were not looking after their poor” Unfortunately I have been asked quite recently why I care about the poor out castes by several middle aged female relatives. After all it is the karma of the poor to suffer.
    • 8
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      Upula “the low caste Tamils should become Sinhala.” Most of their ancestors had already converted to Sinhala/Buddhism who believe they are more authentic Sinhala/Buddhists than the Sinhalese or Buddhists. Even then you will never find a solution to problems that is emanating from Govia/Karava competition.
  • 19
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    Thanges, An interesting study that confirms what I had surmised. Economic status is what is defining caste identities today. Those who have the means are moving out of the caste-class trap and are no longer identifying themselves with the castes with which they were identified. The politicians and officialdom evinces little or no interest in these poor people belonging to the castes you list. An example is the NPC that has started to collect funds for the flood affected in Tamil Nadu. Has it collected funds to provide land for these landless, who also flood affected at the moment? Why has there been no publicity about these IDPs in Jaffna since David Cameron’s visit? What are those individual from these castes who are part of the Tamil Diaspora today, doing to improve the status of these unfortunates? What are the enlightened persons of the so-called higher castes doing to eradicate the root cause of the lingering caste identity- economic status? Everyone wants to be a Vellalah and it is a social aspirational ladder. Those who climb it, care two hoots about those in the lower rungs and disown them. I see this phenomenon in the area live in Jaffna. The narrow mindedness of the Jaffna man, limits to him to himself, his family and his circle. It does not permit wider social awareness or human empathy. Dr.Rajasingham Narendran
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      The narrow mindedness of the Jaffna man, limits to him to himself, his family and his circle. It does not permit wider social awareness or human empathy. Agreed. Even those stalwarts who fight for Tamil rights or whatever, will not entertain the underclass for a cup of tea in their homes even abroad. They will have some excuse of no manners, uneducated etc, never caste.
      • 13
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        Sbarrkaum Not all tamils in abroad do this. In fact, Caste does not manifest profoundly in day to day business between tamils. There is no need to broad brush this caste phenomena which is probably a social construct. Thanges and Dr RN delivered a powerful message, that Land illegally occupied by military as well as land in possession from upper class expatriates need to be utilised in way the society as a whole profits. THe fact of the matter is that land illegally possessed by military is fertile land and that needs to snatched. The sinhala chauvinists will always harp on caste so they can get to their agendas.
        • 5
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          THe fact of the matter is that land illegally possessed by military is fertile land and that needs to snatched. Cant be snatched. Reverts to original owners, probably living abroad. Not all tamils in abroad do this. In fact, Caste does not manifest profoundly in day to day business between tamils. Not day to day business. They wont be invited to “upper caste” homes even though these “upper caste” individuals are very vocal or high ups in the fights for rights of Tamils.
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            sbarrkum, “Not day to day business. They wont be invited to “upper caste” homes even though these “upper caste” individuals are very vocal or high ups in the fights for rights of Tamils.” The first generation is mostly like this but I am not sure about the second generation. You are correct about the day business. There is big difference between home/family and work/school/shop. How many Vellalah would like their daughter marrying a Pallar even if he were a doctor, engineer etc?
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          ken, “that Land illegally occupied by military as well as land in possession from upper class expatriates need to be utilised in way the society as a whole profits.” Land is “illegally” snatched by the GOSL all over the country for various development projects, including defense, irrigation and highway projects. Why should Jaffna be an exception?
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      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran. “An interesting study that confirms what I had surmised” Ba Humbug?
  • 7
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    Here it comes! As long as people look down on their own people on caste lines how can the tamil community ever overcome its problems. They blame the sinhalese it is so obvious who is to blame for all this. The tamil community will never come right they will always be fighting each other and blaming the sinhalese for their woes.
  • 5
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    There are at maximum 73,700 IDP’s (as of July 2015) in Sri Lanka according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). IDP’s then are 369 per 100,000 of Sri Lankas population. Even so less than half the prison population of the US. If we take Thanges’s number of 38,500 then IDP’s are less than 200 per 100,000. There is a total 5,281,872 IDP’s in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, respectively 4,000,000, 847,872 and 434,000. The total population in 3 countries is 70,886,000. (Populations for Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, respectively 32,105,000 32,358,000 and 6,423,000). Thats a staggering 7,451 IDP’s per 100, 000 population for whom the US is responsible in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. What is the US doing about it.
