Muslims in Jaffna marks 30 years since expulsion

This year marks the 30th anniversary of a cruel and inhuman episode in the history of Tamil-Muslim relations in Sri Lanka.

By Mubashir VP

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) forcibly expelled Muslim from Northern provinces in October 1990. At short notice Muslims were sternly directed to leave the places they inhabited for centuries. Muslims were caught between targeted attacks from Tamil militancy and institutional marginalisation by government.

Mass expulsion of Muslims was part of ethnic cleansing by LTTE who believed Muslims to be colluding with government to crush Tamil insurgency. The month is called as ‘Black October’ to highlight the human catastrophe.

Even after three decades, the wounds are open and Muslims are desperate for justice. Crumbled mutual trust still haunts both ethnic groups and prevents them from complete return to normalcy.  As Sri Lanka slips into majoritarian authoritarianism, Muslims future is fraught with dangers and insecurity. Indeed, the current context does not bode well for Tamil-Muslim relations.

Black October 1990

‘Black October’ 1990 began in the Jaffna peninsula with the expulsion of Muslims of Chavakachcheri on 15 October and ended with the Muslims of Jaffna town on 30 October. The mass eviction of Muslims on the northern mainland began a few days before it commenced in Jaffna town and concluded a few days after the peninsula was ‘cleansed’ of Muslims.

After the retreat of Indian peace keeping mission from Sri Lanka, Tamil insurgency steadily increased its attacks against government and on all who opposed their cause. Muslims initially supported LTTE cause and joined its military ranks.

Later, Muslims slowly started to desert LTTE for Muslim identity was despised in the extreme militant ideology of LTTE. Fearful of losing their distinctive ethnic identity in front of Tamil nationalistic hegemony, Muslims started withdrawing from LTTE.

This fissure was soon exploited by Sri Lankan army. Soon Muslims were subjected to double whammy; majority Sinhalese violence and social alienation from fellow Tamils.

As war continued, hostility between LTTE and Muslims soared. Friction between Tamils and Muslims was deliberately fanned by government propaganda. LTTE spies linked Muslims to umpteen intelligence report leaks. A delegation led by Karikalan, the then LTTE Eastern Political Chief, prevailed upon Prabhakaran to take stern action fifth column Muslims. Thus path for ethnic cleansing of Muslims was inaugurated.

On 15 October 1990, first expulsion took place. The Chavakachcheri Muslims were told to leave the place. Only partial belongings were allowed to be taken along with. All other moveable and immoveable assets were confiscated.

Same fate befell on Muslims of Chava, Northern Wanni mainland and Mannar District. Jaffna Muslims were last to be expelled. They were stripped of all jewellery, electronic gadgets ad all valuables. Without no sustenance in offer, Muslims had to severely suffer in the process. Muslims were reduced to abject penury by activities of LTTE. Muslims who once were flourishing merchants and successful fisher folk were thrown to helplessness.

After 30 years

After the recapture of Jaffna by Sri Lanka 1995 and end to LTTE insurgency in 2009, efforts were done both by government and the community to return to expelled places. It was easier said than done. Apprehensive of revenge attacks majority of Muslims are still not ready to go back. 2012 census revealed that only marginal number of Muslims returned.

In relocated places Muslims continue to be subjected to communal violence and social alienation. Right wing Budhist groups often target Muslims with increasing alacrity. Deprived of all economic means, expelled Muslims are yet to return to normal life.

Tamils and Muslims still harbour bitter hostility against each other and this causes severe blow to social integration. In an atmosphere of trust deficit, Muslims are afraid of return. Since the eviction, the north has become increasingly insular under the sway of bankrupt Tamil nationalistic politics holding on to the legacy of the LTTE. In this context, the sustained return of Muslims to the north is crucial for its plural future.


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