By Wilson Gnanadass in Puttalam
Clashes within the same community are not an uncommon phenomenon
in the present world. Reports of such clashes have been heard
from several parts of the world.
While some clashes are originated due to genuine causes, most
others are politically influenced.
A fresh clash of this nature has erupted in Puttalam – a
predominant Muslim district.
It appears though that the clashes are among the same race, they
are for certain, motivated by politicians for their own
Some of the actions taken by politicians today have resulted in
both the indigenous Muslims in Puttalam and the Muslims who were
part of the mass exodus in 1990, who took up residence in
Puttalam, falling apart.
Basically, there is a clash between the local Muslims and the
Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from the north, after the
government continued to assist the IDPs, thus ignoring the
locals – an act viewed by the locals as a deliberate move by the
Muslims en masse, were pushed out of the north by the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1990. There were nearly 100,000
who fled to safer areas.
Puttalam, a fishing village that was not densely populated at
that time, was considered the best choice by the politicians to
send the Muslims for settlement there.
Since 1990, both the locals and the IDPs have been living in
harmony. Thanks to the locals, who were ever willing to share
almost everything, including their own houses, to give solace to
their own brethren who had been chased out of their own
traditional habitation overnight.
The IDPs who fled from the north following the directive issued
by the LTTE, arrived in Puttalam, with only the clothes they
Sympathy coupled with empathy, propelled the local Muslims to
provide the traumatised and the war weary IDPs, with their best,
to ensure they felt at home.
At first it was living at the mercy of the locals for the IDPs.
They respected the locals for their magnanimity. They even went
to them with their begging bowls to fill the starving stomachs
of the hundreds of children who were also chased out from the
north by the LTTE.
The IDPs were the cynosure of all eyes. They received the
sympathy of the entire nation, including the international
They then thought the mass exodus gave them a special identity
in the world. They were put on the spot. They became ‘news
makers’ in the local and international media.
The foreign media gave wide publicity and this motivated the
donor agencies and other philanthropists to come forward to help
them rebuild their own lives.
Soon, the IDPs saw themselves as an important sector, thus being
able to create their own image despite being driven out of their
own traditional lands.
They took every given opportunity to gain what they had already
lost, following their ouster from the north.
In several ways, they were motivated to march forward without
turning back. They found employment for the adults and schools
for their children and started building their own houses with
the money given to them by donor agencies and of course the
government. This gave the IDPs assurance and confidence to build
their economy and their livelihood.
The rapid development of the IDPs was never an irritation
for the locals who continued to limp and struggle to make ends
Having already shared most of their belongings, the locals had
to continue their life with whatever that was left over.
The economy of the locals suddenly dwindled as they were forced
to share common amenities like water, electricity and other
basic facilities provided by the local government, with the new
The facilities they had been enjoying alone for centuries had to
be shared with an equal number of people from the north.
This obviously reduced the locals to a refugee status, whereby,
they had to now go out with their begging bowls to outsiders for
While the IDPs were showered with all types of benefits and
facilities, the locals had to depend on their own agriculture,
business and fishing.
For instance, a local resident who fetched 10 kilos of fish,
later caught only about three to four kilos as the sea and the
lagoon where fish was in abundance, were shared by the IDPs.
The gradual transformation of the once rich and wealthy locals
into a poor status, gave them hopelessness and a sense of
rejection. The more the locals became poor, the more they grew
frustrated and dejected.
The real clash
The upward mobility of the IDPs and the gradual
deterioration of the livelihood of the locals have today
resulted in both sectors at each other’s throats.
Fingers are pointed at politicians who have contributed to this
present chaos in Puttalam.
The locals who did not wish to express their anger and emotional
pain in public have now come out in the open, after Minister of
Resettlement and Disaster Rishard Baduideen decided to pump more
money to build brand new houses for the IDPs, in most areas,
adjacent to the huts inhabited by the locals for years.
A Kuwait aided project to resettle 500 IDPs and another World
Bank project to provide houses to 7,000 IDPs and further moves
by the government to build more houses to the IDPs have annoyed
the locals who say their living conditions have been the same
since time immemorial.
One of the main grouses of the locals is that they were
prevented from growing further, economically and otherwise,
because of the mass exodus in 1990.
The IDPs who entered Puttalam empty handed today control trade
and agriculture in Palavi–Thillayadi, Kalpitiya, Norachcholai
and Pulichankulam. The IDPs also control 50 % of the business in
the main Puttalam town.
For instance, 500 houses have been built through a Kuwaiti
assisted project, with toilet facilities to the IDPs.
These houses are situated in Alkasimi village, now called
‘Alkasimi City.’ This city, only a few kilometers away from the
main town has a hospital, school, playground, shops and other
facilities. These facilities are exclusively meant for those
living in ‘Alkasimi City.’
The people living here are mostly from Dhara Puram in Mannar, a
village where Minister Baduideen was born.
Astonishingly, this city is run from the budgetary allocation
set apart for the Northern Province.
However, the same ‘Alkasimi City’ enjoys water, electricity and
other amenities including the drainage system from the Puttalam
One wonders how powers of a particular province could be
exercised in another different province!
Besides, if the locals had to turn to the hospital at ‘Alkasimi
City,’ then they need to get special approval, which the locals
say, could be impossible.
With the setting up of this new hospital for the IDPs in
‘Alkasimi City,’ the locals have already been deprived of having
their own hospital. According to the government regulations,
there cannot be two national hospitals in the same district or
Therefore, the locals pointed out that this action by the
minister has deprived them of health facilities.
