Tamil IDPs Today and Yesterday… Pudukuduyirippu and Beyond

Michael Roberts hijacking Dhaneshi Yatawara

I: Preamble by Michael Roberts

Dhaneshi Yatawara is a Sri Lankan reporter whom I do not know and have no contact with. I happened to be in Sri Lanka in April-June 2009 and collected news clippings, which now guide me to items on web. Among the latter are a series of striking photographs provided by Dhaneshi Yatawara on the 10th and 17th May 2009 respectively. The first lot were obviously (though not so stated) snapped on the foreshores in the Pulmoddai or Trinco area as Tamil IDPs injured and “carers” were disembarked from ICRC ships guided by the SL Navy. Parenthetically I note here between the 10th February and 15th May 2009 the ICRC ships “Green Ocean” and “Seruvila” escorted by the SL Navy made several trips and evacuated “over 13,500 sick and wounded people and their caretakers” (http://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/ documents/ update/sri-lanka-update-090609.htm).[1]

60c-april 2009 exodus This Pic is not from Yatawara

The second lot of images presented by Yatawara in 2009 was the more striking: they were obviously gathered on the eastern shores of Nandhikadal lagoon as thousands – yes thousands – streamed across in mid-May 2009. It is evident that s/he was part of the media contingent – one that included Muralidhar Reddy and Kanchan Prasad – that was taken to the town (more a townlet really) of Pudukuduyirippu in mid-April, at which point it had become “the nerve centre for military operations and for the media” (Yatawara’s words below)

Yatawara was presumably among the several local journalists approved – and thus favoured – by the Ministry of Defence. She or he, therefore, does not fall within the approved category of “witnesses” to the war that feature in the literature produced in human rights (HR) and Western media circles, which continues to harp on the refrain that this was a “war without witnesses.” So, even today one sees Frances Harrison proclaiming this so-called FACT (Still Counting the Dead, London, 2012). There is a bland arrogance here that is so taken-for-granted that it is an indelible part of an enclosed world-on-high.

But, more vitally, such a statement is simply not true. It is an empirical error — despite its continued repetition to the point of incorrigibility.  Muralidhar Reddy visited the rear war front on several occasions in late 2008. He was among the contingents of foreign and other journalists that Kanchan Prasad of Prasar Bharathi in India joined after she arrived in Sri Lanka in January. Kanchan notes that they were taken to the war front in batches on several occasions: after the fall of Kilinochchi on 4/5th January 2009, then on the 27th January, 21st April “after the 58 Div facilitated the escape of nearly a lakh of civilians.”

Kanchan Prasad adds: “Many of the western journalists used to accompany [us]. Bryson Hull of the Reuters , Ravi Nessman of AP , Charles Haviland of BBC and even the earlier correspondent of BBC who was of the Indian origin, Anabarasan . At that point of time there were many visiting western journalists as well. They were also given access on such tours” (email, February 2013). [11]

Serious issues arise therefrom. What happened to the news stories filed by Haviland, Hull, Nessman et al? Were they buried? Have they been totally forgotten? The 64-thousand dollar question remains: how can HR agencies and spokespersons keep repeating the mantra about a war without witnesses? And what does this say about their veracity, partiality and news sense?

That stressed, there is little doubt that Yatawara was closer to the military circuits than these foreign others; and that his/her sentiments were patriotic and pro-government. Certainly some of the TV presenters in that period were gung-ho patriotic. The vocabulary and style of writing adopted by Yatawara is of the same character. S/he is a camp follower. That does not mean that the facts relayed are untrue or invalid.

However, pictures convey a great deal, though no doubt informed by the subjectivity of individual readers. Yatawara’s images captured my interest because they depicted the harrowing struggles and something of the bodily conditions of the Tamil IDPs who survived the last stages of war in the LTTE’s “last redoubt” (my conceptualization). They have 61a-Final_Assault15 Pic from Ministry of
Defence  – scene on 15 May after the LTTE blew up its munitions and other war material

 62b-Picture 105 - Copy 62a-Picture 107 Pics by Kanchan Prasad in last redoubt, mid-May

provided some of the illustrations for my introductory focus on preconditions for the presentation of seminars on the IDP camps at Manik Farm.

It is therefore with some interest that I spotted a heavily illustrated news item by Yatawara recently on the conditions of some IDPs who have returned to their homes in the PTK area between 2011 and 2013 and are been aided by the SL army to re-adjust to normal life. This is, clearly, a governmental propaganda piece in the official rag controlled by Lake House. That does not mean it is untrue, though it may not be the whole truth. It certainly cannot be read as comprehensive truth. I leave it to Ruki de Silva and other ardent protagonists for the anti-government cause to contest the specifics in this tale and to supply other stories that contribute to the complex character of post-war resettlement and post-war maladjustment/travails.

