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Close down the People Farms

by Rajan Philips

The most pressing political question ought to be about the freeing of over 200,000 Tamil people held in the Wanni camps. There are many more Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims displaced and scattered elsewhere in Sri Lanka, but they are the victims of multiple sources of violence and rights abuses that have been the lot of the land for decades. The encampment of the people in the Wanni, on the other hand, is the sole work of the Rajapakse government and the government alone can end it simply and swiftly with a single order to open the gates and let the people go to their homes.


Tamil civilians stand behind a barbed-wire fence in the Manik Farm refugee camp located on the outskirts of Vavuniya-Reuters pic.

The government forced over 300,000 people into camps after claiming to have liberated them from the clutches of the LTTE. From the LTTE frying pan the Wanni Tamils were thrown into state administered fire. The people are still burning, protests and concerns, national and international, notwithstanding. It is not the Orwellian Animal Farm that has come to exemplify Sri Lanka’s dystopia, but the state-run people farms in the Wanni.

As many have said before, there is no reason to detain these people in camps. The camps are inhuman and all the excuses that the government has been giving are adding insults to the injuries of the people it is holding against their will and against their dignity. By all indications, the vast majority of them have a place to go, and the few who have nowhere to go could remain in the camps and be looked after not by the military but civilian agencies.

Despite restrictions on visits or inspections by outsiders, the outside world knows what is going on inside the camps. Even with the best of intentions the Sri Lankan government is incapable of operating camps of this size humanely and efficiently. With intentions that are manifestly manipulative and sinister, the suffering of the people is that much worse.

There can be no greater political priority at this point other than doing everything to get the government to allow the people in the Wanni camps to go home. The call to “Let our people free” signed by Rauff Hakeem, Sampanthan, Anandasangaree, Vigneswaran and Mano Ganesan, is a long overdue statement that is better late than never. It is a small step in bringing together different Tamil political groups and the premier Muslim organization, but for a cause that is more fundamental than any of the political questions over which they may habitually differ.

The cause of the encamped people deserves an even broader consensus cutting through political lines and even ethnic lines. It needs supportive voices from within the government as well as the disarrayed opposition. Most of all it requires the unanimous and single minded chorus of all Sri Lankan Tamils wherever they are. The internet led abstract search for a Tamil transnational government abroad can wait, but not the return of the encamped Tamil people to their homes - at home, in Sri Lanka.
The people in the Wanni camps are not just an “IDP issue” awaiting a “new struggle”, but a new ethical collapse that render all other struggles, old and new, meaningless. The struggles and the transactions over citizenship of the plantation Tamils, against linguistic racism, and for political power sharing were undertaken in the parliamentary political arena while the country’s social organization remained alive and intact. The social organization, especially among the Tamils living in Sri Lanka, is now utterly broken and its repair cannot begin anywhere except in the closing down of the camps.

The government objectively justified the war against the LTTE as war against terrorism. But the subjective intentions were something else and the human camps in the Wanni are testament to the ill intentions of the Rajapakse government. The LTTE is not remembered enough by the Tamils, either as hero or as villain. It is not forgotten enough by the Rajapakse government. The LTTE was “an absent presence” at the Rajani (Thiranagama) commemoration. It is the be all and end all of the political strategy of the Rajapakse government.

The government’s priority is to perpetuate the war after the war has been won, and to keep the LTTE alive even after decimating it. That is the brothers’ roadmap to stay in power and to win elections as they come. War + LTTE = patriotism + security. That is the equation of the Rajapakse brothers. Every other variable in Sri Lankan society affecting its wellbeing is irrelevant and outside the brothers’ political radar. The encamping of the people in the Wanni is a key factor in that equation, and the government, the occasional platitude apart, is stubborn about keeping the camps going.

The people in the camps and their families and extended families everywhere cannot be asked to show gratitude to the government for destroying the LTTE, when the destruction of the LTTE has come at the price of their own lives and livelihoods. No Tamil can undertake a political postmortem of the LTTE or publicly remember the dark ‘historical facts’ about the LTTE when the aftermaths of the LTTE’s defeat are far worse than the darkest days of its dominance. The much acclaimed post-LTTE space is a brutal military and paramilitary space that has snuffed the air out of not only the so called Tamil democratic resistance to the LTTE but Tamil politics in general.

Although disoriented and demoralized, Tamil politics, thanks to its Diaspora resources, is still capable of being the spoiler to the designs of the Rajapakse government. Ironically, for all its manipulative cleverness, the government is failing to see that the beginning of its eventual undoing is in the people farms that it has created in the Wanni. Ironically too, the Diaspora, by and large, instead of hammering the government at its weakest point is floating hot air balloons about transnational governance. They are both ignoring the human tragedy in the Wanni camps. That mutual ignorance of the human element is not hugely surprising.


I am always facinated by the concerned people try to do good things but these good souls fail to think through the practical steps to get the thing done and never offer any practical help either. no group or countries offered the practical help to alieviate the GOVT concerns. the practical problems can be explained as a combined problem of afgan detainees and neworleans storm refugees to the USA . the most powerful rich and resourceful country hasnt sorted out these two problem yet completely but every body urge the tiny 3rd world country to do it practically overnight. Iraq has still war displaced civilians in the camps nobody seem to be worried about it .
where were these concerned people when the same civillians living under the LTTE terrorist rule with out any facilities or rights?
Please remember other countries have their own reason to be unreasonable but we sri lankans have only this small country if you want to get thing done lets get together and do it practical and reasonable way
thank you

Posted by: seeni | October 2, 2009 11:30 PM

Very sensible article. I think all people who respect human rights and justice should join the "let our people free" campaign signed by Mano Ganesan, Vigneswaran, Rauf Hakim, Sampanthan and Anandasangaree irrespective of language, religion etc. This is the only way to show the government that what they are doing is wrong and that it will not be tolerated by the people.

Posted by: nandasena | October 2, 2009 11:42 PM

The Three Brothers have been personally assured of
protection Internationally by Indians (Politicians
and two Govt. Servants.) Therefore this attitude,
despite every other view. The Brothers agenda is
based on Political greed and not even the Buddhist
racist hierarchy can raise a voice for the sake of the
Lankan humanity (to call them Mahanayakes is a crime!)

One wonders if the curses of all Tamils against this
family will bear fruit in the near future - or are
they not ashamed to ask for Tamil votes - that too
only through D.Devanandan - who will face his trial
by fire soon.

Posted by: ardneham | October 3, 2009 10:17 AM

lets get together and do it practical and reasonable way
Yes, That what We all saying open the gate!!!!

Posted by: Andy Lingam | October 6, 2009 09:54 AM

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