by Thambu Kanagasabai, October 9, 2016
The ‘Eluga Tamil rallies held in Jaffna on September 24, 2016 received overwhelming response and ended with astonishing success beyond the expectations of many, belying the pessimists. The success of this event was due to the undaunted efforts of Tamil Peoples’ Council spearheaded by Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran, Suresh Premachandran, Siddharthan with other commendable input by other members of the Tamil Peoples Council, Jaffna University students, Civic Groups including TNPF’s Gajendrakumar. This success has awakened the politicians from all parts of Sri Lanka. As usual and expected, bouquets and brickbats are being hurled from both affected and applauding parties, making it as a hot issue to advance their political goals and aspirations or agenda by either exploitation or more enthusiasm and vigor.
The stark reality and truth behind the success of this agitation is simple and clear. This was neither a spontaneous reaction of the Tamils nor a pre-planned programme, but only a natural outburst and reaction for which the Tamil Peoples’ Council provided the outlet and opening to express the suppressed dormant and pent up feelings of traumatised Tamils being the sum total of ignored feelings arising from disillusionment, injustice, disappointment, frustration, let downs, desperation, dejection and cheatings, the seeds of which were sown right from 1956 with the introduction of Sinhala Only Act, as conceded by former President Madam Chandrika which in fact is still continuing. Eluha Tamil was not born out of the figment of imagination of anyone but only a consequential product due to prevailing compelling dire situation facing the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Another unpalatable truth is the continuing vacuum of a vibrant and dynamic leadership for the Tamils since 2010. This only forced the affected Tamils to form, organize and stage their own demonstrations and protests in small scales. This helpless situation resulted in the formation of Tamil Peoples’ Council and the Eluga Tamil movement which provided them the much needed opportunity to rally around under one front with united voice to reach the ears of the United Nations and International Community and even Sri Lanka. This movement was not organized out of love or hatred to anyone as Chief Minister of Northern Province pointed out. Not against the Sinhalese people, or security forces or any political party or Government or Buddhist monks etc. The object was to highlight the grievances of Tamils with calls for justice and accountability, a permanent acceptable political settlement, besides expressing the concerns due to Sinhalisation and Buddhisiation and or desecrating Temples and Churches and Tamil culture, reduction and/or withdrawal of armed forces in the North and East including return of seized civilian lands and setting up an international investigation into the war crimes, crimes against humanity etc.
It is apt to quote what Dr. Martin Luther King stated “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Remaining silent and watching injustice is worse than an actual commission of crime. There is not an iota of doubt that ‘Eluga Tamil’ movement is a better late than never wakeup call to the International Community, United Nations and complacentTamil leaders. This has further more opened the route to the Tamils to unite under one umbrella and banner to carry forward and press their demands calling for just and right remedies and political solution.
The victimised Tamils were side-lined and ignored by the United Nations and the International Community from 1956 and also during the pogroms against the Tamils in 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 and 2004 – 2009 who only opened their eyes and ears to take notice of the war crimes and crimes against humanity.etc. including political grievances only after the genocidal war which concluded in 2009. The United Nations and International community’s long arm of justice and accountability has finally reached rather reluctantly and slowly, which is always expected when the victims are from third world countries particularly in Asia and Africa with human values based on the economic and strategic interests of these countries.
The Tamils are however relieved to note the United Nations and Human Rights Council getting involved with both the parties of the conflict , Sri Lanka and Tamils. Vigilance and continued pressure on the International Community by the Tamils is a must, viewing the past deplorable conduct of Sri Lanka as far as its commitments, promises and undertakings given orally, co-sponsored or written and signed pacts.
