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Chapter 8


(February, 1988)

8.1 Jaffna

The open fields around Jaffna make a wondrous sight during the early months of the year. Just such a field lies three miles to the east of the city, marking two miles of open space extending up to the lagoon that separates Valikamam from Thenmaratchi. January saw the fields lush green with newly grown rice. Its canals, filled with water during the rainy season contain riches for an enthusiastic bird watcher. Wild duck, kingfisher, stork and some less common species are all there. One can watch with fascination as a duck glides in the air, nose-dives into the water and comes out with a wriggling fish in its beak. As the month wears on, the stalks turn golden as the rice ripens. Amidst all this beauty, one has to learn to ignore the rusting bodies of cast-away motor vehicles. Jaffna is an orphaned city. There are no city fathers. Faceless men come and go. They build anywhere. They dump rubbish anywhere.

     If you miss the scene for two weeks, by mid-February an entirely different scene greets your eyes. The green is no more. The fields are strewn with newly mown hay, a haystack in every square. Gusts of the northeasterly wind carry the voices of women who are threshing the rice. This time the fields are filled with other kinds of birds, including the common sparrow and the seven sisters, scavenging for left over grains. A solitary dog goes about savouring new smells. Against the reddening glow of the setting sun families walk home, their work done, carrying baskets filled with tiffin carriers, water bottles and thermos flasks. They are in no hurry to beat the curfew. A huge, lone bird with a long beak and of light brown hue reposes in an air of meditation befitting the solemn eve. The nesting songs of a multitude of feathery denizens, hymn the descent of night. Next, it will be the turn of cattle. A morning caller will relish the joyous sight of new born calves frisking in the sun.

     The coming of the southeast monsoon by the middle of the year will see the same fields thronged with children flying kites. When we were children, there used to be an old labourer who could make ten kinds of kite and would readily oblige children. He is gone now. Some of his sons, they say, went to West Germany. We had little time for such things since we were past the leisure of childhood. We were busy becoming accountants, doctors, engineers and as the last resort, that underrated underdog, the school teacher. With all their liabilities, social and economic, they must carry the burden of responsibility for what the ancient Greeks called "arete" (all round excellence) of generations to come. When one looks back on the benign influences on one's life, one may easily think of a self-effacing school teacher or spiritual mentor who acts as a spring of lucid water, unseen of the eye. But seldom would one think of a doctor, an engineer or an accountant. Today even children do not have time for such things. Well bred children are taught early in life to say: "I am busy". Our educational system is one huge edifice on the Gradgrind model, immortalised by Charles Dickens in "Hard Times". We brought forth far too few men who were historians, men of originality or men of vision. Having paid the price, the hangover from four years of war has given us plenty of time to reflect, to notice those things we chose not to see. The only busy ones are those applying for foreign visas.

     It is often said that Jaffna is back forty years in time. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of personal taste. One sense in which that is true is that the bulls are back in business. The old Dutch Road linking Uduvil and Sandilipay is a scene of striking beauty right round the year. The younger lads will of course prefer the beauties at Uduvil Girls' College where Dutch Road begins, provided irate fathers wielding walking sticks are not around to intercept letters passed over the wall. Those with a reflective turn of mind could go further down where the only reminders of present times are tall electric pylons and military helicopters plying between Jaffna Fort and Palaly. Some passers by stopped to see the sight that was considered abolished -- a man who was ploughing with bulls. He stopped and inquired what they were looking at. "We were wondering at what you are doing", they replied. "Oh, that", he said, and smiled, putting up his hand to shade his eyes from the rays of the morning sun. He continued: "Only the big farmers can afford tractors now. The fuel charges are prohibitive. Give me two good bulls and I can plough half an acre in 3 hours flat."

8.2     The South

Over a year the country lost two of its most promising national leaders, Mr. Sarath Muttetuwegama, the Communist Party member of parliament and Mr. Vijaya Kumaranatunge, leader of the Sri Lanka People's Party. Their significance was that while they addressed the majority Sinhalese constituency, they articulated the grievances of all the people in Ceylon - including the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese poor. Few with a mass following have done it since 1956 with so much honesty, effect and conviction. The first died in a motoring accident and the latter was killed on 14 February, 1988 by a killer from the J.V.P. (Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna). Two other national leaders who died since the July 1983 anti-Tamil violence are Bishops Lakshman Wickremasinghe (Anglican) and Leo Nanayakkara (Roman Catholic), both of whom were widely respected throughout the country. Undoubtedly it was men like the bishops who paved the way for the political leaders named above. The story of Bishop Lakshman's intellectual journey was one of how difficult it was for a man from an educated middle class Sinhalese family to break out of the assumptions of Sinhalese nationalism. An unwholesome trend that has sprung up in the South is that many intellectuals are not reflecting on their role which resulted in the crisis that hovers over the entire country. But they are rather given over to glee over the fate of the Tamils during the Indian army's progress in the last months of 1987. They occupy themselves trying to prove how Tamils may have fared better if the Sri Lankan army had been allowed to do the job. Having had little to say during the 4 years of bloodletting, gestures of sympathy for the Tamils have followed the Indian offensive. There are of course many in the South, perhaps fewer in the North, who have been unwavering in the cause of justice to all, Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese. Papers in the South which branded as terrorist anyone who spoke about the atrocities of the Sri Lankan army, seemed to be suddenly telling the truth. Publicity was given to statements by the afflicted, who in their anger said things like: "The Sri Lankan Army is much better than the Indian Army," and to those who have called the Indian Army a "beggar army". The fact is that both armies behaved badly. Though the Colombo papers did not say it, the Sri Lankan Army too, had indulged in widespread murder, rape and looting. The pre-occupation with Indian bashing is yet another manifestation of the destructive face of Sinhalese nationalism. 

