|Catholic villagers live in temporary huts while demonstrating in front of their navy-occupied village of Mullikulam. Their protest has been ongoing since March 23. (Photo by Niranjani Roland)|
Catholics have been demonstrating since March 23 in front of their former village that was annexed by the navy, continuing throughout Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Mullikulam is a village and fishing area of 600 hectares, originally home to about 1,200 families. In 2007, the entire population was evacuated and the Navy North-Western Command Headquarters established there, occupying their entire village.
The people have permanent title deeds for their agricultural lands and have engaged in a protest ever since.
Vincentamma Croose, an 83-year-old Tamil grandmother, along with some 75 families, have been living in temporary huts in front of the navy camp for the last 24 days. Different families take it in turns to protest every day.
"We were evacuated from our lands by the military with a promise of returning them within three days but as of today we still cannot go back to our village, go to church regularly or take up our former livelihoods," Croose told ucanews.com.
"In the past 10 years we demonstrated, handed over petitions, and discussed with government officials and international organizations but we still are out on the road," she said.
There were about 120 families that were temporarily resettled at Malankaadu, 150 families in the village of Kayakuli and about 100 families relocated to India to escape the war, Croose told ucanews.com.
"Many who went to India are willing to come back but they are waiting to see if they will get back their lands," she said, adding that those who were relocated, along with those who weren't, want their homes back.
Protesters cooked under the trees and bathed in the nearby stream. They took it in turns to attend church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday to make sure their protests continued.
All Mullikulam villagers are Tamil Catholics and they are the parishioners of the Church of our Lady of Assumption, built in 1786.
Newton Mariyadas, a protester, said that not everyone could go to the church for Good Friday and Easter Sunday services.
"When the navy bus comes, we all go to the church and do the cleaning and arrange Mass. After finishing Mass, we come back to our places via the navy bus," said Mariyadas.
"The villagers want to freely go to church and take up their livelihoods of fishing and farming," he said.
Charity Sister Nichola Emmanuel said that the navy has benefited from the lands for almost 10 years. "Several times these villagers protested and demanded their land back but the navy didn't listen," said Sister Emmanuel, who joined with the protesters.
"The very first day of the demonstration the navy threatened the villagers but they carried on without fear," she told ucanews.com.
"Many priests, nuns and human rights activists show their solidarity with these people and the villagers will carry on their protest until they get back their lands," the nun said.
The war that began in 1983 between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Tamil Tigers ended in 2009. According to the United Nations over 40,000 civilians died during the last stages of the war. Mullikulam village in Mannar Diocese was hit hard by years of war as government and rebels snatched lands from each other.
Various governments since the end of the war have promised several times to give back the lands but it has not happened.
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