EAST : The cauldron of hate
To appreciate the enormity of the problem in the East one must take into account the goals set by the Sri Lankan State, how it has pursued them in the context of existing communal tensions and also the quest for power amongst Tamil militant groups.
In examining Tamil-Muslim relations, it must not be forgotten that besides speaking the same language, large numbers of them went to school and played together, did business together and have had excellent relations. Mr. Ashraff, the leader of the Muslim Congress, traces his political origins back to the Tamil led Federal Party and is regarded as a better orator in Tamil than his Tamil counter-parts. MP's like Abdul Majid were respected by Tamils and Muslims alike. There have also been many prominent Muslims associated with Tamil militant groups. The LTTE itself has a number of Muslims in its ranks. In most places, up to this time, communal relations were tolerably good.
Tensions in Kalmunai go back to the 60's when Tamil landholders started losing land to Muslim land-lords. The Kalmunai Mosque stands in a place that was a Tamil squatter colony about 25 years ago. (See Qadri Ismail on the riots in Kakmunai where Muslims premises were burnt by Tamil militants - Sunday times, September 1987). While there may be valid legal arguments on one side, the Tamils allege that these transfers were effected with the aid of the police which had an anti-Tamil bent from the 60's. Many Tamil militants from this area had grown up with the legacy of feeling disinherited.
For the Tamils, differences with Muslims remained a secondary issue in the face of Sinhalese colonisation - particularly in Trincomalee and Amparai. While more subtle sections of governments have talked about this in terms of development, others together with leading persons in public life have quite openly talked in terms of asserting that the land belongs to the Sinhalese and to Buddhism. There is enough documented evidence showing that ministers and government officials in the latter category have used their authority and resources in the direction of destroying the Tamil identity. Such persons had even written books on pet projects dealing with creating corridors of Sinhalese settlements between Mullaitivu and Trincomalee districts (Weli Oya project) and between Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts (Maduru-Oya project) (See: `for a Sovereign Stat' by S. Gunaratne)
Part of the Sinhalese district of Moneragala was linked to the Ampara district by government edict which shifted the ethnic balance in this district in favour of the Sinhalese. It was in this context of beleagueredness and of direct experience of state military oppression since 1982, that a majority of the rank and file of Tamil militants were recruited from the East. Their motivation was survival and were little interested in group affiliations and leadership rivalries in the North.
Following contacts with the US government, help from Israel, Pakistan and Britain started arriving in 1984 to help the government combat the Tamil insurgency. At this point the government set about using Muslim feelings. Pakistani trained Muslim home guards armed with AK 47's started operating under the name `Jihad'. They were not a coherent fighting unit. According to Tamil sources, the Jihad were quite often scape goats and that much of the killing and burning attributed to the Jihad, was actually done by the government's STF. As the government had calculated, this process increased communal tensions. Muslim policemen too became suspect in Tamil eyes. Tamils increasingly looked upon the militant groups as a life-line. Ruthlessness which was seen to be in defence of the Tamils evoked feelings of legitimacy and admiration. This was the nature of the attack on Gadaffi Restaurant in Kathakudi in 1985, which was said to be a meeting place of Jihad members who harassed Tamils. The attack by the LTTE was led by Newton of Pt. Pedro. By this time, the arrogance of militant groups towards civilians was on the increase and this was bound to be greater in the case of Muslim civilians. Muslim anxieties were reflected in the rise of the SLMC. It was only natural for many Muslims to see the Jihad as a liberation group. Like the Tamil groups, it too was aided by an external force and its strength and functions were carefully limited to facilitate use and control.
With the confinement of the STF after the arrival of the IPKF, the Tamil militant groups went on binges of rioting against Muslims in Kalmunai and Samanthurai. Many of the Jihad members fled to Colombo. Following the outbreak of the current war, these Jihad members have been flown back to Kalmunai and Kalmunai residents have seen them in the company of Sri Lankan forces.