      Those who formerly supported the militarism of the government are the very ones who are now angry with the government for having harvested the fruits of this militarism - namely India's role in this country's affairs. This anger has now turned into blind sympathy for the J.V.P., simply because the J.V.P. is anti-India, anti-government and is shooting. The J.V.P. also receives sympathy from a group of intellectuals who having imbibed the mish-mash of liberation ideologies and tend to sympathise with any gun-toting group that styles itself a liberation movement. In their view, which is based on a few external factors, the J.V.P. represents the legitimate aspirations of the Sinhalese people, just as the L.T.T.E. did those of the Tamils.

      In a real sense the J.V.P. is logical extension of the Sinhalese chauvinism of the mainline parties. The J.V.P. (popularly known as the Che Guavera movement in 1971) launched a rebellion against the government of Mrs. Bandaranaike's in 1971 which was brutally suppressed within six weeks. In this period, an estimated 15,000 Sinhalese youths were killed. Its leaders were released from prison by the new Jayewardene government in 1977 and the party was legitimised. Although this received general approval, subsequently there was widespread feeling that, given the intransigent nature of the J.V.P., this was also a Machiavellian move by the ruling U.N.P. to split the votes of the left parties (S.L.F.P., L.S.S.P., C.P., and N.S.S.P.). True to the government's cynical and unprincipled form, when it was accused by the international community of responsibility for violence against Tamils in July 1983, it tried to turn the blame on  three of the left parties, the C.P., N.S.S.P., and the J.V.P.. All were banned. The ban on the J.V.P. remained. Its leaders including Rohana Wijeweera who contested the 1982 presidential elections, went underground. The attempt to find scapegoats did not stick. The ban on the C.P. and the N.S.S.P., which had taken an anti-racist stand, was lifted. If the J.V.P. had participated in the 1983 race riot, it was under a smoke screen provided by the government itself. The J.V.P. had little opportunity while the government pursued a military approach to the Tamils. The J.V.P. was to have its opportunity, however, when the government faced the necessary consequences of its actions and bowed to India's wishes.

      The other source of strength to the J.V.P. is the failure of the left parties as a result of their own inadequacies, together with the government's repression. By 1980, the government's open economic policies resulted in a high inflation rate. The worker dissatisfaction led to the general strike that year. The strike was put down with widespread use of thuggery and 40,000 dismissals. Mr. Cyril Mathew, then Minister for Industries and the then Prime Minister Premadasa, who is now the President, were widely associated with the goon squads which made their appearance again in July 1983 against Tamils. The helplessness of the Left in the face of the failure of the general strike resulted in its humiliation and a Pyrrhic victory for the government. The J.V.P. thus stands to acquire the mantle of being anti-India, ant- Tamil, anti-government and pro- socialist, all at once. Considerable sympathy results for the J.V.P. not from its ability to do anything constructive, but simply because it warms hearts by shooting at policemen and politicians and becoming, thus, the Sinhalese people's vicarious avenger. This is in many ways similar to the support the militant groups, especially the L.T.T.E., gained amongst Tamils who were smarting under the humiliations inflicted on them by the government. After the July 1983 violence a catch phrase amongst Tamil expatriates used to be, "I will give money to whoever hammers hardest and gives us action."

      Where the use of English has declined and wholesome alternative reading in the local languages is hard to come by, opportunities abound for charlatans within and without the universities who can throw around some big words and big names from the West. The arduous journey from Marxism to fascism which was performed for the L.T.T.E. by Anton Balasingam, is now being performed for the benefit of the J.V.P. in the South. Writing in Sinhalese, one southern intellectual has said that just as Newtonian Physics was rendered false by Einsteinian Physics, which in turn was rendered false by Quantum mechanics; the Western philosophy of Marxism has now been out-moded. It would hardly be surprising if in its dialectical turn around, the J.V.P. is now preparing to cut off its vestigial links with Marxism and incorporate some Buddhist symbolism.

      Many would agree that the main problem facing this country is the frustration created by a lack of democracy. The forms of it which exist today are too crude, and the holders of power too crass for the system to give redress to small groups with legitimate grievances. Faced with the potent menace of its own creation, the government with no new ideas left has resorted to the same methods that failed against Tamils. The Special Task Force (S.T.F.) which was created by President Jayawardene's son Ravi and trained by former S.A.S. men from Britain, for use against Tamils, is now deployed against the J.V.P. in the deep South. No one is talking about the scale of disappearances. When dealing with Tamils at least, the government had to look over its shoulder at both India and international opinion. Since repression in Tamil areas descended slowly and because the people believed they had a cause, several active groups had been able successfully to mobilise popular resistance until early 1983.

