19 September, 2018

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The Wilpattu Controversy

By Latheef Farook

Latheef Farook

Latheef Farook

A myth to prevent Muslims returning to their traditional lands

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.

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 Professor 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 proportions. 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”.

Denying the right to return by HasbullahA six member team of academics led by Professor 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 labeled returnees as ‘criminals’.

The bleak situation spurred me to take on the mission of uncovering the truth. I visited all corners of “Musali South” in order to get to know its history and its peoples, reflecting on the claims and counter claims of land ownership. 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 no exception.

WilpattuWhile Musali South Muslims were in refugee camps the Rajapaksa Government had acquired 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 own lands, dwellings and other properties.

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 Professor 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 wild life 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 Professor M.A. Nuhman lamented that six years have passed since the war ended in 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 agendas.

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.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    5

    The Muslims of Musali have lost their lands and livelihoods just like Tamils of Jaffna peninsula have.
    The army had been the instrument of annexation, in both instances.

    I hope for the reversal of the situation soon.
    But, as long as the undeclared ‘military regime’, is allowed to remain, this will be a difficult task.

    This regime is pampering the “heros” as the last one did – but, with even military lawyers appearing in courts to defend accused servicemen, it is doubtful.

  • 11
    0

    I am intrigued by the word “ancient” in the photo caption, how old is this “ancient” mosque?

    • 6
      5

      Robert R, there are deeds belonging to Muslims that has the seal of King Edward from 1906. So, that is evidence that Muslims lived there. Muslims would not live anywhere where there are no mosques. So, mosques could date back to 1906 even though this particular mosque may be more recent.

      • 6
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        Hilmy – thank you for your clarification.

      • 5
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        How many deeds available ?

      • 3
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        is there any proper document of the mosque? any proper deed????

    • 4
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      To all concerned.

      This is a serious problem. Should be resolved by GOSL urgently.

      Affected people are Sri Lankan Muslim citizens in this case. Beyond that their religion or ethnicity is not relevant.

      GOSL should re-settle these long suffering people at once.

      Responsibility should not be given to that one legislator Rishard, who runs a political party entirely restricted to his regional ethno-religious identity. Racism in other words. Who also goes to Qatari religious fanatics with a begging bowl.

      Rishard and notoriously corrupt Basil Raja from the previous regime were a match made in heaven. Together they destroyed Sri Lanka’s God given gifts of nature. To promote their own agendas be it logging, politics or religious extremism & racism. Made a bloody mess out of a terrible human tragedy, which ethnic cleansing really was.

      GOSL must intervene now. Take the upper hand. An iron fist, if necessary. Reverse the destruction. Make sure uprooted citizens of taken care of properly. Make sure the environment is protected to the satisfaction of our laws. In letter and spirit.

      Leave it to Rishard & his ethno-religious political detail, the guy will start an ethnic fire unseen in this country before. Fully supported by other racists in the South & North, who are already in their cars to respond in kind.

      It will harm all ethnic groups in this country. It will destroy this country.

      I challenge Latheef Farook to remove the Muslim label on his forehead for once. I challenge him to look at problems as a Sri Lankan and a human being for once. Whether he will ever manage that is anybody’s guess.

      So far, he has not uttered anything without dragging in his Islam into the issue. Show me one example. There is none.

      Cheers!

  • 3
    1

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 4
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    [Edited out] Please write instead of posting links – CT

  • 11
    6

    Old buddhists temples were inundated with water because of Dam building, those Temples were ones built by Kings, yet went under water.

    Muslims did not have that many houses, I heard it is only one house owned by a businessman.

    Some of the muslims that been settled are not Sri lankan because they can not talk either sinhala or tamils. some other muslims have now two houses, one in this area in mannar another some where else. Some muslims who got new lands had sold those lands to higher prices and moved back to their former house. A few muslims who were iranians were arrested some times ago from their because of a stabbing incident. Those settlers are said to be funded by a Qatar – movement who promote Jihad.

    Anyway, rishad Bathiuddian who ran this movement is a millionaire land owner who owns 3000 acres in his family members name, a few more hundred acres in false names. He has houses in Rathmalana and colombo -7. But, he says he came to colombo from Mannar, with every thing in a plastic bag.

  • 11
    3

    Very little sympathy can be had for any of these issues after the behaviour of arabs and north african muslims in Cologne. You should never hit a woman. Ever. Islam is the only religion that treats women worse than others would treat dirt.

    • 1
      0

      The behaviour of Muslims towards women in Cologne has led the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban ally Bayer to describe that these Muslims as ‘North African & Arabic animals, nothing hyenas’. They lost all the respect and now they have been instrumental for the fracture of Europe. Rishard Bathiudeen has become an unreliable character and may be instrumental for the downfall or unpopularity of this government. Let us wait & watch as to what will happen in Sri Lanka.

  • 11
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    Jim Softy has a point with respect to Rishard, the politician and businessman, who uses his ‘people’ to his advantage.

