A nation of 20m people, a bulk of close to 15m folks (the Sinhalese) is into its 3rdyear possessing militarily eradicated 30 years of LTTE terrorism. What has confused issues is the method in which elected Tamil leaders have claimed that the LTTE terrorist demands and those of the Tamil folks are one and the same on the grounds that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil people –
When I read Charles Sarvan’s first article “Para Dhemalā,” I didn’t see anything objectionable although I sensed perhaps he was not interpreting Michael Roberts’ views on the subject correctly and also I couldn’t agree with his last paragraph which paraphrased Paul Caspersz saying “if one insists on the label “Indian Tamils,” then one should also speak of “Indian Sinhalese.” The paragraph was simply inaccurate. Otherwise there was much meaning and substance to what Sarvan said about ethnic discrimination and caste ideology.
When I was growing up at Moratuwa, almost at the center of the town, I cannot recollect anybody using the term ‘para demala’ even during the cataclysmic communal riots against the Tamils in 1958. Perhaps I didn’t hear them. I had several Tamil friends at St. Sebastian’s College, where I was initially studying, but even there it was not used to my knowledge. But ‘paraya’ was often used not so much at school but in the area where I lived and it was used as a derogatory term in anger or to spite someone who is not liked by you. It also had the connotation that ‘the other’ is inferior.
But even in our school books I believe the terms ‘para desin’ and ‘parangi’ were there and our teachers explained the meanings respectively as ‘foreign’ and ‘Portuguese’ also emphasizing they are not neutral but pejorative terms. In our area, (Sinhalese) people believed that there were two classes of Tamils, those who were called ‘Jaffna Tamils’ and the others, the ‘Indian Tamils.’ Some considered the first group as more or less equal, but not at all the second. But the majority considered both as ‘alien’ and also ‘inferior.’
Having read EW Adikaram’s “A Communalist is a Psychopath” (Jativadiya Manasika Pisseki) as an early teenager, the distinction or the discrimination worried or puzzled me. My effort is not to say that I have been free from any ethnic prejudice. On the contrary, I wish to admit that as a person brought up and socialized within a particular social context, I may have certain prejudices or biases unconsciously. But in my conscious life, I try my best to be free from biases or prejudices while at the same time not rejecting my given ethnic identity.
But the reason to write this rejoinder is not the above. With all respect to Roberts, I believe that there is something extremely significant in what Sarvan has pointed out in his initial article. That is the connection between ‘ethnic conception and caste ideology.’ This is not the first time I have said this. The following is what Sarvan has said.
“The context in which the word para was used, both at boarding-school, in Colombo and elsewhere; the accompanying tone of voice and facial expression, all indicated contempt, dismissal and rejection. Para was linked to Parayā (low caste) and that sufficed to convey meaning to me.”
What he relates is a personal experience, but what is significant to me is what he says as “the accompanying tone of voice and facial expression, all indicated contempt, dismissal and rejection.”
Where does this come from? My conjecture is that it comes from the age old caste-ideology with the accompanied conceptions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution.’ This caste-ideology manifests among the majority Sinhalese in one way and among the Tamils in another. I am not saying that both are the same in practical terms, one discriminating the other on equal terms, but the ideological roots are more or less the same while there are other root causes as well.
Have I encountered the ‘contempt, dismissal and rejection’ as a so-called Sinhalese? Yes, something closer to that at least once and seen a similar behavior another time. But if I recollect the way the Sinhalese treat the Tamils or the Muslims, then it is almost uncountable. The different experience may be due to me being a ‘Sinhalese’ and moving primarily among the Sinhalese.
Among the Sinhalese, the influencing ideology remains as a ‘superior caste’ which attempts to subjugate a perceived ‘inferior caste.’ It claims ‘purity’ as a ‘chosen people’ by combining ethnicity with religion (Sinhala Buddhism) and attempts by and large to purge the ‘pollution’ through attempted ethnic cleansing of both the Tamils and the Muslims or even the Sinhalese Christians as outcaste.
Among the Tamils, the influencing ideology remains as a ‘distinct group’ also trying to claim a similar ‘superior status’ aligning with the brethren across the Palk-Strait. It also claims ‘purity’ and attempts to purge ‘pollution’ by cleansing whoever perceived as polluting its purity.
I am not saying, the caste or ‘caste-like’ ideology is the only ideological current among the Sinhalese or the Tamils. But often it becomes dominant and distorts ideological landscape or political thinking of the country. We sometimes patronize ourselves by saying or thinking that the caste system is dead and gone in Sri Lanka. But that is not simply the case. The caste ideology is well and kicking. Those who are most communal minded are probably the ones who are most caste minded.
I was recently writing an essay on human rights and the 1978 constitution and wondered why it is so much difficult for the todays Sri Lankans to accept universal human rights. My observation after some contemplation was that because they are (perhaps unconsciously) strongly caste minded. There is a perennial difficulty for many Sri Lankans to grasp and accept the concept of equality due to caste ideology. This may possibly change with the new generations. But that is not the case yet.
The dilemma that Sri Lanka faces in this connection is a historical one, connected with the state and ethnic formation. Let me quote only one paragraph from what I wrote in 2000 (Human Rights, States and Politics: Burma, Cambodia and Sri Lanka):
“It is interesting to examine how the successive migrant communities from India, or other countries in the region, were absorbed into the society after the establishment of the Sinhalese ethnic state. Except in the case of Kshatriya or royal blood, it is evident that others were absorbed at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. At a very early stage of migration, those who came from Madhura in South India were absorbed as the service castes, who were supposed to function as artisans, craftsman, and manual laborers. The origins of several other so-called low castes in the country, e.g. fisherman and cinnamon peelers, can also be traced to the people who came from South India at a later date. What we can see here is a convergence between the ethnic divide and the caste divide.” (p. 59).
During 2002, when I was conducting some field research in the interior of the Kalutara District, I came across a caste called Demala Gaththera. Gaththera caste is one of the oppressed castes in the country, popularly believed a ‘low caste.’ The story was that when some Tamil migrants came to live in the area for some reason, during the early nineteenth century, they were called Demala Gaththera.
After listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long, in the morning, who will ask : “What is Rama’s relationship with Seetha?”
