Re: Cases of torture perpetrated by officers of the Sri Lankan Police
I am writing to bring to your notice a letter the Asian Human Rights Commission wrote to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka on the use of chilli by police officers for torturing suspects they are interrogating. I am also bringing to your notice three extremely brutal cases of torture reported from Sri Lanka recently: Madawala Maddumage Don Aruna Nilupul Indika, a reputed interior decorator was arrested on the basis of a false complaint and subjected to severe torture by way of the application of the juice of chillies which was forced into his eyes, penis and anus. The second case was that of Mr. Chandila Padmakumara Gurusinghe who was also tortured with chilli and threatened with sodomy. The third was that of Kopiya Waththage Don Chaminda Priyantha Kumara who was tortured by the use of a wooden mallet on his testicles.
In all these three cases there are the following features.
There were no reasonable grounds for the arrest of these persons.
At the moment of arrest they were not informed of the reason for their arrest, thus violating the Constitutional guarantee of the right to be informed of the reason for attest.
There was no reasonable questioning at the time of arrest or after they were brought to the police station.
The beginning of the interaction with the suspects was by torture. While the torture was ongoing they were asked about information on what the police suspected them of with the view to obtain information from the suspects themselves about what they might have done.
The methods of torture were inhumane such as forcing the suspects to remove their clothes, the application of chilli and/or the beating of the testicles with blunt instruments and suspending them by the wrists from the ceiling and the use of extremely filthy language.
At the end of the ordeals what the police found was that the persons were completely innocent of the crimes that the police suspected them of having committed.
Despite of all this in two instances fabricated charges were filed.
I am attaching the letter written to His Excellency the President as well as the reports of complaints made by the persons who were subjected to these ordeals.
As you are well aware the practice of torture and the use of extremely brutal methods are a common factor in police interrogations in Sri Lanka. This is despite of the constitutional provisions guaranteeing citizens protection against torture and the provision of the law under the CAT Act, No. 22 of 1994 which criminalised torture and prescribes 7 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10.000/= against any offender.
One of the main reasons for the widespread use of torture is the stopping of investigations under the CAT Act and the prosecutions on the basis of that law. At present Act No. 22 of 1994 is a law that is deliberately not implemented in Sri Lanka.
You will also admit that without the acquiescence of high ranking police officers from the OIC’s up to ASPs, SSPs and DIGs this widespread practice cannot take place. Therefore it is a valid assumption that as a matter of policy torture is allowed and encouraged to be done by police officers despite of constitutional provisions and criminal law provision prohibiting torture. When the highest ranking police officers are complicit in the violation of the constitution and the criminal law what hope can there be for the protection of the citizens and the enforcement of the rule of law.
The common excuse seems to be that the policing establishment believes that it is not equipped with the necessary resources, including adequate financial resources, for the proper enforcement of their duties and therefore resorting to barbaric and illegal methods is justified as the overall aim is the prevention of crime. An important institution such as the police, if it assumes that it cannot abide by the law which it is supposed to enforce, is a manifestation of an extraordinary crisis in the country.
As the highest ranking police officer in Sri Lanka it is your duty, together with other high ranking officers, to bring to the notice of the executive and the legislature the inadequacies of resources and financial allocations you suffer from, if such is the case. However, this should not be used as an excuse to violate the constitution, the criminal law of the country and to expose the citizens to such extraordinary cruel and illegal behaviour on the part of the country’s law enforcement officers.
We earnestly urge you to take this matter seriously and:
Take steps to ensure investigations under the CAT Act, No. 22 of 1994 into the complaints of torture and ill-treatment through a special unit of inquiry of the Criminal Investigation Division as this used to be done before it was deliberately discontinued.
To discuss with the highest ranking officers of the police the nature of command responsibility they owe within the policing system and the consequences of the failure to carry out such responsibility.
Issue written instructions to reinforce the constitutional criminal law provisions against torture.
Take disciplinary action including the dismissal of officers who have practiced such brutal actions.
Asian Human Rights Commission
Attached: Letter to His Excellency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa
SRI LANKA: A reputed Interior Decorator is severely tortured by officers of Matugama Police at the instigation of a lawyer and her husband
SRI LANKA: Officers of the Karandeniya police torture and threaten to sodomize businessman, insulting him about his ‘low’ caste origin
SRI LANKA: Officers of the Kalutara South Police Station beat a man’s testicles with a wooden mallet
I welcome you to this lecture under the National Interest Module of the inaugural MPhil/PhD Programme of the Kotelawala Defence University. The topic of this lecture is “Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns”. As we all know, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world today. Our citizens are enjoying the benefits of peace and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves. At the same time, it must be understood that as with any other sovereign nation, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources. Guarding against these threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the Government, because National Security is the foundation of our freedom and our prosperity. As such, the Government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as Defence, Foreign Policy, Economic Affairs and internal Law & Order. It must formulate a comprehensive National Security strategy to deal with them.
A viable National Security strategy must constantly align ends with means, goals with resources, and objectives with the tools required to accomplish them. The strategy needs to be aligned with the aspirations of the people, and it must have public support. Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism, and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges. The Government must make every effort to keep aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured.
In the course of this lecture on Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns, I will examine the following areas:
Sri Lanka’s overall National Security context
The primary threats to our National Security at present; and,
The strategies that are being formulated in response to these threats.
The Context of National Security in Sri Lanka
In the first several years after the achievement of Independence, National Security did not need to be a primary concern of the Government of Ceylon. As an independent Dominion of Great Britain, and as a non-aligned nation with excellent relationships within and outside the region, there were few pressing threats that the Government had to deal with. As a result, the attention given to National Security was minimal, as was the emphasis placed on the country’s Defence apparatus. The military was largely ceremonial. It only had to assist the Government on occasions when there were issues such as public sector work stoppages or riots. The need to strengthen law enforcement and the Armed Forces to protect the nation against internal or external threats was not seen as a pressing concern. The attempted coup d’‚tat in 1962 further reduced the attention given to the Defence apparatus by the Government. Due to fears that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had been the case in some neighbouring countries during this period, funding for the Armed Forces was drastically reduced and recruitments curtailed.
As a result of the weakening of the military, the country was not in the best position to deal with the first major threat to its National Security when it erupted in 1971. This was the first JVP Insurrection. Although investigations into JVP activities had been going on for some time, cutbacks to intelligence services, including the closure of the Special Branch of the Police in 1970, had left the Government largely unaware of the scale of the insurrection it was facing. The nation’s military was overstretched. In response to the Government’s appeals for help, India and Pakistan sent in troops to secure critical installations while essential equipment and ammunition was provided by Britain and the Soviet Union. Although the insurrection was successfully suppressed within a short time, it had many consequences. One of the most crucial from a historical perspective was that National Security became a much greater concern both for the Government and for the general public. As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding National Security was one of its foremost priorities.
In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest ever threat to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist groups in the North and East. As the conflict worsened in the early 1980s, particularly after the riots of 1983, the threat of terrorism loomed large not only in the North and East but effectively all over the country. The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the likelihood of its attacks in public places fostered a deep insecurity amongst the people. There was significant loss of life, loss of property, and countless lost opportunities to achieve economic development. The law and order situation deteriorated as arms and ammunition started to flow to criminal elements in the underworld. By the late 1980s, the second JVP insurrection caused the further deterioration of the security situation throughout Sri Lanka. As a result of the increasing instability and violence, people began to lose some of their freedoms as more and more intensive measures had to be taken by the state in trying to uphold public security.
As the terrorism situation worsened, there was also an increasing involvement of foreign powers and the international community in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. During the early stages of the terrorist conflict, India trained LTTE cadres in training bases established in Tamil Nadu. Many of the leaders of other separatist groups also frequented that state. It is also important to note that several international Non Governmental Organisations that were based in the North and East first started to cooperate with the terrorist groups active in those areas during this period. In 1985, India facilitated talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist groups in Thimpu, Bhutan. The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the separatists. These demands would have gravely affected Sri Lanka’s sovereignty if granted, and the Government had no choice but to refuse them. Fighting soon resumed. By this time, the conflict transformed into one between the state and the LTTE, which had used the ceasefire granted for the Thimpu talks to destroy rival separatist groups.
As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to National Security by the Government also increased. For the first time, the appointment of a Minister of National Security was seen as necessary. The strength of the military was also significantly enhanced, with larger recruitment drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to counter the growing threats. With its improved capabilities, the military was able to make more and more progress in fighting the terrorism of the LTTE. For the first time, we also saw changes within the structure of the military. The need for a coordinated effort to combat terrorism led to the establishment of a Joint Operation Command to coordinate the three Armed Services, Police and Intelligence Services in counter terrorism operations. The military used battle formations for the first time, and the requirement for a National Intelligence Bureau to coordinate the intelligence services at a national level was also understood and subsequently brought into being.
In 1987, the very successful Vadamarachchi Operation enabled the Government to regain control of much of the North, leaving the LTTE on the brink of defeat. At this point, India intervened directly in the conflict by air dropping humanitarian relief supplies over Jaffna. This led to the abandonment of the Vadamarachchi operation, and the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July of that year. This led to the induction of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to the North of Sri Lanka, where it got embroiled in conflict with the LTTE. After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka in October 1990, and fighting resumed between the LTTE and Government Forces.
Although there were several periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity of the war grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the country. The military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat. Specialised units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces Regiment of the Army, as well as the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the LTTE in the North and East. However, in addition to its battles with the military, the LTTE also frequently carried out attacks against civilians in the rest of the country. Large bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing thousands. Hundreds more were massacred in vulnerable villages near LTTE dominated territory. Critical installations and economic targets such as the International Airport, Central Bank and the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery were also ruthlessly attacked. In order to contain this very serious threat to national security, precautionary measures had to be greatly increased throughout the country. This led to the visible presence of soldiers on the streets, the widespread use of checkpoints, frequent cordon and search operations, and the constant upholding of the Emergency Regulations, which gave wide-ranging powers to the military and law enforcement agencies. The entire country was effectively on a war footing.
