Ilankai Tamil Sangam

28th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

After Pirapakaran: Deepening Internal Colonialism

by Dr S Sathananthan, August 15, 2010

Some Sinhalese observers, taken in by the disinformation about war’s end, are puzzled why all this is taking place ‘post war’. The answer is simple. Post-war is a myth. The war continues against the Tamil people...

Military repression is expensive. It also incurs expenditure to pacify the rapidly growing Tamil resentment and hostility. The Sinhalese regime is scheming to outsource this cost to Tamil expatriate organisations that want to ‘do something’ to relieve suffering of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

We unhesitatingly jettison the verbiage – ‘peace’, ‘policy alternatives’, ‘political solution’, ‘development’, ‘devolution’, ‘co-existence’ – spawned by peace-mongers during counter-revolution, which includes the so-called ‘peace process’. Nor should we be distracted by sophistry about which should come and in what order akin to the sterile medieval debate in Europe over ‘how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin’. The staggering mystification fabricated by the counter-revolutionary discourse and its essential intellectual sterility is amply demonstrated by the absurd speculation on how the country ought to move from a non-existing ‘post-war’ to a nebulous ‘post-conflict’ situation after May 18.

The myth of ‘post- war’

The war is not over. The contrived ‘post-war’ is a political illusion pedalled by Sinhalese hegemonism, foolishly parroted by some gullible Sinhalese and a few naive Tamils. War is not merely the clash of arms; there are other economic, cultural and ideological wars too – the Cold Wars. The armed phase, not the war, ended in May 2009; the Sinhalese regime is pursuing war in different modes.

Isolating Tamils in prison camps of the open air variety (Jaffna peninsula) and herding them into concentration camps girded by razor wire in the Vanni are acts of war; they are grotesque throwbacks to the colonial tools of Strategic Hamlets (US in Vietnam) and Security Villages (British in Kenya). But a Sinhalese ideologue (former Head of the now mercifully defunct Government’s Peace Secretariat) accused a foreign journalist, who revealed in advance the regime’s incarceration plans, of sensationalising the use of razor wire and ignoring their ecological function. ‘Unfortunately’, babbled the ideologue, ‘a man from a cold climate does not realise that, in the sub-continent, barbed wire is the most common material to establish secure boundaries, to permit ventilation as well as views’. Perhaps he is miffed by the ingratitude of Tamil inmates who, rather than appreciate the scenery and fresh air, are instead selfishly griping about torture, rape and disappearances!

Refusing prisoner of war status to, and holding incommunicado, Tamil combatants – male and female – in undisclosed locations are acts of war. Denying Tamil people under almost any pretext access to lands lived on and cultivated by their ancestors and destroying their livelihoods are acts of war. The Sinhalese State’s ethnic flooding – the continuing and deliberate settling of Sinhalese populations on land in the Tamil homeland – to alter the demographic balance and thereby systemically erase the Tamil nation’s territorial identity is an act of war. Imposing the alien Sinhalese language – cultural marker of the dominant Sinhalese nation – upon the Tamil nation is again an act of war. Some Sinhalese observers, taken in by the disinformation about war’s end, are puzzled why all this is taking place ‘post war’. The answer is simple. Post-war is a myth. The war continues against the Tamil people.

The victory in the armed phase is not the ‘achievement’ sycophants lavish upon the moribund semi-feudal Sri Lankan regime. On the contrary, the credit belongs to a coalition of approximately 30 countries ranged against the Tamil people; they include the Great Powers – US, EU (led by Britain, France, Germany), Russia, India, China and Japan – many of them nuclear powers and their cat’s paws in Scandinavia, notably Norway. Together they set the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) up for the kill; virtually all that the Sinhalese army had to do was pull the trigger, in a manner of speaking.

To give the Sri Lankan regime a free hand, the international coalition effectively endorsed genocide to assist the Sinhalese army to scorch its way through the supportive Tamil population and slaughter the LTTE-led popular revolutionary movement. That, we admit, is the ‘achievement’.

The credit for building a war crimes safety net in the UN Human Rights Commission goes to India and China, the rising world powers, who used their global reach and strategic leverage to marshal 12 other countries and together voted a clean chit to the Sinhalese regime. Sri Lankan diplomats in Geneva were little more than vociferous windbags that New Delhi and Beijing tolerated and manipulated to throw up a political smokescreen to mask their anti-Tamil machinations in pursuit of geo-strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. In short, Colombo has neither the economic power nor diplomatic muscle to whip into line the 14 nations, many infinitely more powerful, from Latin America, North Africa, and West, South and East Asia.