The formation of Tamils People’s Council and the ‘Eluha Tamil’ rising on 24th September 2016 provoked the communal politicians and hard- core anti Tamil elements in the South including Buddhist monks who are supposed to follow , practice and preach the teachings of Lord Buddha., and have launched mud- slinging campaigns, hurling abuses and unjust baseless criticisms labelling the organizers, particularly the Chief Minister of Northern Province as a communalist, rabble rouser and racist promoting and feeding communalism in the South, the foundation of which was laid by none other than late S.W.R.D. Bandaranayakae in 1956 and later embraced and propped up by various Sinhalese politicians like late K.M.P Rajaratna, late Cyril Matthew, late C.H.Mettananda and top Buddhist clergies. According to their distorted thinking, Tamils call for justice is communalism while those who chose communal politics and caused the injustice to the Tamils are nationalists and patriots.
In this respect, it has to be stated that Honourable Wigneswaran’s [CM/NPC] role in this campaign is plain and simple. He acted as a friend, guide and philosopher being considered as the most fitting and suitable person to advance this campaign due to his past career as a Judge who seeks to right the wrongs and provide remedies. He only provided the right direction to the Tamils who were desperately looking for an aggressive leader to organize, unite and co-ordinate all those affected and left in lurch including others who wanted to join hands expressing their support and solidarity. The embers of racism and communalism are being fed by ultra-nationalists and hate mongers from South and the recent utterance of the leader of a political party calling on Tamils to go back to India or Tamil Nadu is nothing but a provoking statement of hatred adding fuel to the already fostered communalism in the South. The recent speech in United Nations by the President of Sri Lanka Rt. Hon. Sirisena stating “Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country” bares the hidden agenda of Buddhisisation of Sri Lanka and it will be fool hardy to keep silent without alerting the Tamils in the North-East to the ongoing process of cultural genocide. In response, this duty to awake the Tamils is now taken up by the Tamil Peoples Council and their members including Hon. Wigneswaran. His contribution along with many other leading Tamils have resulted in only slandering and vilifying Hon. Wigneswaran as a racist and communalist which is only a cowardly exercise hiding or refusing to acknowledge the realities of the sixty years old lingering issues and grievances of Tamils for which there are still no signs of any redress or political solution. The motive of South politicians and the stark truth is to keep the issues alive to reap political gains and mileage and to advance their political power base without any concern for reconciliation, national unity and peaceful co-existence, communal harmony, equality of rights and recognition of and upholding justice and accountability with respect for the rule of law.
Sri Lanka’s political leaders whether in Office or not, excel in dishing out promises to suit the occasion, place and people, including United Nations, Human Rights Council, Foreign diplomats and Heads of Government, not to mention their own undertakings in the United Nations. With a sordid history of breaches of promises, written agreements etc, to expect trust and confidence on Sri Lankan governments is nothing but unrealistic. If any of the past promises, pacts or undertakings have been implemented by Sri Lanka, one would not have come across persons like Hon. Wigneswaran to fight for justice and human rights. Lack of political will and statesmanship are the hallmarks of Sri Lankan leaders, while thriving on communal politics using Tamils as pawns and tools to climb the ladder of power which is the bane and tumbling block for Sri Lanka’s political, racial and religious harmony and progress towards a peaceful nation embracing and recognising multiracial, multi cultural and multi religious values and concepts.
In this respect, Tamil National Alliance shoulders heavy duties and responsibilities to fulfil and honour the trust and faith reposed on them by the Tamils who chose and elected them as the sole representatives of Tamils following Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam defeat in 2009. Seven years have passed since the war ended, and the promise of a political solution and not a military solution was given to the United Nations and International Community by Sri Lankan governments during the war and even after the war. These promises enabled the Sri Lankan government to decimate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with more than 100,000 killings of civilians while keeping the United Nations and others silent with Western powers even offering military and logistical assistance. Now all have been let down and writings are on the wall as to the nature of political settlement for the Tamils. It is clear that the proposed new constitution will strengthen the existing unitary government without a merger of North-East provinces. The proposal of Tamil National Alliance, Tamil Peoples’ Council and other Tamil parties calling to set up a Federal form of government has been flatly rejected by the Sri Lankan Prime Minister and the President with Buddhist Mahanayakas adding their opposition to it. As such, this solution is as good as dead. With Federalism ruled out, the Government is already indicating its wish to devolve some powers to the local councils to administer infrastructure powers.