  • 6
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    So basically 1,500 acres need to be found for the IDP’s to settle somewhere. (20 perches for 12,000 families). One of the issues is that Jaffna never had large (over 500 acre) land holdings that came under the Land Reform Act (LRC). In the south LRC acquired land and got distributed to the poor. The hated SL govt cannot legally take over HSZ and and hand over to IDP’s. So how many well established Tamils who have had land released from HSZ are willing to donate that land to a few IDP’s. Or why cant an organization buy released off and donate to IDP’s
    • 12
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      sbarrkum, There is more land available for sale in Jaffna than buyers. Hoards from the Diaspora visit every year seeking buyers for their properties, if the tight price is paid they will sell to anyone regardless of caste. I ask those among them I know, whether the have come to sell their piece of Tamil Eelam! If s fund is established to buy these lands and distribute them to the poor landless, it will be a great blessing. Dr.RN
      • 7
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        Dr RN, “If s fund is established to buy these lands and distribute them to the poor landless, it will be a great blessing.” I also think that land is available if there is money to buy it. Even the price does not have to be very high because the land owners abroad are beginning to understand that there is no big peace dividend increasing the demand and price of land. Especially the second generation abroad will not be interested in having land in Jaffna. My main question is how would the IDPs survive if they are given some land and a house? Small scale agriculture is not enough and there is no work without skills. It would be interesting to know what kind of educational and work background the remaining IDPs have. Even the Nalavar, Pallar and Paraiyar who are not IDPs should receive special attention from the authorities.
        • 8
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          Inspector Dirty Hari, I notice the younger generation among the males are taking to various technical trades ( electricians, plumbers, Masons, etc ). However, unfortunately, without proper technical trading and the discipline that should go with it. The young females are aspiring to be bank clerks and shop girls. They are breaking barriers too. Many of these girls also want to learn basic English. Vocational schools are an urgent need. Basic. English classes are an urgent. The caste affiliation to tree climbing and the stigma attached to it is destroying the Palmyra industry. Many youth will not engage in that profession. The Palmyra industry should be studies in depth with the objective of mechanizing it. In the Middle East the date palm plantations are being increasingly mechanized. I have planted a few parappus of date palm seedlings ( an alternative for the Palmyra Palm) in a manner that will permit mechanization , on an experimental basis. Mechanization and higher wages that should go with the date palm too will attract many youth to that trade. I wonder what the Palmyra Research Institute is doing to revitalize and modernize the Palmyra industry. Dr.RN
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            Vocational schools are an urgent need. Basic. English classes are an urgent Why could not we arrange online lessons via e-platform with rules and regulations? I am sure many in the diaspora will be happy to help
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              Ken Why not Sinhalese classes? There are many jobs in the south where lazy Sinhalese are not interested in. Also, how about teaching tamil to the Sinhalese? Wouldn’t it be good to learn about the sinhalese and live in Harmony har?
              • 4
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                eusense, “Why not Sinhalese classes?” I believe that Sinhalese is now a subject in the schools in the Northern Province. Many kids go to tuition also. You might be surprised by how many Tamils can Sinhalese and how many members of the security forces can Tamil when they want to.
                • 2
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                  You might be surprised by how many Tamils can Sinhalese and how many members of the security forces can Tamil when they want to Necessity is the mother of invention. Few of my contemporaries and I could fluently speak, read newspapers and write a bit of sinhala as well. Those were the days!
          • 2
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            Dr RN, “I notice the younger generation among the males are taking to various technical trades ( electricians, plumbers, Masons, etc ). However, unfortunately, without proper technical trading and the discipline that should go with it.” You are correct. Many young men are interested in these professions. How many masons, plumbers etc are needed? I don’t believe that there is demand for all of them here and without some kind of a certificate they will not be accepted abroad. “The young females are aspiring to be bank clerks and shop girls.” Most of the young women I know are helping their mothers and waiting to marry. The silver lining is that they are not going to the Middle East. “Vocational schools are an urgent need.” There are some technical colleges but many youngsters lack patience and many need an income to help their families. “English classes are an urgent.” Yes. Maybe Arabic also for all the men who want to go to the Middle East. “The caste affiliation to tree climbing and the stigma attached to it is destroying the Palmyra industry. Many youth will not engage in that profession.” Is it not like this for all sectors of agriculture? I only find little bit older men working in agriculture. Both the landowners and the workers are becoming old. Elderly men are planting coconuts that will need care during 60-70 years. Who will continue the work when the younger ones have left or are not interested? “I have planted a few parappus of date palm seedlings ( an alternative for the Palmyra Palm) in a manner that will permit mechanization , on an experimental basis. Mechanization and higher wages that should go with the date palm too will attract many youth to that trade.” In my opinion new plants and products are needed to make agriculture profitable and interesting again. Mechanization means less jobs. Your idea might work. “I wonder what the Palmyra Research Institute is doing to revitalize and modernize the Palmyra industry.” I don’t know. Many palmyra products can be found in the big shopping center in front of the JTH. I have heard that men increasingly drink something else than toddy.