What captured my imagination was the pictorial dimension, the NOW as visually depicted, however partially, in ways that contrast with the Yatawara tale in pictures THEN. This contrast gains in sharpness from the character of Pudukuduyirippu (PTK) – which was a little townlet between Mullaitivu (the LTTE headquarters) and Visvamadu. It would have been a straggling townlet in typical Lankan pattern, but it contained a hospital and some Tiger administrative offices, especially after they evacuated Kilinochchi at the end of December 2008. In consequence PTK received the “benefit’ of several aerial and artillery attacks. It was here that one witnessed the one and only semblance of “urban warfare” during the last phase of Eelam War IV, and that was when the SL army advance reached the area in February-March or thereabouts. A little later it appears to have become the command centre of the SL Army preparing for its penetration and overwhelming of the last redoubt.

Puthukkudiyirippu_Hospital06 Puthukkudiyirippu_Hospital04 images depicting capture of PTK hospital posted on 12 March 2009 in Min-Def website

SO, to Yatawara we move ……

II: A new Pudukuduyirippu by Dhaneshi Yatawara[2]


It was totally a different picture three years and nine months ago in Pudukuduyirippu. The end of a ruthless terrorist outfit took place a few kilometres away from the Pudukuduyirippu town. This, the final battle against terrorism of the Eelam war IV is what became the turning point in the history of this island nation.

On this day, May 18, 2009 the country was waiting to hear the news of their motherland regaining peace. On that day Pudukuduyirippu became the nerve centre for military operations and for the media.

Situation of the enemy area came with help of the aerial footage captured by the Sri Lanka Air Force. Blasts in the enemy line were monitored as well as movements of terrorists and their vehicles. The situation was becoming tense as the last terrorist grouping on that land with their de facto leader and other top terrorists were getting trapped within an area of square kilometres.

It was totally a different picture three years and nine months ago in Pudukuduyirippu. The end of a ruthless terrorist outfit took place a few kilometres away from the Pudukuduyirippu town. This, the final battle against terrorism of the Eelam war IV is what became the turning point in the history of this island nation.

On this day, May 18, 2009 the country was waiting to hear the news of their motherland regaining peace. On that day Pudukuduyirippu became the nerve centre for military operations and for the media.

Situation of the enemy area came with help of the aerial footage captured by the Sri Lanka Air Force. Blasts in the enemy line were monitored as well as movements of terrorists and their vehicles. The situation was becoming tense as the last terrorist grouping on that land with their de facto leader and other top terrorists were getting trapped within an area of square kilometres.

The only civilians in the area were the media crews waiting in front of the Army operation room for situation updates. Residents in Pudukuduyirippu and the adjacent areas as well as civilians who were in the no-fire zone all crossed the lines and reached safety away from the terrorist iron fist.

On May 16 and 17 all those civilians who escaped the LTTE stronghold were taken by the Government authorities to Vavuniya and were sheltered in the Welfare Centres for the Internally Displaced.

Today those people have returned home. And Pudukuduyirippu has undergone a total change. Today, nothing remains to prove that Pudukuduyirippu town was the nerve centre on the last day or two of the battle in eliminating terrorism. The town is busy and dusty with roads and buildings under construction while the people get along with their normal lives.

Sister Yashodha is back in the convent and has now started teaching in the nearby school. The convent is few metres away from the Pudukuduyirippu town. “I had to leave the convent as I got a scholarship to study in Philippines in December 2008. When I returned after a year, people were living in welfare centres and I was appointed to teach in the schools in the welfare centres in Vavuniya,” said Sister Yashodha.

The convent has been running a Montessori and it used to take care of nearly 250 children before 2009. There are 85 children in the pre-school conducted by the Head Sister and Sister Yashodha. The sisters returned to a convent that was abandoned for some time and it needed great deal of effort to restore. Requesting help from a community that is still resettling was too much to expect. It is at this moment Sri Lanka Army’s 681 Brigade came in with their support to restore the convent and the Montessori – i.e. cleaning, repairing and refurbishing.

The school in front of the convent is fully functioning. Children living in and around Pudukuduyirippu have restarted their education after resettling with their families in September 2012.

Taking a turn at Devpuram on the Paranthan Road, about ten kilometres from Pudukuduyirippu town, you reach Kombavil, where one of the first temporary villages set up by the Government for the returnees.

