Sri Lankan Tamils and Tamil Eelam - II
by Thamizhchelvan on 15 Sep 2013 10 Comments

Emerging picture: A close look at the Sri Lankan Tamil issue after the “Sinhala Only Act” of 1956 suggests that Sinhala chauvinism, the Buddhist clergy’s rabidity, and the effete political leadership caused the civil unrest within the island nation leading to the emergence of Tamil militancy. India’s Sri Lankan policy lacked consistency and allowed domestic political compulsions to influence foreign affairs. The Generic Church exploited the situation to the hilt and positioned itself to play on both sides of the civil war, thus influencing Colombo and pushing the separatist forces from behind. With such a strategy, it could hardly lose either way!


With the decimation of LTTE, the Church adjusted its strategies. Indeed, it spread its tentacles like an octopus - it influences the US and UN; has influence over Sri Lankan diaspora through TGTE and GTF; has influence over SL government; influence over the Dravidian parties of Tamil Nadu and the present Tamil Nadu government; and influences the present Indian government with an Italian as Congress President at the helm of affairs. 


The above picture must be seen in the backdrop of the formation of separate countries by the Church by creating divisions in non-Abrahamic nations, and against the clarion call given by Pope John Paul in 2000 for evangelization of Asia in the 21st Century. The happenings after the Eelam War IV point towards the separation of the northeast of SL. 


After Eelam War IV


After the decimation of the LTTE, significant things happened:


The final stages of Eelam War IV created 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were placed in various camps (mostly schools) in Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee districts. Though Rajapaksa made a commitment that Colombo would resettle all 300,000 people in their respective places by the end of 2009, it took over three years for the government to close the camps (September 2012). The largest camp was at Menik Farm on the Vavuniya-Mannar-Anuradhapura border, with 200,000 IDPs. Being in a low lying area, it bore the brunt of floods during monsoons, causing the hapless IDPs to suffer without proper health care and medicines. 


The Sri Lankan Army came under sever attack for alleged war crimes and human rights violations. Western human rights groups and NGOs spread all sorts of allegations across the world. Channel 4 released video transcripts of alleged war crimes by the SL Army which spread like wild fire. Human Rights Watch released a report of alleged “sexual crimes” against Tamils by SL security forces between 2006 and 2012. Titled “We will teach you a lesson”, it had 140 pages documenting 75 cases of alleged rape and sexual violence of people in the custody of the military and police from 2006 to 2012. 


After a sustained campaign by West-sponsored HROs and NGOs, Rajapaksa constituted the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Enquiry’ in May 2010. Its final report, containing 388 pages of analysis of 1,000 oral and 5,000 written submissions, was released in November 2011, four months before the tabling of the US Resolution at the UNHRC Summit in Geneva.    

The US tabled a Resolution in March 2012 asking Colombo to explain how it would address the alleged violations of humanitarian law and would implement the recommendations of an internal inquiry (LLRC) into the war. The resolution encouraged the UN Human Rights Office to offer advice and assistance to Sri Lanka. Fully pressurized by the Tamil Nadu government and Tamil political parties and by the US, India joined 23 other countries to vote in favour of the US Resolution against Sri Lanka.


Channel 4 released a video showing the alleged killing of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran’s son Balachandran in the custody of SL Army. This created an emotional surge across Tamil Nadu and led to the formation of the ‘Tamil Students Movement’ aka ‘Students Federation for Freedom of Tamil Eelam’ which conducted protests across the state for several days demanding (i) a public referendum on Tamil Eelam (ii) International probe against war crimes by the SL Army and (iii) India’s voting against SL in the UNHRC summit at Geneva.


India voted in favour of the US sponsored UNHRC Resolutions against Sri Lanka at Geneva in March 2013, along with 24 nations; 13 voted in favour of Sri Lanka and 8 abstained. Earlier, caught in a dilemma due to its inconsistency over SL and internal compulsions due to the strong opposition of Tamil Nadu parties and withdrawal of DMK as an alliance partner in the government, India attempted to bring amendments to the text of the resolution, but did not succeed. However, after intense lobbying with the US, India was able to water down the resolution, though its content and wording was stronger than the one passed in March 2012. 