In 2002, the next major development in the conflict was the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE under mediation of Norway. This event can also be viewed as the next major phase in the internationalisation of Sri Lankan affairs as a result of the conflict. The Peace Process that was entered into by the Government of the time was facilitated by Norway, with the support of the representatives of major donor countries, namely the European Union, the United States of America and Japan. Together with Norway, they comprised the four Co-Chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace Process. A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was also established, comprising members from Nordic countries, to supervise the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Despite their presence, the LTTE continued to create instability in the country; assassinating its key opponents including Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and carrying out occasional attacks against civilians.
In 2006, increasing provocations by the LTTE culminated in its threatening of a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital Maavilaru Sluice Gate. This was a crisis that affected the right to water of thousands of households, and even affected national food security by preventing the flow of water to many thousands of acres of agricultural land. The Government intervened with a limited operation to reopen the sluice gate, but was met with large-scale attacks by the LTTE on several fronts. This led to the widening of the military campaign into the Humanitarian Operation that ultimately freed Sri Lanka from terrorism.
The Humanitarian Operation required significant strengthening of the military to enable its success. During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its offensive capabilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadres in its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket propelled grenades, and light aircraft. Combating such an enemy that employed guerrilla tactics required the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to grow significantly. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the number of Army personnel grew from 120,000 to over 200,000; its 9 Divisions were increased to 20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71; and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and given tasks beyond their classic role. The upholding of security throughout the country also required the Police and Special Task Force to be strengthened, and the Civil Defence Force was revamped and significantly expanded.
Because of the internationalisation of the Sri Lankan situation during the previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on the progress of the Humanitarian Operation. By keeping the Indian leaders constantly informed about what was happening on ground, and by skilfully managing our relationships with other nations, it was possible for the war effort to continue unimpeded. Nevertheless, towards the end of the war in 2009, the Foreign Ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and attempted to intervene in the military campaign, although they did not succeed. Efforts by such parties to end the Humanitarian Operation reflect the tremendous influence that the LTTE’s international network had on foreign capitals. Many in the international community wilfully ignored the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka was duty-bound to protect its citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war ended and peace dawned in 2009, this bias against the Government led to Sri Lanka being taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although the initial Resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and successfully passed.
Today, Sri Lanka is a country enjoying the full benefits of peace, and it is engaged in a concerted push to accelerate its economic development and bring prosperity to its citizens. The country has much to catch up on. Three decades of conflict lost us countless opportunities for growth: foreign and local investment suffered due to fears about the war; tourists did not visit the country, and many of our best and brightest went overseas to build better futures for themselves. Countries such as Singapore, which were in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when we reached Independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period. This is because they did not have a major conflict to contend with. Sri Lanka’s prospects on the other hand were greatly curtailed as a result of the war. This is why the biggest responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka even today, in the post war situation, is to ensure the continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there will be no economic development. The maintenance of National Security is therefore of the utmost importance.
The National Security of Sri Lanka needs to be addressed in context of the history of this country and the realities of its present situation, and most critically from the perspective of several responsibilities of the state. The state must ensure that the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of the nation is maintained, and that there are no threats to the safety of our population. Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country can uplift their standard of living is also critical in order to prevent internal problems recurring in the future. Creating a favourable environment for Sri Lanka internationally is similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence at bay. Securing the safety of our physical assets and safeguarding the nation’s democracy are also critical. Considering this overall context, it is clear that National Security must be understood within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation’s Defence, Law and Order, Foreign Policy and Economic Policy. These four areas need to come together in the creation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy. This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace and stability and fulfil its potential.
Present National Security Concerns
There are several potential threats in today’s context that Sri Lanka needs to be concerned about. These include:
The possible re-emergence of terrorism
The emergence of other extremist groups
The creation of ethnic divisions and communal violence
The challenges of maritime security and border control
The growth of organised crime
Foreign interference in domestic affairs
Non-traditional threats through technology driven new media, including social media.
In discussing terrorism, it is first of all important to appreciate the sheer scale of the problem that the Government of Sri Lanka was confronted with as a result of the LTTE over the past three decades. Since the 1970s, the LTTE grew from a small organisation of armed individuals to a large, sophisticated terrorist outfit with very advanced combat capabilities. At its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres; access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledgling air wing. For a considerable period of the conflict, the LTTE was able to maintain the illusion of a functional state apparatus in the territories it dominated. It also had significant influence in foreign capitals as a result of its extensive international network. Defeating the LTTE required a concerted effort on the part of the Sri Lankan Government. As a result of the unwavering leadership of His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this task was achieved in May of 2009.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were a number of issues that needed to be dealt with. First was the problem of nearly 300,000 internally displaced people who had been used as the LTTE’s human shield during the last phases of the war. Then there was the need to demine the North and East so that those areas would be safe for human habitation. This resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE during its retreat. Infrastructure development and reconstruction of those areas after years of neglect under the LTTE’s dominance was another significant issue that had to be dealt with, after which it was possible to resettle the IDPs in their places of origin. One of the most important issues was dealing with the nearly twelve thousand surrendered LTTE cadres and four thousand detained cadres. The Government took the bold step of rehabilitating nearly all of them so that they could become productive citizens in future. The vast majority of them have already been reintegrated with society.
Amongst other post war achievements has been the disarming of other armed groups that used to operate in the North and East, and the encouragement these groups have been given to contribute to society through democratic processes. The restrictions that used to be in force on movement, fishing, high security zones etc., have all been removed. Democracy has been completely restored, with free and fair elections taking place. Economic growth in the North and East has been truly remarkable in the recent past, and it is clear beyond doubt that normalcy has been restored to the people.
Despite all of these very positive developments, however, the threat of terrorism re-emerging still persists. One of the main reasons for the LTTE’s success during its heyday was its extensive international network, which has been in operation for many decades. Following the ambush and massacre of 13 soldiers in the North by the LTTE in 1983, there was a major communal backlash against the Tamils in the rest of the country. As a result of the July 1983 riots, a large number of Tamil people left Sri Lanka and travelled to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and parts of Europe. These countries granted asylum to these immigrants, and later granted them citizenship. As such, there is a large population of immigrant Sri Lankan Tamils in other countries. A small minority of this population supports the LTTE even to this day. Extremist elements within this community, together with LTTE agents and operatives, including trained terrorists who fled Sri Lanka at various times during the war, comprise the LTTE’s international network.
After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s former procurement chief Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over this network and indicated that it would continue to work for the separatist cause through peaceful means. However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by Nediyawan, who wanted to continue Prabhakaran’s ideology of violence. Nediyawan’s group, was previously known as The Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly or the Tamil National Council and is now known as the Tamil Coordinating Committee, Based in Norway, this group has been working with other international groups to promote the LTTE’s separatist cause in many parts of the world. The Tamil Coordinating Committee has control over most of the assets of the LTTE’s international organisation, including its media networks such as Tamil Net.
Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the leadership of the main network and began working towards establishing a “Government in Exile”. This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. In the guise of fighting for Tamil rights, its primary objective is to lobby foreign Governments for the establishment of a separate state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The so-called “Transnational Government” has about twenty “Ministers” and “Deputy Ministers”, and was formed with assistance of an advisory committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists, including foreigners who have been helping the LTTE for many years. There has recently been a revolt within the TGTE, where one third of its members loyal to Nediyawan, went against the leadership of Rudrakumaran because they wished to engage in more radical action.
Another prominent LTTE-linked group emerged out of the British Tamils Association, which was active since 2001 in supporting the terrorism of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In 2006, the leader of the BTA, Arunachalam Krishanthakumar, alias Shanthan, was investigated on suspicion of supporting terrorist activities. As a result of these suspicions about the BTA, the British Tamils Forum was formed in 2006 to carry on the same activities in a new guise. The BTF acted as an umbrella organisation that mustered support from the immigrant Tamil community and local British politicians for dividing Sri Lanka. With Shanthan’s arrest by British authorities in June 2007 for providing material support to terrorism and his conviction in April 2009, as well as the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the role played by the BTF needed to be changed to suit the post-war environment.
As a result of this, the Global Tamils Forum emerged in February 2010, with many of the same members as the BTF. The head of the GTF is the so-called Father Emmanuel, a Priest who was once hailed by Prabhakaran as “a freedom fighter who has given leadership to a movement committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam”. Father Emmanuel has been engaged in a propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka for many years, targeting Tamil expatriates, Foreign Governments and International Organisations. He is known to have visited LTTE strongholds in Sri Lanka in mid-2000 to conduct training for selected youth who were earmarked to take up overseas appointments for fundraising and propaganda for the LTTE.
Under Father Emmanuel’s guidance, the GTF has successfully influenced a number of politicians from various political parties in European countries as well as the United States, Australia, Canada, and India to support the separatist cause. In addition, the GTF has courted officials within international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and various international non-governmental organisations to obtain their support. Part of the success of the GTF in these activities can be attributed to the involvement of influential pro-LTTE foreigners in it. These include Mrs. Joan Ryan, a former British Parliamentarian who has become the Head of the GTF’s Secretariat.
Yet another group that is active internationally in supporting the separatist cause is the LTTE Headquarter Group, which is based in France and headed by Vinayagam, a senior intelligence cadre who managed to escape during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. This is a group that is known to engage in Human Smuggling, with some of its past operations including the sending of the “Sun Sea” and “Ocean Lady” vessels from South East Asia to Canada in 2009 and 2010. The members of this group generally maintain a low profile and their movements are kept to a minimum as most of them have been issued Red Notices by Interpol for their involvement in criminal activities. They also keep their distance from both Nediyawan’s and Rudrakumaran’s groups, but maintain links with the GTF.
All of the LTTE-linked groups are coordinated by the GTF and united by one overarching objective. Their unwavering intent is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective. These include:
The winning of international opinion for the separatist cause,
Increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka in various areas; including pushing for international investigations into war crimes and claims of genocide, and by encouraging international monitoring of the national reconciliation process,
Undermining all efforts of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka to create a better future for its citizens through reconciliation and economic development, and
Continuing to push for the resumption of conflict through reorganizing local pro-LTTE elements within Sri Lanka.