Today only a very few families remain – some waiting for a transfer of a child’s school or for the government housing fund. Majority of them have returned to their original land. Some of these families did not own a land at all at the time they got displaced.

z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-01 a
class in progress at the Anandapuram Government Tamil School
Today at the model village in Kombavil these families own a land of their own with clean deeds. Vairaiyah Marimuttu (52) is one such lucky guy who now lives in their own plot of land with his six children and wife. “It is a great relief for me being able to find a land of my own. If not how are we going to properly resettle? How can I buy a new land with my meager earnings?” Marimuttu said.

z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-05 S. Jeyalaxmi

My children are now going to school and we truly feel that life is returning to normalcy, said Marimuttu. The only problem now they face is proper transport facility for their children to attend school and a job opportunity to earn a living. Army personnel under the 68 Division have taken the responsibility of building houses for the returnees in the model village. Today at the village only 85 families live in their new plots of land and these people were from Pudukuduyirippu East, Shivanagar and some were even from Jaffna.

z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-07 z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-06The Sri Lanka Army is repairing the Kombavil Ganesh School which is the closest to this model village. The two storeyed building of the school has been fully damaged and now is getting quickly repaired by the Army soldiers. School renovations and rebuilding is one of the major projects conducted by the 68 Division under the command of its General Officer Commanding Major General Jagath Wijethilake.

The Sri Lanka Army under the directions of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa conducts numerous development works in the newly resettled areas of the North and among them the development work taking place in Mullaitivu has significance since its people got resettled last.

The list of work they do include helping to build houses for those who are weak, cleaning and rebuilding schools, religious places, bus stops and community centres and many more. More responsibilities are added to the list as the demand for development in these areas increase.

Each area of the Pudukuduyirippu DS Division has different needs. Thus, these development works under the leadership of the three brigade commanders, i.e. Colonels Subhashana Welikala, Shantha Hewawitharana and Ashoka Pieris, takes place according to the needs and livelihoods of the people.

The large human resource and the efficient system implementing duties available with the Army has given a great boost to the Government initiated development activities in these areas. Fifty two year old Jeyalaxmi is a mother raising two daughters single handedly after the tragic death of her husband. She was raised in Pudukuduyirippu since her tender ages as her parents came to settle down in this area from Elpitiya.

z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-03Her elder daughter finished her Advanced Level exam and the younger one is getting ready for it. When resettling her problem had been renovating her house and asking help from her neighbours was difficult as they were resettling too. Through the Grama Niladhari the Army personnel came to know the problem the family was facing and without proper shelter the family with two young girls would be insecure. Thus, building the house became a responsibility of the Army along with number of other houses that needed to be either repaired or rebuilt.

Ninty-five-year-old Pachigam Amma living in Wellamullivaikkal faced the same challenge when she came back to her half collapsed house. This feeble old lady’s only supporter was her 52 year old son, Masethra, who was still devastated over the death of his wife and two boys. His three daughters are with them yet they are still schooling.

The Army personnel under the 68 Division rebuilt her house where now she lives with her son and three granddaughters. Masethra’s only income is through working for daily wages.

z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-02Pachigam Amma keeps the pictures of her daughter-in-law and grandsons in a special place in the front porch surrounded with colourful flowers. They still cherish the beautiful memories of their loved ones. Yet they continue with their life. “We don’t want another war. Now all is peaceful enough for us to slowly start our lives,” the son said. Closer to the coast of Wellamullivaikkal 23-year-old Theepan Sugarnadee lives with her two daughters and sister. Her eldest daughter, Sudarshana is four and younger one, Karusana is almost two. She got married at a very early age to avoid forced recruitment of the LTTE. The LTTE avoided married girls when recruiting and many girls like Sugarnadee married when they turn sixteen or seventeen. As soon as Sugarnadee returned to her land inherited from her late parents she found it difficult to build a good house. By this time her husband had left her and that took her life from bad to worse.

With the generous help of the Army personnel today she lives in a comfortable house built with the funds provided by a well-wisher. Today she earns her living as a pre-school teacher and is slowly starting her long steady life with her two daughters and sister.

“Through the local administration, especially the DS (Divisional Secretary), we get details about such needy families. Based on their criteria the local administration prioritise the families or persons that need help and we assist this,” said Major General Jagath Wijethilake, 68 Division General Officer Commanding.

Today in the area of responsibility of the 68 Division there are nearly 11,000 families living. By 2011 there were only 550 families. “Resettling in this area was quite challenging as there were heavy work load to be done on de-mining and the former No fire Zone was also in this area. Many arable lands were heavily mined by the LTTE and the de-mining process took a while to complete. If that was not completed properly people would have got injured or killed due to land mines or booby traps even by cultivating in their plot of land,” Maj. Gen. Wijethilake said. “I lost some of my soldiers during de-mining and many were injured and lost their limbs. Even de-miners of other organisations who worked in these areas were injured in the process,” he added.

As soon as the people started to resettle the Army opened a temporary hospital in Kaiweli until the Government health sector establish. Today the Pudukuduyirippu hospital is fully repaired and includes doctors’ quarters as well.