The call for International Investigation will have a same doomed fate, making justice and accountability with impunity a mockery. The recent statement of President of Sri Lanka in the United Nations alleging that “displaced Tamil civilians are refusing to resettle due to extremist threats in the North” will not have any buyers. The truth is, the displaced want to resettle only in their own lands which are still in the hands of security forces. However, this statement reveals the Government’s stand as to ‘no reduction, no withdrawal of security forces, no return of lands and the permanent residence of the security forces in the North and East, thus enabling the subtle execution of Sinhalisation, Buddhisiation through and with the assistance of Security forces. Furthermore, a new political front is now opened by the defeated former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksha with his supporters clutching to racism and communalism, opposing a political settlement and using these slogans as a political route to bolster his political strength and power to shut out the doors of any judicial investigation in to the allegations of bribery and corruption under his rule besides war crimes etc.
Faced with these communal forces, bent on sustaining communal disharmony, hatred and racist propaganda, one cannot expect the traumatised Tamils to keep mum and allow the elimination of their race, culture, language, religion and identities which are in existance for more than 2500 years in Sri Lanka.
Blaming Tamils, Tamil National Alliance, Hon.Wigneswaran, Tamil Peoples Council or Eluga Tamil is neither the answer nor the solution to the past and immediate problems faced by the Tamils. Instead this is only adding fuel to the fire of racism and communalism set in motion from 1956.
It is also high time for Tamil National Alliance to not to place full trust and confidence on the Government, but to act without any delay and reservations by forging a united front with one voice, bringing all Tamil Leaders including Hon. Wigneswaran under one umbrella. The recent Eluha Tamil agitation and its success cannot be ignored or belittled by one unless they are deaf and blind to the realities.
A cautious optimism is welcome but only with pessimistic predictions. The argument by Tamil National Alliance and some hopeful politicians that ‘no one should take any counterproductive steps like misleading the Tamils or any actions to displease the present government’, does not hold good in any sense, as it is the past governments and present government who have faltered in their numerous promises and undertakings.
It is the government’s responsibility to reveal the political proposals before too late and engage the Tamils to work out a permanent and just political settlement. It is all the more important for United Nations or other third parties to act as guarantors to ensure implementation.
The door will open when you knock it and a grinding iron stone will move only after repeated blows. Keeping silence without loud cries will end up only in disastrous outcome.
In conclusion, it is hoped that the new constitution expected to contain provisions of panacea to the problems facing Sri Lanka will successfully cross over the hurdles of 2/3 majority in Parliament, possible legal challenges, opposing public and Buddhist monks agitation and the final big hurdle of referendum which is a double edged weapon which will either make the referendum a success for the southern politicians or disappointment for the Tamils.
It is the duty of the government to keep its citizens live happily and contended and not the victimised Tamils to keep the government happy and contended. In this respect, witch-hunting Hon. Wigneswaran is not only counter- productive but will also provide the impetus for a more vigorous and aggressive campaign. After all, this is not a personal struggle belonging to Hon. Wigneswaran but a struggle of the entire Tamils seeking justice which must be transformed into action with a united mass struggle. Learning the past lessons of history and guiding the Tamils is the need of the hour and not to follow a path of hope and complacency resulting in another repetition of history.
In this respect, it is apt to quote the view of Kenneth Rogoss – A Harvard University Professor on referendum:= “ To conclude any decision reached any time by majority rule is necessarily ‘Democratic’ is a perversion of the term. It is not democracy but a Russian roulette for Republics” as happened when former President of Sri Lanka late J. R. Jayawardena sabotaged the democratic process of public elections and exploited the referendum to extend his term of office for another six years in 1982.
Thambu Kanagasabai – LLB [Lond.]FCII – former Lecturer in Law – , University of Colombo, Sri Lanka