Some of the efforts of these LTTE-linked groups have been successful to a certain extent in that despite the war having ended four years ago, the internal affairs of Sri Lanka have been kept at the forefront of the UNHRC’s Sessions as well as at the top of the agenda of several prominent international NGOs even in the recent past. It has to be noted that many of those who create this pressure by claiming to be human rights activists and victims of state repression are actually trained LTTE cadres and operatives who are now fully engaged in propaganda activities. It is very important to understand that their attempts to put pressure on the Government through international bodies such as the UNHRC and non state actors such as international NGOs is designed to strengthen those who work against Sri Lanka’s interests.
In this context it is important to realise that there are groups even within the democratic mainstream in Sri Lanka that obtain funding from the LTTE’s international network and pro-LTTE elements overseas, which more or less openly talk about achieving the very same objectives that the LTTE had. Though they appear to have a democratic face, their actions and remarks clearly show that the extremist separatist ideology has not yet disappeared. Their ultimate objective is achieving the division of Sri Lanka. As a result of their actions and statements, it is very much a possibility that certain radical elements will feel empowered to once again attempt to take up arms in the name of separation. This is a major National Security threat that needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
In addition to the threat of terrorism, Sri Lanka also faces a potential threat from other extremist groups. These are the remnants of the radical groups that were involved in previous insurgencies. Some of these groups are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up their extreme left wing causes. There is information that some of these groups have started to link up with the LTTE-linked groups to create further problems in Sri Lanka. Some of their activities include radicalising students and encouraging them to take to the streets in various protests. Though such activities are still in their early stages, they pose another serious National Security concern that we need to be vigilant of.
Another growing concern in the post-war environment is the increasing communalism amongst ethnic groups, which if left unaddressed, could result in the rise of ethnic tensions in the future. During the period of the war, it was not only the Sinhalese and Tamil communities that were affected by the terrorist separatism of the LTTE, but also the Muslims. After the LTTE started engaging in ethnic cleansing in the North in the early 1980s, it expelled the Sinhalese community from Jaffna and soon after turned its attention to the Muslims. Several massacres were carried out at Mosques in the East, and in October 1990, the LTTE expelled more than 75,000 Muslim residents from the North. This was followed by further brutal attacks on Muslims in vulnerable villages near the territory dominated by the LTTE. In this environment, the Muslims also started to organise themselves for their own protection against the LTTE. After the LTTE’s defeat, some of these groups have begun to engage in activities that stem far beyond self-protection. There is some information that some of these groups have even tried to link up with the global Islamic terrorist movement. This is a situation that requires careful monitoring.
On a broader scale, it also has to be acknowledged that one of the consequences of the terrorist conflict Sri Lanka endured for thirty years has been the increased insularity of ethnic groups. Rather than identifying themselves on the basis of nationality, the communities of Sri Lanka have begun to identify themselves on the basis of their ethnicity or their religion. Instead of calling themselves Sri Lankan, they identify themselves as Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims or Buddhists or Christians. This fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity is most unfortunate, because activists within these communal groups seek minority rights or ethnic rights rather than working within the framework of a common national identity.
The cross-border links that can arise as a result of such insular ethnic or religious identification is also very troublesome. It is clear that there are some in the Tamil community who identify themselves more with the Tamil community of Tamil Nadu than with their fellow Sri Lankans. This has been encouraged by some parties overseas who wish to promote the idea of a greater Tamil Nation. Similarly, it has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration within Sri Lanka. This trend has been particularly prevalent in the post September 11 world, in which there has been a tendency among certain groups to try and influence the global Muslim community towards religious extremism has become visible.
The increasing insularity and cohesion amongst minority ethnic groups has also led to the emergence of hard line groups from the majority community: the popularity of certain political groups and movements can be viewed as being largely a response to this trend. In turn, the emergence of hard line groups in the majority community causes further tensions amongst other communities, which leads to a vicious cycle of greater fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity. Sri Lanka had enough divisions in the past that ultimately led to conflict; we must learn the lessons from our past and ensure that history is not repeated. This is therefore a very serious National Security concern at the present moment.
The maintenance of maritime security is another serious National Security Concern that the Government needs to be vigilant about. As an island, Sri Lanka does not have land borders to worry about, but maintaining maritime security is a serious challenge. In the past, the only maritime security issues that had to be dealt with was the illegal movement of Indians into Sri Lanka and the smuggling that took place between Sri Lanka and South India. Preventing these threats was one of the foremost duties of the military in the 1950s and the 1960s. However, with the development of the LTTE and other terrorist groups in the 1970s and beyond, maritime security became a major concern to Sri Lanka.
For example, it is a well-known fact that the LTTE acquired a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment including artillery, missiles, mortars, armoured vehicles and even light aircraft. None of these items were produced in Sri Lanka, but were brought into Sri Lanka through the sea. In addition to military supplies, the LTTE’s cadres were initially trained at bases in Tamil Nadu. Given the recent activities of LTTE-linked organisations outside Sri Lanka and particularly in Tamil Nadu, this is very much a current threat even today.
The organised trafficking of persons or human smuggling is another significant maritime security issue. Organised groups, some of which are connected to LTTE-linked organisations, have lured many people seeking better economic prospects into this lucrative illegal operation. During this year alone, more than 440 such people have attempted to leave Sri Lanka illegally. Having sold their properties and handed over all their wealth to the operators of these schemes, the victims of human trafficking find themselves trapped on board unsafe vessels along with hundreds of others, travelling to countries that will most often refuse them entry. In order to make a compelling case for their acceptance by border control authorities abroad, such economic refugees often concoct stories about being persecuted in Sri Lanka, thereby damaging the country’s reputation. Furthermore, the mechanisms of human trafficking have enabled trained terrorists to escape justice in Sri Lanka and flee abroad to safe havens, from which they may once again attempt to cause problems to the country through other means.
A further consideration with regard to maritime security is the protection of our maritime assets. One of the problems Sri Lanka has faced in the maritime domain after the defeat of the LTTE has been the increasing incidence of pirate fishing in Sri Lankan waters by South Indian fishermen. These fishermen use illegal practices such as bottom trawling to maximise their catch. This causes serious damage to the healthy fish stocks in Sri Lankan waters, and also adversely affects the livelihoods of our own fishermen. These fishing boats that enter Sri Lankan waters illegally have also been known to engage in other criminal activities including drug smuggling. Protecting our waters from these fishermen, as well as from others who might seek to exploit our other oceanic resources including oil and gas, will be one of the key maritime security challenges for Sri Lanka in the future.
Somewhat farther afield, the threat of international piracy is also a concern for Sri Lanka’s maritime security. Many of the world’s most important Sea Lanes of Communications are located in close proximity to Sri Lanka, and both the newly built Hambantota Port as well as the Colombo port are ideally situated to service the hundreds of vessels that cross these lanes on a daily basis. The reach and sophistication of the pirates originating mostly from East Africa has been increasing in recent years. This factor undermines the security of these Sea Lanes and could pose a serious problem to shipping in the region in the future. This will have an impact on the country’s economic security as well, and is therefore another challenge that needs to be monitored.
With regard to border security, one of the concerns Sri Lanka has is the possibility of the country being used as a transit point for transnational crime. The arrest of certain elements connected with extremist regional terrorist groups in India and Pakistan have shown that they have used Sri Lanka as a transit point from which to coordinate their activities. Some who are known to have been temporarily sheltered in Sri Lanka by an International Organisation after claiming refugee status in the west, are known criminals who engaged in illegal activities such as credit card fraud, drug smuggling and counterfeit currency printing abroad.
Organised crime in Sri Lanka is another issue that needs to be addressed. As a result of the rise of terrorism and the insurrections Sri Lanka experienced over the last forty years, and the response required from the state, a considerable amount of arms and ammunition inadvertently fell into the hands of criminals. This led to the rise of the underworld, which is now engaged in a number of organised criminal activities including drugs, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom and financial frauds. There are also groups that engage in seizing land illegally. Tackling the challenges posed by organised criminal groups is another priority for the state.
In today’s environment, the possibility of foreign interference in our internal affairs remains a significant National Security concern. With the involvement of countries like India, Norway, and the United States of America in Sri Lanka as a result of the terrorist conflict, matters relating to this country’s internal affairs have gained increased visibility within the international community. India in particular is very sensitive to what is going on in Sri Lanka because of the large Tamil population in its influential southern state of Tamil Nadu. Especially during the elections cycle, Sri Lanka figures large in its power politics. In the recent past, we have seen even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu attempting to pressurise the central government into opposing Sri Lanka internationally. This is a serious threat to Sri Lanka’s security, and perhaps even its sovereignty.
Furthermore, as a result of the rapid economic and military development of countries like India and China in recent decades, the entire Asian region has become increasingly important in global affairs. Because of Sri Lanka’s important geostrategic position within the Indian Ocean region, a great deal of attention is therefore placed upon it in the present era. There is a possibility that some western powers wish to have a Sri Lankan Government that is closely aligned with their interests, and will seek to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny so that it cannot pursue the independent course it is following at present.
A third factor that has led to Sri Lanka’s increasing importance in the international arena involves regional power politics. The issues between India and Pakistan, and the issues between India and China are particularly sensitive in this regard. With the rise of China as a world economic leader, there is a widespread belief that India feels insecure and is seeking to align itself with the other powers that seem similarly threatened by China’s ascendancy. The likelihood of the United States showing more interest in the region and aligning more with India is a factor that may affect Sri Lanka. Further, its establishment of a base in the Maldives is also changing the complexion of the region. These are developments that need to be monitored from the point of view of Sri Lanka’s national security.
