Farmers and fisherfolk have been forced off their land in Sri Lanka to make way for luxury hotels. Since Rathanamali, her family and other members of her community were evicted from their land six years ago, they have faced hardship and poverty.
For this energetic mother of three from Paanama village in Sri Lanka, farming was her life. She used to farm on 2.5 acres of lush green land accessible by a dirt track. The land had been collectively owned by the community for many years. “But after the war, the Navy took it,” she says, her voice unwavering.
She’d done nothing wrong. But her home had been close to a stunning coastline famous for surfing. Rathnamali was a member of just one of the 350 farming families forcibly evicted from land that is now used for a luxury tourist hotel.
When the promise by the developer to provide the families with replacement land was not kept, the community worked together to protest, but their peaceful struggle was met with violence, intimidation, and threats.
Most of the villagers in Rathnamali's community live in temporary shelters on their own lands, after having been evicted from their original homes.
“We realized that we can’t speak to the authorities alone,” she says, recalling how this attempt to scare her away from claiming her rights had only steeled her resolve.
Thanks to years of collective action, with support from Oxfam and the People's Alliance for the Right to Land, in 2015 the government finally made an unprecedented commitment to return the land to the community. But this promise has not been fulfilled.
Looking out over the rented paddy field that she now works on, Rathnamali laments the continuing daily struggle to feed her family. “We have to spend a significant amount of the money we earn to buy food from shops,” she says. Without land and a stable income, her oldest child’s education has been badly disrupted.
But, as before, these hardships do not break Rathnamali’s will. “We have to win this fight, not only to get justice for ourselves, but for our children.”
We need to stand with Rathnamali and the community of Paanama to make sure their lands are returned. We urge you to join this collective voice in calling for justice for Paanama.