Jaffna is the capital city of the Tamil Province of Sri Lanka. After the island gained independence from Britain in 1948, the relationship between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils quickly worsened. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was founded in May 1976 as a separatist militant organization fighting for the creation of an independent state in the north and east of Sri Lanka for Tamil people. This campaign evolved into the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ran from 1983 until 2009.
During the war, insurgent uprising, military occupation, extensive damage, expulsion and depopulation have marred life in Jaffna. The city was partially destroyed and the majority of the population fled to avoid death. In 1986 Jaffna came under the full control of the LTTE, but in 1995 the Sri Lankan military ousted the Tamil Tigers after a 50-day siege and have stayed in control ever since. Still today, the city remains under military authority.
Jaffna town and its environs are paradoxical. By day, they are bustling. Electricity has been partially restored, markets have opened, there are traders from the south, there is petrol and kerosene to pump. But at night, Jaffna resembles a ghost town with a self-imposed curfew on the local inhabitants, who dare not venture out as soldiers take up positions at street corners.
In 2009, the A-9 highway (the main road in the North) reopened, allowing refugees and internally displaced people to return to their homes. But the returning population creates complications: most of the refugees and the IDPs who lost their homes during the war are not able to claim land. Consequently, they are forced to live in shelters on the outskirts of town in horrible conditions (the absence of electricity and water combined unsanitary conditions lead to recurrent illnesses such as tuberculosis, typhoid and Dengue fever). The humanitarian aid on the ground is very limited and social welfare is non-existent.
Today still, Tamils live under significant restrictions, limiting cultural expression as well as social freedom. The Sri Lankan government seems unwilling to improve their quality of life. Its latent indifference only increases the ongoing injustices and makes the future of these communities very uncertain.