Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Super Duper Sri Lanka

Part 1

by Sanmuga Suntheram

The next issue Mr. Gunatilleke attempts to tackle with a rhetorical question is "Is it really an ethnic conflict?" In the pogroms of 1958, 1961, 1977 and 1983 all the killers were Sinhalese and all the victims were Tamils. When the government took over from the mob, all the areas bombed were Tamil areas and all the victims were Tamils. As one Tamil leader pointed out, if one wants to know the territory of Eelam just draw an imaginary line joining the outermost points bombed by the Sinhala government. In all these years of bombing, strafing and shelling by the government all the targets have been Tamils. And all the protagonists in the freedom struggle are Tamils and 100% of the soldiers are Sinhalese.

Mr. Bernard Gunatilleke, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the US gave a long speech to the US Foreign Service Institute on October 31, 2006. A friend emailed the text of the speech taken from Asia Tribune.com on November 1, 2006 but it has been lying on my chaotic desk, buried among the rest of the disorganized material until I discovered it a couple of days ago.

I do not recall anybody having responded to this performance by Mr Gunatilleke, which is described by Asian Tribune in effusive terms as having "hit a home run" when he described the ‘myth’ of the ‘traditional Tamil homeland concept.’ The Asian Tribune, which gloats over the "home run" on its behalf, should remember that Gunatilleke was performing unopposed and had the entire field for himself.

The cheerleader will do well to remind itself that those students of diplomacy,map which was the audience, are a discerning lot and would have known about Eritrea having separated from Ethiopia, taking away the entire coastline from the former ‘joint’ territory, also about what happened to the Czechoslavakia, about the former Yugoslavia territory, about East Timor and - certainly - about the creation of the state of Panama from Columbia by the US itself. They also know about how the US fought a ruinous war to keep Vietnam divided and how the Korean people are kept separate by stationing US troops. The students of diplomacy are already aware that in the politico-diplomatic arena "facts" are not the realities on the ground; they are custom-fabricated to suit the realpotik exigencies of the players.

Mr Gunatilleke starts his performance with a version of the "history" of the island and its people - the Sinhala leaders’ version, of course.

It is like the wolf’s history in the Aesop’s fable: A lamb is drinking downstream from a wolf when the wolf accused the lamb of polluting its water. When the lamb reasoned with the wolf that water flows downhill and thus he cannot pollute the wolf’s part upstream, the wolf said, "Never mind that; years ago your grandfather insulted my grandfather; that is good enough reason for me to kill you". And thus the wolf had the lamb for dinner.

Victors, the dishonest or the strong write history to suit their aims. Mr Gunatilleke says "Arrival of immigrants from North India was said to have taken place around 483 BC. Repeated invasions by South Indians beginning in 205 BC ------". If he is referring to a figure named Vijaya and the seven hundred criminals who, according to Sinhala mytho-history, were banished from a putative North Indian location, shipwrecked and given abode by the Dravidian inhabitants who were later duly murdered by the ungrateful alleged ancestors of the Sinhala race, then according to Mr Gunatilleke’s terminology, Vijaya and company simply arrived; but the South Indians, invaded! Does Mr. Gunatilleke not realize that it was literally a hop, step and a jump in ancient days, when the continental shelf met the island’s own and formed a landbridge, to get to the island from the south of India? Naturally the people from there would have occupied such a lush and convenient island long before the Vijaya’s brigands came from far away Northern India! In his breezily rush through his version of history, Mr. Gunatilleke fails to mention a single word about the long-standing Tamil Kingdoms in the NorthEast of the island, which were attacked and conquered by the Europeans and now are occupied by the Sinhalese. A Freudian slip, perhaps.

Democracy?

"You know that Sri Lanka is a democracy", Mr Gunatilleke says flatly. Of course, we know better and to the contrary. Without being too semantic about it, an island cannot be a democracy; it is the totality of governance that constitutes a democracy. A place where every institution is in shambles, a government which by every known measure is a failure, cannot be a democracy simply by decree or pius assertion alone. Is it not a shame that, despite the fact universal adult franchise was introduced in 1931 by the British when the island was still a colony, as Mr Gunatilleke points out proudly as a first in Asia, the island is now in such a bad shape?

