By Dr. Rajasingham Narendran
"Innaa Seytharai Oruthal Awar Naana-
Nan Nayam Seythu Widdal" (Thirukkural –Tamil)
(Perform a good deed in return, to those who have harmed you, in order to shame them-my translation)
It is one year since the LTTE was militarily defeated at Nanthikadal, 300,000 victims of this war ended up as 'Internally Displaced Persons' in camps and several thousands, both combatants and non-combatants, died. In the past year, Provincial Councils have been elected anew, the President has been re-elected and the general elections have been held for a new parliament.
In the past year, the people, who were not in the war Theater, have enjoyed peace, sans terrorism. The woes of those who faced the brunt of the war and its brutal end however continue unabated!
Have we learned our lessons from the war and its brutal end, and done what we should have? Sadly, we have done neither. The victims of the war- principally the Tamils in the Vanni, who paid the price for someone else's war, became the victims of political chicanery, in the hands of Diaspora Tamils, their politicians, their militant turned democratic groups, the international community and the Sri Lankan government.
The initial and very welcome approach of the government to meet the needs of the IDPs and resettle them as fast as possible, was blunted by the Tamil Diaspora, Tamil politico- militant groups and the international community. The IDPs are those who survived the war and were the direct victims of everything wrong with that war. In the midst of utter destruction, destitution and wretchedness, they unwittingly also became an instrument to torment the government.
The Tamil Diaspora and the international community conveniently ignored the fact that a brutal war spanning several decades in a poor country, had just ended. Instead of supporting and urging the government to move fast on IDP resettlement, rehabilitation and re-building issues, everything possible was done to divert its attention to issues of lesser or no concern. The Tamil Diaspora at large, to its eternal shame, did not respond, as it should have to resolve the problems of these IDPs. The victims of their selfish and thoughtless pursuit of Tamil Eelam were abandoned on the doorsteps of their sworn enemy! Vested interests in the Tamil Diaspora had the need to display the IDPs and the issue of the war-dead as their new beggar's wound, to seek sympathy for their Tamil Eelam project.
Vested interests in the international community on the other hand needed a stick to make the Sri Lankan government toe their line. It seemed the woes of the Tamils as living and battered humans mattered little to the Eelamites and the bleeding hearts in the international community! This paradox baffles me yet.
The LTTE was hell-bent on precipitating the last Eelam war and was in no mood to listen to voices of caution. It prepared itself for decisive war during the life of the ceasefire agreement and misused the opportunities that arose during the Tsunami to facilitate relief efforts, to further this objective. The Sri Lankan government met this challenge and threw everything in its power to win the war. It was an opportunity the Sri Lankan government was rightly determined not to miss. These aspects of the genesis of the war and the viciousness of the LTTE and the misery and damage to human life, structures and society it had left in its wake, were conveniently forgotten. The fact the LTTE could be yet lurking in the urban areas and the Vanni jungles to wreak its revenge was conveniently ignored. The fact that the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people had not forgotten how the LTTE misused even the Tsunami to prepare for war was also ignored.
The fact that the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people, who were painted as the arch enemies of Tamils, had to overnight become their saving angels, overcoming decades long acrimony, mutual hurt, injury, suspicions, fear and distrust, was not appreciated. However, the Sinhala people and the Sri Lankan government largely proved they were up to this challenge. Yesterday's enemy became today's friend. This was proof, if any were needed that we are one people at heart.
The Sri Lankan government was accused of malafide intent, running Nazi-style extermination camps and deliberately imposing the worst misery imaginable on the displaced in terms of food, water shelter and health care. There were also allegations of rape and torture. The fact that thousands of humans, in the most miserable state, who had seen death and had been near death; who were injured and maimed; who had lost their near and dear; who were starved and just clinging on to life; were given refuge in these camps was conveniently forgotten. The fact that these displaced persons had to be cared for under difficult circumstances and unimaginable constraints, while having to be protected from the devious designs and depravity of the LTTE and its supporters, were also ignored.
How the tragedy that befell the people of the Vanni was deliberately engineered by the LTTE over several years and accentuated in the last days of the war, were conveniently ignored. These unfortunate people unwittingly became just one more tool in the devious political designs of distant spectators and trouble- makers. The LTTE had once again become more important than the Tamils living in Sri Lanka. The Tamils in Sri Lanka were only incidental in the grand scheme for an LTTE Eelam! This brand of heartless politics is an insult to our humanity.
Sadly, some people enriched themselves at the expense of the misery of these IDPs. The weak and the poor were condemned to live in the camps, while those who had money and influence, but were guilty in the eyes of the government and the armed forces, were able to buy their way out. Those who had tortured the Tamils in the name of liberation in the last phases of the war also bought their way out, leaving the victims to the mercy of the government. There was money made in building the camps and in the provision of food.
Tamils preyed on these IDPs. Muslims preyed on these IDPs. Sinhalese preyed on these IDPs. Government officials and officers of the armed services and police preyed on the misery of these IDPs. Tamil politicians and supposed to be ex-militants, preyed on the misery of these IDPs. The pro-LTTE Diaspora preyed the most on the misery of these IDPs. The International community, which did help to some extent, played into the hands of these predators, by diverting the attention of the government from the needs of the living to liability for the dead.
