Ilankai Tamil Sangam
Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA
Will the Tamils Be Deceived Yet Again?
It is not only leaders, but everyone else who make all sorts of statements - no matter how true, false, incongruent or damaging they are. Most speakers say what they think the audience wants to hear, more particularly the international ones, irrespective of their own beliefs. Likewise, everyone who has pen and paper writes all sorts of things without any responsibility . The wonder is that the media publishes these writers irresponsibly, without any regard to consequences.
Rajapakse also said that his first priority is peace. Let us see this translated into action, particularly since the JVP has said that Rajapakse has agreed to its 12 point demands, a MOU is about to be signed, and the JHU has decided to support the Prime Minister at the Presidential elections. Everyone knows the attitudes of the JVP and the JHU on peace, and matters associated with it.
Gunasekara is also reported to have said, "Constitution has become a source of conflicts, confrontations and a cause for the present predicament." A wise man, this Gunasekara! If the Constitution is found wanting, it can be corrected by amendments. The US Constitution has been amended several times. Everyone uses the current Sri Lankan Constitution as an excuse to support his view, whether right or wrong. There are enough 'eminent lawyers' around who would interpret it one way, and an equal number who would interpret it another way. Finally they rush to the Supreme Court for a ruling. It must be mentioned that quoting the Constitution to the Tamils means nothing to them. They did not participate, nor vote, in the drafting of the 1972, nor the 1978 Constitutions. Obviously, there has to be a new Constitution drawn up after negotiations on the nature of a solution to the national conflict are completed.
Meeting of minds
Negotiation does not mean that whatever the other side wants or says has to be accepted. There is no point in pushing people to negotiate as if merely negotiating will solve everything. There has to be a meeting of the minds.
Much discussion has been taking place on the question of venue for the review of the Cease-fire Agreement. The venue is immaterial so long as there is security and a desire to arrive at a positive result. It is a red herring to say that the LTTE would use a foreign venue to promote their autonomy bid. There is nothing that the LTTE has to add to what the international community knows about the situation.
Mentioning the matter of autonomy in this context is worrying. Does this mean that there is no question of autonomy on the horizon? If that is so, Tamils may as well not go for negotiations.
On the question of negotiators, they should be politically savvy people and have the power to agree on something, which will be acceptable to the powers behind them and, would be implemented. If not, it would be like the negotiations of 1995 when the negotiators on the government side were technocrats, bureaucrats and friends of the President, rather than anybody with real power.
There are also mentions of renegotiating the CFA. Norway says that there is no need to renegotiate and I fully agree. What is needed is a full implementation of the CFA, which unfortunately has not happened in many areas. People continue to be harassed and unoffical bans on the movement of goods remain.
It is a well-known fact that, while the South has reaped a peace dividend, normalcy [the return to a non-militarized situation in which civilians are able to go about their business, and rebuilding from the ravages of war has occured] has not returned to the lives of people of the NorthEast, almost three and a half year after the signing of the CFA. Resettlement is being denied to hundreds of thousands, fishermen are harassment and denied fishing rights, additional check points are being put up, cordon and search operations occur, the armed forces refuse to obey a court order on the removal of unauthorized statues, increasing the number of Buddha statues and temples in the NorthEast, and the arrogant behavior of the armed forces continues - all matters that have made people lose their faith in the peace process. After the declaration of the recent emergency and the subsequent behavior of the armed forces and police, there is a fear psychosis amongst Tamil people.
History of disenfranchisement
Sinhalese and Tamils have inhabited the island from ancient times. Sinhala historian Paul Peiris states that Tamils were in the island when Prince Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhalese race, arrived with his friends. Over the years Sinhalese and Tamil Kings ruled over the parts of the island or the entire island. The much quoted Cleghorn Minute of 1779 by the then British Colonial Secretary describes "the two different Nations occupying the country," the boundaries of the Kingdoms were mentioned, and that "they differ entirely in their religion, language and manners." It is basically these boundaries that continue to form the Tamil homelands.
The Sinhalese are good people and coexisted with Tamils. It was the politicians and the Buddhist priests, who since independence, preached chauvinism for personal benefits encouraged a hegemonistic mentality. They were told that they were the chosen race of the Buddha who also chose the island to spearhead propagation of Buddhism. Buddha who was born a Hindu, was a very noble person who did not get involved in politics. Those who know his preaching's and want to propagate Buddhism should confine themselves to doing so.
At the time of getting independence, in order to win the Tamils over, D.S. Senanayake, who was to become the first Prime Minister, assured the Tamils that the Sinhalese would not discriminate against minorities in any way, and asked, "Do you want to be ruled by Westminster or join us in Colombo?" That was the first deception. Before a year ended the Citizenship Act was passed to take away citizenship from plantation Tamils. As a result, Tamil representation in Parliament was reduced by 40%.
