Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Remember the TULF's 1977 Manifesto?

It was titled: ‘One Question: Freedom or Servitude?’

by J.T. Janani, Tamil Guardian, March 12, 2008

At present, almost all members of the TNA live under a standing death threat. And for only one reason: their party’s unswerving support for Tamil self-determination and freedom, in continuation of a now decades long long political tradition of upholding the democratic mandate of the Tamil people for the separate sovereign state of Eelam...

Whatever the international community’s analysts may assert, this has been the core political question for the Tamil electorate for the last thirty years. That is why they ever elect representatives – to deliver them from Sinhala domination...

Note how the leading members of the international community first refuse to speak to the militants (denouncing them as terrorists who are not worth listening to) and then also refuse to listen to those elected representatives who articulate our unpalatable demand of Eelam?

Since the early seventies there has only been one issue at the core of the Tamil people’s politics: freedom from Sinhala domination and state repression. And the only reason Tamil MPs are in Sri Lanka’s Sinhala dominated parliament is to protest against this domination and repression.

Remember the TULF's 1977 Manifesto? Tamil Guardian March 12 2008
Sinhala lion knifes TNA while world looks on

And that is why they regularly die at the hands of state-backed assassins. That is also why the international community, which remains strong military and economic backers of the Sinhala state remain silent.

The European Union, for example, is Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner and continues to grant it favourable trade status. The United States has continued to provide military assistance to Sri Lanka which is considered part of the pro-US alliance dominating the waters of the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile India’s aid contributions to Sri Lanka have also grown, to nearly $500 million this year: India is building a coal-fired power plant and Indian companies have been invited to build technology parks and invest in telecommunications.

In the pursuit of their geopolitical and commercial interests, the international community will readily sacrifice the interests of the Tamils.

Which is why the state-backed murders of so many Tamil nationalist parliamentarians draws silence or at best a condemnatory press note. There isn’t the slightest possibility of international action.

The assassination last week of yet another Tamil National Alliance MP by Sri Lanka Army commandos, serves to remind us, yet again, that there is no purpose appealing to the goodwill of the international community.

Incidentally, this was not the first time Mr Sivanesan had been targeted by the Sri Lankan government. And he is, of course, not the only parliamentarian who spoke out for his people to pay with his life.

Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead in church at Christmas Mass in 2005 and his replacement candidate V. Vigneswaran was shot dead with days of being announced in 2006; in early 2005, former TNA MP and member of the North East Secretariat of Human Rights (NESOHR) Chandra Nehru was killed, in late 2006 TNA MP N. Raviraj was killed in the heart of Colombo.

Even before them, Kumar Ponnambalam, leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) – now a constituent of the TNA – was assassinated in 2000.

Quite apart from the MPs, so many Tamil party workers, candidates and supporters have been targeted and killed with impunity by the security forces or allied paramilitaries.

Then there are the abductions of and death threats to the relatives of MPs during crucial parliamentary votes, assaults on the parliamentarians and their staff and the numerous other abuses. In all these the hand of the state is barely disguised.

At present, almost all members of the TNA live under a standing death threat. And for only one reason: their party’s unswerving support for Tamil self-determination and freedom, in continuation of a now decades long long political tradition of upholding the democratic mandate of the Tamil people for the separate sovereign state of Eelam.

Because India, Japan and the Western democracies believe their economic and commercial interests will not be well served by a free Tamil Eelam, they maintain a stoic silence over the murders of pro-Eelam Tamil members of parliament.

The Tamil people should be under no illusion that the silence of the international community is tacit approval. Yes, occasionally there are condemnations and demands for ‘investigations’, or an ‘end to the climate of impunity’, etc.

These are all for show. To be precise they are show for us, the Tamils. That they give a damn, that they sympathise with us. A day later, it’s business as usual. And I mean business.

Since the island’s formal independence from Britain, every Tamil political party has protested the disastrous political structure that the Colonials left behind for us. There have been Tamil boycotts of Sri Lankan elections since as far back as the 1950s.

But perhaps the clearest mission statement was first made in 1975 by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). After winning by-elections in February that year, he said:

"I wish to announce to my people and to the country that I consider the verdict at this election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free."

In the following general elections of 1977, the election manifesto of the main Tamil political party, the Tamil United Liberation Front began simply: “One Question: Freedom or Servitude?”

Whatever the international community’s analysts may assert, this has been the core political question for the Tamil electorate for the last thirty years. That is why they ever elect representatives – to deliver them from Sinhala domination.

The question for the Tamils is not which group of Sinhalese should rule over them, but that of their political freedom.

When western governments protested the Tamil boycott of the last presidential elections, they missed the point entirely, blinded as they were by the interests they had vested in the other Sinhala nationalist in the race, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Sri Lanka’s elections ultimately have no relevance in themselves to the Tamil people because their elected representatives cannot, in any case, give voice to their aspirations as Chelvanayagam and the aptly named TULF could in the seventies.

The 1977 election manifesto of the main Tamil political party, the Tamil United Liberation Front had this to say in conclusion on the single question of freedom or servitude:

“[In] conclusion, The Tamil Nation is at a turning point in its history. The unity we have achieved has made the Sinhalese imperialists take a fresh look at the situation. In this background, as a first step towards the realisation of the freedom of the Nation, the unanimous verdict of the Tamil-speaking people is indispensable. Hence we appeal to you to set aside your passions for, or prejudices against, individual candidates, to forget differences of region, caste or religion and, with the one and the only determination of making the Tamil Nation master of its Destiny.

“VOTE For the Tamil United Liberation Front; For the emancipation of the Tamil Nation; For the Freedom of Tamil Eelam”

And how the Tamil people voted! The flocked to the TULF, delivering an endorsement of Tamil Eelam that echoes to this day.

