By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“…superficial unity, which is the result of the denial or the sacrifice of differences”. – Tagore (The One Nationalist Party)
The regime reverted to business-as-usual literally on the day Navi Pillay left Sri Lanka.
The first salvo of lies against the UN High Commissioner Human Rights was fired, predictably, by the state-owned Sunday Observer: “UNHRC chief Navi Pillay’s request to pay a floral tribute during her recent visit to the North had been rejected by the government. Informed sources said that Pillay had initially informed of her desire to offer a floral tribute to the late LTTE terrorist leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran at a location in the North. However the Government had turned down Pillay’s request”[i].
The regime’s lie is characteristically inane, and obscenely so, given Ms. Pillay’s unequivocal criticism of the Tigers: “The LTTE was a murderous organisation that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives“. As Ms. Pillay explained, “…when I go to a country, I like to honour the victims, all victims, victims of LTTE, soldiers, families…. I have done this, for instance, in Moscow, done this in Guatemala…. I thought that I could do it here….”[ii]
Protest outside the UN office in Colombo the day after by Buddhist monks who oppose Pillay’s visit – Photo AFP’s Ishara Kodikara/ Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka Facebook page
Not only did the regime prevent this humane gesture of reconciliation by threatening to cancel the entire Mullativu segment of Ms. Pillay’s visit; it concocted a tissue of lies about and around her request, just hours after the UNHRC Chief left the island.
In an interview given to the Foreign Editor of ‘The Australian’, Greg Sheridan[iii], President Mahinda Rajapaksa lamented, “I must admit we lost the propaganda battle. I must admit we lost that badly”[iv]. The Sunday Observer’s blatantly apocryphal tale about Ms. Pillay wanting to pay a floral tribute to Vellupillai Pirapaharan is an excellent indication of why the regime lost the ‘propaganda battle’ and ‘badly’ – and will continue to do so.
Ms Pillay is a South African Tamil of Indian origin. As she herself pointed out, she considers herself a South African and not a Tamil. She was a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle. The first non-white woman to set up a legal practice in apartheid South Africa, she defended anti-apartheid activists, exposed the repressive deeds of the White Supremacist rulers and fought for the rights of the political prisoners in Robben Island (she advocated for Nelson Mandela). She was nominated by Nelson Mandela as a judge of the South African High Court at the end of the Apartheid era[v].
Regarding Ms Pillay as a Tamil is as ludicrously irrational as regarding Barack Obama as a Kenyan.
The Rajapaksas fail to accept or even perceive this reality for the same reason America’s ‘Birthers’ regard Mr. Obama as a non-American – racism. In Rajapaksa eyes anyone of Tamil origin anywhere in the world is nothing but a Tamil and, therefore, a real/potential Tigers. The Siblings fought the Fourth Eelam War – and are building peace – on the basis of this perniciously and dangerously erroneous belief.
The regime’s perception of Navi Pillay as a Tamil and therefore a Tiger is indicative of why a lasting peace and a genuine reconciliation will evadeSri Lankaso long as the Rajapaksas rule
A Divisive Peace
Around the time a mob of Sinhala-Buddhist thugs attacked the Grandpass mosque, a temple in Jaffna also came under attack. The name of this temple, set up by a Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist organisation under the patronage of the military, is symbolic of everything that is wrong in the Rajapaksa approach to peace – Sihalaramaya.
Sihalaramaya was reportedly a brainchild of Rev. Magalkande Sudantha Thero, the Convenor of the Sinhala Ravaya. This monk has been associated with a number of violently intolerant deeds, including the recent burning of a meat shop in Tangalle[vi]. According to an article in the Irida Divaina (of August 18th 2013, by Dinasena Ratugamage and appropriately captioned ‘Inane Piety which creates Religious Wars’), Sinhala Ravaya has ‘resettled’ several Sinhala-Buddhist families in Navakkuli, Jaffna. The temple was built allegedly for these resettled families. At the time of the attack there was only one monk in the temple.
Sihalaramaya is one of the many temples built in the North, post-war. In the absence of a civilian population of Buddhists to provide for their needs, these temples and the few monks residing in them become totally dependent on the military for everything. This dependent relationship would cause the temples to be perceived by many a Tamil as yet another alien institution managed by the military, a symbol of an oppressive and unjust status quo.
