By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
Velupillai Prabhakaran’s brutal violence, firing indiscriminately in all directions, went beyond the mandate of the Vadukoddai Resolution which was aimed exclusively at the Sinhalese. Prabhakaran was the first born child of the Vadukoddai Resolution which urged the Tamil youth to take up arms against the Sinhalese. But his ruthless killing of Tamils reveals how the bullets fired by the Vadukoddai Resolution ricocheted and killed the best part of the Tamil leadership and thousands of Tamil civilians. Above all, the killing of Tamils by Prabhakaran questions the claim of Tamils that he was created by the Sinhalese. If, as claimed, Prabhakaran was reacting vindictively to Sinhala violence to get even with them why did he kill more Tamils than all the others put together? They were his sole source of strength. So why did he bite the hand that fed him? Besides, his mission was supposed to be to protect the Tamils, not to kill them. So was he reacting, with all his fury, to Sinhala mob violence, or to the culture of Vellahla violence which oppressed the Tamil low castes for centuries? Or both? Why did he also massacre the Muslims who had done nothing to him or to the Tamils?
Clearly, the explanation must be somewhere else because Prabhakaran’s mindless violence blurred the communal divide. To locate the source of his violence it is necessary to go deep into the violent Tamil culture.His mass killings of Tamils prove that he came out of the violent Tamil culture that had targeted the Tamils throughout their history more than any other external force. His scatter-gun approach, eliminating everyone whom he perceived to be his enemies, from Alfred Duraiyappah, to Neelan Tiruchelvam, and from Muslims to Rajiv Gandhi, had no relationship to the Sinhala politics.
M. K. Sivajilingam, characterised the violent Tamil culture succinctly when he said : “That was LTTE’s nature. They killed so many people who helped them. I don’t approve of it.” (Ceylon Today – 26.6. 2016) In saying that he was acknowledging, subliminally, that it was also the nature of Tamil culture because Prabhakaran came out of the violent Tamil culture. In the history of Jaffna, Prabhakaran stands out as the ultimate manifestation of traditional fascist violence that ruled Jaffna politics from the time of Sankilli — the mass murderer who killed 600 innocent Tamil Catholics on the Christmas eve of 1544 simply because they refused to owe allegiance to him.
In between Sankilli and Prabhakaran Jaffna was ruled by the casteist Vellahlas with an iron fist. Apart from the Vellahlas imposing their casteist regime with brutal violence on the hapless low-castes, sanctioned by Saivite Hinduism, it must not be forgotten that Jaffna was the only community that imported slaves from abroad and exploited them as slaves denying them the basic human rights. Slave traders and slave owners have a vicious history of showing no mercy to their fellow-man. In Jaffna slavery turned into one of the most evil forces that reduced the imported Malabaris from S. India to subhuman beasts of burden. The Vellahlas had the power of life and death over them. According to the Tesawalamai Code the slaves of Jaffnapatnam were divided into four castes – Koviyars Chandars, Palls and Nallavars. (p. 76, The Laws and Customs of the Tamils of Jaffna, Dr. H. W, Tambiah). They were the lowest in the caste hierarchy of the Saivite Hindus and were doomed for life.
Fascist casteism combined with evil slavery turned Jaffna into a hell-hole of brutal oppression. When the Dutch codified the laws and customs of Jaffna in 1706 and presented the Tesawalamai to the 12 Vellahla Modeliyars for their comments the only revision they suggested was the tightening of rules against the disobedient slaves. Of course, Tesawalamai, the sacred text of the Vellahlas, legalised casteist supremacy and the violence that went to enforce it. It provided the legal framework for the Vellahlas to reign supreme, including oppressing and suppressing the Tamils with violence, if necessary. Beneath the calm veneer of the Jaffna landscape lurked the subhuman cruelty inflicted on slaves and low-castes who were treated worse than cattle by the Vellahla supremacists.
The Sinhala visitors to Jaffna, who enjoyed the generous hospitality of the Vellahla elite, (the guided Sinhalese had no access to the long-suffering low-castes) returned with glowing reports of their brief stay. For instance, Jaffna cuisine had that extra flavour and kick which the Sinhala cuisine could not match. But they never knew what was seething beneath the surface. Except for the knowledgeable few and the Left-wing politicians the average Sri Lankan was not fully aware of the plight of the oppressed Tamils. Their hidden anger drew public attention only after the Maviddipuram Temple entry incident exploded, exposing the oppressive tyranny of casteism.
