We have now been living under the long shadow of the gun for more than a decade
and a half, holding hope against hope for the survival of our children who are
dominated by violence from all directions without a purpose or meaning. But,
on the other hand, we also note the glazed faces of people accepting it all
with a sense of resignation. Under these circumstances, to be objective or analytical
seems to be a major effort, like trying to do something physical in the midst
of a debilitating illness. Whenever we write we are dogged by this reality,
fearing our losing the thread of sanity and the community submerging without
resistance into this slime of terror and violence. The community is bereft of
all its human potential. Every "sane" person is fleeing this burning
country - its hospitals have no doctors, its universities no teachers, its crumbled
war-torn buildings cannot be rebuilt because there are no engineers or masons
or even a labour force, its families are headed by women, and the old, the sick,
and the weary die without even the family to mourn or sons to bury the dead.
If our earlier account had appeared to be "plugging a line," as some
would want to put it, it was because it was important for us to arrive at a
synthesis in analysis, seek an understanding, find spaces to organise, and revitalise
a community that was sinking into a state of resignation. Objectivity was not
solely an academic exercise for us. Objectivity, the pursuit of truth and the
propagation of critical and honest positions, was crucial for the community.
But they could also cost many of us our lives. Any involvement with them was
undertaken only as a survival task. One day we sat down to discuss a postscript
to our account. As an exercise we started laying out the complex forces in interaction.
After the exercise, one of us wrote in bold letters - A TRAGIC MESS.
However, certain trends set in motion, as shown in our analysis two years ago, seem to continue to hold the recent years in sway. That does not mean that things have been static or that the scenario was politically dormant. Contrarily, a great many things have occurred in the intervening two years. Three elections, proclaimed as democratic, took place - for the Provincial Council of the North and East in November 1988, the Presidency in December 1988,and the Parliament in February 1989. Within the reigning party the earlier power bloc has been marginalised. The head of state has changed - President Jayewardene, the blue-blooded representative of the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie, was replaced by Premadasa, a populist up-climber. And many acts of parliament have been passed. Paradoxically, within this seemingly overt democratic activity, the situation has deteriorated. The morbidity of the political situation has increased. The political situation in the south of the island has deteriorated so much that the brutal culture of violence is analogous to, as one of the southern activists mused, a synthesis of fascism with Asiatic despotism. An amorphous spectre of terror and violence seems to pervade the entire island. No one can be complacent or aloof.
The government of Sri Lanka is unstable, and the civilian structures are tied up in knots and paralysed in the entire island. Human rights violations have increased beyond count. Terror by the state and every other force seems permanent, ever becoming part and parcel of our daily life. The Indian Peace-Keeping Force on the other hand is causing more violence, and instability.
Moreover, every democratic flurry, such as the elections, has been considered
a watershed, especially by the propaganda machinery; while journalists from
the West and from India speculate on changes that could emanate from these events.
For us, it has been much ado about nothing because, within all this furious
democratic activity (such as frequent negotiations, changing slogans, India's
attempt to demonstrate the setting up of structures for political organisation
and power sharing, and Sri Lanka's attempt to be seen in control) the reality
is that the people are increasingly marginalised and none of the forces is accountable
Many have wondered at the apparent lack of enthusiasm on the part of the population to the attempts at democracy. It is ironic that a country which had one of the best records for its reliance on the parliamentary democratic system, sank into sullen silence and refused to vote. Why did the Northern Tamil population reject the Provincial Councils which were portrayed as a mode of organising structures for political negotiation and power sharing ? Then again, when an act of parliament (under pressure from India) ensured a merged North and East Provincial Council, the closest to a traditional Tamil homeland, why did the people keep their distance? India would want us to believe that it is entirely due to the terror campaign carried out by the Tigers, the L.T.T.E., for a total boycott of the electoral process. Be that as it may, the Tiger campaign did have its weight. It is however the disillusionment of the people over the entire array of political forces, and the meaninglessness of the vote, that prevented them from even entertaining the idea of risking their lives. Every political proposal came at the point of a gun, both for and against the vote. The Provincial Council elections were seen to bring in rulers rather than representatives of the people. (See Appendix IV, which reproduces "Laying aside Illusions", a document signed by 50 university teachers in reply to Indian High Commissioner to Colombo, J.N.Dixit's talk in Jaffna)
Democracy was illusory, especially in the North, because of the human rights violations perpetrated by India and its collaborators. Blatant killings of civilians and so-called Tiger supporters went unexplained. Mass torture was common place, such as when, virtually the entire male population of a village was hung upside down and water was poured through their noses or when the women in a commuter van were made to walk round the vehicle on their knees. Torture was routinely meted out to all those detained, and one could not elicit some reasonable response from the authorities by complaining about it. Veiled threats and intimidation were the order of the day. If one talked too much, one could be intimidated, killed or have his shop or house blown up. If one wrote about some event (which is what the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jaffna did after the killing of 2 students in a peaceful demonstration) one would only receive a curt dismissal. This emphasized the contempt of the Indian machinery - its Peace Keeping Force and its diplomatic corps.
