Fifteenth anniversary of the Muslim expulsion from Jaffna
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Fifteen years ago on this day (Oct 30th ) around 28, 000 men , women and children
were expelled from Jaffna by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam organization. They
were all Tamil - speaking Muslims living in the Muslim "vattaaram" or zone of Jaffna
town. About 500 plus Muslims living in Chavakachcheri had been expelled about a
week earlier. Around 150 other Muslims living in other parts of the peninsula were
rounded up and sent away in the days that followed.Only the Muslims of Nainatheevu
Island or Nagadeepa remained safe due to the Naval protection and benign presence
of the Buddhist prelate.
The expulsion of Muslims was not confined to the Jaffna peninsula alone. Muslims
from the entire Northern province were expelled by the LTTE. The expulsion process
on the Northern mainland began a few days before it commenced in the peninsula
and concluded a few days after Jaffna was "cleansed" of Muslims. The bulk of
Northern Muslims were living in Mannar comprising 26 % of the district population.
Apart from Jaffna and Mannar the Muslims of Mullaitheevu (4.9%) and Kilinochchi
(1.6%) districts were sent out also.The Muslims in Vavuniya (6.9%) were luckier as
most of their villages were in the Government controlled areas. Around 55 to 60, 000
Muslims were expelled from the northern mainland by the LTTE. Together with those
of the peninsula the Muslims driven out from the Northern Province numbered 80 to
85, 000 in 1990.
The LTTE was particularly cruel in the case of Jaffna Muslims. The Jaffna Muslims
were concentrated in two or three densely populated wards of the Jaffna Municipality.
Sonaka theru, Ottumadam and Bommaively etc were their areas. They were an
integral part of Jaffna society. Though not on the same scale as Tamils they too had
built up an educational tradition. Former civil servant and Zahira Principal AMA Azeez,
Supreme Court Judge Andul Cader, Appeal Court Judge MM Jameel. Education
Director Munsoor etc being some leading lights of the Jaffna Muslims. There were
Municipal Councillors and one MMC Basheer was deputy - mayor and acting mayor of
The Jaffna Muslims like their Tamil counterparts had from time to time vacated their
homes during intense shelling or bombing.They had always returned in a few days.
With the LTTE assault on the Jaffna Fort camp and stiff resistance being proffered in
return, fighting escalated in September 1990. This led to many Muslims leaving Jaffna
town for weeks. Many went to Mankumban islet where a Muslim sufi shrine existed.
The Jaffna Fort fell on Sep 26th and the LTTE led by Col. Bhanu took over the camp.
The heavy fighting ceased and the Jaffna people including Muslims began to return.
People were picking up pieces and trying to resume normal life. Tamil - Muslim
hostilities were increasing in the East. The desertion of some Muslim cadres in the
LTTE and a few of them going over to the enemy incensed the Eastern LTTE under
Karuna (military) and Karikalan (political). Many other Muslim cadres in the LTTE were
executed by the leadership. An anti - Muslim spirit pervaded the LTTE.
On the other hand the state also exploited and aggravated these feelings. Many
Muslim anti - social elements were inducted as homeguards. These sections
collaborated with the security forces in promoting anti - Tamil violence. In some cases
Muslim homeguards were responsible for Tamil civilian massacres. Some Tamil
hamlets and villages were destroyed by Muslim homeguard led mobs. They were
given covert support by sections of the security forces.
The LTTE in turn responded with equally gruesome massacres of Muslim civilians.
The Sammanthurai and Kattankudi attacks on Mosques and massacre of civilians at
the Saddham Hussein model village of Eravur being notorious examples. Though
Tamil - Muslim relations were at a low point in the East the situation was quite different
in the North. Both communities continued to co - exist there peacefully. One reason
being that Muslims were a small minority posing no threat to the Tamil majority.
