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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104


By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“It is a truism that there is always, in life, a gap between words and actions. But nowhere is this truer than in Sri Lanka”.
Bob Rae (former PM of Ontario at a memorial ceremony for Ketheeshwaran Loganathan)

Posters by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), calling for Dighavapi to be saved from ‘Islamic extremist invaders’. A notice in the ‘Island’ with the caption, Abducted, seeking information about a 72 year old Tamil man who (while coming home in a three-wheeler) was taken away by persons identifying themselves as policemen. Tigers murder four Sinhalese farmers in Ampara and impose a ‘people levy’ in their areas. Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva equates some journalists with rabid dogs. Central Bank makes a buck by debasing the rupee. Notwithstanding the existence of five ministers of Nation Building, rains damage priceless ancient paintings in the National Museum.

This is some of a week’s happenings in Sri Lanka.

The traditional New Year is round the corner. It is the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, one of the very few things the two alienated communities still have in common. This year more than 150,000 Tamils in the newly de-merged and liberated East will be celebrating their traditional holiday in makeshift shelters lacking in basic amenities and plagued by torrential rains. The state grants each of these Lankans a princely sum of Rs. 45/- per day! Obviously, the spirit of the New Year will not include these wretched souls. In the South there is profound indifference about their existence, their suffering and their uncertain fate; they are absent in most of the private media, while they appear occasionally in the state media, dull eyed and stony faced, telling us how happy they are as refugees. We are sowing, anew, seeds of hatred in the minds of yet another generation of Tamils.

The massive exodus of Tamil people into our areas from Tiger controlled territory is not an expression of support for us, as the regime claims. These people are leaving their homes and fleeing into cleared areas because it is the only way they can stay alive. Our indiscriminate bombing and shelling, though incapable of neutralising Air Tigers, have ensured that no place is a safe place for Tamils in Tiger controlled areas. “Sarangapani, a coolie from Vavunathivu said that earlier people had time to take shelter in peace zones like schools, temples and churches. The fighting forces bypassed these shelters. But now no place is safe. ‘We don’t know when an artillery shell or an aerial bomb will fall in our area. The attacker can’t be seen. There is no warning that he is going to come. There is no escape’ he said” (Hindustan Times – 2.4.2007). Our disregard for the wellbeing and protection of a segment of our own citizens is manifest. Can we then reasonably expect these people to be loyal to our of Sri Lanka?

Viktor Klemperer, academic, intellectual and Jew, had every reason to wish for the defeat of Nazi Germany (Dresden fire bombing saved him from deportation to a concentration camp). But when the long awaited defeat came, Prof. Klemperer found himself doing something he had not done for years – thinking as a German, and therefore feeling some of the pain and the humiliation of a vanquished race: “They (the Americans) drive quickly and nonchalantly and the Germans run humbly along on foot… We who only yesterday were the oppressed, and who today are called the liberated, are ultimately likewise imprisoned and humiliated. Curious conflict within me. I rejoice in God’s vengeance on the henchmen of the 3rd Reich… and yet I find it dreadful now to see the victors and avengers racing through the city which they have so hellishly destroyed” (To the Bitter End – emphasis mine). Why shouldn’t some of the Tamils languishing in refugee camps or being forced to return to their far from safe homes (quite a few of which had been destroyed, damaged or looted) feel a conflict akin to this? Who stands to benefit from their pain and their shame (at the insensitive conduct of the victors, who act as masters rather than compatriots) but the Tigers?

Tamils, Tigers and Others

The regime and some of its hardline Sinhala allies seem to be operating on the basis that Tiger fascism is the only real problem of the Tamils and once this menace has been defeated we can all live happily ever after in a unitary Sri Lanka. They forget that the ethnic problem is not a creation of the Tigers. ‘So what is the special problem of the Tamils’, some of them ask, perhaps in good conscience. They point out that there is no language problem because Tamil is now an official language on par with Sinhala; perhaps it is not being properly implemented but that is a question of implementation rather than of policy, and can be taken care of with sound practical measures. Such sanguinity ignores history – not ancient history, but post-Independence history - and the resulting collective memories. 1956 happened; Sinhala Only was enacted over the objections of the Tamils and the B-C Pact was ditched due to the objections of the Buddhist monks. For three decades even the reasonable use of Tamil seemed unreasonable to us; it took a bloody war and Indian pressure for that attitude to change.

Have we been able to convince the Tamil people that we have learned from our mistakes and will never repeat them? Hardly. How can we expect the Tamils to forget the horror that was Black July when there was almost a repeat performance in April last year? The regime intervened to stop the Trinco mini-riot only after the Indian PM called the Lankan President. The Bindunuwewa judgement and the judicial de-merger cannot but bring back fears of ‘Sinhala justice’ colluding with the Sinhala polity to ignore Tamil grievances and Tamil fears. A return to majoritarian democracy will not serve because in 1956, 1972 and 1978 anti-Tamil measures were enacted legally by a legitimately elected government with the requisite parliamentary majority. Democracy will have to be accompanied by a power sharing arrangement which prevents the majority from using its numerical superiority to impose on the minorities.