Indeed, one of the first legislative acts of a free Sinhala dominated government of Ceylon, as the island was known at the time the British relinquished it to the natives, was to disenfranchise all the estate workers of Tamil origin! What the British giveth, the Sinhalese taketh away! So much for Mr Gunatilleke’s boast about the island having been the first with universal adult franchise in Asia.

Mr. Gunatilleke also says "Despite the passage of time, we have been able to nourish democracy and hold periodic multi-party elections at local government and national levels." Is it not ironic that he uses the phrase "despite the passage of time" as if he assumes that with the passage of time the practice of democracy deteriorates rather than improves? Is it a premonition that is confirmed by the denial?

In fact, for every year the Sinhalese have been in power, there has been a marked quantum diminution in the quality of democracy and, except in form (even that only in some areas of governance) democracy there is an evanacent phenomenon. Yes, elections are held, many are killed in the process and many more injured, voting frauds are commonplace, elected members have no fidelity to principles on the basis of which they are presumably elected, and play musical chairs among parties after elections; but invariably, Sinhalese are elected only on the basis of the promise of deprivation of rights of Tamils that they make at the hustings. Like the religion the Sinhalese practice, which they insist on calling, contrary to facts, Buddhism, this is the Sinhala concept of "democracy."

Of course, democracy takes different forms in different countries but when the fundamental requirements such as freedom, fairness, justice, rule of law, are absent - glaringly so as regards the treatment of Tamil population - then it behooves on Mr Gunatilleke to call his country at best, a pseudo democracy and not attempt to grandstand. Also, since democracy in the island is a myth, the man vaunted by the Asian Tribune as the destroyer of myths is, to the contrary, proclaiming another myth (the myth of democracy), but the main myth is the one Sinhalese live and swear by - the Mahavamsa, the myth with a motive; a myth that lives on.

Social capital

Next, Mr Gunatilleke talks about Human Development in the island. The glory of it! The shining example to the world! Go, tell the world, Mr Gunatilleke, the truth that

  • the Tamil area is a vast refugee camp cum open prison, the only access to the North and the road to Vahari in the East blocked off, and the people in the North surviving on food supplied by India and those in Vahari on the point of death due to starvation.
  • Crime and lawlessness are rampant, disappearances and murders almost like Bagdad’s.
  • He is waxing praise on the educational system but does not mention the many schools bombed out in Tamil areas nor those shut out to the students because the area where the schools are have been arbitrarily appropriated for the so called High Security Zone. No questions asked; no remedy provided.
  • He also talks about "level playing field" (is it the leveling of Tamil schools?) palpably only for the Sinhalese but the hundreds of thousands of Tamil children who are in refugee camps, which are periodically shelled and bombed, have had their schools destroyed, are under nourished if they can get any food at all with the government’s blockade, have been shut out of the "playing field" he is talking about.
  • The question of unemployment, which Mr Gunatilleke thinks is the defect of the virtue of education, not bad government, is presumably irrelevant to the Tamil children because they cannot get an education in the first place!

In this regard the following statistics starkly illustrate the Apartheid of the Sri Lankan regime towards the Tamils.

Tamil speakers by population 26%

Tamil speakers in the public service (400,000) 8.3%

Police Force Total 36,031

Tamils 231

Muslims 246

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Wellawatte area (in the capital, Columbo) total population 29,302

Of which Tamil population 21,417

Police force total 156

Tamil speaking 6

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Armed Forces almost completely Sinhala

(From Hindustan Times 2/12/06)

As far as health services are concerned, the government’s blockade makes the Tamil area hospitals almost defunct. To the Sinhala government of Mr Gunatilleke the unspoken aim is to depopulate the Tamil area by multiple means and deprivation of medical facilities is an egregiously efficient method.

Economy

"Robust Economy" is the next boast of Mr Gunatilleke. When the British left the island, it was the envy of even countries like Singapore and Malaysia both for its general prosperity and the level of education. Look at the island now! Mr. Gunatilleke did not mention that Sri Lanka is considered a "basket case" and almost all its foreign exchange is "earned" by women - thousands of "maids" working under abusive conditions in the Middle East and by the Tamil women-tea-pluckers living and working under appalling circumstances for just over a dollar a day! He does not mention the generous aid given by international consortiums which keeps the country "solvent."