This situation of Muslims living peacefully in the North while tensions prevailed in the
East was unacceptable to the Eastern tigers. A delegation led by Karikalan came to
the North to persuade Pirapakaran that "stern" action should be taken against
Muslims. Karikalan apparently wanted a lesson to be taught to the Muslims. Even as
this pressure was being exerted on the tiger hierarchy an incident occurred at
Most of the Chavakachcheri Muslims lived on Dutch road. The LTTE while
investigating an incident of intra - Muslim violence discovered some swords. According
to tiger "explanations" this triggered off an alarm bell. The LTTE conducted a search
of Muslim houses and businesses and found about 75 swords concealed in a Muslim
shop. This was seen as part of a deadly conspiracy. Even if this explanation is true
one cannot see 75 swords being of any use against the Kalashnikovs of the LTTE.
The swords were most probably kept as a precautionary measure against community
The shop where the swords were found belonged to a Muslim businessman whose
lorries travelled to and from Colombo for trade. The LTTE intelligence known for its
excessive paranoia suspected a greater conspiracy. It was suspected that the security
- intelligence apparatus could be using Muslim businessmen travelling frequently to
Colombo as agents to engage in sabotage or act as spies. Preemptive action was
required it was felt.
Once the Chavakachcheri Muslims were ordered to leave the chain reaction started.
The tragedy of this expulsion was that the Muslims began fleeing the areas they lived
for generations on the orders of an armed movement. There was no protest, no
opposition. Such was the terror and power of the LTTE. Besides the Muslims were few
in numbers. Let us not forget that five years later Tamils too were forced into fleeing
Jaffna in large numbers during the engineered exodus of 1995. That was perhaps the
greater law of Karma or the principle of Dharma!
According to explanations provided by the LTTE later the presence of an Eastern
contingent under Karikalan in the North in October was greatly responsible for the
decision of mass expulsion. Essentially it was seen as some form of retaliatory
warning to the eastern Muslims. This decision was further influenced by the
exaggerated threat perception. In a blatantly racist mindset the Muslims were seen as
potential fifth columnists. It was against this backdrop that the expelling exercise took
The proces began in Chavakachcheri and spread to the mainland. The Muslim people
of Kilinochchi, Mullaitheevu and Mannar districts were now being driven out. Even as
this terrible development was taking place the Jaffna Muslims were unperturbed. They
could not see any danger befalling them. These were things happening to others for
different reasons. Jaffna Muslims saw themselves as integral to Jaffna. Nothing could
happen to them from their Tamil brethren. Like some Jewish people during the Hitler
era they continued with "normal" life unmindful of the brewing disaster.
It appears in retrospect that the LTTE was more harsh on Jaffna Muslims than the
others. They were given an incredibly short deadline to leave Jaffna. This may have
been due to the LTTE deciding that Jaffna be "cleansed" of Muslims by November.
Comparatively the tigers came "last" to the Jaffna Muslims. The LTTE D - Day for
them was October 30th
It was about 11.30 am in the morning that the LTTE vehicles with loudspeakers began
plying the roads and lanes of the Jaffna Muslim residential areas. A terse
announcement was repeated incessantly that representatives of each Muslim family
should assemble at the Jinnah grounds of Osmania College by twelve noon. Armed
tigers began patrolling the streets. Some began a house to house announcement in
the thickly populated lanes and by - lanes.
The people abandoned whatever they were doing and hurried to the grounds. At 12.
30 pm a senior tiger leader Aanchaneyar addressed them. Aanchaneyar now goes by
another name Ilamparithy. Yes! the man was none other than present Jaffna
commissar Ilamparithy then in charge of Jaffna town sector politics. Aamnchaneyar or
Ilamparithy had a brief message.The LTTE high command for reasons of security
(Paathukaappu) had decided that all Muslims should leave Jaffna within two hours.
Failure to do so meant punishment. No further explanation was given.
When people started to question him Ilamparithy lost his cool. He barked loudly that
the Muslims should simply follow orders or face consequences. He then fired his gun
several times in the air. A few of his bodyguards followed suit. The message was clear.
The people thought initially that the army was going to invade Jaffna and that the
LTTE was asking everyone to leave. Only belatedly did they realise that only the
Muslims were ordered to leave.