    But, the original inhabitants of the lands deserve to go back.

  • 2
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
    1

    It is widely believed that Muslims originally landed in the South of Ceylon or Serendib. Hence the name ‘Hambantota’ which means the Port where the ‘Hambas’ landed.

    Why didn’t the MR crowd want them settled there again?

    Why give them land in Vilpattu?

  • 3
    1

    The former president, MR was supposed to be the champion of the Muslim World and especially the Palestinians against Israel. He was well respected by the Arab world and especially the Palestinians. What a hypocrite this guy was? All the time while showing the world that he is a champion of the muslims, he was committing various acts of crimes against muslims. The displaced muslims from Jaffna, Manar and other parts of the North and East are yet to be settled after the war ended. Most of the displaced muslims were people of means such as traders, farmers etc. You could see the displaced muslims living in abject poverty in Puttalam and other places. The one year old government of yahapalanaya too has not even thought of re-settlement but they are very busy with the re-settlement of the displaced tamils. I urgently request the authorities to formulate a re-settlement policy for all and not for only one particular community. The local muslim leaders should appeal to the government and also bring pressure through the muslim leaders around the world especially Middle East where a major part of Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange is received and more than a million people are found employment.

  • 5
    1

    Muslims who really belong to this area should be resettled but not thousand of other out of area Muslims being settled here, as one nasty Muslim politician was trying to do with fake documents and with the help of the armed forces and the Rajapakse government, in order to create a new Muslim majority enclave in a historically Tamil area. From there they will move to other Tamil areas in the north and start to claim the North to as theirs just like the east. Come as asylum seekers and refugees from South India and then start claiming the land from the original owners. This why there is so much of suspicion and resentment in Europe

  • 2
    3

    The wave started during the height of BBS is continuing.

    It is sad the Sinhalese are blindly accepting the accusation without looking in to the facts and background of the issue. This to me is their inclination towards minority bashing. Whatever they say and do is right and whatever the rest do is wrong.

    This issue is on for close to couple of years now, why is on the earth a court case is initiated ?

    Selected few is a picking on a point where they can thrive be it cheep publicity. The problem in Sri Lanka is Singhala Buddhist assume they are superior ( I am addressing the moda set eka).

    A old tree which was a danger to his property was cut by a muslim man in a village, game chandi made a big issue out of it and harassed the muslim family. A much older and bigger tree (maybe 150 years old) loved by the whole village and was no danger to anyone was cut by a Singhala man right next to the muslim mans garden. There was not a sound raised.

    This is the mentality. Only thing they know is to get drunk. After few weeks will go and ask for something to eat or some money from the muslims man.

    I am not been disrespectful to anyone this is the reality. This mentality must changed in order for us to prosper as nation.
    Just few days back we saw what the Police did in Ambilipitiya. This moda behavior is effecting every single citizen of this country. Much bigger effort is required, sadly the cultural values we had as Sri Lankans are no more we have to cultivate new values. Maybe the long wars and killings in the south has done deep damage to our way of thinking.

    2nd step in correcting this is to defeat politician such as Udaya,Wimal, Dinesh….1st is done sending MARA and family home.

    You dont have to go far look at the comments.

  • 12
    3

    It is surprising and pathetic to see the level of racism and jealousy that has crept in to the majority of the Sinhala community including the monks in Sri Lanka; even if we set aside the argument that these people who are returning to their traditional homeland once abandoned due to the ethnic conflict, the extent of the land area discussed is only 350 acres, whereas for the mahaweli project and resettlement more than ONE MILLION acres of forest land was cleared, no one bothered about its impact on the environment, because the people who benefited out of this project were mostly the Sinhalese. And ever since deforestation is continuing in different parts of the country for different purposes but nobody cares as long as the Muslims don’t benefit out of it. Isn’t this double standard? Shame on them.

    mahaweli.gov.lk/…/Implementtion%20Strategy%20Study%20-%20Volu.

    http://www.ceylontoday.lk/90-79505-news-detail-mahaweli-authority-distributing-forest-land-mullaitivu-lands-under-threat.

    https://books.google.com.bd/books?isbn=3831136262

  • 2
    0

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  • 0
    0

    I dont think anyone will object to a person moving BACK to the original home.

    What people are objecting to is that Wilpattu and/or the buffer zones around it, are apparently being bulldozed to make way for new settlements for new people – under the guise of returning people to their original homes.

    Obviously there is a lot of money being made here so that is perhaps why the Administration is keeping a deathly silence on the issue

    IMO, National parks and buffer zones should remain sacrosanct, especially in this day and age.

  • 0
    0

    tamils preserved these lands for thousands of years as jungle, but Muslims will colonize these land and make it another kalmunai Eravoor.tamils fight and die ,Muslims make peace and get minister posts and make more babies marrying at younger age like 12 years and marrying too many times ,it is Muslim rule,Stop the population explosion of these guys. It is not their traditional land.

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