The land issue related to Tissa Temple in Jaffna and land rights of the Jaffna People
The relationship that exists between the land issue and the people of the Northern Province is an endless relationship. Some of the people in the Northern Province are still shedding tears been unable to get back their original lands, for which they have deeds and, which have been acquired by the security forces for their camps during the war.
Thousands of acres of land in many areas including Jaffna, Palali, Kankesanthurai and Mullaitivu, Mullivaikkal are still under the control of the security forces, and many Tamil people in the North have been suffering because they have not been able to go back to their lands as those lands have not been released to them.
About 3,000 acres of original lands of the people of the Jaffna District are still in the possession of the security forces, and the Jaffna District Secretariat states that those lands are to be given back to their original occupants.
It is so pathetic that a situation has arisen where they can only see the lands they were born in, but cannot set foot on those lands, and that they have nothing else to do, but wait until those lands are released.
Land loss of Jaffna people
The Jaffna district is 1,025 square kilometers in extent, and the land area within the district is 929 square kilometers.
The people in the Jaffna district lost an extent of nearly 50,000 acres due to the war, and those lands were acquired by the security forces for their camps.
The people in the Jaffna district started losing their lands in the 1990s when the war started, and so far, it has not been able to release about 3,000 acres of lands in the areas such as Jaffna, Palali, Kankesanthurai and point Pedro, which were abandoned due to the war.
With the beginning of the armed conflict, the people in Jaffna, Palali and Kankesanthurai areas went to displacement camps leaving their lands, and the people who lost their land in this manner lived in 32 displacement camps established in the Jaffna district.
Around 3,000 acres of lands belonging to the people who abandoned their lands in the 1990s still lie within the boundaries of the camps of the security forces in Jaffna.
It is sad that the said lands cannot be released although there is no war at present, and that those who have lost their lands cannot be given their original lands.
Sinhala colonization in the North
The majority of the Tamil people live in the Northern Province, and a considerable number of Sinhala people, too, live within this Province.
As well as the Tamil people, a vast majority of the Sinhala people who lived in the North, too, left their original lands and migrated to areas beyond the Anuradhapura district due to the war.
After the war had ended, some of the Sinhala people who lost their lands resettled in their original lands. It is reasonable that the original settlers returned to their lands.
However, several recent governments, in order to fulfill their political interests, took steps to settle in Bogaswewa, Namalgama, Salalihinigama and Welioya areas in the Northern Province a group of people who had not originally resided in the Northern Province.
The rulers of several previous governments worked to settle in the North a group of people from areas such as Hambantota, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya with the view to creating a group of people who can back their political opinion across the relevant areas in case an election is held under the new delimitation.
This has resulted in a Sinhala colonization in the North, and the Tamil people say that, several new Buddhist religious places have also been established in the Northern Province along with the Sinhala colonization.
Establishment of new Buddhist religious places in the Northern Province and oppression of the Tamil people.
As a result of the creation of new Sinhala villages and establishment of camps of the security forces in the Northern Province, several religious places have also been established in certain places where no Buddhists used to live.
The Tamil people in the North say that several Buddhist religious places have been established newly in the areas surrounding the army camps.
When army camps were in existence for many years, it was the common tradition to establish new Buddhist temples and statues of the Buddha for the members of the security forces in the respective camps to worship.
Recently, several such Buddhist temples were built in the Northern Province, and the Tamil people say that the Tissa Temple in Jaffna is a Buddhist temple that has been built newly in this manner.
Establishment of Tissa Vihara and the issues related to Tissa Vihara
A group of Tamil Buddhists lived in the Jaffna district since ancient times, and there has been a close relationship between the Tamil Buddhists and the Hindu people in Jaffna.
There has been a close connection between the temple and the Kovil, which perfectly reflected the religious harmony that has existed. There exists an unbreakable connection between the Nagadeepa temple and the Nagapooshani Kovil in Nagadeepa, Jaffna.
The people living in Nagadeepa have maintained a close relationship with the prelates of Nagadeepa Vihara, and the people of Nagadeepa say that, during the war, even the LTTE did not cause any disturbance to Nagadeepa Vihara.
Similarly, many old Buddhist temples in the Vavuniya district, too, maintain close relationships with the Hindu people in the North, and a rehabilitated LTTE member once said that, even during the war, the LTTE leaders had instructed their junior members not to cause any damage to the ancient Buddhist sites in the middle of the Mullaitivu forest.