The other element in this process of embitterment are the Sinhalese colonists as distinct from long time Sinhalese residents. The former were from impoverished sections in the South, fed on anti-Tamil sentiments and settled in the East through subterfuge with the connivance od sections of the government. The squatter colony of Sirimapura in Trincomalee for instance, is on land used to house lavatory coolies by the former British naval authorities. With every bout of anti-Tamil violence, the security forces helped them to capture more land - particularly in Trincomalee. This was reflected in the strength of the Tamil militant movement in the Trincomalee district. As a result of the Sri Lankan army's campaign, nearly all Tamil villagers in Trincomalee had become refugees in 1985. At about the same time attacks on Sinhalese villages in the border areas by Tamil militants had intensified. These Sinhalese fled in large numbers as refugees to safe areas in Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.
One thing was clear in the number of interviews with Sinhalese and news paper articles published during 1985-87. Despite repeated assurances of security for these settlements, what they were actually given was just nominal. They had been living in conditions where basic health, education and schooling were grossly inadequate. They had been given more promises than actual help. Now that they were refugees they would be paid well publicised visits with gifts by high society charity organisations from Colombo, for whom Tamil refugees did not exist. But there was little question of finding new lives for them where they could live as human beings. The question was how to make them go back to where they had fled from. The refugees also complained of derisive treatment by locals. They were looked upon as frontline troops who had deserted and were asking for permanent home leave. Thus leading sections of Tamil and Sinhalese nationalism were agreed that they were regular cannon fodder.
With the arrival of the IPKF and the militant rampage in early October 1987, Sinhalese in many parts of Trincomalee found themselves as refugees, living near Sri Lankan army camps. They had their turn with the outbreak of the current war.
This brief sketch gives a picture of the bitter legacy leading to the brutalisation of culture in the East. In order to dissipate Tamil demands for a homeland and to obtain Sinhalese supremacy, the state has pursued a policy resulting in the creation of there communities cornered into a brutal culture, seeing no way out. To the ruling class in Colombo, its aims in the East are a mere question of ego fulfillment. It would not dream of planting its sons and daughters as Sinhalese colonists.
Since the outbreak of war, the government has been moving in the direction of dismantling the political settlement leading to the formation of the North-Est provincial council. It has also delinked 9 villages from Batticaloa District and linked them with Amparai District. There are also moves to settle, or resettle, Sinhalese in the East. The term used is rehabilitation of displaced persons. Building materials are being sent to police stations. All this is being done when there is no effective Tamil structure or authority to ask questions. In the meantime attacks on sinhalese villages in border areas had recommenced. The government is once again pursing a course of marginalising any civilised political effort, giving legitimacy on both sides exclusively to military extremism.
As Easterner, who had witnessed building materials being sent from Anuradhapura to Trincomalee in NW provincial council
vehicles said without emotion, "If the government is going ahead with colonisation, there will be `blue murder'. They will not succeed." For the Tamils, their options represent a painful dilemma. A large number of Tamils living in this country as well as abroad, whose sentiments tend towards non-violence, also admit a need for a militant option. They would say, "If the boys are crushed, the Sinhalese government would disinherit us, making us non-persons on our own land." While those abroad may still romanticism the militant struggle, those at home tend to have a more schizophrenic relationship with militants. Quite often, they fear the militants as well as the state's forces. They are placed in circumstances, where the question, will not the methods adopted to preserve the land, also destroy the community, is seldom asked.
The present rule of the game is to strike pre-emptively, and strike hard without mercy, at anyone who may be a real or potential enemy. The government forces kill and burn Tamils, often indiscriminately, by the hundreds. The government also stirs up internal differences by using Muslim and Tamil collaborators. Information about its actions is carefully suppressed. The policy of firm reprisals by the Tamil party, has tended to become more indiscriminate over the years. For a qualitative improvement, it is essential that the government must set itself high standards, must stop using differences between communities and must not use its power in a manner that males communities feel threatened.
