Sri Lanka: Kadiragamar Transitional Relief Village
Total population : 19380 (Males
9438, females 9942)
Number of families : 5750
Total area : 1500 acres
Total population of IDPs in Menik Farm complex : 262 809
Number of Relief
villages : 5 (one is still
In the aftermath of the humanitarian liberation of the North, it’s people, given a new lease of life looks forward to the future, brimming with hope and confidence
By Sarashi Samarasinghe in Chettikulam
Last week I had the opportunity of visiting Kadiragamar Transitional Relief Village (KTRV) attached to the Menik Farm IDP camp. In the last few months I had read hundreds of news stories and saw thousands of pictures that gave me the notion that these relief villages were no better than concentration camps and I went there to see misery and suffering.
But to my surprise I did not see starving children and miserable mothers who were totally dependant on government aid but in the village I saw a commune of villagers who were fighting to stand on their own feet. Yes, they still don’t have electricity, they don’t still have the freedom of movement and some complain that they have not enough medical facilities but these proud and industrious men and women are doing their best, finally free from the clutches of a terrorist organization that menaced them for decades. And the following are some of their stories.
Ramalingam Rajeewan – Voice of Tigers announcer turned CWE worker
Sometimes to be talented in something could be a bad thing, especially if you are living under a ruthless terrorist organisation that has no scruples of forcing teenagers to bear arms in an adult conflict. Ramalingam Rajeewan, 28, went through that extraordinarily horrific struggle under LTTE rule for over a decade.
I met this young man when I visited the Lak Sathosa branch situated in the relief village. “I was born in Nedunkeni in Jaffna, where I was attached to the Voice of Tigers earlier,” Rajeewan tells me. “I was good at announcing, which caught the attention of the LTTE and that’s how I got involved with the Voice of Tigers,” he added.
Hearing his story I remembered that many teenagers in Colombo dream of becoming famous radio or TV presenters and how his life would have been different if he had the same opportunities. Instead of ending up as an employee at the cooperative shop in the KTRV, he would have been an idol of many a teenager.
Star pupil to terrorist
According to Rajeewan, he wanted to become a radio presenter ever since he was a child. A past pupil of Nedunkeni Maha Vidyalaya, he was studious and passed all his exams with flying colours.
“I did my OL and, in 1999, the AL Arts exam at the Nedunkeni Maha Vidyalaya,” he said.
He offered Hinduism, Tamil, Hindu Culture and Economics for his ALs and received a B, two Cs and a S.
Although he did well in studies, there weren’t many avenues open for him to pursue. The only career options available for a young man his age, under LTTE rule was either to become an LTTE cadre or waste his youth doing lowly paid part-time jobs. Not wanting to be a fighter, Rajeewan took the second path spending the next five years roaming hither and thither, attending English classes and trying his hand at teaching.
As luck would have it one of his English teachers told him a way of realising his dream of becoming a radio presenter. “One of my English teachers who knew of my dream of becoming a radio presenter told me that there is a way. He assured me that I did not have to harm anyone and since I trusted him, I agreed and that is how I joined the Voice of Tigers,” he recalled. “At first, I worked as a translator. Our office situated at the 150th km-post in Kilinochchi, was equipped with all modern facilities. My job was to read all the newspapers that arrived from Colombo and translate. Since there were not many people who could understand Sinhalese or English, my services were in demand,” added Rajeewan.
Rajeewan further stated that there were four other translators and out of the five, two of them knew Sinhalese very well. “These two had been residing in Gampaha earlier and came to Kilinochchi after Black July in 1983,” he said.
“I worked under an LTTE leader named Kamalanban. I have seen all the LTTE top rungers except Prabhakaran. I worked with them only for 10 months, from January to November 2007,” said Rajeewan.
Rajeewan was paid Rs 10,000 per a month for an eight-hour day. Later, the organisation ordered him to be on call 24 hours.
“I tendered my resignation in November 2007 but the organisation did not accept it and punished me for three months. They made me dig bunkers in Kilinochchi, where they were going to put up a new office named ‘World Food Store’,” said Rajeewan. “After months of hard labour, I got away when the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) approached,” he added.
According to Rajeewan the LTTE requested him once again to re join the outfit after his punishment period but he refused.
“They told me that they need translators and would pay me Rs 25, 000 per month along with all the other necessary facilities. But I refused, knowing what happened in the past,” said Rajeewan.
Rajeewan made his way to Nedunkeni, hiding for 15 days in the jungle and finally, ending up at Nedunkeni Maha Vidyalaya. “At that time, Nedunkeni was under the SLA,” said Rajeewan. He feels very happy at what has taken place and claims that the LTTE had turned into tyrants towards the end.
“We had to lie so much, when we were in the organisation, where they virtually brainwashed each and everyone,” said Rajeewan. “They made the people pay a living tax and did not hesitate to punish them if they failed to pay. Is that how liberators behave?’ he asked.
A second chance
Rajeewan was among the first group which surrendered to the SLA.
