31 October, 2020

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Another Opportunity To Overcome 30 Years Of Mistrust

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the worst manifestation of inter-ethnic conflict that set Sri Lanka on an irreversible path of civil war that pitted two armies representing the state and rebels against each other.  Inter-ethnic trust and social relationships were sundered, it seemed for all time, when violent mobs went on the rampage, and the security forces of Sri Lanka stood by inactive for the most part.  As the days of that fateful week past, most of the Tamil population living in Colombo fled to welfare centres or were shipped off to the north and east where the Tamil people lived in greater numbers.  The city of Colombo resembled a war zone in which buildings and vehicles were in flames and lifeless bodies could be seen on the roadsides.  But the considerable number of hapless Tamils who were protected by their Sinhalese friends and colleagues testified to the human bonds that transcend ethnicity and continue to lead to inter-ethnic cohabitation and give hope of a Sri Lanka that is united in heart and mind and not only in territory.

As a student studying ethnic conflict even at that time, I chanced upon a mob burning Tamil-owned shops and inquired of them why they were engaging in this destruction.  One of them asked me with anger whether I did not know what the LTTE had done in Jaffna to our boys, and this was their return.  The conflation, or identification, of the Tamil people and LTTE as being one and the same in the minds of that mob, and more perniciously, in the government of that day, was evident when it failed to declare an immediate curfew to put a stop to the rampaging mobs, or order the security forces to maintain law and order.

The tragedy is that even today, thirty years and several governments later, after those terrible days that doomed Sri Lanka to the course of war, and made it one of the poorer and most violent countries in the world, this conflation of the Tamil people and LTTE still remains.  Four years after the end of the war, eminent Tamil leaders of civil society, such as the Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Savundranayagam, lament that the government continues to view the Tamil people and LTTE as one.  The cause for which the LTTE fought, which was Tamil self-rule, remains dear to the political consciousness of the Tamil people.  But the methods they used, which included terrorism and child recruitment, will be anathema to the Tamil people who suffered so much as a result of it.  The lack of trust by the government in the commitment of the Tamil people and their political leadership to democratic and peaceful means of securing political change remains the biggest present obstacle to national unity.

Omanthai Checkpoint 

A few weeks ago, returning from Jaffna on the public bus in the night, I was awakened at the army checkpoint in Omanthai.  This used to be the border between the government and LTTE-controlled territories during the war.  The checkpoint on the A9 highway linking Jaffna to the rest of the country served in those days as a sort of visa and customs control point, where both the government soldiers and LTTE cadre at their separate checkpoints used to inspect the identification papers and luggage of those traveling across the border.  It testifies to the strength of vested interests, that four years after the end of the war, and the elimination of the LTTE’s physical infrastructure and organizational structure, that this checkpoint should remain to do what it did during the war, albeit with only government soldiers manning it.   It also represents the unwillingness of the present government to let go of the past, and move forward to build a united nation, in which the trust of the Tamil people is manifest in the external structures of governance.

So far it appears that the Omanthai checkpoint is kept functioning to be a grim reminder of the terrible war that was fought there, and the continuing role of the military in the governance of the North.  The war victory over the LTTE remains the present government’s biggest achievement and it may wish to constantly remind all who travel to the North what it achieved.  But this manifestation of mistrust is unlikely to do the government any good in terms of winning hearts and minds in the Northern people.  The existence of this massive checkpoint at Omanthai, and the harassment of passengers who have to get down the bus with all their luggage, and lug it for over a hundred meters and subject themselves and their luggage to search by soldiers, is reflective only of negative peace won by war.  But four years after the end of that war there is a need for a demonstration of positive peace.  If the government hopes to improve its electoral performance in the North it needs to consider closing down that checkpoint as a confirmation of the normalcy that has been restored.

Periodically the government announces that it has discovered hidden caches of LTTE arms in the North and East of the country where the war was fought.  The question is whether the A9 highway is the only route to smuggle out such weapons. There are many other roads and jungle trails that lead from the North and East to the rest of the country.  It is counter-productive to a country that seeks to project an image of peace that the military should play such an openly controlling role in the country’s governance.  The Omanthai checkpoint is only the tip of the iceberg.  But it is very symbolic of how, in the midst of change, little has changed in some of the most crucial aspects.  If the government wishes to obtain the gratitude of the Tamil people for ending the war and restoring normalcy to their lives, one of the first things it ought to do would be to restore normal civilian traffic through Omanthai.

