By Vishwamithra1984 –
“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?” ~George Orwell, 1984
Most men and women in Sri Lanka are ‘reasonable’ individuals. Whether they come from remote parts of the rural country or urban city centers, their foundation of values remains grounded on solid logic, powerful argument and fair judgment. Whether one’s education background is university or even higher, whether it’s elementary or secondary or even with no formal education whatsoever, a reasonable man or woman makes a very reasonable judgment on matters that concern them personally and individually. Yet when such matters become a combination (or a concoction) of issues with diverse means and ends, especially when such issues pertain to their DNA or identity, the collective judgment gets colored and shaded by the vagaries of intricate innuendos; they make a deliberate choice to ignore the ‘obvious’ or in a most convoluted way attempt to look beyond the ‘obvious’.
The collective mindset gets warped; its eruptions become explosive and judgments shaded and ostensibly justified. Emerging from this parade of issues, a less educated and an ill-disciplined mind gets warped in its own innate contradictions; instead of responding from a rational standpoint, man begins to rationalize a predetermined solution in search of a problem that does not exist.
Nevertheless, one simply cannot disregard the legitimate grievances of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. Standing amongst those grievances as most significant and supreme is that they, Tamils in Sri Lanka, are treated consistently as second-class citizens. That is a very serious and profound complaint. And it ought to receive serious and profound attention from the majority Sinhalese and their elected leaders. Yet the very numbers, the reality of which I wrote about last week, have given the Sinhalese leaders and their subjects, a notion of legitimacy and strength, a belief of inevitability and fait accompli. Emanating from that cushion, the majority Sinhalese have willingly chosen to treat their Northern brethren as inconsequential at best and with disdain and scorn at worst. This maltreatment of a fellow human being could have extremely heart-wrenching and personally agonizing consequences when it is applied individually. And when it manifests itself in a collective body- Tamil minority as whole- the most obvious and instinctive reaction could be agitation leading all the way up to violence and mayhem.
When this festering wound was allowed to become gangrenous, one step followed its logical sequential path. The issues that were not addressed by the Sinhalese leaders from the beginning of the Twentieth Century all the way up to the signing of the JR-Gandhi Accord in 1987 coupled with the animosity and antagonisms of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists towards Tamils in general which were consistently reinforced by the explosive and vitriolic rhetoric by a few fringe groups led by Buddhist monks, became unmanageable in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
Arguments pertaining to this ‘second-class-status’ plays a critical role in shaping the mindset, especially of the Tamil Diaspora, of all Sri Lankan Tamils. Whether it’s in government offices or private sector workplaces, whether it’s in the University campuses or overseas secondary schools where both ethnic groups have to share and lead mixed-lives under one roof, the attitudinal change that has to occur has not materialized. That attitudinal change is essentially and directly correlated to the physical changes in the structures, laws, by-laws and legislations that the Sinhalese leaders had to introduce and implement.
After failing to reach accord in the SWRD-Chelvanayakam and Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pacts, the solitary agreement that both parties, Sinhalese and Tamils, agreed to and endorsed was the JR-Gandhi Accord signed under the most trying conditions in 1987. Devolution of powers to a vast region so defined as a ‘Province’ consisting of five separate districts, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Mannar, is real and could have been most productive had the implementation of all chapters and clauses of the Thirteenth Amendment been adhered to. But powers were withheld by the Central Government via its hold on the line-Ministries in the Central Cabinet of Ministers. Refusal on the part of the Center to devolve Land and Police powers to the Provinces was the Achilles’ heel and the price we paid as Sri Lankans in blood and flesh is unspeakable.
The gulf between the two ethnic groups got wider and the wounds so rotting have reached nauseating levels. The distrust and suspicions have gone beyond the normal margins. After four Elam Wars, the debate about the Tamil Question has been passed up to academics, intelligentsia and politicians.
Quite contrary to the accepted proposition of the Thirteenth Amendment, which was the core element of the JR-Gandhi Accord, Prabhakaran continued his murderous struggle, not much as a ‘freedom fighter’, but as a brutal terrorist leader whose arrogance and inability to settle for a compromise knew no frontiers. Instead of countering Prabhakaran’s violent thirst for glory and glamor by calling him a terrorist, the civilian Tamil leadership began to feed fodder into the Elam fire. What could have been contained within reasonable boundaries within their own camp was blown out of proportion and the Tamils started fantasizing about a super State of Elam.
The Sinhalese leadership that governed the country after the JR-Gandhi Accord, starting from Premadasa up to Mahinda Rajapaksa, instead of laying emphasis on the real and honest implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment, appointed select committees to look into the problems between the two communities. It was only the so-called ‘simpleton’ President Wijetunga who called the Northern Problem what it deserved to be called- a terrorist problem. After the Thirteenth Amendment was passed and partially implemented, with the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) being greeted with open arms by the Tamil people in the North, it was Prabhakaran who unleashed the second, third and fourth Elam Wars and thereby singularly caused irreparable damage to his own people and their abiding commitment to peaceful living.
On the part of the Sinhalese leadership that arose after the JR-Gandhi Accord, Premadasa, Chandrika and Mahinda (although Mahinda deserves to be credited for the total annihilation of the LTTE and ending the military conflict), barring Wijetunga, tried to deal with the Tamil terrorists as apart from the Thirteenth Amendment.
In such a confusing scenario, while being caught up in a whirlpool of mutually destructive issues and problems, even a reasonable man or woman could be persuaded to adopt a bigoted stance in relation to the issues at hand. That persuasion would be essentially born of his primordial instinct and in order to safeguard his collective identity, man reacts primarily from that identity, either as an individual or collectively. What Prabhakaran preached in the Eighties, Nineties and the early part of this Century is being bolstered by new calls for Federalism by the TNA of today.
Premadasa, Chandrika and Mahinda may have been bright, intelligent and brainy ones, but I dare say they were not wise. Socrates said: “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”. Wijetunga had that wisdom. Instead of raising false hopes by calling terrorism as it is, he accomplished at least one major feat. He identified the primary cause of the continuing conflict in the late Eighties as Prabhakaran and his private army which was the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).
The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) as the TNA was called then was more than a willing endorser and assenter of the JR-Gandhi Accord. Why not ask the present Government for a meaningful discussion on the honest implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment? The ghosts of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his variety of chauvinism must be left in its proper place- political graveyard. The Tamil leadership should not be haunted by the Rajapaksa ghosts and Bodu Bala Sena thugs. The LTTE’s intransigence caused four wars but today no reasonable Sinhalese leader would deny devolution and parity of status.
Noam Chomsky, the celebrated American philosopher, historian and political activist said thus about terrorism: “Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” The modern day Tamil leadership must be careful when they give expression to their socio-political goals and beliefs. A bright and intelligent set of leaders should not repeat the historical mistakes of their forerunners. As much as the Republican Party in the United States is suffering the humiliation of having to go to bed with a megalomaniac such as Donald Trump, the Tamil leadership condoned and supported Prabhakaran when the going was good, hoping for ‘a place in sun’ in Elam. American right wing kept quiet when their extremists were questioning Obama’s place of birth. They refused to call a spade a spade and alas, the got Donald Trump.
Tales of human folly are many. Condoning violence and terrorism as a means to power is as old as man and his beginnings. But we become alarmed when we have to live our lives through those treacherous times and among those treacherous individuals. It is still not too late for the Tamil National Alliance and its leadership to adopt a wiser role.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org