Jaffnaites were very clever at camouflaging their inherent social evils and presenting themselves in their white vertis as pure Gandhians or saintly Vivekanandas. The unsuspecting Sinhalese, in fact, accepted their religious rituals and became a part of the Vail festivals, Thai pongals and Hindu Kovils, especially Kataragama. They never suspected that the Vellahlas were marketing their subhuman supremacy, dressed in a variety of subtle grabs, with great success to the world at large. Vellahla violence dominated Jaffna until the late 1970s. After the Vadukoddai Resolution (1976) Vellahla violence slipped into the hands of Prabhakaran. Looking back it is clear that the pre-Vadukoddai and post-Vadukoddai politics were determined and dominated by the aggressive and confrontational Vellahla agenda.
It is, therefore, necessary to understand the nature of Tamil violence. Understanding the nature of Tamil violence is a key to grasp the realities that bedevilled Sri Lankan politics. Mired in the myths of their own creation the Tamil ideologues refuse to face the underlying violence that warped the Jaffna culture. The pro-Tamil ideologues have been engaged in labours of either covering up or giving respectability to Tamil violence. The Tamil separatists labelled the Vadukoddai War as a “liberation struggle”, meaning “liberation” from Sinhala domination. In the eyes of the Tamil separatists, this description was seen as having the most legitimacy. Some others said that it was an Eelamist War, which derived its origin from the Vadukoddai Resolution – the political manifesto-cum-declaration of war. Some said it was a terrorist war. This description gained global currency after India and America banned the LTTE as terrorists. Some referred to it as a “civil war” where the divided citizenry fought each other. Some saw it as a majority vs. minority. But not all the minorities – the Muslims and Indian estate Tamils — joined in the war. Some saw it as a North-South war. There is some substance to this as it focuses on the geographical centres from which the conflict originated. It is the least emotionally charged description which covers in broad terms a range of issues without mentioning controversial specifics.
Amidst this variety of descriptions one fundamental aspect was ignored : that it was a war between a democracy and a dictatorship. In the last battle at Nandikadal the GOSL forces pulverised the Tamil fascist regime and ended the war which was, under any criteria, a triumph for democracy. The Tamils were once again free to hold their heads high and walk the earth with a dignity that was denied to them by the Tamil fascist regime. The Tamils were once again free to hold elections without their political preferences being dictated by a gun-toting fascist regime. The GOSL liberated the North and the East from the tyranny of a one-man regime and restored power to elected representatives of the Tamil people. But the partisan vocabulary seldom framed the political discourse in these terms. The ideologues hardly, if at all, conceptualised or contextualised the Vadukoddai War as a clash of two diametrically opposed political systems.
Even after the war ended the focus was on the clash of two communities and not on the two political systems. The common vocabulary accepted in toto the violence unleashed by the Vadukoddai Resolution as a clash of two communities. Mark you, the 33-year-old war was fought at a time when global crises were measured by the way each combatant upheld the three pillars of contemporary civilisation : 1. human rights; 2. rule of law and 3. democracy. Political morality was debated within this triangular framework. International intervention was also determined (at least ostensibly) on these criteria. Any argument that falls outside these parameters was dismissed as an irrelevancy. Though these three aspects are contested from diverse standpoints, they remain as the central and the cherished reference points of the political moralists. The strength of these triple gems as a binding universal force was derived from the UN Charter. The full weight of international law was invoked and applied rigorously to achieve these three goals.
But, oddly enough, the political analysts seldom, if ever, dealt with the longest running war in Asia as a clash between a fascist dictatorship and a liberal democracy. The overwhelming emphasis was on the communal aspect where the majority was accused of oppressing the minority. This not only distorted the perspectives but also perverted the discourse that followed, leading to the justification of fascist violence of the ruthless Tamil “Pol Pot”. (New York Times).
