By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Concluding response to Sarath de Alwis
Talk about poor timing or sheer bad luck! My friend Mr. Sarath de Alwis had doubtless authored his second diatribe against Smart Patriotism and the New Nationalism when Chief Minister Wigneswaran launched his unprovoked political ambush. I refer of course, to the 11 page ‘Historic Genocide of Tamils’ resolution which attacks every single (democratically elected) Sri Lankan administration since 1948, accusing it of nothing less heinous and absolute than genocide– and ends with a sharply negative reference to President Sirisena. Though the new administration’s spin-doctors seek to soften the impact on the public and Mr. de Alwis may see it as a molehill, this is how an objective external source, foreign correspondent Meera Srinivasan, reported it in The Hindu, which rightly chose to run the story under the caption ‘Tamil Province Charges Colombo with Genocide’:
“Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council (NPC) on Tuesday passed a strongly worded resolution accusing successive governments in the island nation of committing ‘genocide’ against Tamils. The resolution moved by Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran sought to give “an overview of the evidence demonstrating successive Sri Lankan governments’ genocide against Tamils” and appealed to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to probe the claim and recommend appropriate prosecution.
…The 11-page document details different episodes of violence and oppression in Sri Lankan history — from the time of the country’s controversial Sinhala Only Act of 1956 — terming them “genocidal” acts targeting Tamils over the years, culminating in the brutal final phase of the war that, according to U.N. estimates, claimed 40,000 civilian lives…
When contacted, the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declined comment. The NPC resolution comes a month after Mr. Sirisena assumed office, following his victory in the January 8 elections.
…In January 2014, when the NPC passed a resolution calling for an international probe into Sri Lanka’s rights record, it was Mr. Wigneswaran who insisted that the word “genocide” be dropped, observing it had a very specific meaning legally and hence had to be used with caution…” (Meera Srinivasan, ‘Tamil Province Charges Colombo with Genocide’ The Hindu, Feb 11, 2015)
In a follow up, the Express News Service reports an early reaction from Tamil Nadu, which is evidence of how this poison feeds back into anti-Sri Lankan sentiment in Tamil Nadu.
“Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol Thirumavalavan on Wednesday urged the Centre to support at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015 the resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council in Sri Lanka, demanding a thorough probe and report on the genocide of Island Tamils. In a statement here, he said evidences for the genocide had been given in the resolution which detailed the forced surgeries on women to prevent child birth, forced abortions and massacre of over 140,000 Tamils.
…The NPC resolution had said “The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court for prosecutions based on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide”. PMK leader S Ramadoss also made a similar plea urging the Centre to reject requests from Lanka to support its efforts to scuttle the UN probe report.” (‘India Must Support NPC Plea for Probe into Genocide: VCK’ Express News Service, Chennai, 12th February 2015)
The respected Hindu reports the immediate resonance of the genocide resolution in a story with an unambiguous caption, “Northern Provincial council’s Resolution on ‘historic genocide’ echoes in TN”:
“The resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council in Sri Lanka seeking a probe into 60 years of ‘genocide’ against Tamils in the island nation found support among some political parties in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday…
DMK spokesman T.K.S. Elangovan said the resolution reflected the position that his party had consistently taken ever since the conclusion of the civil war in 2009. However, as a new government had just taken over, some time had to be given to assess its commitment towards resolving the Tamil question.
Coming out strongly in favour of the resolution were the MDMK and the VCK, parties that traditionally espouse the Tamil nationalist line.
Speaking to The Hindu, MDMK general secretary Vaiko said the action of the Northern Province was commendable at a time when governments of both India and Sri Lanka were trying to undermine the investigation by the United Nations into atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan forces against the Tamils.
“I urge the Tamil Nadu government to pass a resolution reiterating what has been sought by the Tamil provincial government. This is a monumental resolution which has clearly established that Tamils have been subjected to genocide for more than six decades,” he said.
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi chief Thol. Thirumavalavan said the Union government should support the resolution and ensure that the tabling of a status report on Sri Lanka during the U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva next month was not postponed.
…Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in Tamil Nadu are divided on the resolution passed by the Northern Provincial Council.
While one group of refugees says the resolution may have been an outcome of pressure applied by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora on NPC Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, another group feels that it is a reflection of the sentiments of representatives of the Province.
…However, T. Pathinathan, a Tamil writer and a refugee living in Madurai, feels that the move of the Council deserves to be welcomed. In a democracy, the popular will, as represented by members of the Council, has to be accepted. When the new government is not in favour of any international probe with the continued presence of the army in Tamil-speaking areas, there is every justification for the council to come up with such a resolution.
Kasi Anandan, poet and president of the Centre for Indo-Eelam Tamils Friendship, calls upon the Indian government and other countries to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government and support the “fair and just demand” of the Sri Lankan Tamils.”
(“Northern Provincial Council’s resolution on ‘historic genocide’ echoes in TN”, The Hindu, Thu, Feb 12, 2015)
Far from being in the spirit of a striving for political reconciliation blocked by the villainous Mahinda Rajapaksa, the “Historic Genocide of Tamils” resolution of the Northern Provincial Council and Chief Minister Wigneswaran cannot but add toxicity to the anti-Sinhala consciousness among Tamils in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora, including, most importantly, Tamils of the younger generation. Anyone acquainted with the Tamil-language media in Sri Lanka’s North and from neighboring Tamil Nadu would know of the anti-Sinhala racist radioactive bilge pumped daily into the minds of the Tamil people.
What the political hate-speech of the “Historic Genocide of Tamils” resolution proves is that contrary to Mr. de Alwis’ prejudiced preconceptions, Tamil nationalism is not a self-defensive reaction to Sinhala chauvinism (as represented by arch-villain Rajapaksa, who actually held the Northern PC election), still less a figment of my imagination, but is a politically aggressive, psychologically irrational, and ideologically fundamentalist phenomenon, which is independent of and predates the chauvinism of Sinhala administrations. After all, how can the new government be accused of Sinhala chauvinism or aggression against the Tamils?
Tamil separatism as a politico-ideological project did not start out as a result of the policies of successive Sri Lankan administrations. As AJ Wilson’s biography of his father in law, SJV Chelvanayagam, the father of Tamil Nationalism, proudly reveals, the latter had raised the idea of an independent country for the Tamils as far back as 1948 (and a Tamil university in 1950, long before anyone had asked for a Sinhala university).
There is a permanent geopolitical and geo-strategic threat to this island from intersecting and interacting external and internal sources. There is a permanent existential threat to the Sri Lankan state and chiefly to the South, most especially to the Sinhalese.
The people of all ethnicities of this country, chiefly the majority who happen to be Sinhalese, are threatened by this aggressive and long standing Tamil nationalism which has a vast rear-base in the teeming millions of Tamil Nadu. Sri Lankan patriotism is a defensive reaction and is necessary one to the threats and pressures of Tamil expansionism and Western hegemonism. The rise of patriotism against western hegemonism is common to all societies of the global South and even of Southern Europe (as is evident from the Greek elections). In many societies there is a perennial sense of threat from a large neighbor, especially if there is a long history of cross border incursion, occupation and political puppetry. In Sri Lanka the concrete expression of this general rule element is the defensive struggle against historical hostility from neighboring Tamil Nadu and Tamil political expansionism from the island’s north.
Sri Lankan Patriotism is necessarily multiethnic, multi-religious and multicultural, while it has no less necessarily, Sinhala nationalism as its core and motive force. That must not be a project of Sinhala exclusivism, supremacy, domination or hegemonism, but of Sinhala leadership on the island and centrality within its state formation. The latter proposition does not derive from any claim to intrinsic superiority of the Sinhalese but simply because they are the overwhelming majority of the people of this island. Thus do the nation and the people coincide in what Gramsci called the ‘national popular’ and the ‘people-nation’. Thus also do the ‘democratic’ and the ‘national’ coincide in what Communists of the old school used to call the National Democratic Revolution, culminating in a National Democratic state.