2 December, 2020

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The Face Of Despair & The Black Day That Is Sri Lankan Independence Day

By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Black Day for Tamils

The Sinhalese and some self-deprecating Tamils will be celebrating the 68th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence on Feb 4, 2016. On the other hand in stark contrast, Eelam Tamils who have their dignity, self-pride and self respect intact will be marking it as a Black Day. If independence is explained in the dictionary as self-government, self-rule, home rule, separation, self-determination, sovereignty, autonomy, freedom, liberty, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, etc., (Google it and see what you get), then it goes without saying what Tamil got on that fateful day in February in 1948, is a far cry from any of the synonyms here mentioned, and with the benefit of hind sight, a long way away from what we should have demanded as our human and political right!

It was on this Black Day, that Tamils moved from a white colonial master, quite decent in comparison, to serving a brown colonial master and were thrust into a suffocating Sinhala Buddhist hegemony and bigotry without our knowing the extent to which it would show its ugly face, until it hit, hit hard!

What happened to us?

What happened to us? We foolishly and naively trusted the Sinhalese, agreeing to a unitary system that resulted in them having a majoritarian stranglehold in parliament, and a Sinhala government at the centre. It was too late to reverse our misfortunes when we found these Sinhalese turned out to be scoundrels, wolves in sheep’s clothing more like, resulting in us Tamils ending up, in effect, losing our traditional homeland, our sovereignty and our rights. That’s what happened.

February 4th 1948 is indeed a Black day any which way we look at it and already a month before, I was starting to feel a bit heavy in the heart – remembering everyone who died for freedom, feeling the pain, and the horrors of the genocide perpetrated against Tamils that intensified during the month of May 2009!

Face of Despair

So what’s the story behind this “Face of Despair” you see here:

let me tell you ..While my mind was in turmoil and engrossed in past horrors and feeling guilty for living on safe ground, I remembered the article I wrote same time last year, a must read: “Acts of Betrayal that Broke the Letter and Spirit of Independence“.

It struck me that nothing had changed, one year on, since President Sirisena took office. There was no discussion on any power sharing arrangement forthcoming, other than a plan to draft a new constitution and a constituent assembly – oh no not again I thought – a repetition of what happened in 1972, the main thrust of my article last year. Neither was there a change to the Unitary State system narrative, nor demilitarisation, nor significant return of people’s lands, nor relaxing of the government’s hold on state land which should in reality belong to the people at the provincial level; no marked reversal of fortunes towards a better quality of life for Tamils, no move to releasing most of the Tamil detainees incarcerated without charge under the PTA – except a bombshell from the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe in his interview with Channel 4’s Jon Snow, that the disappeared “are probably dead”, virtually asking Tamils to live with it.

Tears welled up as I continued to read my article, experiencing a choking feeling in the throat and heart..I wiped the tears with my fingers but it still came. The more I read the more I cried, the nose too was runny wetting my lips which I wiped away. I grasped my phone and took a shot of me. I do not know why I did it, but I did it. Activists like me often times show that we are strong, resilient and have a fighting spirit… but more often than not we have our moments when we are over-wrought; overcome with emotion. It’s not wrong to cry, we are human; besides we have humanity; we are not crying for ourselves, we are crying for a larger polity.

Usha SriskandarajahIt’s happened to me numerous time! We cry and we laugh! That’s how life is for an activist. We flex our muscles, show off a strong demeanour, have almost a permanent grimace, strong when we haven’t gotten anywhere and display a lot of courage when it’s demanded – but we are in essence softies most times than not! And to our detriment, yes. Activists will tell you, they run on adrenalin and Cortisol, two hormones, the release of too much of which could be damaging to the body; activism sucks the energy off a person; many a time it weakens a person; because it drains the electrolytes, vitamins and minerals required for the body’s sustenance; it more or less eats into the system! This is how it is, especially while I am writing an essay meant to educate the Sri Lankan and international community. I literally shut the outside world.

But God made sure he gave me the tools needed to fulfil the purpose for which I was born.. yes God gave me the gift of yoga.. I am able get by with these tools that Yoga has to offer that helps me balance the ill effects of increased stress levels, that passionate activists have to endure, the highs and lows we go through – I do it with a lot of healthy breathing and long and short bouts of meditation.. all of which has a calming effect on me no doubt. What would I do, where would I be without it – I mean Yoga – the best lifestyle lift anyone could get- Yoga as much as being therapeutic, preventative, often curative and truly life enhancing it’s also spiritually rewarding and far reaching.

Looking at the picture I had just taken, I realized the picture best describes the frame of mind I am in; that it best captures me right at that instant, the emotions that surfaced when I was reading this essay I wrote exactly a year ago.