      The Sinhalese community now faces a grievous danger, both from their collective failure to deal justly with the Tamils and their own disaffected sections. The ruling class has wallowed in ill-gotten money, while the rural poor had been militarised and sent as cannon fodder in a much praised campaign to subdue the Tamils militarily. They had been sent as troopers, homeguards, and colonists into Tamil areas, and then precipitately abandoned when India entered the scene.

8.3 The Press

Sections of the press in Colombo at least seem to have begun regretting their silence over what the government did to the Tamil population. An abortive change seemed to be coming in January 1987 when Colomo's newspaper, The Island, made a departure from the normal practice of quoting official handouts, by giving publicity to a statement by a senior citizen in Batticaloa on the S.T.F. action in Kokkadichholai that resulted in scores of civilian deaths. As the war seemed to be getting in for a stalemate, Colombo's Sunday Island published interviews with national leaders where the questioning was more strident. But the cover up of the dirty war continued. Take for example the Sri Lankan Army's shelling of Jaffna town and its hospital on 7 March 1987 which resulted in 17 deaths. Unlike Juliet Ricks who reported for the BBC, Lucian Rajakarunayake who came to Jaffna to report for the Sunday Island (report on 22 March, 1987), found no evidence of the incident while many of the injured were still in hospital. He instead referred to the "alleged incident" in a dismissive manner. The Press in Colombo reflected the euphoria in the South when government forces took control of Vadamaratchi in June 1987. This reached a high pitch when the flotilla of Indian Red Cross relief vessels meekly turned back after interception by the Sri Lankan Navy. The commanding naval officer, in words that reflected popular Sinhalese prejudices about India, asked the Indians to give the food to their own starving people. Colombo was awash with drinking parties joined in by the press. Then came the Indian airdrop of relief supplies on 4 June ,1987 and all the euphoria and bravado of the politicians vanished without trace. Since then the press has taken on a somewhat chastised tone. The article in Colombo's Weekend of 19 July 1987, by Kumudini Hettiarachchi, trying to tell the Sinhalese how dangerously out of tune they are with the rest of the world in seeing this crisis, has been referred to in Vol I, Ch. 8. There was a general feeling that this country's official information outlets such as Lankapuwath, which had been tamely quoted by the press, had brought on the Sinhalese infamy and ridicule rather than straightening their image. In January 1988, Colombo's Sunday Times broke new ground by reporting that the Sri Lankan Police had been responsible for a reprisal in Batticaloa where civilians were killed.

      In their minds at least those in the South had begun to think of the North and East as an alien land. But how does the press in the South that had voluntarily worn the yoke of cowardice and falsehood, respond to a situation where the violence had come home ? There was no escape from the bloody schism within. Their own gut instincts too had let them down. Old habits are hard to break. Yet the press in Colombo is not without signs of hope.

      Although there is much published in Colombo now about the goings on in the North, one gathers that the subject of disappearances in the South is one that is hard to write about. There was one remarkable interview in the Sunday Island (21 February, 1988) with Mr. Ravi Jayewardene, son of and security advisor to President Jayewardene.The interview by Lasantha Wickrematunge in which Ravi Jayewardene was queried about the S.T.F. which he fathered is remarkable for containing more information in the questions rather than in the answers. Here are some excerpts:

Question: The S.T.F. is identified with the "Green Tigers'" activities in the South. What is the extent of S.T.F. involvement with the "Green Tigers" especially with stories relating to the disappearance of a large number of youths?

Answer: None. Frankly I do not know what the "Green Tigers" is and who runs it...... the S.T.F. will have no involvement with them at all. They are a highly disciplined force and I cannot imagine them committing atrocities.

Question: How do you think people have got confused and the accusations are made against the S.T.F.?

Answer: I know how this mistake has been made. Many units in camouflage uniforms have been deployed today by the police and other organisations in all parts of the island. Some of these units are mistaken for the S.T.F. giving it a bad name....

            The choice of the name "Green Tigers" for the semi-official hit squad is a genuflection in the direction of the government's erstwhile foe, the L.T.T.E.. The answers by Ravi Jayewardene are an admission that there is something afoot in the South that the government ought to be ashamed of. From the absence of the details of disappearances appearing in the press, one gathers that the press is either not privy to, or is reluctant to publish such information.  In this at least Mr.S. Sivanayagam and Mr. Gamini Navaratne, who in turn edited the weekly "Saturday Review"  from Jaffna must remain pioneers. They sought and published details of human rights violations in the North and East, as well as information passed on to them from the South. (One might say the Saturday Review said too little on such violations by militant groups. Still what it said was much more than what others were willing to say). This is a sure sign that the Prevention of Terrorism Act that was meant for the Tamils has, as predicted, come to roost in the South. To survive under the P.T.A., an editor needs a feeling, as well as guts, for the game of going to the brink and taking risks. No editor in Colombo will probably be allowed that opportunity.

            With public men in Colombo under threat of being murdered, journalists will no doubt feel themselves threatened sooner or later. However one does find in the South a greater willingness by several people to take a stand against extremists than one found in the North against militant excesses.  One reason for this is that the J.V.P. did not come to be seen as the legitimate voice of the Sinhalese people in the way that militant groups came to be seen as the voice of the Tamil people. Thus the resulting confusion amongst Tamils was greater. We give an extract from an article in the Sunday Times of 21 February, 1987, by Qadri Ismail, on the subject of the murder of Vijaya Kumaranatunge by the J.V.P.:

"By killing him the J.V.P. can no longer pretend that it is not a racist organisation -- let alone a democratic one. This was known by all but the wilfully blind many months ago. The J.V.P. has now proved something else:  that they do not intend to capture power by convincing the people of the superiority of their ideas. They do not have any. They intend to capture power by silencing all those with ideas. Then the only thing left may be the J.V.P. - and its guns; for the only option left for Wijeweera now is to kill all those standing in his way -- even if some of them are now his allies and sympathisers. The gentleman in Sri Lankan politics has been killed for the crime of threatening to unite his country."

