Jaffna is governed under one of three remaining customary laws used in Sri Lanka: Thesawalamai law, which is the traditional law of the Sri Lankan Tamil inhabitants Jaffna peninsula, codified by the Dutch during their colonial rule in 1707.

During a training programme on protecting civic space under NPC’s Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) project, the issues of land occupation by the military and access to land ownership for women were discussed.

One participant said that people in the North felt that the government was enforcing a Buddhist colonial system in the region. The general practice was to ask for approval from the neighbours before selling land. This was not the case for the Thaiyiddy Buddhist temple, which was built on public land occupied by the military, that was governed under Thesawalamai law. The military built the temple without authorisation of the land owners. Therefore, the people were demanding that the temple be dismantled and the land given back to them.

They also wanted compensation for government occupation of their land. According to Thesawalamai law, land can only be taken by the government for economic development and not for cultural or religious purposes. “Thesawalamai law is there to protect us and our culture”, a participant observed. Thesawalamai law treated the land rights of women and men unequally, participants noted. A woman had to get written consent from her husband to sell her own land. Participants also said that for women ownership of land was not regulated and that the law did not address current issues and, therefore, there was a need for reform of the law.

About us

The National Peace Council (NPC) was established as an independent and impartial national non-government organization