8 August, 2022


Overzealous Crackdown Will Add To Divide Unless Mitigated 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

One of the definitions of reconciliation is to move from a divided past to a shared future. The arrest of the Jaffna Mayor Viswalingam Manivannan came as a reminder that unhealed issues from the past continue to threaten peace in the present and the future. According to people I spoke to in Jaffna, this arrest has revived memories that were no longer in the people’s consciousness. Nearly 11 years after the end of the war, the people were no longer thinking of the LTTE police and the uniform they once wore. The bailing out of the mayor de-escalated the crisis that was brewing in Jaffna following his arrest. There were reports that a hartal, or shutdown of the city, had been planned to protest against the arrest.

Jaffna Mayor Manivannan was taken into custody by the Jaffna police for allegedly promoting uniforms and iconography of the LTTE according to the police. They had found that the mayor had recruited five individuals to perform traffic duties in Jaffna town in uniforms that resembled those worn by the LTTE’s police during the time when they ran a parallel administration in parts of the north and east. Photos published in the media show a similarity. Promoting symbols associated with the LTTE including uniforms is an offence under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

However, the position of the municipality was that the five individuals had been recruited to a Jaffna municipal council task force on a temporary basis to enforce penalties against environmental violations such as littering the streets. According to Mayor Manivannan the uniforms were in fact the same as those worn by a similar task force run by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). Media reported a striking resemblance between the task force uniform and the uniforms worn by the LTTE police but also that a parking meter initiative run by the Colombo Municipal Council has employed staffers who also wear a light blue shirt and pants of a darker shade, vaguely similar to the offending Jaffna outfit.

Jaffna Visit

Ironically, a few days prior to this incident I visited Jaffna to take part in the last rites for Fr Nicholapillai Maria Saveri who had headed the Centre for Performing Arts in Jaffna for over four decades. Under Fr Saveri’s leadership the centre produced an entire generation of artistes who reached out across all barriers of ethnicity and religion and touched the lives of people everywhere. Through his artistic and cultural productions, Fr Saveri tried to show the interdependence of those who live in the country and need to share it bringing to the fore their different talents, connections and capacities. He sought to turn the diversity and pluralism in the country away from being a source of conflict into one of strength and mutual enrichment.

The normalcy I saw in Jaffna during the short period I was there made me feel that the ethnic conflict was a thing of the past. At the hotel I stayed I saw young people come and enjoy a drink at the bar and talking with each other with animation and laughter as young people do. When I went to the District Secretariat, I was struck by the fact that they played the national anthem at sharp 8.30 am and all work stopped while the anthem played all three verses in the Tamil language and all stood to attention even inside their rooms. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2011 had recommended that the national anthem be sung in both languages and I was happy to see that in Jaffna this was being implemented a decade later.

At the funeral service for Fr Saveri I met many people and none of them spoke of war and conflict but like people in other parts of the country they spoke of the economy and cost of living. An administrator from the University of Jaffna spoke about his satisfaction at the large number of Sinhala students at the university and the mixing that was taking place as a result between the communities. He said that as the university did not have adequate hostel facilities many of the students from outside of Jaffna, including the Sinhala students, lived with local families. He said that during the recent graduation ceremony, hundreds of their family members came from the southern parts of the country and joined their children in their places of accommodation which contributed to the inter community mixing.

Unifying Theme 

The situation in Jaffna was so normal to my eyes as a visitor that one of the questions I had and to which I sought answers from those I met, was whether there was a common theme that bound the people together. Despite my inquiries I could not discern such a common theme that was openly visible or explained to me as such. It was much like the rest of the country. At the last general election the people of the north voted for a multiplicity of parties including ones that are part of the present government. The candidate who got the largest number of votes was one who was affiliated with the government. At the same time nationalist parties got votes too that saw them enter parliament and the more moderate parties emerged the largest.