Finally, no one seemed to be convinced that the Sri Lankan state would or could devolve power in a situation where the Sinhalese chauvinists had the upper hand. This was subsequently made very plain by the Chief Minister of the merged North-East Province, who continually complained that the Sri Lankan state was not devolving any real economic or political power to the Provincial Council.
Any attempt to seek stability and peace from a politically insensitive great
power will, inevitably, have a precipitating effect on the crisis. When India's
attempts to bring the Tigers back under its patronage failed, it attempted to
groom other local political forces for the exercise of its patronage. India
tried genuinely to portray to the world at large that there was an indigenous
facet to its control, by arming and training the E.P.R.L.F. and a mixed bag
of other militant groups, as the executors of its military power. However, the
main military opposition, the Tigers, survived for more than two years in the
jungles of the North and retained the potential to wage a hit and run war in
the urban centres. Thus they were able very effectively to lock the Indian military
and its local collaborators in a demoralising war of attrition. India is unable
to scale down the level of conflict, or to reduce the tempo of human rights
violations carried out by its troops in frustrated reprisal raids. As such,
it continues to alienate further the community it had ostensibly come to help.
As for its attempt at creating a local political face, neither the T.U.L.F. nor the E.P.R.L.F. whom it groomed as alternatives for political leadership, took off. In the East where a greater need was felt for the I.P.K.F.'s role and where the pro-Indian groups had a more stable position, the I.P.K.F. failed to bring peace and stability. The T.U.L.F. faired miserably in the parliamentary elections. The role of the pro-Indian groups in the violence directed against Muslims in the East, particularly in Samanthurai during May, further discredited the I.P.K.F.. Furthermore, these incidents provided concrete grounds for the fears of the Muslim minority for their survival as a community in a Tamil-dominated polity. Thus the Muslim Congress (a Muslim party propagating the ideology of Muslim nationalism) became extremely popular among the Muslims and gave political life to the cleavages between the Muslims and Tamils.
In these last two years, the Tigers still remain the chief protagonists on
the Tamil political scene. Their war of attrition in the Tamil areas had the
world's fourth largest army tied down in a demoralising situation. The brutal
reprisals and ruthless murders carried out by the Indian army and its local
collaborators increased the bitterness and anguish of the community, thus providing
a continual source of recruitment to the Tiger ranks. Furthermore, although
the people generally were disgruntled and disillusioned with the Tigers' strategies
(which were resulting in continual loss of life and disruption of day to day
existence), the Tigers were still largely dentified as defenders of the Tamil
cause. However, it is equally true that they would have wanted the Tigers to
opt for a more pragmatic stance towards the I.P.K.F., and would have been satisfied
to see the Tigers as the leaders of the newly-formed Provincial Council of the
merged Northern and Eastern Provinces. Although the Tigers' tactics imposed
a terrorised silence on the people, there was still a tacit understanding and
a hopeful commitment from sections of the community to the Tigers. The other
groups, including the E.P.R.L.F., misread the signs in their political blindness,
and, in the post peace-accord period, changed their tactics to imitate the Tigers
and practised terror and murder against the local populace. But the Tigers had
based their support, much more than on terror, on the ideology of narrow nationalism
and the aspirations of the middle class, to whom the Tigers' obsessive dedication
carried much appeal and respect.