With more and more armed tigers coming into the area the perturbed Muslims began
packing. Initially they were not told of any restrictions on the things they could carry.
So people packed clothes, valuables, jewels and money. Buses, vans and lorries
were made available for transport by the tigers. Many Muslims made their private
transport arrangements too.
The Muslims streaming out of their homes were now given a fresh order. They were
asked to queue up at the "Ainthumuchanthi" junction. As the hapless people lined up
they were in for a terrible shock. Male and female cadres of the LTTE began
demanding that the Muslim people hand over all their money, belongings and jewellery
to them. Each person would be allowed only 150 ruppes each. Each person would be
allowed only one set of clothes.
Feeble protests were raised. The brandishing of sophisticated weapons and threats in
aggressive tones quickly silenced them. The suitcases with clothes and other
belongings were confiscated. They were opened first and selected clothes taken out.
If a person wore trousers an extra set of trouser and shirt was given. If a person wore
a sarong an extra sarong and shirt was given. All the money and documents including
national identity cards were confiscated. Women and girls were stripped of jewels.
Some women cadres were brutal even pulling out ear studs with blood spurting in the
ear lobes. The children were not spared. Not a watch was left. Jaffna Muslims reported
later that Karikalan from Batticaloa was supervising the entire operation.
At least 35 wealthy Muslim businessmen were abducted. They were detained by the
LTTE. Some Muslim jewellers were tortured for details of hidden gold. One jeweller
was killed by the beatings in front of the others. Later huge sums of money were
demanded for their release. Some paid up to 3 million The abducted persons were
released in stages over the years. 13 people however never returned and are
After expelling the Jaffna Muslims the LTTE cordoned off the area with ropes. The
"Virakesari" of Nov 2nd 1990 reported that this was done to protect the property till the
Muslims returned. Some of the dazed Muslims too thought that their expulsion was
only temporary. It took months for them to understand the true state of affairs. As time
went on some of the once rich now pauperised Muslims found themselves unable to
adjust to the new situation. They have declined greatly. Some others who were
financially unsound earlier coped with the changed situation better. Many have
bettered their prospects amid changed circumstances. Quite a lot of Jaffna Muslims
went abroad as refugees.
Most of the Muslims expelled from the North were temporarily re- settled in the
Puttalam district. Many found their way to Vavuniya, Negombo and Colombo. Others
relocated to the Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Gampaha , Matale and Kandy districts.
The largest concentrations of displaced Muslims from the northern mainland are in
Kalpitiya and Pulichakulam areas. The largest concentration of displaced Jaffna
peninsula Muslims are in the Thillaiyaddy area of Puttalam.
The Premadasa regime in 1990 was unable to provide protection for these expelled
Muslims. They were also not re-settled properly for years. It was only in 1994 when
the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress joined the Chandrika Kumaratunga government and
its leader MHM Ashraff became Rehabilitation Minister that the situation began to
improve. Though some Muslims continue to languish in refugee camps large numbers
have moved out and settled down in new habitats. Ashraffs scheme of distributing
lands in Puttalam district has enabled many to put down roots in the district.
Meanwhile the LTTE looted almost all possessions left in the Muslim houses. Many
houses were stripped of tiles, wooden frames, doors, windows, etc. Much of the
looted furniture was sold to Tamils through the LTTE Shops or "Makkal Kadai". Some
Muslims returning to the North after the ceasefire recognized their possessions in
other houses and businesses. Many Muslim houses and vehicles were sold illegally to
Tamils by the LTTE.
The LTTE received negative publicity through this terrible act of mass expulsion.
Ideologue Anton Balasingham was to admit later that a blunder had been made. Yet
there has been no formal aplogy by the LTTE. Balasingham also said that tiger
supremo Pirapakaran regrets the expulsion. But Pirapakaran has been conspicuously
silent on the subject so far.
