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People’s Bank’s magnanimous gesture:

New era dawns on people of Mannar

The scenery at the Mannar coastline on a quiet star-lit night is mesmerizing. The only sound is the rolling waves hitting the shoreline. This is the Seelawathura beach, Mannar. It is a unique place and in a sense a mixture of the scenic beauty of the Passekudah (Batticaloa), Nilaweli (Trincomalee) and Arugambay (Ampara) beaches.

In ancient times Mannar was a trading centre. The Tamil name for it denotes ‘The Land of Pearls.’ At one time the place was known as Maathota - the port where a Princess from Pandurata, India landed to become King Vijaya’s (543-505 BC) queen. It is the same port where the giant Bhalluka landed with 60,000 men in 161 BC and also the place from which King Ilanaga (35-44 AD) fled to Kerala.

Approach road to Madhu Church

Some of the newly built houses

History records that the invader Maagha had built forts in Maathota during the reign of Parakramabahu II (1236-1270 AD). Egyptian Geographer of Roman origin, Claudius Ptolemy’s map of Sri Lanka identifies Maathota as Moduttu. According to Archaeological Research the story of Mannar goes back to pre-historic times.

Mannar’s tragedy

Mannar District is 1506 km in extent and located 35 km South-East of Dhanushkodi in South India. North of Mannar is the Indian Ocean extending to the Palk Straits. Towards the East is Mullaitivu and Vavuniya Districts. On the South are the boundaries of the Puttalam and Anuradhapura Districts. To the West is the so-called Adam’s ‘Bridge’ (Ram Sethu) in the Indian Ocean separating Talaimannar and Dhanushkodi. These are the Mannar District’s boundaries.

Prior to 2009, Mannar and most other districts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were under LTTE control. Their courts and administrative centres were located in Mannar from where the terrorists chased out all Sinhalas and Muslims within 48 hours. They fled the district to save their lives with only the clothes they were wearing and a few items they could carry in small bags. This was Mannar’s tragedy in the recent past.

But since the end of the 30-year war, the Sinhala, Muslim and Tamils who fled Mannar are now slowly returning to their native towns and villages in the district. Today they are enjoying the greatest gift on earth - freedom. Today there is no one to give them orders. They need not fear anyone. With the first rains of Maha Season trees and plants are looking fresh and flowers are blooming. People displaced by the war are slowly rebuilding their lives.

Military victory

A Baobab tree can still be seen nearby. These trees - found only in Mannar and the Delft Island - are believed to have been planted by the Dutch after having brought them from Africa. A few kilometres away from this tree is the Madu shrine in the thick jungle.

Until the early 1980s hundreds and thousands of Sinhala Christians from the South visited this shrine every year between late June and mid-August. It all ended when the LTTE began dominating the area. Thereafter the opportunity for the faithful to re-visit the shrine came only after the military victory over the LTTE Tigers on May 18, 2009. This pilgrimage is one sure way to build ethnic harmony. There is no Sinhala-Tamil animosity or differences among the pilgrims visiting Madhu. They share everything like brothers and sisters.

October 16, 2011 was a day of festivity in Madu. Fifty displaced families in Mannar were given permanent accommodation in a housing complex near the Madhu shrine off the Medawachchiya-Mannar Road. The beneficiaries included Tamils, Sinhalas and Muslims. The event was one of the programmes launched to mark the 50th anniversary of the People’s Bank. The total amount spent - Rs 55 million - was donated by People’s Bank employees as a social service to mark the bank’s Golden Jubilee.

The Resettlement Ministry, Economic Development Ministry and other State Institutions as well as the Sri Lanka Army encouraged the bank people in this project, under which infrastructure facilities were also provided.

People’s Bank chairman W. Karunajeewa directed the project under the guidance of Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa on President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s advice. All bank employees gave whatever help they could irrespective of status or position.

Bank employees

The chief guest at the ceremony was Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Special invitees included Resettlement Minister Gunaratne Weerakoon, Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiyutheen and Senior Minister Milroy Fernando. The Venerable Siyambalagaswewa Wimalasara, Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph, Maulavi Aiyeem and Vaithayanatha Kurkkal invoked Buddhist, Christian, Islam and Hindu blessings on all those who participated in this project which began last February 24. Chairman of the Resettlement Authority Buddhi Passaperuma expressed his great appreciation of the contribution of the bank employees. Chief engineer, Mannar Irrigation Works, Anura Nelgallage too expressed his admiration of the service rendered by the bank employees.

Each tile-roofed house with an extent of 600 square feet and two bedrooms, hall, verandah, kitchen and toilet was built at a cost of nearly Rs one million. The timber used is long-lasting. Protection has been provided for the walls from getting damp during rains. Each householder has been provided with household equipment worth around Rs. 30,000. Water and electricity supply for the housing scheme and roads built within the complex have been well planned. The Economic Development Ministry has spent Rs. 43 million for the construction of the interior roads. Tamarind and other huge trees in the vicinity provide shade to the housing complex.

We met a number of families in the newly built houses. Among them was a very happy grandmother, Anandamma who was with her granddaughter Krishna Amandani (9). The grandma’s face reflected her gratitude for all that has been done for these poor displaced families.

(The writer is an environmental Journalist who could be reached at ejournalists@gmail.com)
 

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