On July 5, 2013, Rajapaksa issued a proclamation ordering the Election Commission to conduct elections for the northern, central and northwestern provincial councils. Nominations were filed between July 25 and August 1, and the elections are scheduled for Sept 21. The Northern Province is having elections after 25 years.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, made a seven day visit to Sri Lanka during the last week of August, and met Rajapaksa, some ministers and government officials, and political leaders, NHRC officials, civil society and members of the general public, particularly victims of the war.


War crimes & HR violations


Whether Sri Lanka likes it or not, it will remain on the UN agenda for a few more years. Things will get tougher every year at the UNHRC. The speech given by the Sri Lankan representative at the UNHRC in March 2013 showed that Colombo had learnt nothing from the session of March 2012. It must understand its options are limited. It cannot win with the support of China alone. India’s support is a must, as India would bring in a few more countries in favour of Sri Lanka. Colombo should go deep into the reasons why India, which supported it at UNHRC in 2009, voted against it in 2012 and 2013. It should address India’s concerns. Sri Lanka must realize that India and China are also working towards improving their relationship through trade and other avenues despite anomalies at the borders. Any sensible government in Colombo would have maintained a healthy relationship with India as well as China.


India too must introspect where it went wrong. India may not have the tradition of acting as “intruder”, but to assert supremacy in South Asia it should help its smaller neighbours. Indira Gandhi did that with Bangladesh. India failed Nepal when it sought her intervention, and did the same to Sri Lanka, forcing it to go to China and Pakistan.  


At the end of her Sri Lanka visit, Navi Pillay addressed a press conference where she made some significant observations, pointing towards the fact that the West (US/Europe and the Church) focuses on the creation of an independent state out of Sri Lanka. Initially, for the sake of formality, she expressed satisfaction at Sri Lanka’s steps towards resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation in the relatively short period since 2009 in both the Eastern and Northern Provinces in terms of the numbers of new roads, bridges, houses, medical facilities and schools built or rebuilt; improved electricity and water supplies; and removal of most landmines.


Secure in the knowledge that she was backed by the Generic Church, Navi Pillay bared her fangs with impunity:

-        She moved to the main ‘agenda’ and spoke of the need for a holistic approach to provide truth, justice and reparations for war victims, to bring reconciliation, dignity and lasting peace;

-        She expressed opposition to the military’s involvement in civilian activities such as agriculture, education and tourism;

-        She mentioned complaints about acquisition of private land to build military camps and installations, including a holiday resort;

-        She took exception to the presence of the military in war-torn areas and urged for demilitarization at the earliest;

-        She observed that the continued large-scale presence of the military and other security forces was perceived by many as oppressive and intrusive, with the continuing high level of surveillance of former combatants and returnees bordering on harassment;

-        She expressed concerns about the ‘sexual harassment and abuse’ allegedly perpetrated by security forces and urged zero tolerance on such matters;

-        Expressing concern for the remaining detainees, she urged the government to expedite their cases and demanded the ‘repeal’ of the Prevention of Terrorism Act;

-        Underlining the need for counseling and psychological support in the North, Pillay objected to the restrictions imposed by the authorities on the activities of NGOs;

-        She urged the government to broaden the mandate of the Commission of Enquiry on Disappearances to ratify the International Convention on Disappearances;

-        She advised the government to invite the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka, ideally before submission of her report to the Human Rights Council in March; 

-        She expressed serious concern “at the recent surge in incitement of hatred and violence against religious minorities, including attacks on churches and mosques, and the lack of swift action against the perpetrators”;

-        She voiced serious concern at the “harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists” and said the freedom of expression is under sustained assault in Sri Lanka;

-        On the controversial impeachment of the Chief Justice and apparent politicization of judicial appointments, she opined such actions have shaken confidence in the independence of the judiciary;

-        She concluded with the gratuitous observation that ‘Sri Lanka is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction’, and warned that ‘it may sow the seeds of future discord’. 


