By Rajan Hoole –
The declared Government policy on encroachment as contained in a cabinet decision, was to regularise all bona fide encroachments made prior to 31st March 1979, if the land did not fall within reservations, and to debar encroachers after 7th April 1980 from be- ing considered for land. Deserving non-citizens on encroachments prior to 31st March 1979, were to be allowed to remain on their encroachments until their citizenship was decided (see Gamini Dissanayake, referred to below).
Following the announcement of JOSSOP’s ‘flushing out’ operation, cabinet minister and Ceylon Workers Congress leader Mr. S. Thondaman made a statement to the Press in India which was carried in the Hindu of 13.10.83. He said:
“Instead of implementing the declared policy of regularising the settlements of people of Indian origin in these areas where they were transported and dumped as refugees after the previous holocausts, a concerted attempt was made by officials to drive them out of their holdings under various false pretexts. This was further intensified around the middle of July when Police and security personnel set in motion a wave of terror intimidating settlers and driving them away.”
Thondaman’s argument was that in accordance with the cabinet decision the encroachments of Plantation Tamils who went into the North-East as refugees following the 1977 communal violence, and thereafter for reasons of insecurity prior to 31.3.79, should have been routinely regularised. But instead there had been a concerted attempt to drive them out. Technically, the cabinet decision would not cover Plantation Tamils who came to the North-East following the August 1981 violence which badly affected Tamils in several areas, including Ratnapura.
Nevertheless, encroachment was a continu- ing phenomenon everywhere. But in particular areas – e.g. Trincomalee District – Sinhalese encroachments are quickly regularised, but Tamil officers who regularised Tamil encroachments strictly following the cabinet decision (e.g. Linga Nagar) have been marked and penalised. Even recently, the PA government has blatantly favoured Sinhalese who occupied encroach- ments of Muslims in Aakuwatte, near Trincomalee. The Muslim residents were driven away by the Police under cover of the renewal of hostilities in 1990. The occupation of the Sin- halese was not only regularised, but, in 1997, they received NHDA housing grants. The Muslims who were driven out continue to be refugees. Some Sinhalese encroachments have been set up and regularised by the Army, such as Sinhapura and Jayapura during 1990 on forest reserve in Thampalakamam in the Trincomalee District. Home Guards from these settlements were involved with the Police in a massacre of Tamils on 31st January 1998 (see our Special Re- port No. 8 of 1997, Bulletin No.16 and Reports 11 and 12). This discriminatory approach lead- ing to much alienation, has long been part of the working of the State that will not go away in a hurry.
Gamini Dissanayake’s reply to Thondaman, titled ‘Thondaman’s Verbal Inexactitude’ was given wide publicity in the Sunday papers of 16.10.83. It was a criminal lawyer’s court-room performance. He argued that these were not bona fide settlements, since ‘it has been found that most of these settlements were organized and orchestrated by well financed organizations’. The Land Commis- sioner (who was under him), Dissanayake said, ‘has suggested special legislation where eviction has to be effected … by the security forces [i.e. the JOSSOP], since these settlements pose a security threat to the territorial integrity of the country’. Elsewhere in the media there was reference to Malaysian regulations for that purpose.
On the orchestrating of settlements, Dissanayake said: “The C.W.C. of which Mr. Thondaman is President carries out only one limb of this operation, that is transporting innocent, state- less persons to the districts of the North and dump- ing them there, where they are taken over and settled by Dr. Rajasundaram and his ilk. Dr. Rajasundaram’s connection with terrorists in the North is established and he was accordingly taken into custody… Mr. Thondaman’s C.W.C. is billeting stateless people in colonies in the Northern districts quite unconcerned with the security perspective of the country. The TULF and the terrorists are there- after permitted to do what they like with these inno- cent people, and if Rajasundaram is an example, even enfold them into the terrorist and Eelamist cause.”
Dissanayake added to the drama by quoting from a ‘confidential report’ made to him by senior officials whom he sent on a one-day field inspection on 10 Oct.83. Their mission, he said, was to assess (in one day!) the ‘extent of en- croachment in the Vavuniya and Mullaitivu districts’. The officials reported seeing new houses coming up, encroacher families paid substantial living allowances by an unknown well- organised movement, the training of youth by a priest and leaders who frequented the place from Madhu and Kilinochchi, and tents of new- comers not seen in the morning being found in the evening. A new settlement was identified as ‘Gandhiyam/C.W.C. (Tamil/Stateless people) under Alankulam and Navalankulam tanks’.