In the Northern Province where such religious harmony has existed, it is observed that there have been several recent incidents where the religious harmony was hindered by the establishment of new Buddhist religious places where there are no Buddhists to worship in.
People living in the area around Tissa Vihara in Kankesanthurai, Jaffna, say that the people in Kankesanthurai area are oppressed due to the fact that a new Buddhist religious place named Tissa Vihara has been established recently in this area.
The view of the villagers around Tissa Vihara
In Jaffna, there are old temples such as Nagadeepa Temple and Naga Vihara. The people of Jaffna do not have any problem regarding such temples. The Tamil people in Jaffna have good relationships with the Buddhist monks in those temples. However, it is since 2020 that establishment of a new temple named Tissa Vihara has been commenced in this area.
It was during the time of the Corona pandemic that this temple named Tissa Vihara was started to be built. It is said that there had been an ancient temple in that place, but there was no temple there since the time we have known. The elders in the village say that there was a Buddhist shrine in 1950s in another place beyond there where things like old rock pillars are found.
At that time, the Sinhala people who worked at the Kankesanthurai Cement Factory and the Sinhala people who worked at the Palali Airport are said to have performed Poojas at the said old Buddhist shrine. That is not a problem for us. There is a plot of land of about 30 – 40 perches in the place where the old Buddhist shrine had been. People wouldn't have dissented if the temple had been built there. The chief monk of the Nagadeepa temple in Jaffna is aware of that place.
However, there had been no Buddhist temple at the place where the Tissa Vihara is being built now. A Buddhist monk who has come from somewhere is building a temple on the lands where the Tamil people used to live. It is not fair. Before the war, there were about 18 Tamil families living in the lands where the temple is being built now, but after the war had started, those lands were abandoned and we got displaced.
It was just a few years ago that our lands were released to us after we had been displaced. Our lands were under the military forces. We suffered so much without our lands. Although we have come back to our village after receiving our lands, we are now faced with a new problem.
A new temple named Tissa Vihara is being built in the village. It is the military people who are building this temple. Apart from us living here, there are no Buddhist people anywhere close by. We do not understand why a temple named Tissa Vihara is being built in the middle of these Tamil villages where there is no Buddhist person living nearby.
They are building this temple by force with sentry posts around, like at a military camp, without allowing any person to enter there. This temple is being built in a place where one of our ancient Vairava Kovil used to be.
No one in the village is opposed to building of a temple where the old Buddhist shrine used to be, but what we don't understand what justice there is in building a temple by force by grabbing the land where the Tamil people used to live.
An extent of land of about four acres in which Tamil people had settled has been grabbed to make the area which is now called the Tissa Vihara. The area behind the boundary of the land where the temple is being built is still in the custody of the military. That area will also be handed over to the temple. Then the people living in those lands will have no place to live.
People are brought to the temple saying that there are festivals in the temple, and processions are held. We believe that those who participate in those festivals are also the military people. Otherwise, where in Jaffna do such a lot of Buddhist people live in?
If it is a Buddhist temple, any person should be able to go to that temple. Look at the Nagadeepa temple; it is the Tamil people who go there most, but an ordinary Tamil person cannot even enter the Tissa temple. Even the Tamil man living next-door to the temple is not allowed to enter the temple. The temple is maintained like a military camp. The Buddha can't have preached like that.
The only thing we ask is not build any temple in our lands where we used to live. There is a separate land in our village itself to build temples. What we ask is to give us our freedom and to go there and build a temple.
The opinion of the political leaders in the North regarding the Tissa Vihara
Recently, various parties held many protest campaigns against the construction of Tissa Vihara, and representatives of all the political parties in the Jaffna district joined them.
Representatives from pro-government political parties and representatives from the Tamil political parties in Jaffna also participated in those protests.
Members of Parliament of the Jaffna District, namely Angajan Ramanadaman, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Selvaraja Gajendran, M.A. Sumanthiran, T. Siddharthan, S. Sreedharan and all the other Members of the Jaffna district expressed their support to these protests, and demanded that construction of the Tissa Vihara in the lands of the Tamil people should be stopped immediately.
Many civil society organizations, too, held protests expressing their opposition to the construction of the Tissa Vihara by grabbing the lands of the Tamil people.
Despite several attempts to contact on the phone the chief monk of Tissa Vihara to enquire about the problem between the Tissa Vihara and the Tamil people of the area, the monk could not be contacted.