Those who have studied deeply and listened diligently will never speak Foolish words, even when they have wrongly understood a matter. – Thirukkural 417
The title of this article is a Tamil expression. Years ago, the late Sivaram Taraki wrote an article in Tamil, under the same title, explaining how every Singhalese politician since 1948 has viewed the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and gradually changed their position to deny Tamils’ rights. In fact, this popular article was translated and became available in English as well.
- The armed struggle started in 1983, came to a complete halt after Mullivaghzal in May 2009.
- Since Mullivaighzal, when we look at websites, especially those published in Tamil, we find news items covering – arrests, torture, killings, rape, disappearances, Sinhala colonisation, new Buddhist temples, military camps and also destruction of churches, temples and mosques.
- Former combatants and the people are in detention centres and internment camps
- Majority of the Singhalese in the South and the Rajapaksa regime publicly say that there is no ethnic conflict as such, in Sri Lanka. They don’t want even a Provincial Council governed by the Tamils.
- The international community continuously reminds us that they are in favour of a solution within a united Sri Lanka.
- Presently Tamils are divided into many organisations and groups. Therefore, there is clearly no unity.
Ignoring all these realities – certain diaspora organisations and some individuals say that they will not accept anything other than a separate or independent state. This is like asking in the morning, “what is Rama’s
relationship with Seetha?” after listening to the Ramayana epic all-night long.
Considering the realities and facts given above, every Tamil should earnestly realise their duty to do something to save our people and our hereditary land. If we fail to do this at the earliest, in another few years, there will be neither an ethnic group nor a nation known as ‘Tamil’ in the island. We will end up like the Tamils completely eliminated in Burma! Is this our intention?
What is our position today?
There is no doubt that since 1948 about 80-85% of Eelam Tamils have supported the idea of an independent state. Like other oppressed peoples, it is not necessary to give up this ideology. For nearly three decades, we had parity with every Sri Lankan government. We were in negotiations on an equal basis, cease-fire agreements and other documents were signed as a legitimate party in various peace processes. But today, does the Sri Lankan government recognise us as a people or as a nation? or even as an ethnic group? On the so-called victory day speech on 19 May 2009, President Rajapaksa clearly said that there is no minority in Sri Lanka!
No-one can deny Sri Lanka’s formidable ‘diplomacy’, allowing President Rajapaksa to remain in office successfully, even without granting the so-called home grown solution to the Tamils, promised to the international community.
The Parliamentary Select Committee – PSC is an eye wash, designed to deceive the international community. It was well predicted that this time-buying tactic would continue until the successful completion of fully fledged Buddhisation, Sinhalisation and militarisation in the Tamil hereditary land.
This is where some of the diaspora organisations and individuals are making mistakes. Statements they make about political solutions are widely circulated to the international community by the Sri Lankan embassies with the intention of proving that Tamils reject any form of reconciliation other than independence.
Presently, there is no genuine socio-economic, cultural or political empowerment for the people who have been living in the North and East for generations, centuries and millennia. The people are managing their lives without any institutionalised help from the diaspora.
Those who are for independence should understand that we are at the edge of a mountain. If we don’t act wisely or don’t call on our neighbour to help us, it will be the end of our political struggle which lasted for more than six decades.
Security Council and the referendum
In the past, I have explained and written a lot about the referendum that some of us are demanding. Once again, any referendum for independence, especially within a country in conflict has to be decided by the UN Security Council. This was the case with Eritrea, East-Timor and South Sudan. We should also remember that China and Russia are two permanent members of the Security Council. Do any of us believe that China and Russia will support our demand to have a referendum?
Scotland and Quebec are two completely different issues. The Scottish referendum is going to take place in accordance with the British government and Quebec had two referenda, both conducted by Canada itself.
Therefore we should not waste time and energy on something sprouting from our ignorance. There are some people who claim to be strong supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE and its leader Pirabaharan, but who never paid attention to his speeches, statements on the Indo-Lanka accord, his respect and friendship with both India and the international community. If they wish, they can still find these speeches, especially what LTTE leader Pirabaharan stated in the Suthumalai declaration of 4th August 1987 and in Heroes’ Day speeches on 27th November 2002 and 2008. Also his press conference of 10 April 2002.
Those who are familiar with Palestinian issues will not gamble our lives and the land. The Palestinians are openly supported by the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation – OIC which consists of 57 Islamic states. There have been numerous resolutions in the UN Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council and various other Inter-governmental bodies supporting the Palestinians. Despite this massive and widespread support, Palestinians have been unable to achieve their goal as yet.
Consider the Palestinian question – do we have the support they have, of any single state? On the contrary, we have disastrous disunity among us.
LTTE on the Provincial Council
If anyone has doubts about the LTTE’s position on the Provincial Council, I advise them to read the book, “Will to Freedom”, written in 2001 by Adele Balasingam, wife of the LTTE advisor Anton Balasingham. The subject is clearly mentioned on pages 256 to 258 (“LTTE Strategy and Premadasa’s agenda”). Indeed, it is true that the LTTE had a pre-condition within their stance towards the Sri Lankan government, that the 6th amendment should be withdrawn. This should not deter anyone from seeing the positive value put on the Provincial Council.
Also we should consider the reasons why the LTTE registered a political party known as “People’s Front of the Liberation Tigers – PFLT” in 1989 and took part as an observer in the All Party Conference – APC organised by the Sri Lankan government.
Those who do not know these realities and facts are misleading the innocent people. These individuals promote their own selfish thinking as the political aspiration and policy of the people of the North and East. This is opportunism, taking advantage of a political vacuum.
Those who eliminated LTTE
During the recent “Delhi conference”, I got a chance to understand more realities about the present politics of the Tamils. This is really interesting and provides food for thought. However we cannot gamble our present situation.
It is obvious that the LTTE was successfully eliminated by a well co-ordinated and calculated strategy engineered and operating from various corners in different colours and shapes. One important factor was the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations, leaders, academics and intellectuals. These organizations have colluded and collaborated closely with successive Sri Lankan governments. They helped create the reality today : the LTTE is no more on the scene and Rajapaksa says that ‘there is no ethnic problem’ in the country, humiliating the international community and India, who recognize the existence of the ethnic problem.
