Feature Article

Uprooted Tamils embark on courageous sea landing, SL navy restrained at Ira'nai-theevu

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 24 April 2018, 21:35 GMT]
Four hundred uprooted Eezham Tamils, who have been waging a continuous protest since May 01, 2017 at Muzhangkaavil along the western coast of Vanni, embarked on a historic sea journey to the twin-islet of Ira'nai-theevu on the 359th day of their protest on Wednesday. They were vowing to resettle back in their native place braving any objection coming from the occupying SL Navy, The Sinhala sailors present at the naval detachment restrained as their officers were embarrassed by the courage of the people. The people went there in 46 boats. Seven Catholic priests, including their parish priest Fr Arudchelvan, accompanied them. The people are now staying at the premises of the Church of Our Lady of Holy Rosary and at the Catholic Tamil Mixed School in the twin-islet, which is located 12 nautical miles from the coast of the mainland in Mannaar facing the Palk Bay.

Ira'nai-theevu landing
Ira'nai-theevu landing

Ira'nai-theevu landing
Ira'nai-theevu landing
Ira'nai-theevu landing
Ira'nai-theevu landing
In 2017 August the SL Navy was adamant in refusing to release the twin-islet.

The SL Navy commanders were citing four reasons, directly and indirectly, at that time for their refusal of allowing people to resettle in I'raat a meeting held in Muzhangkaavil at the presence of SL Defence Secretary and SL Resettlement Minister R. Swaminathan along with ITAK politicians.

The SL Navy was directly stating the first reason as the ‘defence’ of the so-called ‘sovereignty’ of genocidal Sri Lanka. The second reason was that the SLN wanted to sustain the entire twin-islet as a high-security zone as they had a ‘crucial’ radar installation there.

The SL Navy commanders went on to allege that the twin islet would be used for drug trafficking into ‘Sri Lanka’ if they allowed the people to resettle there. That was the reason number three.

The SL naval officers were indirectly admitting that they were also engaged in the commercial cultivation of seaweed (Kadal-paasi) and other aquatic submerged herbs along the coast of the twin-islet and went on to state that the people would not be able to commence fishing in the vicinity of the islets.

However, following repeated pressure from the protesters, the SL Navy finally agreed to consider increased access or partial resettlement in 159 of the total 1,200 acres of residential and livelihood lands.

Surveying of the 159 acres of the ‘civilian pocket’ in the iselt was carried out in two phases, in September and in October 2017.

But, the occupying Colombo and its navy were dead silent without any feedback after the surveying was over.

The people were determined to continue their continuous protest and warned the SL authorities that they would reach the islets on their own braving SL Navy occupation. The elder generation of the protesters said they were prepared to sacrifice their lives in the endeavour.

The expected move came on Wednesday at short notice to the SL authorities and the SL Navy.

The SL Navy manning the detachment were silently watching the unfolding scenario, the Catholic priests said.

Ira'nai-theevu landing
Ira'nai-theevu landing

At least 783 Eezham Tamil families were living in Ira'ani-theevu when they were uprooted for the first time on 10 August 1992. The residents of the islets have a recorded history of 400 years of Catholic heritage.

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 islets have remained under SL Navy control since 2007 for 11 years until Wednesday this week.

There were no military confrontations when the SL Navy entered the islets in 2007-2008.

However, the SL Navy has committed widespread plunder of civilian properties.

There were almost 190 concrete-built houses, which stood in good shape when the SL Navy occupied Ira'nai-theevu twin-islands in 2007-2008. But, the people who accompanied surveyors last year said only around 45 houses as having standing structures. Only 15 to 20 of these houses could be reconstructed without much investment. The occupying SL Navy should, therefore, bear the full responsibility for the destructions caused to their homes, the people say.

The location of Nayinaa-theevu
The location of Nayinaa-theevu, which is now on focus for genocidal ‘Sri Lanka’ Navy-backed Sinhala Buddhicisation in the occupied country of Eezham Tamils. [Satellite Image courtesy: NASA, Visible Earth. Legend by TamilNet]

Some of the background details including a video interview published earlier by TamilNet in June 2017 follow:

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 traditional livelihoods, long-distance fishing, and that too under amidst hardships, the women say.

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

During the times of the LTTE, the fishermen were able to reach the islands and reside there for days and engage on fishing and related activities as the Sea Tigers became a formidable defence force in the territorial waters of Eezham Tamils.

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

Otherwise, anyone setting his or her feet on the island risks to get chased out or be detained by the occupying Sinhala Navy.

In the meantime, some fishermen from other areas are being allowed by the SL Navy to engage in fishing from the island. The SL Navy has an income-sharing trading deal with those fishermen.

There are thousands of stray cattle (cows and goats) in the island. These are born to cattle owned by the people before their displacement. The cattle could be spotted from the fishing vessels in the sea. The SL Navy regularly catch these cattle for its consumption. The SL Navy also sell these to outsiders through Naachchikkudaa.

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 went 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.

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



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