The mind-boggling assertion that Sri Lankan diplomacy – legendary for its ineptitude – brought the 14 countries to heel is a delusion of grandeur on a galactic scale.

Internal colonialism

The Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka is the internal colony of the Sinhalese State. Sri Lanka is among more than 30 countries that possess internal colonies, ranging from settler colonies of Canada (Quebec, Inuit) and USA (Native Americans and Blacks), imperial powers Britain (Scotland and Wales), France (Corsica) and Spain (Basque and Catalan regions), and China (Guizhou and Xinjiang) and Japan (Sanya region) to name but a handful. In some countries there has been progress towards reducing national oppression and recognising collective rights of smaller nations, in Quebec and Inuit Province, Wales and Scotland, the sensible de-coupling in Czechoslovakia (Czechs and Slovaks) and independence won by the 15 former Soviet Republics.

Uneven development within a State usually refers to the differential impacts of economic development across the territory of a single national formation or nation. Where the same disparity occurs between regions populated by different nations existing in the State territory, uneven development is transmuted into internal colonialism: it is inextricably linked to, and brutally expressed through, national oppression.

In Sri Lanka, internal colonialism by the Sinhalese oligarchy has many characteristic facets. It imposes Sinhalese culture; it economically marginalises the Tamil nation and, in addition, in the east and north increasingly denies access to land. Tamils degraded into the social and economic underclass inevitably resist; to put down the challenge the oligarchy ensured Sinhalese monopoly of employment in, and control over, the armed forces.

Sinhalese irredentism is an ideological component of internal colonialism British imperialism carried out the territorial incorporation of the Tamil nation and its land within Ceylon’s State territory and, for the first time in the island’s history, imposed a unitary State in 1832 to refine colonial domination and exploitation. The hitherto independent Tamil nation was debased into an internal colony, euphemistically referred to as the numerical ‘minority’, whose members supposedly enjoyed equality based on individual rights and one-man-one-vote universal franchise that, in reality, entrenched Sinhalese majoritarianism and stacked the political cards against the collective Tamil people.

They were alleged to be democratic reforms. But in fact the British colonialists engineered Sinhalese majoritarianism and ensured power in the ‘model colony’ was exercised predominantly by the quisling Sinhalese oligarchy as reward for enthusiastically protecting British interests and investments.

The new centralised political structure violated the historical evolution and differentiation of the population over two millennia and more into three distinct socio-political forms or nations. That they enjoyed legal status as such in international relations is evidenced by the three separate treaties entered into by the nations with colonial powers: the Malvana Convention of 1598 between the King Philip I of Portugal and nobility of the Sinhalese kingdom of Kotte, the Nallur Convention of 1616 between King Philip 11 of Portugal and the nobility of the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna and the Kandyan Convention of 1815 between King George 1V of England and the Kandyan chiefs. None of the treaties recognised a Ceylonese State; they mention merely the region, the island, of Ceylon.

Still worse, obdurate Sinhalese ideologues exploited the political fiction of a historical unitary State to deepen irredentism. They adamantly turned the clock back more than two millennia, to a mythical Sinhalese unitary State alleged to have existed under King Dutugemunu, and pretend the more than two thousand years of subsequent political evolution is a bad dream. Their quintessentially irredentist claims to the Tamil homeland are buttressed by another historical fiction – that Tamil people are ‘aliens’ who have no legitimate territorial claims in the island.

The archaic irredentist claims to territory are further reinforced by robbing Tamils of their history of Tamil Buddhism. Under an Orwellian rubric of ‘shared history’, Sinhalese supremacists are extending control over sites containing Tamil Buddhist archaeological remains in the north and east and re-inventing them as evidence of past Sinhalese settlements. Their Neanderthal claims amount to historically untenable assertions that Tamils have ‘always’ been Hindus and Sinhalese have ‘always’ been Buddhists, rigidly separated into water-tight social compartments from the beginning. Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne, who is also the Minister of Buddha Sasana, asserts there are 289 sites in the north and east where Buddhist Vihares were earlier located besides 88 archaeological sites. Indications are that many, if not all, of them are to form nuclei of State-assisted Sinhalese land colonisation.

