Jaffna Under Curfew
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Throughout the three decades that the internal conflict ravaged the lives of Sri Lankans, the sight of soldiers belonging to Tri-Forces patrolling the streets was a common sight in all parts of the country. In the northern areas where the fires of war were blazing at its full intensity, understandably there was a higher concentration of soldiers. In 2009, with the end of the war, restrictions were lifted and the day-to-day lives of the northerners returned to normalcy but the presence of Forces was never fully removed from the North, despite many opportunist politicians trying to make a meal out of it, demanding immediate evacuation of armed forces from the North.
Yet again, those cries are silenced as now a different kind of invisible terror is at play not just in the North but everywhere else in the country, extending all throughout the world. COVID-19 is spreading fast and the intensity of the fourth wave is forcing the Government to keep extending the quarantine curfew that is in place. Ceylon Today was in Jaffna recently and witnessed rather familiar sights of Army and Police officers taking to the roads, keeping quarantine laws and healthcare guidelines in order.
Army checkpoints were almost everywhere in and around the city of Jaffna but unlike some years ago, what the military personnel checked for were not the identification and the insides of the bags but rather curfew passes and the office IDs. Perhaps not as much as it is in Colombo but in Jaffna too, people were moving around rather freely despite there being a curfew in place. However, all the shops, restaurants, supermarkets, offices, and services were closed with only the essential service establishments seeing a notable crowd.
The central Bus Stand of Jaffna was practically deserted but the Teaching Hospital of Jaffna that was merely a few metres away was rather busy. The iconic middle-of-the-road parking space in front of the hospital which is always full with taxis and bikes was almost completely empty. However, this could have been because the patrolling soldiers constantly cleared the roads, not allowing any vehicle to be parked by the road for long.
The people in the town seemingly followed all the traffic rules as well as healthcare guidelines of maintaining social distance, washing hands, and wearing masks but away from the town, the healthcare guidelines weren’t adhered to that strictly. Perhaps it is ignorance, lack of intelligence, arrogance, or overconfidence but Ceylon Today witnessed many villagers either not wearing masks or wearing it as a chin guard.
However, the lowered masks were immediately pulled up at the sight of a uniform. A quarantine curfew might be in place but even that is not enough to dampen some die-hard devotees’ faith in Hindu gods. Apart from the famous Nallur Kovil, there are plenty of other Kovils scattered in and around Jaffna, some with rather colossal statues of gods. Although visiting religious places during curfew is technically not allowed, there were many an odd solitary devotees who had habitually visited the kovil to perform their daily rituals.
Since the accelerated vaccination programme is finally showing some progress, the quarantine curfew might not get extended for yet another time by a week or two, and people might get the opportunity to resume their day-to-day activities in a safe manner. While you may have already witnessed scenes of empty Colombo via media, not every day do you get to see the uncharacteristically empty scenes from the town of Jaffna like these.
(Pix by Kelum Chamara)