An Interview with Mano Ganesan by Raisa Wickrematunga
Q: As a human rights campaigner and a Tamil party leader, what do you think of the current situation on Tamil rights in Sri Lanka?
A: There are two counts. First count is the Tamil daily life. It’s horrible today in the north. Only 2 days before, a Zonal Director of Education was shot killed. 3 days before that a Tamil Hindu priest was murdered by gunfire. Yesterday body of a youth who’s abductors earlier demanded ransom, was found in Meesalai. These killings happened in Jaffna, which is supposed to be under tight military control as nothing moves in Jaffna without the approval of the military. These are only few examples. Systematic murders and armed robberies are the order of the day in Jaffna now. Those who dispute me can ask for the monthly police log book of the Jaffna peninsula. The Government claims the LTTE is defeated.
Then again the Jaffna commander says that armed elements are responsible for these killings and robberies. Who are they, commander? There is a terrible fear psyche within the Tamil community, in the North and to a lesser extent in the Eastern province. You also have a reflection in Colombo, of course. One may escape the blame by comparing the human rights situation with that which prevailed during the war -- from 2005 to 2009, when on a daily basis 10 Tamils were abducted in Colombo, and an uncountable number in the North and East. But the war is over-- that is what the Government claims. The Tamil people are eager to enjoy the dividends of this newfound so-called peace. But this rare commodity is not there.
The other count is lack of genuine state efforts to provide answers to what happened before and during the war. I am not encouraging Tamils to live in the past. But don’t tell the families to simply forget all what happened. Before the war, many Tamils were abducted, people went missing or were killed inside and outside Government controlled territories. During the war, a large number of deaths occurred, especially during the last stages. Our people need answers, they need accountability. So until these issues are settled and the relevant questions are answered, only a fool or a sellout can claim that the human rights situation has improved, and Mano Ganeshan is neither a fool nor a sellout.
Q: What do you make of the recent directive on the proper use of the national anthem?
A: The Tamil version of the national anthem did not fall from the sky yesterday. It was there from 1950s or before, when Ananda Samarakoon created the Sinhala version, reputed Tamil pundit and poet Nalla-thambi-pulavar, then teaching at Colombo Zahira college, translated it. The Sinhala verses have been translated to Tamil. The music score is the same. The Government should have been happy that there is a Tamil version sung from the 1940s. Only two days before, the Prime Minister traveled all the way to Jaffna as Chief Guest for a meeting commemorating the tsunami victims. The big debate going on there was what language the national anthem would be sung in at this public event in Jaffna. At the day we witnessed that the poor Tamil school children were forced to sing it in Sinhala. Why? I ask the President, the Prime Minister isn’t Tamil one of the official languages in this country? No one is asking that Tamil be used for national anthem in Hambantota or Galle at state functions.
If honorable minister Douglas Devananda or Vice President of the SLFP Karuna Amman travel to deep south for an public event, will the Government approve the Tamil version of the national anthem sung? I don’t think so. The Prime Minister should have pleasantly and affectionately allowed those young school children to sing the national anthem in their own language. It would have been the statesmanlike behavior. And also sensible as those children don’t understand Sinhala but Tamil. The best joke is that after forcing Sinhala on Tamil children and elders, this prime minister in his speech was calling for national unity by wining the hearts and minds of the Tamils. It is a tamasha. How can there be peace sir, without equality? Forcing Tamil speaking people to sing national anthem in Sinhala that too in the Tamil dominated areas is Sinhala Buddhist domination.
This attempt to prevent national anthem being sung in Tamil language is yet another ill attempt that alienates Tamil speaking people in this country. I wonder what national reconciliation the government is talking of by discussing such divisive attempts at a time when Sri Lanka needs more endeavors towards reunion. I fail to understand why the government leaders cannot accept the our national anthem also in Tamil as a symbol of unity and make use of it to bring communities together. We in Sri Lanka need more public and private endeavors to bring ethnicities, languages and religions closer to each other. But unfortunately it seems we are heading opposite.
Q: There has been much negative publicity of the Tamil Diaspora. Do you think the issues raised by them are valid?
A: The Diaspora community is part of Sri Lankan society. Nobody can take away the Diaspora from the Srilankan equation. We should understand this position and start discussing the pros and cons. As a party leader I would not approve the Tiger flag being waved at any of the Diaspora protests. The LTTE is a proscribed organization. As a responsible citizen of this country, I respect the law of the land. I understand that even in Britain it is a banned organization. In-fact I think, that tiger flag has misdirected the real message of the Diaspora and also given armory to some racists down here. Anyway it is a technical issue.
