Sunday, February 21, 2010

Former Tamil Tiger territory stirs to life

Mullaitivu and Jaffna, Sri Lanka: It is only first light as the girls Priya and Soumya, dressed in white government-issued uniforms, step out for the 4km trudge that will get them to school in time for its 7.30am start.

Their mother, who runs a tea stall on the A9 highway connecting the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the island, has readied their lunches as her husband watches.

'I have two acres (0.8ha) of land here,' says Mr R. Guhanathan, 33, who speaks only Tamil. 'At the height of the war, we were all taken to camps in Vavuniya. I was fortunate that when we returned, my land and cattle were safe.'

About 20km from Omanthai, this used to be territory held until early last year by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the rebel group that held off the state for more than a quarter-century and was once considered invincible.

The war ended last May with the battlefield deaths of Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and the entire LTTE leadership.

Today, under the watchful eyes of Sri Lanka's 57 Division, whose patrols continue to scour every culvert and poke at every shrub, life is limping back to normal.

Farther on up the highway to Jaffna, at the former Tiger headquarters of Killinochchi, a fisherman is doing a brisk trade in flower crabs and other sea produce.

With restrictions on outboard motors lifted, fishermen are able to go farther out to sea. Nearby is a giant water tank that used to supply water to the area. It was toppled during the war and while the locals blame the army, the military says the Tigers themselves destroyed the facility.

As the A9 enters Jaffna, you receive a mild shock. For you enter a place where time has stood still. The Tigers vacated the town 15 years ago as they melted into the countryside, but contact with the peninsula was limited and only by sea, because the rebels had closed the A9.

There are no landmarks around the city, aside from the rebuilt Jaffna Library at the edge of town. Most people move on bicycles. British-made Morris Oxford and Hillman cars from the 1950s and 1960s cruise the roads, passing an occasional BSA motorcycle, all kept ticking by some of the most innovative mechanics on the planet. Indeed, they are so good that many vehicle engines were adapted to run on kerosene.

The main railway station was once a beehive of activity. Today, it is not in use and even the tracks are gone - the Tigers blew up the rails years ago and used the steel to build weapons.

But not for long, perhaps.

Now that the war has ended, traders are doing a roaring business. Everything from Honda motorcycles to Toyota cars and Sony electronic products are freely available, as goods in the south of the island become available to Jaffna residents, thanks to the opening of the A9 highway last July.

Fuji and Red Delicious apples are appearing in bazaars, and so is Prima wheat flour, made by a Singaporean company whose products have been consumed by everyone on the island. Meanwhile, real estate prices are on a slow climb as a wary diaspora begins to nibble at Jaffna property.

With no industry worth the name, and very limited fishing because of military restrictions to prevent arms smuggling, Jaffna has survived on a remittance economy from overseas Tamils.

Now, every major Sri Lankan bank has opened offices here. Last week, HSBC became the first global bank to set up in Jaffna, aiming for the lucrative business of mediating the remittances that flow from Australia, Britain, Canada and elsewhere.

HSBC's local head, Mr A.S. Aravinthon, says more than 200 people signed up on Feb 11, the day he opened for business. Each family here, he says, has at least one member living overseas.

But it is not just remittances - real economic activity is rising. Jaffna's 22,000 fishing families are back at work, hauling in 1,500 tonnes of produce from the sea every month, six times the level a year ago. Good masons are in short supply as homes are rebuilt.

'There has been a 50 per cent increase in lending,' adds Mr P. Francis, the senior manager at the Bank of Ceylon branch in Jaffna. 'Every bank wants to be here now. After running losses for years, we expect to be profitable in Jaffna by June.'

Still, reminders of the terrible war are everywhere. Every second building in Jaffna bears the scars of bullets, as though a severe pox had descended on the peninsula and stayed a long time.

On Feb 15, two schoolchildren died and seven were injured when a booby- trapped mine exploded. The children had picked up what they thought was a ball, then, sensing something fishy, had thrown away the object, which exploded on impact.

'Supplies and services have almost been fully restored,' says government agent K. Ganesh, who heads the civil administration. 'The resettlement of the displaced from this area is almost complete. My main worry now is to provide employment for the youth. There are so few avenues for them.'

Outside his office building, Mr Poonathan Kajuran, a 26-year-old accountancy graduate, is trying to make a living writing petitions for common folk. He makes about $8 a day but says the job holds no respect and he wants a change.

'Get me a job in Colombo, sir,' he says. 'Or in Singapore. I am willing to sell my motorbike to fund my journey.'

Sri Lanka's insurgency cost the island at least 100,000 lives - of innocents, soldiers and Tamil combatants. Many Tamils were killed, not just by the Sinhala-dominated military, but by the Tigers themselves. Prabhakaran was a vicious leader who brooked no rivals in his quest to be the sole arbiter of Tamil destiny.

At the Varadaraja Perumal temple in the peninsula's Ponnalai area, head priest Somaskanda Gurukul shows a visitor temple artefacts that date back centuries.

It was at the doors of this temple that Prabhakaran began his career in militancy by assassinating Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duriappah in 1975.

'So much has changed for Jaffna and Tamils since that day,' says the priest. 'One thing that remains though is the people's faith in religion. That remains strong.'

Also read Ravi Vellor's blog entry, A cow in my lap, here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sec 4 CA1.1

CA1.1 is on Week 8
Topic: Deterrence & Diplomacy. However you may/can/will want to use information from Book 4 Chapter 1
Test: SEQ (a. & b.)
Total: 25 marks
Weight: 50%

see compilation of SEQs here. Warning: members access only.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Paradox of our age

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
More conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
More knowledge, but less judgment;
More experts, but more problems;
More medicines, but less healthiness;
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.
We build more computers to hold more information to
produce more copies than ever but have less communication.
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall man but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It's a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.

- 14th Dalai Lama

Sunday, February 07, 2010

WH3.1.6 Rise of Hitler

Period I: Impact of international developments up til 1929.
Period II: Rise of political extremism - Nazism vs Communism

Sec 3 CA1

CA1.1 is on Week 8
Topic: Stalin's Russia
Test: SBQ (3 inferences)
Weight: 50%

CA1.2 is a video review project

Check out project instructions in the Discussion page of your respective class' Facebook group.
You can join your class' Facebook group by searching for "Victoria Sch Humanities 3X" where X is your class alphabet. 
If you don't have a Facebook account, you might like to get one here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

4.1.6 Gulf War

TO attempt in class: SBQ on US role in Iraq-Kuwait Conflict.