Some diaspora Tamils say that those who collaborated with the Sri Lankan government in eliminating the LTTE should convince Rajapaksa’s regime of the need to respect equal rights and obtain whatever is possible for Tamils. This position may be based on emotions, anger and frustration.
The crisis proves that the Tamil National Alliance – TNA, should be strengthened and internationalised. No-one but Rajapasa’s supporters will be against this idea. For further objectivity, the TNA should extend their invitation to important personalities like retired Judge Mr. Vigneswaran and other Tamil intellectuals and academics.
When we talk about the TNA, some people panic and over-react. Some say that the TNA should be registered immediately. Even this appears to be a difficult issue, if we consider the circumstances in which the TNA was established. The TNA is an umbrella body, however those who stood in the elections used the ‘house’, which is the election symbol of the Federal Party (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi).
Is it necessary to register TNA?
The majority of the people who want the TNA to be registered as a political party, were not initially members of the TNA. In fact those members or organizations were with the Sri Lankan government, notably, the TULF – Tamil United Liberation Front and the PLOTE – People Liberation Organisation of the Tamil Eelam. Now it is believed that these two parties which never won any elections in the recent past, are eager to contest future elections on a TNA ticket.
It is obvious that the TNA was born due to the reluctance of the TULF. The LTTE which co-ordinated the forming of the TNA, wanted to have a multi-party organization, rather than registering the TNA as a single political party.
Therefore the present dilemma is that, if the TNA is to be registered, those parties who were with the government in the past may become office bearers of the TNA. Then there is no guarantee that these members will not twist their position and rejoin the government.
In such a scenario, what is the way forward? At the time of the “Delhi Conference”, we were able to gather another piece of valuable information. When the diaspora organizations and some individuals were invited to participate in this conference, they told the organizers that, if the TNA participated in this conference, they too would participate. This shows the popularity of the TNA among the people locally and internationally.
These facts further prove the urgent necessity of internationalising the TNA. The TNA has to materialize this at the earliest. There are more than 700,000 Tamils from the North and East abroad. The TNA could bring unity among the majority of the diaspora Tamils.
As a first step, the TNA should establish branches in every country and give the responsibility to the right people with the right qualifications – popular figures among the people with wide experience in politics. This will enable the TNA to hear the voice of the diaspora Tamils and have close contacts with Ministry of Foreign affairs in each country. This will give an opportunity to the TNA to feed the right information on local politics and the realities of the people, to the international community. This will also prevent every Tom, Dick and Harry giving false, unrealistic and confusing information to the international community.
Internationalising the TNA doesn’t mean isolating the diaspora organizations which are already in existence. They can continue their usual tasks that they have mastered for years – lobbying, demonstrations, solidarity, Tamil education, cultural programs, sports meets and observing Heroes’ Day and other important days.
Once the political task has been started through the TNA, elected by the people, it will prevent brain-washed individuals who are under the surveillance of the security forces, from harming our political aspirations, locally and internationally.
Also we should be acutely aware of the present task undertaken by the Sri Lanka government representatives. Presently, Prof G. L. Peiris travels around the world, working hard to ban the LTTE in countries where it was not banned and recruiting propaganda experts and companies in an attempt to counter the Tamil lobby.
This shows that there is no guarantee that the year 2007 will not be repeated among the diaspora. Here I recall that in 2007, many Tamil activists were arrested and tried in Europe and other countries.
Considering all these factual and impending realities, the TNA should take the leading role locally and internationally. Activities led by other organisations will be easily countered by Sri Lanka.
In conclusion, since 1948, we Tamils have been gradually losing our fundamental rights, land and properties. This erosion has been systematically carried out by all Sri Lankan governments, and to some extent with the help of Tamils. Let us not make the same mistakes again and again.
“When wicked dogs bark at the luminous Moon, what can the Moon do?”
“Dogs bark and the Moon continues to be luminous”
JR invited, Rajiv Gandhi invaded and Tamils paid the price. The cost of political unrealism at over 1,500 dead on either side was exacting. The invasion had a twin motive. To make the North safe for the TULF – read moderates friendly to India – and the South safe for the UNP – read a regime amenable to India. JR heaped victory on his country. The invitee was treated to ignominy by Tamil militants. It rankled in India’s mind from 1987 and most particularly since 1991 and was avenged in 2009. Lessons of the misadventure are not learnt yet by any of the parties complicit to it.
Firstly a brief look at the precursors to India’s intervention. Tamil militancy and the state military were reaching a point of a major collision. Events moved in quick succession in mid-1987. May of that year was rife with talk that the capture of Jaffna by the Sri Lankan military was in the offing. Either rumour or inspired leak had it, that execution of the plan would involve heavy casualties. Jaffna was gripped with fear. What lent credence to it was the feeling that the militants were not strong on ground and their ammunition supply was limited. The native intelligence of the Jaffna man helped in this discernment.
The Vadamaratchchi Operation launched on 26th May and the ease of capture in 4 days, confirmed the forebodings. Extension of the operation to reach the heart of Jaffna was therefore anticipated. The first three days of June saw movement of people going in all directions away from their homes with no clear idea where. News of the food convoy from India moving towards Jaffna was comforting to the Tamils. But that noon itself it was stopped at mid ocean by the SL Navy. Euphoria for the South and disappointment for the North were only for a while.
The following day a little before 5 pm, there was an unprecedented roar of low flying jets, fighter planes and cargo planes dropping food items. It was revealed subsequently and quite credibly that the air drop was scripted even before the food convoy set sail. Within minutes everybody figured out what it was all about. The youth lit crackers. Not a soul bothered to say food has come. No one stopped to debate the legality or otherwise of airspace violation. Their obsession was that SL army with air cover was going to honeycomb the Peninsula. This had now been foiled by India. They were ecstatic only about what the drop signified. INDIA IS COMING was their perception. This was enough to dispel all gloom.
The following morning, Thursday, I asked an officer working with me what his clairvoyant friend will say. He said that he had already met him who after prayers and meditation had said that “the next day – Friday, the army will get out of Pt. Pedro and march towards Jaffna. BUT midway, it will turn back and go, for reasons he was unable to know.” On Friday morning the army did break out. At Atchuvely much to the surprise of all Tamils it reversed course. This turning back is the now well-known handiwork of DN Dixit who was forceful enough to get New Delhi to intervene and stop any further advance beyond Atchuvely.