            • 2
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              Inspector Dirty Hari, Thanks for your informed response. Incidentally, I have also successfully grown dragon fruit in Jaffna-both the white and red varieties. This is a high value fruit that is exportable and lends itself to be turned into many value added products, including wine. This is an alternate crop that can be introduced on a large scale in Jaffna. Dr.RN
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                Dr RN, “I have also successfully grown dragon fruit in Jaffna-both the white and red varieties. This is a high value fruit that is exportable and lends itself to be turned into many value added products, including wine. This is an alternate crop that can be introduced on a large scale in Jaffna.” Thank you for the information.
      • 0
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        Correction: hordes Dr.RN
  • 2
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    I know a Tamil friend in Sydney that ran away from ltte got 150 acres of land in North, combined with 2 siblings …. They are well off in Australia and govt. should look into this land racket from wealthy tamils.
  • 4
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    Thanges Paramsothy, Let us look at this issue from a Marxist perspective solely because it will provide as better insight. Caste is a feudal construct when capitalism replaces or in the process of replacing feudalism among a society,the caste relationship also begins to weans away. This is what is happening in the Northern society as well. The remnants of caste gradually disintegrates and is in the process of vanishing completely from the scene. After narrowly looking at this single issue, the author tries to generalize. The author admits that he had collected information pertaining to the caste composition of the people who live in the IDP camps in order to understand the correlation between landownership and caste. His findings were that they belong predominantly to certain caste groups. “Predominantly” means that other higher caste groups are also in the camp. What is really common among all the inmates of the camp, is their economic depravity and not caste.If it is caste then all those belonging to those caste groups should be in the camps. He also says that a large number from all castes – higher as well as lower had escaped from these camps due to their economic status. So What? Obviously most of those in these camps would have been unskilled laborers who would have led a subsistence existence even before the conflict and this continues even today. A large number belonging to these same castes would have escaped from this calamity because of their economic status and their access to excess funds to escape from this hellhole!
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      The whole Tamil community know that the IDP’s are predominantly low caste people. The author is implying that is one of the reason that they are still ther. The Tamil Politicians, The Diaspora are not canvassing the case as vogorously as they would other wise.
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      I strongly believe feudalism via the caste system directly reflects the class system in the West. What is likely to happen is that old gen Vellalas that practise caste hatred among Jaffna folks move on.
    • 1
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      It seems that even the Tamils who have moved to Toronto practice the Caste system, and there are many small Kovils witch cater to different castes. Marxism is nonsense obtained bye extending half truths into ostensible full truths, and the caste system will live as long as Orthodox Hinduism lives. Looking at how evangelical Christianity has survived in the USA, and how Modi has become the PM of India, the caste system will survive much longer and long after Marx is forgotten and confused with Graucho Marx.
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        THe Sinhalese are Buddhists they practice caste on a very high end too. Yes we dont know their caste tensions that much. But it is a reality there. IN Pakistan the Muslim Rajput castes dominate. In Nepal Brahmins dominate.. Yes the caste is attributed to Hindu religion. But it is more correct to say that caste is a reality within the entire Indian subcontinental area spanning 1.5 billion people.
  • 5
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    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran for once makes a valid point, that 99% of the so called “boys” are from the low caste. Its an Irony that the diaspora all over the world worship and pay respect to these perished fighters(from lowcaste), during the Marveerar Day Celebration, but at the same time pay scant attention to the plight of the surviving IDPs, simply because they are form the lowcaste.
