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'The Sinhalese don't object to Tamils leaving Lanka'

By A Ganesh Nadar
October 06, 2009 21:25 IST
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A Ganesh Nadar visits a camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in southern Tamil Nadu to find out what the people there think of recent events on the island nation.

Last fortnight in Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli in south Tamil Nadu, Christians came out on the streets to express solidarity with the Tamils suffering in Sri Lanka.

While they staged a rally in Nagercoil, the district headquarters of Kanyakumari, in Tirunelveli they sat on a day-long fast.

The Palayamcottai bus stand is opposite the venue where the fasting Christians sat. Both Protestants and Catholics were present though the organising was done by the former. Most local political parties sent their speakers to express support.

And what do the Lankan Tamils, in whose support this was being held, think about the solidarity? They were not present at the rally or at the fasting venue. Inquiries at camps for Sri Lankan refugees revealed that there was a blanket ban on leaving the camp for three days.

"We cannot go anywhere without informing the 'Q' branch (A special branch of the Tamil Nadu police that deals with extremist activities). How can we tell them that we are going for a political rally? We are happily working here, enjoying freedom that even our brethren in our own county don't have. We are not going to jeopardise that by attending any rally or fast. We know it is for us and appreciate it. But we won't participate," a middle-aged man, who has been in India for 21 years, tells

Sherry, a young girl, adds, "You know what filthy language the Sinhalese soldiers use when they see young Tamil girls. That is why refugees are still coming here. The sea route is not safe anymore and so they come by air."

For those who have a passport and the money getting to India is not a problem at all. In the villages, they inform the army that they are going to Colombo to see their relatives. Once they reach Colombo they just leave for India. The Sinhalese do not object to any Tamil leaving for India. In fact they don't object to any Tamil leaving for any country, Tamils, who have come over from Sri Lanka, told

Once they land in India (Chennai or Thiruvanathapuram) they are told to go to the Mandpam camp to register themselves. After registration the 'Q' branch questions them for at least three days till what they say corroborates with what refugees who are already here are telling them.

They can live in the camps or outside if they have the money to do so. About life in Sri Lanka, Sherry says, "The Sri Lankan government says it gives free rations in the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps. It is true that they are giving food grains, but it is enough for only one meal a day."

Outside the camps, life is controlled by the Lankan army. "There is no civil administration anywhere where the Tamils live. If the army says 'Sit!' we have to sit and if they say 'Stand!' we have to stand. We were better off under the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). At least they allowed us to work and move around freely. We did not have to take any pass from them to go anywhere. Now the army insists on a pass to go from one village to another and we have to inform them on when we will come back."

Young Tamil boys are always under threat from the white vans that still operate in spite of the LTTE being defunct. These vans were famous during the fight against the LTTE. They used to appear without number plates, pick up young men and women who vanished after that.

The LTTE is gone, but not the white vans.

"The vans do not enter the camps as there are three lakh (300,000) Tamils there," says an elderly man. "They cannot kidnap anyone without a revolt. So young people should stay here. They are not safe outside."

The Mannar area, which has always been under army control, has seen no violence recently. "I have relatives there. Their lives are safe, but not their freedom," he adds. "They are very scared of the army and move around in fear all the time."

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A Ganesh Nadar in Tirunelveli