Feature Article

Sinhala occupation of pastureland causes existential threat to Batticaloa Tamil farmers

[TamilNet, Sunday, 14 June 2015, 23:19 GMT]
316 Tamil farmers belonging to two administrative divisions in Batticaloa district own around 85,000 cattle. The cattle-herders from this region have been officially demarcated 45,000 acres of lands in Maathava'nai, Periya-maathava'ani and Mayilaththa-madu. More than 5,000 Tamils are dependent on the cattle industry in the region. They supply 15,000 litres of milk to three collecting centres run by Milko and Nestlé in Kiraan and Chengkaladi. The Sinhala colonisers have seized 12,000 acres (one fourth) of the allocated pastureland. Operatives belonging to SL Wildlife Conservation Department and the occupying Sinhala soldiers have been chasing the Tamil cattle herders away as the intruding Sinhala farmers engage in Chena-cultivation. The Tamil farmers demand a permanent solution before the Sinhala intruders are set to commence Chena cultivation for next season in August 2015.

The Tamil farmers, trying to recover from the loss of their cattle during the final phase of the war in the East, are now forced to struggle to defend not only their livelihood, but also one of their key industries in the district, says Sivagnanam Krishnapillai, a Tamil farmer from Chiththaa'ndi who has been taking his cattle to Mayilaththa-madu for several years.

“Knowing that there is nobody to defend our rights, the Sinhala settlers, with the backing of military are chasing us out. They seize the cattle, demand ransom for releasing them when we go searching for them. They have killed 232 cows in recent times,” he told TamilNet in a video interview.

The pasturelands were earlier under the civil administration of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sinhalicisation of the area had been successfully contained for decades.

The cattle farmers were given access to approximately 45,000 acres of grazing lands as officially declared by the Sri Lankan Government in a gazette notification several years ago.

The practice has also been confirmed by the Divisional Secretariats at Chengkaladi and Kiraan.

During the last phase of the war in Batticaloa in 2007-2008, the people from this area were totally uprooted. At that time, the occupying SL military had slaughtered a large number of their cows. The Sinhala military had also sold a lot of these cows to Muslim traders from other parts of the island.

There were around 225,000 cattle registered in the entire district before the final phase of the war in 2007. After the war, the number was reduced to 175,000.

Grazing lands Mailaththa-madu

The large pasturelands situated northwest of Batticaloa city, is viewed as a single block of lands (Ka'ndam) by the cattle herders.

Another cattle farmer, Arulanantham Subramaniyam, who was arrested and harassed by the SL Wildlife Conservation Department operatives and the SL Justice system in 2014 explained how the Sinhala intruders demand ransom and how the SL military commanders deal with the problem.

The government officials, especially the Divisional Secretariat officials, have failed to stop the occupation of the pasturelands, they accused.

The SL government officials, who should be giving free medical services to the cattle that become affected by illness, have been demanding money to even come and inspect their cattle, they add.

The Tamil politicians, who visit Tamil voters during the times of election, also promise that they would look after their problems. But, they have also failed to deliver anything from the new regime in Colombo, the Tamil farmers accused.

Kurunathan Kathirgamathamby, the former Land Commissioner of the Eastern Province, who gave an in-depth interview to TamilNet in May 2015, also confirmed the extent of the problem faced by the Tamil farmers.

The Sinhala settlers have seized more than 12,000 acres of the lands in Maathava’nai and Periya-maathava’nai area alone, according to Mr Kurunathan.

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