All appropriately sinister indeed! Except that Gandhiyam was no more. The officials then en- joyed unobstructed movement and there were no ‘terrorists’ in the area. Before reporting impressions and rumours as facts, they could have been verified. One isolated sentence in the part of the report cited, gave the game away: “The tank of Alankulam can be restored with very little investment.”
The report was by none other than the Mahaveli Official T.H. Karunatilleke, who pas- sionately believed that in the area he was visit- ing, Tamil surveyors had surreptitiously changed Sinhalese names to Tamil by such means as changing Kokkila to Kokkilai. It was he who advocated to M.H. Gunaratne the es- tablishment of strategic settlements – one in that area visited – to save the Sinhalese race from the Tamil invader. The report appears in full in Gunaratne’s For a Sovereign State. The brief given to Karunatileke according to Gunaratne was not to determine the extent of encroachment as Dissanayake claimed, but to identify lands on which the crowds who had thronged the Maduru Oya basin in the fiasco orchestrated by Mahaveli officials, could be resettled. Less than a year from Karunatileke’s mission, the Tamils were chased away from there and Sinhalese were planted.
Gunaratne was so enamoured of his fiasco in the Maduru River basin that he fails to see the consequences of such foolish adventurism. To begin with, it set off alarm bells and forced even K.W. Devanayagam, a subdued Tamil UNPer in the Cabinet, to go on the offensive. He also failed to understand that Dissanayake was not a politician to burn his boats, and could do a U-turn with consummate charm. On the very morning that Dissanayake’s chastisement of Thondaman was splashed in the Press, he had a ceremony at his house. This was for receiving the first cheque from Navaloka Mudalali (Boss) for his grand scheme of Sinhalese settlements in the North-East. The auspicious time for the ceremony was determined by the Mudalali him- self. Auspicious indeed!
Towards the end of his attack on Thondaman, Dissanayake made a clinching point: “… statistics show [sic] that 80 per cent of the encroachers are those people who were unaffected in any way from communal disturbances and came from estates unconnected to such problems.” It was a curious complaint to come from a leading member of a government which was responsible for three bouts of communal violence in six years and was going to be around for a further six or so. The Minister was telling a people feel- ing insecure with good reason that they cannot go to the North-East for safety until they get hammered.
To put it succinctly, Dissanayake’s contention was that there was an organised well-funded operation where the CWC was bringing Plantation Tamils into the North on a large scale and handing them over to the likes of the TULF and its terrorists like Dr. Rajasundaram. This, it was held, was to enfold them into the separatist cause, thus creating a legitimate security threat. The impression was also created that the settler ranks were being swollen by recent arrivals.
Note the reference by Dissanayake to settlement activity by Dr. Rajasundaram in the present tense. There is a passing reference to his arrest, but then only to impugn him – no acknowledgement of his murder. There is also no acknowledgement of refugees from the 1977 violence, who were the bulk of the settlers and had settled before 31.3.79. Where they en- croached, they would have been entitled to regularisation. The description of the refugees as ‘stateless persons’ was also mischievous and created the impression that aliens were grabbing land. The plantation labour became stateless by the indefensible Citizenship Acts. Then under the agreements with India of 1964 and 1974 most of those who opted for Indian citizenship had been ‘repatriated’. The majority of those who remained had become Sri Lankan citizens or had applied and not become citizens only because the paper work was extremely slow and had to be expedited by two further acts of Parliament in the latter 80s. That too because, of the war in the North-East, the Government could not af- ford trouble in the plantations.
The use of the term encroachment was also a gross exaggeration. It is not that those who helped these refugees to settle were against encroachment. But they, and certainly Rajasundaram, understood the difficulties of large-scale encroachment. When the State was actively hostile, they could not justify helping someone to settle on encroached land and have the Police demolishing what he had laboured for. There was no problem about settlement be- cause many individuals possessing land under LDO (Land Development Ordinance) permits were willing to turn them over for this purpose. These settlements were on the whole perfectly legal. Encroachment becomes feasible only af- ter a community is established and that is nor- mal everywhere.