Mr Gunatilleke starts his encomium of the island’s "robust economy" with the line "considering that Sri Lanka has been a victim of a vicious separatist armed conflict for almost 30 years—". What about the unchecked pogroms of the Tamils by the Sinhalese in 1958, 1971, 1977 and the mother of all, in 1983? Victimizing Tamils was good for the economy? Or the JVP (which is now the soul brother of Mahinda) uprising? Maybe it is the war-economy with many billionaires in uniform that constitutes the illusion of robustness?

In violation of the cease fire agreement with the LTTE, the government has since 2005 aggressed a large extent of LTTE-held areas which, according to Mr Gunatilleke’s perverse interpretation, is a stepping up of conflict by LTTE. I am at a loss for words to describe this mindset other than to say it is totally disingenuous. The peace process was a stalking horse for the government to procure billions of US dollars in arms and to strengthen its armed forces, while the Tamils were lulled into a state of expectation of peace.

Even when Mr Gunatilleke discourses under what he calls "Policies that went wrong" - raising anticipations of fair treatment of some aspects of the Sinhala governance over the more than fifty years of continuous selective deprivation of Tamil peoples’ rights - he cannot transcend the Sinhala leaders’ mentality. Observe what he says: "The language policy of the 1950's and the university admission policy in the 1970's were some measures taken by former administrations to address historic injustices faced by the Sinhala community under colonial rule-----". This is pure extreme right-wing Sinhala nationalist Shibboleth! Treating Sinhala speakers and Tamil speakers by the colonial government equal under the law was a historic injustice? Did the Tamils commit an injustice to the Sinhalese by getting an education? Does a historic nation seeking to use its language to deal with the government in a supposedly free, multi-ethnic country, where it has been an equal hitherto, constitute an injustice to the Sinhalese? By construction, is taking away their right‘justice’ according to the Sinhala?

Does not this accusation of "historic injustice" sound exactly like what the wolf said to the lamb in the parable mentioned earlier in this article?

Educational priviledge

Using the same device, Mr Gunatilleke says "------the Tamil community who had hitherto enjoyed privileges especially in the field of education and employment----". This mode of thinking and acting, which was once called communalism (and is now called racism), is typical of the Sinhala leadership. Is laboring at your books and succeeding in examinations a privilege? Did Tamils as a nation by acts of commission do anything to prevent the Sinhala nation from having the same "privileges"?

There were great Tamil men of learning and wisdom such as Sir P. Ramanathan, Sir P. Arunachchalam, Dr. Ananada Coomaraswamy and Sir Muttucoomaraswamy who benefitted the Sinhala community as much as the Tamils. Sir P. Ramanathan braved the German submarines to travel to London during World War I to plead the case at the Privy Council of the imprisoned Sinhala leaders and secured their release. Sir Muttucoomaraswamy translated the Buddhist scriptures from Pali to English and was instrumental in establishing the Colombo museum. Ananda Coomaraswamy’s scholarly service to Sinhala culture was immense. But look at those with Tamil names who are/were truly privileged - Luxman Kadiragama, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Neelan Thiruchelvam and Loganathan. They all went to prestigious schools, scions of relatively wealthy families and is Mr Gunatilleke or are his nationalist irrationalists complaining about their part in taking away Sinhala rights? Or take the case of "Douglas Devananda, who is privileged by the Sinhala government to kill Tamils at his "pleasure"!

Politics

The adoption of the republican constitutions in 1972 and then another version in 1978 were done not because, as Mr Gunatilleke is claiming without candor, "Sri Lanka too wished to be separated from the umbilical cord that connected the country with its colonial master" but, in truth, specifically to do away with the provisions, too few in any case, protecting the minorities enshrined in the constitution bequeathed by the British which the Tamil nation considered already majoritarian.

Will Mr Gunatilleke gracefully concede the fact that Tamil nation too wish to be separated from a truly heartless and barbarous "colonial" master, the Sinhala ethnocracy, and that that eventuality is eminently desirable? A word about he "umbilical cord". GOSL is like an irresponsible child that wants to live by its own rules of conduct, but still depends on a remittance from parents by Western Union! The "umbilical cord" is in reality replaced by a "lifeline" of periodic subvention aid by foreign governments.