The final threat to Sri Lanka’s National Security that I will highlight during this lecture is the emergence of technology driven new media including social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other websites on the Internet. We have seen the potential of this new media to destabilise nations and affect serious change in the case of countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt etc. Although the likelihood of events such as the Arab spring transpiring in Sri Lanka is minimal as a result of it being a democratic nation with an extremely popular political leadership that enjoys a very large electoral majority, this is yet another threat that needs to be monitored. Particularly due to increasing Internet penetration and computer literacy in Sri Lanka, many of our youth are familiar with social media and use it as a tool to gather information as well as propagate ideas. Those with vested interests can exploit social media to cause problems in Sri Lanka by propagating certain ideologies online and mobilising and organising people. This can be done with a minimal physical presence, and therefore forms a threat that is difficult to contain through the traditional tools of national defence.
National Security Response
Considering the foregoing threat assessment, it is clear that despite Sri Lanka being in a post-war situation in which most people are only concerned about economic development, National Security remains very much a core concern for the Government. In addressing the challenges discussed above and developing a comprehensive National Security Strategy, it is important for the Government to take a holistic view and incorporate many of its elements into a single policy framework.
In terms of internal security, the best response to most of the threats that we face is the development of the Intelligence Services. Sri Lanka has two primary intelligence arms: the State Intelligence Service and the Defence Intelligence, which comprises the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Directorate of Naval Intelligence, and Air Intelligence. In addition, the Police maintains the Special Branch, while the Special Task Force also has its own Intelligence Division. Furthermore, the Terrorist Investigation Department and Criminal Investigation Department of the Police also work closely with the other Intelligence agencies on matters relating to National Security.
In the past, the lack of strength and coordination amongst these various intelligence services used to be a serious issue. It is essential that they work together under a unified command structure in order to improve coordination and enhance capabilities. Towards this effect, one of the efforts undertaken by the present Government has been to bring these intelligence services under the Chief of National Intelligence, who reports directly to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. This has streamlined coordination and improved cooperation amongst the intelligence agencies.
Another important development in this regard has been the augmenting of resources allocated for the Intelligence function. After the war, the number of military intelligence units have been increased and each Security Force Head quarters now has its own Intelligence Unit. The Intelligence personnel are being afforded more and more training in order to enhance their capabilities and capacities, and as Sri Lanka moves forward, it is hoped that the Intelligence agencies will be able to keep track of and contain domestic National Security concerns.
Furthermore, although the requirement for offensive military operations no longer exists in Sri Lanka, it is of the utmost importance that our security measures are not relaxed. Although the military is not engaged in law enforcement activities, and although their visible presence has been greatly reduced, it is essential for the military to be placed in strategic locations throughout Sri Lanka. Particularly in the North and East, where we know that there are still potential threats to National Security, it is essential to have a significant though unobtrusive military presence. Some recent efforts of international elements to reorganise pro-LTTE elements in the North underscores the need for this. For example, the recent arrest of some youth in Jaffna and Chennai who had been recruited by a Chennai based LTTE-linked group funded by the LTTE’s Europe based network, shows the utmost need to remain vigilant in this regard.
It must also be underscored that as a Sovereign nation, Sri Lanka has every right to place its security elements in any part of the country it so chooses. While some in the international community talk about the so-called militarisation of the North and East, and some political parties in Sri Lanka decry the presence of the military in these areas, it must also be understood that the people of the North and East mostly have a very cordial relationship with the military. Since the end of the war, the military has been involved in a great deal of reconstruction work, and they have also supported the people of the area to resume their livelihoods. They have provided equipment and material for agriculture, fishing and various types of assistance for small business development. The increased attention given to Civic-Military affairs also helps National Security because it helps the Armed Forces to win the hearts and minds of the people in the former conflict areas.
With regard to the work of the Defence services in the post-war environment, it is also essential to expand the responsibilities of the Navy and the Coast Guard. The protection of Sri Lanka’s maritime borders is of the utmost importance, and there is a great deal of responsibility on these two institutions to safeguard our seas. The Exclusive Economic Zone Sri Lanka enjoys needs to be protected, as it is a vital economic asset. The Navy needs to get more naval assets so that it has the ability to patrol or dominate the blue seas. It is also important to improve the Navy’s surveillance capabilities through augmenting its Radars and adding a new air surveillance capability. The Air Force, too, needs to improve it capabilities with regard to surveillance operations.
Another aspect of internal security that needs to be mentioned is the rectification of weaknesses that we used to have with regard to the national identity system. Because it was a manual, paper-based system, criminal and terrorist elements could very easily obtain forged identity cards. This enabled the terrorists to operate throughout Sri Lanka under various names and aliases; this is why the threat of suicide bombings and other attacks in the rest of Sri Lanka was such a pressing problem during the period of the war. To address this critical weakness, the Registrar of Persons Department was brought under the Ministry of Defence & Urban Development, and a new identity card system that uses biometric information will be introduced shortly. Similarly, the problem of people coming into Sri Lanka and staying here illegally under false pretences will be addressed through the introduction of a proper border control system in which biometric information will be incorporated into the passport and international standards used for identity verification.
From the point of view of domestic security, perhaps the most critical aspect will be the achievement of national reconciliation and the forging of a common Sri Lankan identity. Economic development is an absolute necessity in this regard. The fact remains that unless people enjoy a reasonable standard of living, peace and reconciliation are very difficult to achieve. This is why the Government has spared no expense or effort to develop infrastructure and build up the North and East to a high standard. This will enable the benefits of peace to flow down to the people of those areas. When people know that they have the opportunity to achieve a better future for themselves, it is highly unlikely that they will waste their time on violent ideologies. The achievement of economic development and national reconciliation are therefore two of the key areas of focus of the Government in the present national context.
Finally, with regard to external threats, it is of the utmost importance that Sri Lanka maintains cordial relationships with its allies. Despite the present pressure from Tamil Nadu, it is essential to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with India. Relations with the many countries that helped us in the past, both in economic terms and through political support, should be strengthened further through skilful diplomacy and further development of mutual ties. It essential to further strengthen the existing cordial relationships with powerful nations such as China and Russia, which have permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council and can influence any international action on Sri Lanka more significantly than other nations. In this overall context, it is very important that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka needs to be realistic. It is essential for Sri Lanka to have close ties with certain powerful nations in the international community in order to safeguard its National Security interests.
During the course of this lecture I have outlined the overall context of Sri Lanka’s National Security concerns; identified our most pressing threats and discussed the broad outlines of the Government’s strategy to deal with all these issues. Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Sri Lanka remains safe and strong in the future is for all of us to put aside the differences of the past; unite as Sri Lankans, and work towards a better future for ourselves and for each other.
Frederick Winslow Taylor is known as the ‘father of scientific management’. Taylor and his management thoughts became popular not only in America (USA) but also in Europe and Japan because of a litigation popularly known as the ‘Eastern Rate Case’.
In 1910, Eastern Rail Road Company of America submitted an application to the Interstate Commerce Commission of America seeking permission for increasing freight rates of the vessels that it operated. The Interstate Commerce Commission of America is an institution similar to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) that deals with appeals for rate hikes from governmental and nongovernmental utilities industry.
The proposed rate hike of Eastern Rail Road Company, as was thought by many at that time, would inevitably invite a chain of price increases in many industrial inputs as well as consumer goods which finally could adversely affect the general public. Louis D. Brandeis, an American Lawyer who was known as the “people’s lawyer”, appeared against the move of the rate increase and filed a case against Eastern Rail Road Company on behalf of the general public.
Brandeis argued that Eastern Rail Road Company was seeking rate hike as it had failed in management which is a sole responsibility of the company but not of the general public. He maintained that management failure has caused inefficiencies and as a result the cost of operations has increased and thus it was unfair to grant permission for the company to increase rates. He connected the rate issue to management failure and implied that the cost of management failure need not be born to the general public who are not held responsible for the management affairs of the company. Having the Jury asked him to propose a cure for the management ailment that he claimed that the Eastern Rail Road was suffering from, Brandeis recommended ‘Scientific Management’ (the term he coined after the ‘Shop System’ of Taylor) as the new management system for the Eastern Rail Road to adopt through which the company could overcome its inefficiencies which had compelled it to seek rate increase.
The jury summoned Taylor, as the founder of the new management system, to witness to the lawyer’s claim. Taylor, in his testimony, explained the ins and outs of ‘Scientific Management’ and how it could increase efficiency in business operations. Taylor’s testimony was supported, at the courts, by a few well known business leaders namely J.M. Dodge, H.K. Hathaway, H.R. Towne and Harrington Emerson who already had adopted Taylor’s management system and had become highly cost efficient in their business operations. Emerson explained that, according to his estimates, the Eastern Rail Road could save one million dollars every day if Taylor’s scientific management was founded in it. His appeal promulgated the notion that scientific management was the magic-cure for the efficiency torn industries.
This one hundred year old ‘Eastern Rate Case’ has reincarnated at present in Sri Lanka along with the submission of an application by Ceylon Electricity Board to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka to increase the electricity tariff at a very high rate. Unlike in the 20th century America, no court cases were heard against the application for rate hike in 21st century Sri Lanka. Yet the Public Utilities Commission approved electricity tariff hike at an alarming rate which then invited numerous agitations and protests from the people. Despite the Opposition Party lawmakers accuse the management failure at Ceylon Electricity Board and appeal to correct its management practices through eliminating wastes and corruptions in order to bring down sky rocketing costs, the pro-government elements had drawn people in thousands to the streets in support of the decision to increase electricity tariff. This pro-tariff-hike parade endorsed the common mismanagement practices of the Electricity Board and empowered it to continue with those management evils.
Disregarding the management blunders of the Electricity Board claimed by the stakeholders and the inefficiencies emanated from them, the Public Utilities Commission approved tariff hike to the satisfaction of the client but to the dissatisfaction of the public. The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka headed by Dr. Jayathissa de Costa did not take any trouble to question the management blunders of the Electricity Board before approving the rate hike. The responsibility of the Public Utilities Commission is to regulate the prices of utilities and the objective of price control on the other hand is to maintain right price and consumption stability. Thus it is a responsibility of the Commission to advise the Electricity Board to correct its management problems. The Commission neither has considered the negative chain reactions of the industrial sector to the tariff hike and erosion of the total consumption which ultimately would shrink the economy. Before long, the next Central Bank Quarterly would undoubtedly report drop in production, consumption, employment and economic growth in response to the electricity tariff hike.