Justice Wigneswaran

But there is more to be done, as evidenced in a media conference given by the opposition JVP in the run-up to the Northern Provincial Council elections.  They have publicly said to the media that the situation in the North is totally different from the picture that the government was giving.   “The government’s semi-military administration in the province prevented others from holding peaceful events and even making donations…if we want to hold a drama competition for youth or need to donate school equipment for children, we have to seek prior approval from the military administration… We are planning to donate computers, exercise books etc to some schools in the Kilinochchi district but we cannot reveal the schools because the semi-military administration will try and scuttle the project,” they have said.  There is a virtual unanimity that what is most negative in governance today is the over-concentration of political power in the presidency and government, which has led to high levels of impunity and corruption caused by the breakdown of institutional checks and balances.

Unlike the government which is even resorting to former LTTE leaders to join its candidate list, the TNA has selected a candidate who has a non-violent and service-oriented past.  The TNA’s announcement that former Supreme Court judge C V Wigneswaran will be its chief ministerial candidate has given the moral upper hand to the opposition.  The future administration of the Northern Province may be able to set an example by having higher standards of politicians that will persuade the rest of the country to emulate them. The existence of strong civilian managed institutions, which the provincial councils can be if empowered, that ensure that the needs of the people are met, both at the provincial and community levels, is the most urgent need.   The mere fact that a Tamil-led provincial council will be more assertive and not subservient to the government is no reason to believe it will be detrimental to the country.

The government would need to overcome its lack of trust in the Tamil people that has prompted it to seek the dilution of provincial council powers after the announcement of Northern Provincial Council elections.  It has the best possible negotiating partner in the prospective chief minister of the North.  A senior lawyer recalled how he had packed his car with his Tamil colleagues who had been attending court that fateful day, July 23, when the riots first broke out.  He had taken them to their homes safely.  Two weeks later he received a phone call from Justice C V Wigneswaran saying he had heard of this act of human solidarity, and thanking him for it.  The former Supreme Court judge who today is heading the TNA list for the Northern Provincial Council election, as its chief ministerial candidate, stands as a further testimony to the bonds that bind all Sri Lankans to one another.  Brought up in the multi ethnic environs of Colombo, both his sons married Sinhalese.  Sri Lanka faces another historic opportunity for its two largest ethnic communities to work together as equals, even as in marriage the two are equal, and the ideal is that they should be as one. The forthcoming provincial council election in the North is an opportunity for the government to make a shift in its policy towards the Tamil people.

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Latest comments

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    What for? Who wants trust?

    Trust is a 2 way street. If TNA continues to paddle racist homelands, it is better not to have trust.

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      Jehan Perera,

      It is hard to Trust the Sinhala Buddhists.

      It is even harder to Trust the LTTE Tamils.

      It is rather unfortunate Lanka got Buddhism, the curse of Lanka.

      Bali Indonesia, Escaped this curse and is peaceful with 94% Hindus.

      Lanka was Jain, Animist and Hindu, before the curse of Buddhism came.

      If you want trust, ship All the Buddhist monks back to India, and free the Sinhala people from the Buddhism Virus curse.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNOfTGSADdY

      Buddhism The Great Evil — Part 1

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clcs2PSze0I

      Buddhism The Great Evil — Part 2

      • 0
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        Get a life, moron!

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          Dominique,

          Follow the true Teachings. Not the distorted teaching, like all the other clowns BBS and other are doing.

          Distorting Buddhism and following racism. The Sinhala Buddhist Nazis, which was NEVER taught by the Enlightened Buddha.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzZkdxN85RY

          The Life of Buddha – a documentary film by BBC (English Subtitles)

          Published on Jan 23, 2013
          Over 2,500 years ago, one man showed the world a way to enlightenment.
          This BBC documentary covers the life of a young man named Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince from the northwest frontier of India.
          Siddhartha Gautama determined to discover the reasons people suffer in their lives and found the path to solve the problems of suffering (dukkha).
          Having found it by reaching enlightenment — solving the problems of rebirth, old age, sickness, death, impermanence, and disappointment, he returned to our world.
          He returned to his former family and country, to teach the path to the end of suffering for all people who seek the way to enlightenment.