As the writer very correctly points out, building temples in areas devoid of civilian Buddhists is not a recipe for peace but one for a new religious conflict.
No one could have ‘resettled’ Sinhala-Buddhist families and built a temple in the North without Rajapaksa blessing. The Sinhala Ravaya would have received the go ahead for this divisive move because it accords perfectly with the Rajapaksa idea of peace and nation-building.
In a post-civil war/insurgency situation, political leaders can opt to build national cohesion either through inclusive or exclusionary means. The inclusive way involves political and socio-economic reforms which create a sense of belonging in the hitherto marginalised/alienated segments. The exclusionary way is to focus on the identity of the dominant group (ethnic/religious/class/caste) and to create a cohesiveness based not on a balanced commonality of interest but on the fear of the ‘Alien Other’.
It is the second – exclusionary way – the Rajapaksas have opted for. The Lankan nation the Rajapaksas talk about is no more real than the LTTE’s ‘Tamil speaking people’. That wholly imaginary concept was based on the subsuming of Muslim identity and the denial – and indeed criminalisation – of Muslim interests. It led to not to Tamil-Muslim harmony but to Tamil-Muslim enmity. Similarly the Lankan nation advocated by the Rajapaksas will cause not ethnic reconciliation but new, and deadlier, faultlines in an already fissured land.
Imagine what would have happened in the post-Insurgency South, if the Premadasa administration believed the power hunger of the JVP to be the sole cause of the insurgency, refused to admit the existence of any systemic errors or injustices, discounted the need for radical reforms and opted for a policy of achieving systemic stability via extraordinary security measures, leavened by a modicum of physical infrastructural development[vii].
What if the government suspected every Sinhala youth from subaltern castes of harbouring anti-systemic yearnings and treated them as real/potential subversives to be either punished/kept under surveillance? What if those villages in the Deep Southwhich were once under de facto JVP control were turned into garrisoned territory? What if President Premadasa did not believe that an ‘unjust system’ produced the JVP, and consequently, refused to implement ‘a whole package of policies’ to ‘radically’ change the status quo?[viii]
South would have become increasingly militarised. There may have been stability for a while, but this superficial quietitude would have been bought at an increasingly unaffordable price, both financial and socio-political.
The refusal to allow even the UNHRC Chief to mourn all the war-dead, the existence of a temple called Sihalaramaya in Jaffna and the assault on it by an unknown entity indicate why under Rajapaksa rule hatred will not die and violence will proliferate.
[iii] As stated at the end of the piece, Mr. Sheridan was in Sri Lanka as the guest of the Rajapaksa administration. In choosing Mr. Sheridan for this role, the regime acted cleverly. Mr. Sheridan is known for his reactionary stances; he supported Suharto, opposed Obama at the 2008 election and believes that history will judge George W Bush to be a great leader. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/a-great-president-for-these-terrible-times/story-e6frg6v6-1111112208118
[vii] “Let us look at the events of ’88-’89. What we saw in Sri Lanka was an attempted revolution backed up by an incredible and unparalleled brutality and a counterrevolution of almost equal ferocity… But while we deplore the violence, there is no point in being moralistic and judgemental, of one side or the other. Rather, it is for us the living to understand the causes, the underlying causes, and work towards their removal. It is not for us to point fingers or to score cheap debating points. Rather it is for us see that we pull together to eliminate for all time the roots – the political, the social, the economic, the cultural and indeed the spiritual roots – that brought forth the terror. Let us not forget that the dead and the living have been alike, often helpless victims of forces far beyond their capacity to control” (Ranasinghe Premadasa – A Charter for Democracy).
[viii] “This package of policies is aimed at confronting poverty and alienation directly. We cannot wait for the benefits of growth to trickle down. The Janasaviya programme is one of our main instruments for this purpose… We are planning to implement the majority of recommendations of the Youth Commission Report…. We have decided to implement 43 of the 51 recommendations straightaway. We are also breaking down the barriers between the administration and the people through our policy of Presidential Mobile Service…” (ibid).