The arrest of Mayor Visvalingam Manivannan has now supplied a common unifying theme to the politics of the north. There is distress that the popularly elected Mayor has been treated in such a manner. If the uniforms that the municipal workers were wearing too closely resembled those of the LTTE, he could have been informed that this was not appropriate. It would have been possible to ensure that the uniforms were immediately removed and replaced with ones that were more appropriate while taking into consideration the sensitivities that three decades of war would bring. As the mayor is most closely associated with government minister Douglas Devananda such a request would most certainly have been complied with. As leader of the EPDP, Minister Devananda was at the forefront of militarily fighting against the LTTE.

The government’s determination to thwart any possible attempt to revive the LTTE can be understood. The war with the LTTE cost the country enormously in terms of human suffering and economic devastation. The government won the last election on the promise that it would give priority to national security and also develop the country on that basis. However, sections of the Tamil Diaspora continue to be openly pro-LTTE and espouse a separatist agenda. The loss of the vote at the UN Human Rights Council, in which the Tamil Diaspora played a role, would make the government more determined to suppress any attempt to revive the LTTE. Now that the immediate crisis has been defused due to the release of the mayor on bail, it would be timely for the government to mitigate the political damage by a multiplicity of means, including by reaching out to the Jaffna Municipal Council about its municipal law enforcement mechanism.

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Sensitive leaders shape up the world, while uneducated bastards ruin the planet. This is known and clear to even school going children. We have enough examples so far. Srilanka under HAMBANTOTA rascals have achieved nothing during the last 15 months. Sirisena, the main architect of today s mess is being more respected by people today lot more than ever expected, compared to the respect being given to SINISENA and MARA. How come ?
    This is why I always pronounce, SURE OF INSTICT is far from RAJAPAKSHE mind set/Gotabaya mind set. He could live up his hidden propensities, no matter people that voted for him leaving in a dire situation, in a lurk.
    Nine days to go with the annivesary of MOST BRUTAL DISASTER in SL in recent times, – EAST SUNDAY KILLINGS in 2019, but what has GOSL achieved in the line of serving justice to those lost and victimized on very day. Malcom Ranjith (another hypocrite) made it clear human flesh and bones were hung on walls, tables, seats and everywhere, how could any leader with A BIG HEART ever ignore the kind of high crimes ? if he or she would not be a MLECHCHA by every means ?

    On very days, if RAJAPKSHES would have to face the same as those victims faced it on 21.04 2019 ? would they ever change their crime friendly attitudes ? Never …. they are real animals.

  • 12

    Dear Jehan, but the issue with this government (and other governments too) dont want ethnic peace. If there is peace, the only weapon, the racial weapon to win sinhala votes wont be there. Only time Sinhals unite is when there is attack on minority. In 1983 after the riots, JR came of the TV a few days later while the Tamils were licking their wounds in refugee camps. All thoght that this rouge will come out with some word of consolation but instead he said that if Tamils want war let us have war and more he attack the Tamils more the Sinhalese will be happy. The same rouge also said that the soldier who attacked Rajiv was due to heat stroke. So these guys will never ever allow Tamils to live in peace because peace there and peace in the south will expose these rascals and they have nothing to go by. How can they explain about destroying the jungles, or Chinese invasion or seeni or coconut oil inport to name a few. Let people realise that only way Tamils can live in peace is to let them live by themsleves. By any chance if there is PC election (I doubt it) then once again there will be severe rabid racism left loose by Gotta and co the only weapon they have to get foolish sinhala votes.

  • 7

    Such a big blunder on the part of the double-Paksa government to yet again expose its fascist and anti-minority ideology so soon after the recent UNHRC outcome. Perhaps it seemed like a golden opportunity to justify its ways which were condemned by the latest UNHRC resolution. Obviously, fool’s gold it was.

    The double-Paksa characters can choose to trot carefully in the future but the bottom line is that this government will never be trusted by the vast majority of the Tamil population in the north and east, never before and never.

  • 9

    Uniforms, in general, display more conformity than dissimilarity. Even if the attire would have created a suspicion, there were acceptable ways to approach the problem and ease the tension. Why were they not followed.
    The position that the Tamil Diaspora played a role in the verdict of the vote at UNHRC is most stupid, to say the least.