The reality of the Tigers' power base was further exemplified in February 1989 by the good showing of the E.R.O.S. in the parliamentary elections. The E.R.O.S. had been in collusion with the Tigers, who allowed the E.R.O.S. to participate in the elections even though death threats were issued by the Tigers against all participants. Tragically, this threat was carried out when the Tigers murdered Annamalai, a long-standing member of the N.S.S.P. and an active member of the M.I.R.J.E..He had lived in Jaffna and identified with its people and their sufferings during its darkest decade.The N.S.S.P. had long opposed the Sri Lankan state's Tamil policy and had campaigned in the South for self determination for the Tamils.
It would be wrong to underestimate the Tigers' strength as much as the strength of the narrow nationalist ideology among the Tamils - especially among the northern Tamils. However, a count down has begun for Tiger dominance. The tide was not always on their side. Be that as it may, some signs bode ill for them. Prolonged life in the jungles in difficult conditions, and the wiping out of their support structures in the villages by the I.P.K.F. and its collaborators, are all taking their toll on the morale of their cadre. The death of many of their experienced men in the October 1987 war and subsequent armed actions sapped the knowledge, expertise and spirit of the movement. And although there is a continual flow of new recruits, they are of a different generation. As one of us wrote, the age of the child warrior had begun. It is the greatest tragedy for this nation and the Tiger movement that mere children, without any ability to coherently think or undertake politico-military activity, carried the most lethal weaponry, as they wandered around with blazing hatred in their heart and were hunted.
Though the Tigers were challenging the Indian army and mobilising to subvert Indian hegemony, their tactics and strategies, both politically and militarily, were visibly stultifying the community's organised resistance. Militarily, the landmine war in the crowded urban settlements paid the price in civilian losses, further undermining the total commitment of their support base. The campaign to boycott civil structures that the Tigers pursued following the October 1987 war, was seen by the community to be destructive and meaningless, and was obeyed only out of fear. The community as a whole, watched in disbelief as some senior civil servants were arbitrarily gunned down for keeping the civilian machinery running. The continual disruptions brought about by these boycott activities and hardships imposed on the ordinary people, also helped to lay the foundation for an unwilling cooperation of the local populace with the Tigers. Furthermore, the Tigers' recent moves of negotiating with the Sri Lankan state mystified the community and brought a creeping sense of suspicion of the glorified image of the Tigers as a fearless movement, dedicated to the cause of the separate homeland - Tamil Eelam.
Thus,it would not be far from reality to see cracks in the fanatical ideology of the Tiger movement. Many wonder why the Tigers made overtures to the Sri Lankan state. Is it because there was erosion of their morale? Is it a new pragmatism in Tiger thinking ? Is it their desire to survive with trappings of political and military power as the leaders of the Tamils, even in a powerless provincial council ? Or is it because there was pressure from greater powers which want a neutralisation of the Indian presence and see it happening only through the Sri Lankan government's coming to an agreement with the principal protagonists on the Tamil scene? The answer is really a condensation of all these reasons. The Tigers primarily wanted to wield power as the only force. It is the only factor that explains many of their past actions. Many in the North knew that, in mid-1988, emissaries of a rather low key nature from the Tamil Eelam lobby of the U.S.A. visited the jungle hide-out of the Tiger leader Prabakaran with a request to scale down the war, adopt a conciliatory stance with the Sri Lankan state and to arrive at a means of getting rid of India and coming back to power. At the time it was known that the attempt ended failure. But could such a message be more relevant to the Tigers after a fairly demoralising year?
Thus after a decade of national liberation struggle and a ruthless striving for leadership that caused enormous loss of life and the denudation of the people's moral strength, the Tigers seem to be at a dead end. Their pursuance of a supremacist struggle at the cost of the very concept of liberation and their moulding of the spirit of their cadre on a fanatical dedication to the Leader and the Movement, was to be their undoing, as it is within all such narrow nationalist, fascist movements. Thus we as a people are also having a countdown. We can wait years. For a people, history does not change overnight.
