Ampara & Arugam Success story in Pluralism?

Arugam Bay flattened by the Waves 2004

Arugam Bay flattened by the Waves 2004

By Wilson Gnanadass in Ampara Buy zebeta classification Costo lariam e malarone
Whether one examines economic indicators or study anecdotal evidence- the prolonged conflict in the North, rising human rights violations, unemployment, business bankruptcies, falling consumer confidence, no cash in hand situation, all seem to point to one conclusion: the Sri Lankan economy is on a freefall.

The Governmenta??s focus on military action, and the consequent silence to evolve a mechanism, to find a political settlement to the ethnic question, have all contributed to more confusion and doubts.
The defeat of the LTTE has also given rise to doubts and suspicion in the minds of the ethnic Tamils. They wonder whether their sentiments would any longer be respected or their aspirations met, by the Government.

Amidst growing tension and anxiety, Ampara, in the Eastern Province, seems to have emerged as a new successful hub of activities. In addition to the economic boom experienced at present, last week, Ampara also hosted a very rare workshop on pluralism, aimed at educating all three communities to live in harmony.
Even before the war in the East was terminated, fears spread that the districta??s postwar economy would not provide sufficient resources for business and industry.

Contrary to such negative speculations and indications, today, Amparaa??s economy is booming and its agriculture sector flourishing.
Many local residents thank the war and especially, the 2004 tsunami, for the sudden revival of the economy.
Paddy being the main agriculture in Ampara, the district takes pride in producing 12% of the national requirement at present.
Impact of war
The ethnic war, over the past decades, and especially, the presence of the LTTE, has seriously hampered proper growth in this area.

The production sector suffered due to several restrictions.
Due to transport problems, paddy cultivation could not get off the ground properly. Farmers could not travel to Colombo or other places, to purchase quality manure and fertilisers, necessary to enhance yield.

Besides, many Muslim farmers were gunned down or threatened not to engage in farming. Even the wealthy Muslim farmers, who had the capacity to produce more, were forced to hand over half of their produce to the rebel movement.
The above restrictions and problems seriously affected paddy cultivation in the Ampara district.

An overview

The Ampara district is 2,231.4 sq. km. in extent, with a population of 610,719. Sinhala, Muslim and Tamils are the three major communities living in the district and the ethnic ratio is 43% Muslim, 39.47% Sinhala and 18.34% Tamils.
The District comprises of 20 Divisional Secretariat areas and there are 507 Grama Niladhari divisions and 828 villages. The main livelihood in the District is paddy cultivation. Senanayake Samudra is the main irrigation tank, along with several minor tanks in the area.

Total cultivable land, prior to the tsunami, was 55,000 hectares producing 250,000 metric tons per season.
But the latest study shows a marginal, if not considerable, increase after the tsunami. According to the latest report, both the production rate of paddy and the extent of paddy lands have been increased.

At present (after the tsunami), the total cultivable area under paddy is around 65,000 hectares and the average production is 341,000 metric tons per season. Paddy production now in Ampara is 12 % of the countrya??s requirement.


There are several reasons for the surge in paddy production, according to many local experts in Ampara.
The principal, among them, is the freedom from the clutches of the LTTE. According to many farmers in Ampara, terrorism has had an adverse impact on paddy cultivation, and it is after pushing the Tigers out of the province that, this sector has begun to pick up.

During the military confrontation, the farmers said, the military, as well as the rebel presence in the area, had restricted their movements and even their willingness to engage in proper cultivation.

For instance, farmers had not been allowed to travel freely, either to Colombo or even to Trincomalee, to purchase the latest pesticides and other necessary manure. This restriction further prevented them from purchasing the latest machinery and also learning how to operate them.

Many farmers pointed out that, despite producing a considerable amount of paddy, they could not find buyers during times of conflict.
Due to the conflict, the Government has not been able to draw up any proper marketing scheme, to give the paddy farmers a fair deal. As a result, the farmers, though self sufficient, could not sell their produce to outsiders. This, definitely, did not bring in significant revenue from their main agriculture component.

Besides, during the presence of the LTTE, the farmers also faced restriction of movement. For instance, they had been allowed to work only for a limited number of hours a day. The farmers had also been forced to offer half or a considerable portion of their produce to the LTTE.
The tax levied by the LTTE for each kilo of paddy produced, also impacted heavily on the rice production in Ampara.

Post tsunami / war

However, for the farmers of Ampara, paddy cultivation after the war and, of course the tsunami, has been productive.
According to them, they were freed from the clutches of the LTTE and therefore, were able to engage in meaningful farming a?? sans the LTTE menace.

The freedom to travel had helped them acquire the latest technology, by way of manure and machinery, and, for the first time, the Ampara farmers were able to introduce these tools into their cultivation process.
One of the tractors widely used in Ampara, that could carry out, virtually, all the work of many farmers, is called a??Tsunamia??.
The huge yellow and green vehicles are seen everywhere, from Ampara to Kalmunai, where tens of thousands of acres of paddy lands are found.

