Paanama is a Buddhist village in south-eastern Sri Lanka. In 2011, the government decided that certain lands belonged to residents, a decision overturned by a district court. For months, villagers have camped out in protest. This week, they marched and broke a coconut in a Buddhist ritual.
Paanama (AsiaNews) – Authorities have sent residents in Paanama, a village on Sri Lanka’s southeastern coast, expropriation orders, requiring them to vacate their land before 30 June.
The latter responded to the injunction last Tuesday by marching in the streets. When they reached Paththni Amma, a Buddhist temple, they broke a coconut as an offering in an age-old ritual.
"With this action, we invoke the divine blessing, that God may return us our lands that the government has forcibly expropriated,” some residents told AsiaNews.
The National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) in collaboration with the Praja Abhilasi Network and the People's Alliance for Right to Lands (PARL) organised the protest to show their support for local residents organised in the Paanama Pattuwa Protection Organisation.
“How can they do this to us? How can we tolerate such a decision?” said Punchirala Somasiri, who heads the local group.
The controversy began in 2011 when the Sri Lankan government decided that the land in question belonged to locals. The legitimate owners were told that they would get back their property by January 2015; however, the Lahugala Division overturned the earlier decision in February 2015 and March 2016.
As the authorities set out to hold the land, locals decided to take it by force. Since then, they have camped out in the roads and refused to give in to the demands of the court.
Tuesday’s protest has had an impact nation-wide with support coming from all parts. some 500 protesters travelled to the village from Jaffna, Mannar, Baticaloa, Trincomalee, Ampara, Monaragala, Galle, Matara, Kalutara, Colombo, Gampaha, Kurunegala and Polonnaruwa in a show of solidarity.
“Initially, residents did not have the courage to organise a protest campaign,” said NAFSO national coordinator Herman Kumara, “but now they are motivated, full of energy, thanks to the support they got from all over Sri Lanka.”
“Four other villages have joined us,” he added. “Before people were divided, but then they realised the importance of being united in the struggle."
Venerable Chandrarathana Thero, who led the march, said, "Our struggle is to get back our land. It is a struggle that has lasted a long time and we shall not give up when we are so close to the goal."