Needless to say, her final report which will be submitted to the UNHRC soon, is expected to be extremely hostile in tone and content. Sri Lanka’s reaction to her press meet was on expected lines. The Minister for External Affairs said Navi Pillay was “unfair, wrong and biased and her tone and tenor showed distressing lack of balance”. Pointing out that the findings of a report recently prepared by a group of UN agencies in Sri Lanka came to the opposite conclusion, he said that Pillay had “formed her views before reaching the shores of the country.” He took objection to her “trenchant criticism” of the presence and role of the army in the north, which she labelled “obtrusive and oppressive” and her criticism that “Sri Lanka is moving towards authoritarianism.”


Intellectual warfare


The war may have ended in May 2009, but the intellectual war continues in the media and cyber space. The West has unleashed a battery of writers and columnists and television journalists against Sri Lanka, to project the SL Army as barbarians and the LTTE as holy cows. But the Sri Lankan government is adding insult to its own injuries by its arrogant conduct, intimidating journalists and suppressing freedom of press.  However, there are a few sane voices from reputed strategic experts.


Despite reports of repeated government-sponsored attacks on a section of the Tamil Press in Sri Lanka, there were also reports of a section of the Tamil Press writing in favour of the government. In Tamil Nadu, the English daily “The Hindu” and the Tamil weekly “Thuglak” are branded as Rajapaksa loyalists. But those observing the SL Tamil issue for over three decades vouch for Thuglak’s approach being consistent with Indian interests, while ‘The Hindu’ is considered pro-China. 


Recently, Thuglak editor Cho Ramaswamy sent two senior correspondents (SJ Idhaya and AA Samy) on a weeklong tour to Sri Lanka to find out the ground realities about the SL Tamils. He published a 12-part series, after which the hate propaganda literally died down in TN. The pro-Eelam voices and separatist forces indulged in cheap mudslinging, but could not contest the contents of the series.


Yet varied opinions emanate from Sri Lanka itself, from widespread appreciation of the Thuglak reportage to dissatisfaction. A respected senior journalist and writer Arundati Rajasingham said, “There is no free media in Sri Lanka. Foreign journalists are usually not given visas or allowed to travel here. The fact that Thuglak got visas to travel throughout the island indicates that it had the tacit support of Mahinda Rajapaksa. This undermines its objectivity. It looks like sponsored journalism. Several of the people interviewed by Thuglak cannot be trusted. It’s sad to read these articles as I had until now respect for Cho Ramaswamy. I saw him as a balance to the Dravida people. But it seems he has compromised a lot. This is propaganda.”


Other SL Tamil Hindus voiced the same opinion. On the internet, Church sponsored writers and columnists continued their hate campaign against Sri Lanka to generate support for a separate Eelam. As they fear Sri Lankan Tamils asserting their Hindu identity, they spew venom on Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu leaders and savants like Arumuka Navalar, Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Waitialingam Duraiswamy, et al., and simultaneously spread hate campaigns against Sinhala Buddhists.  Rabid Christians like Prof Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole and Mrs Hoole belong to this category. The former aspired to become Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna, and became more raucous when that failed. But they got a fitting riposte from columnists like Romesh Jayaratnam.


On the other hand, Sri Lanka has a battery of writers who not only write against the West, but also against India. They criticize successive Indian governments from the time of Indira Gandhi. The IPKF inevitably gets special attention from them.


Aspirations of SL Tamil Hindus


SL Tamils seem to have no aspiration for a separate Tamil Eelam. They want equal rights through a federal structure within the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. They are fed up of the three decade war and yearn for peace. They hate the false propaganda going on in Tamil Nadu and are unhappy with the SL Diaspora. They want a strong leadership which can take care of their interests; the reports of ‘Thuglak’ corroborate this.


Although SL Tamil Hindu intellectuals partly agree to this, they feel that Tamil Eelam is inevitable within a decade or two. They say that LTTE and Prabhakaran brought them to this sad state by initiating hostilities against India when the people wanted the support of India. They blame Prabhakaran for turning against Premadasa within three months of IPKF’s retreat and for rejecting Chandrika Kumaratunga’s liberal Constitutional proposals in 2000 and for undermining Ranil Wickremasinghe in 2004 and helping Rajapaksa win the 2005 elections by forcing the people to abstain from the elections instead of voting for Ranil.


(To be concluded…)

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