The settlements in the Mullaitivu District re- ported with hostile fervour by Karunatileke were, for the most part, legal. They were either old villages or settlements on permit lands. When acting on his identification of land for pro- spective Sinhalese settlements, the Police drove away peasants from Kent and Dollar Farms, which were situated on permit lands. If these settlements were largely illegal, why did not the Government act before 1983? Why wait until after the communal holocaust to orchestrate claims of illegality?
Take the Weekend report of 28.11.82, almost a year earlier, by Ranil Weerasinghe and Jennifer Henricus and another on the same day in the Sunday Island by Peter Balasuriya. These began the orchestrated campaign against Gandhiyam, which led to its closure 5 months later. The issue then was not encroachment, illegality or stateless persons, but rather alleged links to terrorists! Why wait until after Rajasundaram’s murder to wax loud on illegality?
Even then, there was no prospect of bring- ing in further large numbers of Plantation Tamils with the State actively hostile. These settlements were being subject to regular searches and harassment as stated in the Weekend report above. On 14th March 1983, 16 huts belonging to Plantation (Hill-Country) Tamil refugees at Pankulam in the Trincomalee District were torched on the orders of a government official. As Thondaman had pointed out, the harassment intensified towards July. The conditions for new settlers to come in on a large scale were not there. Mr. Dissanayake’s campaign was un- doubtedly to create conditions for the mass eviction of Tamils and put Sinhalese settlers in their place. This was the rationale behind the JOSSOP.
Like a prayer, the Sun followed up Dissanayake’s piece the very next day (17.10.83) with a grand slam. Its banner headlines read: ‘Stateless persons encouraged to encroach on state land in the N-E * Forces and Police fear grave security threat * Organised attempt to form Eelam boundary of humans * NGOs pumping money to establish settlements.” The report from Vavuniya claimed:
“Hordes of stateless persons of Indian origin are moving into settlements here in what appears to be a highly organised exercise to form a human buffer zone enveloping the districts of Batticaloa and Jaffna (sic).”
The report repeated Dissanayake’s claim that and inevitably, the Gandhiyam. Surely, if true, these organisations should have been prosecuted under the PTA! Jayewardene had, according to the Press, ordered an investigation into Red Barna 10 months earlier!
The report gave one case of a man, a father of three, from Elpitiya whom the report quoted as having sold his belongings and moved to Vavuniya with CWC help. His motive for moving as the report quotes him, was clearly security. If one takes away the rhetoric suggesting sinister forces at work, the man’s decision to move was very normal in the context of July 1983.
Some feeling desperate about living in the South and having family connections in Vavuniya would have moved. But conditions did not permit a huge movement. About the most novel claim made in the report was that settlements were being established to cover the boundary of the projected state of Tamil Eelam. The details, they said, were with the security forces. The authors of the report were Anura Kulatunge and Rohan Gunaratne – an unfortunate early foray into jour- nalism by the latter.
Minister K.W. Devanayagam, the Tamil min- ister of home affairs called a press conference the next day and stated that there was no organised exercise to form a human buffer zone of stateless persons anywhere in the ‘recent past’. He charged that the report was doing un- told damage to the goodwill of Sarvodaya, Redd Barna and SEDEC. He also lamented the lack of press interest in the ongoing mass encroachment of Sinhalese in the Maduru Oya basin (part of his electorate of Kalkudah) by the Dimbulagala priest backed by Mahaveli offi- cials. He quoted President Jayewardene as having told the Mahaveli Authority Chairman N.G.P. Panditharatne, that if the priest was set- tling people, he should hand over his chairman- ship to the Dimbulagala priest.
The following day Anura Kulatunge and Rohan Gunaratne stated in their reply to Devanayagam that they understood the Maduru Oya encroachment as being done by Sri Lankan nationals, who were directly and indirectly tax payers who had contributed to the Mahaveli Programme. This was a new argument by the Press that Sri Lankan nationals en- joying state patronage could breach the law with impunity. However, the plantation folk whose back breaking labour kept the country solvent for more than a century, could evidently be beaten, corralled and shifted about as the rulers pleased.