Mr Gunatilleke is also lamenting the difficulty, according to the constitution, of any political party securing a 2/3 majority in parliament, ostensibly, in order to help the non-Sinhalese. If these leaders can collectively and individually do so much harm to the relationship between the people with a constitution that does make a 2/3 majority infeasible, it does not need much imagination to foresee what dire consequences will be in store if a 2/3 majority is indeed secured by a Sinhala party.

"The party which is in the opposition----as a rule of thumb opposed whatever that was proposed by the ruling party". This is described as a "shortcoming" by Mr Gunatilleke, without saying what of; certainly not just of the constitution which admittedly is deeply flawed. This "shortcoming" is much deeper. It is a flaw in the character of the Sinhala, in that they do not have the democratic temperament. The only raison d’etre for any "political" process is, in the view of the Sinhalese leaders’, to liquidate the Tamils. This "shortcoming" will not change for a thousand years. It is more a "longcoming"!

Is this an ethnic conflict?

The next issue Mr. Gunatilleke attempts to tackle with a rhetorical question is "Is it really an ethnic conflict?" In the pogroms of 1958, 1961, 1977 and 1983 all the killers were Sinhalese and all the victims were Tamils. When the government took over from the mob, all the areas bombed were Tamil areas and all the victims were Tamils. As one Tamil leader pointed out, if one wants to know the territory of Eelam just draw an imaginary line joining the outermost points bombed by the Sinhala government. In all these years of bombing, strafing and shelling by the government all the targets have been Tamils. And all the protagonists in the freedom struggle are Tamils and 100% of the soldiers are Sinhalese.

Now, does one see a clear picture emerging? Yes, it is that the Sinhala government is waging an ethnicidal war against the Tamil nation. Mr Gunatilleke contends that there is no religious conflict between the Hindu Tamils and the Buddhist Sinhalese, but let me point out here that more than 150 Hindu temples have either been destroyed or damaged and that Buddhism had been accorded a status close to state religion in the constitution the ramification of which are still evolving. Buddhist bikkus are in the forefront of anti-Tamil agitation and are in close connivance with the army and the extreme Sinhala nationalists.

Buddhists have politicized their religion to the extreme and incredibly, the bikkus have a political party of their own with representation in the legislature and the main platform of the party is (no prize for guessing!) Anti-Tamilism. Buddhists have been responsible for burning down many churches in Sinhala areas and bombing churches in Tamil areas. (Tamils have acted with extreme forbearance not to target any pure religious place of worship. Dala da Maligawa, which had been the venue of victory celebration by the Sinhalese army, was once damaged by the Tamils soon after the celebrations.)

However, for the Tamils the conflict is not a religious issue, but for the Sinhalese everything that is of value to the Tamils is a target for destruction, including religious institutions.

One of first acts of violence by the Sinhala army in the Tamil cultural capital Jaffna was to burn down the main library and its irreplaceable Tamil manuscripts. A Tamil language conference was totally disrupted and nine participants were killed at about the same period. Hence, it is easy to see that the Sinhalese and the Sinhala army have been waging a war, very brutal, against the ethnic Tamils. In the 1958 pogrom by the Sinhalese, a large number of up country Tamils (Mr Gunatilleke calls them Tamils of Indian origin, just like the Sinhalese; but "the other" Tamils admittedly, therefore, are the autochthon of the island) were driven into a sugar cane plantation which was set on fire and as the hapless people ran for their life out of an opening, the Sinhalese waited there with their machetes and chopped them up to their hearts’ content! It is true that unlike the Tamils of NorthEast, who were in the forefront of freedom struggle against the British and now are in a life or death against the brutal neo-colonialist Sinhalese, the up country Tamils are for reasons other than a lack of identification with the Tamil struggle, not overtly involved in the current conflict. But the undercurrents and potential are there.