The Responsibility of Tamils:
It is easy to yield to the temptation of looking upon present actions on the Tamil side as a behavioural response of a beleaguered community, where considerations of morality and human rights are irrelevant. Such a view leads to acquiescence in a process of destruction and tragedy. To get things in perspective, we need to look at the historical process that has resulted from intolerance and a neglect of human values. We have to look at how the dominant ideology divided the Tamils, made a vast number of persons traitors by definition, wasted the community's potential and submerged its creativity beneath an exaltation of militarism. Its results were most tragic in the East. The Eastern Tamils never wanted a divided militant movement and yet in the wake of the IPKF withdrawal, many Eastern Tamils were killed by fellow Tamils as traitors. When the provincial council offer provided some reprieve for the Tamils, Tamil interests would have been best served by using whatever devolution was available, making a strong case for more and by making every effort to settle territorial question and autonomy for the Muslims. While prospects existed for a peaceful resolution, the dismantling of this possibility together with what was achieved, was aided and abetted by Tamil rivalry. In place of a possible nonviolent option, we are left with a violent non-option.
The Muslim response must also be viewed with understanding. It would be wrong to turn individual instances into broad generalities as Sinhalese Tamil-baiters did to Tamils. To identify the Jihad with the SLMC would lead to mistaken policies, as did the identification of the TULF with the Tamil militant tendency by the government in the late 70's and early 80's. True there were links between the two. But the failure to respect the TULF as an institution representing the Tamils led to a total alienation of the Tamils. Questioning the policies and achievements of the SLMC is best left to Muslims. Tamils did resent ridicule of the TULF and patronising attitudes towards it by Sinhalese. It the role of the Jihad is a distasteful one, so must be the roles of nearly all Tamil groups who have been used in similar tasks by one both of the Indian and Sri Lankan states.
The dominant Tamil politics, predating the militant movement, has looked upon ordinary Sinhalese as non-persons. There has been no attempt to look upon Sinhalese settlers as themselves victims of the system. Killing them has led to a costly moral isolation of the Tamils.
APPEAL FOR URGENT ACTION
The Jaffna situation : 9th August 1990
The intensity of bombing has increased during the last two weeks. Ten bombers are up in the air most of the day. The sound is driving people mad. Psychiatric trauma has reached serious levels. Though Jaffna town has been defaced, civilian causalities up to now are small in comparison with the East. Often warning leaflets were dropped or people took alarm and areas subject to intense bombing were mostly vacated. But the increasing callousness of the bombing, shelling. government attitudes and Tiger propaganda are taking its toll. Helicopters seldom pass Chunnakam market without firing at random. Bomber pilots aim at LTTE camps and hit civilian houses. FM conversations between pilots reflect their hatred of civilians below. (e.g. pilot to leader: "I have one bomb left". Leader to pilot: "Drop it anywhere"). The Roman Catholic Cathedral was damaged and a barrel of human excreta was dropped over the same area from the air. This was construed as a reply to the appeal to the president on a political solution, signed by other religious leaders including Bishop Deogupillai. The mental damage to the people is incalculable.
The LTTE has been on the other hand driving it in that this is the final battle and that if the government forces come in, there will be no one left living. Girls and boys in their early teens are joining in large numbers for training in self defence. Even old men attempt to go through rigorous physical exercise in the belief that they are going to protect their grand-children. Apparently not pleased with the level of civilian casualities, bombers are lured into areas of civilian concentration by small arms provocation from below. Schools are closed and their premises used as training centers and for publicity meetings. Trainees swear oaths to the Tiger cause. The slogan now is foreach household to help the struggle by contributing either a son or two sovereigns of gold. Dissenters are subject to abuse and pressure. Those wanting to leave Jaffna have to obtain permits. A society whose authoritarianism and hypocrisy has frustrated its young, has also given them a politics of suicide. Young boys with scanty training who die in large numbers are not accounted for in the casualty figures of martyrs. Those who want to sit for public exams are prevented from leaving. Education is at a standstill. Leading propagandists drum it in that a 12-year-old who can fire a gun is of more service than an academic. The pressure is such that people are prevented from thinking at all. [Top]
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