By Michael Roberts –
Mark Field’s visit to Sri Lanka is very, very significant. His pronouncements are threaded by the paternalistic air of an Etonian schoolmaster pontificating to students. That should not be allowed to mask the Sword of Damocles that is above the Sri Lankan body via the UNHCR as the instrument of the Western international community.
Field’s title as “Minister for Asia and the Pacific” gives the game away. In the Pacific Ocean USA’s “Pacific Asia Command” (PAC) holds the commanding military heights. In the Indian Ocean USA’s massive base at Diego Garcia plays watchdog for the West. Diego Garcia atoll and island, let me remind readers,. was handed over to USA by UK in December 1966/68 through a process which forcefully removed all its indigenized Chagossian inhabitants – one of the most horrendous human rights violations of the 20th century imposed on a harmless body of people.
However, it is Mark Field’s message to Sri Lankans — threats wrapped in cotton really – that we must reflect upon. The Western power talons driving this project were displayed in a striking ethnographic encounter in the UNHRC Office corridors in Geneva in September 2011 when the US ambassador to that Council, one Eileen Donahue, turned on the Sri Lankan ambassador in some fury and said, “We’ll get you next time!”
This incident lays bare the roots of the Western-cum-UN project: for which we must go back to the years 2008/09 and the last phase of Eelam War IV. It is by happenchance that at this very moment I have been working up a summarizing article on the politics of Eelam War IV in its last phase. Let me spell out pertinent points in capsule form.
A= A secret meeting was convened in Kuala Lumpur in February 2009 involving the head of LTTE International, KP Pathmanathan, plus Rudrakumaran and Jay Maheswaran plus three Norwegian diplomats — a meeting that clearly had the full backing of USA — in order to resolve the warring situation in Lanka and, ostensibly, to prevent a potential humanitarian catastrophe involving a massive death toll among the Tamil civilian population corralled by the LTTE.
B = This gathering was preceded or accompanied by the insertion of a PAC recce team into the island to work out the ways and means of effecting this forcible intervention.
C = The Western powers seemed oblivious (conveniently?) to the fact that the LTTE had assembled the civilians in the battle theatre precisely to invite their intervention – so that they in fact became the LTTE’s partners in war.
D = The despatches disclosed by Wikileaks show that, In line with this partisanship and alliance, the US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert Blake, consistently pressurized the GoSL Ministers to institute ceasefire spells, while recognizing that Pirapäharan would never agree to the stilling of his guns … so that ceasefire in his book was a one-way street…. And furthermore, …….
E = ….. that, in Despatch 32 of the 2nd January 2009 reporting on the outcomes of a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa to work out measures for the re-settlement of Tamil IDPS, Blake summarily dismissed any reliance on the Social Services Minister: Douglas Devananda, he stressed, “would not be a suitable choice because his paramilitary, the EPDP, had been responsible for the killings and abductions of large numbers of Tamils in Jaffna.” Blake seems to have been blissfully unaware of the stark contradiction resting in his own hand: namely, that USA was sustaining the LTTE as a political entity – Tigers who had piled up a list of massacres, assassinations and huge bomb blast attacks in civilian space that was longer than the proverbial arm…. While we must also note ….
F = That in another despatch (No. 308 of 19th March 2009) Blake indicated that he had met the Foreign Minister Bogollagama on the 18th March and warned him that “the deaths of …. tens of thousands of civilians … would cause an international outcry, likely subject the GSL to war crime charges, and almost certainly undermine public support in the U.S. and other donor countries for future reconstruction efforts in the north.”
G = So that this body of evidence led me to this conclusion: “the international cabal was working within the framework of LTTE strategy [and] in effect encouraging the Tigers to sustain their use of the civilians as a defensive formation and a raison d’etre for international intervention. The Sword of Damocles in the form of “war crimes,” therefore, was held over the head of one party to the conflict in a manner that slotted in neatly with the grand strategy of the other party, the LTTE. In other words, in blithely positioning itself as international arbiter, and wrapping itself with a “humanitarian cloak,” USA, the UN bureaucrats working as American agents and its other international allies (embracing AI, HRW and ICG) were aiding and abetting the LTTE”.
H = … and that, as revealed by Daya Gamage, the thinking behind this programme was directed by a line of policy worked out by the US embassy in Sri Lanka from the late 1970s, This policy was revealed quite explicitly by Michael Owens, an Under Secy of State in Washington, on the 6th May 2009: they “had to find a way for the LTTE to surrender arms possibly to a third party in the context of a pause in the fighting, to surrender their arms in exchange for some sort of limited amnesty to at least some members of the LTTE and the beginning of a political process.”