It is at least not ‘politically correct’ to refer to the upcountry Tamils, "Indian Tamils" and to state, though it is politically expedient for the Sinhalese, that they "are a distinct group from the Sri Lankan Tamils-----." The Kandyan Sinhalese by origin (the last king of Kandy was a South Indian and the ancestor of Mr Bandaranaike was a Kandyan Tamil named Neelaperumal), habitation and the history of political division are equally distinct from the low country Sinhalese. The Sinhalese-speaking group in Negombo are similarly distinct from the rest of the Sinhalese. The Ambalangoda-Balapitiya Sinhalese were Tamils until recent times. Mr Gunatilleke would not have the heart to call them "distinct".

During Mr Clinton’s presidency there was a popular slogan - "It is the economy stupid". While having bankrupted the economy of the Tamil areas by bombardment, appropriation of valuable cultivable land, making industries defunct, driving away entrepreneurs, destruction of infrastructure, imposing stringent economic blockades and emergency regulations at will, Mr Gunatilleke and his government want the world to believe that the Tamils of the NorthEast have sought to live in Sinhala areas for the love of the Sinhalese or simply because they were running away from the LTTE.

The lopsided economy of the island, historically, was concentrated from colonial times in Colombo, the capital of the British Raj. It was an unforgivable act by the British who, by making Colombo the administrative center for both the Tamil nation and the Sinhala nation, in one stroke not only dissolved our distinctive ethnic symbol of our past glory that was the remnant of our kingdoms, but also reduced us to "immigrant" workers by subsuming our capital under Colombo. Though Colombo was intended to be the capital of all the peoples of Ceylo,n the Sinhalese always had the natural advantage by its geographical propinquity. The Sinhala nationalist (Is Mr Gunatilleke one of them?), forgetting the historic iniquity of the British making the Tamils trudge 200+ miles to come to their stolen and now merged capital, resent not only our fair share in the capital but have considered it their casus belli that the Tamils found employment there. They forget that the least that the British could do for us for the dastardly act of diminishing our politico-geographic distinctiveness was to have given us a fair opportunity elsewhere.

A very important reason, which is a shocking reality that the GOSL does not want the world to know, is that the Sinhala areas, unlike the regular bombardment by the Sinhala armed forces of Tamil areas, are safe from bombs and shells and are reasonably economically prosperous. (Many Iraqis have immigrated to the US and UK since the war because of the devastation caused by the two countries, not because of a kindred feeling towards them).

Therefore it is clear, looking from every argument, that the conflict is ethnic and quite certainly so, existentially. Ask the hundreds of thousand of refugees displaced by Sinhala bombers; ask the 40,000 Sinhala soldiers in the Jaffna peninsula alone, who constitute a constant nightmare for the 100% Tamil civilians.

Even if one pretends (as Mr Gunatilleke does) to ignorance all of the above facts in denying that the conflict is an ethnic one, there is one glaring example of the heartlessness and inhumanity of the Sinhala government towards the Tamils. Most prominent is the response of the government to the terrible devastation caused by the recent Tsunami. Nearly 2/3 of the loss of lives, destruction of homes and property and other losses happened to Tamils in their areas. Yet almost the entire aid given by international agencies was spent by the GOSL in areas benefitting the Sinhalese. Whatever little help the Tamil victims got was given by voluntary organizations despite great obstacles placed on them by the government.

The cruelest cut of all was when seventeen Tamils working for a French aid agency were murdered quite evidently by government soldiers in a strictly controlled area by the government armed forces. Also, recently the government froze the bank balances of the premier Tamil aid agency already licensed and approved by the government. To cope with all this, in the governments crudest and most blatant act to keep its atrocities away from the eyes of the caring international community, Mr Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the UN and Mr Bill Clinton, then Special UN Representative for Tsunami Rehabilitation were expressly denied request to freely visit Tamil areas affected by the tsunami!

It is clear that the campaign by the Sinhala government against the Tamils is comprehensive, pitiless, long standing and enduring. It is simplistic to say that because not all the Sinhalese are out to kill all the Tamils that it is not an ethnic conflict. But is certainly true that all the areas bombed are Tamil areas, all the Tamil refugees are generated by Sinhala action and the armed forces are almost 100% Sinhalese. Therefore, contrary to what Mr Gunatilleke propagandized, the Sinhala government is conducting a terroristic, brutal ethnic war against the Tamils, while the LTTE is engaged in a freedom struggle against an unscrupulous enemy and its occupation forces.

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