On the brighter side, people all over the Island, the majority, rallied to help these unfortunates. Every Buddhist temple and Sinhala village collected clothing and food for these unfortunate people. Tamil charities and organizations also came forward to do their mite. The hill country Tamils and Muslims all over the island also did what their resources would permit. However, a majority of Tamils with origins in the north and east, but living in the 'South', did not do as much as they should have. They were busy mourning the LTTE and a lost cause! This wave of national sympathy and magnanimity was ignored by the Tamil politicians and the Tamil Diaspora at large. A spontaneous urge for national reconciliation and healing were ignored and a rare opportunity permitted to fizzle out.
The provincial elections in the east, which preceded the final defeat of the LTTE, have made way for a Provincial Council that is trusted by neither the people nor the government. It is made up of persons who are incapable of rising to the challenges confronting their people. It was a window dressing to placate the international community. The elections to the Jaffna and Vavuniya Municipal Councils held soon after the war ended were similar exercises in cussedness. Men, women and groups who should not have been permitted to exercise any power, are exercising what ever power they are permitted ( mainly to feather their own nests and satisfy their bloated egos), over a people who have been broken to an extent that is difficult to imagine. Most of these persons are unqualified to manage even a corner grocery store!
The recent general elections have also made way for a distorted, enfeebled and disinterested Tamil electorate to elect men and women who have to answer for many past and present sins. Men and women who have no idea where they should take their people and how, have been elected to lead a people mired in misery and have no time to think of the morrow, except in terms of survival. Men and women who should be in jail for their crimes or are answerable for supporting sheer evil, and rabble rousers who are a curse in any society, have been ensconced as Tamil leaders by the short sightedness of the government. Tamils in Sri Lanka need 'Visionary and able Giants' and not 'War Lords, Common Thugs and Cheap Politicians' to lead them at this moment in their history.
The government has failed in its duty in not having disarmed and marginalized the Tamil paramilitary groups soon after the war ended. This has aroused much suspicion among Tamils about the intentions of the government and Sinhala polity. The government has chosen to ignore the gun culture, extortion rackets and the politics of terror that persist among these ex-militant groups. The government has thus delivered a helpless people into the hands of political vultures. This failure has also played into the hands of the pro-LTTE Diaspora. The gratitude the government owes these groups, in return for their services during the war, should not be at the expense of the Tamils. They should be retired to greener pastures, to enjoy what is left of their now useless lives, instead of being foisted on the Tamils.
The pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora on the other hand are busy pursuing their Eelam agenda unmindful of its consequences on the Tamils yet living in Sri Lanka. They are busy creating the illusion that, what was in every way right under the LTTE has become wrong in every way after its defeat and demise. The illusion that women, who were safe under the LTTE, are no longer safe from sexual harassment is one theme in their arsenal. The fact that women were quite safe in the north and east prior to the advent of Tamil militancy is conveniently forgotten. The fact that female cadres were sexually abused by males in positions of command within the LTTE is of course a subject that will not be openly discussed.
The other theme is that the general security of the Tamils has deteriorated in the absence of the LTTE, with incidence of kidnapping for ransom, murders and other crimes increasing in the north and east. The Tamil Net is spearheading this propaganda effort, supported by some Tamil politicians and local newspaper outlets. The fact that the LTTE and other so-called liberation movements helped criminalize and lumpenize Tamil society is conveniently forgotten by these purveyors of doom. The crime that is beginning to show its ugly face in the north and east are the result of the activities of Tamil Para-military groups and the residual elements of the LTTE mingling among the people. I suspect there may also be a deliberate attempt to subvert normalcy and development by paid agents of the LTTE.
The third theme is that Tamil lands in the north and east are being colonized and Sinhalized under the auspices of the government. The fact that the LTTE was instrumental in providing at least part of the reason for mass migration of Tamils, and the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Tamils, is conveniently ignored by these purveyors of doom. The LTTE gave more importance to holding real estate than the lives of the people it claimed to represent exclusively. Now we have plenty of land and very few people. If there is a vacuum, air will rush into fill it! Where there is need, there will be supply. Let the Tamil Diaspora return in their thousands to fill the human/ human resource vacuum and use potentially productive lands! Their Eelam agenda and utter indifference to the misery they have caused the people whom they claim to care, defies logic. What I see among the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora is hypocrisy and chicanery of the worst kind.
The voices of sanity and decency have to prevail in Sri Lanka. The noise of the extremes -Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim- has to be muted. The stand of the government on issues relating to the Tamils, other minorities and the north and east, should be clearly and unambiguously explained. The government has to be like Caesar's wife, beyond suspicion. The government should make a visible effort to educate the Sinhala polity on the crisis facing the Tamils as a people and the need to accommodate them as equal partners within the Sri Lankan identity. This is a delicate period in Sri Lanka's history. Wounds in the social fabric have to heal and a new vision has to unfold.
