Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphFifteen years after the end of the war in the north and east, a tourist might have a difficult time figuring out whether a war was fought there are at all at first glance. There is not much difference between the towns in the north and south. There is an appearance of peacefulness and normalcy that tourists have taken to. Sri Lanka has claimed the coveted title of the number one destination for solo female travelers in 2024, according to, a leading global media and hospitality business. Sri Lanka’s reputation for hospitality and safety further enhances its appeal to solo female travelers. According to the report, the warmth and friendliness of the locals, combined with the country’s relatively low crime rates, create an environment conducive to memorable and worry-free experiences for women exploring the country on their own. Sri Lanka also offers practical advantages for solo female travelers, such as affordable accommodations, reliable public transportation, and a well-developed tourist infrastructure.

But there is more than meets the eye. During the past week when I traveled north and saw the peacefulness and normalcy that also has, I asked a government officer what he thought was the difference between north and south. Without a moment’s hesitation he said that the laws were made in the south though they covered the north also, and that letters from the south came in the Sinhala language although Tamil was made an official language alongside Sinhala 37 years ago in 1987. The fact that the Tamil language is not quite equal to Sinhala in the constitution. Article 18 spells out that “(1) The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala. (2) Tamil shall also be an official language.” This could also have been expressed in a single sentence as “The Official Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil.” But instead of one sentence there are two.

The question of which language should be the one to replace the English language as the official language of the country in 1956 led to “Sinhala only”. It arose from the reality that the Sinhala speaking parliamentarians outnumbered the Tamil speakers and decided that there was need for only one official language which would be Sinhala. A decision was taken by those in the south which impacted upon those in the north. An issue that is currently being discussed by the government but which will have an impact on the north is on fishing rights. The government is under pressure from its Indian counterpart to give access to Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters. The escalation of the dispute over the islet of Katchatheevu which India agreed was in Sri Lankan waters in 1974 is now being used to pressurize Sri Lanka.

Fishing Rights
There have been many initiatives taken to resolve this problem and secure the rights of the Sri Lankan fishermen in the north. One proposal that I heard about was when religious groups offered to buy small boats for the Indian fishermen with aid they received from charities in western countries so that they could fish in Indian waters and not come over to the Sri Lankan side. The hope was that this would keep out the armada of Indian trawlers owned by big business interests with political links in India from crossing over into Sri Lankan waters. It was also reported that the fishermen on the boats would not receive their wages if they did not return with a substantial catch. As the fishermen would have their own small boats they would not need to cross over to the Sri Lankan side and engage in illegal and destructive bottom trawling which denudes the sea of fishes and their spawn. It was also reported that poor fishermen were not prepared to accept the offer as they feared that these small boats could be destroyed by powerful elements controlling the fishing industry.

Due to the failure to find a viable negotiated solution the Sri Lankan government has deployed its navy to arrest those Indian fishermen who cross over into Sri Lankan waters and detain their fishing boats. The Indian government has pointed out that more than 6000 Indian fishermen and 1000 boats have been detained over the years by the Sri Lankan navy. Especially during an election period, the Indian government leaders would like to show the Indian fishing community that they stand by their people, and obtain their vote. It appears that the Sri Lankan government is under pressure to give legal rights to the Indian fishermen to cross over into Sri Lankan waters and fish there. This would be pleasing to the Indian fishing businesses and also be advantageous to the Indian government during this election period. But the price will be paid by the Sri Lankan fishermen who will have to share the fishing catch with much bigger Indian trawlers that engage in bottom trawling which is illegal in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka needs to make use of the opportunities that its large extent of sea by investing in its fishermen. Those in the south ought not to make decisions injurious to the interests of the people in the north but rather should seek to strengthen them.

Apart from making laws for the north that are harmful to their economic interests, those in the south also make laws that affect the sense of ethnic pride and sorrow of the people in the north. May 18 will be the day that the people in the north will commemorate the 15th anniversary of the end of the war, with its large scale loss of life that took away their loved ones. There is much concern that the government authorities are preparing to amend laws and regulations to clamp down on such commemorations and to describe them as efforts to revive the LTTE who were destroyed on the battlefield in May 2009. The irony is that the Office of Reparation Act No 34 of 1998 section 27 describes what collective and individual reparation entails and mandates the office to support those initiatives.

LTTE Phobia


Police have initiated investigations into a decorative battle tank and a karthikai poo - the Tamil national flower - that were put on display at Thellipalai Union College's sports meet. Pix from Tamil Guardian


Police have initiated investigations into a decorative battle tank and a karthikai poo – the Tamil national flower – that were put on display at Thellipalai Union College’s sports meet. Pix from Tamil Guardian

The government officials I spoke to in the north were of the opinion that if the government does not interfere with the commemorations that the families of the victims are planning, the day will pass without incident. They say that most of the people want to move on, though they also want to do their duty by those who died or went missing. The problem is that there are elements on both sides, on the government side and in the north who want to escalate conflict which gives them a role to play. Even if the government is unwilling to permit the public commemoration of the LTTE, which remains a banned organization in Sri Lanka and internationally, the government must not stand in the way of people commemorating their loved ones whether they were LTTE or not.

The continuing surveillance for those who wish to resurrect the LTTE can reach levels that unnecessarily upset and antagonise the people of the north. When I was there a story that was doing the rounds was that of a school in Tellipalai, Union College, a respected one set up by the missionaries of yore. For the school sports meet, and inter-house competition, the children had decorated one of the house tents with the images of battle tanks. Another house tent had been decorated with images of a flower that the LTTE declared as its national flower, the Karthikaipoo (Gloiosa Superba). After they heard of this, the police had visited the school premises where they took photographs and videos of the displays. The school teachers and principal were instructed to go to the police station where a statement was recorded from the principal.

The Karthiaipoo plant is valuable in the world of medicine. People have been using this plant in traditional medicine for a very long time, and now scientists are discovering more ways it can help, and has the potential to become a profitable export crop. Ironically, a few weeks earlier, the Sri Lanka Airforce had carried out a hearts and minds campaign among the youth in Jaffna. I was told that the airmen even provided the youth with flights round the city in an airplane for a modest cost of Rs 1000 each. The airforce had shown its battle equipment and urged the youth to join it to serve their country and about 50 had submitted their applications. There is peace and normalcy in the north as in the south. The suppression of any move to revive the LTTE must not become a frame of mind to revive the discredited politics of nationalism. But there are problems that need to be addressed by those with their feet on the ground who can also think of the people of Sri Lanka as equal citizens regardless of whether they live in the north or south.

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