Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Interview


The Rediff Poll


Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special



The Rediff Special/A Ganesh Nadar

A human tragedy

Thousands of Tamils have fled the Jaffna peninsula to escape the murderous battle between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A Ganesh Nadar visited the camps at Rameshwaram in southern Tamil Nadu, where the refugees live, to glimpse a human tragedy.

Legend says because Sita cried while she was imprisoned there Lanka would burn. Sadly, the same legend does not say when Lanka would stop burning.

When the Sri Lankan army marched into the LTTE-controlled Jaffna, the Tamils fled to the Vanni forest area. A year later the fighting spread to the Vanni area. As the Sri Lanka air force pounded the area without discriminating the LTTE from the civilians, the Tamils fled for their lives. They chose the nearest haven across the sea. The last three months have seen a fresh exodus of refugees from Sri Lanka to India. Most of them land in Rameshwaram. On a map it almost looks as if Rameshwaram is reaching across to Lanka.

Rameshwaram is the place where Rama is said to have prayed before proceeding to Lanka to fight Ravana. Rameshwaram is an island joined to the mainland by the famous Pamban bridge. The bridge is named after Indira Gandhi. The drive across the bridge is exhilarating. More than 50 feet above the sea, the bridge has been well constructed. The parallel railway bridge is much lower.

The sea is a deep green. A lot of fishing boats line the shore. Enquiries revealed that the minute the refugees land, they are loaded onto trucks and taken across to the Mandapam camp on the mainland. It is a 15 minute ride from Rameshwaram to the camp.

The board outside the camp says Thayakam Thirumbum Makkal Mugam -- a camp for people returning to the motherland. I was confused. I wondered who was returning to whose motherland. A camp official explained that this camp was originally started to house Indian Tamils who were earlier driven out by the Lankan Tamils.

The Lankan Tamils look like Indian Tamils. Only when they open their mouth can you notice the difference. They speak Tamil with a different accent.

The refugees are a despondent lot. Those who have relatives here are marginally more cheerful than the rest. The majority have lost all hope of ever returning to their homes.

Thirukumaran is a young boy who was studying in Class 10 in Yalpanam. When he had to flee he paid Rs 10,000 to get across the Palk Straits. "I came because I was scared of the army," he says. He has not found any work and subsists on the daily allowance of Rs 5. He has been here for two months.

Joili is a teacher from Jafna. She greets me with a smile that does not reach her eyes. "I decided to flee when my eight-month-old baby died because there were no medicines." Her husband had a cycle shop there. She hasn't found any work here. "How can I get a job here when the locals don't have work?" she says with disarming candour. The rations are not sufficient for her, but "How can I complain when we are your guests?"

She had to leave a sister back home and her voice breaks when she wonders how her sibling is. Her children go to the school inside the camp. She also paid Rs 10,000 to be ferried across the sea.


Home | News | Business | Sport | Movies | Chat
Travel | Planet X | Freedom | Computers

Copyright 1996 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved