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Tourism takes its toll on Prabhakaran’s home

world Updated: Mar 14, 2010 00:52 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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What Vellupillai Prabhakaran, founder-chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), could not achieve in peace, he seems to have attained in death — a twisted popularity among some in the majority Sinhala community.

And ironically, it’s up to the Sri Lankan army now to protect the remains of Prabhakaran’s ancestral home in Valvettithuria, about 30 km north of Jaffna town, from being taken apart by a surge of ‘trophy tourism’.

Prabhakaran’s death and the end of the war in May 2009 meant a gradual easing of tension in conflict zones and opening up of areas to civilians. So, after the war, came tourism.

Thousands of tourists from the rest of Sri Lanka began flocking to the Jaffna peninsula from January when the highway connecting it to the rest of the country was thrown open to Lankan civilians.

Many in their packed mini-buses and vans landed in Valvettithurai to see the now-empty house where Prabhakaran stayed before launching his violent career. From a distance, the house — once the modest home of Prabhakaran’s father, T Vellupillai, a government servant — seemed to be falling apart. The wall paint was faded and the boundary walls had crumbled; it’s clear that no one had lived there in ages.

But the decrepit house was enough attraction and for many it had become a picnic spot. Some scribbled notes on the walls; few extracted stones and bricks to take back as mementos. “It became a dustbin,’’ a local shop-owner said. “Mahajan café’’ was one such scribble in Sinhalese on the wall.

Not everyone in this quiet coastal town — the Indian Peace Keeping Force was stationed here in 1989 — of Hindus and Catholics were amused. Neighbours complained to the army about the din created by the tourists and the mess left behind by them.

Armed army personnel were then deployed around the clock to prevent tourists from going anywhere near the house. “We don’t allow vehicles to stop in front of the house,’’ a Gemenu Watch battalion personnel said.

It was the same Gemenu Watch regiment which wrested control of the Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE in 1995.