Puttur protest demands removal of cemeteries from villages

Villagers protesting in Puttur yesterday.

JAFFNA: Over 1,000 people protested in front of the Puttur Pradeshya Sabha in Jaffna calling for the removal of cemeteries next to people’s homes yesterday.

The protest in which a large number of women and youngsters participated, follows the 31 day-long Satyagragha protest in Kalaimathi village in Puttur.Sivakolunthu, 63, has been living next to the cemetery in Kalaimathi for 11 years. “The cemetery causes a lot of problems, and even dogs run around with half burnt body parts,” she said. There are other cemeteries close by that can be used instead, she added.Vaagini aged 25, is the first university graduate from Kalaimathi village living close to the cemetery. She said pregnant mothers, old people and young children are badly affected.Vaagini, her father along with many other villagers, were arrested by police, following tensions that led to the destruction of the cemetery wall by the villagers.

Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray visited Kalaimathi few weeks back and met the villagers. But only one of the Provincial Councilors, S.Sivajilingam, has visited the village so far, according to the protestors.

On Wednesday, Thanikasalam, a senior community leader, along with others had met with the Governor and later that day with Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran. “We explained the cemetery problem in detail to the officials. The Governor said, the Pradeshaya Sabha and Provincial Council, are ultimately responsible to address this problem,” Thanikasalam added.

The Chief Minister had told the villagers that he will talk to all sides before coming up with a solution. Friday’s protests also drew people from other villages with homes next to cemeteries. Chithra from Urumpirai said there is a similar cemetery problem in her village. “Officials gave us deeds and even housing schemes next to these cemeteries, but the location is proving a major problem in the day to day lives of the people,” she said, adding that they are “protesting for the future of their children”. She said, not only Kalaimathi village, but also many other villages in Jaffna, such as Yogapuram, Selvapuram, Paalpannai and Thidatpulam have cemetery problems.

Navasheelan, aged 33, from Punnalaikuttuvan, where a similar cemetery problem exists in Thidatpulam village, said this is an issue concerning social justice.

He said, “that caste oppression is at the root of this problem, and they are trying to keep working people at the bottom and next to cemeteries. This is a struggle for our rights, as our bodies are physically affected and we suffer psychologically.”

One of the protest organisers Rajasekaram from Kalaimathi said protests will continue until the cemeteries are removed and the villagers in custody are released.

The protest sought to draw the attention of authorities in the Puttur Pradeshya Sabha, even as 23 people from Kalaimathi village are in remand custody for over a month. The central demand of the protest is that the Northern Provincial Council should remove cemeteries near people’s settlements. 

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