In the case of the pro-Indian groups, their lack of political sensitiveness jeopardised their more stable position in the East. It was shown in the way they handled the question of the multi- ethnic tensions of the East. They exploited the prejudices of the Tamil community against the Muslims for the sake of quick popularity. They also gave way to the sentiments of revenge against the Sinhalese settlers, thus fanning suspicion, fear, anger and communal violence. These episodes complicated and marred their attempt to portray themselves as legitimate representatives of the people, at least in the East. It is indeed tragic, as the E.P.R.L.F. had been the least communal of the Tamil militant groups in the past. As pointed out in our earlier essays, the E.P.R.L.F.'s fundamental weaknesses stemmed from their superficial theory and practice, a lack of creative political thinking, and a loose party structure. These aspects, together with considerations of security, allowed no other path of progress than that of existing as puppets of India, and, for all the revolutionary rhetoric, to be dominated by narrow nationalism and opportunism. In the North, where the E.P.R.L.F. had less acceptability, it further alienated the people by its brutal conduct.
In the South, the last three years have seen the release of a cascade of the
dammed up effects of twenty years of chauvinism and a decade of the patriotic
war. All the heightened passions and the political expediencies adopted by the
Sinhalese ruling class to stay in power, seem to have arrived at a logical conclusion.
The marauding terror gangs of the S.T.F. and assorted death squads, which come
in many colours ("Green Tigers", "Black Cats" and so forth.)
left their death trail in the deep South. In the past, terror was conducted
against a marginalised minority who were peripheral to Sri Lanka's parliamentary
politics. Today it has come to the heart of the political process and the core
of Sri Lanka's economic base.
The J.V.P. had on the other hand polished to perfection the tactics of terror chosen by Tamil liberation organisations like the Tigers. Work stoppages and civil disobedience campaigns are conducted through the issue of intimidatory letters and threats of death and there does not seem to be even a pretence at mass mobilisation. However, the recent spate of strikes where the J.V.P. was the motivating force, also put the legitimate claims of wages for the workers as one of its demands. Nonetheless, it is the J.V.P.'s death threats that seem to be the most effective. Death penalties are always carried out in a gruesome manner, and the sadistic, primordial nature of these killings have no analogy in contemporary history. Even after killing someone, the J.V.P. do not let go; they lay down instructions on how the deceased should be interred. For example, the family may be instructed to drag the body to the burial grounds, and, if they disobey, the next day they would find the corpse propped up against their door. The J.V.P.'s targets are the supporters of the ruling party, government officials, and anti-racist forces, mainly of the Left. The J.V.P.'s terror is matched by the terror of the state. Thus the numbers of those slaughtered run into thousands. In a number of killings of ordinary persons and opposition activists, doubts remain in the peoples' minds as to who was really responsible. Indeed, they do not know whom to fear more. On 29 July 1989, government forces killed over 100 Sinhalese civilians, who were forced onto the streets at gun point by the J.V.P., to demonstrate against the Indian presence. A curfew was then in force.The Minister for Defence, speaking to the Sunday Times subsequently, suggested that people should fear the guns of the state more than they feared J.V.P. guns. Thus a once peaceful community has become one bristling with lethal weaponry. A culture of violence is the nurturing ground for the future generations of this beautiful and fertile island, where we, in our childhood and youth, laughed and played among the tall grass and sand dunes.
Our previous essays chronicled the dialectical evolution of the ascendency of narrow nationalist ideology and the over emphasis of the ethnic factor, along with the inadequacy and failure of the Left. The Left in the North had been a small force and was historically submerged by the rise of nationalism. The position of the southern Left worsened after they abdicated their responsibility for solving the national question to the Indian state. Their unequivocal,and perhaps well intended, support for the Peace Accord was used by the J.V.P. to jeopardise their very survival. But worse still, their silence concerning Indian human rights violations during and after the October war, made them vulnerable to criticism from all sides.
The campaign of decimation carried out by the J.V.P. seems to be most viciously executed against the Left. The tragic loss to the future of this country is heightened by killings, such as that of the charismatic and humane leader of the Left alliance, Vijaya Kumaranatunga. The Left's long standing advocates, including the leading trade unionist L.W.Panditha (who was the convenor of 21 trade unions) have been slaughtered. Poignant are the stories such as that of the school master George Ratnayake, a long-standing member of the communist party in a remote village in the deep South. This village had always voted "red," not because they were communists, but because of their "School Master." This simple and dedicated man was shot down in broad daylight on the main street in his village, as he disembarked from a bus. His beloved village sat in stupefied silence
Within this tragic history there is still an attempt by concerned people to
think coherently of the future. There are debates going on as to the correct
path for survival, organisation and possible break-throughs. There is, especially
in the North, a limited attempt at organising at the grass-roots level, so as
to handle the repressive situation and violence from all sides. These are very
small beginnings indeed. In the South, staying alive seems to be still the dominant
issue, and activists as individuals and groups are attempting to handle questions
of the realities around them. At present, the odds are stacked against these
initiatives in both communities. The present belongs to the forces of reaction.
