Victims of expropriations fight together for the right to land
The government expropriates land to build hotels for tourists. Indigenous communities are told to stay away from forests. Tamils grow tea, but after the war they no longer have land. A national campaign is in the works on ‘Our land is our life’.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – About 150 representatives from different sectors whose land is subject to government encroachment met in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo to reassert their right to land and natural resources, and to build bonds of solidarity.
For them, "Earth, water, lagoon, sea, forest: everything is part of our lives”. In light of this, “we ask the government not to ruin our lives by destroying these treasures. We are not against the development of our country, but development must not destroy our lives, our means of livelihood, and the future of our children."
The meeting took place on 23-24 August at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. The Law & Society Trust (LST) and the People's Alliance for Rights to Land (PARL) organised the event, dubbed the ‘People's Convention’.
Participants talked about the difficulties experienced by all social, ethnic, and religious groups, including Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslims, and Adivasi (indigenous groups).
Sandun Thudugala, who heads LST programmes, told AsiaNews that the meeting was important because it set three goals: "Strengthen the current struggles for land through a process of building leadership at district and provincial level, a process that can lead to a platform for people's mobilisation, and finally, a national campaign on 'Our land is our life'."
Arumanayagam, a member of the Adivasi community, said that "for generations, our ancestors have survived by using forests resources, collecting honey and hunting animals. Now, we can be arrested if we dare to approach the woods. We were told that we must find other forms of employment."
In this regard, Northern Peninsula Land Commissioner P Kahunathan confirmed that "it is better for the Adivasi to seek other forms of livelihood".
Vimalaraj, from Pasikuda (Trincomalee district), noted that in the past, "75 per cent of fishermen lived from fishing. At present, we are being driven away from the beaches where hotels are built for tourists."
Ganeshalingam, a representative of the Tamils working in plantations, echoed his words. "For 150 years the Tamil Tea companies contributed to the country's economy. Now we no longer have land to farm."