THE TAMIL PREDICAMENT
The struggle of the Tamil people, now more than forty years old, for their democratic rights, their dignity as a people and for the preservation of their identity, has been deemed a legitimate one by the world at large, including a large number of Sinhalese people. Many committed Tamil men and women who gave their energies to this struggle, had been widely respected. During the first three decades, when the struggle was in its manifestation almost entirely peaceful, it was often treated with violence and derision by the state. This, coupled with internal weaknesses in Tamil society itself, the short term requirements of external powers and the state, had all conspired to prop up in the cloak of `the sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people', a military forces. This force had entirely lost sight of the nobler values and objectives of the struggle. For a time, until the outbreak of the war, the association of this force with the Tamil people, suited the Sri Lankan state and its international backers. A number of intellectuals uncritically wrote in approbation. Against such a powerful concert, the dissenting voices amongst Tamils who saw total disaster and humiliation, were often patronisingly ignored. Many others were either overawed or terrified into silence. In the face of this conspiracy, it is only logical that when inhuman acts such as killings of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians are committed, Tamils as a whole are held to blame. Barbaric reprisals against Tamil civilians are treated with indifference. The drift of state and media propaganda is such that a moral case is being made for a permanent disruption of collective Tamil civilian existence.
A large proportion of Tamils (about 25% of Jaffna) has already left the country, mainly as refugees. The larger proportion of young men who sacrificed their future for the militant struggle and the cause of freedom, have either died or lead a hunted, disillusioned existence. Goaded on by the fear of annihilation by state forces, an increasing number of children, barely in their teens, are being systematically brutalised and used as lethal machines. Reports suggest that children have been used in acts of violence against Sinhalese civilians and prisoners of war. In contrast, those who have met these boys and girls at sentry points came away with the inescapable impression that in their innocent talk and smiles, they remain none other than children. Some manning sentry points appeared more frightened than those whom they checked. Are they fated to be mowed down, or is there a way out for them?
Many mature persons killed by their own people during the course of the struggle were elders, political activists, citizens' committee members and educationists, who even in a limited capacity provided the community with crucial leadership. Their role in voicing grievances demanded respect and challenged repressive tendencies in the state. While all groups were guilty of killing civilians, significant damage was done by the one group which regarded any good done to the community by a person independent of it a challenge and hence effectively treacherous. An ironic aspect of the current struggle is that the acknowledged leaders launch wars without any consultation or structure to defend the people against an angry army and even tell people that they must look after themselves. At its hour of greatest need, the community finds itself leaderless and numbed with terror.
The people are caught up in a crude political game, where the state's philosophy is to get the military upper hand before seeking a political solution. This means hammering away militarily, not caring what happens to the people, in the hope that when the rebel leaders themselves are threatened, they would negotiate. No prior thought is given to the content of a political solution based on principles of justice. Again and again this process has only strengthend the militaristic and anti-democratic tendencies in Tamil society.
This gives us some idea of the kind of politics that brought about a disintegration of civilised values in this country. Sinhalese people themselves became victims. The quarrel between the government and the JVP was not about democracy. To a large number of people throughout the country who have suffered destitution and bereavement, culture and identity have lost their meaning. These belong to higher stage of civilisation. Every slum and every village in the South has its tales of heart rending woe. To these people, the struggle is one for basic justice and humanity. The Tamil people by themselves alone have no way out.
The difference when it comes to minorities - Ceylon Tamils, Muslims and Hill Country TTamils - is that they have gone through experiences of collective threats to their physical existence. Thus in the broad struggle for justice, the quests of minorities for dignity and the preservation of their identity must be urgently addressed. To stubbornly insist on proposals which may have seemed reasonable and rational before the historical experience of victimisation through violence, would only court disaster. At a time when greater reassurance is called for, it would be very unwise for anyone to use military advantage to make territorial adjustments and effect transfers of population.
The country as a whole needs a different kind of politics with the people at its center.
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