Freedom nation?
By Madhushala Senaratne and Himal Kotelawala, Pix. by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

Here's a little holiday package for you. Pack your bags, swim suits, shorts, scuba diving gear and all and head to the…drum roll…East. Yes, to the East coast of Sri Lanka. Or take your camera and head to the thorny, dry and yet abundantly picturesque jungles of the North on an all expenses paid trip to the country's north and east.

Do you dare? Think you've got what it takes to go there? Would you even want to? We've heard about how beautiful the East of Sri Lanka is, the war torn province which boasts of unspoiled waters, a natural harbour and picture postcard lagoons from Passekudah to Kalkudah and Nilawela. Heard being the keyword…

But not many of us are fortunate enough to see these places for ourselves. We are forced to jealously listen to what the lucky few who have been there say about it and just take their word for it.

Any person from Colombo will give you a million reasons why he or she couldn't and shouldn't visit the country's volatile North and East. The word war is sure to be repeated a few hundred times during their explanation.

But there is no war in the East anymore and what with a new Chief Minister at the helm there is fresh hope for the battle worn province. But how many of us would go there given the chance? And can we even think of visiting the North? There's a full scale war going on and seriously, who wants to get caught in the crossfire?

And what about the millions of youngsters in those provinces who have never set foot in the capital city of their own country? Will they ever get a chance to do so?

We in the South are too scared to visit the North and East for obvious reasons, and those in the North and East have second thoughts visiting the South because they too fear something. But our constitution gives us freedom to move wherever we like in any part of this beautiful country of ours. It's called the Freedom of Movement and it comes along with all those other rights we, as citizens of Sri Lanka, can enjoy such as Freedom of Expression and Thought.

According to Article 14 of the constitution of Sri Lanka, every citizen is entitled to the Freedom of Movement and of choosing his residence within Sri Lanka; and the freedom to return to Sri Lanka. The article also says that the exercise and operation of this Right shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national security, public order and the protection of public health or morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society. For the purposes of this paragraph "law" includes regulations made under the law for the time being relating to public security.

But what is this freedom they speak of? Can we move about freely? What is this Freedom of Movement we are looking for? We caught up with several young individuals who shared their views on Freedom of Movement in Sri Lanka.

Dilini (24)

We are a country at war, so anyway I wouldn't want to go to the North, unless I was a mad photographer or journalist but I think it even more unfair that the hundreds of thousands of innocent people trapped in the middle of the fighting can't escape to a better place like the South and thh farthest they end up is the East, which is no bed of roses.

Shobhana (23)

I travel to Batticaloa as part of my work regularly. But we are not entirely free to travel to the East. For me personally no matter how bad the security situation is, I will continue to go there as I enjoy what I am doing. But for those who want to go to the East to simply visit the place or walk around, it's a different kind of story.

However, today due to the prevailing situation no area is really safer than the other be it the West or East. Fear of being caught in a bomb blast or being abducted enters anyone's mind today once they leave home. However people cannot build a fortress around their lives and live inside permanently, especially the young, and people are increasingly used to this situation now, but are restricting their outdoor tours than in previous years. People in the East travel to Colombo too, to pursue higher studies and for work, but like any one of us, they are concerned about their safety as well.

Sanjeewa (19)

If I want to travel around the country, it's at my own risk. Travelling is never easy for Tamils or even Muslim citizens of Sri Lanka for they may be harassed or questioned at various security establishments. There are also restrictions on those who want to travel from the North to the South in order to minimize security threats. But these restrictions will make it worse for the already frustrated people.

As for my freedom of movement…it is mainly restricted only by my parents, because of the situation everyone thinks twice before stepping out of their homes. But, even then we have no choice but to travel and live our lives the same way as before.

Taking up residence any where in the country is impossible as there arent many cities in Sri Lanka that can compared to Colombo, when it comes to access to facilities, other than Kandy, probably. The basic and important infrastructure is available mainly only in Colombo, such as schools, universities, food and safety to some extent, and well…a bit of social life.

Mineka (20)

I would definitely not go to the North or the East taking the country's situation into consideration. To settle any where else in the country would be alright, but travelling around in general is scary due to bomb blasts.

It's sad that we are unable to enjoy and explore the North and the East. Specially the beaches! Job-wise opportunities are not as great as in Colombo but this again depends on the sort of job you do. Some people are perfectly happy in the rural areas or other main towns as there are jobs for doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and accountants...and some people prefer the relaxed leisurely pace of life but certainly the hub of industry and commerce is Colombo.

Ayesha (24)

Young people know very little of Sri Lanka apart from Colombo, Kandy and the South. The North and the East has been left unexplored, especially where young people are concerned, which is very sad. When you talk of Wilpattu, the first thing that comes to your mind is the unstable situation in that part of the country. We go to Malaysia and other places, but haven't gone around in our own country. There is so much to see in this part of the island…the beaches, the lakes…even the climate is wonderful. But what's the point of such beauty if people are not willing to come here?

It's mainly due to "personal restrictions," which again is as a result of the prevailing security situation. Fun trips and exploration tours are restricted, with only the necessary travels there.

True you have to go through many check points on your journey to the East and it can be tiresome, because the journey itself is around 10 hours. But I see these security check points as a welcoming sign. You feel safer. You'll end up spending a lot of time at these, but it's probably worth it.

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