By Kusal Perera –
“Why should Tamils speaking of the war be such an explosive issue five years after it ended, a war in which neither side owned a monopoly on terrorism? The answer has to do with the ideological polarization that remains because there is even less hope now of a political settlement to the national question that has been with us from Independence. Let us not forget that the Government is to observe the same anniversary in grand style in Matara, as the sole author of victory over the LTTE, and with all the pomp and circumstance that goes on around it.
Is it to prevent the Sinhalese people from asking awkward questions that the Government needs to play on their fears by harping on the revival of terrorism? Why should the Tamils be barred from remembering thousands of people, young and old, most of them innocent, who died during the last phase of the war?……The Tamil people should have the freedom to mourn collectively the untimely death of a large number of members of their community whether or not the dead persons are members of their family. When Sinhalese people remember dead JVP insurgents they are not subjected by the authorities to such repressive measures.”
That is a quote picked from the official statement issued by the Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association (JUSTA) on 14 May, 2014 titled, “Jaffna University: In the Shadow of War and Peace on a War-Footing.” Importance of this statement is in its source, not being a political party or group. The statement was prompted by the closure of the Jaffna university from 16 May to 20 May, noticed by its Registrar without adequate reasons for such hurried closure. This university closure has direct relevance to the directions offered by the Jaffna military command. “Major General Udaya Perera invited university officials, including the Vice Chancellor, deans and student leaders, for discussions the following day (08 May), where they were garlanded, feasted and flattered with dancers and singers. General Perera told them very politely that no observance in the University would be permitted on the 18th, as any observance would amount to extolling the late LTTE leader Prabhakaran and would thus count as an inducement to terrorism.” (from same statement)
To date, Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) has not shown much interest on this statement by JUSTA. Nor has the Opposition political parties in the South made any response to the ban commemorating the dead during the war, in North – East. Five years after the war was declared victoriously over by HE the President, also the Chief of Staff of all armed forces, this should provoke a serious political discourse in Sri Lanka on democracy and plurality in society. A discourse on a “united and plural nation” for the future.
A united and a plural nation cannot be established, unless all its Citizens are accepted and respected as equals. Thus the importance of the issue raised by JUSTA, in treating Citizens with an ethnic bias. Five years into post war life, it remains an issue that cannot be ignored any more.
We rarely make note of the bloody and brutal insurgency led by the JVP during 1987 to 1990 period. There is no mention of the JVP handing over their weapons if they did, nor of them being laid down. There were no search operations for hidden JVP arms catchments, that I can remember of. All that has been left aside for historical mention. Yet, and this is the most important issue, despite armed JVP cadres setting fire to public property, robbing fuel stations and banks, cannibalised killing of men (don’t remember killing of any women’s activist) like Vijeya Kumaratunge, Prof. Stanley Wijesundera, Joint Trade Union leader L.W. Panditha, Govt. Press union leader Wimalassena, Teachers’ Union leader Ratnayake and well over 100 other political and social activists in Sinhala provinces, JVP insurgents are today commemorated as “November Heroes” (Il Maha Viruwo). JVP calls them “patriots who gave their life for the motherland” placing them within the context of opposing the 1987 July “Indo-SL Accord”. The Sinhala society tends not to disagree, despite the human massacre carried out for such “patriotism”. That “patriotism” equals the LTTE who fought against the IPKF with heavy losses to their lives. But life sacrificing LTTE “patriotism” is never placed in par with “JVP patriotism.” The State thus allows with no whimper, any public commemoration of JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera and their cadres, killed by the State.
Last November (2013) they had their heavily publicised 24th Commemoration of “November Heroes” in Matara with plenty of media fanfare too. Neither military intelligence nor political commentators ever claimed, any such remembrance or commemoration of JVP insurgents and leaders killed by the State, could or may induce another JVP insurgency. Present day JVP members, sympathisers and well wishers are totally free to commemorate their dead, unlike those Tamil youth and adults who are told they could be arrested under the PTA, if they in any way participate or decide to commemorate the dead during the war.
What reason for such drastic and inhuman difference and bias in treating the dead ? The dead or murdered humans in the North and in the South ?
This difference and bias in the form of victimisation and suppression, is what showcases the Sinhala supremacy of the State. “Sinhala demand” to have control of the State, kept all post Independent governments from accepting the democratic political demands of the Tamil people. That turned into a neo Sinhala Buddhist ideology over the decades as the “National Ideology”. This Rajapaksa regime used that neo extremist ideology on fast track, in waging war. A war that came to be accepted in the South as a war against “Tamil Separatism”, in which short phrase, “Tamil” had more currency than “Separatism” in perceiving the political conflict. This heavy and intrusive Sinhala-Buddhist extremism into the State was not merely created to recruit rural youth to be sent to the battlefront, but also to suppress any social dissent, labelled as “traitors”. While the main Southern Opposition willingly succumbed to that “Sinhala patriotism”, media and other social activism were crudely and rudely suppressed with the State and Sinhala political power. Five years into post war politics, we in the South are left without an Opposition that can challenge this R/regime politically. The war and its total acceptance has left no alternatives to the regime, politically valid and democratically feasible.
The Opposition in the South lives within the political mould set by the R/regime. It talks of electoral victories in the same nuanced Sinhala language of the R/regime. The opposition criteria in agreeing for a common presidential candidate is no different to that of Rajapaksa as a Sinhala Buddhist candidate. Such Sinhala Buddhist totality in the South, negates any search for a united and a plural Sri Lankan nation. Seriousness of this negation is that it leaves no space for a start in discussing war related issues. Without discussions for positives, for compromise, there is no depth and truth in talking about “Reconciliation”. The State firmly welded to Sinhala Buddhist thinking, is now devoid of any independent agency that can handle issues left from a savagely fought war, albeit in the favour of Sinhala thinking. All issues from arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, abductions, disappearances, rape and sexual harassment of young women to issues like land grab and land disputes, adequately programmed resettlement and programmes for livelihood opportunities cannot be reasonably resolved without independent and efficient State agencies.
