26 May, 2022


Work Together Instead Of Politicising Tragedy

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The readiness to politicize any issue came to the fore in the course of the landslide tragedy at Haldamulla. With presidential elections on the near horizon, there was competition to be seen as caring more for the victims than the other.  The President, ministers, leaders of political parties and their party members all were seen on the media taking relief supplies to the area and commiserating with the victims. The government had the advantage as it could control access to the area.  The media showed visuals of the relief supplies taken by the Democratic Party dumped on the side of the road as they could not gain access to site of the tragedy.

Both the government and Northern Provincial Council also expressed their intention to adopt the children who had been orphaned.  The Northern Provincial Council even passed a resolution to that effect. On the other hand, the government said it would send the children to state orphanages. This hasty decision was in contradiction to the established policy of the Department of Childcare and Probation which is that children should be brought up in a family environment as far as possible. It is well known that state orphanages are poorly funded and generally under-resourced. The position of both the government and Northern Provincial Council were in violation of the “best interests of the child” which is the accepted norm both locally and internationally.

KoslandaArticle 3 of the Tokyo Seoul Declaration on Orphans (October 2014) which emphasizes best practices states that “Capacity of families and parental functioning should be strengthened by public support so that separation of family members and the need for conventional child welfare services can be minimized.”  Article 5 states that “Alternative care outside of the child’s own family should be made in the best interests of the child.” It gives priority to kinship care in its list of recommended action. Institutionalization in orphanages comes down at the bottom of the priority list. Therefore it can be surmised that both the government and Northern Provincial Council were seeking to make propaganda points about their concern for the children of the plantation Tamil community instead of looking to best practices to ensure their best interests.

Humanitarian Public

On the more positive side, the readiness of the general Sri Lankan population to rally around any section faced with disaster came to the fore in the aftermath of the landslide disaster in the hill country. It evoked memories of the public response in the aftermath of the Tsunami of 2004. Voluntary assistance and donations came in from all parts of the country irrespective of ethnicity or religion. It showed that social and man-made barriers could be overcome and the spirit of universalism could prevail. During the Tsunami tragedy, even members of the security forces and LTTE who had been battling each other made common cause to save one another.

On this occasion too, although the disaster has been much smaller in magnitude of persons affected the response from the wider society has been generous. Even as scenes of the disaster were shown on the television screens and broadcast on radio, privately owned media channels took the initiative to collect humanitarian supplies and have them delivered to the disaster zone. The security forces were quick the dig the area looking for survivors and for bodies. Humanitarian agencies who deployed staff on the ground reported that there was a substantial influx of relief items to the safety centres (dry rations, cooked meals, drinking water, clothes, utensils, personal items etc).

Tragic Reminder

However, the landslide that buried an entire village on Meeriyabedda Estate in Haldamulla, a tea plantation in Sri Lanka’s central hills is a tragic reminder of a marginalized ethnic minority and the failure of the democratic political system to address their needs. The plantation Tamil people have been discriminated against from the time of Independence from British colonial rule when they were denied their citizenship and continue to suffer from that legacy. The wealth they have produced has gone into the coffers of state and plantation companies, but inputs to upgrade the quality of housing for the plantation workers who toil under extreme weather condition has been minimal and often not meeting minimum requirements to enable them to lead dignified lives.

Even today the plantation Tamil community continue to be denied land ownership on the plantations where they have lived for generations and live in ramshackle “line houses” constructed during the colonial period. The media has reported that the affected community had been informed of the danger of earth slips and the need to relocate but they had nowhere else to go. There was negligence in the failure of state authorities and the estate companies to relocate the people to safer locations. The responsibility lies also with the trade unions which are meant to look after the well being of the plantation workers and who are part of the government.

The position of the plantation Tamil community in the country and the disadvantages they face have long been in the background of popular consciousness. The discrimination they have suffered and the poverty that has been their lot has well known. The problem is that so little has been done about it.  The poverty in the plantation sector is the highest in the country. Only about a quarter of the population there has an education that exceeds Grade 5 or primary education. Only 13 percent of plantation Tamil children proceed to higher secondary or Advanced Level certificate education, whereas the national average is three times higher at 39 percent.

