"Without direct access to the lagoon, we're miserable"

Maheswaran Bavani

Kepapulavu, Sri Lanka

Maheswaran Bavani Maheswaran Bavani

The local communities in the north and east of Sri Lanka continue to face countless problems in their daily lives. Persistent military land occupations deprive people of their livelihoods. Courageous voices, such as those of the 53-year-old Tamil woman, Maheswaran Bavani, draw attention to the illegality of these land seizures.

Nine generations of the family of Maheswaran Bavani’s husband have lived and worked on a piece of land in the village of Keppapulavu on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka. Maheswaran Bavani continued this tradition when she married into the family. While her husband was fishing in the nearby lagoon, she cultivated rice and started a small coconut farm. Twenty-five trees were already fully grown in 2008 and produced a good harvest. Another 25 seedlings would now be big enough to harvest coconuts on a regular basis. The family were able to feed themselves, thanks in large part to the harvest, a small portion of which was also sold at the local market. The money was enough to keep the house in good condition, to pay for electricity and to send their two children to school. A bomb attack on the village of Keppapulavu in 2008 abruptly changed all this. The violent battles of the war between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forced the couple and their children to flee.

The struggle for existence

Without adequate compensation, the loss of a piece of land that has been cultivated for generations has led to the impoverishment of countless affected families in Sri Lanka. In the case of Maheswaran Bavani, even the preserved house and arable land are by no means a substitute for the lost property. The dwelling is of poor quality, there is hardly any water for agriculture in the model village and the preserved land is far from sufficient. The family has to spend additional money on food. “I’m forced to go the market to buy back my own coconuts from the military”, says the Tamil woman. “Sometimes the little money my son makes isn’t even enough for that. That’s humiliating.” The family’s living conditions are now precarious. Like most people in the model village, Maheswaran Bavani has searched in vain for paid work. Her husband is too ill to work regularly. Only her son’s occasional jobs are currently keeping their heads above water. Maheswaran Bavani describes her hopeless situation: “Without our land and direct access to the sea, we’re not doing well. We depend on our son, who can’t do any hard work because of a war injury”.

People are protesting

Since 25 January 2017, Maheswaran Bavani and other villagers from Keppapulavu have been protesting for the return of their land. At the same time, many people in the north and east of Sri Lanka are protesting on the streets and demanding to know what has happened to the innumerable forcibly disappeared people. The pressure on the authorities is increasing because, despite numerous promises made by the newly elected government in 2015, coming to terms with the past is still only beginning. Maheswaran Bavani is also determined. “I will never give up fighting for my land and for justice. I would rather die”, she explains with tears in her eyes.

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