by Tisaranee Gunasekara
Our problem is 50 years old… If something unacceptable is brought as a solution, the Army camps will have work to do. If a satisfactory solution is presented, Army will have no work to do at all…” — V. Anandasangree (LLRC Testimony)
Last month, a mob of Southern ‘tourists’ invaded the Jaffna Public Library after closing hours. They responded to objections by the authorities with malicious acts of vandalism and even defied the security forces. No arrests were made; having had their ‘Vini- Vidi-Vici’ moment the vandals returned, safe and sound.
Though the identities of these vandals are unknown, they belong to an identifiable type. Some of their spiritual kindred participated in the wanton burning of the Jaffna Library.
Black July was their indelible mark on history. That murderous and destructive orgy ended in a stampede of terrified panic, when the apocryphal tale of a massive Tiger attack on Colombo made the rioters and their moral supporters run, literally, to escape retribution.
Black July was depicted as a reaction to the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE. In the ensuing years, the Tigers killed and killed but the South did not react with another anti-Tamil pogrom. This fortunate absence could not have stemmed from societal opprobrium; though some Sinhalese risked their lives to save Tamil lives, Black July was generally popular in the South. The absence of another anti-Tamil pogrom may have resulted form Sinhala exhaustion or, a more probable explanation, Sinhala fears of Tiger retaliation.
That may explain why the advent of an avowedly Sinhala supremacist government (for the first time since 1987) was followed by the 2006 Trincomalee mini-riots. The mob-invasion of the Jaffna Library is a disturbing indication that the Spirit of Black July is still very much alive.
By making Sinhala supremacism de rigueur and by denying the very existence of the ethnic problem, the Rajapaksas caused a paradigmatic shift in Southern perception of the Northern crisis. The resultant reduction of the Tamil problem to a terrorism issue enabled the South to discard whatever sense of responsibility or guilt it may have felt about past errors and crimes, from the Sinhala Only to Black July.
Once the Northern crisis is blamed on the malignancy of Tiger fascists and the avarice of Tamil nationalists, we, the Sinhalese, are absolved of blame. Thus the outburst of febrile triumphalism, post-victory, unaccompanied by even a modicum of pity for the plight of civilian Tamils; thus the mad rush to visit the North unaccompanied by any desire to help the displaced Tamils.
The identical attitude made a majority of Sinhala South look away as a minority of rioters killed, looted and burned in 1983. The identical attitude enabled the Sinhala South to remain indifferent as hundreds of thousands of Tamils were bombed and shelled out of their homes, forced to wander for months in a fruitless search for safety and finally incarcerated in open prisons masquerading as welfare villages.
The Tamils are undeserving of sympathy because they brought about their own plight. They have sowed and must now reap. That is their karma.
The Fourth Eelam War (like the First) was waged on a Sinhala supremacist platform; it resulted in a Sinhala supremacist peace, an unjust peace in which all the gains go to the winner and the vanquished must sacrifice all. The Sinhalese are content with such a peace, but are Tamils?
Their current silence stems from fear, exhaustion and despair rather than contentment. Tamils (and minorities in general) have not been so powerless, perhaps since Independence (not even post-Black July were they as leaderless, friendless or directionless).
The powerlessness of the democratic Tamil polity became evident when the TPPF (which includes the EPDP and the TMVP) asked the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary to persuade the Rajapaksas to involve the elected representatives of the North-East in the resettlement work of the North-East!
The LLRC testimonies by V. Anandasangaree (“the people are not free now; the people want to be free; that is what they want first”) and D. Siddharthan (“the majority community seem to believe they have conquered the Tamils and therefore their problems could be brushed aside”) symbolise this unhappy present and signal a future which may mirror the past.
This political nihilism could have been mitigated had the regime prioritised the housing, health, education, employment and poverty alleviation needs of the Tamils. Though such a Premadasa-type development effort is a national absence, the South has political consolations, such as the defeat of the Tigers and the dawning of a Pax Sinhala.
Patriotism is not edible but it dulls the hunger pangs, for a while. With no compensatory political positives, the North urgently needs houses, schools, hospitals and jobs, but the funds are lacking in a budget overshadowed by defence expenditure.
For instance, 89,000 war widows remain mired in poverty because, as the Deputy Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs lamented, “Where do we find money to restore livelihoods? My Ministry does not have the needed funds to do this…” (IRIN News 26.10.2010). This year this key Ministry is allocated a paltry Rs.987 million while the Ministry of Resettlement is given just Rs. 2.4 billion. “15,000 school children in the North and East are compelled to study under trees since schools have been converted into IDP and transit camps and detention centres, while the government spends millions on military bases….” (Lakbima News 8..8.2010).
The situation is further exacerbated by the militarization of the civil administration and deliberate acts of economic discrimination (according to Siddharthan, “in the Wanni…non residents living miles away from…inland waterways have been given the sole right to fish…whereas the local people are prohibited from even approaching the tanks by the military”).
Post World War II, the Marshall Plan provided “crucial support at a crucial moment”, enabling Europeans to “break decisively with a legacy of chauvinism, depression and authoritarian solutions”, according to Tony Judt (Post War).
The Marshall Plan happened because the Cold War compelled the US to take a ‘longer view’, argued Eric Hobsbwam. The North-East needs its own Marshall Plan; but intoxicated by Sinhala supremacism and cocooned in a Chinese embrace, the Rajapaksas are impervious to enlightened self-interest or external compulsions. The APC is dead and the Tamils are still shell-shocked.
Whatever the currency the democratic Tamils had died with Velupillai Pirapaharan; minority politicians face the Hobson’s Choice of supporting the Rajapaksas for a mess of personal pottage or risking Rajapaksa wrath.
The West has little clout, since the Rajapaksas are happy in the company of Zimbabwe and Myanmar. The Sinhala South and the UNP are uninterested in ensuring justice to the minorities. The old left is co-opted while the JVP dreams of escaping the electoral-wilderness by beating the Rajapaksas in the patriotic-stakes.
Only Delhi can give the Rajapaksas a momentary pause in their march towards a Sinhala supremacist Sri Lanka via a demographically re-engineered North-East. But Delhi is an occasional irritant not a serious impediment, and can be neutralised with empty promises or the Beijing-stick.
Did the possibility of a consensual peace and a common Lankan future perish beside the dream of a Tiger Eelam on the shores of the Nandikadal lagoon?