What is the future for this beleaguered land?
India has been extending its regional influence, both through diplomatic channels (such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and military and economic actions such as its intervention in the Maldives and economic blockade of Nepal. Its involvement in Sri Lanka, as we have shown, has been problematic, bringing no quick solution and, instead, giving growth to discontent at home and disenchantment abroad. Thus it will have to either withdraw or prove that it is achieving its originally stated aim of bringing an end to the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Given the option of Indian withdrawal,will that in itself solve the entire problem, as chorused in agreement by the U.N.P., the J.V.P. and the Tigers? It is clear that the Indian withdrawal may be conditional upon an effective transfer of power in the North and East to the Tamils. Yet, such devolution will be vehemently attacked by the J.V.P. which has consistently opposed provincial councils and the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. For the Tigers, Indian withdrawal would be portrayed as a military victory. But they would also want to maintain the apparatus of the merged Provincial Council, with themselves in control of it, a position that would enrage the J.V.P. and its support base. The question of the Indian withdrawal requires a clear analysis of the complex political forces contending for control throughout Sri Lanka. For the people, any solution to the brutal and intense violence has to come from within the communities and cannot be imposed from outside. The development of these internal structures is a long and arduous task, a process which is only just beginning to be comprehended 1 .
Although much has happened on the surface in recent months, one hesitates to
write more for the reason that it would be improper to touch on aspects of an
unfinished story without giving a thorough-going analysis. Such would properly
be material for a separate book.
Some of the developments have reached such poignant proportions that if Tamils as a community and Ceylonese as a nation continue to ignore them, our future would indeed be without hope. We shall merely highlight some of these developments. With the I.P.K.F. having withdrawn to small enclaves in Jaffna and Trincomalee with its allies, Tamil nationalist politics as represented by the L.T.T.E. may appear to be in a strong position. This line has been pushed by a vocal section of the Tamil expatriate lobby, as well as for reasons of local politics in Tamil Nadu. Speeches and special songs by publicists in Tamil Nadu are enjoying wide circulation on tape. One need not probe far to detect something forced and superficial about this euphoria. Behind the flags, bunting, speeches and songs, the Tigers are deeply anxious, if not disturbed. Their methods and ideology have taken their toll. Every new crisis brought fresh doubts, resulting in many senior men leaving the movement. A significant aspect of the widespread disillusionment with the liberation struggle is that the L.T.T.E.'s new recruits are largely children in their very early teens - known as child warriors or Cow&Gate warriors - and mainly from the more deprived sections of the community. In contrast to the early days of the militancy, there are hardly any recruits from high school and above. The older boys may form links with the L.T.T.E. for pragmatic reasons, and may do some publicity work for them. This helps to bring in child recruits. But they would carefully avoid any commitment to fight for the L.T.T.E..
There is then the question of how committed the society is to the form of liberation envisioned by the dominant politics. The people appear to be resigned to accepting permanent conflict as being an inherent attribute of the dominant politics. In Jaffna, where social mobility has been considerably increased by large scale emigration to the West since July 1983, the average mature adult and university leaver, looks to emigration as the desired goal. Some sources put the number of emigrants from Jaffna at 200,000, or 25% of the population of Jaffna in 1983. For reasons of its own insecurity, this emigre class tends to encourage, and become locked into the politics of extremism and destruction at home. This has been discussed elsewhere [See Reports of the University Teachers for Human Rights(Jaffna)].
The militancy did little to remove the discomfort felt by Eastern Province Tamils against the Jaffna dominated politics.Some of the abler and politically sensitive leaders the L.T.T.E. from the Eastern Province, had faced difficult times with the hierarchy. In trying to force a Tamil identity on the Muslims of the North-East, the Tamils are flying in the face of their own historical experience at the hands of the Sinhalese dominated state. The Tigers, while enjoying a spell of unchallenged power, can hardly be unaware of these factors. Their attitudes to the recruitment of children reflect a sense of despondency. In the early days of the militancy, when mature recruits came in large numbers, the ideals of freedom were much talked about. The reasons talked about today have a fatalistic ring. When parents approach L.T.T.E. leaders to ask for their children who had left home and "volunteered," they are frequently reminded by the leaders that they too are missed by their parents. Little is said about any great cause.
