Filed under: Indian Subcontinent | Tags: AIADMK, Anti-Tamil Pogroms, Armed Resistance, Bandaranayaka-Chelvanaagam, Britain, British Colonialism, Buddhist Clergy, Chemical Weapons, Colombo, Colonization, Congress Party, DMK, Ethnic Cleansing, Freedom Struggle, Genocide, Imperialism, Indian Imperialism, Insurgents, Internally Displaced Persons, Jaffna LIbrary, Karunanidhi, Lasantha Wickramatunga, Liberation, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Militarism, Military, Nationalism, PMK, Prabakaran, Racism, Resistance, Saddam, Self-Determination, Self-Governing Authority, Sinhala, Sinhala Chauvinism, Sinhalese Eelam, Sovereignty, Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Sri Lankan Army, Sri Lankan Government, State Terror, Tamil Diaspora, Tamil Eelam, Tamil Nadu, Terrorism, United Nations, United States, War Criminal, War on Terror
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On May 18 2009, the Sri Lankan Government declared its ‘final victory’ over the LTTE, by displaying the body of the slain LTTE chief Prabakaran. Since then, the Sri Lankan regime and its army have indulged in an obscene orgy of humiliation. The body of Prabakaran, an international icon for the Tamil movement for self-determination, was displayed by jeering soldiers as a trophy – reminiscent of the manner that Saddam’s capture and killing was displayed by the US. Not content with months of unremitting shelling and chemical assaults on thousands of Tamil civilians, nor with the extermination of the Tamil self-determination struggle’s leadership, the Sri Lankan government is determined now to humiliate the surviving Tamils and flaunt the victory of its racist war. Prabakaran is being slandered as a psychopath and a coward, and his body is being cast into a mass, unmarked grave – to obliterate and tarnish the very memory of the Tamil struggle. And the Sri Lankan State is sponsoring ‘celebrations’ all over the country of the ‘victory over terrorism.’ President Rajapaksa’s rhetoric of ‘equal rights’ and ‘peace’ now that the ‘war’ is at end, is exposed as a lie by this dance of ‘celebration’ over the corpses. What kind of ‘peace’ or dignity for the Tamils is possible when the death of their loved ones, and prospect of a prolonged incarceration in camps under military surveillance is a cause for ‘celebration’ for the Government?
For all those who cherish democracy in any part of the world, the Sri Lankan government’s ‘famous victory’ is nothing but a colossal war crime. According to UN, more than 7,000 Tamil people have been killed from 20th January to 7th May of this year until the war was pushed into a small enclave. LTTE has claimed that more than 25,000 people have been killed and wounded in this period alone. Lakhs of people have been rendered homeless in their own homeland and are languishing in relief camps in inhuman conditions.
Mahinda Rajapaksa will go down in history as the worst-ever authoritarian warlord Sri Lanka has seen. With the change in strategy to resolve the Sri Lankan Tamil question through military extermination, Rajapaksa has proved himself to be only a leader of a reactionary Sinhala chauvinism and not to be a leader of the multi-national, multi-cultural country as a whole. He was not prepared to allow any democratic dissent even within the Sinhala nationality and conspired in the horrific killing of journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga who spoke out against the racist chauvinism of the Sri Lankan state. The office of a human rights lawyer and activist was burnt down for the fault of dissenting against the state, following threats by police officers from a police station in Colombo.
For almost six decades now, genocide has been a strategic and consistent response from the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lankan state to the Tamil aspirations for freedom and liberation. Rajapaksa has followed that infamous legacy and carried it to achieve the ‘final solution’ by wiping out any resistance against repression from Tamil nationality. He should be branded as a war criminal and be tried for deliberate and ruthless violation of international conventions on war.
In Sri Lanka, even the judiciary is chauvinistic and has become part of the hate mechanism of human rights violation. The Supreme Court ruling in 2006 declared that the ‘Human Rights Committee at Geneva is not reposed with judicial powers under our constitution’ is a sufficient, legal ground to initiate action under international law. In fact, the Supreme Court ruling also provided the basis for genocide-oriented military offensive against Tamils.
The Tamil Assertion against Chauvinism and Discrimination
The Sri Lankan government claims legitimacy by garbing the brutal suppression of Tamils in the language of the US-sponsored ‘war on terror’. As John Pilger puts it, “you learn to manipulate the definition of terrorism as a universal menace, thus ingratiating yourself with the “international community” (Washington) as a noble sovereign state blighted by an “insurgency” of mindless fanaticism. The truth and lessons of the past are irrelevant. And having succeeded in persuading the United States and Britain to proscribe your insurgents as terrorists, you affirm you are on the right side of history, regardless of the fact that your government has one of the world’s worst human rights records and practices terrorism by another name. Such is Sri Lanka.”
Since Sri Lanka attained independence from British in 1948, the Tamil people have been facing a treatment of second-class citizens, political and cultural oppression and genocide. The Sinhalese-dominated government in 1949 disenfranchised more than a million Tamils at a stroke of a pen. One million Tamil toiling masses who made ‘Eelam’ (Sri Lanka) their homeland a few hundreds of years ago, who sweated it out in tea plantations and elsewhere for the growth of the country, who were instrumental in the construction of ‘modern’ Sri Lanka were rendered homeless and were given marching orders, overnight, to go back to India. This was the first chauvinistic attack on Tamils in Sri Lanka. This was the first trigger for Tamils to look for a ‘Tamil Eelam’ against ‘Sinhalese Eelam’.
