Role of the Expatriate Intellectuals and the Professionals in the Tamil Struggle.
(A pre-lunch Address given by Prof. Dr. S.J.Emmanuel on 30th April 2000 in London, to those participating in the Tamil New Year Lunch organised by the Standing Committee Of Tamils – SCOT)
1.Introduction. Sharing thoughts on the Tamil Struggle with contemporaries and countrymen
From the time I went back to Jaffna in 1986, I had the privilege of being part of our people during the IPKF administration and during the LTTE administration. It was during these periods I had the chance to harmonise and be loyal to my ethnic and religious identities, as a Tamil and a Christian, and I find no difficulty in giving a Christian witness in service of truth and justice concerning the ethnic conflict. By being close to a suffering people and to the youth who were fighting the oppressor, I was a direct witness not only of the war and its victims but also of the heroic sacrifices and the new type of leadership that was engaged and emerging in the struggle. Responsible reasoning and reflection on my own experience have led to some convictions regarding the Tamil struggle.
Being close to you all in many ways – by age, background and education, today I want to share with you as friends, contemporaries and countrymen, Udan-pirappukkal, some thoughts related to our place and role in the Tamil struggle. Though as individuals, some of
us are already active and contributing in some way, to the struggle, yet my conviction is that a collective and concerted contribution, in keeping with the intellectual, professional and social standards of our life as an expatriate community in Europe, as well as with our strategic residence in a city of international importance, is woefully wanting.
Our presence here today and our participation in the activities of the SCOT are surely signs of our solidarity with one another and of our common concern as a people in struggle. Hence my speaking to you today is, not in any way to pretend that I have done my part well, nor is it an exercise in preaching to the convinced and converted, but an attempt to search and probe our conscience to identify and acknowledge some of our common and collective failures in understanding and in our contribution to the Tamil struggle and to see in what ways we can improve on the quality and quantity of our contribution to the struggle.
In order to strengthen our conviction and motivate our contribution, let us remind ourselves briefly some of the historical changes, we educated Tamils and our political leadership have gone through. It is not my intention to make sweeping statements about decades of history, but mentioning some of the
characteristic changes and turns will help us understand our position today.
2.0 The Changing role of the Tamil Leadership in Politics
Since the colonial times, the English educated; the elite and the higher caste have had a history of their own within the Tamil community. Their role vis a vis the British colonial master and the Sinhala leadership must be well understood in order to understand the present position of the educated and the elite in relation to
the Tamil Struggle as well as the Tamil leadership. Just a few remarks about that history will be helpful
2.1 Pre-Independence Tension prevalent among the Sinhala and Tamil Leaders vis-à-vis British Colonialism
With English as the first language of administration, with the missionary schools also helping to realise the British system of education, the privileged and the elite of both races had the best of it, competing for better positions and more. These benefits were not equally spread
or shared among the people, – who remained poor, and uneducated, oppressed by caste-oppression and neglected in development.
2.2 Post Independence Struggle among the Tamil Leaders vis-à-vis the Sinhala Leaders
It was a Struggle among the Tamil-elite for political power. The Sinhala leadership that came to power from among the Sinhalese succeeded in “buying over” the needed Tamil support by offering some privileges and power. This art of a Sinhalese majority governing the island, with a bought-over support of the Tamil
leadership had continued, and is still continuing, hopefully in its last phase.
2.3 Sinhala Buddhist Revolution of Year 1956 opens the way for Grass-root leadership among the Sinhalese
While the year 1956 marked the beginning of a strong Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism under the leadership of Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, (The break-away of Bandaranaike, the formation of the MEP and coming to power bringing the grass-roots into power, bringing the Buddhist monks of the villages to power meant a big turn in the
political history of the Sinhalese), the first anti-Tamil riots on the wake of it, did not sufficiently wake up the Tamil leadership or the educated Tamils of Colombo to the future dangers of that revolution.
The Sinhalese Buddhist majority had already reacted more sharply to the white oppression and the colonial power (Anagrika Dharmapala), while the Tamils and other minority groups like the Christians, were more amenable and accommodative to the British and went along with them as their loyal, efficient
and preferred servants. The wish and enthusiasm of the majority Sinhalese to take over undiluted and complete power from the British was already evident. The Sinhala leaders succeeded in winning over their Tamil counterparts with attractive assurances.
2.4 The British Colonial Constitution paved the way for Sinhala Imperialism
In the period between 1948 and 1977, the majority Sinhalese used their bulldozing power to impose their will on all others. While the holding of parliamentary elections gave a democratic face to the government and won international recognition as an Asian model of democracy, the government was in fact practising a type of
“democratic dictatorship”, by which the will of the majority Sinhala Buddhists was imposed on helpless minorities with the collaboration, if not connivance, of the bought over Tamil support.
