Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Internal Colonialism and Its Possible Link to the Second Phase of the Armed Struggle

by Theivigan, June 13, 2009

Sri Lanka is unique in that it further refined and fine-tuned the unitary system that it inherited from the British in 1948 and made it utterly inflexible.

Therefore this state as defined in the 1978 constitution has very strong, inbuilt structural compulsions to repress or subsume any non-Sinhala claim to an equitable share of the island’s wealth and resources...

The point everyone seems to miss is that structurally the Sri Lankan state is not capable of any other course of action to deal with a legitimate challenge to Sinhala Buddhist monopoly of state power and the country’s wealth. It is not a question of the personality of a Sinhala political leader or the specific political configuration within which he/she has to operate. It is a systemic problem.”

The Sri Lankan government celebrates its marvelous victory against the LTTE, all the while making efforts to convince the international community that it is going to integrate the Tamils as equal citizens of the country, giving them everything they deserve, having just massacred 32,000 of their population in the last five months.

 

Drawing from TYO Australia, June 2009

 

The Tamils themselves don’t express any hope or concern about the government’s repetitive post–war mercy statements. All they want is a breath now, after unceasing war for the last 33 years. The government believes – or presents – the silence of Tamils at the moment as a recognition and validation given by them to all the government’s activities.

Quite apart from the government’s sudden ability to mind read, official government statements and promises have been well publicized and lobbied around the world that the Singhalese government will give and meet the rights and aspirations of Tamils under the unitary state.

Does Sri Lanka’s current governing structure or the racist mindset ingrained in the bureacracy have the capability to give a meaningful solution to the Tamil’s ethnic question?

Six years ago, the now-slain journalist T. Sivaram forecast well and analysed the situation and the system of Sri Lanka, summing up its incapability on this matter.

He pointed out the ground reality concerning Sri Lanka:

“Today, the true nature of the inflexibly unitary Sinhala Buddhist state stands stripped of its immensely obfuscating layers of liberal democratic legalese and euphemisms. The hitherto deceptive fangs of its constitutional intransigence are coming into sharper focus.

The problem is something that cannot be boiled down to the politics of any Sinhala political leader.

It arises from the fact that Sri Lanka’s constitution is an expression of the Sinhala Buddhist elite’s desire to completely monopolise the bases of state power.

Here one should briefly look at the real nature of the modern nation state.

The state is one of the most enduring social organisations in human history. Most pre-modern types of states have been founded upon varying degrees of a group’s military and financial hegemony over subordinate or affiliated centres of political and coercive power.

But the modern nation state, which arose in Western Europe in the 16th-18th centuries, is predicated on the hegemonic group’s ability to establish monopolies on taxation (extortion), organised violence and adjudication over a defined territory.

Nation states such as England, which tried to expand these monopolies by force to peoples who had their own historical uniqueness, defined and shaped within indigenous, traditional centres of political, financial, military and adjudicative power, became unitary states.

The British model of the unitary state was therefore essentially shaped by the compulsions of inevitably repressive internal colonialism.

The British unitary state arose on the subjection by military force of the Scots, Welsh and the Irish.

However, the ideology of liberal democracy was upheld and propagated so effectively by the British the world over that few could see through to identify the essentially repressive and culturally assimilative nature of the unitary state of the United Kingdom.

Sri Lanka is unique in that it further refined and fine-tuned the unitary system that it inherited from the British in 1948 and made it utterly inflexible.

Therefore this state as defined in the 1978 constitution has very strong, inbuilt structural compulsions to repress or subsume any non-Sinhala claim to an equitable share of the island’s wealth and resources. Only those non-Singhalese who do not or cannot demand a legitimate share of the national wealth, territory, political power proportionate to their social strength would find their accommodation within this type of unitary state unchallenged.

The abject condition of the hill country Tamils and the plight of Muslim political leadership illustrate this well.

Therefore the Sri Lankan state, unless it is radically restructured and shorn of all aspects of its unitary character, can and will function among non-Singhalese only through assimilation, repressive internal colonialism and other covert or open means of non-consensual rule.

