Ethnicity, caste, sex, finances affect land rights in SL: report 

  • People’s Alliance for the Right to Land calls for demilitarisation

By Pamodi Waravita 

The People’s Alliance for the Right to Land (PARL) has highlighted that in a backdrop of the Lankan State altering land-related cultural identities in the country’s North and East on an ethnic basis, factors pertaining to caste, biological sex, ethnicity, and economic strata also play a crucial role in both dispossessing and denying meaningful access to land.

PARL Team Member and Jaffna University Lecturer Mahendran Thiruvarangan emphasised that while the State continues to alter cultural identities of the land in the North and the East of the country, ethnicity as a concept, in and of itself, is insufficient to understand the region’s land issues. 

“Oppressed caste communities and women face specific forms of exclusion in relation to land. The Muslim communities that were evicted from the region by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) still face barriers, when returning to their original lands, from Tamil politicians and bureaucrats,” claimed Thiruvarangam. 

He made these observations in the context of PARL launching its website, land dispute database, and the People’s Land Commission (PLC) Report 2019-2020 on 10 August. The said report has made 11 key recommendations, including regarding demilitarisation and people-centric economic development, based on consultations with those directly affected by land issues around the country. The key recommendations fall under the following 11 areas: The right to access, possess and use land; land-related governance; land administration; dispute resolution and reparations; relocation; demilitarisation and human security; land and identity; land and livelihood; people centred economic development; historic grievances and degrading labour practices with regard to plantation lands; and environmental protection. 

“People ask whether it is important to raise land issues now, when the country is facing a major health and economic crisis. However, we reiterate that land is linked to every issue and is also integral to people’s identity and politics, and hence, must be raised and resolved immediately,” stated PARL Co-ordination Team Member Sandun Thudugala, addressing the online launch event. 

Shedding light on the issues that women face when it comes to securing land rights, PARL Team Member and women’s rights activist Sarala Emmanuel said: “Women are both the foundation and the face of the land struggle.” 

The report highlighted the women’s struggle for land rights. through the frames of dispossession, displacement and identity, marriage and dowry, land and household work, and women’s conceptualisation of security and dignity.

Meanwhile, PARL Team Member and researcher Iromi Perera identified the battle that working class communities face in Colombo, since urban land is highly sought after, which has led to poorer communities being forced off the land that they have lived in for generations, to make way for the construction of luxury apartments and shopping malls. 

“When we worked as commissioners, we were able to meet different people from different backgrounds in different areas of Sri Lanka, who were engaged in their own unique land-related struggles. Since we analysed these issues in different ways, we were able to aptly reflect the recommendations made by the people we met,” opined Perera, in reference to the work done by the People’s Land Commission Team during the compilation of the PLC report. 

The Commission consisted of Attorney-At-Law (AAL) Ermiza Tegal, plantation workers rights activist Ganeshalingam Ganesh, activist Godfrey Malernesan, Perera, women’s rights activist Jansila Majeed, activist Nihal Ahamed, Thiruvarangan, AAL Priyalal Sirisena, activist Priyankara Costa, environmental activist Sajeewa Chamikara and Emmanuel. 

They conducted hearings between March and August 2019, visiting vulnerable areas, communities and affected people across 18 Districts. , namely, Ampara, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Batticaloa, Colombo, Galle, Gampaha, Hambantota, Nuwara Eliya, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Monaragala, Mullaitivu, Matara, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee, and Vavuniya.