Sinhalese influx into Tamil heartland of Jaffna

JAFFNA: The northern Tamil heartland of Jaffna, which had been inaccessible by land since 1990, is experiencing a post-conflict Sinhalese tourist influx from south Sri Lanka.

Though it brings loads of money into Jaffna, it puts tremendous pressure on the limited facilities and infrastructure in existence, giving rise to fears of health hazards.

A majority of the southern visitors are Buddhist pilgrims going to the ancient Nagadeepa Buddha Vihara, associated with one of Buddha’s visits to Sri Lanka. But there are a large number of traders and casual visitors too. The place is still not open to foreigners, though a few travel with clearance from the Ministry of Defence in Colombo.

The Sinhalese traders are doing brisk business, mostly satisfying the sartorial fancies of the younger Tamil hoi polloi. "Business is good and the Tamil people of Jaffna are the nicest in Sri Lanka," said 30-year-old Rohitha selling children’s and ladies clothes.

"We have been here only for a few weeks but we are making good profit," he said.

The boarding and lodging facilities expected by the visitors seem to be minimal.

Since most of them are Buddhist pilgrims from the lower middle classes, they seem to be quite happy to sleep in the stands of the Duraiappah Stadium, a converted camping site which receives 20 bus loads of people everyday.

The pilgrims, all in white, cook their own meals in pots and pans brought from the south. The Jaffna municipality keeps filling the water tanks, so there is no water shortage.

In places like Achchuveli, the paddy fields are used as toilets. Jaffna is still not ready to receive middle and upper class visitors. It lacks in decent hotels, lodges or guest houses. The upkeep of the existing hotels is poor even as they charge the earth.

Houses of those who had migrated to the West are rented out by their caretakers for a few thousand rupees a day.

Some resident house owners rent out a room or two on a daily basis.

"The government has to control the influx so that people who come need not put up with poor facilities," said Jaffna Chamber of Commerce president R Janakumar.

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