From this date after a seeming lull, there was a spate of activity among three groups. The Indian Government, Sri Lankan Government and the militants with civilians as spokesmen. To bring about some settlement and to avoid confrontation was the concern. As these went on, a few weeks later a food shipment arrived in KKS harbor. To receive it Mr. Hardeep Puri, Political Secretary was at the harbor. He was taken to Jaffna town in an open vehicle by the Tigers. On either side of the road there was a massive, happy and enthusiastic crowd, wanting to convey its gratitude. Again, not for food but for the prospect of INDIA COMING. In charge of arrangements were Tigers. The vehicle could only inch along. All the way he was profusely garlanded, feted and treated to food and drinks. It was a reception which is reserved for the rarest of personalities for an exceptional occasion. In an earlier time only Nehru could have got it. Now Puri had it. To Jaffna he symbolized India and honouring him was honouring India. The whole event was televised by local TV managed by Tigers. Such was the emotional bond between India and the Tamils at that time. The Tigers did their arrangements well, but it was clear that it was formal and ritualistic. Their heart was not in it.
The month of July saw again a flurry of engagements among India, Sri Lanka and the Tigers ending up with the Indo Lanka Accord in July 1987. The Tigers had no say about it, no hand in the draft and did not so much as have the occasion even to read it. Within an hour or two of it being signed, massive Antanovs and other planes flew continuously for two days or more. They ferried men and material from India to Palaly. Alongside, was the movement of SL troops to the south by air as well. Soon after, there was a formal handing over of weapons by the Tigers. Those who were knowledgeable were certain that it was a mere token of what they possessed.
To the war weary, there was peace in our time. To the percipient signs were ominous. From August1987, they were fueled by India’s proclivity to unsettle, not by error but by design. The relationship between India and Sri Lanka in the period 1977 to 1987 needs to be understood to fully discern developments at that time.
When JR won the elections in 1977 and became President in ’78, his alter ego Morarji Desai was Prime Minister of India. In 1980, Indira Gandhi unseated him scoring a resounding victory. This was irksome to JR who had earned her ill will and wrath. Ideological differences apart, there was personal antipathy and even temperamental incompatibility. He prided himself over the thought and made it public that he was of Nehru’s vintage. Implicitly, Indira was but a trifle. Can it go well with a lady of aristocratic lineage and bearing, who was styled by the West as Empress of India? She was a personality cast in the mould of Patel and not of Nehru. JR hated her and her hatred was no less. Once in the early eighties a friend of mine while talking to her in Delhi, said “Madam, JR hates India”. She leaned towards him and said “Me also”. It was such a leader of a great nation that JR had to deal with.
To a Prime Minister poised to deliver a lethal punitive blow, the 1983 pogrom against the Tamils provided the occasion. Even more important was the emergence of motivated Tamil militants straining for training in India. Tamil Nadu of the same ethnic identity was a suitable hinterland ready at hand. As factors moved favourably in Delhi’s calculation, Tamils had their own ideas that history would move as they wished. If India could be persuaded to the strategy of partition, then Cyprus Solution of the north for the Turks and south for the Greeks could be considered a precedent for the Sri Lankan situation. Whatever the viability of this thought, it lost its sheen with the demise of Indira Gandhi. There was little realization among Tamils that the world had moved much from Palmerstone’s Opium War against China, at the whim of the PM of England 130 years back. Such whimsical intervention was no longer possible. Partition became even less practicable without a fearless and resolute Indian leader. When an overnight change in strategy was required we harboured the same views from November 1984, ie after the death of IG, to October 1987 when war broke out.
Does history run its course as per some destiny or is the path altered by a powerful leader? This has been a dilemma for historians to interpret. Arthur Koestler invokes a picturesque analogy. A small stone is washed away by a river. Not so a boulder, which makes its impact for 200 yards or years. In recent times Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin, Mao and Deng left their mark in altering world history. Nehru, Margaret Thatcher, Gorbachev and Lee Kwan Yew too made a striking contribution through their force of personality. In that line was Indira Gandhi as well among the great world leaders. The void created by her demise was well assessed by Sri Lanka’s political leadership and the sails were freshly set to gain direction. Distressingly the same did not hold with the Tamils and we floundered, yet fortified in the belief that when we are in a soup, either India or the International Community is obliged to retrieve us.
From late 1984, Tamils were caught up in a drift that lacked purposive direction. Indira’s reputed Advisor G. Parthasarathy was marginalized for no reason by Rajiv Gandhi, and he relinquished his duties. The respected and competent Foreign Secretary A P Venkataeshwaran, fully conversant with the Tamil problem was dropped unceremoniously. His predecessor was one Romesh Bhandari and he enjoyed the confidence only of President Jayawardena. His handiwork was the miserable Thimpu Talks in mid-1985, which took nobody anywhere. The objectives as discerned by Tamils were two. (1) Force march all militant groups to the conference table, thereby asserting India’s supremacy. (2) To cut V. Pirapakaran (VP) to size, proclaim that all the militants stand on an equal footing and to din into VP that he is not primus but all are pares. (No first but all are equals). By Christmas 1976, Tigers had eliminated all other groups and VP proclaimed that he was just primus and there were no pares. This was the only dismal effect of India’s efforts for two years.
By early 1987 VP’s stay in India had become untenable. When he asserted his independence increasingly, relations with his benefactor MGR soured. Can a chick remain till eternity under the wings of the mother? Will not an eaglet fly off from the cliff one day? When the day comes the baby kangaroo gets out of the pouch. When the hour struck, VP got out of Tamil Nadu and came over to Jaffna. From January to June Jaffna experienced constant warfare, aerial bombing, shelling, power outages and shortages of food. The people had braced themselves to circumstances however trying.
To connect with where I digressed, may I say some movement was observable now. After hectic activity in July 1987, VP was flown to Delhi under duress from Suthumalai Amman Temple premises by helicopter to Chennai and thence by plane to Delhi. Nothing was known as to why. It was only speculated that the trip may have something to do with an Accord. When VP did not return for more than two days there was agitation among the people and more among the cadres.
