19 July, 2019

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Militarization In A Socialist Democracy

By Elilini Hoole

Elilini Hoole

“When the people live together in unity, there are no racial or religious differences […] The solution is to live together in this country with equal rights for all communities,” said President M. Rajapakse in Trincomalee during his Independence Day speech, most ironically forgetting the context in which he spoke. Trinco, like much of the North and East, is a symbol of the ‘peace and justice’ Tamils and minorities receive under today’s order of government.

Almost seven years ago, on the 27th August 2006 to be exact, the military took control of 5,000 acres of Sampoor, Trincomalee from the LTTE and converted the land into a high security zone in the process. On 4th September 2006, Mahinda Rajapakse announced that the capture was for the “welfare and benefit of the people living there.” Military Spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe later confirmed that, “the threat posed by the LTTE to the Trincomalee harbor and the adjoining naval base was no more, following the successful operation involving the three forces.” It was a farcical statement of commitment to the minority people which resonates with the hypocritical eloquence of today’s political leaders. To this day 2,000 IDPs from the HSZ remain in the appalling “transit” sites set up in 2007, while their lands are sold at huge profit to private entities for business development. Last August, some 500 houses were destroyed to make way for the new Coal Power Plant now being constructed on this wrongfully acquired land. The government calls this economic development; but most of us call surreptitiously selling another’s lands without consultation or compensation, stealing.

It is clear that both the LTTE and the GoSL are responsible for the displacement of the people of Sampoor, but it is equally clear where the responsibility lies today in not returning the displaced civilians to their homes.

To Never Question that I am an Equal

Since 2009, the government has spent more energy celebrating and commemorating ‘new independence’ than understanding  the divided country and reconciling the different, but equal, sections. The government continues to lie to us about the true state of equality and rights in Sri Lanka.

What the Rajapakses and many Sri Lankans fail to realize is that we minorities just want to live in such a way that we never have to question whether we are equal. Working in the Vanni taught me that the equality promised to us does not exist. Fear is the mode in which Tamils live in the North. Fear is so strong that the Protection Working Group (PWG) in the North is conducted under every attempt at secrecy. Early last year when a rape case addressed at the group was leaked to the public, the raped victim committed suicide in fear of reprisal. Fear is not a sign of equality.

On one occasion, last June, I was enjoying the beach in Vadamarachchi when three Army men bearing guns accosted me and my friends with loud voices and forbade us from being on the beach after 6 pm. I had been on that beach several times before and several times after without a problem, but it seemed they enjoyed enforcing bizarre regulations and inciting fear. As incensed as I was that I had no freedom to dig my toes into the beautiful marble white beaches of Jaffna, it is difficult to argue with men holding guns.

This is a simple example, just the tip of the iceberg for Tamils in the military kingdom of the North. When a mother and daughter were raped and brutally murdered by a military gang in Kilinochchi, the village had no police or other authority to complain to or seek protection under. As a Tamil and a woman, I lost all sense of security. I felt fear engulfing my whole self whenever I passed the military check point next to my church, St. James in Nallur, Jaffna.

In Vavuniya, upon resettlement, the entire village was photographed and given a ‘village identity card’ written entirely in Sinhalese which they had to show the military during random searches. I asked the widow I spoke to if she even knew whether they had written down the names of her family correctly, but she had no clue and was too afraid to ask questions. (Every single card I saw, which was produced by the military, is written in Sinhalese unlike the neat cards in English produced for the international community and shown in the government’s “Action Plan”). Similarly, when the government planned to forcibly relocate Jaffna families to the jungles of Mullaithivu in order to maintain the HSZ, the people were too afraid to protest. In Sampur especially, people have faced injustice for nearly a decade with little resistance. At Omanthai, the bane of my existence and a farcical affair called a checkpoint, those travelling South are forcibly subject to military harassment but are too afraid to protest. I did once, but who could understand my ramblings in English? But I did understand the, Eya Dhemala (i.e., She’s a Tamil), spoken with disdain as the military threw my knapsack on the table.

Is this what the nation has in store for us under the banner of equality? And why should the Tamils in the North and East have to live under military rule when the military should absolutely not be involved in civilian affairs?