    • 3
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      Rajash “Its an Irony that the diaspora all over the world worship and pay respect to these perished fighters(from lowcaste), during the Marveerar Day Celebration,” I doubt they do. Is it because they genuinely have affection towards the boys who perished in the war or fitting in with the crowd? Maybe they participate in VP’s birthday celebrations. Only those who lived and fought with boys have true affection towards them apart from their kith and kin. In the south even those who once called themselves as comrades in arms have fading memories of their fallen comrades. The close relatives still remember them. The JVP commemorates its fallen heroes not because the present leaders want to remember them but because it pulls in lot of crowd and a source of publicity for future recruitment. Only those who worked with fallen heroes remember them as their former comrades. By the way why did VP chose 27th November as the heroes day? One sneak pointed out that VP was born on 26th November.
      • 0
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        Native Vedda, “I doubt they do.” I know they don’t.
        • 0
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          But you both agree that 99% of the so called “our boys” are low caste
          • 0
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            Rajash, “But you both agree that 99% of the so called “our boys” are low caste.” I don’t. “Our boys”? Many people would object to the words “our boys”. They were never supported by all Tamils despite their claims. What is the definition of “low caste”? Do you consider yourself low caste? If “low caste” is for the 3 castes (are they not traditionally seen as out castes?) that Thanges writes about the fact is that 99% of the boys did not come from them. If “low caste” means “lower” than Vellalah 99% of the boys still did not come from them. Why would the Vellalah who were forced to escape from Jaffna celebrate the people who at least partly forced them to escape?
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              OK let me rephrase it; the “so called low-caste” the nallvat, pallar, kariyans etc Thanges is refering to The caste system of the Tamils was very much prevalent in the LTTE structure.
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        NV, Most are trying to keep alive their angst and frustrations, and salve their conscience for abandoning their land, people and a fight ! Dr.RN
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      Maveerar celebrations in the coming years will become an insignificant event. What is going to be significant is how many or what percentage of the Diaspora want to return to Jaffna permanently..
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    Why should the diaspora tamils bother about the low caste idps after all they were the same and now they have gone across the sea and become better caste. So they are very particular not to expose their original caste status. What they want now is to start another problem with the sinhalese so they continue collecting money from the tamils abroad and improve themselves further. The upper caste tamils do not want to sell their land to the low caste people so they come and see if the prices are better and wait for a suitable buyer.
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    “casteism” lives in the minds of men especially in the north. It is an invention to deprive poor people of their rights to education, employment and prosperity. Those who perpetuate this for their own imagined superiority are the scum of society.
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    Thanges, Thank you for this article. Do you have any updates for your earlier articles? The gang rape & murder, the woman who was not helped by the police, any concrete help for the islanders due to the meeting with senior government servants? “Information pertaining to the caste composition of the people who live in the 32 IDP camps was collected in order to understand the correlation between landownership and caste.” How was the information collected and is it reliable? “Surprisingly, certain caste groups, rather than a mixture of different caste groups, are predominantly present in all these IDP camps.” It is not surprising at all. The IDPs in a camp are originally from the same location and caste and the same continues. Any family belonging to a different caste must have done their best to find another place to stay. I cannot imagine a pure Vellalah family spending 30 years in a Pallar camp. “Of the 32 IDP camps located in the Thellippalai, Uduvil, Sandilippai, Koppai, Nallur, Karaveddy and Point Pedro DS divisions, the inhabitants of 25 camps predominantly belong to three oppressed caste groups namely Nalavar, Pallar and Paraiyar” Obviously they have nowhere to go since they have no land and no skills. The others have left. “Thirdly, each caste group in Jaffna, even after the repeated displacements, shows a keen desire to live near or with members of their own caste group.” Yes. This is what I tried to say above. “According to the data collected as of November 2015 from the DS offices in Jaffna, there are approximately 1,158 families living in the IDP camps. Nearly 869 families out of the total 1,158 do not own land either in “HSZs” or elsewhere in Jaffna.” Not very surprising. Where are they supposed to go even if all land is released by the security forces? Where is their former employment? My guess is that they were working and living on land belonging to others. This land has been abandoned and the owners have mostly migrated. Who would provide jobs? What skills do they have? You have correctly identified a group in Jaffna that desperately needs help from the authorities. The help in my opinion should stop the traditional dependency of the target group. My assumption is that the remaining IDPs are today to a high degree dependent on different hand outs. Earlier they were very likely dependent on hand outs and work from the land owners. It is easy to say that they should be helped but very difficult to do it in practice. In order to be helped the IDPs should be organized to have some political power.
