For Selvakumar Hemalatha, 34 year old single parent, this year’s Sinhala and Tamil New Year was a memorable one. She did not celebrate it in grand manner, she could not. But she was happy that she was back where she belongs.

Hemalatha is back in her own land after almost 10 years of living as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP). She was among the thousands who were displaced when war broke out in the Eastern Province 10 years ago. Her family was one of the 560 families whose lands were handed back by the Government in March this year. The Government in a bid to solve the issue of Sampur IDPs decided to hand over the lands that were held by the military back to the rightful owners. The resettlement process was carried out in several phases.Back home for New Year (1)

Hemalatha’s was the last batch of people to whom their lands were given. She celebrated the Sinhala and Tamil New Year at her own place after she was displaced on April 25, 2006. “I am really happy to be back in my own place. This is what we have been pleading and demanding for over the past several years,” she said.

No mood to celebrate
Even though there is happiness, none of those resettled was in the mood to celebrate the dawn of a New Year. Having returned home, Hemalatha has mixed feelings about being resettled. In a way she is happy to be back, but then again, she complains that the Government is yet to provide the basic infrastructure facilities for her to get back on her feet and look after her family.

They do not think that there is no hope for them. “We believe there is hope. We thought we would never get back our lands, but we did. But, we are worried about how to support our families,” she added.

In the case of Hemalatha, the situation is quite desperate as she has to look after her 14-year-old daughter and 60-year-old mother. “I used to have a small poultry farm before we were displaced. There is nothing now,” she said.

Standing on bare land
Even though the lands have been given to the rightful owners, they are left in a helpless situation where they do not have permanent shelter. Hemalatha claims that she does not even have a proper temporary shelter that could house all three members in her family. She alleged that nothing had been done for them to move on with their lives. “When I returned, all I could see was bare land. My house was gone. The well has been destroyed too. There is nothing. I have managed to put up a small shelter using a few metal roofing sheets.”

However, she said the government officials had commenced a process to register the resettled people in Sampur, following which she expected the authorities to provide them with the basic facilities.

“We need the support of government or non-government organisation. So far we have not received any help,” she said.

The resettlement of Sampur IDPs was a much debated issue, especially after the end of the war, for several reasons. The fact that most of the area was demarcated as a High Security Zone (HSZ) made the resettlement process all the more complicated and difficult.

During the presence of the LTTE, Sampur was considered a place of strategic importance as it was on the other side of the lagoon, facing the Trincomalee harbour and the Naval base. Thus, the military was fully aware of the risks that it could face due to the presence of the LTTE in the region.

The residents too were stubborn and stuck to their demands saying that they wanted their original lands back. On the other hand, since Sampur was situated in the coastal belt, most of the residents were fishermen and therefore were reluctant to shift inward.

However, things have been changing over the past year or so due to the change of Government. Hundreds of acres of lands that were previously occupied by the military in the North and East are being handed back to the rightful owners. This has strengthened the level of confidence of those who were directly affected by war, and Hemalatha too shares the same sentiment as the others who were affected by the war.

“Even though I am not happy about how I am living in my own land, I’m confident that things will change with time. I just hope things change soon,” Hemalatha said.

Pics by Chamila Karunarathne