On his return a mammoth meeting was held at Suthumalai where VP read out a prepared speech. It then transpired that he was not given enough time even to read the contents. Wrath and determination to undo the so called Accord were explicit on his face at the event that was televised. If VP was not considered the leader and spokesman of the Tamils, why was he flown to Delhi in the first instance? If he was so considered, why this cavalier treatment? The implacable discord that came about, his spurning of the Accord, the violent incidents that followed, the outbreak of war with the Indian Army and consequent unfortunate happenings even after its withdrawal have their origin in this highbrow behavior of the Indian establishment in Delhi. India reaped the whirlwind.
Events that flowed subsequent to the Accord, cast unforgiving shadows and confirmed misgivings. Happenings seemed to flow in a well scripted coherent sequence. Very soon on display were India’s sinister intentions. From the rump of anti-Tiger elements resident in India, was cobbled together a rag tag called ‘Tri Star’. It was to serve as a fifth column for the Indian Army. What a way to keep peace and win over the people! Each time small batches landed on the Mannar coast, they were mowed down by the Tigers. News used to seep to the people immediately. In the book by Lt. Gen. SC Sardesh Pande, written with transparent honesty by an officer of character, there is reference to it. He speaks of VP losing credibility about India on this score. A war was coming became clear to the Tigers.
I do not use the acronym IPKF because it is a misnomer. Keeping the peace was not the mission of the Indian army. Peace between Tamil and Tamil? Between Muslim and Tamil? They were not at war. Then what was the justification to heap 60,000 troops or more within the confines of North-East? Why keep in and around the Jaffna fort alone, some 19 tanks? When war broke out on 10th October, did any rumble along to the Sinhala-Tamil border to keep ethnic peace if it was ever feared?
My adoration for all what was good and great about Tamil Nadu and of India, made me purblind to reality. In the early eighties a certain lady from Delhi used to come to SL. In 1984, about 12 of us had a meeting with her in Jaffna. Her patriotism was never in doubt. But she said all the Tamils she met wanted the Indian army to come. She continued, “I don’t know why they are saying that. The Indian army is as brutal as any in the world, if not more brutal”. A senior officer from India who spent nearly a month in November 1987 and who had had discussions with me told me “I am getting back next week and after that I will not return because the Indian army is behaving like an army of occupation.” My experience at close quarters from October 1987 to February 1990, knocked off the scales clouding my vision. Before that I wondered how Bangladesh could turn against India, her deliverer and benefactor. Now I knew why.
The 30-year-old ethnic conflict in the Sri Lankan state, an essentially Sinhalese majoritarian preserve, and the uncompromising and relentlessly violent Tamil leadership claiming a separate state, Tamil Eelam, on behalf of the Tamil minority of north and east Sri Lanka, culminated with a comprehensive military defeat of the Tamil Tigers at the hands of the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary forces. However, it also turned out to be a terrible example of collective punishment for the Tamil minority. This is the tragedy that the political scientist, former political activist with a strong Marxist-humanist commitment and a Sri Lankan diplomat, who till recently was serving the UN in Geneva and France and UNESCO, analyses with courage and insight.
After the British transferred power in 1948 virtually without a freedom struggle being waged against them, the ruling elite, Sinhalese and Tamil, initially adhered to the pluralist model bequeathed by the British based on liberal constitutionalism. However, that did not last long and Sinhala ethno-nationalists, lay and clerical, began to assert a majoritarian Sinhalese-Buddhist identity and ideology that sought to marginalise the Tamils. The adoption of the Sinhala only bill in 1956 as the sole national language literally rendered the hitherto more advanced Tamil intelligentsia illiterate.
The moderate Tamil leadership failed to dissuade the majoritarian Sinhalese nationalists to accommodate the legitimate interests and concerns of their group. As a result, disappointment, frustration and despondency spread among the Tamils. The leadership then passed into the hands of extremists, and the Tamil Tigers, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, emerged in 1976 as the most uncompromising and ruthless protagonists of Tamil separatism and secessionism.
Jayatilleka convincingly demonstrates that in the armed conflict that ensued, exclusive ultra-nationalism took up uncompromising positions on both sides. However, whilst the Tigers never relented, the Sri Lankan government on a number of occasions sought a compromise granting autonomy/devolution within a formally unitary state. He especially regards President Ranasinghe Premadasa as the leader who was most forthcoming to accommodate Tamil concerns including those related to the national language. He was pitilessly assassinated by the Tamil Tigers, who rejected all such overtures as their goal was to create a sovereign and independent Tamil Eelam. The Tigers also assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several Sri Lankan ministers and politicians including Tamils.
The author is at his masterly best when he applies his vast theoretical and conceptual knowledge, including normative political theory, to distinguish a freedom fighter from a terrorist. He defines terrorism as deliberate policy to target innocent civilians. In this regard, the review of Marxist theory and practice associated with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara is especially instructive, because although they resorted to armed struggle they considered it a necessary evil. Prabhakaran made a virtue out of violence and terror and personified that cult.
He reveals the psycho-ideological mindset of Prabhakaran as intrinsically fascistic. We learn that the leader of the Tigers actually hero-worshipped Hitler and kept a copy of Mein Kampf by his side, and like his hero extracted complete submission from his followers to his whim and caprice. Moreover, the Tamil Tigers showed no mercy to dissidents within the party or the opposition within Tamil society, or to innocent Muslims and Sinhalese. Their record of carrying out assassination attempts and suicide bombing predates by many years similar trends in South Asia.
Jayatilleka rejects the right of national self-determination to mean an absolute and automatic right to secede through the use of force and terrorism from an existing state. He asserts that secession from an existing state is not to be confused with liberation from colonial rule. Such an interpretation is an accurate understanding of the norms upheld by international law.
The author then examines the right of the state to wage war against an intransigent terrorist group in the light of classic just war doctrine and concludes that the Sri Lankan state had no other choice but to wage a war against the Tamil Tigers. It did so, but with such overwhelming force and ruthlessness that hapless non-combatant Tamils wholesale became its victims. It shocked the world and the United Nations expressed its concerns in no uncertain terms.
