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The Crisis

The Liberation Movements

Intellectual Freedom

The production of the current report was rudely interrupted by the assassination of Dr. Rajini Thiranagama, who played a leading role in the work of University Teachers for Human Rights, Jaffna (UTHR). The appendix is devoted to describing some aspects of her life and work. We do not wish to raise the question of who did the deed at this stage, because all the forces operating in this region, both state and non‑state, have at some stage used assassination as a political weapon. The number of people so killed run into hundreds.

A few weeks earlier, Professor Patuvathawithana, Vice‑Chancellor of Moratuwa University, was gunned down in his office, together with his security guard. All who knew him testified to his high level of profession­alism, courage and character. Under his leadership, the university authori­ties and staff were able to maintain a dialogue with the student community and move towards restoring the functions of the university. To achieve this end, the Vice Chancellor had been firm both with  the military authorities, who were not happy with having an organised student body, as well as with those who would interfere with the functions of a university for obscure political ends. Strongly as his loss was felt, the protest against his killing on the part of the university community and the Institution of Engineers, of which he was President‑elect, was muted by fear. Earlier in the year Professor Stanley Wijesundera, former Vice‑Chancellor of Colombo University, was also murdered.

In schools too, several leading figures have been murdered over the years. Many were killed for their professional integrity. In the early ‘70s alleged educational privilege had been an issue of contention and there were groups calling for the improvement of educational opportunities along communal lines. Today education is being used as a hostage by liberation groups on both sides of the communal divide. Jaffna and Moratuwa are in­stances where the delicate threads by which a university is kept open are easily snapped.

The Crisis

The present crisis which began with the Sri Lankan state’s militarisa­tion to meet ethnic and social discontent, has been described as a crisis of morality and a crisis of civilisation. The question is: what is needed apart from courage, to meet this?

Many academic colleagues and intellectuals in the South see their past silence during military operations by the state against the Tamils as both a moral and political blunder. They also recognise that the moral debase­ment that has characterised these conflicts is to a large measure deter­mined by the readiness of state powers to descend to the most inhuman depths with little restraint. There have also been resolutions put forward by leading academics advocating that the first step in resolving the crisis should be to have an accountable government. They see that it would make a great qualitative difference if ordinary people could say with confidence that the state power is not responsible for barbaric and unjustified killings. This would also mean a guarantee of protection for complainants and an accountable procedure by which offenders are punished. Such resolu­tions have often run aground amongst divided opinion, confusion and fear. It has been pointed out that the resultant inactivity amounts to complicity in the state’s military approach, that is destroying a sizeable section of the country’s youth coming from the less privileged sections.

A few weeks ago, Peradeniya University became the scene of what is all too common in the country at large. Following the murder of an Assistant Registrar, resident staff who looked out early in the morning were witness to 15 or so decapitated heads ranged around the pond opposite Jayatilleke Hall. The Sri Lankan army was in control of the University premises. Acade­mic staff said that JVP activity in the area was down to virtually zero. According to information received by academics in Southern Universities, in a number of instances of such mass reprisals, the victims had been picked up at random from rehabilitation/detention centres. The current prevalence of state‑sponsored para‑military groups which began with the creation of the STF and Home Guards during the campaign against Tamils, has been a further source of complication. It has been pointed out that the situation would have been qualitatively different if it could have been said confi­dently that the state could not have been responsible for killings such as that of Prof. Patuvathawithana.

A state of utter confusion prevails in the country as to by whom why and for what reason particular instances of violence and murder are commit­ted. Where the gun has taken over all avenues of accountability and legal procedure violence becomes a free‑for‑all game. The 1983 racial violence against Tamils was an open instance of how the state pursued, political goals. There is widespread cynical disbelief about the governments allega­tions as to the perpetrators of this well‑planned, well‑timed race riot. Political developments, group aspirations, prejudices are manouvred and counter‑manoeuvred by the different liberation movements and state powers. Thus reasons, causes, get complicated in the ensuing medley. The people are left with their own speculation, rumours and gossip.

The Liberation Movements

The common philosophy that has distinguished successful insurgent activity in the North and the South is that people do not matter. By attacking the armed forces, using civilian cover, the insurgents ensure some casualties in the forces as well as a number of civilian deaths in reprisals. They gain both local sympathy and some international legitimacy when the state forces themselves are accustomed to using terror as a weapon. This has proved both potent in the short term as well as destructive. When people begin to see through this and try to express themselves, they are terrorised by their own liberation movements. Even if people try to organise some form of collective security, at least by warning neighbours to quit when there are signs of a confrontation, they are intimidated ‘The end result is that while the liberation movement may retain a measure’ of

sympathy for the lack of an alternative, it becomes progressively isolated. Its mature cadres become disillusioned and it will have to resort to more questionable means to gain recruits.