Now what do I do with this picture – a question arose in my mind. I needed to post it on my Face Book page I thought to let everyone know how I was feeling. So I posted the picture with the link to the article on FB and even replaced my profile picture with it: Many who saw it, wanted it removed, because they did not want to see me like that, they just love me and for that I am grateful; there were others who cared and wanted me to be strong, asking what happened to my resilient self; some messaged me and asked what was wrong? Some were dead silent! Could they have thought I was bordering on depression and even lunacy and probably needed to see a doctor.

later while gazing at the picture I was thinking of a suitable caption that could best describe it although a friend on FB commented, the picture is more descriptive, more powerful than what (thousand) words can say! Yet I was looking for a caption and the words that came to mind did not quite resonate with what I truly felt. While I was struggling with what caption to give , my word finder of a husband came up with the word: “DESPAIR”! “Yours is a Face of Despair!” Wow that was spot on! Mine was indeed, “the face of despair” reflecting the emotions of tens of thousands of Tamil activists as I write this. DESPAIR is indeed the word that best described the mood I was in!

“DESPAIR” is How I Feel

Yes “DESPAIR” is how I feel because the hope we had of fairness from a president who won on the back of the Tamil vote, sadly without any conditions attached, is fast diminishing. Especially as it became clear recently when he made a shocking revelation to Aljazeera claiming that as a co-sponsor, Sri Lanka only agreed to a judicial process that involved allegations of “human rights violations” and not war crimes; and that he was opposed to any, “foreign involvement”. At the same time, Sirisena in the interview was quite content with placing the blame on the “LTTE – terrorists” as he called them, whom he said should be investigated for attacks on hospitals – turning the question round and throwing it right back at Aljazeera’s Ms. Abdel-Hamid who asked about alleged attacks on hospitals by the Sri Lankan army! How naive does President Sirisena think the rest of the world is/was if he could just simply dismiss those who allegedly committed more heinous crimes, as only coming within the purview of “human rights violations”, that involved lesser crimes in his mind – anything more he did not sign up to. This despite when reminded of the Paranagama Commission report which found, “there were “credible allegations which… may show that some members of the armed forces committed acts during the final phase of the war that amounted to war crimes giving rise to individual criminal responsibility.”

Could it be that he thinks it would absolve him of any wrong doing as being part of the Rajapaksa regime and acting Defence Minister for a short period during the last stages of the war?
“DESPAIR” is what I feel when Tamils aren’t united on critical issues of Justice for the victims of Genocide and a political settlement for Tamils. “DESPAIR” is the word when the TNA is not offering strong leadership but rather for all intents and purposes kowtowing to the Sri Lankan government and following the instructions laid out by the international community rather than insisting on certain necessary conditions for reconciliation and a satisfactory political settlement. “DESPAIR” is the word when the TNA relies on the APRC report that was never officially accepted, without really restating what they want! “DESPAIR” is the wod when you find the leading party in the official opposition in parliament, the TNA, supporting the country’s budget that called for increased military spending – that is in excess of what the Rajapaksa regime allocated – a military that was occupying the NorthEast! “DESPAIR” is the word when the TNA hasn’t still publically called for the abolition of the 6th amendment which criminalises any discourse on separation; i.e. the actual restoration of an independent Tamil Eelam and thereby making way for a call to conduct a UN sponsored referendum that we the TGTE are calling for. “DESPAIR” is the word when TNA couldn’t articulate more clearly what Mr. Sampanthan meant when he went to the Tamil constituency and proclaimed that a political settlement is imminent in 2016, leaving the people guessing what that would be and on whose assurance. “DESPAIR” is the word when the TNA members decide to go so late in the day to explore devolved power to Scotland and the proposals for further reform, when they should have done it sooner and had a draft ready on a Federal Constitution that they can actually publically and categorically convey to the Sirisena Government earlier than later.

“DESPAIR” is the feeling I get when I think that TNA jointly in cahoots with the presidential candidate Sirisena removed the word “unitary” in his manifesto to mislead the Tamil voters in my view because from recent pronouncements from the regime it didn’t seem to be based on a definitive undertaking from Sirisena, one that he intends to honour.

“DESPAIR” is the word I feel when the TNA is unwilling to work with the newly formed Tamil People’s Council and speak with one voice on the issue of the right to self determination for the people. “DESPAIR” is the word when the, Report of the Sub-Committee of the Tamil People’s Council on “Finding a Political Solution to the National Question” seems a worthwhile document that’s,
“calling for a political agreement prior to a constitutional enactment in Sri Lanka. A document which ideally the TNA can jointly work to improve and develop but does not want to – at the time of writing this article.

