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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

The Reign of Folly

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“The matter is so unreasonable, and so dissonant from common sense, that hardly can it be conceived by human understanding”.
Francis Rabelais (Gargantua)

Arguably, the most serious problem faced by the Tigers is the dearth of manpower. Money and weapons can be obtained; not so new members. The LTTE needs North-Eastern Tamils to stay in the war zone, vulnerable to its conscription/recruitment efforts. Since civilian Tamils are Vellupillai Pirapaharan’s cannon fodder, excuse and justification, he does not want them to escape the war by fleeing either to Colombo or abroad. He wants them in the North East, in their homes or in refugee camps, powerless and vulnerable, his captive subjects. The Tigers do not want the North-East to be depopulated of Tamils also for financial reasons. When Tamils leave, it affects the illegal tax base of the LTTE. For all these reasons the Tigers have consistently tried to prevent civilian Tamils from leaving the North-East. And in areas under its control the LTTE does not permit Tamils any freedom of movement; in order to be allowed to leave these areas, Tamils have to pay a substantial sum of money to the Tigers.

This is the context in which the Rajapakse administration’s latest ethno-centric decree must be evaluated. “Hundreds of minority Tamils have been asked to leave Sri Lanka's capital and return to their villages, some in conflict areas, because they are a ‘threat to national security,’ police said Friday…. Police Inspector-General Victor Perera said Tamils from the embattled northern and eastern provinces were spending long periods of time in Colombo without any work. ‘Those who are loitering in Colombo will be sent home. We will give them transport," Perera told reporters here’ (AFP/Lanka Business Online – 1.6.2007). According to the regime, this step is a response to the recent spate of Tiger bombings in Colombo and suburbs. Though there would be a few Tiger operatives amongst the large number of Tamils who come to Colombo, an absolute majority would be innocent civilians who are trying to escape the war and Tiger conscription. Tiger operatives do not need to live in lodges. The LTTE has money enough to arrange other accommodation for its agents – including in upmarket hotels and houses in more ‘respectable’ areas of Colombo and suburbs. It is the poor civilian Tamils who have no choice but to loiter in cheap lodges; they are the ones who will suffer from the regime’s decree, who will be forced to go back to a war they do not want. With this decree the regime has once again pushed civilian Tamils into an untenable position, between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

A Shameful Act

The Rajapakse administration’s latest Fatwah banning ‘loitering Tamils’ from Colombo is a disgrace, a shameful act which goes against the very essence of Sri Lanka, as a pluralist society and as a democracy. With this decree the government has banned all North-Eastern Tamils from coming to and living in parts of their own country, except on business deemed acceptable by the authorities. It is an act of blatant ethnic discrimination as it applies only to members of one community. The very foundation of this decree – the assumption that any Tamil is a potential threat to national security – is an outrage which reveals the ethno-centric worldview of this administration. A clearer signal could not have been sent, to the Tamils and the international community, that for the Rajapakse administration any Tamil is a potential enemy.

Perhaps Vellupillai Pirapaharan knew what he was about when he decided lend Mahinda Rajapakse a helping hand at the last Presidential election. It is logical to assume that any Tamil who has been maltreated in this manner would be more receptive to the LTTE’s arguments, more vulnerable to Tiger blandishments, less inclined to be loyal to the Lankan state. By assuming that any Tamil can be a Tiger and by acting on that assumption, we are compelling Tamils to see themselves as Tigers and respond as Tigers. And with it we are giving to Mr. Pirapaharan on a platter something he has been striving to obtain for so long – the equation of Tamil with Tiger.

President Rajapakse has a penchant for bad timing. This decree, coming hard on the heels of the SLFP’s retrogressive political proposals, would considerably contribute to the impression that Tamils in particular and minorities in general will not be given a fair deal by the administration. It lends credence to the Tiger contention that the regime is waging a war not against LTTE terrorism but against all Tamils. Once again the President has weakened and humiliated the anti-Tiger Tamils who oppose terrorism and separatism and promote the vision of an undivided Sri Lanka. With measures like this the regime is pushing the Tamils right back into the arms of the Tigers. The spirit of 1956 has ever been divisive and counterproductive.

The Rajapakse administration seems to be blessed with a near unique capacity to disregard the effects of its own actions. The outrageous Indian statement that Sri Lanka should not go to either China or Pakistan for weapons needs to be condemned. At the same time it behoves us to remember that we laid ourselves open to this slight by going begging to Delhi for help in fighting the Tigers. According to Indian media, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse was in Delhi, seeking “Indian intelligence inputs and logistics deployment in ‘sea denial’ – or naval blockade tactics to deter Sea Tigers” (The Telegraph – 30.5.2007). It was this request for greater help and involvement which prompted the Indian slight. The administration cannot expect the world or India to help us unconditionally, on our own terms. That is not the way things work in real life.