Political analysts have taken extreme care not to categorise the wars fought by the Western democracies as communal, or religious wars. President Obama, for instance, has taken great pains to deny that the Christian West is fighting Islam. He defines his wars as a defensive mechanism for Western values, meaning democracy. human rights and rule of law. The overthrow of Saddam was hailed as a victory for democracy. The dominant theme to justify Western military interventions, from the Cold War to the hot war against ISIS, was the protection of the fundamental rights of man for which the defeat of fascist dictatorship was a sine qua non. The flattening of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden, with weapons of mass destruction, were justified on the grounds of saving democracy. The defeat of Nazism in Germany, fascism in Japan and Communism / Stalinism were celebrated as victories for democracy, human rights and rule of law. The intellectually fashionable cries of Left vs. Right have now receded into the background with democracy, human rights and rule of law taking precedence over any other competing ideologies. American-led regime changes – including the “January 8” regime change of Sri Lanka – were ideologically packaged and marketed as derivatives of these three factors. But in Sri Lanka the Vadukoddai War was propagated as a communal clash between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, or as the majority vs. minority war, ignoring the two glaring political systems that were battling for victory.
According to the prevailing political philosophy and international law, particularly R2P, no democratic and responsible state could / should stand by and watch a fascist regime violating fundamental human rights.Which state would tolerate a tyrant forcibly recruiting children to protect his survival? So why wasn’t the Sri Lankan crisis evaluated and debated and determined on this plane? Human rights came to the fore emphatically only after the Prabhakaran was defeated. The issue of human rights at the height of the war, particularly when Prabhakaran was killing his own people indiscriminately, was almost negligible. It was a time when Prabhakaran was projected as the invincible force that must be appeased. The NGOs argued that human rights could be served only by appeasing Prabhakaran, not by eliminating him. Throughout the war, human rights accusations were levelled primarily against the GOSL to tie its hands behind its back and weaken its military capabilities. It was not directed against Prabhakaran with the same emphasis as it would blacken Prabhakaran’s image and weaken his political clout.
At this point it must be conceded that the GOSL certainly was not a five-star democracy. But to its credit it cannot be denied that it fought the longest running war in Asia within a democratic framework, however defective it may have been. It even supplied food, medicine, social services and non-military essentials, to a rebel-held territory which, according to David Feng of UN, was a unique feature not found in other wars.As opposed to this, the Tamils fought the Vadukoddai War under the most ruthless dictatorship. Of course, the foundational justification were laid down in the Vadukoddai Resolution. In it the Tamil leadership declared its intention to step out of non-violent parliamentary politics and go for a military solution.Their main argument was that the mainstream parliamentary politics had failed to deliver their “aspirations” for a separate state based, of course, on a contentious history and, therefore, the only option was for the Tamil youth to take up arms and never cease until they had achieved their state of Eelam. The decision to step out of mainstream parliamentary politics opened the doors for the rise of the one-man regime of Prabhakaran.
One of the curious ironies of history is that the culture in which it grows hand-picks an agent to prosecute the defined agendas of the time. The ageing Fathers of the Vadukoddai Resolution washed their hands off any fighting and passed the buck to the Tamil youth. And in keeping with its fascist violent culture Vadukoddai Resolution produced Prabhakaran, the first born child of the Vadukoddai Resolution. The Vadukoddai Resolution found its appropriate man to execute its goals in Prabhakaran. He was hailed as the means to their end.
There was no democratic culture in Jaffna to produce democratic leaders to wage their wars under a democratic framework. All dissent was either suppressed or eliminated. Violent Jaffna culture was quite happy to go along with the first born children of the Vadukoddai Resolution. They were christened, rather affectionately, as “the boys”. It was too late when “the boys” turned their guns first on the fathers of Vadukoddai Resolution. The Tamils had to pay a heavy price for abandoning the non-violent mainstream politics and embracing the military solution. In embracing violence they had reached a point of no return. It was the biggest gamble of their political history. And they lost.