It’s this “DESPAIR” that leads us to recall and be inspired by the deeply held beliefs we hold dear. Today on this Black Day let me share the words of someone who holds those deeply held beliefs and has some advice for fellow Tamils throughout the world written in Tamil, which I attempt to translate here:

Thamizha

“February 4th 1948 is the day that Tamils lost their freedom; the day Tamils came under Sinhala subjugation. For Tamils who have a modicum of self respect it is a Black Day. Thamizha, We are not ordinary, we are revolutionaries. Thamizha, Think about it for a moment. Open your eyes, the dawn of freedom is here; Tamil Eelam, the ideal we fought for undaunted is not far away. Thamizha, An unprecedented human catastrophe the world seldom witnessed has taken place, a blood bath of enormous proportions that shook the ground; where children were executed; where young women were gang raped; where the number of widows exceeded 90,000; where those that were maimed and disabled, fill the landscape; where the Tamil Diaspora and those at home lost their kith and kin; where a countless number were disappeared; where the fatalities exceeded a quarter of a million people; where land is in the hands of thugs; where peace is drowned in the deep sea and the tears that flowed are larger than the ocean. Thamizha, The one and only solution is Tamil Eelam. A Tamil country that’s for me. Thamizha, We shall take hold of our own political destiny; Tamil Eelam is not symbolic shawl we wear on our shoulders; Tamil Eelam is inextricably linked to our life, it’s part and parcel of our psyche. Tamil Eelam is for us and for our progeny. -Mr. R Sivakumar – Feb, 2016

Self-determination, Life and Liberty

it’s most relevant as we discuss Tamil Freedom, for me to share with you my own words of inspiration, on “Why Tamils of Eelam Deserve Self-determination in 250 words an OP-ED I wrote earlier. I share here 2 excerpts of which I give here below:

Self- determination

Self-determination would mean as a nation, we can become the architects of our own destiny and herald a new era of freedom and self governance. We can then put Tamil Eelam first; put the people first; their security, prosperity and happiness first. It boils down to having the freedom to determine our affairs and not be dictated to by another nation. Taking a leaf from Abe Lincoln, at last we can say with certainty that ours will truly be “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” It will free us from enslavement and subjugation: from a Sinhala dictatorship devoid of checks and balances that has no mandate to rule over us; from strangulation by Sinhala majoritarian parliaments known to legislate in its interest not in ours; from a 100,000 strong Sinhala army of occupation; from diminishing boundaries due to forced Sinhala settlements intended to change the demography; from systematic genocide: the UN convention defines it as acts (killing …or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction…) committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial..group. At last we shall have control over our resources and our finances, enabling us to determine our own taxes, negotiate our own contracts and foreign investment deals and to develop our economy with our people in mind, giving us the best opportunities to realize our own potential.

Life and Liberty by Thomas Jefferson

It is fitting also at the end of “Why Tamils of Eelam deserve Self-determination” to finish with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson, the ‘Founding Father’ of the ‘American Revolution’, the principle author of the ‘Declaration of Independence’ and the 3rd President of the United States of America: “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty; the hand of force may destroy but never dis-join.”

I sincerely hope we can move from “DESPAIR” to “OPTIMISM” in the coming days – all depends on some key players who now seem to be holding the key to our destiny in their hands, if we let them! Let’s not lose hope in those good people who just may find ours is a just cause!

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    There is a struggle going on to bring the ship around to face the very opposite direction it was heading in…a move away from a rapidly escalating bloody battle for separation on the one hand and attempted genocide on the other…and an about face towards a law governed state that accepts the core values of the global civilization of the human species and restructured so as to allow all communities equitable access to the resources they require…and capable of generating a civilized citizenry aware and tolerant of each others concerns and acommodative of each others aspirations.

    Global geo political equations leave no room for the emergence of two states on the island. What is required is a cosmopolitan center upon which the required structure, infrastructure and culture required to attract and retain the human resources from all over the face of the planet required to make this island function as an entrepot for capital moving into the IOR_ARC,SAARC,BIMSTEC and ANTARCTIC and a platform from which goods and services produced by these regions can be marketed to the world.

    For some of use the colonial model that prevailed prior to independence may have been a comfortable and pleasant one compared to what followed and of course the post war behavior of the British was a great deal better than the feudal and therefore brutal culture and mindset of the Sinhalese Buddhists. There is NO REVERSE GEAR that will get any of us back to those days gone by and it is not our task to resurrect the past but to perceive and move towards the realization of the best of many futures we can perceive.

    So wipe your tears and join us at the helm and keep in mind that your ethnicity, history, psychological traumas and personalities do not matter. What is required is a cool head, a sharp eye and a steady hand on the wheel to keep the ship on course. There are sharks in the ocean and rats on the ship as well so the art of confidence must be calculated and the calculated risk of trust taken when required. The average IQ of the crew stands at 79 which is well nigh mental retardation – but then this was more or less how it always was and perhaps always will be.

    If you do find your way on board give me a shout.