The larger issue is that Diaspora community has every right to protest. By protesting they are expressing their opinions on the conditions and alleged activities occurring in Sri Lanka. They are voicing in the interests of their kith and kin back home. On the other hand, those who are making complaints about the Diaspora protests are very freely conducting demonstrations in Colombo. Ministers, politicians, party leaders, are demonstrating against visiting foreign dignitaries, even gathering a large crowd of people in front of diplomatic missions including that of the UN and decorating the city walls with abusive posters. I’m not finding great faults with that, because it is a democratic right to conduct processions and protests. We need these in a lively society. But they can’t be one sided. Such rights should be understood with the Diaspora Srilankans too.
Q: Do you think there has been a solution to the national question?
A: What solution? Where? We are nowhere near any solution. In fact the government of the day has backtracked from all the promises and undertakings it gave to the Tamil moderates and international community. We thought the post war era would bring solutions. But it has not happened. The Government has missed a God given opportunity to address the national ethnic question, which is the root cause to the destructive war.
The defeat of the LTTE is being systematically transformed as the defeat of Tamils and Muslims. This is where the danger lies. This thinking is very much a disability within the Government policy makers. Whether in Temple Trees, Parliament, or even at small district development committee meetings, this thinking is being put into practice. The thinking is ‘We have won against Tamils; It is a warning to the Muslims too; This is our ‘Sinhala only’ country. We are the masters. There can’t be anybody not accepting this position; If anybody so, they may leave the country.’ The earlier referred national anthem issue is also one out of this thinking.
Q: Your brother said in an interview that the protesters at Heathrow consisted of a small group of pro LTTErs. Would you agree with that assessment?
A: I have thousands of brothers and sisters in my party. Are you speaking of that person who crossed the well of the parliament against the party position? This man was somebody when he was in our party, Now he is a sorry figure and a spent force. So first of all, I would not like to answer to a political nonentity. But I will talk to you on the general issue. People misguided the President to make the trip to Oxford. Thereafter the initial misfire occurred, in a volatile situation in London. The follow-up misfires were in Colombo.
Even before the President arrived in Sri Lanka, several elements in the UPFA tried to cash in on the situation, for their own benefit. Even Chief Government Whip Dinesh Gunawardena took up the issue in Parliament. The whole country witnessed the ugly scene. If I had been the Chief Government Whip, I would have called for an all party leaders meeting in Parliament, even invited TNA leaders and other Tamil and Muslim party leaders. I would have tried to address it as a national issue concerning the head of the state not just leader of SLFP/UPFA, and pass a resolution on the London protests.
That would have sent a united Sri Lankan message to any elements within the Diaspora and to the British government too. Instead the Government member tried to score brownie points. One merry maker minister took upto the streets again. These put the President in more disrepute then what happened in London. It ended up in a sorry state. This person who you referred to in your question, also played a comic role. He is making an effort to obtain a Deputy Ministerial portfolio in the next reshuffle. He and another MP who also jumped from the Opposition just three months after the general elections, conducted a media conference in Colombo where they made such comments in respect of the Diaspora thinking that they can make the president happy by saying so. These comments are not valid because they are not sincere. They were speaking on their own interests, in obtaining a Government portfolio. Interestingly major SLFP ministers generally confronted this issue maturely. It is only those so called partners in the UPFA. This president should be protected from these elements.
Q: What are your comments on the war crimes allegations made by the Diaspora and some of the international community? Your brother said that the war crimes were purely the result of the LTTE using civilians as human shields. Do you agree?
A: What is a war crime? You harm, kill or torture a person who is not directly involved in combat operations and mistreating the PoWs. Such things have occurred, especially at the last stage of war. That has been established. We do not know who is responsible, whether it is LTTE or Government forces, but the deaths have occurred. That is why we need an investigation. That is what human rights activists in this country and the world over are demanding. I join them. Parallel with the Ban Ki Moon’s Commission, this Government established LLRC, the local commission, which is functioning. Forget Ban Ki Moon’s, if you go through the recorded evidences given by family members of the victims at our local commission you will understand the anguish of the people and gravity of the situation. A large number of women came before the Commission demanding to know the whereabouts of husbands, or children. Parents and elderly people came demanding to know the whereabouts of their children. So where are they?
We need to get answers. Government report says that there are near 90,000 widows in the north and east alone. This is about the deaths of married men. And what about the women? And the unmarried men? And children? These are the questions of the voiceless. You can’t reject this as a small, simple issue. That doesn’t mean I am totally putting the blame on the Army and excusing the LTTE. There was war, and two known parties and other Para groups. I just expressed that there have been crimes. You can’t say nothing happened and paint some rosy picture. I live to die as the voice of the voiceless. Let’s investigate and give answers to the voiceless people. This will be the starting point for the real reconciliation.