In the following brief entry in his diary, Ben Bavinck captures the critical turn of events of the time. He says : “Apart from meeting a number of other friends, I must mention here only Neelan Thiruchelvam, the TULF MP and a very influential lawyer, who was actively involved in drawing up the devolution proposals of the Chandrika government. He is a very busy man, but I managed to get 15 minutes with him. In our conversation he criticised the UNP and particularly its leader Ranil Wickremasinghe for bringing about the failure of the devolution proposals, which according to him had been among the best in the world. I asked him for an opinion about the statement of MP Sivasithamparam, indicating his willingness to abdicate in favour of the LTTE. He agreed with me that this would not be possible, because as he said, “they strive after ideals which are totally different from ours.” I also met Radhika Coomarasamy at the same place and she added her own comment by saying that if she had to choose between a Sinhala democrat and a Tamil fascist she would choose the democrat. (p. 261, Of Tamils and Tigers: a journey through Sri Lanka’s war years, Ben Bavinck)
The choice was clear. A minority of dissenting Tamils, recoiling from the horrors of the Vadukoddai Resolution, knew that the LTTE had no regard for the ideals of peace-loving Tamils. Nor was the Vadukoddai Resolution passed by the Tamil leadership for peace. Nevertheless, shock waves ran through the political landscape when M. Sivasithamparam, the Tamil leader, announced his readiness “to abdicate in favour of the LTTE” which meant leaving the war-weary Tamils in the hands of intransigent war-monger. Sivasithamparam like Sivajilingam was ever willing to sacrifice the Tamil people in the hope of achieving their impossible dream – Eelam. The Tamil political class misled and sacrificed their helpless people on the altar of oppressive gods. First they ruled, on the Saivite Hindu ideology that promised their heaven on earth through oppressive casteism. Then it was handed over to Prabhakaran, the Suriya Devan, who promised to deliver the Tamil people through his one-man regime. Both were delusional pipe dreams. Radhika Coomaraswamy comes out more bluntly and declares that she prefers “a Sinhala democrat” to “a Tamil fascist”. But she and her blue-stockings, not to mention their male counter parts, never had the guts to fight for the just war of the Sinhala democrats.
Though she acknowledged the democratic nature of the Sinhalese she was openly in the business of manufacturing justifications for the violence of the Tamil fascists. Neither Neelan nor Radhika had the intellectual integrity to live up to the objectives of the ICES to probe all sides of the inter-ethnic relations. They delved essentially into the Sinhala-Buddhist society to demonise them. They never explored the bleak history of Jaffna the way they scrutinised the southern society. In the name of objective research, they went into every nook and corner of Sinhala-Buddhist society, from Kalutara Bodhiya to Vihara Maha Devi Park, but they never ever peeped into the violent Saivite Hindu culture which was steeped, physically and ideologically, in ruthless violence. The violent Saivite Hindu culture that dominated Jaffna was defined unequivocally by its leading religious ideologue Arumuka Navalar who declared : “It is the duty of every Saivite to kill those who steal Sivan’s property or revile him. If one is not strong enough to kill the blasphemer, one must hire another to do it. If one has nothing to hire with, one must leave the country where the sinner lives. By remaining in the country one become participant in the sin.” – p. 80, The Bible Trembled, R. F. Young and Bishop S. Jebanesan.
Neither Radhika nor her guru, Neelan, were keen on exposing the seamy side of Jaffna history for public scrutiny. If the systemic Velllahla persecutions, denial of human rights, slave trade, caste oppressions and killings of Tamils by Tamils found in historical records were revealed then it would have diminished the political mileage they gained from accusing the Sinhalese of discrimination etc. Hiding the criminal culture of Tamils was another way of justifying the Vadukoddai violence launched against the Sinhalese by the Tamil leadership. .
As stated by Prof. Rajan Hoole, the NGOs were pussyfooting around the fundamental issues of war and peace, of democracy and dictatorship, of human rights and the crimes against humanity committed by Prabhakaran. The pro-Tamil intellectual community was as guilty as Sivasithamparam and Sivajilingam in the Tamil political class in “abdicating power in favour of the LTTE.” Which, of course, led the Tamil community all the way to Nandikadal.
Radhika had no excuse to either evade the moral choices, or dodge the horrors coming out of the womb of Jaffna. She knew her history. She knew the cunning passages of politics and the contrived corridors of power.
After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Given us by vanities………………….Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. ……..
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree. — Gerontion, T. S. Eliot.