In any case Indian help, to the level we are expecting it – and need it - will not be forthcoming unless we offer the moderate Tamils an acceptable degree of devolution. We cannot deny the Tamil people even the limited degree of devolution they were granted under the Indo-Lanka Accord and then expect India to go out of its way to help us keep the Tiger at bay. The fact that President Rajapakse seems to be expecting just that demonstrates his total incomprehension of ground realties. It is about time the administration realised that ‘one cannot have one’s cake and eat it’. We cannot impose fatwahs against all Tamils and expect the world to believe that ours is a war to liberate Tamils from the grip of the LTTE.

Signs of Dissolution

The dangers of Tiger terrorism and separatism are obvious. Lost amidst the not so palatable news from the undeclared Fourth Eelam War are the disturbing omens of a society beset by socio-economic erosion. As the hope of a short victorious war vanishes and economic costs of the war escalate, public disenchantment grows and, with it, a seething discontent, fuelled by that ineffable feeling of being ‘let down’. If there is an electable opposition, this ‘mood’ would not have been a matter for concern. The main opposition party would have readied itself for future politico-electoral contests and the country would have settled down to wait for the next election, filling the intervening years with cathartic political sallies and anecdotes. Unfortunately the presence of Ranil Wickremesinghe at the helm of the UNP has deprived the Lankan society of this normal method of manifesting its political discontent. The electorate beset by crippling politico-economic conditions may be loosing its affaire de cœur with President Mahinda Rajapakse; but there is no viable alternative in sight. The result is an unsettling uncertainty about the future course of Lankan polity and society.

The signs of structural decay is everywhere; if not addressed they will debilitate Sri Lanka’s capacity to provide a decent life for a majority of her people. The abysmal performance at the OL exam highlights the malady of our education system. There is more bad news indicating a society that in the throes of self-mutilation. A case in point is a recent report about child and maternal malnutrition levels. 15% of the entire student population are stunted; 20% of adolescents between 10 – 19 years are anaemic; 50% of the school children are wasted; around 30% of pregnant mothers suffer from anaemia; 27% of pregnant mothers are under-nourished. According to Consultant Community Physician of the Family Health Bureau, Dr. Sudharshini Fernanadopulle these conditions are “contributing to the high percent of low birth weight (LBW) seen today…. Low birth weight babies have a higher risk of dying within the neo-natal period contributing to the high Neonatal Mortality which has also remained static over the past few years. They also run a higher risk of contributing to diseases such as Coronary Heart Diseases and non insulin dependent diabetes mellitus as adults, she said” (Daily Mirror – 28.5.2007). Just as the education system is caught in a vicious cycle of substandard teachers and substandard students, the health of the nation is undermined by a vicious cycle of malnourished mothers and malnourished children.

The inescapable conclusion is that all these indices will worsen with the escalating cost of living. The obvious surmise is that it is children and mothers at the lower end of the socio-economic scale who are subjected to these debilitating conditions. We are back to an old truth – though necessary, economic growth by itself cannot improve the living conditions of a majority of the people; the state must put in place means of disseminating the benefits of growth among those who occupy the lower half of the economic totem pole. This is what President Premadasa tried to do through his mega development projects; his successors by dismantling them, without putting any alternatives in place, have contributed to our current socio-economic woes. Sri Lanka is in danger of going back to the turbulent 1980’s in more ways than one.

Quite apart from the moral-ethical factors, neglecting the living conditions of the have-nots is counterproductive from a systemic point of view. Deprivation causes political and social conflict. It also endangers the economic health and national security – the ones most affected by poverty would be the soldiers needed to protect the country and the workers needed to staff our factories and fields and to bring us foreign exchange as migrant employees.

Enlightened self-interest demands that the rulers adopt a more sensitive and sensible attitude towards the economic woes of the masses. As Ranasinghe Premadasa repeatedly warned “everyone big and everything big is supported from the base provided by everyone small and everything small” (23.6.1987). Neglect the small and the big cannot survive; neglect the poor and the rich endanger themselves. And a destabilised South will have a devastating effect on our necessary war against the Tigers.

Post Script

Tiran Alles may or may not be guilty of the crime he is accused of. He certainly would not have been arrested had Mangala Samaraweera acceded to President Rajapakse’s request and rejoined the cabinet. His arrest speaks volumes about the manner in which this administration administers justice.

- Asian Tribune -

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