In the coastal areas of this district, devastated by the tsunami, there is a change.
Prior to the tsunami, most of the lands could not be cultivated. According to sources, many acres of lands in these areas were not cultivated by the farmers, because they needed to be filled.

But, after the tsunami, with aid provided by the Government and foreign agencies, the peasants had been able to fill these lands too, thereby, preparing them for cultivation.

As a result, the extent of land that is cultivable in Ampara is now higher than before the tsunami.
This, according to the farmers, has provided for additional produce per season.


The fishing industry being the next important livelihood, has also undergone changes due to the war and tsunami.
Prior to the tsunami and during the conflict, there were severe restrictions imposed on fishermen. The restrictions came also from the Government for security reasons.
They could not engage in deep sea fishing. They were allowed to fish only within a restricted area, as decided by the Government. They had no way of purchasing the necessary equipment for their business. For instance, many fishermen were deprived of even fishing boats.

However following the defeat of the LTTE in the east and the tsunami, it is learnt that even the fishermen who did not own boats, now own many boats.

With money and material from donors coming in, especially, after the tsunami, the fishing industry, according to many, has grown.
At present, about 85,000 people, from around 17,000 families, are involved in fishing.
According to the CEO- Ampara District Chamber of Commerce & Industries, Vasanthakumara Jayasena, paddy cultivation that was affected in Kalmunai, Akkaraipattu, Thirukovil, Padiyathalawa and Maha Oya, due to both the war and tsunami, are now returning to normal.

He said that, these two agricultural sectors had shown a remarkable growth in the postwar period.
a??Everybody thought that the war and, especially the tsunami will affect these industries. But the people of Ampara, though mixed, are united. They are enthusiastic and hardworking. The people have decided to use defeats and devastations as springboards to success,a?? he said.

A civil rights activist Dr. S.L. Azeez was also of the opinion that the economy of Ampara district has had a drastic change for better, after the war and tsunami.

He said that, with the defeat of the LTTE, people have begun to move freely and, as a result, business has started to flourish.
He, however, said that, the many checkpoints set up by the Government security forces, in many locations, delay their travelling.
a??Otherwise, comparatively, there is peace and tranquility in this side of the world,a?? he said.

The outcome of PC election

While Ampara, on its own, has developed and cultivated many styles, fashions and value systems, the newly created Eastern Provincial Council (EPC), has not helped the people significantly.
To many intellectuals, the fact that, the Council has not shown any tangible results so far, has led to more doubts, whether the Council could ever deliver the goods.

Many people who spoke to The Nation, on the condition of anonymity, expressed disappointment over the split within the Tamil Makkal Vidudalai Puligal (TMVP)- the party that dominates the EPC.

According to Vasanthakumara Jayasena, the Ampara people have little or no access to the Trincomalee based EPC.
He said that, if the ministries or even some departments were situated in Ampara, the peasants could have attended to their issues quickly and easily.
a??It is cumbersome to travel to Trincomalee, to sort out each and every issue. I assume, it is easier to travel to Colombo and return,a?? he said.

He also pointed out that, Ampara has, to date, not enjoyed the benefits of the EPC. a??We supported the EPC, because we realised that the locals here would be benefited. But now we understand that, the Council is yet to establish itself. Whenever we query Council members, they tell us that, the Government is not devolving adequate powers to the peripheries and therefore, nothing could be done,a?? he said.

Dr. Azeez echoed similar sentiments. He too, said that, when inquired from local Council members, they continued to blame the Government for not devolving powers.
a??But, is this our problem? We are trying to get off the ground as soon as possible but, the new Council is not being helpful,a?? he said.

Quick action needed

The Ampara district is dubbed a model town, especially, in the post civil war era.
The existence of multiculturalism and multilinguism in Ampara is an added bonus to the entire Eastern Province. Different communities are able to coexist and are generally found to be friendly and living in harmony. There is potential for further development and progress, despite some hiccups over land issues.

Travelled an allegation that has been leveled against successive governments is that, there is systematic colonisation, to gradually change the ethnic ratio. Muslims in general, charge that, successive governments have focused on planting Sinhalese from the South, in the East as well.

This district is predominantly an agricultural one, with considerable portion of land used for various industries. There are nearly 200 rice mills to market the paddy harvest.

In addition to fisheries, brick making, garments, metal crushing, carpentry and masonry services, other categories of cottage industries on village based resources are also available.

At present, sugar cane is also cultivated on 6,000 hectares, to supply the sugar factory in the district.
Tourism is yet another aspect, which has begun to boom in the district, with many tourists visiting the world famous Arugam Bay.
The defeat of the LTTE in the East, is again the cause for such a boom.
Nevertheless, if the government continues to clip the wings of the EPC, then, it would be difficult to visualise real development and growth.

The EPC Chief Minister has already gone on record that, the powers devolved to the Province are limited and that, he is not able to deliver what is required, with such limited powers.
It is up to the Government, to prudently devolve powers to the periphery, so as to facilitate further progress and development.