The Tigers are not interested in devolution; as they put it they have no objections to Sri Lanka being a unitary state since their Eelam will also be a unitary state! Devolution is for those Tamils who are opposed to Tiger Eelam. However even the most extensive devolution would avail Tamils little if they are handed into the keeping of the Tiger or some anti-LTTE Tamil party sans an election or via a managed election. Even the most generous devolution will only mean more bondage for Tamils under such circumstances.

Incidentally a reluctance to face a free and fair election is something quite a few of the anti-Tiger Tamils share with their arch-enemy, the LTTE. This reluctance stems not only from the knowledge that they have abused the people they claim to represent; it also stems from their need to continue with those anti-democratic and inhumane practices. Genuine democracy would compel them to pay some attention to the needs and concerns of the Tamil voters and this is clearly something neither the Tigers nor most of the anti-Tiger Tamil parties want to do. The trajectory of Col. Karuna and the TMVP is particularly telling in this regard. As a Christian priest involved in refugee work stated “If Karuna has been better than Prabhakaran and helped the Tamil refugees we would have embraced him. But he is doing precious little” (Hindustan Times - 2.4.2007). Democratic devolution is the only way the Tamils can be ensured a modicum of protection both from majoritarian extremism and abuses by their own leaders.

The government has set a new date to unveil its devolution proposals – May First which, this year, also happens to be Wesak. There have been other such promises before, made and broken; whether this date too will come and go, uneventfully, remains to be seen. President Rajapakse is under considerable pressure to share power with the Tamils; in Delhi he promised to unveil a package, in a matter of weeks, because of Indian and US pressure. However his Sinhala hardline allies fear and oppose devolution. So far his way of dealing with this conundrum has been to make promises and break them; set deadlines and forget them. The question is for how long he will be able to engage in this time buying exercise. True, no one can impose devolution on us; but regional and global players can withdraw whatever backing they give us (for instance, we may be declared ineligible to receive US aid under the Millennium Challenge Account). This is not a happy prospect for a country faced with a costly and protracted war.

Unreal Thinking and Real Dangers

The LTTE is the first terrorist organisation in the world to develop its own air wing. An example has been set which will be studied and (wherever possible) emulated by other terror outfits worldwide. In this sense Air Tigers constitute a potential security threat extending well beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. The LTTE, after all, has a history of being a terrorist trend-setter. As Col. Soosai proudly claimed, the terrorists who blew up the USS Cole emulated Black Sea Tiger methods: “I think in Yemen they used our strategy of suicide attack to blow up an American ship” (Tamil Tigers Reveal their Secrets – BBC). The LTTE’s acquisition and successful use of aerial capacity will thus serve as an example and a stimulant for other major terrorist organisations.

How, then, is it that, up to now, not a single country has condemned the Katunayake attack? It cannot be because the international community is pro-LTTE; for instance, a week after France failed to condemn the Air Tiger attack, French police arrested 17 Tiger activists trying to extort money from the Tamil community in Paris. Rather the lack of international support is caused by growing discomfiture at the manner in which we treat a segment of our own populace. We may not see the gulf between our rhetoric about humanitarian operations and the reality of filled to overfilling refugee camps; but that gulf exists and the world sees it. True the LTTE treats civilians (including Tamils) far more inhumanely. But that is to be expected, given its terroristic and fascist nature. We are a democratic country and therefore must play by different rules and conform to different standards.

Self delusion is a dangerous proclivity, particularly when faced with an enemy as deadly as the LTTE. Ranil Wickremesinghe was justly criticised for his inability to understand the reality of the Tiger. The magnitude of his misconception can be understood by the fact that within months of signing the CFA, his administration was making plans to downsize the army and find other occupations for those units to be withdrawn from the North-East - while the Tigers were engaged in a major recruiting/conscripting drive! The Rajapakse regime too is not immune from this malady of underestimating the LTTE, as can be seen by our propaganda about a mortally wounded Tiger cowering in his den, in dread. Looking through this prism, it would, have been impossible for us to believe in the LTTE’s capacity to carry out a daring raid against a (supposedly) well guarded airbase close to Colombo.

The dismissive approach will not make the problem go away but give the Air Tigers more opportunities to create mayhem in the South. Underestimating the daring and the resolve of the enemy helps none but the enemy. The Tiger is barbaric, fascist, terroristic; indubitably. But the Tiger is not cowardly; nor will he give up, even in the face of insurmountable odds. This reality may be unpalatable but unless we accept it we will never be able to deal with the LTTE effectively – as the Air Tiger attack demonstrates.

- Asian Tribune -

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