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After the tsunami: Victims treated like beggars
AS WE arrived back in the eastern part of Sri Lanka, a graveyard silence greeted us - scores of eyes tired of crying for their kith and kin taken by the killer tsunami.
Siritunga Jayasuriya, General Secretary United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka) and Jagadish Chandra, Socialist Alternative (CWI, India).
There are 'families' who lost everybody except one male member who had gone to the town or who was fishing in the deep sea. There is not a single household which has not been devastated by death and destruction in Arugambay village. Now streets of debris are all that is left of what was once a booming tourist spot as well as a busy fishing community.
The United Socialist Party (USP) relief team visited the Pottuvil area again on 22-24 January. Apart from Pottuvil town, villages such as Ullai, Sinnaullai and Komari have seen the dancing of death in their own eyes. The team could see the fear of the sea in the villagers' helpless eyes.
Government agencies claim that fast relief is getting to tsunami victims. However, the USP team could see that this is a big lie concocted for the benefit of the western world and the donor countries.
On the sands of Arugambay, there once stood a lively town mostly of Tamil-speaking Muslims. But today the only reminder is the debris and some concrete floors which had little houses on them.
The government's claims that they have set up pukka relief camps is a travesty of justice to these poor people, who had to build their own thatched shelter with whatever was salvaged from the disaster.
The government is treating tsunami victims as beggars by giving just a weekly food ration and washing their hands of responsibility for anything else. A paltry 5,000 rupees (£27) for the victims' funeral is the only cash that those affected have received from the government.
The government has suddenly woken up to the fact that there's a rule that nobody should build anything within 100 metres of the sea. While it wants to apply this rule stringently now, the most adversely affected would be the poor fishermen folk. Some of the rich and foreigners are already flouting the law and building dwellings and businesses within the stipulated areas.
The sectarian Janata Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) is taking advantage of the post-tsunami situation. In Pottuvil it has tried to communalise the whole town by making false claims on a piece of land in a predominantly Muslim area to put up a Buddhist statue!
THE USP district centre at Pottuvil town has become a sort of socialist crisis management centre for tsunami-affected people; a meeting spot for them to discuss everything worrying them.
The USP has distributed essential items such as cement, bricks, cycles, household utensils and kerosene stoves to some of those affected. But doing relief work here is like a cat saying it would drink all the water in the ocean; it was a daunting task for comrades to decide how to manage on the resources available.
The Pottuvil comrades' fantastic work has stretched them to the maximum, but this sacrifice has its own rewards. Most of the adult population have turned up at meetings when the USP team was there, and most said that they are going to join the USP - the only party which came there to help at their hour of need.
Last weekend, the USP team went to the south of the country to carry on the party-sponsored relief. A special broadsheet is being planned with the name Tsunami Janahanda (Voice of the tsunami victims) to expose the government and to put forward a socialist programme for the fightback. In February, a mass poster campaign is planned.
Campaign Sri Lanka
AS WE go to press another consignment of clothes, medical supplies and bedding is being sent off to Sri Lanka. Many thanks to all who contributed, particularly Jon Dale who organised the medical supplies.
Donations to Campaign Sri Lanka from England and Wales include £200 each from Paul Rose and Andy Beadle, £100 each from Rachel Harris, Usha Chauhan and Sharon Heal, £30 from Nasima Patel, £15 from Tom Baldwin and £5 each from Alan Conchar and Dafydd Ap Tomas.
For more information on the appeal and future consignments call Naomi on 020 8988 8792 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Donations can be made:
- Online at: www.socialistworld.net Add the words Campaign Sri Lanka to the comment box. An appeal sheet can also be downloaded from the website.
- Directly to: Campaign Sri Lanka, Lloyds TSB, Leytonstone branch. Account number 0023293; sort code 30-95-03
- By cheque to: Campaign Sri Lanka, c/o Committee for Workers' International, PO Box 3688, London E11 1YE.
- Messages of support can be sent directly to the United Socialist Party in Sri Lanka: email@example.com with copies to firstname.lastname@example.org (in case of problems with the USP e-mail).
In The Socialist 5 February 2005: