By M. A. Sumanthiran M.P.
In October last year I submitted to Parliament a 30-page report on the situation in the North and the East. I did not criticize the mere presence of military bases. ‘Militarization’ is not so passive a word as to denote only the military’s existence in a given zone. Instead the term ‘militarization’ describes the military’s enterprise, that is their involvement and interference in the daily lives of the people who inhabit those zones.
Out of a total land mass of 65,619 sq km, Tamil people inhabited 18,880 sq km of land in the North and the East, but after May 2009 the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq km of land owned by Tamil people.
Economic and Political Weekly reported that “75% of the army’s divisions are stationed in the Northern Province.” The North and the East are reportedly home to 18 out of the 20 Divisions of the Sri Lankan Army, representing a significant percentage of an ever increasing defence budget. These soldiers are not confined to bases and military installations.
Reports indicate that the army is taking steps to provide soldiers with permanent housing. Instead of employing conventional military housing such as base barracks, Army Commander Lieutenant General, Jagagth Jayasuriya is reported as saying “Army personnel arriving in those areas for duty are to be provided permanent houses and allowed to engage in cultivation work if they so desire.” The agent of militarization is not the military base; it is the soldier, and the barracks are being emptied into the villages.
Soldiers in the North and the East are heavily involved in the private affairs of the indigenous Tamil people. Normal activities such as birthdays, weddings and funerals all require permission from local military personnel. Churches, must inform the military of all meetings, often unwittingly hosting a military representative as an observer. The military is also involved with deciding beneficiaries for projects which are by definition non-government initiatives. Military involvement with these projects, follow the 2010 re-positioning of the NGO Secretariat under the Defence Ministry – an arrangement which has yet to be altered.
Forces supposedly tasked with the precautionary role of security have also taken a deliberate interest in education, hosting award ceremonies for children. Behind closed doors the military’s interaction with children is more subtle and more sinister with reports abounding of everything from the abuse of young women to narcotics exposure and inculcation of alcohol dependency.
The military has also taken an active role in the economy of the North and the East. Through use of checkpoints, the military effectively controls the transportation and distribution of fish from the North. In the Eastern Province large tracts of beach have been awarded to companies headed by military officers. A military operated tourism industry has sprouted, with no attempt to hide or conceal the principal agent. In addition to making camp, soldiers have been permitted to set up shop.
Issues such as these come as a natural by-product of a large military force cohabiting with a civilian population. As soldiers spill noisily into civilian affairs, the military bases busy themselves with annexing land. Tamil farmers in Muttur have lost approximately 1,630 acres of paddy land to military encroachment.
Panama villagers allege 850 acres of their land has been forcibly taken. The Navy is occupying land in Mullikulam, Vidathaltivu, Silavathurai and Sannar in Mannar District with 200 families displaced in Mullikulam and 3,524 acres seized in Sannar alone. It has been reported that the navy made similar acquisitions in Valikaamam West, seizing 100 acres for a Navy Camp.
Another garrison is reportedly being built in Mandaitivu on 200 acres of agricultural land. These are only a few examples from a disturbing plethora of cases. In each case, people are displaced and often, as is the case with the loss of agricultural land, livelihoods are lost.
The military is burning the candle at both ends. In addition to jeopardizing the livelihood of adults through the annexation of land, the military has also jeopardized the education of children. It has been calculated that 70 plus schools in the Northern Province have been forcibly shut down. Education and livelihood are further deteriorated by the establishment of High Security Zone (HSZ) restrictions. The military is occupying 57 acres belonging to the Palaali Teachers’ Training College which has been shut down as part of an HSZ. Other HSZs in Thirumurigandi and Vattamadu have forced the evicted owners and cultivators of the land to look for permanent housing and employment alternative.
Many of the restrictions imposed by the security forces serve as nothing more than thinly guised demographic filters. The Tamil fishing communities in Mulaithivu have been severely restricted while their Sinhalese counterparts have been given express permission by the Ministry of Defence to fish in those very same areas. In addition, the Tamil fishermen have been displaced from the homes to make room for the new fishermen from the South. At a meeting in the Maruthenkerny District on the 15th of June 2011 at which Minister Douglas Devananda and four TNA MPs were present, affected members of fishing unions recounted their story and complained that they no longer had any access to buildings which had been built for their use.
The seizure of private property, the displacement of indigenous people, the economic interference of the military –this is what militarization looks like. The socio-economic consequences of this activity are and will continue to prove disastrous. By artificially inducing a labour force into the North and the East, the military has quite obviously
1) displaced a ready and willing labour force which was operating at a comparative advantage
2) removed production capability from a productively viable source
3) forced a synthetic supply of labour which exceeds the demand
4) created a dead weight loss out of the mis-allocated surplus labour resulting in a market operating far below potential
5) created mass unemployment for the displaced labour force
6) created the need for artificial incentives for production
7) effectively stripped the Tamil people of their ability to rebuild and assume responsibility for their own economic security
8) stifled the spirit of enterprise and instead actively inculcating a sense of entitlement or desperation
9) actively insured that peace, stability and reconciliation is unattainable in the current circumstance.
This is the cost of militarization. This does not even begin to address the social costs of an encroaching military presence on the fabric of society. The military is doing much more than just pitching a tent in the North and the East; they are setting up shop. The military is settling down for a prolonged engagement in the North and the East, but the Tamil people are not a willing party to their advance. The military has already overstayed their welcome. Keep the camps if you must, but leave their homes. Close down shop.