20 October, 2020

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Tamil Self-Determination Or Minority Rights?

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The announcement that elections to the Northern Provincial Council will be held in September 2013 has raised eyebrows in some quarters and generated criticism in certain others. As one who unfashionably – and riskily—advocated the holding of that election soon after the decisive military victory of 2009, I find myself paradoxically in agreement with the decision not to hold the election right now. This is due to the difference in the situations and prospects of 2009 and 2012. In the immediate post-war period, an election would have placed in office, a politically moderate long standing Tamil ally of the state, not merely this government; someone who has been in alliance with the administrations of three Sri Lankan presidents belonging to both major parties. This was what I termed the Chechen solution of President Putin.

Not having done so, the Sri Lankan state faces today the prospect of the election to office of a party whose moderate ideologues advocate the right of self-determination. The holding of presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in the North does not automatically render unproblematic the holding of elections to a devolved body at the periphery, such as the provincial council. There is no country on the planet in which a transition from wartime military rule – or military control of any provenance and sort—to civilian governance does not require thinking through and careful management from the perspective of security, especially when such zones are of crucial strategic importance and the party prospectively in power has a stance which is at variance with such strategic and security imperatives.

A recent article in a respected paper in the region made the point that the military-civilian ratios in Kashmir as well as our neighbour’s north-eastern periphery are far less favourable to the military than the corresponding ratio in Sri Lanka’s North. Though there is indeed a case for a lighter military footprint, the pseudo-sophisticated argument of comparative ratios is specious, given that the balance of forces between our gargantuan neighbour and its neighbours across those troubled frontiers is overwhelmingly in favour of our neighbour, while that is manifestly not the case with the Sri Lankan military and its neighbourhood.

The ideology of Tamil self-determination remains very much part of contemporary Tamil nationalist politics, even among its sophisticated urban moderates. Take for instance the interview given to Sulochana Ramaiah Mohan of the Sunday Lakbima, by lawyer-politician MA Sumanthiran, in which he says as follows:

“Self-determination means self-determination, nothing more or nothing less than that. I used the word to mean exactly what it means. The fact that others may have abused that word does not mean that I can’t use it to convey its correct meaning…Self-determination is a term of art (sic) in international law. The UN and the Human Rights charters are based on this foundational principle. All peoples are entitled to it, and the Tamils in Sri Lanka cannot be denied it merely because LTTE also used that claim. Oppressed Peoples are everywhere, and it will not be possible to compare and pronounce that a particular situation is better than the other…As I have indicated earlier, self-determination is the fundamental right of every people. You cannot have harmony among different peoples by denying their fundamental rights.”

(‘Sumanthiran Spinmeister of Past Times?’ interview by Sulochana Ramaiah Mohan, Sunday Lakbima, July 15, 2012)

These remarks must be read together with Mr. Sumanthiran’s earlier, un-contradicted statements on the subject such as the one made less than six months ago. I note that he has not contradicted, for these several months, his February interview in which he said the following to Namini Wijedasa:

“…You have to ask the Tamil people whether they want to stay in the country or be separate. Everywhere it’s like that…A distinct people in international law have certain rights called self-determination. The right to self determination international law now says must be exercised internally in the first instance. But if that is consistently denied, then according to the Canadian Supreme Court judgment on Quebec, they might even become entitled to a unilateral secession. So, if Sri Lankashould remain as one country, and we think it should remain as one country, then to preserve it as one country you must grant that right to self-determination and have it exercised in an arrangement within one country. That must be given, that must be recognized. It’s not at the wish of the majority that it’s given. That is as a matter of right in international law…” (Sunday Lakbimanews, Feb 5th 2012)

An excerpt from a transcript of video of Mr. Sumanthiran’s fairly recent speech in Matara quotes him as saying:

“…there is a great and ancient people called Sinhalese in this island, they have a very ancient history, they have their own language. They have adopted an ancient and glorious religion. They have their own traditions. I respect all of that very much. But unfortunately I don’t belong to that great people. I belong to another people called Tamils. We also have a great tradition. We also have a great language. Our history is also at least as ancient as that of the Sinhalese. But we are a different people…So I want you to know that when the Tamil National Alliance says that we are for the right to self determination of the Tamil people of this country, that in no way negates the right to self determination of the other peoples of this country…The fact that a people are entitled to the right to self determination does not necessarily mean that they must exist as a separate country. In many countries there are many different peoples, they live together as one country, but recognizing each others’ status as a distinct people.”