The author warns that a triumphant, vindictive, majoritarian Sinhalese mindset cannot win the peace. It is important to heal wounds and win back an estranged, defeated and humiliated minority. Currently a cold peace prevails that isolates and alienates the Tamil minority. He pleads for a just peace, which guarantees substantial autonomy, economic, political and cultural, equal rights for all citizens, and respect and acceptance of ethnic identity. To the Tamils his recommendation is to abandon secessionism and seek fair and equitable treatment within a pluralist, decentralised but unitary Sri Lanka integrated in a power-sharing framework. He argues that neither neo-liberal capitalism nor neoliberal conservatism can serve as the basis for building peace, which he argues has three important dimensions: the North-South axis; the rich-poor axis; and the country-world axis.
In my book, State, Nation and Ethnicity in Contemporary South Asia, London and New York: Pinter, 1996; 1998, I propounded a theory to analyse within a comparative framework a number of separatist movements in South Asia: Khalistani and Kashmiri in India; Sindhi and Mohajir in Pakistan; Chakma Hill Tribes in Bangladesh; and Tamils in Sri Lanka. I predicted that secession was doomed. The modern state is too well-armed vis-à-vis separatists. Moreover, international law and praxis is biased heavily in favour of the integrity of the state. Only when powerful neighbours or global powers support a challenger to the state can the balance of power possibly be tilted in favour of secessionism (pages 69-76). In the final showdown neither India nor any global power backed the Tamil Tigers: their extermination became inevitable. Seventeen years later Jayatilleka’s authoritative case study on Sri Lanka verifies the soundness and relevance of that theory.
*The reviewer is a PhD (Stockholm University); Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Karachi: Oxford Unversity Press, 2013; The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at [email protected]
Burma is often most renowned for its military Junta, repression of democratic rights and the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi that spanned over two decades. Such it is when in line with Western countries interest and their explicitly displayed values. Unfortunately what is lesser known is the multiple national independence struggles fought by suppressed nations in Burma, and the state sponsored persecution and terrorism against minorities. In 2012, Burma was being praised by the West for freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, liberalizing its economy, allowing political parties, extending democratic rights, and for the abolishing of media censorship. In the backwaters of these events, with the West applauding what it considers positive steps taken by the new civilian government under President Thein Sein, a war was unleashed to eradicate the resistance of the Kachin nation in northern Burma (1). As the West is supplying funds, handing Burma international repute, facilitating it with international space to self-narrate the progress of the country, the Burmese army is unhindered in pursuing its structural approach towards minority nations. After a 17 year truce with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), it launched an extensive military offensive on June 2012. This decision coincided with the work on the billion dollar Sino-Burmese hydropower projects in the irrawaddy river in the Kachin homeland. In order to secure these areas for Chinese exploitation, the Burmese military is entrusted to drive out the Kachin people (2) . With both the subtle blessings and sinister involvement of contemporary imperialist powers, the West and China alike, a chauvinistic state is facilitated to carry out genocide. Another process which also began in 2012 summer, was the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Rohinyga Muslims, in the central west of the country. In matter of few weeks, thousands of Rohinygas were reported butchered by Arakanese mobs, Buddhist monks, state police and federal forces, with tens of thousands being displaced. This brings to mind the parallels between the Burmese state and the Sri Lankan state and their interaction and liaisons with international powers.
Burma is a multi-ethnic country and was united under British colonial rule which placed the diverse region under the fold of a centralized authority in Rangoon. The boundaries set and the establishment of government ignored traditional and national peculiarities. The Burmese government represents the Bamar people alongside a range of other Buddhist people, who speak different but related languages. Thus the national culture is heavily marked by Buddhism and the Bamar. The military dictatorship has also drawn its legitimacy for military government from the rule of kings of the past. This leaves little space for nations with other religious following and another linguistic affiliation to prosper in its own right. The Kachin people speak various Kachinic languages and most follow Christianity, while the Rohiniygas speak Bengali and are Muslims. Both these people are viewed as multi-centric elements within the national space. They oppose and restrict the erection of the dominant Burmese nationality. The Karen took up arms in 1961 establishing the KIO and its military wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to fight the Burmese government battling the state until 1994 when a truce was signed. As in Sri Lanka it was successively imposed discriminatory laws and actions in the post-independence period culminating in the state decision to make Buddhism the state religion which antagonized and marginalized the Kachin. Also as with the Sri Lankan context the Burmese state pursued a malicious counter-insurgency to impose its national unity. Sri Lanka’s war on Tamils starts as an element of the state’s intent to pursue a policy of creating a Sinhala Buddhist nation state. Similarly with Burma it targeted the ethnicities within its borders which were deemed multi-centric, this being foremost the Tamils who have since early independence been increasingly mobilized on lingo-national basis. With successive governments presiding over series of discriminatory laws, violent suppression and anti-Tamil riots , the Tamils took up arms in the 1970’s and the secessionist war broke out.
In the aftermath of 09.11.2001, a new international platform to fight counter-insurgencies emerged. It became rather advantageous for any nation-state to conjoin their counter-insurgencies with other nations on the pretext of fighting terrorism. For Sri Lanka this constituted a structural condition which would facilitate its reliance on international backing and subtle support in pursuit of a military solution to eradicate Tamil secessionism. With the collapse of the ceasefire in 2006, Colombo initiated a heavy offensive in the East of the island, a process which ended in May 2009 with the genocide in Mulluvaykal. International powers were known to have contributed with economical, diplomatical and military support, either directly or indirectly which served Sri Lanka’s ambitions. China poured in 1 billion dollars annually to the Sri Lankan state from 2005 to 2009 (3), while Pakistan upgraded the Sri Lankan air force’s radar and fighter jets. India trained military personnel, and aided the military forces with crucial logistics to weaken the LTTE. During the last war a range of Western countries were in support of dissolving the LTTE militarily in order to set the platform to deal with the national question concerning the Tamils. Later on through UN internal reports published in 2012 it was shown that even the U.N. leadership by grossly downplaying the civilian causalities assisted Sri Lanka in accomplishing what it had intended. What seems initially to be a series of strange events, tends to emerge as a systematic pattern, where it appears that the established international community of nation states apply a structural approach to people struggles. This very approach favours nation states’ military solutions to settle the self-determination struggles of oppressed nations and is pursued under the guise of eradicating terrorism and paving the way for development. Discourse and promises of democracy and peace, added with preliminary actions taken in the name of credence, shadow the brutal reality enacted by chauvinistic states and thereby sets the stage for the subtle support granted by international powers.