And for that vote they paid in blood. Amid ensuing anti Tamil riots, The Times of London carried a statement by prominent British political figures warning: “a tragedy is taking place in Sri Lanka: the political conflict following upon the recent elections is turning into a racial massacre.”

The murder of Tamil democracy had begun.

Servitude or Freedom? The systematically organised and, hence, genocidal anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983 was the most determined attempt by the Sinhala leadership to intimidate the Tamil people into abandoning their goal of Eelam.

When that failed, just one month after the Black July pogrom, the government of President J.R. Jayawardene (the uncle, incidentally, of present UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe) enacted the Sixth Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution; it made illegal by severe penalty even advocacy for an independent state.

The hapless TULF was forced to resign from Parliament rather than repudiate their election manifesto. As one report at the time put it:

“The 6th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution, compelled the TULF to forfeit its seats in Parliament - compelled, because a party which had won its seats by declaring that there was no alternative but 'to proclaim with the stamp of finality and fortitude that we alone shall rule over our land our forefathers ruled', could not have clung to its Parliamentary seats by taking an oath against the division of the country, without losing all credibility.”

But even this failed to silence the Tamils’ sentiments: the militants emerged to take the goal forward, not by the futile Parliamentary politics that had failed for four decades, but rather, to liberate the Tamil homeland and people by armed struggle.

As a reminder here, the demand for Eelam was not because the Tamils thought they were a jolly fine lot. Rather, it was because the Sinhalese and their leaders, through the state, threatened them politically, economically, demographically, and ultimately, physically.

And when the chance returned to electorally give vent to their sentiments, the Tamils demanded an end to Sinhala domination yet again: in 2001 and 2004, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) emerged to once again articulate the core principles of the Tamil people: nation, homeland, self-determination.

Lest there be any doubt as to what the Tamils voted enmasse for, here are the words of the TNA’s manifesto:

“Accepting LTTE's leadership as the national leadership of the Tamil Eelam Tamils and the Liberation Tigers as the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamil people, let us devote our full cooperation for the ideals of the Liberation Tigers' struggle with honesty and steadfastness

“Let us endeavor determinedly, collectively as one group, one nation, one country, transcending race and religious differences, under the leadership of the LTTE for a life of liberty, honor and justice for the Tamil people.

“We emphasize that if the Tamil nation's requests are continued to be rejected, rightful political solution denied and armed aggression and oppressive rule return, based on the doctrine of self-determination, it is an inevitable reality that Tamil sovereignty and independence will be established in the Tamil homeland.

“We implore our people to identify the selfish, opportunistic packs and gangs that operate in our midst as the enemies and as the tools of the majoritarian chauvinist Sinhala forces against the Tamil nation which seeks an honorable and peaceful life and reject them totally and completely in the upcoming elections.

“Let us work side by side with the LTTE, who are fighting for the protection and autonomous life of the Tamil speaking people, for the political initiatives under their leadership.

“We are sending a clarion call to the Tamil speaking people to unite under one flag and give overwhelming support to the TNA which is contesting (the elections) under the ILANKAI TAMIL ARASU KATCHI'S symbol of house, so as to emphasize the aims of the people of the Tamil Nation, to proclaim again the political resolve of our people, to strengthen further the Tamil nation and to win the political rights of the Tamil speaking people.”

And, temporarily freed under the Norwegian peace process, from the intimidation of the Sinhala state, once again the Tamil people voted in droves, delivering 22 TNA MPs to Parliament.

And for this resounding vote every representative of the TNA lives under a standing death threat from the Sinhala state.

What of the international community to whom the Tamil people endorsed these brave individuals to speak on their behalf?

Note how the leading members of the international community first refuse to speak to the militants (denouncing them as terrorists who are not worth listening to) and then also refuse to listen to those elected representatives who articulate our unpalatable demand of Eelam?

We and our freedom struggle is constantly lectured to. We are told our violent resistance will not do- though it is quite all right for the state to use violence against us!

They denounce the LTTE and our elected representatives who stand by are collective demand of Tamil Eelam as ‘extremists’.

Then they hail the Sri Lankan state – which has never punished a single person for political violence against the Tamils – as a ‘vibrant democracy’

At one stage they were telling us that denouncing the state was not the best way; apparently, to quote senior US official, Nicholas Burns, international actors would prefer to ‘have a chat among friends’ on the subject of human rights and law, rather than outright condemnation.

The Western Democracies, Britain included, tell us, laughably, that they support the unitary state of Sri Lanka because they support ‘democracy’.

Well, supporting ‘democracy’ when it suits your political interests and ignoring the murder of elected Tamil leaders when it does not, is not quite democracy.

Accepting the result when the people vote in ways that are favourable to your commercial and political interests but rejecting or ignoring the outcome when they do not is not democracy either.

The Western democracies tell us, in an astonishing piece of circular logic that the Tamils do not have an acceptable leadership and this is an impediment to our political aspirations. In other words, the international community will ignore our chosen leaders for ones they prefer; ignore our political demands and instead seek to implement ones they prefer; ignore our stated grievances and take up the ones they think we ‘really’ have with the state.

Is it any wonder, this conflict has proven impossible to ‘resolve’?

By their acquiescent silence when Tamil MPs who articulate the Eelam demand are killed, these governments are cynical accomplices to murder.

By their continuing refusal to acknowledge the Tamil people’s standing mandate for the free state of Tamil Eelam, these governments are also cynical accomplices to the murder of democracy.

The Tamil people have a long history of participating in elections. But it is no wonder we have got nowhere. It is therefore time for us to recognise what the international community really means by ‘democracy’. Because the question we face as a nation under oppression is still the same: Freedom or Servitude?