Be that as it may, while the entire country was in a celebratory mood, given that, the military victory on the one hand and the 61st Independence Day of Sri Lanka on the other, in Ampara, again a group of committed and intelligent people were discussing the pros and cons of Pluralism last week.

The euphoria expressed during the last few weeks, by the majority of the Sri Lankans, over the military victory in the North, by lighting firecrackers and holding various Poojas, invoking blessings on the armed soldiers, was clear evidence that, Sri Lankans in general, were definitely in a mood to celebrate.

While tons of firecrackers were lit to rejoice the military victory over the LTTE, another section in the country was sulking, not over the defeat of the LTTE, but wondering what might happen to their future.

Given this situation, sincere attempts by some Sri Lankans, committed to a better future, talking of Pluralism was a welcome note.
The workshop on a??Pluralisma?? was organised by the National Peace Council (NPC) in Ampara last week.

With the definition of Pluralism being a??a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilisationa??, the workshop called on the Government itself to vigorously canvass for the promotion of Pluralism.

Sri Lanka is a multi ethnic, language and religious country and notwithstanding several attempts to recognise the diversity of the country as a source of strength, it is unfortunate that, all attempts have failed and today, there are several cracks among the different communities within the country.

Experts compare the present Sri Lanka to the Titanic ship that could submerge at any given time, due to sharp divisions among societies, communities, religion and even race.
The answer they point out further, is not merely a devolution package, but the willingness to coexist, identifying each othera??s differences and weaknesses, even under a federal or any other structure similar to that.

Classic example

In the realm of Pluralism, a case in point is the study of the Canadian experience. The Canadian government has considered diversity to be one of Canadaa??s greatest strengths. All attempts are made by the government to preserve and promote Pluralism.
Apparently, in Canada, there are over 200 ethno cultural communities, with an incredible diversity of skills, language, cultures and religions. But, studies show that, by 2017, visible minorities in some of the largest cities, are projected to form the majority.
Canada, according to information, is the first country to institute an official policy of multiculturalism and is the only one to have a law recognising the cultural diversity of its population.

In Sri Lanka, with the ethnic conflict that has gone on for nearly three decades, civil society has become increasingly concerned of the deteriorating value system.
The ethnic conflict was fuelled by ethnic tension and therefore, it is now believed that, the concept of Pluralism must be sowed everywhere.

Civil society members have already pointed out that, the Government, busy with military operations against the LTTE has, to date, not addressed this issue of promoting the concept of Pluralism.

The NPC workshop titled; a??Pluralism in South Asiaa??, was a follow up to the earlier Regional Conference on Pluralism in South Asia held in Colombo, in March last year. Plan Implementation Minister P. Dayaratne was the chief guest at the opening session held at the Ampara District Chamber of Commerce & Industries complex, on January 30.

The NPC Chief Operations Executive (COE) Regina Ramalingam, in her opening address, brought out five important points of Pluralism. They were energetic engagement with diversity, understanding differences, encouragement of dialogue as a basis, maintenance of democracy and respect for human rights and freedoms of every individual and community.

Further explaining on the a??respect for human rightsa?? and a??freedom of every individual and communitya??, she said that, freedom of speech, cultural and religious freedoms, minority rights and womena??s rights must be respected and honoured, in order to enjoy the benefits of Pluralism.

Dr. Sasanka Perera, of Colombo University, pointed out that, though multiculturalism has been exercised by the Sri Lankans in the early days, it has now been forgotten.

Speaking on the title; a??Understanding Diversity from a historical perspective based on Sri Lanka material,a?? he pointed out that, though there is a history of coexistence in Sri Lanka, the advent of the population census, introduced by the British colonial masters, segregated the people, based on their religion, race, cast and colour.

He further pointed out that, in Sri Lanka, there have not been significant efforts to even interpret some of the archeological sites that have ultimately led to suspicion and doubts among different ethnic groups, because each community attempted to stake a claim over them.

He said that, over a period of time, Sri Lankans themselves had begun to make claims over a number of places of importance, like Adama??s Peak or even Madhu Church, and have tried to give the impression that, such places belonged to their religion or their cast, while, in actual fact, they were not.
He said that, this is how the process of segregation began, which ultimately led to tension and conflict.

Cultural rights

A former member of the Human Rights Commission, Jagath Liyanarachchi, speaking on a??Respect for Human Rights & Freedoms of every Individual & Communitya?? said that, the Sri Lanka Parliament has enacted some 900 Acts to date.
The a??Sinhala Only Acta?? was the shortest, with only three paragraphs, but, this Act was the cause for one of the biggest problems in the country, he said.

He further explained that, language is not only a means of communication but also, an essential component of culture.
a??When a government gives one language priority, then a cultural problem is created,a?? he stressed.
The workshop also motivated a number of locals in Ampara to form themselves into a committee, to work towards further promotion of Pluralism.


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