When it is the same regime that created, hyped and redefined the ideology of the State that now controls, administers and guides the State, even institutes and agencies like the police and the judiciary loose their independence, efficiency and also their social credibility. In simple terms, they become political tools of the ruling political party. We have thus ended up with selective enforcement of law that pleases either the local political authority or the Sinhala extremist mood. With new creations of law enforcement agencies that only complicates the ethno religious biases, in society. Politicised law enforcement has now extended beyond North – East and impacts negatively and with fear on other ethno religious minorities living in the South. Muslims and different evangelical Christian sects have thus become victims of this “goonda extremism”.
IF the regime and its extremist Sinhala Buddhist support base expect minorities to accept aggressive mob dictates of the majority as their fate in life, there is certainly a miss in their thinking. History shows such repression has always forced minorities to resist and retaliate. They adopt many ways of resisting and challenging repression from armed opposition to international solidarity. Under undue and uncivilised pressure, cost of retaliating becomes irrelevant. In organising resistance and demanding answers. Its the efficacy of their campaign that come to matter. Post war politics that led to 03 UNHRC resolutions against this regime one after another, each more firmly worded than the previous resolution is enough proof.
Yet its just logical this regime stubbornly refuses to abide by those UNHRC resolutions. The Sinhalisation of the State and Sinhala Buddhist extremism forced on society, coupled with its own Sinhala thinking leaves no space for other options. With the Opposition that only grumbles about allowing for international intervention, the R/regime is not compelled to think of alternative approaches in responding to international pressure. There is certainly pressure building up and this regime would have to anticipate increased international intervention, as we move into the sixth year, post war. Any negative or drastic impacts from such international pressure would not stop with the regime, but would trickle down to society as well. Such trickling down will sure reach the Sinhala South. International pressure trickling down, has no ethnic or religious bias.
Nevertheless, within all such complexity, there is yet a way out for this R/regime, if they want to. An honourable and a dignified escape, if they sincerely want to work on a sustainable and a reasonable political solution to the Tamil conflict. That is to provide the survivors of this brutal war a decent and a respectable political solution, denied to the Tamil people ever since independence. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that now commands popular ground support in Tamil society and certainly the only political alliance that can underwrite any worthy compromise, is willing to negotiate an honourable solution acceptable to Tamil people. IF this regime is amenable to a respectable solution acceptable to Tamil people, most issues from lands to resettlement, from civil administration to livelihood will be vested as responsibilities of the elected Council(s) of the Tamil people. IF still, they remain unsettled or unsolved, then the Colombo government can be certain, the Tamil people will hold their elected Council(s) responsible and not Colombo.
My firm conviction is, this R/regime has no mind and no heart for such political solutions. Reason(s) as to why it cannot digest such political settlement is no difficult task to explain. My reservations and firm convictions about this regime’s inability and reluctance to adopt any honourable solution kept aside, IF the regime does stand up to that challenge, then much is sorted for the better. If the regime compromises on power sharing much below any quasi federal power unit, but allows for civilian administration, allows elected Councils to utilise all powers written into the 13 Amendment without any leg pulling, then North – East would get back to civilian democratic structures in their own local areas. That would give them a voice and comfort to voice their rights and demands. Apart from that democratic space the North – East could have, it would also create a certain degree of credibility for the R/regime to claim, it can conduct its own independent investigations on war related accountability issues. That’s what this regime can never claim with its present hard line, extremist rhetoric.
What then compels this R/regime to go wild and erratic in decision making ? Why isn’t the regime capitalising on TNA’s willingness to fashion its Tamil politics within a single Constitution as a single nation ? It is just simple arithmetic in their politics. A government is formed on majority votes. But what holds that government as a social force, is the collective Sinhala ideology that brought those votes. While in office as the custodian of the State that waged war against “Tamil Separatism”, this Rajapaksa regime, fused together the fractured Sinhala power base in the South under its own leadership, marginalising Sinhala racism of JHU, JVP and that of those like the MEP. Drawn together, it is that Sinhala social force which keeps the parliamentary majority from scattering away. Within that the Old Left is irrelevant in power brokering. Five years after war, having usurped total executive and legislative power as a Constitutionally framed regime, this Rajapaksa leadership can not now move away from that Sinhala power base, without risking its own stay. Any move away from Sinhala politics would once again give currency to the JHU and the JVP, eroding its own credibility in the South. No regime based on extremist politics can shift from one social power base to another and still hold onto State power.
What is thus taking place in opposition politics in the South that pays little attention to what’s happening in the North and the Vanni, does not in any way offer different perspectives and a trusted leadership, different to the regime. The opposition is more concerned about finding fractures and cracks within the governing alliance. That can happen and that may provide for an electoral upset. Mahinda Rajapaksa may not end up, the magician he is in keeping a diverse pack of selfish politicians together and for ever. Such dismantling of this government may install another led by the present Opposition. But that for sure will not help change this Sinhala controlled power politics. It doesn’t happen without a clear programme, that can muster a different social force on a different political agenda. One that can assure a single nation, a plural and a secular State that accepts and respects all Citizens as equals. A political agenda that will positively and respectfully answer the question posed by JUSTA, “Why should the Tamils be barred from remembering thousands of people, young and old, most of them innocent, who died during the last phase of the war?”
If the Opposition fails to discuss or ignores that single question and allows this R/regime to steam roll all minorities – Tamils, Moors, Malays, Christian and Islamic minorities, sixth post war year would not have the blasting devil out of the crease and out of the grounds.