by Tisaranee Gunasekara
"It is only a political solution that will help to eliminate the root causes of violent insurrection, ethnic disharmony and suspicion and mistrust between communities. We believe that a search for a political solution to the ethnic conflict must be intensified.” Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (LLRC testimony)
When conditions in post-war North-East cause unease in such diverse individuals as a cardinal and two Tamil politicians, and when daily events bear out their concerns, it is time for all of us to take notice.
His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith making his submissions to the Commission ~ pic: http://www.archdioceseofcolombo.com/
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in his LLRC testimony highlighted the urgent need for a political solution to the ethnic problem, as veteran Tamil politician V Anandasangaree and former militant leader D Sidhartan did before him. And like the democratic Tamil leaders, he sounded a warning about a tendency to remake old errors which created the ethnic problem and led to the 30 year war.
There are two antithetical and mutually contradictory narratives about the Northern crisis. One narrative is premised on accepting the existence of an ethnic problem; it sees the LTTE, Vellupillai Pirapaharan and the war as by-products of this (still unresolved) ethnic problem. The victorious end of the war ended the threat of Tiger separatism; but the ethnic crisis remains unresolved and will continue as a ‘disease vector’, a potent source of future instability and inter-racial disharmony, until a political solution is put in place. As Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith pointed out in his LLRC testimony, “…. the Sinhala Only Act and several other laws, particularly the 1972 Constitution introduced by different governments had caused ethnic tensions and created the situation leading to a bloody war. He cited controversial colonisations schemes in the Northern and Eastern provinces as another cause for ethnic tension. He called for meaningful measures in the post-war era to restore confidence among the minorities as part of a strategy to prevent bloodshed in the future” (The Island – 4.11.2010).
Opposing this viewpoint is the Sinhala supremacist narrative which reduces the Northern crisis to Tiger terrorism/fascism, aided and abetted by Tamil nationalism, Indian interventionism and Western imperialism; there was/is no ethnic problem, and thus no need for a political solution. According to this viewpoint the war had nothing to do with Sinhala Only, Standardisation or even Black July. The Tamils have no specific grievances and thus require no ameliorative measures; devolution is an undesirable (perhaps even dangerous) irrelevance. Under the Rajapaksas this nihilist narrative has become both dominant and official. By accepting Sinhala supremacism and by becoming ethnic-problem deniers, 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, and, in consequence, any need for caution, generosity or justice, post-war.
Norman Finkelstein, son of two Holocaust survivors and a radical Jewish scholar, characterises the attitude of Israeli elite as ‘hunkering down’ (similar to that of South African whites during the period of international boycotts): the belief that “they are the victims, the whole world is against them, that there is a double standard, that they are the victims of propaganda and conspiracy, and basically a complete contempt for international opinion” (Guernica - Aug. 2010).
Rajapaksa Sri Lanka has a near identical attitude. We have forgotten the past injustices done to Tamils and ignore their current plight; when we are reminded of either, we become resentful and angry, seeing even in an expression of common human solidarity or ordinary kindness a diabolical conspiracy.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has made no secret about his sincere disbelief in the existence of an ethnic problem. The Rajapaksas fought the war based on this disbelief. They were determined to end the North-Eastern crisis but saw its resolution in purely military terms: imposing a total defeat on the Tigers. There was an ancillary political component to this militarist strategy which consisted of handling external factors and neutralising anti-Tiger Tamils, without making any political or humanitarian concessions to the Tamil community.
Within this, priority was accorded to managing relations with India and taking back some of the key politico-ideological concessions made to the minorities/Tamils under Indian pressure as part of the Indo-Lanka Accord.
The Rajapaksa political component thus consisted of rolling back the progressive state-reforms of 1987 while paying pay lip-service to a ‘political solution to the ethnic problem’. This, the Rajapaksas did, with surprising virtuosity. The appointment of the APRC was almost a stroke of genius; it enabled the Rajapaksas to deflect both Indian and Western pressure, as none of these players were able to comprehend that the entire exercise was nothing more than an act of deception, aimed at buying time for the military operation to succeed.
A similar approach was used in dealing with pressure on human rights violations, the fate of the IIGEP being a case in point. The Rajapaksas also used a charm-offensive to win over anti-Tiger Tamils, offering them friendship and positions, protection and largesse, and false hopes of a political solution, post-Tiger.
Post-war, and cocooned in a Chinese embrace, the Rajapaksas do not need to dissemble too much. In consequence, the real nature of the Rajapaksa project is becoming increasingly apparent. An important component of this is the demographic re-engineering of the North and the East, via military and civilian colonisation schemes and the setting up of Buddhist temples.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, like Messers Anandasangaree and Sidhartan before him, drew attention to this stratagem and the dangers it portends: “There was a fear of mass scale colonisation which could lead to them that a cultural invasion was taking place” (Daily Mirror – 4.11.2010). He “warned that any attempt to change the ethnic ratio in the Northern and Eastern Provinces though colonization could cause ethnic trouble” (The Island – 4.11.2010).