The responsibility of the Public Utilities Commission has been elaborated in its Vision, Mission and Objectives. The Vision reads as “to create an environment for all inhabitants of Sri Lanka and the contributors to its development, to have access to essential infrastructure and utility services in the most economical manner within the boundaries of the sustainable development agenda of the country.” And the Mission is “to regulate all the utilities within the purview of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka to ensure safe, reliable and responsibly priced infrastructure services for existing as well as future consumers in the most equitable and sustainable manner.” The main objectives aim at “protecting interests of all consumers, promoting efficiency in both the operations of and capital investment in public utilities industries and promoting an efficient allocation of resources in public utilities industries.” The generously granted electricity rate hike by the Public Utilities Commission challenges its own vision, mission and objectives. Thus the purpose of existence of the Public Utilities Commission is lost!
Average consumers are not aware of the Eastern Rate case, Scientific Management or the Public Utilities Commission. Neither do they know Frederick Taylor or Jayathissa de Costa. But what they know is that their monthly electricity bill has doubled without increase in their electricity consumption and thus sizeable portion of their income has been siphoned off from their pockets for no responsibility they have assumed. Through granting approval for a massive tariff hike, the Public Utilities Commission has tolerated the mismanagement of the Electricity Board to persist. The inefficient public sector utility industries in the country can follow the mode of the Electricity Board and appeal for rate increases in the future. Is the Public Utilities Commission to blindly grant approval for their appeals too without proper assessment of management practices?
We anticipate that the Eastern Rate Case of 1910 in America would serve as precedence to the rate issues of Sri Lanka and that the public sector utility industries and the Public Utilities Commission would take a step back and learn from the hundred year old management of Taylor and from the ‘Easter Rate Case’!
*Writer is the Professor of Management, University of Peradeniya
Prof. Sivayogalingam passed away day before yesterday. He was a Senior Lecturer attached to the Department of Political Science of University of Peradeniya, passed away day before yesterday. Last week he has sent couple of his articles to CT. One article; “Muslims Are The Present Target Group For Sinhala Hegemonic Nationalists” was published last week. We publish below another article by him – CT
Sri Lankan society is an ethno-religious mosaic and within the ethnic groups, there are clear religious divisions as well. To a certain extent, ethnicity and religion also have a regional basis, which is a significant reason why the Tamil militancy has a strong geographical dimension, which extended to the demand of a separate independent state. Of the ethnic and religious groups, Tamil Hindus predominate in the Northern Province and maintain a significant presence in the Eastern Province. The Eastern Province is an ethnically mixed area where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese are found in sizeable numbers even though Tamils have a slightly higher statistical edge. Indian Tamils—the descendants of laborers brought from Southern India by the British in the 19th century to work on tea and coffee estates—are concentrated in parts of the Central, Uwa and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. Sinhalese Buddhists predominate in all parts of the country except the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Muslims have a significant concentration in the Eastern Province, but generally are scattered throughout the country. Christians maintain a significant presence in the coastal areas as a result of over 500 years of constant European colonial presence and the consequent Christianization of significant numbers of the population in these areas. However, Christians are found in all parts of the country in small numbers. Malays are mostly concentrated in and around the city of Colombo and the Western Province.
By the time Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948 from the UK, there were expectations that the country would become a model democracy. Universal adult franchise had been introduced in the 1931, democratic institutions and traditions had been in place and political violence was not an issue. Moreover, by the 1950s literacy in Sri Lanka was on the rise and there were no serious indicators of economic or social catastrophes of the years to come. However, even before independence, there were clear indications of ethnic politics that were to emerge later.
The ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has many root causes and consequences that are closely interlinked. It is primarily can be broadly identified as: Ethnic politics and the interpretation of the past; Politics of language; Politics of education; and other factors, including employment and land.
The Emergence of Ethnic Politics
Relations between Tamils and Sinhalese have not always or consistently been antagonistic. This happened only in times of external threats from South India after the formulation of clear Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic or cultural identities in the 9th (or 12th) century. These wars were wars of dominance fought between regional rulers and were not ‘race’ wars as defined later. Historical chronicles compiled by Sinhalese Buddhist monks defined these wars as campaigns undertaken to protect Buddhism and the Sinhalese nation. Meanwhile, one million Indian Tamils were disenfranchised in 1948 under the Ceylon Citizenship Act. Of this, approximately 350,000 were repatriated to India under the Indo-Ceylon Agreement of 1964.
Ethnic Conflict and Language
In addition to the barriers imposed by the continued use of the English language as the official language after independence, the emerging nationalist forces perceived that Sri Lankan Tamils had access to a disproportionate share of power as a consequence of educational opportunities in the colonial period and were also disproportionately represented in the civil administration. Moreover, considerable mercantile interests were also controlled by non-Sinhalese groups. These fears and concerns were a basis for the politics of language that was to emerge.
As early as 1944, politicians proposed resolutions in Parliament to declare Sinhalese the official language, while other amendments proposed both Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages. In 1956, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister with a main election promise of establishing Sinhalese as the official language of the country, replacing English. The new government fulfilled this promise—through the passage of the so-called “Sinhalese Only Bill” (Official Language Act, No. 33 of 1956)—soon after the election giving no status of parity to the Tamil language.
The language issue in many ways brought the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict into the forefront of Sri Lankan politics. In terms of the dominant strands of Sinhalese nationalism, the Sinhalese language along with the Buddhist religion necessarily had to occupy the pre-eminent position in society. This was perceived to be the only way the glory of ancient Sinhalese civilization could be revitalized. Even though Tamil has been decreed an official language along with Sinhalese in terms of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (in 1987), the damage caused by the politics of language generally remain unaddressed. Moreover, the vast gap between the official recognition of Tamil as an official language and the practical implementation of the provisions and conditions it entails, is yet to be bridged.
Ethnic Conflict and Education
Since the 1970s, access to education—particularly access to higher education—has been ethnicized. In addition, many other aspects of education—including the structural organization of schools and universities, contents of textbooks and training of teachers—have impacted directly on ethnic conflict. Compared to other ethnic and religious groups in the country, Tamils have had strong cultural norms which valued education. Many Tamils attended English language schools which were the passport to higher education and better employment in the colonial period. As a consequence of well-funded American missionary activities, the Tamil-dominated Northern Province had comparatively better facilities for English language and pre-university education.
In this context, post-independence Sinhalese nationalism sought to curb the Tamil presence in education and thus also in the professions and civil administration. While the passing of the “Sinhalese Only Bill” was one attempt in this process, more direct hurdles were placed on the path of Tamils’ realization of educational goals since the 1970s. The constitutional provisions in the 1972 Constitution favoring the Sinhalese language and Buddhist religion, along with their educational policies, convinced many Tamils that they had been perceived as a marginal community.
From 1971 onwards, a new “standardization” policy was adopted, which ensured that the number of students qualifying for university entrance from each language was proportionate to the number of students who sat for university entrance examination in that language. In real terms this meant that Tamil speaking students had to score much higher than Sinhalese speaking students to gain admission to universities. This also meant that for the first time, the integrity of university admissions policy was tampered with by using ethnicity as a basis. In 1972, a district quota system was introduced in order to benefit those not having adequate access to educational facilities within each language. These changes had a serious impact on the demographic patterns of university entry.
In general, these policies seriously impacted upon not only the chances of Tamils to gain access to higher education, but also on the overall process of ethnic relations as well. In 1977, the language-based admission policy was abolished and since that time various adjustments have been introduced on the basis of merit, district quotas, disadvantaged area quotas, etc. While the obvious ethno-linguistic discrimination of the 1971 policy has long been dismantled, many Tamil youth still feel that they are discriminated against in access to higher education.
Ethnic Conflict and Employment
As mentioned above, both language and education policies have placed barriers on employment, especially in the administrative and professional ranks in which Tamils were at one point “overrepresented.” as a result of the discrimination that has occurred in state sector employment practices over time, there is a tendency among many Tamils to perceive of themselves as generally discriminated against in employment. According to the census of public sector and corporate sector employment in 1990, Sri Lankan Tamils accounted for 5.9% of those employed in the state services. This represents a significant drop from earlier years.
Ethnic Conflict and the Issue of Land
The issue of ownership over and access to land has also been a consistent area in which ethnic politics in Sri Lanka have manifested, and have sustained themselves over the years. As noted, one of the peculiarities in the demographic patterns in Sri Lanka is the relative concentration of certain ethnic groups in certain geographical regions. The clearest site of politics of land and ethnicity has been in the sparsely populated areas of the dry zone in the North Central Province and the Eastern Province. When post-independence governments decided to settle poor Sinhalese farmers from the densely populated wet zone areas of the country, many Sinhalese politicians and people in general viewed the process as a “reclamation and recreation in the present of the glorious Sinhalese Buddhist past.” The so-called “colonization schemes” became an integral aspect of Sinhalese Buddhist ‘nation-building.’
Not surprisingly, the Tamils had a completely different perception of the colonization of the dry zone. The notion of the ‘traditional Tamil homeland’ became a potent component of popular Tamil political imagination. Since Sinhalese irrigation settlements in the North Central and Eastern Provinces occurred under direct state sponsorship, it appeared to many Tamils as a deliberate attempt of the Sinhalese-dominated state to marginalize them further by decreasing their numbers in the area. The colonization schemes did alter the demographic patterns, particularly in the Eastern Province in a significant way.
It comes as no revelation to anyone who has been following the Impeachment saga, the profundity of impact it has had on all the citizens of Sri Lanka, be it their unsatiated hunger for justice for the former CJ Shirani Bandaranayake or their bereaved hopes in the present Government. To proclaim that it has rocked and vitiated the very foundations of the country, wouldn’t have been better proven as the penultimate truth, than at an event ‘Law talk’, organized by the Law Students Association of Sri Lanka (LSASL) on the topic “Aftermath of the Impeachment: Its Constitutional Implications” on 22nd January 2013. It witnessed the participation of over sixty, from various legal and non-legal backgrounds.
