By Rajan Hoole –
The Year 1988: The Red Moon Over Sri Lanka And The Dawn Of New Wisdom – Part 8
The last 6 months of 1988 represented a time in the South when the world was turned upside down. Once the Army turned to
killing Sinhalese youth, in sharp contrast to earlier years, it was regarded as a virtual leper. The Sun which had been the most pro-UNP and stridently chauvinist saw hope in the Government’s release of JVP leader Shantha Bandara on 15th September. Its editorial of 19.9.88 said:
“Errant over enthusiastic law enforcers, military and para-military agents have been responsible for the present fiasco amidst the fraternity of youth. Young men and women have been driven to dissidence and militancy due to various faults and failings of law enforcers. What is happening in the South today took place a few years ago in the North and East … New thinking is imperative.”
There was a new reluctance to use the catch- all word terrorists and an acknowledgement by the Southern Right that the Tamils had real problems with the State. This mood is also reflected in Herman Gunaratne’s For a Sovereign State, which appeared in October 1988. In the earlier sections of the book, there are copious references to Tamils as invaders, Eelamists and terrorists. On p.223 he quotes Rev. Dimbulagala, no doubt with approval:
“This land is the only land for the Sinhala people … The Tamil people who are invading us do not consider this their home. They run to Tamil Nadu [in India], they attack from Tamil Nadu, their training camps are there…”
However, in the last note titled ‘Options for Sri Lanka’ written just before the publication of Gunaratne’s book, there is a new respectful reference to the Tamils and to the failed Sinhalese leadership as Fat Cats:
“The main conflict in Sri Lanka is between the Sinhalese and Tamils… All parties to the conflict, the JVP, the LTTE, the SLFP and the Sri Lankan Government must immediately get together. It is not too difficult to make back channel contact with these warring factions.
“The Government must however come down from its high pedestal. Pronouncements about exterminations of rebels in the North and South remain only pronouncements. Nothing more. We cannot go on waging war on our own people for long…”
The Government had been reduced to a ‘faction’ along with the LTTE! Considering that Gunaratne was a member of a group whose actions went some way to bring about a lowering of the Government’s esteem, it is an ironic ending to a book describing those very actions which were ostensibly meant to safeguard Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. It took them five years of blundering to appreciate that the Tamils too struggled to preserve something they deemed theirs by right and not as invaders. Gunaratne’s friend Ravi Jayewardene’s grudging admiration for the Tigers, partly his own creation, is also reflected in the conversation with Shantha Bandara quoted by Chandraprema (see bibliography).
Yet, there was something extremely unhealthy in this sudden Southern sympathy for the Tamils and especially the LTTE. At the root of it was Indo-phobia and stemming from it an admiration of a force that was fighting India at great cost to the people and moreover, only to cover up its sheer bankruptcy. The hundreds of Sinhalese civilians killed by the LTTE since the Accord for no reason other than to demonstrate its moral emptiness had ceased to matter to the defenders of the Sinhalese. They mattered as little as the Tamils killed with their complicity in earlier years. Indeed the LTTE’s killing of Sinhalese had become dwarfed by killings in the South. The danger of romanticising and playing with a force like the LTTE completely evaded them.
This failing could also be seen in Anura Bandaranaike, the SLFP’s then leader-in- waiting. During the second week of October, he was quoted telling Robin Pauley of the London Financial Times that the LTTE “must get a lot more devolution”! That spark of wisdom in him was quickly extinguished.
Those in this game had no real concern for people whether Sinhalese, Muslim or Tamil. The rights or wrongs of a situation did not matter to them, but only power and what they could get away with. In this sense they were like the LTTE and understood its aspirations. But having to operate in an international legal framework they could not be so openly unrestrained as the LTTE. Did, after all, those in the UNP shed one tear for the thousands of Sinhalese youth killed by their forces as a direct consequence of their repressive handling of the Tamil question? Did the SLFP leadership shed a tear for the thousands of their supporters quietly killed off by the State while they flirted with the JVP in blissful arrogance? Far from seeking justice for them, which he owed, Anura Bandaranaike joined the UNP!
The very process of the Southern intelligentsia trying to appease a force such as the LTTE, rather than strengthening democracy while addressing the alienation of the Tamil people, had its own dynamic.
War resumed in June 1990. By this time the JVP, the Sinhalese lives lost during the past two years and their own aberrations of heart and mind, were all quickly forgotten by most members of the Sinhalese elite as a bad dream. There was even an expectation that Premadasa would crush the LTTE as he did the JVP. They were now back on familiar ground fighting a patriotic war against Tamil ‘terrorists’.
The Army too were once more rehabilitated as heroes after 3 years. Pictures of soldiers appeared in the media with such captions as: ‘Defender of the [Buddhist] Faith’ (Sunday Times 1 July 1990) and ‘One of the brave young men engaged in the bloody but heroic battle to defend the ‘motherland’ from the separatist Tamil terrorists’ (Sunday Observer 15 July 1990). The Observer was part of the state media which had very recently then been spokesmen for the LTTE.
New and large-scale massacres of Tamil civilians in the East were covered up and triumphalistic pictures of dead LTTE cadre appeared in the Press. A similar display of dead JVPers would have been deemed indecent and it was never done. Some members of the SLFP, as they told a party meeting, were disturbed by a dark side to this triumphalism. About 40 a day of Sinhalese youth held in army camps as JVP suspects were killed and dumped along roadsides in order to move troops to the East (see our Report No.4).
Those who wanted quasi-military Sinhalese colonies in the North-East were back in business. The Sunday Times of 22.7.1990 editorially called for military advantage to be used to ‘settle questions of territory’. Sinha (Migara) Ratnatunga who had been the Sun’s deputy editor had recently become editor of the Sunday Times. As a follow up, the paper (26.8.90) published an article Destroying the Basis of Eelam by Herman Gunaratne who was back to advocating Sinhalese settlements in the Yan River and Malwathu River basins. The South, twice converted, to and away from human rights, was moving from one bad dream to the next.
To be continued..