A Military Era

Immediately after 2009 there was hope, even among us Tamils, that a united nation would emerge, bringing equality and freedoms not afforded under the LTTE. However, Sri Lanka is fast becoming a global study of what a sick democracy is. It may even emerge as a failed nation if the elite keep exploiting the poor, and xenophobia remains ingrained in the very structure of government ideology, and nothing is changed. One could go further to say, this so called Socialist Republic is hardly even socialist when our welfare system, which is not only defunct but also mismanaged, is considerably less of a priority than sustaining a military despite the times of peace! If we are define peace in terms of money, peace surely should be indicated by a significantly diminished military budget no greater than required to sustain an inactive military, or just your basic military reserve. Instead in Sri Lanka the military is allocated Rs 235 billion (21%) of the budget –  while health and education for all citizens combined is a pitiful 12% of the budget (according to the budget posted by Law and Society Trust).

Besides, it begs the question, why is such a huge allocation for military expenses essential in a post-war time of peace? What is the purpose and what is the opportunity cost of building such a large military? While the purpose is still questionable, the opportunity cost is easy to see. The nation will face a budget deficit of several billion rupees this year; that is, we will spend much more on the military than we can afford while other social priorities languish.

When I was working in Kilinochchi, nearly every family I visited had a member with a shell piece still lodged in their body, sometimes in the brain, or a debilitating dismembering of muscles from bone, or a severe cough developed from walking hundreds of miles in the summer and monsoon at the point of near starvation. One little 12 year old boy, I cannot forget, had a rather lopsided hunch –  a hunch resulting from a bomb shrapnel searing away a good 4 inches of his right hand side of the body. He could not have been more than 9 years old when he was injured. It was the ICRC that saved his life then, and today it is not the government but NGOs who are building his future.

This is not how our nation should be. Many, like this thambi, will spend their lives without medical or disability assistance unless the people in government remind themselves that they are elected not to be served by the people but to serve the people.

Read the Sinhala translation here. Translation by Yahapalanaya Lank.

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Latest comments

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    Girlie, you better have the good sense to save yourself in that part of the world where those in uniform are mostly racial bigots and beasts. This is no place for a good-looking, educated, Tamil girl to be sniffing around looking for HR violations. Surely, you are’nt looking forward to be a dead hero, are you? You know all too well more than one monk in robes was found recently committing the most depraved sexual offences – on Sinhala areas on Sinhala women. At least in that backward India they call for such men to be castrated. Here the Police protect them – to hunt another day on another woman.

    Senguttuvan

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    Thanks for this terrible snap shot of the reality rather than the spin.. This is indeed a horror story of the aftermath of brutal war in which the barbaric LTTE and Sri Lanka military COLLUDED to destroy people for their own benefit..
    But we need a more complex and nuanced analysis of the human abjection and militarized violence that is the reality of life in the northeast of the DEBACLE Of Asia.
    Let us get things straight. It is the Government of India that is insisting on building a coal power plant in Sampur today against the wishes of the former Minister of Energy – the racist Pathala Ranawaka of JHU. The Sampur IDPs are the victims TODAY of the GOVERNMENT OF INDIA as much as the Rajapassa military dictatorship’s land grab. In the final analysis, the IDPS of Sampur TODAY are the victims of India’s NATIONAL SECURITY INTERESTS in Lanka and this is why the Pathala Champika Ranavaka is also opposed to The Coal power project in Sampur, which has displaced thousands of TAMIL civilians (whose Human Rights India loves to talk about. India wants a Coal power plant in Trinco to control the place since China has one in Norrochcolai. The Trinco Coal will be an Environmental pollution DISASTER for Lanka, is NOT in the interest of the PEOPLE of Lanka and is being accepted by Rajapassa in order to get Indian support at the UPR in Geneva.
    India is hated by Nepal because it has stolen that country’s water and electricity through corrupt dam building project deals with corrupt Nepali politicians so that today Nepal which has more water than any other South Asia country (snow melt from Himalayas) has 15 hour power cuts on a daily basis.. The similar is about to happen in Lanka with the dirty Sampur Coal power project by India.
    The Sampur Project in Trincomalee is India’s response to China’s presence in Hambantota and Sri Lankan citizens are paying for BOTH Rajapakse’s and the Indian State’s putrid governance interests.. SO please be a little more sophisticated in your analysis – its wheels within wheels babe!