Many of the roads, public buildings are renovated and fully functioning. Approximately around 60 kilometres of road remain to be renovated and major part is complete. “All the schools started functioning by end of 2011,” Maj.Gen. Wijethilake said. Twenty three students were selected for university education from those who sat for GCE Advanced Level examination in 2011.

Today the youth living in Wellamullivaikkal area have already established a cricket club. Hand in hand with the Army today they have managed to restore their playground which was shrub land when they returned. Arandawa Rasa, a fisherman by profession is the President of the club and 18-year-old Prasad is the Secretary. “We organised an inter school cricket match with the help of the Army officers.

z_p17-A-new-Pudukud-08We, the club members, daily have practice games,” said Arandawa Rasa representing his over enthusiastic team. “There are some more families to come and resettle and we hope that young people with those families will also join us,” he said. The youth now do not dream about weapons. They have many enjoyments in life even in their own simple lifestyle.

Part by part development steadily flows in to Pudukuduyirippu. One day in the future, which may not be so far, memorabilia of a gloomy past will be forgotten hidden in the sands of time. Today many soldiers, who also can be homeless, are building houses for resettling families in Pudukuduyirippu. How many of us has that level of mentality for a selfless commitment? Isn’t this the high time for all citizens of all ethnicities to act on a similar line?

III: Dhaneshi Yatawara’s Pictorial Tales in May 2009

S-OB-10May-Yatawara S-OB- 10May Yatawara

S-OB - 17--5 Yatawara 1 S-OB - 17--5 Yatawara 2 S-OB - 17--5 Yatawara 3 S-OB - 17--5 Yatawara 4 S-OB - 17--5 Yatawara 5

S-OB - 17--5 Yatawara 6

[1] How the LTTE determined who qualified as “carers” is a grey area of knowledge, an intriguing one.

[2]Reddy and Prasad seems to have received a singular favour in mid-May. They were taken to the war front again in mid-May and even visited the last redoubt on every day from14-18 May inclusive. Prasad’s pictures of that arena inclusive of some Tamil survivors are invaluable. Selections can be found in http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797805167/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797848747/. It is instructive that contemporary 2012/13 reviews of the war do not refer to these visual images.


Filed under accountability, citizen journalism, economic processes, historical interpretation, IDP camps, life stories, LTTE, military expenditure, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, rehabilitation, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, tamil refugees, tolerance, truth as casualty of war, welfare & philanthophy, women in ethnic conflcits, world events & processes

2 responses to “Tamil IDPs Today and Yesterday… Pudukuduyirippu and Beyond

  1. Lance S

    CH4 and western Led HR Groups accuse GOSL That outdated Narrative HOW CAN YOU COMPARE A TERRORIST GROUP, WITH A ELECTED GOVERNMENT, the simple fact is this.. It WAS THE SAID WESTERN GOVERNMENTS AND HR GROUPS THAT FORCED SUCCESSIVE ELECTED GOVERNMENTS TO SIT AND TALK WITH TERRORIST’ FOR the sake of peace, and yes that was the price of Peace we had to pay as a nation.. JUSTICE then went out of the windows as Prabhakaran along with Aman were wanted CriminalLances by India (Proclaimed Offenders)…and Also by Lankan High court for countless Suicide Bombings and Murder of Leading Tamilean Politicians… HOW MANY WESTERN GOVERNMENTS SAT AND TALKED WITH OSAMA BINLADEN AND AL QAEDA for PEACE?????????..AND WHAT ABOUT the TAMIL NADU POLITICIANS and EElam GROUPS IN THE WEST WHO SHOULD BE IN THE DOCK FOR SUPPORTING A TERRORIST GROUP if u follow the Ch4 Narrative???? SO WHERE IS THE COLLECTIVE JUSTICE????? IT WAS NOT JUST ONESIDED AND simplistic AS CH4 and many Western HR Groups HAVE stated. Some of them dont even know how long and when this Brutal war started…JUSTICE MEANS MANY PROSECUTIONS FROM WESTERN EELAM GROUPS, That Includes the people who gave cyanide capsules to children and who sent them to get shot who today live in western capitals as Organisers, TAMIL NADU TOP POLITICIANS, SOME NGO GROUPS AND LANKANS.. THAT IS TRUE JUSTICE. Ours was a Brutal war which many of us saw death for 30 long years daily. And we have to make monumental sacrifices ie make peace with former leaders of the LTTE who bled this nation for peace and not justice. Today since the war finished since May 09 no more deaths in this nation. some people may hate GOSL for law and order issues and corruption, but we all suffered as one body in this nation due to the war. and we will all be united when it comes to this socalled one sided JUSTICE. against the MASS population.

  2. johnny



    there will never be justice to all, when the other side is unaccounted for.

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