      While the government is seen to be blundering along with democratic opinion unable to bring it to account, the J.V.P. may receive a good deal of blind sympathy, even from those who abhor its actions. A stage may be reached where fear will prevent the voicing of honest opinion. More and more people in the South are becoming silent on learning that they are on the J.V.P.'s hit list or are under suspicion by the forces of the state. The Tamils went through a similar process. Up to July 1983 it was possible for those with some courage and a popular base to criticise fascist tendencies in the militant groups. With the blind surge of popularity for the militants and the material support they received from India after the July '83 violence against Tamils, all voices of reason ceased and consciences became hard. Anyone who criticised the actions of militants was branded a traitor and soon pushed to the wall.

      In such confrontations, with the state failing to maintain high standards of humanity in its conduct, each side tends to seek the compliance of the populace through terror. When the methods of liberation groups are seen to be utterly deplorable, the state obtains legitimacy, both local and international, to unleash its capacity for unlimited terror. The legacy of the J.V.P. and the L.T.T.E. must be seen in this context. In the coming times, the press is bound to face extremely difficult times as well as opportunities to be creative.

8.4   India

An article by K.J.Akhbar, Editor of the Calcutta Telegraph, published in Colombo's Sunday Times of 14 February, 1987, from all we are able to gather, gives a fair insight into the thinking of the Indian elite that governs the presence of Indian forces in Sri Lanka. After referring to the humanitarian nature of India's original involvement (to help the Tamils protect themselves from Lanka's army), he quite rightly points out the danger inherent in creating new countries in India's neighbourhood (in this case Tamil Eelam):

"The Anandpur Sahib Resolution, in which lies the genesis of the demand for Khalistan (just as the genesis of Pakistan lies in the Lahore Resolution), was conceived within months of Bangladesh being created. Let us have no illusion that a number of such resolutions would have sprung up also within months of creating another country in Lanka and that if we would ever manage to do so. A new flag anywhere in the world is a dangerous thing: it breeds new ideas...... We have no option except to seek protection of our own interests within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. Once we accept that we must also accept the consequence: the price we must pay is to guarantee the unity of the country, more particularly because we played no little role in creating the Tiger's capacity to challenge Lanka's integrity. It is in a sense fortunate that the Lankan army proved incapable of breaking the Tigers, for otherwise we would have had a permanently entrenched hostile neighbour as in Pakistan."

He then speaks of the importance of Trincomalee and how important it is not to have a hostile power controlling Sri Lanka's coastline:

"How long do you think it would have taken for small boats to start ferrying arms into India to help insurrectionist groups to continue their wars against the Indian state? There is no shortage of such groups. The Naxalites, I am certain would welcome an infusion of arms to fight their wars of liberation in Andhra Pradesh, Bengal and Bihar..... Let us not delude ourselves that another Punjab cannot happen..... Would someone in Pakistan not like, for instance, to arm a Muslim extremist group in Hyderabad or Naxalites in Andhra? Or who knows which future secessionist in Tamil Nadu? Or simply fuel normal communal tensions which bedevil us?"

What emerges is a preoccupation with national security not dissimilar to that of the Sri Lankan government.  One question the Indian elite do not ask is why these secessionist tendencies arise ? What are the genuine problems of regions that ought to be met by democratic accommodation ? Even token acts of statesmanship seem to founder -- such as the fate of the Akali Dhal -- because of a lack of commitment by the centre, a lack of trust, and a cynicism that comes from trying to be clever. It seems so, casually natural for them to arm the Tigers when it suits them on the humanitarian grounds of protecting Tamils, and then to talk of fighting them on grounds of national interests and bash the Tamils in the process. Starting from Bhindranwale, similar tales of desultory cynicism lie behind many of India's problems. When the Indian ruling class finds itself in a corner after the calculations of the experts had failed, the policy changes in effect to one of sending in the C.R.P.F.  in the hope that once  bashed  hard enough, people would come round. Then come the tales of torture disappearances and the like on the one hand, and what seems a long lasting terrorist problem on the other. The Indian elite did not tire of lecturing the Sri Lankan government on the need for a political solution to the ethnic problem, but they themselves lacked the moral grit and honesty to apply their advice at home.

            The fathers of Indian independence had the strength of basic humanity and some commitment to democracy, although their self-righteousness was not always sustainable. The present ruling class annoyingly sports the latter without the corresponding moral underpinning. Having fought the British for their independence, the Indian elite is in danger of forming a cruder form of polity than what the British left behind. The trouble is that much Indian discussion on security matters is done by technocratic minds that are very erudite and have imbibed the latest and smartest in geopolitics. This leads to a natural substitution of the military for common morality in approaching problems. It boosts their sense of personal vanity to think of themselves as a Henry Kissinger - like maestros moving military presences and bargaining chips here and there. The smell of decaying flesh and the sights of misery are far away from their limousines and air-conditioned offices. It is easy for them to forget that they too are mortals.