“There were 47 in the group that surrendered in Omanthai. We had been living in fear under the LTTE. And although life is difficult now, overall we are happy. At least I know I have a chance of living and that, after some time we can live a normal life. Now, I am happily employed here at Lanka Sathosa for a basic salary of Rs 12,000,” said Rajeewan.
He further stated that he has a lot of confidence in President Rajapaksa and believes that many people who lived under LTTE rule are no longer captivated by the ideals of the LTTE.
“There were many who were engaged within the LTTE, who blindly followed them but now I am trying to make them aware of the truth, to make them realise that winning Eelam is just a dream,” said Rajeewan.
Feeding the IDPs
Next, we spoke with the Manager of Lanka Sathosa cooperative shop, Waruna Dharmapriya. “I am a resident of Egoda Uyana, Moratuwa, and I came to work here at the KTRV for six months from the head office in Colombo. I arrived here on May 27,” said Dharmapriya.
When Sathosa Chairman, Nalin Fernando requested for volunteers willing to work at this relief village, Dharmapriya was one of the first to volunteer.
“I have a different view of this whole issue than the others in the South. I see this from a different angle. I have nothing against these people, they are like everyone else we would meet in our neighbourhood. I am very happy and content to be working with these people here,” he stated. “When the brave forces liberated the LTTE area, I realised the best way to honour the military and the President is not by celebrating on the streets, lighting firecrackers but by volunteering to help these people,” he added.
Dharmapriya affirmed that all the necessary items were being brought here from Colombo and added with a smile that sweetmeats are popular.
“We have sales between Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000 a month and there are six of us working here,” he added.
When Dharmapriya claimed that sales amounted to Rs 300,000 a month, I wondered how on earth these ‘IDPs’ could afford to spend that kind of money on food a month.
The answer presented itself when we were guided to a finely cultivated vegetable farm where we met the proud owner, 56-year-old Thambu Kadireshan. I must say that the sight of the green fields and the look of pride was in total contrast to my preconceived notion of these men and women.
“I reside near Kilinochchi town and came to KTRV on January 14. I started farming three months ago where I own one-and-a-half acres of land,” said Kadireshan.
Kadireshan has cultivated vegetables such as ladies fingers, long beans, green leaves, carrots and pumpkin. “This soil is extremely suitable for farming and I earn Rs 20,000 per month,” stated Kadireshan. He further stated that he sells all his vegetables inside the KTRV, and the Ministry of Agricultural Development & Agrarian Services helped him very much in this regard.
“I am grateful to the President for releasing us from the terrorists. I look forward to a new life with my family from here onwards,” he added.
Academic work continues
Tamils are reputed to be a very intelligent people and during our sojourn inside the KTRV we visited Kadiragamar Vidyalaya for a brief conversation with the Principal, Sinnathambi Raja.
“We started this school on February 2, 2009. There are 4,760 students studying here from Grade 1 to 13,” said Raja. He further stated that there are 325 teachers in this school, out of which, 76 teach AL students.
“There are 305 AL students and the school comprises of students from seven zones in the North, such as Kilinochchi, Mannar, Madhu, Mulathivu, Thuttunkai, Vavuniya North and Vadamarachchikulam,” said Raja.
According to Raja, classes from Grade 6 to 13 are from 8:00 am to 1:30 pm, while Primary classes are from 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm.
“We have qualified teachers for the AL classes with students in all four streams,” stated Raja. He also said that they have extra curricular activities such as music, dancing and art. “We also have a mini lab for the science students but further developments have yet to be done,” said Raja.
According to Raja, the Provincial Education Department, the Provincial Education Ministry, along with the Vavuniya Educational Zone, provides the school with all the necessary materials.
“I was the Principal of Vattapalai Maha Vidyalaya in Vavuniya, from 1995 to 2008, and I also worked at Zahira College, Anuradhapura for five years,” he added.
The Nation also met a bright student at this school who had obtained nine As and one B at the OL examination in 2005 and is now studying for the AL exam in the science stream.
“I studied at Pudukudiirippu Central College up to the OL examination and was unable to continue my studies due to the conflict in the North,” said 19-year-old Varunananda Raja Vinidharan. Vinidharan has six members in his family and is hoping to sit for the AL exam next year.
“I came to the KTRV with my family on March 3. My main aim is to become a doctor,” stated Vinidharan.
Miles to go before we sleep
The residents of the village receive medical treatment via a mobile hospital which looks in to their basic medical needs. There is still a lot more to do in order to achieve a satisfactory level of sanitation and some complain about the restrictions of movement.
“If we need medical treatment for an accident there is no place we can go to. We get rations from the government but since I’m not a farmer I did not get any land. I come from Pudukudiirrippu and since we are not allowed to go outside I cant find a job. So I want the government to look into our needs and help people like me find jobs,” said Nawarathnam Baskaran.
Meanwhile Chandradewi Kandasami, a primary teacher from Pudumathalan complained that there is not enough water for their day to day needs. “There is not enough water for us to bathe. A lot more has to be done,” she said. But she added that things are showing signs of improvement. “At first things were not that good and we were very pessimistic. But the first batch of people who came to the Menik farm camp have been provided with decent living conditions and I think things will be better in the future,” she added.
Pix by Chathura S. Kodikara