December 2023

PACT Project Engages in Problem Solving

The Plural Action for Conflict Transformation (PACT) project focuses on different sectors every month. The month of November focused on the estate sector namely Bathalagoda, Kurunegala Badulla and Kegalle.

Job Fair Unveils Tensions and Economic Struggles

The Malaiyaha Tamils who migrated from South India contributed to the nation’s economic success. At the same time, their treatment perpetuates inequalities to this day, this year marking 200 years since their arrival in Sri Lanka. Examples of this are no land ownership, no property and house ownership, no address, no respectful work, limited access to education, poor health services, insufficient income and general inaccessibility to government services. On the Bathalagoda estate, a group of Malaiyaga Tamils have been working on a private rubber estate since the 1880s. The Bathalagoda rubber estate in the Ebbagamuwa Divisional Secretariat is located in the middle of a Sinhala village. The owner of the rubber estate wants to sell his property.

The Malaiyaga Tamils on the Bathalagoda estate do not have a dignified life. The management provides line rooms. If there are any repairs necessary, they have no right to renovate them. The line room consist of one bedroom and a small space to cook food. In that single room the father, mother and children live together. Eating, changing clothes, sleeping and studying all take place in that room. Without bathrooms attached, there is no privacy for individuals in the family, which gives rise to many social issues prevailing in the community.

The private land occupied by the youth from Bathalagoda estate is currently at the centre of a court case. The management of the land released a notice saying that the land may only be used for cultivation, not occupation. Building tents, houses or any infrastructure is illegal. The management only allows those above the age of 60 years to work on the estate because they fulfill the requirements with fewer labour costs. Youth, on the other hand, are not given that opportunity. The property sale necessitates the removal of people from the land but they have no land of their own and nowhere to go. As a first step, the management has already sold the cemetery area.

After learning about this issue and in an effort to reduce economicl burdens, NPC conducted a job fair in Ebbagamuwa, which was attended by youths from the Bathalagoda estate. One young person said, “Sometimes people from the Sinhala community attack Tamil people during festival times.” Another added, “If any smuggling or theft occurs, the Sinhala people accuse Tamils”.

Getting the participation of government officials from Divisional Office such as Social Integration Officers, Social Welfare Officers and Village Officers as well as the media was a step towards mitigating the problems of the estate sector. Taking these steps is central under the PACT project.

Library of Reconciliation

A library is a platform of knowledge and enrichment. NPC initiated mitigation through expanding knowledge. The District Inter Religious Committee (DIRC) in Kotakanda, Kurunegala took the initiative to open a library for reconciliation, which was established by NPC with the support of Kurunegala DIRC at Kotakanda purana viharaya, providing access to Muslim and Tamil communities living near the temple. Religious leaders have provided books related to their religions for the library in an effort to foster inter religious relations. DIRC members discussed a plan for monitoring the use of the library. 

Mobile Services

A mobile service was conducted in Ruwanwella Divisional Secretariate for estate workers. DIRC members had realised that there were many barriers to getting essential documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and national identity cards. NPC provided the facilities to obtain the documentation through a mobile service at Ruwanwella estate at which more than 275 estate workers were given their documents.

Naming a Village

The name of a village created a conflict between Muslim and Sinhala people in Matara. The Sinhalese wanted to call it Anakariga Dharmapala and the Muslims wanted the name to be Ishzadeen. In order to ease tensions, NPC held a street drama, which carried the message that not hurting people of other ethnicities, religions and cultures was the cornerstone of a pluralistic, harmonious society. The drama was performed in several public places. Many children said they wanted to perform the drama in their schools.

Youth Programme

DIRC youth leaders found that thefts in estates across Badulla led to suspicions about unemployed Tamil youths, resulting in frequent conflicts between Sinhalese and Tamil communities and causing a loss of trust and creating tension. Recognising the root cause as economic challenges faced by youth in the estates due to a lack of income sources, youth leaders arranged a job fair under the PACT project in the Badulla District Secretariat to address the issue and foster positive relationships between the Sinhala and Tamil communities in the estates. More than 200 youth participated and received consultations and job opportunities. Twenty one organisations and educational institutions seeking employees were identified. Government officials, DIRC members and community leaders provided resources for the event.

Religious Conversion

Estate workers in Kegalle have been changing their religion, leading to conflicts between Hindus and Christians. Kegalle DIRC members discussed the problem with the Divisional Reconciliation Committee in the area and decided to hold an awareness programme to promote religious freedom, human rights, peace and reconciliation as well as conflict transformation. DIRC members distributed leaflets and posters on the importance of conflict mitigation and carried the message to the community by pasting stickers about the importance of peace and reconciliation on the vehicles. This initiative marked a significant milestone in fostering harmony with the community.

Women’s Participation

There are very few women in Provincial Councils and Local Government Authorities. There are several barriers to increasing the female representation because of male domination. Public representation means public participating in decision making therefore it was crucial that female participation should be 50% in any decision making process. To correct the situation, Kandy DIRC members met the Governor of the Central Province, Lalith Gamage, and discussed ways of increasing the female representatives in the local government. They also sent a letter about the matter to the prime minister.