Reform Needed

The basic problem of the plantation sector is rooted in its socio-economic structure that has trapped the plantation Tamil population within it. They are poor, poorly educated and disempowered. They live in homes that they cannot purchase, as they live on plantations owned by the state. The answer to their problems can only come from the state, which is ultimately in charge of the plantation sector.  It cannot be borne by the plantation companies themselves, as they are themselves fighting an economic battle for their survival due to the disadvantageous conditions they have inherited. This not only consists of having old trees that do not yield a high output in comparison to other countries. They also have to support a large population of around one million persons who are resident on the plantations, but with only about 20 percent of them actually being part of the workforce.

Planters’ Association Chairman Mr. Roshan Rajadurai, at a round table discussion a few weeks before the landslide in Haldamulla, made a presentation where he made the point that the plantation companies were finding it difficult to make profits in the prevailing economic situation, and that increase in the wage rate was outstripping the rise in tea prices, with the cost of labour being more than two-thirds of the total cost of production.  He also drew attention to the fact that when the state tried to run the plantations after nationalizing them, they were all running at a loss until 1992, when the private management contract system was introduced.  This indicates that state support is needed on a much larger scale if there is to be any sustainable improvement in the conditions of the lives of the plantation Tamil community. The government is improving buildings and infrastructure in the urban areas spending considerable amounts of money but has so far failed to cater adequately to the needs of the plantation workers who are the poorest segment of our society.

In the aftermath of the disaster at Haldamulla, the challenge will be to sustain the good intentions and sympathy for those who were the victims and change the entire structure of the plantation economy. When the plantation Tamil community was disenfranchised in 1948 by the Ceylon Citizenship Act there was an inexcusable collaboration between the government and a section of the leadership of the northern Tamils at that time.  This too is a historical injustice that remains to be put right.  The government and opposition need to establish a bipartisan approach so that the right of the plantation Tamil people to own land and build their own homes in the areas where they have long lived is assured. In jointly working for the best interests of a weaker community they can strengthen the unity of Sri Lanka by rebuilding a measure of trust between themselves too.

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  • 2


    Work Together Instead Of Politicising Tragedy

    Whatcan we learn from Rajapaksa Terrorism?

    What we can learn from terrorists (p1). Tariq Ali


    Published on May 2, 2013
    Part 1 | Part 2Whatever else we might think about those labelled as terrorists, it is clear that their tactics have changed the world in ways that serve their religious, political…

    • 3

      “I am not worried about the
      opinion of the Jaffna people…
      now we cannot think of them,
      not about their lives or their
      opinion… the more you put pressure in the north,
      the happier the Sinhala people will be here…

      Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala
      people will be happy.”

      – Sri Lanka’s First Executive President and the father of the Sri Lankan constitution, Daily
      Telegraph, 11 July 1983

      • 4

        Crap. JR was referring to the anger and attitude of the Sinhala people, not his own views. This quote has been used ad nauseum by the Eelamists to bolster their campaign.

        Another thing mentioned by them is that it took JR five days before he appealed publicly for peace. Why do you think that was? If he had appealed for peace immediately and was ignored there would have been nobody senior to him to speak. He let others appeal for peace first so that if their words were ignored, his would eventually be listened to. And that is what happened.

        Lying Eelamists will use anything and everything.

        • 0

          You seem to be an apologist for the Sinhala Terrorist Governments since independence who brought Sri lanka to this pathetic state!!

  • 0

    First they came for Indian Coolies, I did not speak out,

    Because I am not a coolie.

    Then they came for North-east Kallaththonies, I did not speak out,

    Because I am not a Kallaththony.

    Then they came for the Kaaththankudy Kalu thambiya, I did not speak out,

    Because I am not a Kalu Thambiya.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    -a song by a Sinhala Buddhist double crossed by Sinhala intellectuals.

    1815, after the Sinhala elite, Sinhala Intellectual brought down the Kandy Kingdom because of the family feud between Ehelapola and his uncle Pilimatalawwe, the Upcountry Tamils plights started. In fact it was not just in Lanka. It was all over the world. If you meet a Guyanese in North America, you would hear his last mane as Ramaswamy or Rangaswamy. Fiji South Africa, North Africa all over the world, British Merchants exported the Tamils as Coolies. Part of them came to Lanka. On the opposite side, in Lanka, the original Tamils were advancing into ruling class. Further, in Malaysia (and Singapore) the name Ceylon Tamils denoted an upper class race. While the Ceylon Tamils were enjoying the higher life, they had forgotten their Brothern’s suffering in Lankan, Malaysian plantation estates. (Gandhi first started his freedom fight in South Africa by appearing to a Tamil who was butchered by his white master, for not being upto his expectation.) SJV is the first one took the problem seriously, in Lanka. Not even the Estate representatives! Their activities were not different from Douglas, Thondaman of nowadays. He, who had come to conclusion that Eelam Tamils’ problem, cannot be fixed with the Lankan Governments, expected India to get involved into the Plantation Tamils’ issue. India which has a law that the no Indian origin peoples can be let back into the country, has 100% neglected the Tamils who had been shipped out as coolies all over the world.