            Except for those who are too clever to see it, it is idle to pretend that means do not matter, however desirable the ends. Just as the L.T.T.E.'s Anuradhapura massacre of Sinhalese came back home in the form of open indifference to Tamil lives, and the Sri Lankan S.T.F.'s methods in Tamil areas and the generally violent approach to the Tamil problem resulted in a climate of arbitrary killing in the South. The callousness of methods used by India in Sri Lanka will create in India itself a mental and moral climate where the same methods look legitimate.

            If free media coverage of the I.P.K.F.'s activities in Jaffna had been permitted, in place of official lying which brought discredit on India, much good would have been achieved. It would have also helped to control some of the cruder military minds of the kind which attempted to close the Uthayan newspaper premises on 11 October, 1987 by shelling its neighbourhood near Kailasapillayer Kovil, killing 13 civilians in the process.

            Indians cannot evade responsibility for what their soldiers did in Sri Lanka by simply giving discourses on military psychology. While their politicians seem ignorant, their military top brass talk of how their hearts bleed for the distress of the Tamil people and go on to explain murder and rape in terms of the psychology of the soldier and battle fatigue. One could see that they are unrepentant about what has happened and about the ugly things that still happen. It will be apparent to a reader of the events described that there is much more to them than the psychology of the soldier - namely incompetence and callousness at the top, both political and military.

            Such excuses will not do for a country which had not tired of lecturing the Sri Lankan government on the atrocious conduct of its army. India did not and would not accept explanations in terms of the psychology of the Sinhalese soldier, who, like the Indian soldier, could be a charming fellow at other times.

            To our knowledge, not one Indian soldier has been tried for human rights violations, of which there are many. Bruised prisoners are routinely seen in public as if that was the natural course of things. Several who were taken in by the Indian Army have not re-appeared. That is also the natural order of things for which apologies are considered unnecessary. Perhaps Indian hearts bleed for the tragedy of the suffering universe without being able to relate it to  flesh and blood individuals.

            Every British outrage since the Amritsar massacre of 1919, every lathi blow, and every hour spent in prison, has been counted as forming the anvil on which the Indian nation was nobly forged. Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, a member of the Hunter Committee that was appointed to investigate the incident, estimated that about 400 unarmed Punjabi's were gunned down at Jallianwall Bagh during the Baisakhi festival of April 1919. The British Army too had its psychology. It had a mutiny complex after the Indian mutiny of 1857 which made them excessively anxious about crowds. If human failings could be offered as excuses, there is no need for the law, the cornerstone of civilised life. The British who, to their credit, were at least conscious of their obligation to the law, did not offer such excuses. A committee of inquiry headed by Lord Hunter was appointed. Mahatma Gandhi who had trusted the British in the same manner that Tamils of Sri Lanka had trusted India, was dismayed by the incident at Amritsar. When the Hunter report was published it struck Gandhi as being little better than "thinly disguised whitewash" and went on to ask if there was some secret code of conduct governing the official class in India "before which the flower of the great British nation fell prostrate." (Mahatma Gandhi, by B.R Nanda, Unwin Books). That still did not amount to total dismissal.

            The Tamils of Sri Lanka have witnessed many more than 400 deaths of un-armed non-combatant civilians resulting from Indian fire in what was to have been a disarming operation. Many of those deaths resulted from clumsy indifference by what was said to be the disciplined and competent forces of a great nation. No commission of inquiry has been appointed, even if just to let the Indian parliament know what happened.

            If India is serious about the values of civilisation and the rule of the law, it is no good talking about the provocative conduct of the L.T.T.E. and the anger of the soldiers. The civilians too were angry, angry with both the L.T.T.E. and the Indians. But they were helpless. The first thing about civilisation is the protection of the helpless. How many Brigadier-General Dyers and how many Amritsars has the Indian state produced in the 40 years since independence? Can India afford them?

            A notorious order by General Dyer had made Indians crawl on their bellies in a street in the Punjab where a European woman had been assaulted. It reminds one of the way Indians in Sri Lanka do their round ups and keep people humiliatingly waiting for hours to be viewed by informants. Sometimes they are mercilessly beaten for no provocation. On 7 January, 1988, everyone, high and low, in the commercial heart of Jaffna was rounded up and made to sit on the road in the hot sun from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.. This was after an unknown person had shot dead a soldier. No water was given. Those on the fringes were continually beaten. An officer addressed them several times as "bastards". When they were released it was time for curfew. When they attempted to go home in the morning after roughing out the night in shophouses, they were again beaten. Do Indians ever not learn from their own history ?

            What we are saying is that India, which is rightly critical of the evils in Israel and of white racism in Africa, and has itself experienced these evils at first hand, should not merely have formally enforced the laws enshrining centuries of human wisdom; but should also have displayed greater respect for their content.

            It is left for Indians to decide whether they wish to be faithful to the ideals of their independence struggle. We can only wish them well, not least because we cannot afford turmoil in our big neighbour and to a large extent our spiritual home. This requires a reassessment of moral priorities. 