In the spirit of those times the Sun published an editorial on 15th September 1983 titled ‘Heart Test’, regarding stateless persons of Indian origin in refugee camps who had expressed a desire to leave for India as soon as possible. In a reply to the editorial (17.10.83), Nirupama Rao, the Indian High Commission’s First Secretary, replied that the desire of these persons would be modified if normality returns and security is assured. (Indeed, persons from all communities evinced a desire to emigrate when they felt that the State either could not or would not protect them. It was so with Sinhalese during 1987-90.) She added:
“The problem of stateless persons of Indian origin in Sri Lanka cannot be considered in isolation in the present context. Neither can it be automatically assumed that the solution to the problem will be for the Government of India to take ‘back’ these people ‘where they belong’. These persons and their families have lived in Sri Lanka for generations; many of them have been born in this country. The crisis of confidence that affects the stateless in- dividual equally affects Sri Lankan citizens of Indian origin.”
The Sun editorial referred to was, in effect, telling the Indian Government, “We used them, killed them, hammered them and dumped them in refugee camps. Now you take them back!” Just after July 1983 and during the violence, the Sun showed some occasional healthy signs of shame and remorse. That had evaporated by October. There was instead a reckless arrogance spurred on by the thought that President Reagan of the USA was offering the Government a stallion, which in reality turned out to be, if anything, a rocking horse. Behind Gamini Dissanayake’s touchiness lay a policy whose conception precedes the decision to arrest Rajasundaram and seal the Gandhiyam, and even perhaps the press campaign of November 1982 cited in Chapter 8. The violence in Trincomalee in June and Dissanayake’s meeting with the GAs of the North-East promising tough action against persons of Indian origin looked after by the Gandhiyam are part of the story. As the next step in the drama, on 23rd July 1983, a large number of Plantation Tamil refugees from the June violence in the Trincomalee District, were forced into lorries in the night by the naval coordinating officer, transported and dumped in the Hill Country (see Sect. 5.6).
A vivid illustration of the mental framework behind this exercise is contained in a proposal presented to legalise this programme. Along the lines of the PTA, it was proposed to legislate ‘For Prevention of Encroachments and Illicit Settlements in Sri Lanka, the Prevention of Unlawful Activi- ties…’. This is referred to in the full version of Thondaman’s statement, and was not touched upon in Dissanayake’s reply (see L. Piyadasa, pp.90-92 for the statement.)
The proposal, said Thondaman, ‘includes some of the obnoxious provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act like detention without trial for up to 18 months, power to GA or AGA, without giving consent to authorise Police, Army or Navy to demolish buildings etc. thus branding settlers as terrorists’.
If one takes into consideration that a particular community was being targetted, it makes them slave laws.
Beginning with the 1930s, the ruling elite have been unable to put forward an equitable policy towards Plantation Tamils. They wanted their labour in the plantations and at the same time were unwilling to give them their due rights. In1937 the Village Committees Ordinance was amended by the State Council to grant village franchise to Burghers and Europeans, but the plantation labour was left out. In the late 30s, the State Council moved to repatriate urban workers of Indian origin, but were against banning ‘immigration from India to work on the estates’. The latter, in fact, was stopped as a re- taliatory measure by the Government of India, in 1939. After independence, the plantation labour was deprived of citizenship.
However regular articles continued to appear in the Press alleging that the Kandyan Sinhalese are being ‘swamped’ by these ‘aliens’. Under a multiplicity of conditions created in the 1970s, many of these Tamils migrated to the North-East. Those who were worried about the Kandyan Sinhalese being ‘swamped’ ought to have been pleased. But no! Life for these Tamils in the North-East was made hell, and many of them were forcibly transported under cover of the July 1983 violence and dumped in the plantations where they were apparently not wanted.
How does one explain the capricious behaviour of the ruling establishment? The answer has much to do with plans to ‘Sinhalise’ the Vavuniya District. Many years later, in 1996, Tamil civilians were fleeing the LTTE-controlled Vanni and were arriving in Vavuniya as refu- gees. The military authorities confined them in ‘welfare centres’ where conditions were sub- human. It was made very difficult for them to move out to a place of their choice although these refugees were citizens of this country. The plight of these people, most of them Ceylon Tamils, received publicity in the Indian Media.
The Defence Ministry press release on 5.10.96, which was in response to this publicity, was an admission that they had concerns other than security. The press release stated rather laboriously:
“As a matter of principle, mass move- ments of persons in a situation of this nature cannot be permitted to develop into distortions of broad settlement patterns without creating undue tensions.”
To be continued..