The two guest speakers comprised former Chief Justice Mr. Sarath N. Silva, who as he phrased it, was ‘the lone survivor of an impeachment motion in the country’ and was accompanied by, Mr. S.L. Gunasekera, present Senior Attorney in the Supreme Court. The speakers focused on the domino effect the impeachment had brought forth in the very provenance of Justice and laws in the country, ‘The Constitution of Sri Lanka’ also including the, far reaching and uncringing ripples that it may have on the present and future force of the rule of law in the country.
Former Chief Justice unmasked the entire constitutional elements of the impeachment trial and shed light on some of the sections, which because of their inherent ambiguity became the very vulnerabilities that led to the severance of ‘clear notions of justice’ from impeachment process. He further added that guilty or not guilty, the very process of the CJ’s impeachment is one that has undermined the inherent checks between the three equal pillars of democracy, the legislature, executive and judiciary and has given birth to a precedent that will poison and chokehold the might of law and independence of Judiciary in the country.
Senior Attorney Mr. S.L. Gunasekara in contrast to Mr. Sarath’s pure constitutional law perspectives gave a profound picture of the rigmarole that the state of law and politics has become, as a consequence of this impeachment. He focused exhaustively on role power plays in being instrumental to such events crystallizing and how invariably politicization of all decisions causes weighing of political interests over one another, while the actual adjudication ought to be on the principles of “justice, equity and good conscience” and the consideration limited in its scope to only one which incorporates the affects the aforementioned decisions on its citizens.
The floor was later opened to the house to ask questions to be answered by the speakers, which saw fruitful engagement of students on various themes like right to fair trial, the appointment of the new CJ and the future of the laws in the country to name a few.
To conclude, the event ended on a bittersweet note, because although every participant had gained far more awareness and insight from the Law talk, yet that awareness came at the cost of having to fathom the reality of the country in which we live. The reality being a divergence, from the vision of a free and fair country we all foresaw and of Sri Lanka being known worldwide as a great and powerful nation that respects democracy and all its citizens. However, to rephrase what Mr. S.L. Gunasekera said at the end of his speech, the might of public opinion is far more powerful that any arm-twisting by the government. So long as the people resist injustice or raise their voices on fora like the ‘Law Talk’, then change can still come. To add my own two piece of wisdom from the ‘Law talk’ the epiphany of it all could be summed as following, that, Democracy dies not by the hands of a power-ridden government or a corrupt judiciary or a prejudiced parliament, but by the silence of all its citizens.
* Paridhi Singh is presently working with the Attorney General’s department as a part of the United Nations Development project called “Access to Justice” and is pursuing BA.LLB. integrated law course in Jindal Global Law School, India.
The suicide by a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Sri Lanka to protest the slaughter of cattle has been hailed as an act of great self-sacrifice and compared to acts of self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting China’s repression in Tibet. Nothing could be more ill-informed. In fact, it is one more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists to undermine the Muslim political base.
The monk, Bowatte Indraratne, who had been campaigning against the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals, was also a politician. He was a former elected member of a local government body representing the extreme Buddhist political party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). JHU’s leader Champika Ranawaka lost no time in exploiting the incident to advance the party’s agenda. He said the government should bring in legislation to ban the slaughter of cattle, and religious conversion. Christians have come under pressure from Buddhists for proselytising, a charge they deny.
The campaign to stop the slaughter of cattle and instances of violence against Muslims are not isolated events in Sri Lanka. These are steps to politically disempower Muslims are uncannily reminiscent of the way the Sinhala establishment tries to destroy the Tamil power base.
Persecution of Muslims is taking a particularly virulent form today. But in the past too Sinhala leaders viewed Muslims with suspicion, as they did Tamils. The control they exercised was a blend of coercion, political manipulation of Muslim elites and the policy of divide and rule.
Coercion of Muslims by Sinhalese was applied mostly through violence and intimidation. In recent memory are rampaging Sinhala mobs targeting Muslims in Mawanella (2001) and Beruwela (2002). Other disputes occurred over land, like Deegavapi in 1999.
Political manipulation of the Muslim elite compelled them to take decisions detrimental to their community. In 1956, Muslim politician and diplomat Sir Razik Fareed campaigned with Sinhala leaders to deny Tamil as an official language of the State, despite a large majority of Muslims being Tamil speakers.
Adopting a policy of divide-and-rule, Sinhala leaders forced Muslims – especially in the East – to view Tamils as enemies, which led to Tamil-Muslim clashes. The Sinhala-dominated military used Muslim home guards to target Tamil civilians in the East. The rift was magnified by the LTTE expelling the Muslim population in Sri Lanka’s North.
With the military phase of the conflict with the Tamils coming to an end in May 2009, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists realised they now had the luxury of investing more resources in suppressing Muslims. Further, with President Mahinda Rajapakse intent on consolidating power, extreme nationalism was a good vehicle.
The government has made no secret of its connections to extremist civil society groups. Relations between government officials and the principal vehicle of Buddhist bigotry, the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), are so fraternal that Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the hawkish head of the Ministry of Defence and brother of the country’s president, graced an important occasion of the organisation. The BBS plays a similar role as the Shiv Sena does to the pro-Hindu regimes in India.
As mentioned above, the objective of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism is to demolish Muslim political power in Sri Lanka. It is no different from efforts to destroy the Tamil power base in the country from the 1950s. The three examples below demonstrate the similarities.
The BBS has opposed the certification of food as ‘halal’ and Muslim women wearing the hijab. These cultural practices are important markers of Muslim identity. The BBS’s campaign is not only to demolish what distinguishes this group’s identity, but also the power its members derive from that identity. For the Tamils, the primary marker of identity is language. That is why Sinhala nationalism sought to undermine Tamil by denying it official language status and placing obstacles to Tamil-speakers’ access to higher education and State employment.
Second, mosques and Muslim-owned businesses have come under assault. It is important to note the significance of both in the political lives of Muslims. The mosque is a forum for political mobilisation. The strength of metropolitan Muslims in Sri Lanka is their success as a merchant community. And they have used their wealth to buy political power. Therefore attacking mosques and commercial establishments is a way to undermine the Muslim power base. In the case of Tamils, assessing that their political base was territorial concentration in the country’s North and East, Sinhala leaders took to dismantling it by settling large numbers of Sinhalese in those areas.
Finally, let’s look at the government’s use of counterinsurgency laws to stifle freedom of speech and political opinion. On May 2, Azath Salley, a well-known Muslim leader, was arrested (and later released) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He was detained for an interview he gave to an Indian magazine where he said that Muslim youth should take to arms. But the reasons appear deeper than that. Salley openly criticised the government for anti-Muslim racism. But more than all else, Sally heads a political party which advocates Tamil-Muslim political dialogue to resolve mutually important issues. This, by definition, excludes government and the Sinhalese.
The government arresting and later releasing Salley is reminiscent of the then government criminalising Tamil parliamentarians who even advocated democratic secession. This legislation – the Sixth Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution – suppressed democratic dissent and left armed rebellion as the only option to give effect to Tamil demands.
Therefore, the self-immolation by Bowatte Indraratne protesting cattle slaughter had a sinister motive. It used religion as a weapon to undermine the political base of a minority community in Sri Lanka. If steps are not taken to check this trend, Sri Lanka’s Muslims could be facing a future of persecution and violence.
*J. S. Tissainayagam, a former Sri Lankan political prisoner, was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard and Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in the United States. This article is first appeared in Asian Correspondent
Sentiments expressed by various political party representatives on regardless of whether or not the expectations of the people have been fulfilled 3 years following the finish of War. Connections | Could 21, 2012…
I want to be the rainbow From the inside out To show all my colours Colours that define me Colours that make me whole But it’s so hard For I wear many masks The truth sets me free
Miriam WandiaKaloki – from her poem ‘Masks’ in Human Rights and Culture (AHRC) Vol 4 Issue 13
Pakistan went to the polls a couple of weeks ago. Though the full results are still not known, it is clear that Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League has won sufficient National Assembly seats to be able to form a stable government in Islamabad. His party will also be able to form a government in Punjab Province. The incumbent Pakistan People’s Party dominated by the late Benazir Bhutto’s family was badly beaten at the election to the National Assembly but will continue to rule the Province of Sindh. Pakistan’s cricket legend Imran Khan’s Movement for Justice (PTI) took control of Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa (former North West Frontier Province) and had an improved result from previous National Assembly e3lection. In the fourth Province of Balochistan, a regional party seems likely to control the majority of seats. Significantly, to ensure a fairer poll, the Election Commission conducted the National Assembly and all the Provincial Assembly polls on the same day.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa waves during a photo opportunity with high-ranking military officials after unveiling a monument for fallen Sri Lankan soldiers in the town of Puthukkudiriruppu
Mr. President, victory over whom?
What was noteworthy about this election was that it was the first time since Independence in 1948, that an elected government was allowed to complete its term in office. In all previous instances, no elected government was allowed to complete its term of office. It was always interrupted by a military coup. So 2013 will be momentous in Pakistan’s political history in that one elected government is about to be inaugurated in office to succeed another following a democratic election, Nawaz Sharif who seems set to take over as Prime Minister was earlier removed from office 1n 1999 in a military coup led by General Musharaff. Ironically. in 2013 when Nawaz Shariff is installed as Prime Minister, Musharaff will be serving his time in jail, following a Supreme Court order delivered before Nawaz Sharif’s election.
