graveyards to ghosts of liveration
By Frances Bulathsinghala in Wanni
Balasundarampillai, is one among four hired masons who have come
from government-controlled Vavuniya to the LTTE-controlled Madhu
region to construct anew the LTTE cemeteries that have been left
is following the instructions given by the LTTE on how the cemetery
is to be arranged - with trenches cut. "Just in case, there
is a war again," he adds without being asked. He does not have
to add: to bury those who are killed.
cement on the oblong tomb stones, 320 in all, is barely dry. This
cemetery, in the vicinity of the Madhu church, unlike the many others
which are completed with marble slabs and podium, had been mounds
of soil, marking the graves of the cadres. Now wet and glistening,
the name plaques are marked. Irrespective of rank, following the
LTTE status of proclaimed equality.
the idea of another war seem to bother Mr. Balasunderampillai, a
father of three children to feed? Not yet. For him after two and
a half years of peace, war seems to hover in the distant, improbable
horizon. The recent LTTE suicide bombing which shook Colombo in
particular and the country in general does not apply to him.
does not live in Colombo and is not a Sinhalese and the impact of
the recent LTTE suicide attack has little effect on him. He does
not know or care about the reasons behind the attack which was targeted
at the arch enemy of the LTTE and the only Tamil political ally
of President Kumaratunga, Minister Douglas Devananda.
Mr. Balasundarampillai has only vaguely heard of Mr. Devananda,
the Hindu Affairs Minister, the only Tamil politician who does not
support the LTTE and whose very name on Tamil lips is considered
poisonous fair by the Tamil Tigers.
as he arranges brick upon brick to create the cemetery infrastructure
which is similar to all the LTTE cemeteries in the other northeastern
areas, Mr. Balasundaranpillai explains that he is lucky because
he is hired by the LTTE directly. Lucky, because this way he does
not have to pay the LTTE tax -- the rate depending on the nature
and size of the construction -- for entering Tiger-controlled territory
for obtaining employment in this land of liberation.
that there is any construction work as such, unless it is carried
out by the LTTE. No one can afford constructions. And if any is
attempted by any chance, there is the LTTE interrogation to be faced,
as to why such constructions are needed for the ordinary people.
There is no question here of building a house as opulent as one
likes. Cement cannot be found anywhere except with the LTTE cement
'dealers' and (to a minimum extent) at the cooperative society located
in the towns. And even here it is priced at Rs. 550 , because of
the LTTE tax, nearly 150 rupees higher than the price in Colombo.
will be given another contract for a cemetery in Kilinochchi and
maybe more. This is an assured income," says Mr. Balasundarampillai.
He begins to enumerate the LTTE tax strategy but stops as the keeper
of the cemetery, an LTTE member who declines to divulge his name,
arrives to brusquely demand why we want to know anything about how
the LTTE runs its administration.
is friendlier when asked to explain about the costs of setting up
the cemetery. About the LTTE cemeteries, the stamp of its military
past and its 'freedom struggle', he is happy to talk.
costs Rs. 6,000 a tomb, including the labour costs, he explains.
He does not enumerate the expenditure for the lofty wall that surrounds
the cemetery acreage, though. Nor does he explain about the LTTE
proliferation of its coffers mainly through its taxes. According
to the LTTE-run Wanni Transport Board, the tax, one way travel on
the one bus which plies twice from the main Madhu route, is Rs.
bringing in bikes, cycles and tractors from government-controlled
territory to LTTE regions, the tax is 25% which applies for any
kind of goods including large quantities of consumer goods though
the LTTE propaganda website claimed last year that they had waived
taxes on most items.
than 15 kilometres away from the area of the Madhu church, which
was a camp for the war displaced, where over 10,000 families lived
in shacks we turn towards the Mawawi-Kilinochchi route, the non-tarred
jungle bordered road leads to pockets of land cleared for habitation.
No buses of the LTTE transport service, the only transport service
in the area, ply on this road. Dust creates an almost palpable curtain
and the brown of the dried up shrubs gets thicker with each mile.
an arid jungle terrain, is one area along this stretch which houses
around 35 families who had earlier lived in the huddled confines
of the Madhu IDP settlement.
is no way of earning a living. We survive because we cultivate our
own food," says Ponniah Mahendra standing on the parched ground
which he has tried to force into bearing fruit with meagre results.
It is now almost eight months since he and his acquaintances at
the Madhu settlement arrived here with their scanty war preserved
belongings and cleared the heavy jungle into a marginally habitable
has tried to tame this land into agriculture as much as possible
and his present agricultural bounty totals to a few plantain trees,
onion paths, manioc and chillie cultivation.
remains mute to what he thinks of the LTTE. Nobody makes any comment
of what he thinks of the LTTE. Fettered by a poverty as parched
as this land, liberation hovers in the air and blends into the hot
winds. Yet, when asked why he does not make an effort to sell some
of the produce, he says the effort of cycling five kilometres to
the nearest village on his rusted cycle is not worth it as he has
to also pay the 5% LTTE tax levied for selling vegetable produce.
owning cycles or motorcycles have a better way of earning a living
as they rent the vehicles out for Rs. 10 a ride for short distances
which total to around Rs. 50 for over ten kilometres.
if the LTTE assists the Tamil people living in territory controlled
by it through the LTTE-run monetary organisations such as the Tamil
Rehabilitation Organisation and the LTTE Economic Development Centre,
he says he is not aware of such organisations as they do not assist
the Tamil people in the Wanni. Nor does he seem aware of the nature
of the liberation the LTTE is fighting for.