In 1956, Sinhala chauvinistic Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to power and unleashed the first anti-Tamil pogrom in independent Sri Lanka, led by chauvinistic Buddhist monks. More than 100 Tamils were killed. In 1956-58, massive Sinhala colonization programmes were taken up in Eastern part of the country, one of the traditional strongholds of Tamils. The government enacted a policy of ‘Sinhala Only’ reversing the earlier dual language policy of Sinhala and Tamil. This came as a major blow to the Tamil masses and Tamils were effectively deprived of any government employment and education. The ‘standardisation’ policy in education that followed in 1971 openly discriminated Tamils against Sinhalese students. The constitution enacted in parliament in 1972 remained anti-Tamil and Sinhala chauvinism was constitutionally promoted by discriminating Tamils. The cultural, historical and knowledge treasure of Tamils in Sri Lanka – the Jaffna Library, was burnt down by the state as a part of the campaign in 1981. It was part of an attempt to demolish the cultural identity of Tamils.
Genocide and pogroms against Tamils being the official policy of the state, Tamils were killed often as a part of a sustained terror campaign. Violent, anti-Tamil pogroms were staged very frequently in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1974, 1977, 1979, 1981 and in 1983. In these terror campaigns, Tamil people were massacred in gruesome manner, women were raped and children were brutally killed.
Roots of the Insurgency
Peaceful, legal forms of struggles were tried out for more than three decades after independence, but failed. The state went on with administrative, military and constitutional offensive against Tamils despite many pacts signed on various occasions. A highly moderate organization, Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) enjoyed popular support in the beginning. The Senanayaka – Chelvanayakam pact signed in 1965 envisaging some amount of regional autonomy to Tamils by establishing regional councils remained only on paper and was never implemented. The Bandaranayaka – Chelvanaagam Pact signed in 1975 for decentralization of powers to eastern and northern provinces too faced the same fate as the government succumbed to the pressures of Sinhala chauvinistic forces. TULF won more than 18 seats to Sri Lankan parliament in 1977 with a mandate to establish an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam. TULF said that the election is a referendum for the cause of ‘Tamil Eelam’, which was popularly known as Vaddukoddai resolution passed in 1976.
It is in this process, as all constitutional and peaceful means to raise genuine dissent were blocked, a group of Tamil youths, who believed in armed struggle as the only means, came together and formed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on 5 May 1975. In fact, the Prabakaran-led Tamil New Tigers formed in 1972 was renamed as LTTE. Vilification and demonization of LTTE cannot obliterate the fact that, as Pilger reminds us, the LTTE was “the product, not the cause, of an injustice and a war that long predate them.”
Failed Truce Attempts
There were many ceasefires and talks that failed consistently. In the ultimate analysis, the Sri Lankan government has its major share in aborting most of such peace efforts. The peace effort mediated by Norway in 2002 appeared to be more durable, and the LTTE too for the first time came up with a proposal for creation of ‘Interim Self Governing Authority’ for five years in Tamil dominated areas. The UNP too appeared to be preparing for a broad concept of devolution of powers. But, the Sinhala chauvinist forces, including Buddhist clergy, JVP and SLFP, ultimately prevailed and advocated ‘no truce’ at any cost. The government succumbed and the result is there for every one to see.
The Indian government’s complicity with the genocide of Tamils – supplying arms, ammunitions and other logistics for the Sri Lankan government in the war against Tamils – is a matter of great shame. Civil liberty and Tamil activists protesting against the Indian army convoys suspected of supplying arms to the Lankan army have been arrested and jailed in Coimbatore recently, thus muzzling dissent even in India. This incident also disproves the Indian claim of no involvement in the war against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The role of the range of Tamilnadu parties on the Sri Lankan Tamil question reeks of naked opportunism. When the elections were on, the DMK, PMK, AIADMK and other parties vied with each other to shed crocodile tears for the Tamils’ plight in Sri Lanka and indulge in competitive histrionics to cash on the genuine anguish and concern among people. Once the elections are over, all is forgotten. Jayalalitha, who during elections had done a volte face to suddenly turn supporter of the cause for a ‘separate Eelam’ after having opposed it all along, has lapsed back into silence. During the election campaign, Karunanidhi had self-servingly described Prabakaran as a ‘friend,’ and had gone on fast in order to cover up an alliance with the same Congress Government that was busy supplying arms to Lanka. After the elections, even as the public humiliation by the Lankan Army of Prabakaran’s body was being played out on TV, Karunanidhi’s histrionics were reserved only for bargaining for ministerial berths for his family in central government! The military elimination of Tamil people and LTTE leaders can never ‘resolve’ the Tamil national question in Sri Lanka, and the Tamil quest for justice, dignity and self-determination will continue. The peace of the graveyard and concentration camp, in the shadow of chauvinistic and militaristic jubilation, can never be a lasting peace.
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