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    Elilini
    Thankful to you for letting us know what’s happening under army control but have the same fear as Senguttuvan for your safety.

    ”unlike the neat cards in English produced for the international community and shown in the government’s “Action Plan” – any weblink to see for ourselves please ?

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    We cannot pretend that we are living in a law abiding country. Even in colombo you need to take precautions when going out. Weapons are in the hands of politicians, their stooges and criminals. Even law enforcement and uniforms cannot be trusted. So caution is the better part of valour especially for young ladies.

    What is significant is the decline of moral and ethical values. The rot is their from the top to the bottom. From corrupt politicians and leaders to petty thieves, they all have the same motive. Additionally there are several beasts in human form roaming about. Even old ladies and young children are not spared.

    What afflicts the tamils in the north is an added burden, where they are viewed with suspicion by the authorities. The military seems reluctant to withdraw from civilian areas under their control. The govt seems to view the tamil people as a perenial threat to the unitary status of this country. The correct procedure woulld have been a process of reconcilliation and gradual withdrawal and demobilistion of the armed forces. However the SOD in his wisdom seems to be of the view that tigers are still lurking in the shadows and is loath to scale down operations.

    There is nothing much that ordinary people can do about this other than pray that God instlls our leaders with wisdom and courage to govern with justice and malice towards none. To value human life and the rights of all people irrespective of race or religon. To refrain from ill gotten gain and looting the wealth the nation. If the head is healthy so will be the rest of the body.

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    My Dear
    I think you also have started making money on poor tamils who suffered for 3 decades under VP who was supported by the west and India and more importantly deceived by people like you who spreaded false information to outside and inside Tamils. VP who self hypnotized on this false properganda destroyed 2 Tamil generations in the North and East (N&E). I think writers like you wants to start it all over again. Only 3.6% of the Tamils (including indian tamils, 3.1 million country total) live in Kilinochchi and total in N&E is just 52%. Rest of the Tamils (8.5% in Colombo and 15% in Nuwara Eliya …. according to Census 2012) live in other districts of the country without any fear and with full rights as every body else.

    Military precenc is necessary in N&E for at least one more generation to protect poor Tamils from those who might be falsely motivated (As Hitler motivated Germans in WW2) by your type of silly (or foolish)liers and cunning western crooks. Yet the military, after the war engaged in development and rehabilitation work mainly in the N&E.

    My dear if you are not given a proper job in the Christian country you live please do not do this harm to Tamils in your parents country, Sri Lanka instead come back to Sri Lanka to enjoy full rights and decent work with pride and importanly join the country’s effort to build their life back. Sri Lankan tamils have their religious and National holidays and never force your childrens to talk in majority language as many socalled human right protectors in the west does to eastern cultures in their countries.

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      you are another Rajapakse crony. SHAME on you. I know that even Hitler had his cronies.

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        My dear dont be angry. Reply with facts to the facts if you have ant contrarary

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          You want facts, mr. Costa? Well here’s a fact: the brain drain in Sri Lanka, that is the rate of emigration of the intelligentsia stood at a staggering 9% a year. Being a sinhalese and a student of the sciences myself I can say with confidence that I too will not be returning to work and provide my skills to a country that puts their military spending over its health and education spending. You want to argue with people who see through rajapakse’s lies, you better address all points instead of picking and choosing, old man. You and your generation have ruined this country and now your own government is transforming the youth into doing exactly what you people did from the 50s onwards.

          Future generations are going to end up cursing you an your kind for what you’ve done to this country. Keep supporting this madman. You all deserve to go down together.

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            Brother, you have been brain washed by the LTTE abroad. Sri Lanka is among the 10 world best destinations for software outsourcing in 2012 and has come above India. So your brain drain story is false. If you love to stay in exile please be and please do not betray your mother country that you were fed with every thing now you have including free science education given at the cost of poor Sri Lankans who work hard in and out who is sending foreign remittences to this agricultural based country to pay for petrol.