If as Mr. Sumanthiran says, the right of self determination does not necessarily mean that they must exist as a separate country, what does it mean? If it means the right to autonomy or some measure of self-governance within a united state, why not call it that? If as he rightly say, the right of self determination does not necessarily mean a separate country, does it also mean, i.e. does it extend to and include, the right to form a separate country? His phraseology does not unconditionally exclude secession and unequivocally commit to a single united and indivisibleSri Lanka. If he is speaking of a (so-called) right of internal self-determination, what is the firewall between that and external self-determination?

The ‘two nation theory’ adhered to by the Indian Communists in the post-war period, was decisively abandoned after the schism accompanied by the ghastly butchery of the Partition. If the notion of Tamil self determination should be entertained anywhere it is by the Indian state and Constitution because of the existence of Tamil Nadu with 70-80 million Tamils who constitute a collective a far older presence there than on this island. However, the concept is not entertained by India and correctly so. Rejected inIndiafor any part ofIndia, it certainly has no place in Sri Lanka, which has infinitely less geostrategic space.

Sri Lanka’s Tamils, as a national minority, or at most, a minority nationality – not a nation– must not be subject to any discrimination or injustice. Self-determination, however, is a right enjoyed and exercised by the multiethnic Sri Lankan people/nation (or ‘people-nation’ as Gramsci puts it) while sovereignty is the right of the Sri Lankan nation, state and multiethnic citizenry, not a particularistic fraction or parochial segment of any of these.

The two interlinked postulates of ‘Tamil nation’ and ‘self determination’ are not fiendish concepts; they are, however, dangerously wrong. In 1979, as a dogmatic Leninist aged 22, I adhered to these concepts myself, but that was before thirty years of carnage and human suffering in Sri Lankahad exposed these concepts for the destructive notions they were and had disproved them as hypotheses in the most decisive manner possible. Meanwhile the dramatic change in world history caused by the fall of global socialism had altered the meaning, relevance and relative importance of independence, territorial unity and integrity, national sovereignty and self-determination.

For those on the Left or of Left persuasion, the perspective should be that of Marx and Engels rather than Lenin because the historical moment of the Leninist theory of the right of nations to self determination– that of the post WW1 crisis of imperialism and rise of socialist revolution resulting in the setting up of a system of socialist states– has receded, perhaps never to return. Marx and Engels on the other hand, never conceived of a right of nations to self determination. Instead, they staunchly opposed federalism and assessed every ethno-national cause and struggle on its own merits, from the perspective of the broader needs of the democratic and working class cause in each country as well as the balance of forces on a continental and global scale.

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLBOaBDxQrw&feature=player_embedded

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    Dayan is a modern fusion of Hitler´s Reichspropaganda minister Goebbels and his contruction minister Speer( first contruction inspector, later in 1942 minister)

    Goebbels justified everything, their race ideology, their actions against other countries and even the 2nd WW. He found jews guilty for their own politics and justified their elimination. He found perpetrator among victims

    Speer loved luxary, fame, luster and popularity and not really convinced by Hitler´s ideology. In his circle he spoke about philosophy and showed others as if he has a different worldview than the barbaric Nazis

    What is a reason for a “true democrat”, “a philosopher”, “an intellectual” to support such a govt like this in SL?

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    Dayan Jayatilleka’s

    mindset:

    “The two interlinked postulates of ‘Tamil nation’ and ‘self determination’ are not fiendish concepts; they are, however, dangerously wrong.”

    Why does he think ‘Tamil nation’ and ‘self determination’ are dangerously wrong?

    Lets us have his reasons for his extremely unwise position.

    Why should not the Tamils be given the right to self govern or for that matter a separate state?

    (I do not support Tamil Eelam for historical reasons. As far as my ancestral land is concerned I want both the Tamils and Sinhalese Kallathonies out of my ancestral land.)

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    DJ says

    For those on the Left or of Left persuasion, the perspective should be that of Marx and Engels rather than Lenin because the historical moment of the Leninist theory of the right of nations to self determination– that of the post WW1 crisis of imperialism and rise of socialist revolution resulting in the setting up of a system of socialist states

    DOES HE GO OFTEN TO COFFEEESHOPS IN HOLLAND?

    Learned something from Bob Marley?

