By R.M.B Senanayake –
The Government is reported to be appointing a Special Bureau for Reconciliation according to a newspaper headline although the body of the Report refers mostly to the implementation of the LLRC Report. But the LLRC Report although it will help in the process of Reconciliation is not equivalent to Reconciliation. One wonders whether the newspaper or for that matter even the Government understand the true meaning of Reconciliation and its significance. Reconciliation means that despite all that they have suffered during the war (for which the LTTE is as much responsible as the Sinhalese) they are willing to be part of the same State under a scheme of devolution of power- a State which will continue to be dominated by the Sinhala Buddhist majority. They of course want the right to manage their own affairs in the North and East.
Scotland and England have been united for three hundred years and the Scots have not suffered like the Tamils. Yet large numbers of the Scottish people are not willing to continue to be part of the United Kingdom despite the devolution of power to them with a promise of more devolution by the British Government. The Referendum will take place next week and it is expected to be close.
So can we expect the Tamil people too be willing to continue to be part of the Sinhala dominated State unless they are given a wide devolution of power less than Independence? What does Reconciliation mean? If it means anything it must mean that the Tami people are willing to be part of the same state, a state where as a minority they can never hope to influence its decisions?
Do we promote such Reconciliation by the Government holding war victory parades and continuing to occupy the North? Isn’t it a constant reminder to the Tamil people of their defeat and humiliation. Who will ever think it promotes reconciliation?
The Army units were stationed in the North in the 1960s even after the Sinhala Only Act was passed and the Tamil people did not object to it because it was for the control and prevention of illicit immigration and smuggling. The Tamil people were not in sympathy with South India then and did not oppose anti-illicit immigration and anti-smuggling control. But the Army then was largely confined to barracks and there was even fraternizing with the top bureaucrats of the North.
The LTTE committed many atrocities on the Tamil people throughout the period they exercised power. But human beings generally value the present more than the past. They allow the past to recede in their consciousness while the present exercises a string effect. So does anybody think the activities of the army in the north helps in reconciliation of the Tamil people to accept the Sinhala dominated State?
Individual freedom is very important to all people even the poor. They like to be free to carry out their daily activities however hard or difficult they are. The fishermen like to engage in their fishermen without having to obtain permits from the military. They like to hold their private meetings and get-togethers or even parties without having to obtain prior permission from the military. Who likes the Army barging into private meetings? It may be necessary to gather Intelligence of any illegal or seditious activity. But to use the blanket powers of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in peacetime is an unnecessary restriction on personal freedom. The Army must be subtle in its activities of gathering intelligence instead of being like a bull in a china shop. The curtailing of personal freedom will not promote reconciliation in the sense of endearing the people to the Sinhala dominated State. People associate the State with the government and any disaffection caused by the present authorities will be generalized to include the Sinhala State as a whole. So the present regime having won the war is likely to lose the peace if it doesn’t promote reconciliation. The UN has recognized the rights of minorities to enjoy freedom without being subject to discrimination. It has not recognized a right of a minority to self determination but has accepted the social and cultural rights of a minority.
Immediately after the war ended there were several allegations against the Government. According to Chris Patten “The government was alleged to have interned more than a quarter million displaced Tamils, some for more than six months, in violation of both Sri Lankan and international humanitarian law. Conditions in the camps were said to be appalling, access by international agencies was severely restricted, and independent journalists could not even visit. Barbed wire and military guards insured people could not leave or tell their stories to anyone”. But the Government has listened to the voices of reason and compassion. Most of the displaced have since been settled although not all and some have not been able to recover their lands.
The Government has listened to international opinion. It must do whatever more is required to win over the Tamil people to be members of the singe Sri Lankan State. It must provide personal freedom to the Tamil people to the same extent as the Sinhalese in the South. Is their surveillance of the Sinhalese in the South?
All anti-government activities by civilians cannot be considered as seditious or subversive. The LTTE lost its popularity but excessive harassment of people in the name of Intelligence will only help in hardening the attitudes of the people against the Government which ultimately means against membership of the Sinhala state which will be looked upon as a source of harassment to be tolerated but not willingly. A country can’t be held together only by the military. Previous Empires like the Turkish Empire and the Russian Empire could not be held together by military force. Let us try to win the Tamil people and that requires restoring the personal freedom of peoples, accompanied by making the Northern Provincial Council functional. Since the administration of the NPC is under the Governor under the Provincial Councils Act though an alternative option was provided in the 13th Amendment it is the failure of the Governor to spend the moneys voted by the Central Government, rsther than the failure of the NPC. If the Chief Minister cannot control the Chief Secretary and give directions to her how can he implement any policy.