Migrants, communal tensions leave Batti’s original cattle farmers ruffled

Migrants, communal tensions leave Batti’s original cattle farmers ruffled

17 November 2023 1

Protest by cattle farmers in Sittandy

  • Since 2015 cattle farmers in the Batticaloa district have been facing challenges over grazing lands following resettlement programmes
  • Over the recent few months, at least 5000 cows have been allegedly killed by these new settlers
  • Civil society organizations believe that the Ampara, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa Divisional Secretaries should arrive at a consensus on determining the boundaries
  • In order to ‘control’ the tense situation a temporary Army checkpoint was setup at Mylathamadu
  • When the matter of pasture land was taken up for debate in Parliament on 06.5.2011, the Parliament was requested to provide 28034.34 hectares of land in Batticaloa and Trincomalee
  • On November 13 the Eravur Circuit Magistrate court issued an eviction order on 13 illegal settlers at Mylathamadu and Mathavanai
  • Several politicians- including TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran- have written to the Police with regards to the monk’s behaviour

In Sittandy, a small township in the Batticaloa district, cattle farmers of Mylathamadu and Mathavanai have been protesting for over 55 days to save grazing lands on which their cattle have been released for generations. Over 25,000 hectares of government land is being used as grazing areas and dairy farming is a main livelihood in the Batticaloa district. However, since 2015 cattle farmers in the Batticaloa district have been facing challenges over grazing lands following resettlement programmes. The matter aggravated after 2019 when people from Dehiaththakandiya, Aralaganwila, Polonnaruwa and Ampara Districts were resettled on these lands. 

“If we milk cows for 25 days we could earn around Rs. 50,000-100,000. But following this issue, generating an income is like seeing God. Our belongings, the wadiya (makeshift shelter) at the grazing land have been burned down.” – G. Thavamani, Cattle Farmer

An unbearable loss 

Over the recent few months, at least 5000 cows have been allegedly killed by these new settlers who claim that the cows are destroying their paddy and maize cultivations. One of the claims made is that these grazing lands come under the Divulapathana Divisional Secretariat, but that is incorrect. The lands in question have not been gazetted and farmers and civil society organizations believe that the Ampara, Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa Divisional Secretaries should arrive at a consensus on determining the boundaries. 
G. Thavamani is a fourth generation cattle farmer and has engaged in this business as her main occupation. But following the recent issue, Thavamani and many cattle farmers in the district have been incurring losses. “If we milk cows for 25 days we could earn around Rs. 50,000-100,000. But following this issue, generating an income is like seeing God. Our belongings, the wadiya (makeshift shelter) at the grazing land have been burned down. Many of our cows were killed using gun powder and hakka patas. We cannot bear this loss,” she said in fear. 

People seen carrying a Buddha statue to be placed on these lands. The statue was subsequently removed (Image Courtesy – Kumanan )

Inciting violence 

At the onset of the issue Ven. Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera- whose name is allegedly associated with inciting racial tension and violence- visited the site and threatened the Tamil community. He claims that his mother’s grave located in Batticaloa had been bulldosed and further threatened the Batticaloa’s Municipal Commissioner. However he later apologised for his aggressive behaviour. In an act of ‘ownership’, a Buddha statue was subsequently placed on the land in question. However upon the removal of the statue the monk once again retorted with his usual behaviour while speaking to the police officers on duty. 

“One day we wanted to visit the lands. But this monk held us back for around six hours,” said Fr. Kandaiah Jegathadas. “He (Sumanarathana Thera) said he wants to burn all of us alive. The Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim farmers have been living peacefully sans any issues. But this matter has aggravated into a communal issue and we feel that it is unnecessary,” said Fr. Jegathadas. 

Several politicians- including TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran- have written to the Police with regards to the monk’s behavior and questioned why they have failed to arrest him. In order to ‘control’ the situation, a temporary Army checkpoint was setup at Mylathamadu. At least 18 complaints have been filed at the Eravur Police in relation regarding this matter. Civil society organizations raised their concerns regarding many illegal arrests that have been made in relation to the case. Twelve (12) men and two women were arrested when they attempted to speak to President Ranil Wickremesinghe during a recent visit by the latter to Batticaloa. Six students from Jaffna and Eastern University were arrested for supporting the farmers’ protest and were subsequently granted bail. They were arrested while they were on their way back from the protest site. 