An instance of the more deplorable methods used by liberation groups was evident on 29th July. The JVP forced innocent people out at gunpoint, while a curfew was in force, to demonstrate against the presence of; the IPKF in the North-East. More than 100 such persons were shot dead by Sri Lankan forces. When asked about this by the Sunday Times, the Defence Minister maintained that if those people were innocent, they should have opposed JVP guns. He added that they should be more afraid of the guns of the armed forces than they were of JVP guns. Such were the attitudes of the state and a liberation group between which the ordinary people found them-selves trapped.

At present all the liberation groups have been very much weakened. The I Tamil groups have been driven to ill-disguised positions which they would have found insult1ng in the recent past. Many have wondered at the state’s capacity to survive. A persistent prediction by analysts over the last 10 years has been the imminent economic collapse of the state, giving hope to sympathisers of liberation movements. This has not in fact happened. On the contrary, the present state of the JVP, and that of the LTTE after Operation Liberation in May 1987, point to the staying capacity of something apparently so fragile as the Sri Lankan state.

A Southern academic who is perhaps best qualified to speak on this f matter made the following remarks:

“Liberation groups in this country have always under-estimated the resilience of the state. The modern welfare state is a complex entity. Its sinews reach into many aspects of people’s Lives. Government servants, doctors and teachers are all part of the state, as is the passive consent of people. The articulation of the state also has its ramifications in the international  order, giving it added strength. There was almost universal desire not to see the Sri Lankan state collapse. The US $785 million awarded to Sri Lanka by the aid consortium was more than

had been asked. Another important element  in the liberation struggles of this country is that when liberation groups use such

deplorable methods, the state bounces back with greater legit macy than it had earlier. I have noticed a remarkable change in a I number of JVP supporters in Matara, after the JVP closed down hospitals for a time and threatened families of armed forces personnel. They were now condoning widespread killings by the

state, asking what else could the state do .

He said in conclusion,’ The first rule to be observed by a liberation

movement is that it must maintain the moral initiative.”

Far from being liberated, the people have become mired in greater

repression from the state as well as in debilitating moral depravity. Life

.has become cheap. As reason and tolerance declined, even families have

become bitterly divided. While suave persons in the elite kill by lying and

slander, the humbler folk have to live in the shadow of torture and sadism. 

Even cannibalistic rites have surfaced.

Intellectual Freedom

Intellectual enlightenment and honesty are essential to the liberation process, through which alone a healthy struggle can be successfully waged against any form of oppression. The role of the intellectual is crucial to the theoretical and political development of the struggle, analyzing& society in its totality and making organic links between the movements and the people. This ensures the active participation of the people and strengthens peoples’ power. Our liberation movements are marked by use value concepts and remain at the level of political expediency and tactics. The methodology of our struggle does not take into account the implications of diversions among, interests and aspirations of the people. It operates merely at ---the level of exploiting certain weaknesses of the opponent such as the reprisal killings state forces indulge in. This naturally leads to the concept of using intellectuals as they use other segments in society. They have no wish to involve them in any liberatory process. Therefore any form of independent criticism coming from the intellectuals has been taken as a I challenge that should be put down. This same tendency is found in the South too where there are individuals who in their writings strike up critical stances but are obliged to keep them secret owing to intimidation by State and/or other militant groups. I

For the above state of affairs our intellectuals are much to blame. It was in this regard Rajani Thiranagama showed extraordinary courage and I determination in promoting along with some of her colleagues an objective critical attitude.

“Our intellectuals who at this juncture should be the catalyst to energise the benumbed community, are unable to do so. In many instances they have sidestepped confrontational issues with the I.P.K.F. (as they have done with militant groups) and have resigned themselves to passivity. This is the consequence of the history of this segment of our society. For in the past their conceptual and moral shallowness have made them submit to the authoritarianism of the militant groups and had glossed over their brutality 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.”

Rajani gave her life for intellectual freedom. She amongst many others recognised that if the health of this country is to be restored, the freedom of the people to express their feelings and ideas should be defended. This was one of the aims with which the UTHR (Jaffna) set about publishing its reports. Far from being a political exercise, the questions dealt with were those entwined with academic life in this country’s situation in lecture rooms and in student problems.

The challenge that faces us is expressed forcefully by Rajani in the following

Quotation taken from Broken Palmyrah

“Thus the people’s structures have to be organized and/revived. They would be the internal forum for the forces which would voice their needs in devolution (in specific issues such as colonisation etc) and act to monitor the implementation of the limited decentralised power. It would enable such structures to compile, protest and organise against many army (Indian and Sri Lankan) misdoings and atrocities.Morreover. these structures are essential to stand up against the pressure of individual terrosrism that degenerate elements of movements indulge in, and to see to it that individual members of the community are not isolated and victimised. And also such structures would protect them from victimisation by such external diabolical forces”[Top]




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