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    Dr Dayan Jayatilaka,…. V.I.Lenin’s principle of self-determiniation stiil valid until end of Humankind Civilization.
    Becasue of so-called Tamil Racism and Chavanism in reagioanl,proporsed project of Myth homeland ,nothing relevant or no-link with self-determiniation of Lenin theses.
    Sri lankan is NOT AN IMPERIALST COUNTRY,she has no Finicial Capital to be export or subject rule any terrority in any part of Globe. Sinhalese Imperiliasm ever-never exist,even Sinhalese were under 430 yeras under the Colonial rule.
    Still since 1948 nation and people of Sri lanka and Sinhalese nation are struggle to look for way out from expoliation and oppression by the Hegemony order of rich nations.People’s soveriginity and indepandeance and as whole country self-deteramantion of politics Economic social and cultural and whole package of DEMOCRACY subject to infiltrate by various Superpowers by many menas of tools.
    Ours democarcy and developement are under unberalla of foreing vested interest and hegomonist potential penetrateio;,every sphere of social order of nation.
    Tamil of minoroity issue of so-called seff-dertemantion is one of that.
    Is understood Tamil had been discriminiation are exist side by side in country.That has to be address,but divided terrority INTO two nation is the not soulation.
    So-called homeland is to cerate rouge state in tip of Indian sub-contintail will be another tragedy of people of Sri Lanka.
    Its bring detabilization of whole reagion and asking war footing atmosphers of Indain OCEAN,to be play REAGIONL WAR GAMES.
    Tamils of Tamil political parties has no vision to reliazed such long-term perpescative of ideological sight.There role of is confine to narrow Myth of Homeland.Our Democratic task is more wide and deep.
    We want democratic-orinted soluation.Undoubatly is Capitalism frame work of developing path of capitalst realtionship in our order associated with emerging NEW world order. The people of Tamils are will play laeding role and they ( Tamilas Mualims and other )will be part and parcial of incoming order.

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      How do you handle the army, language, settlement, homeguards, land distribution and police matters under this present govt?

      Do you have a concept for NON IMPERIALIST COUNTRIES?

      Sorry no use of discussing if I read some text ike this

      Its bring detabilization of whole reagion and asking war footing atmosphers of Indain OCEAN,to be play REAGIONL WAR GAMES.
      Tamils of Tamil political parties has no vision to reliazed such long-term perpescative of ideological sight.There role of is confine to narrow Myth of Homeland.Our Democratic task is more wide and deep

      You had a good time in Coffeeshop?

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        Vasu

        envies Dayan:

        “You had a good time in Coffeeshop?”

        Do mean coffee shops in Amsterdam?

        News reaching me in my village in the jungle states that foreigners are not allowed to enjoy a joint in these coffee shops. Is it true?

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    Once again Dayan J makes yet another attempt to obfuscate readers in what is a clear cut issuen in which the Rajapakse Govt is remiss. Instead of confusing matters with cliches and fancy words on the part of Dayan, the position of the Tamils articulated by the TNA is unambigous i.e. (1) Internal self-determination within an undivided country is not a call for Separation. Was not Dayan a party to this – going eeven as far as total Separation in the mid-1980s, when he was with Varadhan and friends? (2) Obstinately denying PC election rights to the people of the North continues to remain totally untenable. Why wait till late 2013 – the ultimatum of the international community?

    Dayan’s off-target attempts to prove Sumanthiran’s alleged inconsistencies is in no way going to bring us closer to peace and reconciliation. The Rajapakses are fighting a losing battle here. Their expert advocates, solicited or not, are not helping very much either.

    Senguttuvan

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    Why should we be struck with specific words and phrases, that have come to mean different things to different people and then get embroiled in largely academic controversies.

    What the Tamils want within Sri Lanka are simply:

    1. Equal rights, unabridged in practice.
    2. Equal opportunities all over the island, based on principles of merit.
    3. Security to person and property wherever they choose to live in the country.
    4. Unabriged rights to be Tamils, with everything it implies- language, culture, education and religion-wherever the choose to live, without fear or favour.
    5. Right to communicate with the government and its services in Tamil.
    6. Right to manage their communal affairs- political,educational, development etc.,- to the greatest extent possible in areas where they are preponderant.
    7. Mechanisms to permit them to participate in the affairs of Sri Lanka at the hughest levels.
    8. Right to continue singing the national anthem, in the words permitted in Nallathamby’s official translation.

    Compelling Tamils to sing the national anthem full of meaning, emotion and beauty, in a language they do not understand is stupid and will not help repair the fractures in our national polity.

    I may not have covered all grounds, but I feel the Tamil demands should be spelled out in simple language and in unambiguous terms such as these, which can be understood not only by the Sinhalese and Muslims, but also by the Tamils themselves.

    Ultimately, these are the rights all citizens in a multi-communal and multi-religion nation, require. Further, there should be laws that strictly forbid discrimination against any community or individual based on their identity and any act that is construed by a court of law as injurious to communal relations in Sri lanka, should be punishable by the highest penalty. I am sure these measures will go a along way in reassuring all minorities, including the disadvantaged within the three major communities.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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