            In my childhood some people were looking for something to eat, fighting with dogs in the garbage bins in and around Colombo and the rest was queing in front of coop food stores. Now the country is self sufficient in rice/grains and almost every home owns a motor vehicle at least a Motor bike where as we walked miles to school without even slippers.

            I’m not a MR fan but just comparing then and now. There are many MRs to come. But they have to obey our country’s teacing. Countries you stay in exile earn over 90% of their incoem either from petroleum or weapon sales which can buy many luxeries but not for long time. Soon you would realize that. Sri Lanka stands for ever as she is already on the earth. I know many Science qualified who clean toilets in EU/AU/US. But in SL they get jobs that suits their qualifications.

            I’ve much more to say but god bless you there.

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              Gosh! You’re pretty brain washed. Get upto speed with the reality that surrounds you before it drowns you. Self sufficient you say???

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    You are calling for the whitevan. You are aware what happenned to junor Tissainayagam. Do not take a chance.

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    Do not push your luck too much amidst sex starved village bumkins in khaki and guns. Pl heed senguttuvan’s advice

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    Elilini,

    Any Government has a right to acquire property for projects of national importance. Acquisition of land for the Sampoor Power Plant and a Free Trade Zone to provide employment for the people are such projects. The payment of compensation to those who had deeds to show that they own the land is a must. Even those who did not possess deeds should be resettled, in the same manner that slum dwellers in Colombo are treated. If such action has not been taken, there is a just grievance.

    The second aspect is the importance of this land to preserve the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and not leave room for any more suicide boats. This is a justifiable military objective.

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    The events in this narrative should be within the context of a time frame. Much water has flowed under the bridge since war ended, such narratives, though valuable, should also help us judge whether there I are improvements or a deterioration in the situation.

    Further, it will be useful to know of the situation of the displaced people of Sampoor. Are they yet a displaced, denied and hopeless people. If security considerations and national economic interests dictated that these people be displaced, how have these people be treated? When large reservoirs are built, many thousands of people are displaced and historical and cultural landmarks submerged. However, generally the displaced are prime land subsequently in the vicinity of the new reservoir. What could be done to the people of Sampoor on similar lines?

    I wish Elilini Hoole will address these concerns, while welcoming her social activism. I hope more of our educated youth would come forward to do so.

    ‘ Atcham illai, Atcham illai, Atcham enbathilaiye ( there is no fear, there is nothing to fear and nothing called fear)’. If we want to come out of the crisis we are in, this is the only philosophy that should guide us. It require unusually bravery to adopt this philosophy, intelligently. Elilini, despite the dire warnings off some of your elders in their comments, I encourage you to take forward you mission, truthfully and with recourse to clear gathering of facts and circumstances, but wisely and with due caution.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    Dr.NR is as usual in his vein of writing and contrasts what Elilini
    has seen and experienced for herself.
    The need for the Army to be this forceful after all this time is
    only to serve the Regimes hidden agenda of demographic change. The
    delays in IDP settlements too were focused on achieving State
    settlements, where Southern families were secretly picked by Namals NB?
    It is getting too late for Tamils to benefit from IC Funds as time
    passes by.

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    As someone who knows the author, I am pleased that she is finally putting her thoughts and experiences out in the public domain.

    Human suffering is missed when politically motivated columnists put their own spin to things. Articles are so laden with jargon, one can hardly read a few paragraphs.

    Dinuk, I agree with your comment that a more nuanced analysis is needed. However, I must add that there is no reason to believe that the people of Sampur would have been allowed to go back to their lands of origin if India’s coal power plant.

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    [Edited out]

    A couple of points

    – Get over it.
    – Tamils are as bad as the Sinhalese. No one is all good. All are human
    – All societies have problems. Nothing is perfect and it will stay that
    way inspite of all efforts to create perfection.
    – Soldiers are trained to be aggressive> That’s who they are
    – There is fear that extremism may raise its head again. So people
    are on alert

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      What do you mean by saying soldiers are aggressive…..Aren’t they are mere paid killers….. Soldiers are trained to kill….but kill only the enemy soldiers and not innocent people.

