Fear on Saukadi Beach
This is the tale of the little food shop on the beach that got hit because of events beyond the control of is owner and her customers.
The little eatery is run by Hussanar Mainmunachchi Umma on Saukadi beach in Batticoloa where she cooks food for the hungry fishermen returning from a night’s fishing in the sea.
Mainmunachchi Umma is a Muslim, most of the fishermen are Tamil.
The woman is a widow in her late fifties, and what she earns supports a family of eight.
Off the beach is a patchwork of villages, some Muslim some Tamil, running North and South of Saukadi in this most multi-cultural of Districts.
For centuries sailboats from West and East Asia, South India and the littoral of the Bay of Bengal brought traders and visitors. Some settled, they married locals and most speak a common language Tamil.
In the mix are original Portuguese and Dutch settlers who have carved their own niche.
The Sinhalese, a majority in the rest of the country are a minority here.
But in the 1980s came the separatist war where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam wanted a separate state which included the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Most Muslims and the Sinhalese opposed the division of the country and this district was riven by those differences.
But ten years after the war ended some of those wounds had healed, and the communities had learned to work with one another. In the East there had been no significant fighting for more than 15 years.
Then came the Easter Sunday attacks last year when three churches and three hotels were hit by suicide cadres inspired by Islamic State killing 260 people.
That strike re-opened the old wounds between the Tamil and Muslim communities.
The attackers were led by Zaharan Cassim, a native of Batticaloa, and one of the targets was a Church in the city, the Zion Church where thirty people, mostly Sunday school children lost their lives.
All the dead except the bomber were Tamils.
“After the bombing many people stopped coming to my shop to eat,” Mainmunachchi Umma says “as there were rumours that Muslims added a substance that made women sterile to the food.”
She remembers that only a few people “who knew me personally remained as customers.”
She went on to say that before the bombing for many years Tamils were her customers. After the attack, she said some people “vandalized my shop when I was not there.”
“The Tamil people generally patronize Muslim-owned shops for clothing, food and other necessities,” says Selvarajah Ariyamalai a Field Coordinator Suriya Women’s Centre Batticoloa. “After the bombing, we, the Tamils, stopped going to Muslim shops and we started hating them” she added.
All this saddened Mainmunachchi Umma. “For 20 years I cooked and ran this place providing food for the fishermen here. We were all together there was no difference between Muslim and Tamils,” she remembers.
She also recalled that Muslim traders were taking their wares to sell in the Tamil majority areas such as Kondukachenai, Veppa Vettuvan, Karadiyan Aaru, Illuppadichenai, Murukkan Theevu, and Kiran.
“All that ended and the Tamil people decided not to buy things from Muslims and they were attacked and threatened and asked not to come to these areas,” she recalled.
But in her case things became different. The Tamil fishermen from Saukadi beach wanted her back.
A delegation of fishermen led by Seeni Kandasamy the Secretary of the Saukadi Beach Fishermen’s Association went to see Mainmunachchi Umma. “We met her and reassured her that we will take care of her. We told her things will get back to normal and asked her to come back to this place and run the eatery.”
Mainmunachchi Umma is back and the little shop is up and running, but not at the level it was.
“I used to have another person to make the Rotis and ran this place as a proper eatery. But now I have stopped making full meals with Pittu, Indiyappam and Parotas. I bring only 40 or 60 rolls, vadais and plain tea buns,” she says.
But she is hopeful of a better future. “I hope after this month people will come to me and will be able to resume my business at the old level,” she adds.