By Rajan Hoole –
The Indo-Lanka Accord and Sri Lanka’s Fault Lines: July 1987 – Part – 1
“The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgement in their goings : they have made them crooked paths : whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore judgement is far from us, neither doth justice overtake us : we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.” – Isaiah 59: 8,9
It was hard for the LTTE, which claimed to be the sole legitimate representatives of the Tamil people, to live down the fact that its way of settling political differences by annihilating opponents had led to the total collapse of the Tamil militant struggle. It was this, which enabled India to step in as the saviour of the Tamils. Through calculated provocations, the LTTE thus worked towards discrediting India by fomenting a war with the Indian Army that was very costly to the Tamil civilians.
Disregard for Humanitarian Norms and a Flawed Liberation Struggle
At the time of the Anuradhapura massacre, even though many Tamils justified it as retribution, there was considerable social inhibition against such barbarousness. Most militant groups condemned it while the LTTE was shy to admit having done it. During 1986 the inhibition declined with the advent of aerial bombing and shelling by Government, particularly in Jaffna. By 1986, a new logic had crept into the killing of Sinhalese civilians (see Chapter 20).
What liberation groups lack in legal recognition in relation to state powers, they try to make up by acknowledging and trying to project higher humanitarian standards. Among these are an enlightened approach to dissent and clemency towards the civilian population in the adversarial camp. It adds to the stature of a liberation group in the eyes of the world when it succeeds in projecting such values. The opposites of these are generally characteristic of oppressive state powers. Even in liberation struggles where the degree of provocation from the oppressor was intense, such as in East Timor, South Africa and Palestine, those in the mainstream had to acknowledge higher humanitarian standards. They were obliged to condemn and act against deviations from these, before they became credible parties to negotiations.
By contrast, the Tamil struggle has gone into steady retrogression, both internally and externally, from the time the LTTE tried brutally to assert itself as the Tamils’ sole legitimate representative. Experience has shown that it is incapable of observing any humanitarian constraint and has never been a credible party to negotiations. Most of it stemmed from the logic of dealing with rival groups and internal dissent through brute force. It resulted in draconian oppression within the Tamil community, total disillusionment among thinking adults and, by the end of 1986, a disastrous reduction of military capability. The latter was compensated subsequently by recruiting women into fighting units, introduction of Black Tigers and even recruiting brainwashed children by methods that were local adaptations of voodoo techniques. These compulsions thus, imposed also a need to silence any section of society that dared to whisper a protest.
The potential for the Black Tiger cult of suicide was already inherent in the rhetoric of the pre-militancy Tamil nationalist parties. The Federal Party for example had demonised the Sinhalese, and popularised the ritual drawing of blood by pricking the forefinger, with the slogan that separation was the only answer. The LTTE built on this by confining all those not lucky enough to escape from it to an environment devoid of all hope, and in
practice refusing to contemplate peace in any reasonable form. The LTTE thus became a group that seemed strong on the surface because of its startling, and yet costly, acts of violence, but was fatally flawed and weak within.
Massacres of Sinhalese Civilians
From May 1986 the massacres of Sinhalese civilians, and later for some time of Muslim civilians, was the manifestation of boorishness in a weak force. This was clearly reflected in its actions during the traditional New Year, which fell in April 1987. By then it was clear that the LTTE was going to lose all the territory that the combined militant movement had gained by mid -1985. Minister Thondman persuaded the Government to announce a week’s unilateral cease-fire, hoping the LTTE would respond, thus setting the stage to end hostilities. What the LTTE did was to massacre about 130 Buddhist pilgrims at Kituluttuwa who were returning to Trincomalee District from festive observances in Anuradhapura. On 19th April 1987, a powerful car bomb was set off at the main bus stand in Colombo killing nearly 120 civilians. The LTTE leader was then quoted in Jaffna as saying that he would consider a cease-fire at a later date that suited them.
Thus the moral opprobrium which was justly accredited to the Government which executed the anti-Tamil pogrom of July 1983, came also to be attached to the LTTE’s cause. The boorishness of all those well-heeled sections affiliated to the former was amply matched by the boorishness of their Tamil counterparts.
A struggle that is capable of winning, displays strength by beginning to look more statesmanlike and reasonable. Further, with the strength of the people behind it, the extremist segments become effectively marginalised. Whence even a struggle that was violent to begin with, places the burden of a settlement in a non- violent approach. This could have happened in the case of the Tamil struggle during mid-1985 to April 1986. Thereafter, with the LTTE taking the lead, it was a complete reversal. The liberating potential in the Tamil liberation struggle expired effectively in 1986, when the people lost any prospect of influencing its course.
In an effort to counteract the disillusionment resulting from its barbarousness towards Tamils,
the LTTE tried appealing to the lowest impulses of the Tamil people. In the same month that it had finished with the TELO, in May 1986, it broke several months of clemency and conducted a series of massacres against Sinhalese civilians in border areas starting with several dozens killed in Kattukulampattu West. These were contested Sinhalese colonisation schemes in the Trincomalee District imposed in the late 1960s and early 1980s resulting in violence against Tamils and their final expulsion in 1983. These massacres were clearly an appeal to the gut feeling of insecurity among the Tamils of the area. Most of the rural Tamils from the district were by then refugees, thus forming an ideal base for recruitment and more Tamils became refugees with continuing reprisals. Massacres by the LTTE thereafter remained regular. On the other hand, this was a calculated move to bring insecurity to Tamils through reprisals and divert the issue from its massacre of TELO militants from the East.
The real cause of the LTTE’s massacres of Sinhalese and Muslim civilians as well as the cruel and more numerous killings of Tamil civilians and dissidents is simple callousness and political bankruptcy. This is obscured by the equally callous actions of the state forces, which enable the LTTE’s massacres to pass as tit-for- tat. This works in the LTTE’s favour as rebel groups are given greater latitude compared with a state.
Unfortunately, no government has so far been big enough to give Tamil civilian casualties the same weight that is given to Sinhalese casualties. Media attention, compensation and formal condolences are reserved for the latter. The former are suppressed with blatantly frivolous lies by security spokesmen while the Government is silent. Thus to this day the Government comes to look purely a Sinhalese government in Tamil and foreign eyes. Moreover, the LTTE’s periodic massacres of Sinhalese civilians, serves to strengthen chauvinist forces in the South and weaken confused peace lobbies. Ultimately this boorishness has evoked admiration for the LTTE from like-minded segments among the Sinhalese who had felt frustrated in their anti-Tamil projects (see the end of Herman Gunaratne’s For a Sovereign State and Ravi Jayewardene’s conversation with Shantha Bandara in C.A. Chandraprema’s account of the JVP insurgency). We will take a closer look at massacres of civilians in Chapter 20.
To be continued..