      Here we see tamil walking skeletons in north and not even people. So you justify harassing innocent harmless nothern tamils by these battle hardened soldiers. Also some 200,000 soldiers including the defense secretary ran away from front lines during the hight of war and now these are same soldiers who are sent to supress Jaffna civilians. It’s insane.

      Please leave poor innocent tamil civilians to get back to their own lives. There’s police to take care of tamil peoples issues and soldiers should stay away from them.

      No where in the world soldiers meddle in communities, interfering civilians social lives.

      Now extremists are blossoming in south and better take care of them before another civil war flare up.

      It’e time for soldiers to move out from civilian lives in north.

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        hmm, military in civilian lives…. Afganistan, Iraq, Haiti, Papua New Guniea at present, South Korea in the past

        isn’t ignorance just bliss?

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          Lets look at ourselves instead of trying to seek a false comfort in mentioning other scenario’s which for various reasons were different to ours. Ignorance certainly is bliss. Better than being stubbornly blind ofcourse.

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        -Soldiers are not priests. They are not known for gentleness.

        -There were many Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala walking skeletons before 2009 and they will continue to be there be after 2009. No one complained then. It’s a social issue of many 3rd world economies.

        – What has soldiers running away from the front lines ( even if true)got to do with this article ? Some run away and others stay. Happens in every war.

        – Stop whining. life is what it is. Good happens. bad happens.

        – Wherever extremism is there will be someone to take care of it. South or North.

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          You might be singing a different song to a different tune mate if it was your loved ones who the young writer has described… the quicker we consider these people as human beings and realise how much they have suffered (and I’m not talking about the ltte – they were terrorists) – more than we will care to believe leave alone understand.

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    Jayantha says “Now extremists are blossoming in south and better take care of them before another civil war flare up” Could’nt agree with you more. Looks like The Family is all too aware of coming colours which is probably why Booruwansa – the Balaya Man – has been asked to commence an attack on the “Loan addict” PBJ. Things are going to get much more messy than we thought

    “It’s time for soldiers to move out from civilian lives in north” is what the Tamils and their leadership of the North have been appealing
    to the Rajapakses, the UN and the world for many years. If peace and reconciliation was in the Agenda they should stay in the camps and allow the Police to do the law and order work as prescribed by the law. But who cares? Tamils are, after all, a subject nation and must be treated as such – as the soldier on the road makes it perfectly clear.

    Senguttuvan

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    -The police can harrass civilians just as badly as soldiers. So that argument fails.

    – Those who want to complain can always find a topic.

    – There were many soldiers of a different kind were manning check points in the North before 2009 & no one complained much.

    – The North fought the good fight and showed the South that they were not going to be pushed around and taught the South a good lesson. Unfortunately it did not end well for the North.

    – So now North should accept the fact and move on without looking for excuses to complain about.

    – War is bad while it lasts and for sometime afterwards too as effects linger on.

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    what a funny article.
    i think she must have enjoyed Vadamarachchi beache when it was under LTTE control. I think she is shocked about destroying LTTE.

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      How little you seem to have understood from the article. Did you even read it? Perhaps the CT might care to translate one in a language you understand, just for you.

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    American Mama may please remind herself the duty of the Policemen and soldier in the street is not to harass civilians there but to protect and assist them, where necessary. This is true of the North as elsewhere in the country. I am sorry this has to be emphasised and reminded because the opposite now has become the norm.

    It is the excesses of triumphalism that policemen/soldiers should be
    trained by their superiors not to indulge in. If both start treating NEP civilians decently and respectfully like they do theirs in the South, these men in uniform will make a valuable contribution to reconciliation.

    Senguttuvan

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    The military budget you mentioned also funds the UDA which is responsible for the Colombo beautification projects, and tourist attractions such as race course and Dutch hospital. And why can’t you people see that the military is used for development projects and believe me it’s faster cheaper and more reliable to use them in construction. Do you know that a large part of that budget is spent on the navy Dvoras patrolling the northern sea and chasing away indian trawlers who steal the livelihoods of jaffnas fisherman. We are not the Cayman Islands to have a reserve military. I think it’s high time tamils start joining the military as a lot of senior officers in the past were tamils.

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