Two recent news items highlight the immediacy of the Cardinal’s concerns. The Asian Tribune quoted the Jaffna District Development Welfare Society about a “move by some top government ministers to organise state sponsored colonisation of Sinhala families in the heart of the Jaffna city… JDDW said that Tamils are not opposing Sinhalese coming and living in their midst. ‘Our objection is that the government is trying to enforce a Sinhala colony in our midst with some ulterior motives which can lead to a fresh long term conflict.
This is therefore a blatant human rights violation of not only Tamils but even the Sinhalese families forced to settle in Jaffna’ JDDW said”. The website Lankaenews reported that on October 31st, a group of policemen set fire to a Muslim village in Kandalkadu and a mosque built in 1972. 52 families, long-time residents with registered deeds from 1933 and 1945, were chased away. They had fled their village to escape the Tigers and returned post-war, with written permission from the Trincomalee District Secretary.
The police ignored the deeds as well as the letters by the DS. Acts such as these, together with the mushrooming of Buddhist temples (in exclusively non-Buddhist towns and villages) and the setting up of cantonments for military families, cannot but create a fear psychosis among the minorities about their place and their safety in a post-war Sri Lanka.
But less than 24 hours after Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s public warning, the regime reacted by justifying their strategy, aimed at controlling the North and the East (not to mention winning electoral victories in the North and the East) via demographic re-engineering. According to government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella, ‘A certain area of the country does not belong to a certain ethnicity. Any person can live and travel anywhere in Sri Lanka. The Minister expressed these views commenting on the evidence given by Colombo Archbishop Most Rev. Malcolm Ranjith before the LLRC” (The Daily News – 5.11.2010).
Lankan Tamils have traditionally been law abiding citizens; their innate conservatism and deep seated respect for authority meant that they were slow to oppose the establishment, even when it acted in a manifestly unfree and unfair manner. The Lankan state took the Tamil people for granted precisely because they were slow to oppose the established authority. Since the Tamils were generally patient and quiescent, the Sinhala establishment thought that it could heap any indignity, any injustice on them, with near total impunity. And it did work, in the case of a majority of Tamils, until the Black July of 1983.
The Black July transformed a majority of Tamils from silent sufferers to determined rebels against the Sinhala establishment. But when the dust settled, it became increasingly clear that the Tamils, instead of becoming free, had merely exchanged one unjust and intolerant dominator for another. Unfortunately the end of the Tiger reign of terror has freed Tamils from repression. Instead there basic rights are being denied once again in the name of national security. In his testimony, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith asked for the immediate removal of the Emergency and the PTA because these lead to ‘arbitrary arrests and unnecessary detention of persons’ (Daily Mirror – 4.11.2010).
The response of the LLRC chairman indicated the real mandate of the LLRC, to act as a justifier of Rajapaksa actions and inactions. The former Attorney General defended the continuation of the PTA and the Emergency, saying that “the UK and India were among the countries dependent on special laws to deal with terrorism. The LLRC chairman asked whether it would be possible to rescind both Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations, though the LTTE has lost its conventional military capability….. He said that tough laws were necessary to deal with not only the LTTE but also other armed groups” (The Island – 4.11.2010; emphasis mine). And “the commission noted….presence of armed groups were still visible during their visit to the North and the East” (Daily Mirror – 4.11.2010).
The only armed groups in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka (apart from the Armed Forces and official and not-so-official guards of power-wielders) are Tamil groups aligned to the Rajapaksas. That is the reality. The Rajapaksas seem to be manufacturing new ‘armed threats’ to justify the continuation and intensification of their repressive regimen: “Sri Lankan intelligence services are aware of another insurgency to be launched soon using university students. The intelligence services are gathering information on this, cabinet spokesman and media minister Keheliya Rambukwell said (Daily News - 5.11.2010).
The total extermination of the LTTE left the Rajapakses without an enemy potent enough to justify those radical departures from democracy and rule of law necessary to stabilise Familial Rule. The Rajapakses need to keep the Emergency and the PTA going; they need to crack down hard on any sign of life and effectiveness in the opposition (last week the police reportedly harassed the aged mother of the press owner who undertook to print a poster comparing President Rajapaksa to Adolf Hitler; that very response is the best possible indication that the comparison, though somewhat exaggerated, is not entirely inapposite).
The Rajapaksas desperately need an enemy; they need to keep the fear psychosis in the South afire so that they can continue to act unjustly and extra-judicially with impunity. What better stratagem for this purpose than the resurrection of the spectres of Southern insurrection and Northern separatism?