I – The “political process” that Owens was referring to has always been “devolution” in American eyes. It is also the trump card favoured today by such well-meaning agencies as the National Peace Council and the Centre for Policy Alternatives … and, as we can see from his benign presentation, none other than the British Minister for Asia and the Pacific, one Mark Field.
THE YAKAAS WTHIN SRI LANKA: THAT FUNDAMENTAL QUESTION
Given the demographic configuration of the different communities in Sri Lanka and its present provincial maps, can the devolution of power serve as magic panacea? Roughly half the SL Tamil population live outside the Northern Province. Their heart may be in the north, but their feet, vote and clout are in the south … and sometimes beyond in London and elsewhere.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Eastern Province was cut out in arbitrary fashion by the British in the 19th century and serves as a bone of contention because the leading Tamil forces have falsely depicted it as “traditional homelands” — a specious claim pursued to this day in dishonest style by a long line of Tamil intellectuals.
To this one must add the complication of those identified as “Indian Tamils” (or “Plantation Tamils”) who have –with important exceptions – been at the socio-economic bottom of the ladder, but whose circumstances have improved somewhat and who now constitute a majority in Nuwara Eliya District within the Central Province.
The issue I pose is simple: is devolution extended to the Northern Province likely to be a time-bomb? Something that will push Sinhala chauvinist extremism still further? Something that stokes the fears of a Sinhala majority that feels itself a minority in the context of looming Tamilnadu next door?
I am directed here by the long view of a historian wary of well-meant ‘solutions’ that generate fresh and/or deeper problems. From this naïve position I suggest that what Sri Lanka requires is an ingenious constitutional scheme that provides the SL Tamils of the north, those of the Eastern Province and those in Colombo District some clout in the centre and in the Cabinet so that they are brought into the heart of power in an integrated manner. They must reap the benefits (and shortcomings) of any political system so that they develop a stake within it.
This line of gerrymandering must also be bolstered by policies that address identity and subjectivity. The tendency for some Sinhala-speakers to equate the category “Sinhala” with “Lānkika” must be undermined. The categorization of “ethnic’ in the census compilations and National Identity Card bureau must be re-jigged in radical fashion to generate a selection of labels that enables each individual a choice from; viz.
kolomba chetti lānkika
AND last but not least
Without addressing and reforming the political vocabulary in the vernacular, we cannot expect constitutions to yield the fruits fondly imagined by their framers.
Again, the national anthem must be re-jigged for state occasions so that it is sung in Sinhala and Tamil in the alternate style favoured by the Kiwi and South African rugger teams. The unveiling of this operation to the Sri Lankan people should be at Premadasa Cricket Stadium where a trained choir as well as the pre-prepared cricket team introduce this scheme of patriotic commitment to the public.
Such measures will not produce immediate results. Collective identity and belonging are subjective conditions of being – moulded over time by many factors. There is no quick fix here.
The steps that I have indicated here have to be backed up by intelligent use of cartoons and by the work of such playwrights and film-makers as Dharmasiri Bandaranayake as well as leading musicians in all three languages. Baila, in particular, is a medium for cross-communal togetherness. I note, here, that during the height of the Sinhala Buddhist movement in the third quarter of the century featured by the slashing criticism of the Catholic schools, such artistes as Sunil Shantha, Lester James Peries and Ivor Denis (all Catholic) collaborated innovatively with a range of other artistes to create music and film in erudite and meaningful styles attuned to indigenous sensibilities. More recently, Vasuki Amunugama and others at the advertisement agency, Triad, showed us how an intelligent programme such as Api Wenuwen Api can mobilise personnel to commit themselves to the deadly professions encountering fight and death.
Thus, many hands and many modalities of expression must be deployed in the hard yards required for the mind-work that is involved in moulding subjectivity in ways that will assist reconciliation. There is no quick fix.
Carey, Sean 2009 The UK’s role in Diego Garcia: green fingers or red faces?”.,
D’A Vincent, P. 1883 Forest Administration of Ceylon, Colombo, Govt Printer, being Sessional Paper XLIII of 1882.
Donaldson, Tony 2016 “Tony Donaldson to introduce Sunl Santha and His Sinhala Music to Contemporary Lankans,” 26 October 2016, ……………………………………………………………………. https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/tony-donaldson-to-introduce-sunil-santha-and-his-sinhala-music-to-contemporary-lankans/
Field, Mark 2018 “British Minister stresses Importance of Reconciliation.” 4 October 2018,
Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/
Gunasingam, M. 2012 The Tamil Eelam Struggle. State Terrorism and Ethnic Cleansing (1948-2009), Sydney, MV Publications.
Gunasingam, M. 2014 Tamils in Sri Lanka: A Comprehensive History (C. 300 BC – C. 2000. Sydney.