Statements expressing forthcoming harmony and the generosity to accede economic concessions by President Rajapakse resulted in the international community abetting the the Sri Lankan government’s genocidal war. It now seems Burma is effecting equally, through its adaptation of the Sri Lankan counter- insurgency model. The intent is to quash a genocidal war against the KIO and the Kachin people in the North while eradicating the Rohingya through mob and police perpetuated genocide and violence . The international community however is delighted and rather pleased with Burma due to rhetorics of democracy and the economic concessions endorsed under liberalization. A dreadful symphony of imperialist expansionism and genocidal nation state politics is perpetuated under the guise of development and reform. Failing to practice what it preach of equality and democracy, the west perceive it as more fruitful to aid the nation states in completing genocide and eradicating resistance in order to pursue imperialist goals. The West intends to counter China, China intends to counter the West and India, while India intends to counter China and make itself a power in the region. In this matrix the Burmese government maximizes on an abundance of supplies and support to pursue its agenda, an art the Sri Lankan government mastered in the last few years. The much praised Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent on these atrocities and is instead indulgent in praising the military for its historical role in the country’s establishment (4). Meanwhile the Kachen people brace themself for a bitter survival as Burmese troops are moving in towards their heartland with designs of occupying the town of Laiza. The international community and its media seemed to have abandoned the Kachin as was the case with Tamils in 2009, and now another genocide is lurking around the corner.
1) On the ingorance of the war against the Kachin people by international investors.http://karennews.org/2013/02/burma-investors-beware.html/
The government of Sri Lanka is leaving no stone unturned in an attempt to annul provisions of the country’s constitution that are key to implementing post-war reconciliation. By seeking to rescind the 13th amendment, long held by the international community as the starting point for a political solution for the conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils, the Government has clearly demonstrated its cavalier disregard to UN resolutions and international treaties and therefore is an unreliable international actor.
A spokesperson to India’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was candid when he said, “[t]he proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment.”
The 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution was introduced as an instrument to share power between the Sinhalese and Tamils through devolution to the country’s provinces. The amendment flowed from the Indo-Lanka Accord, negotiated and signed as a treaty between the governments of India and Sri Lanka in 1987, in a bid to end the armed struggle between rebels supported by India and the Sri Lanka government.
Devolution to share power between Sinhalese and Tamils was to soon encounter snags. The fundamental reason was that Tamils realised that devolution proposed under the 13th amendment would be hobbled by the very thing it was supposed dismantle – power wielded in Sri Lanka’s legislature by Sinhalese members of parliament.
This constraint was due to the unitary character of the Sri Lankan state. This means that the central government, in which the executive presidency and parliament are key institutions, remains constitutionally supreme. Under a unitary system even when power to legislate over subjects of local importance is devolved to subunits such as provinces, parliament can override those powers either by a simple majority or a two-third majority. This contrasts with federal constitutions where powers that the constituting units enjoy are so entrenched that they cannot be tampered with by central governments so simply. Needless to say in the real world constitutions mostly fall in between the unitary-federal continuum.
Despite devolution under the 13th amendment being hobbled by control from the central parliament, most of the Tamil political parties and armed rebel groups accepted the Accord and the brand of power sharing it proposed. Despite backing by Colombo and New Delhi, devolution to the PCs under the 13th amendment, which became law in 1988, was only implemented selectively. For instance, elections to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) where a majority of Tamils live, was never held. Second, a clause to merge the Eastern PC which has over 60% Tamils and Tamil-speaking Muslims with the NPC to strengthen common demands was temporarily implemented but later struck down by the Supreme Count as unconstitutional.
Following the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, devolution of power came back into currency as a practical mechanism of devolving power and thereby promoting reconciliation between the Tamils and Sinhalese. At the same time the international community – especially India and the US – expanded their role in promoting conflict resolution in Sri Lanka.
Citing the provisions of the Accord, the treaty between Sri Lanka and India, New Delhi called for the full implementation of the 13th amendment, which was echoed by the US and other sections of the international community. But buoyed by its military victory and elements of Sinhala nationalist elites, the Sri Lankan government prevaricated. Following three years of intensifying misery for the Tamils due to militarisation, widespread allegations of disappearances, torture and rape, loss of livelihood and parlous conditions of resettled IDPs, the United States moved two resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council. The second resolution, adopted in March this year, “welcomed” provincial elections for the NPC.
Faced with mounting international pressure the government has indicated its intention to hold polls for the NPC this year, although it is yet to be officially announced at the time of writing. However fearing that such elections would strengthen the Tamils in the North the government has on the backs of Sinhala nationalist groups begun to demand dismantling of even the vestiges of devolved governance. It has therefore proposed a 19th amendment to ensure that provincial governance is in name only. The government’s group of Sinhala representatives in Parliament is expected to back this bill and pass it with ease.
The Sri Lankan government’s move to dilute the 13th amendment only reiterates its indifference to reconciliation. It also shows up very clearly the inadequacies in the strategy of the international community. The international community expects Colombo to respect international laws or conventions – such as UN resolutions and treaties – and that meaningful sharing of power will come from within Sri Lanka under the present political structures. But that is not forthcoming. The international community should therefore strengthen the Tamils within and outside Sri Lanka and use other diplomatic tools available to it to resolve the Sri Lankan conflict. A delay will only exacerbate Tamil desperation and see a further erosion of international order.
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 first appeared in Asian Correspondent
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.
What is the above subject? Appellation of a Seminar.
Held at: Marga Institute, Colombo.
Held on: May 16th, 2013
Occasion: To launch a publication
Produced by: Independent Diaspora Analysis Group (IDAG)
“GAME FOR THE CHILD, AGONY FOR THE MOUSE”.
So runs a Tamil proverb highlighting the point that an event can be both a pastime and a tragedy at the same time. Making a game of numbers massacred is appalling. Even if the purpose be a call to the adversary not to inflate the figures, it is equally defiling. The choice of the wrong word is prejudicial to the analysis, casting misgivings about detached study or objective conclusions.