This is the third time Sharif is to serve office in Pakistan as Prime Minister. David Blair and Rob Crilly writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph have stated that Sharif’s first term between 1990 and 1993 ended in ignominy when he was sacked for corruption; he was a steel magnate tainted by many allegations of dodgy dealings. During his second term, between 1997 and 1999, he re-wrote the Constitution, made laws making it obligatory for MPs to vote for the party line, and sent mobs to threaten the Supreme Court Judges. Along the way, he armed the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb, and blundered into an undeclared war with India – the Kargil affair in 1999 when he sent Pakistani troops deep into Indian-held territory. But he was not able to rein in the powerful Army who sent him off to Saudi Arabia. The Press described his government at that time as ‘one of the most inept in Pakistan’s history’.
Time can change political leaders
But time changes men and women and also popular sentiment about their political lesders. Most Pakistan voters felt that during his decade long absence from the Pakistani political scene, Sharif had matured a lot and is now committed to ‘managing the economy and pursuing political reconciliation both domestically and in external relations. The Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading daily newspapers wrote that Sharif’s election was a hugely important moment in Pakistani history. Sharif fought a campaign ‘to be proud of’. Though relentlessly attacked from all sides, he ‘resolutely kept his focus on what needs to be done to solve grave national issues’, the dire economy, crippling power shortages and endemic tax evasion. Most Pakistan voters seem to have believed him to be sincere. Though he had courted the Taliban in his previous terms, the voters thought he was best poised to tackle the Taliban. He has plans to start immediate talks with ‘all sides’, including the Army and the Taliban to end the violence. He is also keen to mend fences with India with whom there has been no durable peace since partition in 1947. He has already invited India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his swearing-in as Prime Minister. He probably knows that political reconciliation at home and with the neighbours will not be easy. While attempting reconciliation, he will have to be constantly looking over his shoulders at both the powerful Army as well as at the equally powerful insurgent Taliban movement. But he is now politically more mature to handle this.
The election that Sharif brought Sharif to power was not without controversy. The Taliban engaged in widespread violence and intimidation and did not allow all the candidates to campaign freely. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan however seemed to have been spared the wrath of the Taliban and seemed to have been allowed to attend and address election rallies. Not so lucky was the Pakistan People’s Party. Bilawal Bhutto Zardar, the young son of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, the current Chairman of the PPP, had to confine himself to speaking through video messages from his exile in Dubai. Imran Khan has referred to intimidation of many of his supporters that prevented them from going to the polling booths to exercise their franchise. Most of the acts of violence and intimidation were by the religious extremists, including the Taliban. But the Pakistani voter defied these extremists to go to the polling both. The turn-out at this election was over 60%, the highest ever in Pakistan’s turbulent electoral history. Imran Khan has said that his party intends to challenge the poll results because of the widespread intimidation. But it unlikely, given the record turn-out of voters, the margins of victory and the regional trend in voting which resulted in victories for all parties at the provincial assembly elections, that there was massive intimidation and/or vote-rigging Sharif has told Imran Khan to show the ‘sportsman’s spirit’ by accepting the results!
Imran Khan himself is now recovering in hospital from a fracture in his spine caused by a fall from an election platform a few days before the election. There was, of course, no suggestion, that the fall was caused by any act of sabotage. But one of Imrqn Khan’s leading supporters was shot dead two days after the election in what was clearly a political assassination. Kahn has accused one of the parties of religious extremism as being responsible for this killing. The problem with Pakistan is that it was founded on the basis of religion. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, their independence leader, who initially stoked the flames of communalism, died soon after independence from British rule. Had he lived, he may have been able to contain religious extremism as he was by nature a liberal though ambitious politician. Pakistan, unlike India, did not have outstanding liberal visionaries like Gandhi, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Humayun Kabir to direct the energies of a post-independence people in the path of religious and linguistic harmony.
Lessons for Sri Lanka
The first transition from one democratically elected government to another in Pakistan’s political history has lessons for Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court of Pakistan played an important role in clipping the wings of the powerful Army when the Army asserted themselves to interfere with democratic governance. The Supreme Court was also held he powerful President accountable for maintaining the rule of law. Pakistan is a partially failed state with the economy in a crisis state. There are twenty-hour black-outs which deal a crippling blow to industry. Tax evasion is a huge problem with the middle and working classes having to bear the brunt of falling resources for development work. The Army had enjoyed too much power that it tended to interfere in civilian affairs with disastrous results. Violence has reached levels when even Test playing cricketing countries avoid Pakistan as a venue for their matches. Corruption is becoming endemic. These problems, which the new Sharif government is now required to tackle. will require a change in the culture of a people. They have for over sixty years been plagued by military coups and corrupt politicians. It will need enormous courage and a singular vision on the part of the Nawaz Sharif government to change all this. Having been away from the political scene for over a decade, he comes in as a new broom with the vision and the capacity to bring about the changes that are necessary, despite his previous government being considered inept. Only time will tell if he can deliver. He was elected because the voter believed that he could do so, that he had shed his previous image as another run-of the mill Pakistani politician,
The problems the Pakistani people now face are common to the problems that we in Sri Lanka have to contend with. As in Pakistan, they have been caused primarily by corrupt and inept politicians, who used religious and linguistic extremists and/or used the language of extremism to cover up their own corruptness and ineptness. There are increasing signs that the voters in Sri Lanka are increasingly losing patience with those promote religious, linguistic or ethnic hatred. Two weeks ago, the government observed ‘Victory Day’, an annual event to celebrate the crushing of the northern insurgency. They were bypassing the LLRC recommendation that instead of this display of triumphalism, National Day 4th February include a separate event to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the conflict and to commit ourselves to peaceful future. The government appointed LLRC also wanted the practice of singing the National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, to the same melody, to be continued and supported. These two eminently suitable and easily implementable recommendations have been, obviously deliberately, ignored.
Dr Rajasingham Narendran, who can hardly be accused, even remotely, of being an LTTE fellow traveler, and who is regularly quoted by the state media, has written a detailed critique of the triumphalist speech of President Mahinda Rajapakse at the recent ‘Victory Day’ speech. One hopes that the Island will be bold enough to publish the full critique. But this column wishes to quote a few samples from it. Words in bold are from Rajapakse’s speech:
“Today we have the fourth opportunity to celebrate with dignity the great victory of our Motherland.”
Mr. President, victory over whom? I raise this question in terms of the word ‘Conquered’ used in a war memorial in Mullaitivu. Was it a victory over the LTTE or the Tamils? Motherland! Whose? I did not see any opposition figures in the podium? There were also no representatives of the Tamils, who were liberated by the armed forces, on the podium. I also did not see any Hindu priests, Christian padres or Muslim Moulavis on the podium, except for a handful of Buddhist monks. The absence of Sarath Fonseka, the man who led the army from the front, at this function and his name and role not being even mentioned were glaring omissions that portrayed the smallness this great country is being reduced to.
Further, the language in the inscription on the war memorial at which flowers were laid was only in Sinhalese. Why? What does this imply in terms of the word ‘Motherland’ used by you? Is Tamil not the language of the ‘Other’ children of ‘Mother Lanka’? Why were these inscriptions not also in Tamil- an official language and English- a link language? What is the message this government is conveying?
“We know that those who had ceasefire agreements that betrayed the country to the Tigers are making every effort to make us forget the heroism of this nation.”
This is a very unfair and inaccurate statement. It is the last ceasefire agreement signed with Norwegian mediation that exposed the LTTE for what it was to the Tamils and helped weaken it from within. It was an important prelude to what the last war achieved.
“Similarly, this era should go down in history as one that carried out a major transformation to prevent the occurrence of war again.”
What sort of major transformation? Are increased militarization and surveillance the only answers? Should not the political needs, concerns and fears of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims be addressed in a more Statesman-like manner? Isn’t it important to remember that each one of us is a child of Mother Lanka and the weaker in political terms, need special care from your government, which at the moment is in charge of affairs here.”
Why were warnings against commemorating the war-dead among the Tamils, issued by the military and not the police? Why has not the government organized official events to commemorate all the riot/war / insurgency dead in this country? If the government can publicly celebrate victory, why can’t the Tamils publicly commemorate the innocent victims of war?
Why should almost 7000 acres of land that was commandeered for reasons of war 25 years back from their owners, be not returned to the rightful owners, four years after the war ended? What is the moral justification for acquiring these lands? Will this help with reconciliation or win the hearts and minds of the Tamils? How will these acquisitions prevent the recurrence of war? Do you understand that the Tamils will not want a war in their midst for the next thousand years? You have to know what the Tamils think, better and trust their good sense. They have learned more lessons the hard way than you and your government have learned.
“The BBS will take immediate steps to form a ‘Cane Force’ against those who act in a manner insulting to Buddhism during the Wesak season”. –Rev. Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero (Lankadeepa – 17.5.2013)
Pro-democracy demonstrators protesting against the flawed Iranian Presidential Election of 2009 feared one enemy above all other – the Basij,Iran’s religious police. As the ‘Protectors’ of the values deemed valuable by Iran’s ruling Ayatollahs, Basij is generally occupied with breaking-up parties, destroying satellite dishes, lashing bloggers and attacking women considered ‘improperly attired’. But Basij is far more than a bunch of zealots with a penchant for violence and sadism; it is also an indispensable weapon in the arsenal of Iran’s rulers, a cudgel to be used against political opponents (including dissident Ayatollahs). Basij played a brutally effective role in defeating the 2009 pro-democracy movement. The next Presidential election is scheduled for June 2013 and Basij is busy cracking down on Tehran’s coffee shops, the political-oases of Iranian intellectuals/dissidents.
Mutaween – the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Protection of Vice – is Saudi Arabia’s Basij. Its members also roam the streets searching for offenders, ranging from women ‘violating’ the dress-code and fans of Western music/films/TV shows to non-related males and females who interact with each other. In two emblematic cases, Mutaween arrested a 70 year old woman for having two unrelated men in her house (they were delivering bread; she got 70 lashes) and prevented fire fighters from rescuing female students from a burning school (15 girls died). Mutaween is also indispensable in buttressing the power of the Saudi ruling family. It cracks down on critics/dissidents; its leader recently warned that twitter users – one of the very few platforms available to the regime’s opponents in this über-despotic land – are eternally damned.