This vision has to encompass all the people in Sri Lanka. Individual, group and citizenship rights have to be not only respected, but also strongly defended by the government. The government should not only be fair, but also appear to be so. Justice has to come to the fore in our lives.
The government has to make the efforts on a war footing to mobilize resources to resettle, rehabilitate and provide livelihood for the internally displaced and war-affected, in a proper manner. The Tamil Diaspora has to rally to this cause whole- heartedly and generously. The government has to make a concerted effort to invest in all facets of development in the north and east, and pave the way for both external and internal inputs. The Tamil Diaspora and other Tamils in the South have to contribute to this effort. A new political leadership has to evolve to carry these efforts forward. Eelam is a long lost cause. Tamils are a realistic people. Let us not waste our time and money pursuing the unattainable and unneeded.
The government has to implement the 13th amendment and plus (which was promised) through interim and appointed Provincial Councils for the north and east in the first phase. The Eastern Provincial Council should be dismissed and Provincial Councils for the north and east appointed. Men and women of integrity, proven ability and vision should be appointed to these councils. They should function for three to five years before elections are held. These councils should be empowered and supported by the government to carry out the mission of restoring normalcy and developing these provinces. These Interim Provincial Councils should be permitted to function as autonomously as possible within the law, without undue interference from the government and Tamil politicians. We need persons with experience and talent to run these councils initially.
These councils cannot be the repositories of the remnants of Tamil militancy. The ordinary Tamils in the north and east must see tangible improvements in their lives soon. Words and elections do not mean anything to them now. Democracy of the sort we have in Sri Lanka and particularly in the north and east, do not mean anything to a people, who have no hope for the morrow!
Appointing competent Provincial Councils for the north and East will win the hearts and minds of the Tamils and show that the government honest about its intentions. The three to five year period proposed would give the time and space for the Tamils to recover and evolve a new political leadership. This period will also give the government and the Sinhala polity the time to accept the north and east as integral parts of the country, and dissipate existing suspicions and lingering doubts. The Tamils will also have the time and space to understand that being part of Sri Lanka, is a better option to an LTTE Eelam. These councils should be up and running properly to convince those Tamils, who yet perceive that they are powerless because of the demise of the LTTE, that the government and the Sinhala polity are ready to grant them a measure of autonomy to manage their affairs more efficiently.
Security concerns are yet paramount and should be addressed in a sophisticated manner. High security zones should be progressively dismantled. Tamils and other minorities should be recruited and integrated into the armed forces and police. The armed forces and police should become national in their content and cease to be identified as 'Sinhala'. The resurrection of the LTTE or a similar grouping should be prevented at any cost. However, this should also have at its heart the need to win over the Tamils to the cause of a united (and since insisted on, a unitary) Sri Lanka.
It is also important that laws are passed making statements and acts that arouse communal passions and seed national divisions, irrespective of the direction they originate, criminal offences of the highest order. Introduction of an equal opportunities law would also be an act in the right direction.
Tamils in Sri Lanka have to concede the north cannot be their exclusive preserve. Sinhalese who want to live and work in the north and east of their free will, should be able to do so and be welcomed. On the other hand, the government should not as a matter of policy permit state-aided colonization of any sort, unless as part of a nationally accepted plan. Historical claims and counter claims to land and the ownership of the Island are for textbooks and academic discussions. The only undisputed ancestral claim all humans have is for Africa, the cradle of humankind!
The population distribution prevalent at the time of independence should be the benchmark, while taking into account current circumstances and realities. Sri Lanka is one country and it belongs to all of us. However, the rights and sensitivities of predominant communities in particular areas should be respected. Conditions should be created for Tamils to be proud of their Sri Lankan identity. This should be the challenge for the government and the Sinhala polity in the years ahead.
Prabaharan's mother (Mrs. Parvathy Vellupillai), should be brought Colombo and provided the best treatment and health care possible, in the best hospital. This will prove to disaffected Tamils and the world at large that we are yet a forgiving and decent people. She is ultimately an old mother, who has unfortunately lived to see her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren die in the battlefields and the husband pre-decease, who deserves our sympathies. This gesture should be the high note in celebrating the first anniversary of defeating the LTTE.
I yet remember the late Major Raja Uyangoda telling me in 1987, when I sought his help (at the army camp in Kilinotchchi) to cremate the remains of my mother and brother who had been killed by the IPKF in Navatkuli, "Don’t worry. Your mother is like my mother". That was the height of chivalry. That was the high point of Buddhism. That was the high point of our- a Tamil and a Sinhalese- being fellow Sri Lankans. That was the high point of our common humanity.
The time has come for everyone in Sri Lanka to become more civilized and recognize that we are humans first and Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others next. It is my belief that in the long run Tamils and history will be thankful to President Rajapakse for eliminating the LTTE scourge. If he is able to find a durable solution to the communal problems plaguing Sri Lanka for six decades, to the satisfaction of all the peoples of Sri Lanka, he will be thankfully remembered as a notable figure by history.