  • 2

    In the bleakest/darkest of times ……. what get/got societies through, is humour.

    The sophisticates …… who always look for an intellectual-angle, search and read up on Nietzsche’s rediscovery of the Greek Comedies ….. and his efforts to influence fellow Germans of his day, to indulge more in the Dionysian aspects of life/existence.

    Others, fellow crude plebeians, like nimal ……. go straight to the clip ……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzgS61zgPEg …… ( Just do a search for ” Biggus Dickus – Monthy Python, Life of Brian Best Scenes”)

    Picture …… our current leader, as the clueless Roman Governor of Palestine (Michael Palin,) Native Wedda as the upright commander of the Roman garrison (John Cleese,) …… nimal as the soldier who can’t keep a straight face and is dragged off to fight wild beasts ……… and the prisoner, who tries to claim his Roman credentials in a round-about way, as the “Sinhalese” who daily attack the minorities to establish their Sinhala credentials/bona-fides.

  • 3

    Division is the only workable solution for islanders.

    Funny if anyone is still not convinced the islanders cannot live as one nation.

  • 9

    J.Perera even when those affected people, try their best to get over their past, and try turning the corner, the Rajapaksas are desperate to keep LTTE/Muslim extremism issue alive because they do have any other plans to hold government. As long double paksas are around their will be no end to creating hatred, division and violence. How many such incidents took place during RW/MS time ?? At least they pretended go after past govt but did not try these gimmicks. If there is no dead horse to beat , how can our Mr. Lanka maintain his status ?

  • 1

    ok jehan we were waiting for your advice. we will do it gently..

  • 9

    You sound not a real peace loving guy but a racist.
    I also have been to Jaffna and talked to people there.
    They have not forgotten war and the atrocities committed. They do not tell you probably they know you are wolf in a sheep clothing.
    LAND GRAB, MISSING PERSONS, MILLITARIZATION are very much in their mind both at educated and other people.
    Are you trying to say Diaspora is so powerful that they influenced UNHRC. Whom are you trying to hoodwink.
    It is China factor that is fundamental issue.
    Until such time these war criminals are removed from power UNHRC will haunt us.
    You trying to justify all the atrocities we committed since independence, you are trying to hide.
    With people like you, we can never achieve reconciliation or prosperity in this country

    • 3

      I tend to agree with you that Jegan is now trying to create an image that nothing happened to Tamils over the decades, tamils are happy with the regimes massacre and it is the LTTE and Tamil Diaspora are the problem. The way he goes, he is now become more towards Rajapaksas and their anti Tamil, anti Muslim and anti Christian but Sinhala Buddhist only Nation.
      I suspect the arrest of Manivannan is a drama planned with the knowledge of Douglas Devananda who is part of the regime and to create Manivannan as another Tamil leader making split the Tamil representation.Manivannan became Jaffna Municipality major with the support of Douglas who is a paramilitary under Rajapaksa regime. It is a question why EPDP who have the majority members in the Municipality did not involved when the Manivannan decided to create the “Kaval Padai” now?

  • 10

    If the ethnic pot is not continuously stirred, the Sinhala politicians will have nowhere to go. This way, they keep themselves in power, pilfer public funds, ensure that their children study English keeping the children of the Sinhala poor in poverty and in the Sinhala Mahavamsa mud-hole and generally having a great time. Their adventures are aided by the so called Maha- Sangha going about in the Benz cars and spouting unBuddhistic hatred against their fellow human beings. The Tamils and the Muslims simply have to break away from this pattern and look after themselves. Very soon, with the economy going down, the Sinhalayos will become aware that ethnic hatred does not feed their children. They will then either have to become a Chinese colony, have their Sinha Le diluted by Chinese Le or learn to live in amity with others so that they can bring some development in the country.

    • 1

      There is no Chingkam ( Sinha) Le in the Chingkallams . Extremely diluted with Indian Thamizh le . Very soon to be diluted with Ching Le. The Rajapakses then will be at home with this Chingle dilution , as they already are. Please look at them.

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