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      My assumption is that the remaining IDPs are today to a high degree dependent on different hand outs. That is in my opinion is the crux of the problem. I agree they were dispossessed, displaced, and deskilled,lost their loved ones. But key issue is how can they be re enabled.
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    Justice. Casteism is there even amongst the Sinhala community. A perusal of the Matrimonial Ads in the Sunday Newspapers confirms this. There was what is known as the Dharmasekera group which split from Rohana Wijeweeras main JVP.The former was Goigama and Rohana ofcourse was Karawe. Prabaharan split from UmaMaheswaran; The former was Karave and the latter Vellala. I am conscious of the fact that the splits may have risen due to ideological reasons rather than caste. But the caste factor seems to be an undercurrent,not seen at the surface,but moving nevertheless. Strange,even Liberation struggles have the caste factor woven into it. But one thing is certain.All these groups LTTE,EPRLF,TELO,PLOTE etc etc completely destroyed the Tamil social fabric. Perhaps,this young Researcher in Anthropology could also address his mind to this aspect.
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      Pirabhakaran was a Vellalar himself but he ranked very very low within the Vellalar ranks, ‘within the bottom 20%’. Most Vellalar people in Jaffna Peninsula live inlands but Pirabhakaran was a rare family that grew up in VVT(Valvettithurai) fishing villages. His father administered a small temple in VVT.. #facts
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      Plato, How do you identify the various castes of persons in refugee camps, as Thanges appears to have done?
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    Good analytical comments for this article. I am impressed, since the comments for many other articles on CT devolve into racist rants by one faction or the other. Aren’t there any programs where the IDPs can get trained in some vocational or professional skills? there have been all sorts of NGOs and INGOs working in these camps, from my understanding. Why haven’t any of these done much to improve the employ-ability of the IDPs? I think where there’s a will there’s a way – for both the central and the provincial government. Instead of divisive politics, help your brethren become employable- in the North, rest of the island or overseas. Then and only then will the Tamil society prosper in Sri Lanka.
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    The article by Mr. Thanga Paramsothy is land ownership in the North than the so called caste system. The caste system is irreverent now after the war. Lands is the main problem in the North by the forced occupation of the armed forces. If there is no land, there is no race. That is the main intension of the Sinhala Government- to make the Tamil people landless so that the Tamils will not be in the majority in the North. The Tamil leaders do understand it but do not care about it until the next elections. Certainly if there is no remedy from the leaders for the displaced, there will be a remedy from the unknown very soon.
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      Sellam, “The caste system is irreverent now after the war.” Many disagree with you. I am one of them. “Lands is the main problem in the North by the forced occupation of the armed forces. If there is no land, there is no race. That is the main intension of the Sinhala Government- to make the Tamil people landless so that the Tamils will not be in the majority in the North.” I have nothing against the security forces releasing more land and the land can be given to the landless. I wish to remind you of two facts: a) Most of the land in Jaffna district or NP is not occupied by the security forces. If you disagree please provide numbers and a source. b) The amount of land occupied by the security forces has been decreasing. If you disagree please provide numbers and a source. How do you justify what you wrote? Do the poor landless diaspora Tamils not belong to the Tamil “race” any more?
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    Thanks Thanges, You got even the Vellalas talking about themselves. Vellala upper crust was in total control of Jaffna, since Cameron’s ancestors handed over the lands to Colombo Upper crust of the Elite , Anglican and Vellala coalition. Jaffna then became the only city next to Colombo in our Motherland with the per capita income even higher than that of our Colombo Elite.. Pirahparan then took over in the Eighties, with Anton to form a Dalit Vellala coalition. Now it has reverted back to total Vellala rule again.. But, to my great surprise still there are so many Dalits there, according to Thanges. And they don’t even have a little patch to apply for free funds to build a hut. But it is the the TNA which is a totally Vellala outfit which says ” Give us our Land Back.” I am totally confused. Our Dalits in the South must be well off when it comes the Real Estate.. Because I never hear nor heard of any of our Politikkas in the South talk about landless there. Even the ones who got into Parliament on our Dalits’ shoulders are too busy now sucking on Ministerial Bones, thrown at them by the UNP, Maithri coalition, which was put together by the UNP London Suren Surendran , Whisky Madam and the West. But the Whisky Madam says her French Poll which she did secretly ( in her own words ) that 68 % of the Sinhala Buddhists agree with her to give Vellala Sambnadan his Homeland. That is some Silver Lining in our Yahapalana Sky.. Hope the TNA will give these 32 000 Dalits a piece of land to build a house each, once the Homeland Bill gets the tick from these 68 % Sinhala Buddhists. May be the Diaspora can bear the building costs as gratitude for making their lives comfortable.