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    [Edited out] We are sorry the comment language is English – CT

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    [Edited out] We are sorry the comment language is English – CT

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    Cheating the UN on the UNHCR resolution is the 15th instance of such deceits, false promises and retraction of agreements by the Sinhalese since 1925. Below are the other 14.

    1. Abrogation of the Mahendra Pact of 28th June 1925 between the Ceylon Tamil Maha Jana Sabhai led by Sir W. Duraisamy and the Executive Committee of the Ceylon National Congress led by Sir C. E. Corea.

    2. Disfranchisement of the upcountry Tamils by two legislations, the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 and the Indian and Pakistani Residents Citizenship Act of 1949, against the agreed constitutional guarantees provided to them by the British government under section 29 of the Soulbary constitution.

    3. Passage of the Sinhala only resolution at the Kelani convention of the United National Party (UNP) in 1955. The resolution was mooted by no other person than Mr. J. R. Jayawardane who in the late thirties moved a resolution in the then State Council to make Sinhalese and Tamil as official languages. Also this resolution was against the solemn pledge of the then UNP Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawela at his 1954 Kokuvil Hindu College proclamation to make Sinhala and Tamil official languages of Ceylon.

    4. On June 5th 1956, Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike moved a legislation to make Sinhala, the official language of Ceylon, violating all pledges given by the Sinhala leadership to the Tamils in 1948.

    5. During May 1958, SLFP Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike unilaterally abrogated in the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 26th July 1957. This pact provided for the establishment of Regional Councils. Bandaranaike abrogated the pact under pressure from ultra nationalist Sinhalese groups.

    6. SLFP Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike, under the bilateral agreement, the 1964 Srimavo-Sastri pact betrayed the up country Tamils who toiled for over a century to make the hill country of Ceylon, an economic paradise. Nearly 500,000 Tamils were to be herded off without their consent to unknown terrains in India, once again against the constitutional guarantees provided by the British to them under the Soulbary constitution.

    7. During late 1966 UNP Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, bowing to ultra-nationalistic pressure (a Buddhist bikku lost his life protesting on 8th January 1966) abrogated the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact of March 24th 1965.

    8. SLFP Prime Minister led the promulgation of a Republican constitution, in 1972 May, taking away the minimum guarantees granted by the British to the Tamils while granting dominion status on 1948 February 4th. The architect of the constitution was Colvin R. De Silva, who in 1956 proclaimed loudly inside the parliament, one language two countries and two languages one country. The 1972 constitution provided for the prime place to Buddhism, making Sri Lanka a theocratic state, and powerfully enshrined Sinhalese as the official language.

    9. UNP Prime Minister J. R. Jayawardane was the architect of the 1978 constitution, providing for executive presidency, a move that smashed all hopes for Tamil participation in governance. This led to the government orchestred burning of the Public Library in Jaffna, a treasure house of knowledge of the Tamil people. The 1983 racial riots and the aftermath exodus of the Tamil population is history.

    10. President J. R. Jayawardane agreed to negotiate through the special emissary, G. Parthasarathi, of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (3rd January 1984). Proposals made by G. Parthasarathi, after adequate consultations with Tamil leadership, were scuttled by President J. R. Jayawardane, by referring the proposals to an All-Party Conference on ethnic peace and eventually abandoning the final proposals of the All-Party Conference. (26 Dec 1984)

    11. Sri Lankan government refused a negotiated settlement after few rounds at the Thimpu conference organized by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (17th August 1985)

    12. All-Party-Conference to resolve the ethnic crisis at the BMICH (25 June 1986), and a subsequent summit in Bangalore between Rajiv Gandhi and Jayewardene (17 & 18 November 1986) failed because of the intransience of President J. R. Jayawardane.

    13. On 29th July 1987 Rajiv-Jayawradane accord was signed.

    13.1 The accord recognized that the northern and the eastern provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples.

    13.2 It provided that the northern and eastern provinces as now constituted, will form one administrative unit, having one elected provincial council. Such a unit will have one governor, one chief minister and one board of ministers, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups.

    13.3 The accord implied that the government of India will underwrite and guarantee the resolutions, and co-operate in the implementation of these proposals.

    13.4 As a consequence, the 13th amendment among other things made provisions for the establishment of a system of Provincial Councils (14th November 1987).

    14. On 22nd February 2002, agreement on a ceasefire between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, followed by the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties, as a means of establishing a positive atmosphere in which further steps towards negotiations on a lasting solution can be taken. It invoked international law and said that the parties shall in accordance with international law abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, abduction, extortion and harassment. This agreement was under-written by the Royal Norwegian Government, who became the final authority regarding interpretation of this Agreement. On 8th January 2008, President Mahinda Rajapakse unilaterally abrogated the pact and gave notice to the international monitoring mission to vacate Sri Lanka.

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