The concept of the Sri Lankan state being the sole birthright of the Sinhala Buddhists was sustainable politically as long as the so-called moderate Tamil leaders were contained with negotiations and deceptive concessions.

It is inevitable that as long as the Sri Lankan state remains inflexibly unitary – the undisputable monopoly of the Sinhala Buddhist polity – it would be driven inexorably to deny Tamils their rightful share through all possible means. It wouldn’t therefore be deterred by military defeat.

The inability to succeed with coercive internal colonialism will only impel the Sri Lankan unitary state to seek other means to achieve its goal of stabilising and perpetuating itself.

Premier Wickremesinghe’s international safety net is the first of such means after it became indubitably evident that the LTTE’s challenge to the Sinhala Buddhist monopoly on military force, adjudication and revenue cannot be suppressed or contained militarily.

The point everyone seems to miss is that structurally the Sri Lankan state is not capable of any other course of action to deal with a legitimate challenge to Sinhala Buddhist monopoly of state power and the country’s wealth. It is not a question of the personality of a Sinhala political leader or the specific political configuration within which he/she has to operate. It is a systemic problem.”

So, how will Sri Lanka and the parties siding with the Tamils accept legitimate Tamil demands under a unitary state? Which magic formula they do have to fulfill any aspirations of the Tamils?

Even recently, Sri Lanka’s retired chief justice stated openly in his last press conference that –

“Wanni IDPs sheltered in transit centers in Cheddikulam cannot expect justice under Sri Lanka’s law. Law of the country does not show any interest on these IDPs. I openly say this. The authorities can penalize me for telling this.”

This clearly shows the minorities of Sri Lanka don’t have the right to demand even their basic needs in the country and can’t even challenge the government through the existing structure.

Even when the Tamils have their traditional homeland – the nationality and right to self-government which is accepted in all quarters except the Sri Lankan government – to live in and prosper, they have now been thrown into barbed wire-encircled IDP camps.

Even they have the own lands.

Even they have countless traditional jobs like paddy fields, fishing bed.

Even when they have the right to rule themselves.

Over three hundred thousand people have been thrown into 40 camps in Vavuniya, while the remainder of the Tamil lands have been maintained by the government and its para-militaries as an open prison.

While the government shows no interest in the re-settlement of these displaced people, or even to dispatch immediate material need for these suffering innocent civilians, it is keenly exploring all kind of possibilities to build new military, air force and navy bases and police stations in so-called “liberated” areas.

Therefore, how can this internal colonization against the Tamils be solved under the present unitary state?

If and when those countries voice their concerns for Tamil rights on the island, they have to endorse their statements through real action, not simply repeat those tired, soothing and ultimately pointless words which the Sri Lankan government used as license to massacre civilians.

Tamils understood this reality decades ago and fought for their legitimate rights.

That is why they put their separation demands before the government of Sri Lanka and also explained such demands carefully to the international community.

Truthfully, the chauvinist pseudo-Buddhist government couldn’t digest the reality. They opposed it. Then they tried to eliminate the Tamil roots upon which the cries for dignity were built. Tamils fought back to defend themselves against a racist war – state-sponsored terror. Understanding all this, the international community shamelessly classified self-defence by Tamils as ‘terrorism.’

The ability of Tamils to protect themselves against those who would murder their brothers and rape their sisters has now been blocked by the Sri Lankan government – with full cooperation from the international community.

With no ability to defend themselves, with Tamils left at the mercy of those who would decide their very right to life itself, all the Tamils can be left pondering the solution – what exactly is the international community going to give them?

Will they allow the Sri Lankan government to continue their internal colonization, in turn meeting the second – and infinitely more violent – phase of the armed struggle in five or ten years – perhaps led by the kid with one leg and no parents currently living in an IDP camp?

Perhaps they are going to give an alternative to separation, which has been the ultimate demand by the Tamils for the last 33 years?

The ball, as they say, is in the international community’s court.