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      KAS, “Pirahparan then took over in the Eighties, with Anton to form a Dalit Vellala coalition.” Dalit Vellala coalition with VP and Anton? How about dalits led by karaiar spiced up with some others? “But, to my great surprise still there are so many Dalits there, according to Thanges.” This time Thanges has counted the IDP dalits. Note that most dalits are not IDPs but still face major problems. Also note that dalit men often go to the Middle East but their families stay here.
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      If Dalit, then Shudra, the correct is Karaiyar & Vellalar In reality it is No 1 & 2 of Jaffna caste, both Shudra The study of Dalits & the history of Buddhism is an interesting one for those interested in dwelling in to the murky past of the south Asian soul.
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    The mere fact that a Thanges Paramsothy could write this type of article proves that things are slowly changing in the Tamil Intellectual discourse. Once the Tamil intellectuals openly recognize and discuss the internal discrimination that has affected Tamil society, it can move forward to the modern world, instead of the present formula where, when every time someone gets rich and prosperous, he beats it to Colombo, hides his caste identity, and then moves abroad to become a Vellalah as soon as he can afford to do so. Up till now, it was the Foreign Anthropologists or rare dissident writers like Rasalingam who discussed the caste problem openly, to the utter anger of “good Tamils”. Most Tamil intellectuals treated any discussion of the topic as an attempt by the Sinhalese intellectuals and Westerners to put them down politically, and refused to discuss the issue. That was a part of the Tamil Nationalist agenda, even though much of the latter was spearheaded by the Church. However, the Church itself is well-known to be caste ridden, with cemeteries having burial spaces for the high castes, and with the upper stations of the church reserved to the high up –pillai castes.
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    No Sri Lankan can be unaware of both the importance and futility of our caste system. When reading these articles I am both fascinated and driven to despair. I am fascinated that here we have a PhD student from distant East London writing about real-life in North Sri Lanka. East London as far as I know, was where new immigrants to the City went to before they inevitably made good and headed for the salubrious suburbs of North London and elsewhere. So maybe there is a hidden lesson. So here we are in the 21st Century, after aeons of talking about ‘free’ education, equal education opportunity, meritocracy, upward social mobility, and myriad other concepts we are still trying to untangle our pre-enlightenment living arrangements. Of all the sins we commit, wasting a good life is surely the worst. Perhaps we should rephrase that much loved ‘Born Free’ to ‘Born Free but condemned to do what Mother and Father did’.
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    Thanges, “The total number of families remaining in these 32 camps is approximately 1,158 (4,238 individuals). Information pertaining to the caste composition of the people who live in the 32 IDP camps was collected in order to understand the correlation between landownership and caste.” Did you interview members of the 1158 families yourself in 32 camps? How was the data collected?
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    Whilst searching for the book Laws and Customs of the Jaffna Tamils by Dr.H.W.Tambiah-Scholar par Excellence and Rtd:Judge of the Supreme Court,I came across this published by the Indian Institute of Dalit studies. The title is Caste discrimination and Social Justice in Srilanka: An overview. The authors of this are: Kalinga Tudor Silva. P.P.Sivapragasam Paramsothy Thanges. So,I assume P.T.researches on extensively on Caste related issues.
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      Plato Laws and Customs of the Jaffna Tamils by Dr.H.W.Tambiah For your information, I bought a copy of this book in Poobalasingam Book Depot wellawatte branch last year. Thank you for highlighting the book on caste discrimination and social injustice.
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      Plato. I copy pasted the introduction to this book some months ago in this forum. You can access it on the net. Though it is not a very in-depth work of research its collection of data includes some study on Sinhalese dalit woman actively seeking job opportunity abroad.
