Turning Temple Trees into a ‘goldmine’ a political gimmick

79348_by-manekshaw--picTurning Temple Trees into a ‘goldmine’ a political gimmick M.S. Fernando’s Tamil song, Thanga Kodi Sarippannuven, resonates Jaffna people’s fondness for investing in gold

By Manekshaw

Temple Trees turned into a ‘goldmine’ recently when President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over the gold jewellery recovered from the possession of the LTTE to the rightful owners.
In the late 80s, the LTTE started its campaign to collect one gold sovereign from each family in the Northern Province, to enhance its monetary strength.
One of the bigwigs of the LTTE’s political wing, Yogaratnam Yogi, even conducted meetings in schools in Jaffna and said the lives of the LTTE cadres who were fighting the Eelam war were much more precious than the gold in possession of the Jaffna people.
In a situation where law and order had collapsed, the people of Jaffna were in a helpless situation. However, they obliged the request and gave one gold sovereign from each family to the LTTE.
Apart from the LTTE, the EPRLF and various other militant outfits in Jaffna also visited every doorstep in Jaffna and collected gold from each family.
Daylight robberies also took place in several rural banks in the remote areas of Jaffna and the robbers took away heaps of cash and jewellery. Some of the temple jewellery too, was robbed by the Tamil militants in the early stages of the armed struggle.
Gold jewellery often highlights the saving strength of the people of Jaffna. During the peak period of the troubles in Jaffna in the mid 80s civilians pawned their jewellery to send their children abroad to prevent them from getting involved in the war.
Irrespective of their social statuses, the Jaffna folk invested in gold and real estate, and planned their future prospects.
Extortion
There were instances where some affluent civilians were abducted and detained by the militants to extort cash and jewellery from them.
During the early 70s, the foremost Sri Lankan baila singer, late M.S. Fernando, who was known as baila chakkravarthi (emperor of baila) rendered a song at the Open Air Theatre in Jaffna, on the Jaffna folk’s preference towards gold jewellery.
Thanga Kodi Sarippannuven, the popular M.S. Fernando song is about a boy telling his girlfriend that he would make a gold chain for her.
Realizing the saving capacity of the Jaffna people in gold jewellery, the Tamil militants started exerting pressure on them to extort gold.
After the LTTE set up a de facto government in Kilinochchi, after it retreated from Jaffna, funds started flowing from the expatriate Tamils abroad through several channels.
The financial institutions such as banks and pawning centres were also established by the LTTE in Kilinochchi where the civilians who didn’t have any access to the outside world from the LTTE controlled areas were compelled to pawn their jewellery to invest in agriculture or any other purpose.
The LTTE also established pawning and money laundering centres abroad to tap Tamil expatriates. There are certain Tamil expatriates who travel to Singapore and India to buy jewellery.
In the mid 2000s, when the LTTE was engaging in the peace process with the government, the gold jewellery given to the outfit at the early stages of the conflict were returned to the rightful owners.
In the meantime, in several banks in Jaffna, a large amount of gold jewellery pawned in the 80s and 90s, along with money in savings accounts lay dormant without claimants due to the mass exoduses of people from the Northern Province due to the war.
President Rajapaksa, addressing the civilians from the North during the handing over of the gold jewellery to the rightful owners at Temple Trees said there were allegations against his government that the gold jewellery recovered from the LTTE banks in Kilinochchi have been utilized to build Buddhist religious institutions. However, he was mindful of the hard-earned assets of the Northerners and he had decided to expedite the process of returning the gold to the rightful owners.
Looking for the
disappeared
Though the gold was returned to the rightful owners, the people in the North who had witnessed a terrible war for the last three decades were clamouring to find their relatives who had disappeared during the last lap of the war in 2009, more than the gold jewellery they had lost. They have also made several appeals to the government to release the Tamil political prisoners who have been detained without trial for the past several years.
The commissions on disappeared persons appointed by the governments in the past and the commission appointed by President Rajapaksa have hardly done anything in finding the disappeared persons and whenever the sittings of the commissions are held, reports from the North indicate that the surrounding areas of the venue of the commission sittings create a pathetic atmosphere with relatives pleading with tears to find their missing relatives.
Therefore, as far as the Northerners are concerned, even during the dreadful situation of the war, they managed to survive with whatever the means they had in their possession.
When essential items were sold at exorbitant prices, the people in the North managed to face the terrifying moments with courage and confidence.
Therefore, as the presidential election is around the corner, any sensible person will think that turning Temple Trees into a ‘goldmine’ to give away the gold jewellery to the Northerners is another election gimmick.
So, addressing the humanitarian issues such as finding the disappeared persons and releasing the Tamil political detainees could be the right approach to win the hearts and minds of the Northerners at this juncture.