Now the Bodu Bala Sena wants to give Sri Lanka and its ruling clan their very own Sinhala-Buddhist religious police.
At a recent press conference, Ven. Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thero announced that the BBS plans to form a ‘Cane Force’ (Weval Balakaya) to ensure ‘proper conduct’ during the Wesak season: “The monks of Bodu Bala Sena will go from village to village carrying canes to control/punish those people who are acting indecently”[i].
It is the BBS’s intake on the Buddha’s final exhortation to monks, to travel far and wide, for the wellbeing of the masses.
Religious fanatics cause damage other religions; but their most irreparable harm is reserved for their own faith. The likes of Taliban, Saudi Wahabis and Iran’s Ayatollahs cause far more harm to the reputation of Islam with their inanely brutal conduct than all the anti-Islamic propaganda of all ages. The Inquisition and the Witch-Hunts are still bywords for violent intolerance and persecution; the midget-descendents of those Christian fanatics still oppose the teaching of evolution in schools and demand the death penalty for homosexuals. Hindu fanatics who defend such repressive practices as casteism and Jewish zealots who demand a country segregated along not just Jewish-Palestinian but also gender-lines are the worst detractors of their own faiths.
If anything would be more damaging to Buddhism than Myanmar’s rampaging monks, it will be Sri Lanka’s BBS types, on the warpath against not just the ‘religious-other’ but also against fellow Buddhists who refuse to accept ludicrously fanatical fatwas.
When Martin Wickremesinghe’s Bava Tharanaya was published in the 1970’s, a vocal-minority of monks and lay people wanted it banned (probably without reading it) as an insult to the Gautama Buddha and Buddhism. Today, the BBS would burn the book, attack the bookshops and pronounce Martin Wickremesinghe to be a traitor in the pay of foreign conspirators.
The BBS’s ruffianly conduct towards a group of Buddhist monks protesting outside its headquarters is a warning of what Lankan Buddhists – including monks – can expect in a country in thrall to fanatics. Apart from a dress-code, a code-of-conduct, an Index of Banned books/movies/plays and a socio-cultural inquisition, the BBS-types might develop their own version of Buddhism, including what monks should sermonise on and which politics are kosher.
Fanaticism is often inane. During the annual Cultural Festival in Riyadh this April, Mutaween arrested and deported three male delegates from the United Arab Emirates for being ‘too good looking’! Take the artificial ho-ha about a storm named ‘Mahasen’; a BBS-type organisation stormed the Meteorological Department, demanded an immediate name-change and announced that the naming was a foreign conspiracy. This asinine conduct could have been dismissed as an antic of attention-seeking fanatics, expect that President Rajapaksa mentioned ‘the naming-of-the-storm-Mahasen issue’ in his Victory Day Speech, as proof of an anti-Lankan conspiracy.
That was silly; it was also indicative of the symbiotic relationship between the Rajapaksas and the Sinhala-Buddhist lunatic-fringe.
BBS: From Halal to the 13th Amendment
From warring against Muslims and policing Sinhala-Buddhists the BBS has waded into purely political-waters, by declaring war against the 13th Amendment.
The Rajapaksas excel at using cat’s paws. That is how they de-merged the North and the East, checkmated the IIGEP and impeached the Chief Justice (not a single Rajapaksa signed the impeachment motion).
The Siblings need a way out of the Northern PC poll. A postponement might compel Indiato put its weight behind Canada’s call to boycott the HambantotaCommonwealth. Delhihas already warned against denuding the 13th Amendment.
The Rajapaksas can hold a relatively free and fair election and allow the TNA to form a council (reserving the option of dissolving it later), but this option may not suit the Siblings’ maximalist-palate. An election suffused with violence and malpractices might ignite Tamilnadu and compel Delhi to sabotage the Hambantota Commonwealth.
So, why not get Sinhala-Buddhist maximalist organisations to launch a campaign against the Northern PC poll; and to file a case in the Supreme Court asking for a postponement? Then the Rajapaksas can escape retribution by telling Delhi that the Judiciary postponed the election. (Who can doubt Mohan Peiris’ willingness to give any order the Rajapaksas order him to give?)
The BBS, given its willingness to descend to levels even Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka are a tad reluctant to – can play a ignobly pre-eminent role in such a campaign. Since it is not a UPFA member, the Rajapaksas can disclaim all responsibility; they can have their cake and eat it.
Just as economic neo-liberalism seeks to make the world more like what it was under pre-socialist capitalism in terms of relations of production, religious-fanaticism seeks a return to pre-Enlightenment (European-Christian) values/morals. Fanatics of all religions are not just viscerally opposed to the progressive, secular and libertarian currents which led to and resulted from European Enlightenment. They are also completely antagonistic to the tolerant ethos which characterised many a non-European civilisation/ruler from the Ottoman and Mogul Empires,Baghdad and Syrian Caliphates and Al Andalus to India’s Ashoka, ancient Greece,Persia and Mesopotamia.
Historically, the religion-politics nexus played a negative role, tearing countries apart, flattening everything progressive in its path, cultivating intolerance and obscurantism and dragging societies to places they never intended to go initially.
Saudi Arabiais the perfect example of what can happen to a country, even in our own time, when a ruling clan combine religion with politics to perpetuate itself in power.
The government’s decision to celebrate May 19 as a day of victory and the country’s second Independence is another one of its actions that has polarised the Sri Lankan people. Whether by accident or design, it is ironic that through its continuing actions the government that reunified the territory of the country should also be the one that fosters the divisions between the people. I was in Mannar on that day that marked a watershed in the modern history of the country, and saw that the Sri Lankan people were divided in their attitudes. There was no collective remembrance of loss, but a reinforcement of the separation that has overshadowed the post-Independence era.
While the government was celebrating with military march pasts and air and sea shows in Colombo, in Mannar there was real action that was reminiscent of what happened during the war. A group of people who had gathered to commemorate those who died in the last battle, were prevented from doing so by armed military personnel and police with guns pointing. It is reported that 15 of them were arrested and only released on bail late at night. Earlier the state media had reported that such commemorative meetings were illegal and warned anyone commemorating the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was liable to be arrested.
However, the Tamil political parties in the opposition said they staged the remembrance for those who died in the final battle. This was where the top LTTE leadership were killed. In this charged context, the decision of the Catholic Church in Mannar to commemorate all victims of the war was pragmatic. Whenever Tamils have tried to commemorate the death of their loved ones, the government has taken steps to prevent this. The military in particular is sensitive to commemorations of the LTTE being held in the guise of commemorating the civilians who lost their lives. However, the reality is that the two groups of LTTE and civilians were often mixed. Especially in the last days of the war, the LTTE forcibly recruited children, some as young as 12, and this included the children of Mannar.
Mannar is the only one of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts that has a Catholic majority. With its unique cultural attributes, it is a celebration of the country’s cultural and religious diversity which must not be made into a weakness when it is a strength. Unlike the Tamil political parties who had called on the people to commemorate the war dead amongst the Tamil population, the Bishop of Mannar requested the clergy in the area to commemorate all victims of the war, and not just those who were Tamil. By implication, this would have included those of all three ethnic groups, the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and also the fighting personnel on the two sides, the government and LTTE. It is a testament to the strength of Sri Lanka’s diversity, that it was a minority group that decided to commemorate all who lost their lives as recommended by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President.
This year’s victory celebration by the government was focused on the valour of the armed forces and the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapakse viewed the military parade and pledged that there will be no room for those who tried to divide the country. He said, “We will not allow a single inch of the land that you won by the sacrifice of your life to be taken away.” The past fortnight saw a build up in the mass media to remind the people of those days of blood and bombs and how it all has ended. The contrast with the peaceful situation of the present will continue to bring in the votes of a grateful nation.
But the unfortunate reality is that the support of the Sinhalese majority for the war victory and the government’s celebrations has not been matched by any kind of equivalent support from the Tamil minority. They too have been beneficiaries of the peaceful situation that has followed the end of the war. They are now safe from the ravages of child recruitment and terror tactics that the LTTE brought to bear upon them. But they also wish to mourn their loved ones who are no more with them, to find out what happened to them, and also to regain their dream of enjoying equal rights in which they also have the right to decide. These are all matters on which the government appointed LLRC has made recommendations on but are not being followed by the government.
Four years after the war’s end the political solution that the leaders of government promised during the time of the war has yet to materialize. The LTTE has been replaced by the Sri Lankan military who govern them in conjunction with the civilian administration. The Northern Province, where the first gunshots of the war were fired and where the last of the rebel fighters fell, has still to enjoy the right of elected provincial governance even to as limited an extent as the other eight provinces do. A government ally has filed action in the Supreme Court calling on it to abolish the system of devolution of power for the entire country. In this context, there is increasing skepticism whether the promised Northern Provincial Council elections in September this year will actually take place.
The civil war ended in 2009 but four years later the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation and to heal the wounds of war. At the present time it also appears that Sri Lanka is moving backwards, and not forwards, in terms of securing the Rule of Law. The impeachment of the Chief Justice process eroded the rule of law and usurped the pre-eminence of the Supreme Court in its role of interpreting the constitution. This has impacted negatively on the rule of law and by extension the protection of human rights and political accountability. There is also the rise of inter-religious tensions fanned by government allies. A new dimension of inter-communal unrest is the rise of Buddhist extremism that has targeted the Muslim community and taken on an open and frontal confrontational approach.
Sri Lanka could have been a very different country today. There is a need to recognize that although the civil war ended in 2009 the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation through an inclusive process of political negotiations and a sincere effort to heal the wounds of war. If the recommendations of the LLRC appointed by the President had been followed, the government could have changed course last year. Government leaders would have ceased to further engage in ethnic triumphalism and instead focused on commemorating all victims who lost their lives in the senseless conflict. They could have utilized the occasion of May 19 to resolve that never again would such bloodletting be permitted to take place. This would have been a commemoration that all Sri Lankans, respecting multi ethnicity, equal rights, and the safety and dignity of all, could have taken part in as a united Sri Lankan nation.