Sinhalese irredentism therefore is not only reactionary but is also without convincing basis in history. It survives by monopolising and applying the force of arms.

The reaction of Tamils to the Sinhalese regime’s cultural genocide and relentless and increasingly ferocious oppression is the sustained political and cultural resistance – James M Blaut’s ‘external class struggle’ – rooted in an alliance of classes within the Tamil nation pitted against the ruling Sinhalese oligarchy. In essence the psychological dimension – which Lenin repeatedly emphasised – of antipathy to internal colonialism must not be obfuscated by class reductionism. Thus a humble street vendor in Jaffna eloquently expressed the subjective, psychological imperative in the late 1950s when she implored a Tamil leader: ‘together with our kool please rescue our self-respect too’; that is, salvaging economic rights at the cost of national honour is simply unacceptable.

Predictably Sinhalese supremacists are imploring their President Mahinda Rajapakse to adapt and hone colonial strategies to structurally concretise internal colonialism through Tamil satraps. One patiently explained, ‘a policy of permanent encampments and fortifications must be accompanied by alliances with the local elites and a degree of local autonomy. That autonomy must not be so large as to be dysfunctional to security and strategy but must be sufficiently broad to pre-empt local disaffection. This has been the policy of successful empires from Rome to Britain.’ He boomed the Tamil quislings in the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) as satrap timber for the north, to replicate those in the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) already installed in the east.

The majority among those who call for ‘reconciliation’ between the Sinhalese-supremacist State and the Tamil nation are sadly ignorant of internal colonialism; their braying for ‘ethnic harmony’, their irrelevant marriage-counsellor emphasis on cajoling the estranged parties to reunite, therefore is of utterly no consequence. Rather the need of the hour is internal de-colonisation, from which and only through it justice and peace will flow.

For a Machiavellian minority, ‘reconciliation’ is the sugar-coated pill to inveigle the Tamil nation to submit to Sinhalese domination, concede the subordinate position of an internal colony, abandon Tamil nationalism and, put bluntly, to pick up the marbles and go home. The worry in Colombo is that Tamils are unlikely to oblige.

The ‘do something’ theory among some Tamil expatriates

Every initiative by expatriates under the aegis of one western government or another will, as surely as night follows day, further entrench internal colonialism and immeasurably aggravate the conditions of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The degradation of the Tamils people is not the result of a natural disaster. On the contrary it is the consequence of deliberate and planned acts war by the Sinhalese regime backed fully by the international coalition. 

Military repression is expensive. It also incurs expenditure to pacify the rapidly growing Tamil resentment and hostility. The Sinhalese regime is scheming to outsource this cost to Tamil expatriate organisations that want to ‘do something’ to relieve suffering of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The associated humanitarian sentiments are welcome. But expatriates ought to know that every supposedly non-partisan intervention in a situation of asymmetric power invariably benefits the strong and increases the vulnerability of the weak; a tube well installed in a barren village to supply water will enrich the landowners and weaken bargaining power of landless peasants (despite boosting employment).

An initiative in the north and east is rarely politically neutral in its impact especially in the contexts of internal colonialism and Sinhalese autocratic rule. And funds for the current initiatives are coming out of Norway, which organised and presided over the destruction of the LTTE-led armed resistance; and the ‘development’ programmes are to be coordinated in Colombo by a Sinhalese-controlled environmental NGO, whose key members have chauvinist antecedents.

Colombo’s ploy is obvious. It intends use the money Tamil expatriates raise in Europe to defray the expenses of throwing a few sops at the embattled Tamils, to pre-empt a Tamil Intifada in the north and east.

In short, the pragmatic ‘do something’ palliative betrays unacceptable political naiveté and is a cruel deception that will finance national oppression.

Instead, the expatriates can do something useful. They must uncompromisingly demand, and campaign for, the elimination of the absolutist Executive Presidency (promised by two Presidents – Kumaratunga and Rajapakse), an end to authoritarian emergency rule, repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and recognition of surrendered LTTE combatants as Prisoners of War under Geneva Conventions. The resulting humane conditions would go a long way to improve the conditions of life for Tamils that the expatriates desire most.

If Tamil expatriates do not raise and struggle for these minimum democratic demands, they are in principle hardly different from the Sinhalese military regarding the consequences of their actions on the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

15 August 2010