A Report on the seminar appears in Ground Views of May 29th. It was said at the seminar that “citing large and inaccurate figures raised issues… Continued recycling of spurious figures can only inhibit the healing process”. Soon after the war some of us computed the likely figures of those entrapped in the final stages of the war. We based it on the census figures of 1981 for the Wanni, subsequent official estimates by the Department of Census and Statistics, extrapolation based on national magnitudes, estimate of internal migration and guesstimate of emigration from the Wanni. Also reckoned alongside were statistics of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and official figures of refugee assistance recipients with which we were conversant. My position as Secretary Rehabilitation in the North East Provincial Council and immediately subsequently as Advisor in the Central Ministry of Rehabilitation, gave me access to such information.
For those encircled, rendered displaced and then confined to camps, we arrived at the figure of 300,000 plus. Why not 350, 000 or 400,000? If we were erring, we preferred to be on the conservative side. What did the government say and later trumpet Goebbels style repetitively? 70,000. When evidence overwhelmed, the figure of 300,000 was announced by the government in acknowledgement. Why were small and inaccurate figures given in the first instance? Why a predilection for the spurious? To serve two purposes. The government knowing full well its cavalier treatment of food and medical needs of the encamped refugees, had the necessity to show particularly the international community that the fraction of less than a fourth it sent met the needs adequately. Secondly, to pull wool over the eyes of everybody by suggesting that a residue of 70,000 couldn’t have generated 40,000 casualties.
Which approximation is credible and which is a strain on credibility? 300,000+ refugees and 40,000+ casualties or 70,000 refugees announced by the government and about 8,000 casualties proclaimed by its apologists? In contrast was our experience with the UNP government’s avowed policy of keeping the people fed in the war years of the eighties. Data from District Administration were accepted about food needs of both civilians and refugees and the requirement was met. This was despite severe interruptions to road and rail transport.
Mr.MDD Peiris as Secretary Food in the eighties, undertook a heavy responsibility upon himself in organizing sea transport and even authorizing high freight rates when the situation demanded. Once he told me “Whatever may be happening in the country, we have to keep the people fed”. With such an attitude which reflected the government’s as well, he made a difference. No attempt was made to reduce the quantities and then to play the numbers game adroitly. Tamils know that conditions were exceedingly easy in 2009 to transport by road and distribute food, medical supplies and refugee requisites in the Wanni, compared to endemic disruptions in the eighties.
Numbers do matter it was said. True. They express the truth and make an impression when underlain by credibility. Transparency is the fount for credibility and a clear exposition of the methodology employed
Is the anchor of such transparency. But we do not see it when one number is transposed for the other. Instead a dazzling display is made of the competence of the weaver and the tailor. Unfazed by the marvel of the Emperor’s Clothes, Tamils reach for international investigation. It is their perception that whatever be the competence of this Sri Lankan Diaspora membership, the credentials of a truly international team will inspire more “confidence in its impartiality and competence”.
One may also ask whether the Department Of Census and Statistics cannot do a good job of it. Another may respond why not? I seek a clarification from the Department regarding the total strength of the diaspora population. My computation is as follows:
Does it appear rational to place the total diaspora population in Europe, Canada, US and Australia at 100,000? Is there trust in a product of indigenous effort when there is such a variance between popular perception and a governmental source? DCS can clarify if my computation is wrong. The insistent demand for impartial international investigation may be better appreciated in this background.
The expression “spurious figures” is double edged when opposing parties engage in recycling. When 40,000 is inflated to 80,000 does it become a half truth? If 8,000 is deflated to 4,000 it doesn’t become doubly true? Truth alone triumphs and inspires credibility. That’s why all eggs are placed in the international basket by the resident Tamils and the diaspora. If the purity of the government is lily white, why should it hesitate to have the air cleared? If the haze remains, 8,000 will continue to be called spurious.
It was said at the seminar that spurious figures continually recycled can only inhibit the healing process. It doesn’t follow however that exact figures will promote the process of healing. The process would demand a change of disposition with initiatives coming from the government on policy and programme. As of now it is reconciliation on paper and alienation on ground.
If we look at Irish-British relations, only estrangement could have resulted from the way the British treated the Irish. In the 16th & 17th centuries vast multitudes were massacred by the British in Ireland. Close on it, with the army in brutal collaboration, Irish were dispossessed of swathes of territory. This land expropriated from Irish Catholics was given to British Protestants. Is what is happening in Sri Lanka any different? Will it not inhibit the healing process? Oliver Cromwell’s massacres in the seventeenth century, complemented the earlier ones. Need anyone be surprised that Jonathan Swift an eminent Irishman, author of a few books including Gulliver’s Travels, said “Burn everything British but their coal”. These produced the brilliant rebel Robert Emmet, who was executed by the British in 1803. When he was sentenced he made a memorable speech in which he said “My lamp of life is nearly extinguished”. How many lives were so extinguished since 1956 to now in SL with no recompense or show of remorse? Did the healing process ever commence?
Irreconcilability produced an independent Ireland which left the Commonwealth in 1949. Was it obduracy? No. Was Mountbatten killed for love of carnage? No. How did they renounce terrorism? Their economic lift off commenced in 1987. In North SL the the drive is towards the pastoral age. In Ireland their wealth level, disposition, approaches and relationship changed. In Ireland the per capita GDP in 2012 was $ 41,921 and UK’s $ 36,941. Net immigration has overtaken net emigration. A people long oppressed have surged ahead of the oppressor.
War without witnesses is only a contrived description to make satellite images appear to be the sole information source. Over 300,000 herded into Mullivaaikaal are witnesses. Was an effort ever made to record evidence from a sizeable number without army presence anywhere round? Was any evidence examined for corroboration and analysed to establish credibility. Aren’t four years enough to count the dead and the injured with information from those who suffered loss? Has governmental or social responsibility or interest in them ever been evinced? Instead satellite images of shell fire and their interpretation are relied on as the sheet anchor of circumstantial or corroborative evidence. All these for a ‘humanitarian operation’ by the SLA, the very force that is under a cloud. Was gun fire only with rubber bullets? With no effort at healing, will the process be accomplished? Mao Tse Tung asked “With Platonic Love can you bring forth a child”?
What the Tamils seek is that truth be discerned. For this international investigation is needed as the single means to ferret it out.
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