Q: What is your view on the development projects in the North and East?
A: From the beginning this Government has been conducting the issue of resettlement and reconstruction of the North and East as a private party issue of the UPFA. Given the enormous destruction in the North and East it should have been conducted within a national agenda, accommodating all the parties. The opposition parties were willing to work with the Government on issues of reconstruction and resettlement. But it did not happen. Immediately after the Eastern province was cleared the Government hurriedly conducted the Eastern PC election. I’m asking the President- You conducted a Presidential, a Parliamentary election in the north. What is holding the Government back from holding Northern PC elections? Simply put, if there was a Provincial Council election now, given the results of the last Parliamentary election, the TNA would take control of the Northern PC. That would be the first non UPFA administration in the country. The Government did not want that to happen, it’s the open secret. That is why I say that this government is conducting the activities, be it resettlement or reconstruction or political solution, all under their own private political agenda. I call upon the President to immediately conduct the Northern Provincial Council elections without any further delay, end the military administration in the north and hand over the resettlement and reconstruction activities to the new Northern Provincial council which the people of that very province would be electing. This will solve half of the issues.
Q: In recent times, there have been reports of people from the South being moved to the North. What is your view on this, in light of those IDPs who still wait to be resettled?
A: Sri Lankans of any ethnic origin live in Toronto, Wellington or Paris. So why can’t we live where we want? I don’t think any Tamil political leader or party is against the Sinhalese settling down in the North. The issue is this systematic scheme where Sinhalese people are being encouraged to go to the North for settlements. They are given state patronage. There is a difference between colonization and immigration. Immigration is on a private basis and can happen anywhere, but systematic colonization is not acceptable. What is happening in the Gaza strip, or occupied Tibet are dangerous examples for Tamils in the North. Recently there has been plenty of talk, equating the Sinhalese people settling in the North with Tamils in Colombo.
First of all, the Tamils in Colombo are not newcomers. They have been living in this area since the 1940s. Second, Colombo is the national capital. The best available health-care, education and state services are in Colombo. Also the only major international airport is in Colombo. During the war many Tamils wanted to escape, so they moved to Colombo. Now, many Tamils who took shelter in Colombo during the war are moving back to their homes in the north and east. The Government directly or indirectly supporting a community to go and permanently settle in a territory where another community is living traditionally is sinister. It is a sinister move to change demography. That is not acceptable. In-fact the IDP resettlement activity of the government should get the priority. Now I consider it as sham and bogus. On the other hand the Muslim resettlement in Jaffna should get priority. When LTTE chased away innocent Muslims from Jaffna, my party voiced opposition. We still stand on that. Those Muslims should get back to Jaffna, the Government should help these IDP Tamils and Muslims. Sinhalese should be always welcomed in Jaffna. I look forward to join large number of my Sinhalese friends in a tour to Jaffna with song and dance of-course, at end to sing national anthem in Tamil.
Q: Usually after a war, those who sought political asylum abroad will return, but that has not been the case here. People are still moving away. Why do you think that is?
A: Though the war is over, peace has not been established. The Government has failed to win the confidence of the Tamil people. The dust has not settled, though the war was over about one and a half years ago. On the other hand I won’t be honest if I say every Tamil person seeking asylum is a genuine case. Also, I have recently learned, there are Sinhalese people leaving the country, pretending to be Tamils, using Tamil names, and claiming asylum. In Australia, Europe, Canada, these things happen. But as a policy I do not encourage Tamils to go out of the country.
There are special cases who face threats and challenges to life. They will have to flee. I support them to seek a living outside the country until the situation returns to normalcy here. But we cannot generalize these threats and challenges today. We cannot allow the traffickers to take advantage of the situation to make their bucks. Right now, though we still face the arm of state terrorism in this country, I think there is a small space available, which was not there during the 2005-2010 period. It was the very difficult risky period. Then almost alone myself, Siritunga, Wickremabahu conducted our campaigns against the extra judicial killings, abductions and human rights violations of Tamils and Tamil speaking people. So I call upon all Tamil brothers and sisters who are planning to go out of the country, not to go. Stay with us and fight for our rights in a democratic manner.
Also, members of Diaspora, other than against whom the real dangers await here, should come back to Sri Lanka. I am not assuring them that peace is established or heaven has come down here, the way the stooges of the government are claiming. This government is not turned saints overnight. The arm of the state terror is visible. But we have to use the little space here now for the democratic struggle. There is no Tamil only journey here today. Come back, let us together with the Sinhalese and Muslim progressive democratic forces, struggle.
COURTESY:THE SUNDAY LEADER