8.5   Some Final Thoughts

I.      People's Life and an Alternative

The war has smashed organised life and removed all types of semblance of control that the community possessed over civil structures. It has also brought out all the weaknesses of this community and pushed it into total inertness. Indian rule asserts itself through military and political means. The middle classes which have traditionally functioned as servants rather than as initiators are unable to break through, or render their noncommittal services to whomever they have come to accept as their master.

      The intelligentsia, which at this juncture should be the catalyst energising the benumbed community,  is unable to do so. In many instances they have side stepped confrontational issues with the I.P.K.F. (as they have done with the militant groups) and have resigned themselves to passivity. This is the result of their history. As in the past, their conceptual and moral shallowness has made them submit to the authoritarianism of the L.T.T.E. and to gloss over the L.T.T.E.'S brutality. A handful of them have even produced acceptable theories to explain many of the atrocities. Some have attempted to isolate and victimise critics of the movement. However the character of this articulate intellectual segment is largely opportunistic. Their activities, intellectual contributions and their public life, all reflect their stand of preferring to do what is convenient rather than doing what ought to be done. The characteristics of this position are authoritarianism and brutality which characterised their the leadership. Their unprincipled conduct reflected merely a desire to create niches for themselves within which they could survive with the trappings of respectability and nominal power. Yet at the same time they ensured for themselves exoneration from the burden of these reactionary policies by deliberately hanging on at the periphery of these tendencies rather than committing themselves. What is the unacknowledged basis of this segment's position? Why is it that their aspirations do not fit into the classical definitions of organic or traditional intellectuals? This segment is a product of the colonial middle class, whose path to intellectual pretensions was an off shoot of getting educated only for materialist aspirations.

      They were unable totally to break obligations of patronage to the ruling class in Colombo as well. Thus vacillation, and rootlessness led many of them to this weak two timing position. The term "Lumpen-intellectuals" describes them well. As the articulate sections of the community fail the people, what is the alternative? Can the organised political voices provide the way ?

      The L.T.T.E.'s political line, its obstinacy and shortsightedness left us without any substantive achievement.  Even at present, their moves pave the way for total subjugation to Indian domination.  For example their recent warning to boycott the civil administration,  if heeded, will remove from people the little control they have over civil structures, thereby creating the conditions for Indian authority to encroach fully into the society. Thus the move is counter-productive and would signal doom, as control of the civil life of the community slips by default into Indian hands.

      On the other, hand can the E.P.R.L.F. or the E.R.O.S. provide the leadership? Although there is some evidence that they would try some reformist programmes, their limitation of being  subservient to India would sooner or later lead them to compromise on crucial issues concerning India's domination of the people. This can be seen from the absence of any protest from them against the I.P.K.F.'s atrocities against the ordinary civilians, so far. Therefore it is unlikely that they will be able to offer a viable alternative.

      Would the so called moderates, the T.U.L.F., be an answer? India would certainly try to bring them into  the mainstream. But they were the fathers of bigoted racist politics in the community. While they raised emotional anti-Sinhalese hysteria among Tamils, they were involved in tea party politics with the Sinhalese ruling class. At least the militant groups had a certain authenticity among the people, whereas the moderates lost it in time.

      Indian domination and Tamil narrow nationalism are contradictory. Although these two forces are conflicting, they are interlocked in each other's momentum. The undermining of these forces cannot be done by constructing strategies for the one or the other in isolation. Therefore, because of their interdependence, any alternative should construct a strategy that handles them as a whole. This can be done by bringing anti-racist forces together to undermine neocolonialist penetration and Indian hegemony - and, at the same time exposing the bankruptcy of extreme nationalism. In the Tamil areas, the failure of the L.T.T.E. and wars have brought disillusionment.  However, narrow nationalism is still a force in terms of ideology, though its support base is disgruntled, and  yet, not more enlightened. It is still anti-Sinhalese, and self-glorious in terms of its relations with India,  though the October war had dislodged the cosiness. 

      In the South, the rise of the J.V.P., a parallel to  the L.T.T.E., seems to be the only reply to the Indian presence.    Although at present,  the J.V.P. for tactical reasons has taken care not to come out with an overtly rhetorical stand or armed action against the Tamil population,  its anti-Tamil sentiments are well documented in its theoretical essays and exposed in the criticisms by the dissidents from that organisation. But they have never accepted devolution of power to Tamils nor have they any concrete programmes for solving the national question, apart from abstract and meaningless slogans. These dormant tendencies will surface when contradictions intensify with catastrophic consequences - as  happened in the case of  the L.T.T.E. which was ostensibly not anti-Sinhalese, before 1983, but later exposed its true nature. Without a programme to advocate the devolution of power, decentralization and a just political solution to Tamils, India could not be contained -- let alone be dislodged. Thus any individual organisation has to view the "rational" solution offered in the peace accord in its proper perspective, with a view to fashioning future tasks. It should not confuse justice to Tamils with Indian dominance or abdicate to India the responsibility for the former.

      The need to accept the political solution provided by the Accord as a first step is a reality. Therefore this position would rationalise the Indian presence. How should a political force articulating the people's interests, view this? We have to show that this devolution has not been the result of the struggles of the internal forces, but rather, that it is imposed by an external force due to the weakness of the internal forces. In such a context the only way an alternative could off-set domination is by strengthening the forces of democracy within. Only then can the devolutionary aspects of the Accord be realised. To achieve this, we have to, as a precondition, build back the weakened democratic structures. Democratisation of the communities should take place to articulate power at grass root level (in the broader interest of the community).