    Lanka named DS as Nation’s father for disenfranchising Tamils and putting the foundation for the Sinhala Chauvinism. Like in the epic time Dutu Gemunu is treated as Sinhala Hero, in the modern time DS’s achievement against Tamils is treated as equal heroism. That is how the DS and the Sinhala Intellectual started tearing off of Lanka by first going for the Indian Coolies. “Beat where the hit can pain most!” Sinhala Intellectuals’’ Merciless brutal’ dogma!

    As usual, Jehan is starting as talking a good topic. But his usual politically corrupted mind could not let go the chance to beat TNA. The government which flew the Mig-s in the North has been flying helies in the mountain. The disaster is different, Government’s readiness the fire the crackers and celebrate the occasion for another swindle, another CJ Silva drama was the main concern for Tamils. CV visited to the site with upcountry politicians. CV has so far offered education for the children. Many TNA leaders have repeated so many times, that they will never place a candidate in Upcountry. They have repeated that they are not playing games here. But, Jehan is determined to isolate the TNA from helping the upcountry Tamils. In fact, many widowed women in the north, Vanni are upcountry families who were made homeless by JR’s 1983 heroic deed of, “if you want war, have war”. If TNA talk for these women only it happen, otherwise they have nobody in the world. They are not in the country where they should have been. They are not on the land for which they worked without food, without a fair coolie, without a rest. They are in the Vanni jungle. Jehan’s ugly nastiness is trying to insert wedge to split the TNA and these people. He acted like he was trying to say something fair about these peoples. But his anti-Tamil mentality did not allow him to stop with that. He had, after knowing very well that TNA’s offerings well with responsibility, very irresponsibly inserted the wedge.

    It is only TNA and Diaspora talked when Muslims mosques were demolished. It was only TNA and Diaspora talked when the churches were demolished. It was not the double talker Jehan. TNA offered help for the Tamils irrelevant of their origin. It is the largest Tamils party in the country. If there is something happened to the Sinhalese in the North, will Jehan keep his mouth shut and stay it has to be a matter for the NPC? Why is his dirty trick in trying to say that the Jaffna Tamils should not try to help upcountry Tamils? Without any shame, the government is playing political game. Jehan is very easily putting the TNA’s genuine concern on the same coach. Malinda has written an essay discrediting UNHRC’s integrity for investigating the UN Letter head story. What a gimmick Sinhala Intellectuals’?
    When the Aluthgama Muslims were attached, Jaffna Muslims went to the sport and expressed their sympathy. Did Jehan wrote, that the Muslims should leave it to the government, otherwise it is only political maneuvering?

    Government played political game. There is need to save its face. But, every Tamils acted with responsibility in this issue. Jehan is balancing the TNA with the government to satisfy this face saving need. Even, on the statements released by the TGTE, it said a message to Diaspora to observe mourning in the way Mano Ganesan had requested. There is no need to follow Mano Ganesan’s request to mourn for a loss. But TGTE wanted to responsible in its action. He is well known Tamil leader in the south. The Racist Sinhala government has been extremely successful in splitting the Tamils into two, three, four, …. as Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Indian, North, East, Colombo, Jaffna, Vellala, Chakiliaya…. you name it. Lankan Sinhala Intellectual government has done it in every denomination possible for human brain can think. Jehan, the Sinhala Intellectual is seeing that if one is sympathizing for other, this can brew a danger; this can relax the wedge that splitting the brethren’s muscle and cure the pain. He is so saddened that the 66 years of achievement of Sinhala Intellectual’s government is going to be watered down. That is why he is blaming TNA as equally playing political game with government. But he forgot, it is this government he still praising for destroying the Tamils as erasing terrorism.

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