Feature

Trying to rebuild their homes, and lives

JAFFNA_DISTRICT_2412112fIt is nearly two months since the Sri Lankan army returned V. Yogeswaran’s land and house in Palai Veemankamam, about 15 km from Jaffna. Yet, he just can’t believe it that his property has been restored to him.

Nearly 25 years have passed by since his family left the house in June 1990 on the directions of the army. Four months later, there was heavy shelling in and around the area, forcing the remaining people to abandon their homes.

Dr. Yogeswaran, a government doctor, was then posted to Delft, closer to Katchatheevu (an islet ceded by India to Sri Lanka in 1974).

As is the practice in this part of the country, the land was given to him as seedanam (‘dowry’) by his mother-in-law in the mid-1980s.

“We completed the construction of the house in 1988. I would have spent one night here,” recalls the doctor. As his job is transferable, he remained out of Jaffna for most of the time.

Till March this year, Palai Veemankamam was out of bounds for the common man. In the past, when he happened to visit Kandasamy temple in Mavittapuram, a few km from the area, Dr. Yogeswaran would point to his daughter and son the direction where the family property was located. Dr. Yogeswaran’s children were young when he had to abandon the home.

Not fit for occupation

Though the house is not fit for immediate occupation, the doctor could be considered lucky. For, unlike many others, his home at least has a roof.

Kathiresan was not as lucky. When he returned to the region after many years, he could find nothing. His modest house had been razed to the ground. His sister in law’s home, which adjoined his, existed structurally but was roofless. Kathiresan doesn’t have the resources the doctor has. He is a mason. “I work on daily wages,” he says.

He has no inclination to be nostalgic and is more concerned about building a brand new house.

The cost of materials and labour has gone up over the years and he is clueless about mobilising the required funds.

Asked if the allocation of Rs.5.5 lakh, as done under the Indian government’s housing programme in Sri Lanka for victims of the Eelam War, would be sufficient to construct a house of 550 sq. ft, his reply is “No way. No chance.” One requires at least Rs. 7.5 lakh, he says.

There are much bigger issues at hand. Even in areas where the army has released land, it has retained portions even now. For instance, in Palai Veemankamam (North) where the doctor’s house is located, around 110 acres have been given back while about 115 acres are yet to be restored to the owners.

Apart from all these aspects, there is the human side. Many original residents of Palai Veemankamam or Varuththalaivilan have been displaced several times.

Constant displacement

Ganesan, a daily wage earner from Varuththalaivilan, says he has had to move in and out of some 10 places in different regions in the last 25 years. Notwithstanding the challenges that lie ahead in rebuilding not just their homes but also their lives, Dr. Yogeswaran, Kathiresan and Selvamalar are looking forward to the day when they can return to their homes for a safe and smooth future. (Courtesy The Hindu)

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