“He (Sumanarathana Thera) said he wants to burn all of us alive. The Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim farmers have been living peacefully sans any issues. But this matter has aggravated into a communal issue”
-Fr. Kandaiah Jegathadas

Ven. Ampitiye Sumanarathana Thera and former Eastern Province Governor on a visit to the lands in question – (Image Courtesy – Kumanan)

Journalists on duty obstructed 

A group of journalists who were on their way to visit the Mylathamadu grazing lands were obstructed from reporting the matter at the recently setup Mylathamadu checkpoint. Police officers and Sri Lanka Army personnel deployed at the checkpoint said that they were unable to allow anybody to visit the grazing lands situated bordering the Maduru Oya National Park as per the orders issued by Senior DIG Eastern Province Ajith Rohana.
The media team believes that this is a violation of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, expression and publication (Article 14-1-a), freedom to engage in a lawful occupation (Article 14-1-g) and freedom of movement (Article 14-1-h), equal protection of the law (Article 12-1) and non-discrimination (article 12-2). This is also offence against Article 332 of PenalCode (wrongful restraint).

“President Wickremesinghe is of the view that both agriculture and dairy farming should continue as main livelihoods in the district. Hence, if there was someone who had a 10 perch land he or she would be allocated 10 perches. But those who have migrated from areas such as Polonnaruwa and Ampara will be given lands in their respective areas,”

– Senthil Thondaman Eastern Province Governor

Farmers’ requests 

In a letter addressed to the Governor of the Eastern Province, the Mylathamadu and Mathavanai Livestock Farmers’ Cooperative presented several requests that the authorities should immediately attend to. Some of these include; 

  • To publish the land survey map number (kl/KRP(S)/2010/100/101/102/104/152/153/154) of 2009.06.08 in the Government Gazette through Batticaloa District Land Survey Superintendent Mr. P. Swaminathan and declare it as grazing pasture land.
  • When the matter of pasture land was taken up for debate in Parliament on 06.5.2011, the Parliament was requested to provide 28034.34 hectares of land in Batticaloa and Trincomalee. Parliament had instructed the Ministry of Land and Land Development to provide 15035 hectares of land for this purpose. We request that this be documented.
  • To allow our district officials to function independently without interference from the officials of the Departments of Wildlife and Forest Conservation of outlying districts.
  • This land has been used by cattle farmers to look after cattle in the Batticaloa District for more than 60 years. Therefore, if we consider Sections 8 to 18 of the Land Development Act, since a government land has been used for public needs for a long time, it can be considered that these lands have been limited to that particular purpose only.

A temporary checkpoint set up en route to Mylathamadu

Governor assures solutions

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Eastern Province Governor Senthil Thondaman said that as per the instructions given by President Ranil Wickremesinghe people from Divulapathana- those who have migrated -will be given the same extent of land as they had owned previously. “President Wickremesinghe is of the view that both agriculture and dairy farming should continue as main livelihoods in the district. Hence, if there was someone who had a 10 perch land he or she would be allocated 10 perches. But those who have migrated from areas such as Polonnaruwa and Ampara will be given lands in their respective areas. There are state lands in these areas which need to be developed. The district secretaries and other officials have been informed about this decision and at the moment they are collecting details of these farmers to develop a database. The President is keen on ensuring both these industries survive,” said Senthil. 

Eviction orders issued on illegal settlers 

The lands in question fall under the Mahaweli Zone B and subsequently the Mahaweli Authority intervened to resolve the matter. The new settlers claim that these lands have been their ancestral lands prior to 1983. Hence the Mahaweli Authority filed a case against the new settlers and the Eravur Magistrate court requested these settlers to present their evidence in courts. On November 13, the Eravur Circuit Magistrate court issued an eviction order on 13 illegal settlers at Mylathamadu and Mathavanai.

https://www.dailymirror.lk/news-features/Migrants–communal-tensions-leave-Batti%E2%80%99s-original-cattle-farmers-ruffled/131-271457

About editor 2942 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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