No greater sorrow than the loss of one's native land

It was the poetic genius of Euripides who first recognised and recorded one of the most powerful sources of misery in the human condition.

“There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land,” wrote one of the most celebrated playwrights of ancient Greece.

Euripides recorded these words 431 years before the birth of Christ. Today, more than 2400 years later, they have as much resonance as ever in a world that for centuries has seen powerless, voiceless people driven from their lands.

Whether the victim is an Australian aborigine or an indigenous survivor in North or South America, or from anywhere on the African continent, there is an implicit understanding of the stark sense of loss so evident in the words of Euripides.

So, too, on an island in South Asia that is no bigger than Tasmania. Here, in Sri Lanka, these same sentiments live in the sorrowful hearts of those people of the Tamil homelands in the north and east of the island, also proudly known as Tamil Eelam.

The loss of man’s most precious resource is not ancient history in Tamil Eelam. In fact, it’s happening today, as an all-powerful military force goes about the business of genocide on a daily basis, rendering tens of thousands of people landless and homeless, and forcing them into abject poverty.

Every day there is a new story about land theft in Tamil Eelam. A town or a village becomes the latest target for the military occupiers, who take over land under the guise of creating a security zone. Often they will use the land for a military commercial enterprise, of which hundreds have been springing up since the end of the war in 2009.

Or, once the Tamil people have been excluded or refused the right of return, having been displaced during the war, the government authorities then bring in Sinhalese settlers from the south who have been given all kinds of inducements to move to the Tamil lands.

This week there have been two such stories in the eastern Tamil homelands, one in Batticaloa and the other in Trincomalee. In the Batticaloa district, Tamil National Alliance parliamentarians have revealed that the government has established a staggering 54 new military camps, seizing 146,000 acres from Tamil villagers and farmers, 120,000 acres of which has been taken by the Ministry of Tourism since the end of the war.

The politicians say that the combination of the military occupation, pro-active Sinhalese settlers and highly-politicised Buddhist monks have formed an impenetrable force, driving Tamils off their lands and into destitution.

Media reports also say that further north, in Champoor, near Trincomalee, more than 9000 acres have been blocked off from displaced farmers and other workers, who have been promised many times by government officials that they could go back to the lands they were forced to leave in 2005 because of the war.

Only 1500 acres of this area has so far been officially gazetted by government authorities as required for military and government purposes, yet they refuse point blank to allow the original owners and occupiers back on the other 6500 acres. Even though the military don’t need this land now, they clearly have plans for it down the track, and those plans exclude the rightful owners, many of whom had to rely on food rations for several years to stay alive. Those rations were also stopped when the government barred the supplier, a non-government organization known as World Watch.

To complete this evil project of Sinhalisation, the government has also wiped out the name of the village. So, it’s not just young Tamil men disappearing into white vans in Tamil Eelam but street and place names and Hindu temples. All of them gone, replaced by Sinhalese names and Buddhist shrines.

Tamil people are now long-term refugees in their own lands, clinging on to life by the barest margins, without their homes, their farms, their places of worship or their schools. They have even been forced to set up do-it-yourself primitive schools, without teachers or even chairs or desks.

As one Tamil man told the media they are now forced to educate their children as they were doing 2000 years ago, on the floor without any facilities.

Whether it’s deliberately starving the Tamil people, stealing their land, bulldozing their cultural icons or denying basic education to their children, there is only one word to describe it all, and that is ‘genocide.’


Trevor Grant is a former chief cricket writer at The Age, and now works with the Boycott Sri Lanka Cricket Campaign and the Refugee Action Collective.