Hattotuwa, Sanjana 2018 “Identity, Belnoging, Dignity. Lessons from Francis Fukuyama for Srri Lanka Today,” 2 October 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/identity-belonging-dignity-lessons-from-francis-fukuyama-for-sri-lanka-today/
Kearney, Robert N. 1967 Communalism and Language in the Politics of Ceylon, Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press.
Kearney, Robert N. 1973 The Politics of Ceylon, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
Kulendiren, Pon 2017 “Where Music transcends Ethnic Divisions: Sinhala Nona,” 21 March 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/where-music-transcends-ethnic-divisions-sinhala-nona/#more-24614
Kunanayakam, Tamara 2016 “A Tour de Force by Tamara Kunanayakam …,” 23 February 2016,2016 https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/a-tour-de-force-by-tamara-kunanayakam-in-reviewing-the-rajapaksa-years/
Peiris, Gerald H. 1991 “An Appraisal of the Concept of a Traditional Homeland in Sri Lanka,” Ethnic Studies Report, Vol IX, pp. 13-39.
Roberts, Michael 2013 “Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts,” 15 August 2010, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2010/08/15/ethnic-identity-in-sri-lanka%e2%80%99s-pre-capitalist-past-shanie-darshanie-and-roberts/
Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013,https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221
Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/
Roberts, Michael 2014 “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks: US Embassy Despatches from Colombo, 2009: ONE,” 27 August 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/ball-by-ball-through-wikileaks-us-embassy-despatches-from-colombo-2009-one/
Roberts, Michael 2014 “Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 6 April 2016, …………………………………… https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/
Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.
Roberts, Michael 2014 “Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API,” 1 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/winning-the-war-evaluating-the-impact-of-api-wenuwen-ap/
Michael Roberts 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2
Michael Roberts 2015 “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/
Roberts, Michael 2015 “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 15 September 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/american-action-and-inaction-on-sri-lanka-200809-a-critical-evaluation/#more-17725
Roberts, Michael “Where USA sought to arm-wrestle Sri Lanka in March-April-May 2009,” 11 May 2018,https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/05/11/where-usa-sought-to-arm-wrestle-sri-lanka-in-march-april-may-2009/
1. The population was small, maybe only about 1,000 or so, but that does not alter the iniquitous character of the operation. See Carey 2009.
2. See Kunanayakam 2016. I stress here that Kunanayakam is a Ladies College product who has spent several decades in Europe and is not only Marxist in political leaning, but also married to a member of the French Communist Party.
3. For pertinent details, see Salter 2015: 348-49 & 364-65; Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016.
4. Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016 & Roberts, ”Where USA sought to arm-wrestle Sri Lanka …,” 2018.
5. Roberts, “Generating Calamity,” 2014.
6. See Roberts “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never Land …,” 2015 and Roberts, “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks,” 2014.
7. See Roberts, “Ball-by-Ball through Wikileaks,” 2014.
8. Roberts, “Saving Talaivar Pirapaharan,” 2016.
9. See Gamage 2014 and Roberts, “American Action,” 2015.
10. This concept was initially introduced on the 18th December 1949 by the ITAK or “The Federal Freedom Party of the Tamil-speaking Peoples of Ceylon” (for the full manifesto, see Roberts, TPS. Pictorial, 2014, pp. 273-92).
11. Its historic and cartographic basis has been comprehensively decimated by Gerald Peiris in his article in the Ethnic Studies Report in 1991. Also see my essay “Ethnic Identity in Sri Lanka’s Pre-capitalist Past: Shanie, Darshanie and Roberts,” 2010. Those interested in this knotty issue should also scour D’Vincent 1882.
12. Thus, several Tamil writers (abroad) have written whole books that pretend that the Peiris article does not exist and promote the concept of “traditional homelands (see Gunasingham 2012: 9, 21). They do not attend to the fact that the boundary lines of the Eastern Province drawn up by the British in the 19th century are quite arbitrary and encompass regions along its western border that were sparsely peopled – and these were either Vädda hamlets or purana hamlets with Sinhala villagers.
13. Note this statement from an MP in 1962: “the problem of the Tamils is not a minority problem. The Sinhalese are the minority in Dravidistan. We are carting on a struggle for national existence against the Dravidian majority.” (quoted by Kearney 1973: 267). Robert N. Kearney’s two books should be compulsory reading for all students of modern of Sri Lanka.
14. This merger is evident in the Anagarika Dharmapala’s writings (Roberts 1978: 365) and has been a strand in the Sinhala campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s directed at the English-speaking middle class. I have identified it in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s populist presentations of self (Roberts)
15. Note Kulendiren 2017. However, as medium, baila and songs can cut both ways.
16. Roberts “Winning the War ………,” 2014,