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Puthiya Malarchi: Where There are Fresh Blossoms, there is Hope

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

After the racial riots of 1983 and the fleeing of most Muslims from the area, a large population of Christians and Hindus settled here. The village was renamed as Thahayapuram in 1985.

Though Muslims were now the minority here, this did not stop them from using the burial land as their own even after this, thereby making the Tamils and Christians travel to a burial ground situated 2km away. This has led to various disputes as the Christian and Tamil communities cite the need for fair use of the land for their funeral practices as well.

Based on the knowledge and skill we gained through the Active Citizens training, we first spent time extensively collecting necessary data from community members, religious leaders, the provincial council office, and senior citizens of the village. Secondary data was collected from books and newspapers to better understand the complexity of the problem. Our main aim was to create a sense of unity and peaceful coexistence between these communities; therefore, an Independence Day Celebration was organised to encourage dialogue around unity and peaceful coexistence.

Featured in this event were speeches by SEDR Active Citizens participants as well as the Roman Catholic church priest, Mutur Pradeshya Sabha[1] members, and well-wishers. A drama performance highlighting the importance of unity was presented as part of our Social Action Project. This event was attended by around 147 participants from the affected community.

After a series of meetings among community leaders, religious leaders as well as villagers, it became increasingly clear that since this was a sensitive issue involving sentiments of various communities, it would take a longer period to be resolved than anticipated. As the next step our team met with the local Community Mediation Board[2] and gathered their input and guidance. However, since it initially proved virtually impossible to reach a compromise in resolving the land dispute, we decided that a request will be made to the Muslim Aid project team that more time is needed to find a solution and that the Field Coordinator of the project team will use his experience in dealing with such issues to offer help to the Active Citizens in reaching a compromise. Since this was a sensitive issue going on for years, solving it is no easy task. Our team, together with the Field Coordinator at Muslim Aid, met with the Mediation Board again, and they said that this dispute is not impossible to resolve but will need more time. We found that even those such as the religious leaders were reluctant to take part. A great deal of tact and convincing was required to get people on board with our goals.

From my childhood, I have always wanted to work in the peace-building sector. I wanted to bring about a change and I knew I had to start at my village level. This project has been very helpful in that regard. I presented this project at the recent UN peacebuilding conference[3] and won 1st place among 25 other projects. This inspires and motivates me to be a peace building activist at the national level.

I’ve also learnt that no conflict is unresolvable; the key is to identify the root cause by extracting data from the right sources.

All the affected parties must be included and a just solution must be dispensed to all. Such problems are sensitive; therefore, a lot of time, tact and effort must go into making decisions.

[1] Pradeshiya Sabhas are the locally elected legislative bodies that preside over the third-tier municipalities in Sri Lanka [2] There are 329 Community Mediation Boards across Sri Lanka, where more than 8,400 well trained volunteer mediators used interest-based mediation approaches to resolve more than 200,000 disputes in local communities per year. [3] UN Peacebuilding conference held in Sri Lanka in May 2022

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