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    Check out the life of millions of labours goes to Middle East and work very long hours just to earn few dollars every day. Check out the living condition of hundreds of millions of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Check out the daily life of thousands of young factory workers in China working for 10-15 hours every day. Check out the pathetic life of native people in Australia and North America. Check out the quality of life and work opportunities for millions of new emigrants in the West. Check out the life of middle class employees working in private companies from all over the world. We can generalize all of them regardless their social economic status. We like it or not societies in every level are formed based on master-slave concept. That master-slave concept is explicitly classified as caste system in India and Sri Lanka. How many thousands of families in Sri Lanka still have servants from hill country boys and girls? Isn’t it crime? Similarly ultra conservative Jaffna society also follows the same master-slave system. The same group of vulnerable people from Valikamam North can be found in every village and town in the North. Normally, middle class people would use them as cheap labours. Kids from these families aren’t encouraged to stay at school after primary education. 30 years ago, they weren’t even allowed to go inside the Hindu temples. But one of the good thing happened to our society because of the unrest in the last 30 years of war was the caste issue. Old people were asked kindly or by force not to talk about it. Young people who grew up during the war time would agree the topic of caste was a thing of past. Nobody really cared about it. Let’s go back to these families from Valikamam North. I grew up from this region. For generations, these families were taken care by middle class families from this area. They used to help for farming, house works and construction works. In 1990, we were all chased out of this region. Eventually most the middle class families from Valikamam North moved to other parts of Jaffna or eventually left the country. Because of it, these vulnerable people from Valikamam North lost their main source of income as well as the supports from their host families that they have known for generations. What should the local government do now is to ask the people who have left the country and have no interest to return to Valikamam North to donate some of their lands to these people who have worked for their parents and grandparents. If the local government or the state government can initiate this good cause then many of us will transfer our ownership of the lands in Valikamam North to the people in need. Lets make a condition. If any of these families don’t get a piece of land then nobody is allowed to go back to Valikamam North. However, if that condition is reached then can the government allow people to go back to Valikamam North?
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    Thanges, it is a great work. Plz keep working on. I am sure your research findings ll be absolutely imperative when we deal the issues with the Tamil IDPs and their resettlement in Jaffna.
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    A very good and important paper but I would like to make constructive criticism. It is sometimes not in clear and crisp style hence there is ambiguity or lack of clarity of meaning in places. I would encourage the author to carefully rework it with lucidity in mind and perhaps a good style guide in hand (eg Economist). The value of the essay will then increase. To be really useful it has to be about twice as long; then it will not be suitable for a web article. But as a short monograph it will be useful for those who want a long-read.
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    Justice. Plato,unfortunately or FORTUNATELY cannot identify the various castes of persons in refugee camps.Perhaps Thanges can; After all its his people. Caste is interestingly is all Maya. Can you identify G.L.Pieris as Karave. Mangala Samaraweera as Durawe. Dr.Colvin.R.DE.Silva as Salagama. I was told that of the 300,000 Tamils in Canada,a substantial percentage is below the Cut-off point to use Electoral language! So the armed struggle did not go waste!
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      Plato “Cut-off point to use Electoral language” What is that?
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    The landless in the IDP camps seem to be from the so-called ‘low castes’ and according to the comments above, most have been long term landless. There is nothing that binds them to Jaffna (except for ‘culture’), and in fact much to be gained by them by being resettled elsewhere on the island, if they can be so persuaded. The ‘landed gentry’ in Jaffna may well have to do without the cheap labour that they’ve become accustomed to, and there is bound to be resistance from them.
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      Ram, “The ‘landed gentry’ in Jaffna may well have to do without the cheap labour that they’ve become accustomed to, and there is bound to be resistance from them.” A long time ago the wealthy in Jaffna started to import so called Indian Tamils as servants. Who next? The poor from Hambantota?
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        Harry mate, Dalits from Hambantota were there, last time when I went to Jaffna. That was soon after Nanthikadal. And our Southern dalits were shovelling dirt, to help my neighbours from Wellala Gardens have a bumps free run, on the way to inspect their real estate. Wonder what happened to them after Yahapalanaya kicked in?…
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          KAS, “Wonder what happened to them after Yahapalanaya kicked in?” There are no big projects left to my best knowledge. My guess is that they went home or somewhere else to work. I believe that most members of the security forces are from a poor rural background.

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