The colonial subjugation has encouraged in us educated Tamils, the growth of a culture of obedient servants of the government. We have an “absolutist” idea of state-power and western-democracy, that for every injustice or violation of human rights, we run like immature children to the very Master
of Injustices, we bring them to his or her notice, beg for some rectification, get some verbal assurances and wait for the next violation of human rights. That was the style of political leadership practised by many Tamils. A radical and fundamental approach to solving the political problems was absent in our culture as well as in our style of politics. Hence we suffered many decades of
discrimination and state-violence. Within a matter of five decades of Sri Lankan Sinhala Buddhist dictatorial democracy, imagine the injustices and sufferings successfully heaped on us. The denial of citizenship to reduce the Tamil-strength of opposition; The imposition of the Sinhala Only language policy to
exclude the non-Sinhalese from genuine citizenship in the country and to curtail educational and employment opportunities of the Tamils. The state-aided colonisation of Sinhalese to encroach into Tamil Homeland and establish Sinhala proprietorship of the whole island and to change the demographic balance in favour of the Sinhalese; The nationalisation of Schools and the Standardisation of Entrance to Universities combined with the already anti-Tamil Sinhala-Only policy to curtail the intellectual life of the Tamils;
While the Sinhala-only language policy and the Standardisation of entrance to the universities affected directly those aiming at professions and higher education of children, the other discriminatory measures like denial of citizenship rights to Tamils of Indian origin and the State-aided colonisation
of Tamil areas went smoothly, evoked very little or no protest, not even due attention.
While younger generations of Tamils were refused higher education and employment and frustration and anger were building up, the senior Tamils already holding higher positions in government service, were mostly worried about the last promotion, increments and retiring as heads of departments. And the
Tamil leadership at that time from among the senior elite was running behind the Sinhala Masters begging for birthrights and getting mere assurances.
2.5 The Tamil opposition received uncivilised and arrogant Response
The Tamil opposition to the above discriminatory, if not genocidal, politics of the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism (SBN) was expressed well within the frame of the island’s Constitution and in accordance with all civilised forms of dissent and
protests. The repeated appeals within the parliament to rectify injustices and violations of the fundamental human rights of the Tamils and a demand for a federal constitution to resolve the ethnic tensions and discriminations amicably were heckled within the parliament and met with mob-violence outside it. Even the most non-violent and civilised forms of protests like Satyagraha were beaten
up, either by the Sinhala mobs or by the Sinhala army. These were the uncivilised and arrogant responses repeated by the Sinhala Buddhist majority and their governments for well over 25 years.
The only thing that kept us Tamils going was the patchy and instant relief obtained through some Sinhala minister or a Tamil held important by those in power. Many things are done in our burocracratic structures through good contacts, bribes etc. Even today the Sri Lankan government and its embassies
abroad, guided by that hired-foreign Minister with a Tamil name, are trying this approach with the international community and its structures. The big question facing the entire English-educated expatriate Tamils with self-respect is how best can we counteract the false propaganda of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry?
Neither India nor the world took note of our struggle. Nor any attempt made to draw the attention of the world to our plight under the Sinhala democracy of internal colonialism
Except for fears expressed on the eve of Independence about the dangers of a permanently-Sinhala majority democracy, the post-independence Tamil leadership, though little unwillingly, accepted that democracy and sought a federal solution within the unity, integrity and sovereignty of Ceylon. The
powerful democracies and nations did not lift a finger to help the non-violent and democratic struggle of the Tamil people for well over 25 years.
3.0 The Tamil Revolutionary and Fundamental Consensus of 1976 to rule themselves
It is in conclusion to this chapter of civilised and democratic protests of Tamils versus the uncivilised and arrogant attacks of the Sinhalese on the Tamils, that the historic Resolution was moved at Vaddukoddai in 1976 and voted overwhelmingly by the Tamils in the Parliamentary Elections of 1977.
That Tamil consensus, which in no way undermines the interests of the Sinhala nation, will remain a non-negotiable corner stone of the Tamil nation and its homeland. Thanks to Thanthai Chelva and his team who mooted and finalised that consensus in a parliamentary election. That consensus remained a revolutionary consensus without action. It was here the
military struggle took up the Sri Lankan State-Terrorism to task.
3.1 State-Terrorism and Parliamentary Imperialism
The Sinhala response to this democratically arrived at Tamil consensus was further escalation of State-terrorism and parliamentary imperialism. With their bulldozer majority, they enacted the savages Prevention of Terrorism Act to deal with the opponents of State-terrorism and the notorious 6th
Amendment to prevent the Tamil Parliamentarians taking their seats in a Sinhala Parliament. Even then those who were charged with the Tamil consensus for separation, hoped against hope of achieving various degrees of federalism, but failed. You all know the sad history of those that still believed in the Sinhala dictatorial democracy and ran after them, for clemency and favours, as well as the
efforts of the various militant groups who met State-Terrorism in our homeland. None of us are proud about this sad phase of our history, nor are we going to benefit by splitting hairs over them now. More serious things have to be attended to.
3.2 The Tamil Militant Struggle
Although the Sinhala Buddhist Revolution picked up momentum from pre-colonial times and broke through with the help of rural Buddhist monks as early as 1956 with SWRD at the top, the Tamil leadership did not have that courage and momentum, to take up the challenges of Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism. The
Tamils had to be beaten up, robbed, looted and murdered by the Sinhala mobs and the Sinhala Army repeatedly for over 25 years to wake up and to take up the challenge of indefinite oppression. Enough is enough with Sinhala terror and Tamil pleading, a radical change in their political course from a federal demand within the Sinhala Buddhist Dictatorial democracy of Ceylon to a demand for an
independent Thamil Eelam was made.