      This is a crucial step because, as in the Tamil nation, there has never been a healthy, full blown articulation of the people's interests. While the L.T.T.E.'s vision of people's struggles was one of heroes and subjects, other movements like the E.P.R.L.F. and the E.R.O.S. who criticised the L.T.T.E.'s programmes and spoke of the need to mobilise the people, did not themselves have a concrete concept or programme relevant to our realities. Structures for participation by the people were mechanically thought out and remained in the manifestos. Though individuals in these movements strove to work towards a vision, the lack of a coherent organisational programme and the estrangement of theory from practice resulted in empty slogans. That is why, when internal violence and intergroup brutality broke out, there was little visible protest. However,  certain instances, such as the T.E.L.O.'s internal violence, and the L.T.T.E.'s offending acts brought people together in some places in angry protest. This was due to cohesion at village and community levels.

      Thus, revived democratic institutions would voice the people's needs in devolution (in specific issues such as colonisation etc). These would also act as a monitor for the implementation of the limited decentralised power. It would enable such institutions to organise against misdoings and atrocities by the forces they need to deal with. Moreover these structures are essential to stand up against the pressure of individual terrorism that the L.T.T.E. and degenerate elements of other movements indulge in and see to it that individual members of the community are not isolated and victimised. Finally, they would also protect the community  from becoming the tools of external agencies.

      The ideology under which such structures are revived or reorganised must be anti-racist. Narrow anti-Sinhalese politics should be uprooted. They should reach out to anti-racist groups and individuals in the South - southern forces that will advocate steadily and consistently a devolution of power to Tamils and stand up against human rights violations. Only this can ensure an unlinking of the cause of Tamil rights from Indian patronage, and thus curtail the Indian role as a protector and arbiter.

      In reality, Indian dominance in our affairs has come to stay (as a poster erected by the I.P.K.F. at a sentry point says "We have come to stay to protect innocent civilians"). While the military rule is apparent and abrasive, political domination is subtle and invasive. Our task lies in minimising the control of our civil structures by Indian authorities. Already India had announced that it will start constructing coastal railway lines in the East as well as implementing certain investment programmes in the North and the East. In response, we cannot just be rhetorical, but must have a strategy to take the workings into our own hands. At this juncture, Indian penetration into the South seems theoretical. But with rumours of military coups, and strong arm tactics by the Sri Lankan Army, the possibility of such penetration cannot be dismissed as fanciful. The confidence of the chauvinists in the South that anti-Indianism among them is strong and permanent, lulls them into leaving out a crucial factor -- the presence of Hill Country Tamils. We have not dealt with the question of Hill country Tamils in this argument. They need an independent portrayal and analysis . They are becoming central protagonists in the politics of this island. A few militant movements  have attempted to graft the hill country Tamils in an ad hoc manner into the Eelam struggle and started work amongst them. But the hill country Tamils have, however, been under the total political domination of the C.W.C (Ceylon Workers Congress). Though they are the largest and most deprived working class population of this island, they received no serious consideration from the working class movement, and were viewed as passive and inarticulate. This failure of the Left was due to its capitulation to Sinhalese Buddhist chauvinism.

      On the southern front, the anti-racist task of advocating devolution for Tamils will be enormously difficult with the rise of narrow nationalism and Indian entrenchment. But it is important to neutralise both tendencies. Through a programme of this nature we could envisage a marginalisation of Indian patronage for the Sri Lankan Tamils and the hill country Tamils. In this way we would lessen the tempo of narrow nationalism and create difficulties for neocolonialist penetration.

      However the struggle for solidarity with the Hill Country Tamils seems a lost cause for the working class movements in the South because of their past betrayal. Each nation has to bring forth its grievances which caused these internal divisions in order to seek justice and thus create a unity with the purpose of creating an organic "oneness".

      These are broad principles and have no prescriptive values. They appear abstract. However, we are individuals sharing these ideas with the hope that they will go some way to initiate discussion. Whether there will be organisations to take on the task is something only the future will tell.

II.    Towards Reconciliation

At this point people might ask: "Having said all this, what is the solution?" That is not a question for a few individuals to answer. Nor does it have a ready made one. It is something that requires understanding, courage and a will to act at the popular level. It is of little use trying to expound what pretends to be a solution when things are moving fast and where anything that looks clever now will be wearing a wilted look by the time it appears in print. Vijaya Kumaranatunga was amongst the few Sinhalese who kept their heads while passions resulting from massacres and counter massacres were on the boil. A man with any less moral commitment would have slipped. Though his politics was of the Left, he did not trip over cabalistic slogans. His language was as lucid as his ideas. This is why he was a potent challenge to the false and pretentious. Sixteen days before he was killed, the Sunday Times (31 Janunary, 1988) published an article by him remarkable for its honesty and simplicity. What can work must of necessity be simple ideas. We give some exerpts below:

"So then what went wrong with the Accord? The government has deliberately delayed the implementation of the Accord. My own feeling is that the ill-conceived and reckless activities of the L.T.T.E. gave the U.N.P. government, which itself is deeply divided on the Accord an excuse for delaying its implementation. India, the third party, became discredited not only in the eyes of many Sinhalese, but also in the eyes of many Tamils and Muslims, because it failed to act decisively and quickly enough in the ensuing situation. So all parties to the Accord have their own share of responsibility for the sorry state of affairs in this country. It is now time to face the question with which we began: Where should we go from here? We could, if we so desire, procrastinate and let things drift towards a protracted guerrilla war between the L.T.T.E. and forces opposed to it. But in that direction does not lie peace and security for the people of Sri Lanka.

