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
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
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.