According to S. A. Ehiya, Wayamba (Northwestern) Provincial
Council Member and Minister coordinating the work of the Chief
Minister in Puttalam, this is a total violation.
He pointed out that since the arrival of the IDPs, the locals
had been reduced to a refugee status.
“The IDPs have stolen our business, education and agriculture,
employment in the government sector, textile industry, transport
sector and many other facilities. They managed to do this
because of political influence. Why is this?” Ehiya asked.
He said while the IDPs grew without any major problems, the
locals had to toil and sweat for their daily bread.
He said the fact that Puttalam could not return Ministers and
Members of Parliament due to its small size in population, the
northern ministers and MPs have constantly tried to bulldoze
their way through.
“This is a serious problem. A student from the IDP camp could
study well because everything is offered to him free of charge.
The food, books, shelter and all other facilities are free.
He/she could think free and enter universities. While our boys
have to study with lots of restrictions,” he said.
He said of the 26 students who were selected for the university
entrance from the Puttalam district, only four were from the
local community. “We are very upset over this,” he pointed out.
He said while the Puttalam health sector received medicine to
cater to only the Puttalam population of around 100,000, the
same quantity of medicine had to be shared with another 100,000
“What happened was our local people were without medicine. Is
this not a violation and a total discrimination?” he queried. He
said the IDPs received money when they were pregnant, got
married or attained age and were given sewing machines and food
stamps free of charge.
“What has the government done to uplift the living standards of
the local people? They have been suffering for centuries. And
today, adding to the misery, brand new houses are built for the
IDPs, adjoining the little mud hut of a local. Is this justice?”
For 36 year old Fathima, mother of six, it is atrocious. She
pointed out that a labourer’s job that is in demand for Rs.500,
is executed by an IDP for Rs. 200 or 300.
“So, don’t you think we are losing our jobs? These people are
willing to do our job for any price. They have no value for
money because they get everything free. But this has severely
affected our economy,” she said.
M. P. Sirajdeen (67) said while the MPs and ministers directly
helped the IDPs, nobody bothered to help the locals.
“This is a curse for us. Since 1989, we have not had a MP for
us. And this is what we have gained out of this,” he said.
H.A.C. Niroshini (26) a Sinhala local lass, also said the living
standards of the locals have not improved for the past several
years because of the arrival of the IDPs.
A native of Puttalam, Nishoshini said she could not, along with
her parents, simply construct a toilet or even get other
facilities from the local authority, while the IDPs managed to
build their castles so rapidly. W.P. Gamini Wickramasinghe, a
shop owner also echoed similar sentiments and said the locals
were ignored while the government constantly paid attention to
the plight of the IDPs – an act he said was in violation of
their basic human rights.
However, S.S. Jaseem, (36), father of three and also the chief
camp officer attached to the ‘Alkasimi City’ charged that the
locals were jealous.
Admitting he was a distant relation of Minister Rishard
Baduideen, Jaseem observed the IDP’s condition improved fast
owing to their courage and commitment while the locals’ living
standard remained the same due to disunity and lack of
“If we, the people of Mannar can produce ministers, why can’t
the people of Puttalam do the same? They have failed because
they are not united. They are a bunch of jealous people and that
is why they are not growing,” he thundered.
Living in a modern house built on a ten perch land at ‘Alkasimi
City,’ Jaseem pointed out the people living in the city had
nothing to do with the locals anymore. “This is why our minister
separated us from the locals. In fact, this city is administered
by the northern authority,” he admitted.
Even among the IDPs, those hailing from Mannar have been well
fed while others are still languishing in make shift camps.
Saltern Sahira No. 1 – IDP camp is a classic example. There are
118 families living in deplorable conditions.
According to the deputy leader of the camp, I. Nafaiz, the
government has deliberately decided not to resettle the people
living in this camp for its own mileage.
His observation is that this camp is kept alive as a model camp
by the government to earn foreign money.
He said all the foreign diplomats and ministers were escorted to
this camp by the government to seek their support.
“If this camp is rehabilitated, then the government will have no
other camps to show the foreign aid contributors and earn money.
So, today we are caught up in this situation while others are
moving forward,” he said.
He boldly admitted that the arrival of the IDPs has severely
affected the livelihood of the locals. “We blame the government
for this,” he charged.
R. Fowzan (46) said Minister Rishard Baduideen was totally
concentrating in uplifting the life standard of only those
hailing from his village. “This is very unfair,” he lamented.
He said the government has requested Rs. 22,000 for water
connection. “But from where can we find this money. While the
favourites of the ministers get free water and electricity
connections, we are charged,” he said.
By and large, the future of the indigenous people of
Puttalam looks bleak, with the new arrivals, gobbling almost
everything that is put to the locals.
The locals now are planning to agitate and lodge their protest
A resolution, condemning the construction of houses in the
‘Alkasimi City’ is to be moved in the north western provincial
Also, the provincial council is seriously planning to protest
against another move by the government to recruit volunteer
teachers from among the IDPs who, according to council members,
are not qualified for this post.
The council is also planning to introduce new laws to enable
locals to obtain jobs and other perks first from the local
council and the provincial council.
The World Bank (WB) that introduced a project to construct 7000
houses has already come under pressure by the locals. The WB had
to stall its activities due to recent pressure by the locals.
If corrective measures are not taken forthwith, another problem
related to race/cast or even language could erupt slowly but
The locals therefore call upon the government to take note of
their grievances and offer a quick remedy before it is too late.