Feature Article

Women on protest vow to sail and seize Ira'nai-theevu with white-flags

[TamilNet, Sunday, 11 June 2017, 23:12 GMT]
Forty-two days have elapsed. Tamil politicians come and go. No officials of the SL State have showed themselves. There has been no solution to the struggle of 500 families from Ira'nai-theevu, who wage a continues protest near the coast of Muzhangkaavil, facing the Palk Strait from the Vanni mainland, 12 nautical miles away from their native twin-islands of Ira'nai-theevu. The women, who used to be actively engaged in five different means of livelihood before 1992, stay in the protest site during the day time and their husbands continue the protest during the nights after coming from the seas. “This protest, launched on May 01, will continue even if it reaches 100 days. Finally, if there is no solution, we will enter Ira’nai-theevu disregarding the warnings of SL Navy, carrying white flags in our boats,” 54-year-old Atputharany Anton told TamilNet in a video interview on Sunday.

The women were urging media, politicians from all the communities and activists to back their struggle in the coming days.

Ira'nai-theevu is a twin-island village, situated 12 nautical miles west of Muzhangkaavil along the coast of Vanni in the Palk Bay.

783 Eezham Tamil families were living there until they became fully uprooted from the islands on 10 August 1992 for the first time.

Ira'nai-theevu was having a self-sustained economy and livelihood to all its inhabitants.

The uprooted people from Ira'nai-theevu are staying at Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar since 1992. The locations of Ira'nai-theevu and Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar are shown in the map. [Image Courtesy: British made One Inch Map, revised in 1972 by ‘Sri Lanka’ Survey Department, Legend by TamilNet]

“The people remember how their lives were flourishing with five concrete income facilities: fishing, dry fish production, coconut farming, cattle farming and traditional paint production (Chu'n'naampu) from cam-shells,” remembers 62-year-old Packiyam Kanikkai.

The Roman Catholic Mixed Tamil School at Ira'nai-theevu was having classes upto GCE (O/L). There was Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society branch, St. Mary's Church which also provided potable water from its water tanks, a Convent, dispensary and a cemetery.

Our husbands were able to engage in fishing sensing the time of location around the island, says Atputharany Anton.

“Ira'nai-theevu has 300 years of recorded civilian settlement,” says 74-year-old mother Anjalina Santhiya, one of the five people who were interviewed by TamilNet on Sunday at the protest site. The continuous history is evidenced through the records of the parish priests, she says. The people were having land documents from the colonial times.

Ira'naitheevu Survey 01
A detailed survey plan of Ira'nai-theevu North part, illustrating the pattern of land use carried out in the past. The area, marked in red, is a rocky area where there were no residences. That is also the area used for military purposes. Otherwise, the entire 1,200 acres of lands, that were utilised in the past for residential, fisheries industry or cattle farming, is now being commercially exploited by the SL Navy. Access to the coast and resumption of cattle farming are essential to ensure the livelihood of the people for a meaningful resettlement.

Ms Atputharany says the fishermen are unable to make a living even after spending 15 litres of Kerosene today. While they were in the island, they were able to catch fish worth of thousands of rupees by just spending one or one and a half litres of fuel, she says.

Their first displacement in 1992 was a mass exodus following a massacre by the SL Navy on Ma'ndai-theevu island situated north of Ira'nai-theevu.

The families managed to resettle back in the islands of Ira'nai-theevu in 1997, but they were again displaced to the coast of Muzhangkaavil in the Vanni mainland, in Poonakari division of Ki'linochchi district, due to SL Navy activity firing on boats in the Palk Strait.

Ira'naitheevu Survey 02
Survey map of Ira'nai-theevu South part

Ira'nai-theevu comes under the administrative division of Poonakari in Ki'linochchi district. From Naachchikkudaa to Ma'n'niththalai, the Poonakari region remains heavily militarised by the occupying military of genocidal Sri Lanka after 2009.

The displaced families, dependent on fishing are only able to engage in one of their five livelihoods, only fishing, and that too under amidst hardships, the women say.

After they were displaced to mainland, they slowly created a temporary coastal settlement of their own near Muzhangkaavil during the times of the LTTE. This settlement came to be known as Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar (the township of St. Mary of Ira'naitheevu).

Still the fishermen were able to reach the islands and reside their for days and engage on their livelihood of fishing and related activities as the Sea Tigers became a formidable defence force in the territorial waters of Eezham Tamils.

Today, they are fully denied access to Ira'nai-theevu. The occupying Sinhala Navy claims to have set up a Radar station in the northern part of the biggest island of the two along with a naval camp after 2009.

The people are only allowed to access their church once every year during the feast observed during the first Friday in March. Even on that day, the SL Navy will be chasing them away after 4:00 p.m.

Otherwise, anyone setting foot on the island risks to be chased out or being detained by the occupying Sinhala Navy.

But there are fishermen from other areas who are being allowed by the SL Navy to engage in fishing from the island. The SL Navy receives has an income-sharing trading with those fishermen. There are thousands of stray cattle (cows and goats) in the island. These are visible from the boats engaging in fishing. The SL Navy regularly catch these cattle for food and they also sell it to outsiders through Naachchikkudaa. Recently, there was an incident in which 35 cows were seized by the SL Police in Naachchik-kudaa. The uprooted people say these cows were transported from their island.

During the 2008-2009 genocidal onslaught on Vanni, the people of Ira'nai-maathaa-nakar displaced several times towards LTTE-controlled Vanni, finally reaching Mu'l'livaaykkaal. Later, the survivors of the onslaught had to go through the prolonged internment in the SL military run barbed-wire camps at Vavuniyaa.

When the families came back to their temporary settlement and tried to reach their native islands, the SL Navy told them to stay away from Ira'nai-theevu.

Around 500 families, numbering around 2,400 individuals, are staying in the temporary settlement. The remaining 25% of the population from Ira'nai-theevu are staying in Oalaith-thoduvaay and Theavanpiddi in Mannaar and some in Jaffna district.

Leaflet issued by Saint Mary's Fisheries Cooperative Society
Leaflet issued by Saint Mary's Fisheries Cooperative Society

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