          Do not believe in something because you are told to. Do not believe in something because a holy person said it. Do not believe in something because you read it from a book. Follow and practice the teaching if it brings happiness to you and others then follow it.
          If you would like more about Buddhism, this website would be very useful:

          http://www.cttbusa.org

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        All Tamils are not LTTE supporters or separate state seekers. Similarly all Muslims are not Jihardists. Every average Sri Lankan, irrespective of his or her religion, race, cast or language wants to live in peace with each other. If a regime is not in a position to bring this environment, then the regime should leave it to some one else to sort it out. Alternatively, the present regime can have a national referendum and ask the people to vote if they want one unified Sri Lankan community and not Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims communities. Has the regime got the guts to do this?

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        “Lanka was Jain, Animist and Hindu, before the curse of Buddhism came”

        There is no archaeological evidence of this friend. Indeed, I do not think the Island was inhabited in the two centuries leading up to the 6th century BC. Only scattered visits from various regional geographies.

        I seriously doubt whether the teaching of the Buddha, Lord Shiva, Jesus Christ or the Prophet Mohamed are a curse.

        However, religions certainly do fall into that category and there is nothing much to choose between the various “isms” and “ities” :)Perusing the teachings of the ones mentioned above, I see nothing in them that gives me any indication of the type of venom that you display so I guess you are a religionist of some sort *winks*

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          Jesus was a humanitarian. He did not Teach anything negative. He said LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR. Instead, POPEs Began CRUSADES because that is how the ROMAN Kingdom wanted it.

          Jesus’s movement went underground as it was against the Roman Kingdom. the Romans Began the Church because politically it was promising.

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        Amarasiri:

        It is not idiots like you many western scientists and intellectuals have accepted the buddhism as the truth. they are far better Good buddhists than Sinhala buddhists.

        Sinhala buddhists are trying to Protect their culture.

        Why don’t you get a christian name such as Adam if you are anti-Buddhist.

  • 0
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    The forthcoming provincial council election in the North is an opportunity for the government to make a shift in its policy towards NOT ONLY the Tamil people but also the country if someone like R.M.B.Senanayake is appointed as the Governor. He could be assisted by someone like S.Sivathasan. Sivathasan may take over from Senanayake in a few years’ time after a symbolic start for Tamils to show the South the way to have good democratic practice and ethnic harmony.

    Are the Rajapakses prepared to make the historic change ?

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    Another Martian type article which can be written only by a person living in another planet.For 30 years Mr. Jehan Perera was very sympathetic towards the LTTE , calling them a liberation army while they massacared their own tamil politicans ,intelligensia and people in a mode of a Pol Pot. He attended all kinds of so called meetings organized by LTTE diaspora all over the world. All the benefits including endless foreign travel that Mr. jehan perera enjoyed because of this conflict gave him a life style of a rich man in a poor country. His NGO called ” Peace Council ” achieved no peace for any one except financial peace for its bosses. Now he is saying that all check points in the north should be removed. Even in peaceful Vatican there are check points.His articles in recent times talks of strengthening the Rajapakse regime with the ” shrewd” idea of winning concessions from them for various causes of Jehan Perera . In reality what this guy wants is the complete destruction of the Sri lankan State and identity. For how long more can you fool all your foreign backers when the country is now at peace? I say foreign backers because in the country it self there is not a single supporter of the Jehan Perera line. They are all in UK, Japan, Germany and Norway ! !

  • 0
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    Excellent and clear thinking as always
    Bensen

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    Reading the above comments ( no doubt there will be many more after this) one thing is clear that Jehans message has fallen on deaf ears.
    The Sinhalese dogs are barking again and soon they will be howling and biting and reconciliation is a distant dream.
    If any one thinks that the troubles of this nation are over forget it the message is more of the same for another 63 years and many more and will last another 3000 years.

