By Rajan Hoole –
The Rise and Fall of the Tamil Militancy and the International Legal Implications of the Government’s Counter-Insurgency – Part 1
“My impression is that the majority of Sinhalese people, if all the facts are laid before them and a referendum is held to decide the question, would vote for equal rights and peace rather than ‘Sinhala Buddhism’ and war. Because it is a mistake to think that only ethnic minorities have suffered from attempts by successive governments to convert Sri Lanka into an exclusively ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ nation. The majority community has suffered too – so much so that most of them look back to the period before the ethnic conflict as a kind of golden age or paradise lost. But what has been lost can also be regained by reversing the process which led to the war; it won’t be easy; but it can be done.
“The refugees who wanted a federal solution…formed the bulk of the Tamil refugees I interviewed. Their freedom from communal hatred can only be described as admirable. It appears, perhaps, that despite their good intentions they have been powerless to influence events. But perhaps no so. If everyone of these refugees had been a fervent Eelamist, … if thousands of young men fleeing recruitment had joined the fighting…the carnage would have been much worse, and there would be no hope of a peaceful solution. It is the refusal of the majority of Tamil refugees, despite all they have suffered, to think in crude communal terms, which keeps that hope alive even today.
“The Muslim refugees too were remarkably free from communalism in their perception of the problem…” – Rohini Hensman, from Journey without a Destination
The Road to Brutalisation
In this chapter, we will indicate the main developments between July 1983 and July 1987. In the North-East the Tamil insurgency gained ground with Indian backing. The Government on the other hand underestimated the Tamil militant challenge and set about fighting the political aspirations of Tamils on various fronts. One involved a ruthless military campaign against the insurgency in which all the repressive legislation down to July 1983 was put to uninhibited use. Another with demographic implications, was an attempt to set up mililtarised colonies of Sinhalese under the direction of the JOSSOP (Joint Services Special Operations) to mutilate the concept of a Tamil Homeland. On this campaign rested the fortunes of National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali.
Athulathmudali took the flak for gross human-rights violations which he tried to explain away with the flair for semantics he perfected at the Oxford Union. However, an important power behind the scenes in security matters was Jayewardene’s son, Ravi, who is credited with having come from Australia after July 1983 to protect the Buddha Sasana from the ravages of the enemy. The results of this mix were dubious. Reprisals against Tamil civilians became routine.
The combination of these brutalised the Tamil insurgency and the LTTE for the first time in November 1984 attacked Sinhalese civilians inducted into the Mullaitivu District, followed by the even more calculatedly brutal attack on Buddhist pilgrims in Anuradhapura on 14th May 1985. This was the first time a Tamil militant group decided at the highest level to do away with the inhibition of killing civilians indiscriminately in large numbers. It was a historic act which brought the Tamil liberation struggle to its fall by setting the stage for directing the violence within the Tamil community itself.
As long as some inhibition against killing civilians remained, the people could hold the militants to account, and in other words, there was some democratic opening. Without such leeway, a struggle ceases to be a liberation struggle. The seal was set on this change by the LTTE asserting a murderous ascendancy on Tamil society by using the same methods perfected in the Anuradhapura massacre, to destroy its rival militant groups. The LTTE thus became qualitatively a different phenomenon to what obtained earlier, and by its very volition became trapped in its history of blood.
Many of these developments have been covered in the Broken Palmyrah and in the publications of the UTHR(J). We will merely touch on some salient features.
To be continued..