It is hardly surprising that the propaganda thrust of the struggle must hinge around the two words "Traitor" and "Martyr." Indeed, the hundreds who ultimately made sacrifices for the same cause and were killed abjectly as traitors, speak not just for the enormous wasted potential, but also for the widespread frustration and anger that lie simmering below the surface. With room for democratic activity largely non-existent, it is easy to underestimate grossly this anger and the resulting insecurity for Tiger aspirations. This is reflected in the increasing obsession with "traitors."
In contrast to its treatment of dissidents who were fellow Tamils, it has been possible for the Tigers to sit at the same table and exchange pleasantries with the unrepentant traditional adversary-the Sinhalese state. Even public praise and expressions of confidence have been lavished on the latter. Once again there is a dangerous moral insensitivity on the part of the Tamils to what this state represents - as is evident from the terrible fate of the thousands of Sinhalese young, at the hands of the state.
What has won widespread admiration is the destructive aspect of the Tigers. Their methods ensured that no one else was allowed to do anything, good or bad. Lacking the ability to face up to the Tigers, all other parties were driven by their weaknesses to show themselves in such a bad light, that the Tigers were welcomed back with widespread relief and their legitimacy was enhanced. However, recent events in the East have shown that, when challenged, the Tigers too could behave towards civilians in harsh military fashion. Many consciously acknowledge a negative reason for accepting the Tigers - that without them, they would be fighting once more. Again, one must not lose sight of the fact that the remarkable success of the Tigers and their fatal weaknesses are reflections of Jaffna society itself.
Apart from the failure of the society to take a stand or question the massive destruction of life and energies through internal developments, yet another factor most vividly reflects its fatal politics and its destructive value system. It is its failure even to see what is being done to its own children who are being cajoled and cornered into carrying arms, with no idea of what they are doing. All armed parties are guilty in this respect. It is hardly the case that people are unaware of what is going on. The earlier conscription for the T.N.A. was well known. The prevalence of armed sentries so small that their presence is known only through gun barrels peeping over walls, is much talked about in Jaffna. National newspapers too have presented photographs of baby faces carrying AK 47s as though they were pop guns.
But the leading sections of society, whether religious authorities, professional associations or associations of teachers, do not appear to acknowledge that there is a problem. There is, rather, much glib talk of the "Boys" delivering the goods. Some go so far as to justify the children being "guided and used" in view of the manpower shortage resulting from the older boys shying away from involvement. They would argue that these young persons have to be sacrificed to protect the "gains" of the struggle in which so much has already been lost. There is no questioning the kind of society we have been creating through this struggle. It is hardly surprising that many visiting outsiders have been astounded by these attitudes. This insensitivity and moral degradation is seen to go much deeper, when one looks at the politics that is articulated by the Tamil elite. Anyone who stands out and projects a qualitative difference, is isolated and destroyed. The weapons used may include slander, the misuse of institutional power and more indirectly, even murder.
What we have today is a weak society tending towards fascist regimentation. It has produced so-called traitors in dizzying proportions and little that is creative. To hide its mediocrity and the poverty of human qualities in its leadership, it needs to strengthen patronage and stifle intellectual development. This is reflected in its politics. There is a cost to the propaganda edifice that is being erected in Tamil Nadu, incorporating the Tamil militant struggle in Ceylon and the militarism of the Chola empire (from the 10th to the 13th centuries A.D.) so as to project a Dravidian racial mystique. This cost must eventually be borne by misused children and paid for in the blood of hapless victims.
In the South, the discomfiture of the J.V.P. has been achieved at the cost of brutalising the armed forces and the society to a degree far greater than what prevailed during the Tamil campaign. A conservative estimate of the number of Sinhalese youth killed or disappeared, in the course of the campaign by the government forces and paramilitary groups, is put at well over 8000. Newspapers routinely report bodies floating down rivers and charred bodies, usually around half a dozen, being discovered by the roadside in some remote village. Following the killing of two lawyers, there was much fear of filing habeas corpus applications. The South paid a terrible price for allowing the rule of law to be subverted since the passage of the prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 in the name of fighting Tamil separatism. No one is talking about the government's accountability being a realisable goal for the foreseeable future. With politics having become enmeshed with lawlessness, it is doubtful whether the rule of law can be restored and the killer squads restrained by merely reversing legislation.
