Challenging Occupation Iranaitheevu residents MARK 359 DAYS OF PROTEST

The access point to Iranaitheevu

All text and images courtesy Vikalpa

“In the past, we never had to leave the island, even when we got sick. We would use our natural medicine. We used to grow everything here – ayurvedic medicine, fruits and vegetables. Some of the houses built here date back to colonial times. This has been our land for generations. We even built our own church and a school. Now everything has been destroyed.”

“We lost our parents. We lost our relatives. We lost our children. Now all we want is our land. At least give us that.”

“Some time ago, this Government said they would give us back our land. Yet today is day 359 of our protest, and we still haven’t received it. That’s why we came to the island today. We will not leave here until our land is returned. What takes 15 litres [of water] for us to grow on the mainland, takes just one litre on our island. Yet when we come here to continue our livelihood, they chase us away. Why are they doing this? These are our lands, ours for generations.”

“We don’t want money from anyone. We only want the freedom to continue our livelihood freely. We can rebuild our church, school and homes ourselves."
The old Iranaitheevu church

“This land is healing to us. If we want to live freely, we must definitely receive this land.”

The lady saying this is Douglas Thushiya. She said all this in a single breath, all while while clutching her rosary tightly.

To mark 359 days of the removal of the families of Iranaitheevu Maathanagar from their own land, the residents initially planned a hunger strike. In less than a month, nine years will have passed since the end of the war. However, the Navy seized the entire Iranaitheevu island without considering the rights of the people. In doing so, it has also deprived them of the ability to carry out their traditional livelihood.

Nearly 40 boats protested against this situation on April 23, 2018. About 300 people who were displaced from Iranaitheevu Matha Nagar symbolically came to the island. They, along with religious leaders who accompanied them, interrogated three Navy officers.

“Why have you come here today? We are spending Rs. 1 million to build your church again. We are in the process of building it.”

“Their problem is not with the church. These innocent people want to come back here to pray the same way they used to. To return to their traditional livelihood and way of life on land that is rightfully theirs. To view the landscape that is their home.."

Iranaitheevu is where these people were born, a place where they lived for 200 years. They want to see their homes. They want to live their lives. Their demands are simple. You do the work set out for you, as the Navy. The people will carry on their own lives. You being here won’t trouble them. Today, these people have come to stay here. That’s why we made this journey,” Reverend Arul Chelvan told the Navy officials.

"Will you return [to the mainland] after the end of today?" Vikalpa asked a group of mothers,

They answered with one voice, “We are not going back today. See, we even changed our clothes. This is our wealth, our land. At the time of shelling and bullets, we cultivated this land. We will not return until our land is given back to us.”

Nine years after the end of the war, communities like Iranaitheevu are still fighting for the return of land, owned by them for generations. Yet State communication around the release of land, when it does occur, is always termed as a "donation" or a "gift" rather than a return of what is rightfully theirs. The residents of Iranaitheevu are compelled to protest in order to make their voices heard. These factors need to be considered by the State when determining the need for continued military occupation.

Translation by Groundviews

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