The ceasefire of Feb 23rd 2002 gave the isplaced Muslims an opportunity to visit
Jaffna again. They were aghast at what they saw. In the case of many there was
happy reunion with Tamil friends. As in the case of the silent majority of the Sinhalese
who were helpless to stop the 1983 anti - Tamil violence most Tamils in Jaffna were
powerless to stop the Muslim expulsion too.
There has been a stream of Muslims travelling to and from Jaffna after the ceasefire.
Some families have returned and the re-opened Osmaniya College now has 60
students on roll. Two Mosques are functioning again. According to a Jaffna Muslim
source there is a floating population of about 2000 Muslims in Jaffna at any given
time. Around 1500 are Jaffna Muslims while the rest are Muslim traders from other
areas. About 10 Muslim shops are functioning.
There was a time when the Jaffna new market built by Mayor Alfred Duraiappah was
virtually dominated by Muslims. Two of the three blocks were monopolised by Muslims.
The hardware, lorry transport, jewellery and meat trades were dominated by Muslims.
That era is now over. Ilamparithy addressed some Muslim businessmen after their
return and instructed them to avoid certain businesses. The Muslims are being taxed
along with the others. No tax concession is given them to help start a fresh life. Not
one cent has been paid as compensation by the LTTE. Ilamparithy did not utter even
one word of regret or explanation for the mass expulsion and misappropriation of
Under these circumstances many Jaffna Muslims feel insecure. The prospect of
another war is not ruled out. They know that they will be victims again at a time of war.
The LTTE has not shown any sign of a reformed attitude. The tiger taxation system
inhibits all free enterprise. The paranoid security consciousness prevails still.
Besides many Jaffna Muslims have bettered their prospects elsewhere. Despite the
initial hardship many have improved their lot and are better off than their earlier
position in Jaffna/ A new generation of children and young adults have no nostalgia
for Jaffna and prefer to stay where they are now. Indeed many families have visited
Jaffna during the past three years to make an appraisal. The majority have decided
not to go back to Jaffna. Incidentally no Jaffna Muslim lives in a refugee camp. This is
not so in the case of Northern mainland Muslim refugees.
Under these circumstances many Jaffna Muslims are returning quietly to Jaffna and
are selling off their property. The ceasefire is facilitating this process. In this they are
like many Jaffna Tamils who have also sold their property. Tamil expatriates may shout
for Eelam but have sold property in Jaffna. They and their children enjoy a short stay
in the "motherland" but prefer to return "home" elsewhere than stay permanently in
the tiger ruled Tamil land. Likewise Jaffna Muslims too prefer not to return to Jaffna.
As a Jaffna Muslim said" Earlier we were fishing in a puddle. Now we are fishing in an
ocean. We dont want to go back".
This Jaffna Muslim state of mind is not univrsally applicable. Also many Northern
mainland Muslims are still languishing. They would like to go back. The situation
however is not conducive yet. Displaced Muslims of the North have declared a "week
of mourning" to denote the fifteenth anniversary of mass expulsion. A protest
demonstration is scheduled in Puttalam on Oct 30th. A mass petition with 100,000
signatures urging speedy resettlement is to be sent to Kumaratunga and the UN.
One of the greatest attributes of some expelled Muslims that I have come across is
their lack of visible bitterness with Tamils. They realise that it was the LTTE that was
responsible for their predicament and the reasons for it. They do not blame the
ordinary Tamil for it. They also retain sympathy for the Tamil plight at the hands of
both the state and the LTTE. Above all their fondness for the Tamil language, its
literature and media have not decreased. Furthermore they are wistfully nostalgic
about Jaffna asserting proudly that the North is their homeland too.
This magnanimity in spite of the injustice meted out to them shames the Tamil
community at large. Except for a few voices there has been no powerful outcry against
the LTTE for perpetrating this atrocity against the Muslims. A greater and vigorous
demand has to be made by the Tamils that all expelled Muslims be resettled in their
former homes with full compensation and restoration of property. Above all a sincere
and humble mass apology should be extended towards the Muslims for the mass
expulsion fifteen years ago by the LTTE.