      "If we choose to take the road leading to the restoration of democracy and work towards freeing Sri Lanka from a foreign military presence, then the governments of Sri Lanka and India must vigorously and resolutely implement the Accord. It is not by military 'pacification' of the North, East and South that democracy and peace will return to Sri Lanka but by implementing the political solution embodied in the Accord. That solution is the setting up of Provincial Councils without further procrastination.

      "But make no mistake about it; our ethnic problem itself will not be solved merely by the implementation of the Accord. However its implementation is a necessary first step in the resolution of the problem.

      "The final resolution of the ethnic problem is inseparably linked with the struggle to rescue our country from the economic and social ruin of the past decade. That struggle is also the struggle to build a Socialist Democracy in Sri Lanka."

      The implication of this is that the Sri Lankan government should come up with adequate generosity to settle the residual issues such as colonisation without delay. The Tamils for their part must accept the Accord with all its weaknesses as representing the best possible hope, and must call upon the militant groups to trust the people and surrender their weapons.

      Many Tamils would object to this saying that the accord does not meet the basic aspirations of the Tamil people. They would argue that the Provincial Councils had been rendered effete because of over-riding powers vested with the President and Parliament. But the alternative facing us is protracted instability, a climate of terror and an emigration of all those who can contribute towards democracy together with educational and economic stability. If some educated person defends Yogi's rhetorical notion of losing even 75% of our people as war casualties in order to save our land, he is very likely not to regard this country as  his  permanent home.

      One deeply ingrained habit amongst Tamils is to think that freedoms are best secured by being wrapped up in the law book. Laws are important. Good laws can over the years inspire a stabilising social consensus. But without the restraining influence of a deeply felt social consensus, good laws can be broken with impunity by bad governments. Thus what is more important than laws to Tamils and to everyone else in this country, is a public conscience that is willing to fight continually to ensure justice for everyone. We need a more active form of democracy than the public merely electing governments and then going to sleep and leaving the rest to politicians and lawyers. The laws that ensure fair play may come if trust is established between the several communities that people this island and democracy is re-established. In this sense, instead of pushing matters that give an impression of an antagonistic stance against Sinhalese, it may be more important to secure the rule of the law, freedom of labour and freedom of expression and to free education from state control and curb the extra-judicial powers of the state. One salutary feature of the accord is that it lays down for the first time the principle that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic state and recognises Tamil and English as official languages together with Sinhalese.

      Once it is accepted that the cause of justice and democracy requires a perennial struggle for values, and that it is not a matter primarily of legalities, then to accept the accord with its blights in order to put an end to destabilising armed activity is not such a bad thing.

      Another objection maintains: "We the Tamils cannot trust the Sinhalese. If we give away the militants' arms, the Indian and Sri Lankan governments will play us out." Here the question is what do we do with the arms? The argument at one time amongst the elite was that if enough Sri Lankan policemen and soldiers are shot, the scale of the security operations would tell on the economy and the Sri Lankan government would have to give in. Whilst this argument has been put forward since 1982, the Sri Lankan government shewed few signs of giving up. The victims of this war were rural Tamils and rural Sinhalese. The elite on both sides who egged on the fight were for the most part comparatively safe - if not in Ceylon, then abroad. The other question is this. Suppose the Sri Lankan and Indian governments decide to throw in the towel, would the Tamils have democracy and a control of their own affairs? Experience suggests that such an expectation has no basis.

For example, the experience of the Tamils has much to do with overt (physical and legal) oppression.But resisting the more subtle and insidious forms of oppression in modern times, requires a society  that is at the level of the common man  both interested and alert in matters pertaining to the common good. The increasing importantance of patronage in our decision making  processes, together with our recent political experience has made the common man an inert non-entity.  One needs to be pessimistic as to how we would, for instance, stand up to pressures from attractively packaged modern technologies and economic inducements, which need to be critically sifted before acceptance. At this level, we need not only a rational relationship with the   South  but also with the rest of the sub-continent, which is faced with similar problems. The kind of benevolent  political influence  needed  to bring about   such a change , is not going  to come  from the sectarian politics of the present.              

The Tamil problem has further acquired many complicating facets, such as the dilemma of Trincomalee Tamils. The end result of genocidal action against Tamils by the Sri Lankan state and massacres of Sinhalese civilians after the Accord, is that Tamils fear the departure of the I.P.K.F.. A similar situation exists in Batticaloa. Thus even if a policy of shooting to chase the Indians out is viable, it will receive no unified support from  Tamils.

      The only possible solution to all our problems is to improve communal relations all round - especially between Sinhalese and Tamils. The alternative is Indian tutelage. Even if that option is chosen, we have no way of ensuring India's continued presence. Whether one looks at it from a moral or a pragmatic point of view, winning the confidence of the Sinhalese represents the only way forward. For a start, taking the risks involved must be an act of faith involving no great ingenuity.[Top]


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