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Jaffna journeys

As Sri Lanka gears up for another round of Rajapakse rule, life goes on in the northern tip of the island. In this beautiful peninsula, which has borne the brunt of the more than two decades of war, people are struggling to reconstruct their buildings, lives and dreams. Jaffna, land of the palmyra and copious tobacco leaves, of blue lagoons and sea food, of culture and academic learning, is trying desperately to rise out of the devastation of war. The hope and destruction are both visible to us in the evocative picture by Jadhu Nadarajah. And in what is now an almost exclusively Tamil town – the Muslims having been driven out by the LTTE decades ago – which survived the years of war supported by a remittance economy from family members overseas, there are indeed positive signs.

If the railway coming north is rebuilt, and is once more allowed to function as the spine of the reviving economy, the people of Jaffna will not have waited in vain. With the ultimate coming of the train, there is also the hope that the stifled atmosphere of polarisation and fear will give way to energetic dialogue and dissent, lively conversations and peaceful contestation – all reminiscent of the Jaffna of old and its university. Rebuilding the cultural and intellectual plurality of Jaffna will hold lessons for all of Sri Lanka, as the people ready themselves for what looks to be an era of increasingly authoritarian rule.

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