This direct disenfranchisement was followed by numerous acts of discrimination, gerrymandering and deception practiced by successive Sinhalese governments. A major colonization scheme to settle Sinhalese in the Tamil Homelands was commenced in 1949, resulting in major changes in the demography of, mainly, the Eastern province where the Sinhalese population increased from a little over 9 % in 1947, to a current figure of nearly 32%. There are people who want to muddy the water who are talking of de-merging the Eastern Province form the Northern Province. The abrogated B-C and the Dudley-Chelva Pacts implicitly - with regard to the use of Tamil in the two provinces - and the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord explicitly - in referring to the two provinces as the "Historical habitat of the Tamil-speaking people" recognized that the NorthEast is the Tamil homeland. This fact has been made concrete whenever communal attacks against the Tamils took place, and the government sent Tamil refugees to these two provinces where they were considered to be safe.
Federalism, unity and separation
The Federal Party (F.P.) was formed in 1949 to seek a federal type of government. It has to be pointed out that at the 1952 general elections the F.P. got fewer seats than the Tamil Congress, which stood for a unitary system. At the 1956 elections, following more acts of discrimination and announcement that Sinhalese would be the only official language, the F.P. won an overwhelming number of seats. A party that stood for separation was decimated, showing that at that stage Tamils did not want to separate. This shows that at first Tamils preferred a unitary government to a federal one, and later, a federal one to separation.
Following the introduction of Sinhalese as the only official language, Tamil non-violent protests through Parliament and Satyagraha (Gandhiyan type of non-violent protest), Sinhalese thugs - assisted in certain areas by the armed forces and the police - attacked Tamils, and hundreds of people were killed and much property destroyed.
In July 1957 an agreement was signed by Prime Minister Bandaranaike and the leader of the F.P. to solve the ethnic problem (the B-C Pact). This was literarily torn up due to protests by the opposition United National Party (U.N.P).
Again and again Tamils were deceived. The two major Sinhalese parties were competing with each other to see who could harm the Tamils more.
In 1970 Mrs. Bandaranaike became P. M. again and introduced standardization of marks for entry requirements to Universities, making it more difficult for Tamil students to enter Universities.
In May, 1972 May the Constitution was abandoned, the country was made a Republic, its name changed to Sri Lanka (a Sinhalese name), pre-eminence was given to Buddhism, making it virtually the State Religion, and appeals to the Privy Council in the UK were eliminated, alond with the entrenched clause 29 of the 1948 Constitution which provided a modicum of protection to minorities. Tamils did not participate in this endeavor after proposals made by them were not considered.
In May, 1976, after years of discrimination in all fields of activity including education, development and employment, all Tamil parties joined together and formed the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At its Convention, the TULF, as a last resort, passed a resolution" calling for the formation of a separate state covering the Northern and Eastern Provinces, the traditional homelands of the Tamil speaking people."
'Terrorism' and war
LTTE was soon proclaimed a terrorist organization. In 1979 a Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was enacted. This was called "the worst regulation in any civilized country, including South Africa" by international jurist Paul Seigart. An emergency was declared in Tamil areas; the military occupied Jaffna peninsula; shops were burnt; arbitrary arrests made; torture camps were set up; a spurt in killing of Tamil youth occured and arrested youth disappeared. Police and armed forces were given the authority to shoot and bury bodies without a coroner's inquest. Tamil M.P.s were expelled from Parliament and went in exile to India along with hundreds of thousands of refugees.
In July 1983 a major pogrom against Tamils took place with over 3,000 Tamils killed and billions of rupees worth of property destroyed. A full-scale war ensued. Unbelievable death and destruction took place.
In 1987 the Indian Peace-keeping Force (IPKF) came in, ostensibly for peace keeping, but only to implement the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments and to disarm the freedom fighters. After the IPKF's withdrawal, talks started between President Premadasa's government and the LTTE, but broke down. Premadasa introduced an economic blockade in Tamil areas on 72 items, including food, medicine, fuel, toiletries and even school requisites.
Mrs. Kumaratunga, in the run-up to the Presidential elections of 1994, listed the problems faced by Tamils and said "so much so, that 800,000 left the country as external refugees and over a million became internal refugees, many of them displaced a multiple number of times." Half the estimated indigenous Tamil population of about two and a half million are refugees. Kumaratunga promised redress. The LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire. Subsequent talks failed and Kumaratunga declared an oxymoronic "war for peace" and unleashed a vicious war. It must be mentioned that recently Kumaratunga accepted the government's responsibility for what happened in 1983, apologized, and has mentioned the need to establish a "Truth Commission," as in South Africa.
Though the media refers to direct 65,000 deaths in the war from 1983 to 2002, the death toll is closer to 100,000, with nearly 65,000 of these civilians. Many, many more have died from the depridations of war. According to government statistics, 95 % of the civilians who died have been Tamils. Both sides are also aware of the cost of property destroyed - residences, schools, hospitals, businesses, places of worship, and infrastructure, and the destruction of forests, fields and over a million Coconut and Palmyra palms.
Replacing these losses will cost billions of rupees. What about the number of injured, disabled and their rehabilitation cost? In addition, one should consider expenses on arms, ships, planes and training and other expenses involved for both sides to conduct a war. Such wastage would have obviously affected development. The war was fought with such fervor that over 81,600 members of the armed forces deserted, many with weapons, which are now being used for illegal activity.
