29 October, 2020

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Peace: Missing Out On Justice?

By Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Dr. Rajan Hoole

Present Realities and Precarious Options – XIII

What is eminently missing in today’s activism in Sri Lanka is a historical perspective, and along with it, any deep-rooted concern for justice. In 1988, it was a popular fetish to credit the JVP as rebels with a valid cause. Its killings were passed by while the State alone was censured in the name of human rights. This sympathy for the JVP was ephemeral. Justice for the victims of that era is now contingent on the vagaries of political expediency.

In today’s “paradise” way to peace there is no exertion, no risk and no results. Once one submits that the Tamil people support the LTTE, the only thing left is to ask the Government to hand them over. When the LTTE shoots down a passenger flight from Jaffna, kills three dozen Tamil refugees at Madhu by shelling, or murders elected Tamil representatives, what can one say to those for whom the Tamils have avowed total submission – the only kind of ‘support’ possible under the LTTE (our Bulletin Nos.19&22)? This is a bizarre exercise in peace and democracy.

Peace activity of this kind connives at rendering helpless the very people who are meant to be the principal beneficiaries of peace. Should the military balance shift in favour of the Government, these groups will quickly forget the LTTE and the families who sacrificed for its cause, as befell the victims of the JVP rebellion. Expediency likewise decreed an abject oblivion for the victims of the LTTE, who number an unknown figure of several thousands killed.

There is little sense of history or justice in activity of this kind. It falls to the Sinhalese who are eager to promote peace to take responsibility for the atrocious history of planned state violence against Tamils, which included the systematic devastation of entire Tamil villages. This history has not even been written, whence even the gravity of the problem is not understood. Several detailed articles in the Yukthiya, an alternative Sinhalese journal, were among the few attempts in the South, to understand the problem.

Once there are Sinhalese actively taking responsibility for what was done in their name, they can expect the same from the Tamils. Then one could expect honest discussion and genuine rapport. What we have now is something that

calls no one to account, not even those who misused power and indulged in mass murder. It is a dead end. It is a stage-managed exercise in sweeping the dirt from both communities under the carpet. Because this exercise is so unconvincing, it becomes easy for the extremists to argue that there is no Tamil problem, but only a terrorist problem.

This makes peace activity a ritual that goes on alongside the war, and even perpetuating it, while the role of the security forces in the North- East is left to default. This is unfair to both the Tamil civilians as well as the security forces. One could take up the position that the human cost of the war is unacceptable, and given the LTTE’s obduracy, the Government must simply abandon the North-East to the LTTE. One must then be resigned to very unpleasant consequences for the people and the frightening implications of a power vacuum. It would mean licensing gross violations of human rights in the North-East. Moreover, the Muslim and Sinhalese refugees can never go back, and the North-East is as much their home.

If on the other hand one acknowledges that the security forces have a benignant role in the North-East, a peace movement must accept it fully and identify with the people who suffer the effects of war. They must confront the State where necessary to safeguard their rights, in particular, their right to food and health. The last thing we need is a disowned and insecure Army left out on a limb. In several parts of Trincomalee, Amparai and Mullaitivu Districts, the state forces have driven civilians out of their homes, villages and livelihood. Many have not seen their homes for 16 years. The PA government too has avoided giving them any assurance. The fact that they are refugees or displaced persons living in abject poverty has been covered up in official euphemisms.

The Sunday Observer (19.3.2000) reported the results of a survey done by the Poverty Impact Monitoring Unit in the Trincomalee District. According to the government agency, children in the North-East are likely to be suffering from high levels of severe malnutrition and stunted growth. In the Trincomalee District 51% of children were underweight compared with the national average of 31%. In the same district, stunting was highest among Tamils (34% in cleared and 42% in uncleared areas), followed by 17% among Muslims and 15% among Sinhalese. Wasting among Tamils was 27% in randomly selected villages in the cleared areas and 38% in uncleared areas. Corresponding figures for Sinhalese and Muslims were 25% and 14% respectively. Acute malnutrition among children of the district was 26% compared with a national average of 13%.

The LTTE, their supporters and financiers have no interest in alleviating this suffering. They would squeeze the last drop of life out of the people to prosecute this war. Can however the Government inflict this acute deprivation in the name of security? In the Trincomalee and Mullaitivu Districts the Tamil people, their children and their children’s children clearly remember that it was the government forces who drove them out in the mid-1980s through systematic intimidation, murder, rape, pillage and arson (see Sect.20.6.11 & 13).

In subjecting these Tamils to a regime of counter-insurgency and acute deprivation for decades, can the Government refute the charge of slow genocide? Who can blame a non- political farmer wishing for an LTTE victory, if only to regain his plot of earth? Such pressing problems demand far more than asking the Government to talk to the LTTE. Nor will they be solved if the Defence Ministry alone decides these matters. An inhuman fate also confronts tens of thousands of Tamil refugees confined to camps in Vavuniya as virtual prisoners, unable to pursue a career or their educational advancement. It is here that peace movements face their real challenge. They need to get out of the quagmire of waiting for and courting the LTTE. This direction of peace activity connives at separation coming by default and in the worst possible manner.

*To be continued..

*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here

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