The recent killing of Richard de Zoysa, a respected dramatist and journalist, and the disappearance of Lakshman Perera, U.N.P. municipal councillor for Mount Lavinia, both of whom were close to a particular section of the ruling party, raise questions of whether the internal politics of the ruling party is immune from the killer politics it had engendered for its survival. In Ceylon which had a long tradition of the military being subservient to the civilian authority, one must now ask where the power balance between the two really lies. In the de Zoysa and Lakshman Perera affairs, a large section of the cabinet appears to have been in the dark.
What appeared in the local press regarding both these incidents which took place in February 1990, poses several embarrassing questions for the state authorities. The journalist community was both scared for its safety, and skeptical of statements emanating from the government. The Minister for Information and Broadcasting summoned a special press conference on 19 February to say that the involvement of R.A.W., the Indian intelligence agency, was a possibility in Richard de Zoysa's abduction. Speaking to the press the same day, the Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs ruled out the possibility of R.A.W.'s involvement. There was to be more of this kind of contradictory statements from the government. Several prominent media persons took no chances and flew out of the country.
What an opposition member said in the parliament on the subject illustrates the enormity of the problem facing ordinary youth of the South:
"We may not take notice of a hundred Richard de Zoysa's killed in Hambantota, as indeed there have been. But the death of this man has pricked and wakened the somewhat anaesthetised conscience of the middle class".
As regards the Tamil problem, there has been no ideological conflict between the U.N.P. and the J.V.P.. In spite of having struck a deal with the L.T.T.E., the government is yet to put forward to the Sinhalese electorate, the reasons why power should be devolved to the Tamils. The conflict between the government and the J.V.P. has the hallmarks of a struggle for survival on the part of the former and one for power on the part of the latter. As much as the government may wish to devolve some power to the Tamils for pragmatic reasons, including that of marginalising India's role, whether it retains the required control over the armed forces and the administrative machinery is another matter.
The weakness of the arrangements between the Sri Lankan state and the L.T.T.E. result from ideological contradictions and conflicting aims, and the serious intrinsic weakness of both parties. Given this, it would be a gross exaggeration to say that Indian intentions have been defeated. True, a concert between the L.T.T.E. and the Sri Lankan state, rendered the maintenance of Indian troops on the ground a serious political liability. What India has now decided to do is to cut its liabilities and handle the problem differently from a stronger position. As the Indian presence was being whittled down, the euphoria in the South had virtually evaporated in the face of disturbing reports and questions in the press about the future. It would be very difficult for the Tamil party and the Sri Lankan state to distance themselves from the narrow ideological positions that have been built up over decades, particularly when a rival or dissident faction could trip them up by stepping into their shoes. This is what the J.V.P. had attempted to do. There are also pockets of discontent waiting to be used, such as happened in the provoking of violence between the Tamils and Muslims of the East in 1984. The importance of India in determining the power balance should not be underestimated.
On India's part, in using nationalist feelings in Tamil Nadu to pursue foreign policy objectives in Ceylon, it may have paid a heavier price in terms of its own internal stability than it had bargained for.
All in all there are a number of possible scenarios, most of them gloomy. Perhaps one lesson from all this is that the problems of Ceylon are to do with its own historical inertia and jaundiced states of mind arising from it, and that outsiders can do little to change this overnight. Some would contend that this is a historical experience that the people of that country have to live through before being forced to abandon their false values in the face of utter futility and desolation. It is not a mechanical process. It is, rather, a process that will call forth much individual courage. Indeed, it is under such conditions that some of the most powerful religious experiences have been realised. With this in mind, concerned outsiders, and, particularly, those who have undergone such experiences, can play a sympathetic role in protecting those who take risks in standing up for universal values and in providing encouragement to those who work for greater accountability from those who wield power. (Appendix I gives a brief impressionistic picture of recent developments.) [Top]
Home | History
| Briefings | Statements
| Bulletins | Reports
| Special Reports | Publications
Copyright © UTHR 2001