Equality and justice
All this happened because Sinhalese wanted to exercise domination over Tamils, who clamored for equality and justice. Tamils only want the right to administer their own affairs in their own land. They are asking for this after the experience of what happened over the five and half decades following independence. They are not asking for one inch of land outside the Tamil homelands. Despite all this, there are still people who want to go to war rather than negotiate a solution. They should have their heads examined! Obviously they are too old to go to war and have no children at the war front.
India and the war
Sinhalese have always been anti-Indian. Tamils, probably due to language and religious ties, have always loved India. In most Tamil homes in previous years, in addition to pictures of their Gods, they hung pictures of Indian politicians. Indigenous Tamils considered India, though they may have migrated from there thousands of years ago, their mother country.
Sinhalese, who also came from India, looked down on up-country Tamils, brought in since 1837 by the British as indentured labor to work in plantations and called them "coolies." Indians were also called "Kalla Thonis," a derogatory term meaning 'illegal boats.' This term was used for any Indian, and was also used at times for indigenous Tamils.
When India fought the Bangladesh war against Pakistan, Sri Lanka provided Pakistan refueling facilities to their air force, much to India's disgust. During the two insurgencies in 1971 and 1989 by the Marxist JVP, who were terrorists by any definition, the GOSL called in Indian armed forces to put down the insurgency. (It must be pointed out that no areas were subjected to shelling, strafing or bombing at that time, presumably because the JVP were still considered their own people, no matter what.)
The JVP insurgents were so anti-Indian that they killed many shopkeepers for selling Indian made goods. Now the JVP and many other India haters have become India lovers and want India to sign a defense pact with the Sri Lankan government. Armed forces are sent to India for training and war requirements are either gifted by India or purchased from it. Part of the petroleum distribution network has been sold to India and oil tank farms in Trincomalee leased to it. India is also negotiating special rights over the Palaly military airport, much to the USA's annoyance.
Many leading politicians want India to replace Norway as facilitator for the national conflict. Some even want India as mediator. However, most of them are not in favor of a federal system of government, even though India itself has a federal type of government with substantial autonomy to states and even has different extents of devolutions to different states such as Kashmir. India is also a secular country, which is something Tamils should insist on. Tamils should be opposed to Governors being appointed and removed by the Central government, as is possible in India. The chief Executive of the State should be the Chief Minister elected by the people of the State. Tamils should not agree to anything like Sec.356 of the Indian Constitution under which a Chief Minister could be removed by the Center.
It must also be pointed out that all citizens are treated as equals in India. Most Presidents and Vice Presidents have been members of the minority communities. The current President is a Tamil Muslim. The Prime Minister is a Punjabi Sikh. The Finance Minister is a Tamil Hindu. Are there such possibilities in Sri Lanka, where one hardly ever sees a minority in senior positions ? Appointments should be purely on the basis of merit.
Tamils have been asking for a separate since 1976. However, at the Thimpu talks of 1985 held between the Sri Lankan government and all Tamil parties including the militants, under the auspices of the Indian government, Tamils jointly indicated that they were prepared to give up the demand for separation as long as Tami aspirations, which were spelt out, were met. One the four aspirations has lost its validity. The other three are: -
The LTTE has not changed these aspirations since 1985. Obviously, in view of what has been happening over the last five and a half decades, the LTTE would prefer a separate state, which can be administrated in accordance with the wishes of the Tamil people.
As agreed in Oslo, the LTTE is prepared to give up the demand for separation and examine a federal system with internal self-determination. There are several forms of federal governments in the world and over 40% of the people of the world live in countries under federal systems. If the Sri Lankan government is serious about settling the ethnic problem, it should agree to a secular country with a confederal system of government. The choice is between that and war, with the horrible consequences mentioned earlier.
The LTTE has always been saying that they are for peace. The LTTE has proved this by declaring unilateral ceasefires three times, once in November 1994, once in December 2000, which was extended to April 2001, and again in December 2001. Moving from wanting a separate to accepting a federal type of government is a major shift.
Both the SLFP and the UNP were prepared to have an Interim Administration (I.A.). One of them was prepared to have one for even ten years! Even the Indo- Sri Lanka Accord had a provision for an IA. It makes sense to have one, since it has taken so long to arrive at a solution. It is futile to speak about having a final agreement straight away. When the LTTE proposed on IA via the ISGA proposal, there was opposition to it. The LTTE did not say that its proposal was written on stone. It only wanted to make the ISGA as the basis for discussion.
The LTTE, as the negotiators on behalf of the Tamil Nation, have a very big responsibility. The LTTE has to question whether, as on previous occasions of negotiations between the Tamils and the government, it too will be taken up the garden path.
The difference this time is that negotiations are being conducted after decades of war where no side could declare victory. Both know the consequences of war. There is also an outside facilitator, and the international community is watching.
Equality, justice and dignity
It is absolutely necessary to solve the problem on the basis of Total Equality, Justice and Dignity. If this principle is not acceptable to the Sinhalese people and polity, there is no point in wasting time and effort in negotiations. These are non-negotiable matters.
(This article gives the writer's own opinion and has not been discussed with the any party to the conflict.)
Posted September 9, 2005