International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances – 30 Jan. 2022
Sri Lanka is close to breaking the record on the number of missing persons. In the official UN report of 2009, of the 82 countries where the cases of missing persons were identified, the largest number (more than 1000) transmitted were: Iraq (16,544), Sri Lanka (12,226), Argentina (3,449), Guatemala (3,155), Peru (3,009), Algeria (2,939), El Salvador (2,661) and Colombia (1,235).
However, after the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s “Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” dated 31 March 2011, Sri Lanka is now reckoned as having the highest number of disappearances. Says Amnesty International, “Sri Lanka has one of the world’s highest number of disappearances, with between 60,000 and 100,000 people vanishing since the late 1980s. The mass disappearance of those who surrendered at the end of the country’s armed conflict is a clear indication of the institutionalization of the practice, with the state concealing the fate and whereabouts of the missing.”
The loss of family members under the might of Sri Lankan forces is a soul wrenching event. Others might forget but not immediate family. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, MP, the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress which is a member of the Tamil National People’s Front, “has latched on to this and is exploiting it for political benefit. The TNA is a responsible party and is seeking the protection of the India-brokered 13th amendment to avert the disastrous consequences of living under the Sri Lankan state,” says an articulate Tamil woman from Trincomalee where a colonial newspaper report from the late nineteenth century reported that there were only a handful of Sinhalese. But today Trincomalee is nearly losing its Tamil character because of Sinhalese state-aided colonization.
Sri Lanka’s 13th Amendment to the constitution, once implemented fully, will give police and land powers to the provinces. It will help stop the deliberate demographic altering of the northern and eastern provinces, asserts an active Tamil politician.
This is why Tamil parties are waking up to the importance of the 13th amendment that they failed to grasp until now. As D.B.S. Jeyaraj reported in an article dated 13 Jan. 2022: “In a significant political move, seven political parties mainly representing the Sri Lankan Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces have written a joint letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his help to fully implement the provisions of the 13th amendment to the Constitution.” These seven parties looking to India’s kind guidance to the Sri Lankan government in fully implementing what was passed by Sri Lanka’s own Parliament in enacting the 13th amendment are the TNA, ITAK, TELO, PLOTE, EPRLF, TMP and TNP.
I say that it is dangerous for Tamils to wait for all that we want. Jaffna too is being demographically altered. We must get anything we aspire to as a people one by one before even the Northern province is demographically unrecognizable like Trincomalee. This is why the TNA has prioritized the 13th amendment which already is law. It is the easiest to ask for and get.
Clearly asking for the 13th amendment does not mean that these 7 political parties have abandoned the disappeared. However, staking the high moral ground over the disappearances issue, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, is really opposing the 13th amendment. As Sinhalese nationalists oppose the 13th amendment recognizing that it would stop their plans for the North-east, Gajendrakumar’s politics reminds one of what J.L Fernando describes in his book, Three Prime Ministers of Ceylon (MD Gunasena, 1963, p. 27), “The Damila [Ponnambalam] bowed low before the Sinhala Lion, DS Senanayake, and was made a Minister.”
The Rev. Daniel Jeyaruban of St. John’s College, freshly back from the US with an M.Div. degree, was the celebrant of the Eucharistic Service that commenced at 7.30 am today at St. James’. As he started preaching and the parishioners eagerly awaited this highly qualified priest to speak, around 8 am, the loudspeakers started. No one could hear him.
Some Wardens and Elders of the church went out to stop the noise. Only the technical people were present playing a recording. They stopped for barely 5 minutes and then resumed. However, even funeral processions going to the Chemmany Crematorium stop their drums in respect when passing the church whether a service was on or not.
But here was a political party showing scant respect for Christians while the service was on. The Wardens and Elders could not prevail on Ponnambalam’s agents to stop the noise even though the meeting would not start for another 2-3 hours. What was blaring was pre-recorded nationalist rant, repeated on and on again making a misery of those in the neighbourhood.
An attempt was made to contact Jaffna police. Their website listed the number 021-321-1258. That phone at the police force advertising itself everywhere as people friendly, was disconnected.
After the service that concluded at 9:15 am or so was Sunday school that was rendered equally ineffective by the noise. A trip to the police station had to be made by a church member to complain. After further delay in writing a complaint, a police jeep was sent to Muththirai Chanthai. By then Sunday school was over and the meeting had begun.
Loudspeakers continued their blaring. With overseas funding several busloads of people had been brought in – 1500 estimated a journalist for Kalaikathir. Well before the meeting from 8.00 am onwards, loudspeakers condemned the 13th amendment as serving Indian interests. A lot of India-bashing followed. “If there is another massacre only India can come to our aid. These fellows are offending our friends,” said a deeply upset female engineer listening to them.
M.A. Sumanthiran, MP, PC, was targeted as a traitor which word raised the spectre of the old LTTE days. This focus on Sumanthiran, said an observer, showed that the purpose of the meeting was not the disappeared but possible future elections. There were numerous calls for chasing off political groups asking for the 13th amendment. Other Tamil parties were condemned for holding up the lion flag that SJV Chelvanayakam rejected. It reminded a listener of the LTTE days again.
TV stations of repute ignored the event in their nightly news. How many newspapers will cover this tomorrow is yet to be seen.
Explaining this lack of interest, a disgusted official of St. James’ Church Nallur said, “Pure outpouring of bile by the grandson of G.G. Ponnambalam who sold out estate Tamils for a ministerial post.”
In the event, it came to be known that a permit had indeed been approved at the level of an ASP to blare with loudspeakers on a Sunday morning in front of a church. An embarrassed constable explained, “Given the nature of the event, we would have been blamed if we had denied the permit.”
But is St. James’ the only location for this meeting extoling Prabhakaran and his leadership and condemning the only political group among Tamils that still has an international and liberal outlook? Are there no other locations in Jaffna for handling the small crowd that came? The police failed in their duty by approving the permit on a Sunday during worship hours and by being uncontactable in an emergency.