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    Jehan only a person with blindfold like you can say that the inter-ethnic conflict in Sri lanka
    was the worst manifestation of inter-ethnic conflict as there are worse scenarios just next door in India. Again it was the legitimate army of a sovereign nation against rabid LTTE terrorists. Of course to you 1rebels’. You are reminiscing of a past better forgotten. Over 50% of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka were living and working among the Sinhala and other communities in Colombo and the South. It was the same armed forces personnel who safeguarded these Tamils during the 20/30 years of terrorism. Did these Tamil people leave the confines in Colombo and seek solace with that LTTE maniac and his goons.

    It is clear that as a student and as a person you are someone always striving for controversy to gain attention. Which conflict in the world has ended without leftover spillage always trying to mushroom. The LTTE terrorist supporters are still there. The Bishop of Jaffna, Thomas Savundranayagam and Rayappu Joseph are LTTE supporters. What were they doing during the 20/30 year conflict? Were they unable to lead their Tamil flock away from the conflict? One other religious turncoat is now leading the TGTE! Where were the voices of these so called eminent Tamil leaders of civil society, when human being were murdered, children abducted and forced into the conflict by suicide bombing murderers. BLESS YOU SON’s of TERRORISM FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS YOURS

    Omanthai checkpoint and all necessary checkpoints must be kept functioning to be a grim reminder to any remaining LTTE remnants that they will be dealt with. It is the duty of the armed forces to ensure the security of the nation. If a person have nothing to hide they should not fear security forces personnel.

    NGO’s like yours did a lot of underhand activities which directly or indirectly supported the LTTE terrorists. Justice C V Wigneswaran, and all aspirants for political/public office must take a oath of allegiance to the motherland SRI LANKA in public, that they are Sri Lankans and that they will never aspire for a separate state or homelands within Sri Lanka.

    In our small island of 20 million people there is no necessity for provincial police forces and unwarranted councils wasting millions of tax-payers money. C V Wigneswaran’s son marrying a Sinhalese is no big deal. There are thousands of Tamil and Sinhala inter racial marriages from years gone by. To get rid of this and promote reconciliation they should get rid of ethnic and religious based political parties, like TNA, SLMC, Bhuddist, Sinhala etc.

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      lanka peiris

      “In our small island of 20 million people there is no necessity for provincial police forces and unwarranted councils wasting millions of tax-payers money.”

      I hate to agree with you.

      Therefore take your provincial police forces and unwarranted councils back to your mother country India. By the way don’t forget to take your Tamil brethren too.

      You can have your legitimate army, state, corrupt leaders and bureaucracy, legal fraternity, criminals, and sovereign nation too. Not in my back yard but whence your ancestors came by kallthonies.

      How soon can you go, we don’t need your stupid institutions here. We were better off without them and we will be better off without them.

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    Sinhala Lanka Peiris:

    Your analysis of the past and the present is tatamount to saying that there are murderers next door and therefore we are justified in doing what we do. But the reason you do what you do is because you are half animal half human and therefore you will carry on doing what you do because that is your instinct. That is where your argument stops as the events of the past two weeks have built a momentum of its own and there is nothing you can do fool to stop it and if you are so thick let me explain to you why.

    1) Kicking and screaming your Thuggish rulers have been forced to call an election for the Nothern Province.
    2) Contrary to what your leaders are saying the die has been cast and there is not going to be watering down of the 13th Amendement and big broter has seen to it.
    3) Once CM Wigneswaran takes office he is going to flex his muscles and confine the army to Barracks and if the MR goverment refuses to let the elected assembly carry out its mandate there is going to be conflict ( political power struggle ) and that is when things will begin to get nasty.
    4) The road is slippery and down hill for you lot and this is gods wish. Just relax and put your hands up and accept.
    5) Finally your argument about the fact that 50% of the Tamils are working in the south in Sinhalese areas ( and the reason shoud be obvious to even a thick head like you) is because we are a minority and totally reliant on you lot for employment as there are no big offices or factories in our land execpt ruins you undrstand.

    Adios

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