I wanted to write a quick post as a corollary to the recent exchanges between Guru and Dayan in Colombo telegraph. I was glad to read that exchange. I was also very happy to see Justice Wigneswaran’s speech. Hopefully more and more discussions will follow on the nature of Sri Lakan state. I had been arguing that the Sri Lankan state has been inherently racist and violent from its very inception. And nothing sort of a full transformation of the state is the ONLY way to bring lasting peace to the island. Unfortunately, there are very few voices in the south that acknowledge this let alone willing to dialog about this. Sinhala civil society’s focus just on law and order and good governance avoids fixing the problem.
How can there be good governance of a bad state?
Few points to ponder
1) Once their “permanent and unassailable majority” is enshrined into a unitary constitution, the very constitution that requires a majority of that “permanent and unassailable” ethnic majority to amend, It is easy to preach the path of incrementalism: Sitting pretty and fully aware that
- The game is rigged in your favor.
- The non existent political space of Tamils can never lead to a challenge of that system.
2) There has been no answer forthcoming from the Sri Lankan leaders to Guru’s earlier question. Why is there even a debate about the implementation of 13th Amendment? something that has been part of the constitution since 1987. A pathetic debate about partial or full implementation of a constitution selectively to Tamils. Tamils are now forced to reduce themselves to this kind of Sri Lankan political bankruptcy. Having to fight for something that is constitutional without even acknowledging this duplicity.
3) A new qualifier has been added by the Sri Lankan leaders. The defeated Tamils have to earn the trust of the Sinhalese for Tamils to be eligible for constitutional rights.
4) By denying the constitutional right, Sri Lankan leaders accept that there is no political space for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Then they taunt Tamils with the 13 amendment as a potential starting point for a future political space. Coupled with that taunt is a threat. If you are not willing to operate in the space that we choose to give you, then you won’t have any space at all.
5) Can one cite a Sri Lankan initiative since 1921 that showed the state is accountable to ALL of its people? Show that Sri Lankan state is capable of accommodating even the principles of incrementalism. Had that been the case, Sri Lankan state would have taken steps, on its own, without outside pressure, to acknowledge the need for a political space for the Tamils. Had it been serious of reform, Douglas Devananda ( The darling of Dayan) would have delivered something to the Tamils. Had it been genuine, Tamils who chose to work with and within the Sri Lankan state would have been celebrated as leaders by the Tamils.
Sri Lankan leaders continue to work, since 1921, to take away every aspect of political and economic independence of Tamil people by any and every means. When legislative and judicial means of suppression does not work fast enough, the Sri Lankan state resorts to violence and intimidation. Dayan’s writings only highlight the continuation of this mindset. The dismissive attitude he shows towards the Tamil leaders and framing the Tamil struggle either as brinkmanship or as irresponsible is double speak. Somehow he thinks the Sinhala leaders should listen to the collective will of the Sinhala Buddhists but the Tamil leaders should ignore their people’s collective will and surrender to the Majoritarian mindset.
Only as an illustration of the principal ( Tamil issue in Sri Lanka is not a minority rights issue as Sri Lankan leaders want us to accept), United States chose to make a political space for Rev. Martin Luther King so that Malcom-X will not create one on his own. Sri Lankan state and its people have never shown that foresight.
Tamil struggle has gone through different phases: Political representation, non-violence protest, and violent self defense. Throughout all this one constant is the Sri Lankan state’s ethnic majoritarian mindset.
Tamils now have a new component that did not exist til the 80’s. The Diaspora. The political space denied to their brethen is avilable to them. A new breed of young people are starting to test the limits of legislative and legal limits of their countries to bring accoutability in Sri Lanka. A more socially conscious and globally connected young generation is emerging in Tamil Nadu. Living outside the reach of the violent Sri Lankan state, they both are free to take up the cause. Tamils of Eelam have had a very proud history of dissent and creating pockets of resistance. Now, that resistance is transnational. The very imagined Srilankan fear of besiegement has now actually giving life to a pan Tamil colloboration.
Confident in their military victory, people like Dayan can continue to dismiss it. The cost to defend the forced assimilation and annihilation of Tamils in Sri Lanka will be very high to the state. But then again, as Dayan has argued, the Sinhala people are willing to pay it to protect the Unitary, Sinhala, Buddhist State.
What does that, then, tell the Tamils?