But those who worked out that consensus unfortunately did not keep up this demand in word and deed. They either abandoned or believed on the generosity of the majority Sinhala government. It was left to the emerging youth, which faced the brunt of Sinhala discrimination and terrorism, to back up the
demand for separation with military power.
This new type of young and militant leadership – though a reactionary response to decades of naked state-terrorism in the North and East of the country, which you and I of the earlier generations may not have directly experienced, it has been portrayed by the majority Sinhalese and their government
propaganda as unprovoked and unjustified Tamil terrorism. And this propaganda has been uncritically swallowed by many nations, ignoring the cause and context of Tamil militancy.
But even the Tamils, supportive of the Government, will not deny that it is Tamil militancy that has brought to light more than ever before the hidden agendas of both the UNP and the PA consenting to hold the Tamils in subjugation – to practice an internal colonialism, and the deep-rooted
Sinhala-Buddhist racism that was inspiring their politics of domination.
4.0 Today we are at a decisive and historical moment of our long struggle.
During these last 50 years of our journey to freedom, enormous suffering, death, destruction and displacements endured by our people, and heroic sacrifices of life have been made by our youth. Military set-backs and victories can evoke feelings for mourning and celebrations, heated discussions and arguments, can split the
expatriates in the safe havens of foreign lands into opposing parties and blocks, but the Tamil struggle, unlike the free-lance politics of self-centred politicians, it has been determined in its goal, ideology, form and intensity, not motu proprio simply by our own will, by the will of individuals, but by the history of a people suffering oppression
and by the oppressive and anti-Tamil politics of politicians and governments.
4.1 A Struggle with Direction and Determination
What was originally a humble and simple demand on the part of the Tamils that they be recognised as equal citizens of the country (bhoomi putras) and that they enjoy the same basic human rights as the Sinhala citizens, what was originally an appeal to the good sense of the majority, became a democratic plea within the
Parliament and only later became a non-violent Tamil struggle outside Parliament. Though late, it has set a well-defined direction and determination to resist only the anti-Tamil politics of the Sri Lankan government and nothing against the Sinhala people or their religion. It was the arrogant and stubborn attitude of the government backed by a
state-sponsored terror on the part of its armed forces that shaped the Tamil struggle into a military struggle. The state, which forced the Tamils to resort to a militaristic self-defence of their land and people, cannot expect the Tamil militants to disarm themselves and fall once again before their imperial power.
4.2 A Struggle founded on Truth and Justice
Unlike the Borella Principles or non-negotiable issues of the Mahanayakas, which have neither a reason nor history as foundation, the direction and determination of the Tamil struggle is founded on Truth and Justice and mean no ill-will to others in any way.
(It’s interesting to note the type of discussion going on even among the Sinhalese extremists as well as among the educated. Recently Mr.Kiriella, the Deputy Foreign Minister was trying to tell a London audience, that before Colonialism there were more Kingdoms in that island, including a Tamil Kingdom.
This ABC of Ceylon history was contested by some Sinhalese in London. Again Mr.Kiriella was explaining to his brethren, that the Tamils – in 1956 they demanded only a right for their language and now after half a century they are demanding more. He said it was like a child first demanding a toy and later as a grown up demanding something bigger. So a high up in Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry still
thinks of the Sinhalese are the rulers and donors, while the Tamils are like dependants and recipients. There is no concept of human rights, human dignity and nationhood for Tamils!)
The resolutions of Vaddukoddai have been faithfully adhered to and the price has been paid by the self-sacrifice of thousands of our youth. Thus the question of Tamil leadership has to be determined not merely by elections conducted under emergency, some of them staged, as happened during the IPKF-period,
and getting 9 and 10 votes. Only those who stood loyal to the parliamentary verdict of the Tamil people and paid the price for it with their lives can claim for true leadership.
4.3 A Struggle hindered by a Political-Gap in Understanding, Approach and Commitment.
We all know of generation gaps created by the fast changing world of today and how efforts are made by educators, formatters and target-setters of future society, to arrest or narrow down this gap. To my mind, there is a similar gap that has been created in our Tamil struggle. It is a gap in the understanding of the
oppression and injustices suffered by the Tamil people as well as in the style of seeking solutions and offering help to solve those problems.
With regard to our understanding of injustices and discriminations, we waited too long to give an integral and radical response to Sinhala Buddhist agenda of discrimination against the Tamils. Only in 1976, Thanthai Chelva moved the Tamils to a Consensus.
Till that time, they were pleading with the oppressor not to discriminate and not to kill, and appealed to the Sinhala majority in parliament to allow them federal structure within a unitary state. Only after 20 years of mob-violence and State-terror, the Tamils voted for a separate state for their survival.
Beside the 20 years gap created by a belated reaction of the Tamils in 1976 to the Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism of SWRD in 1956, there is also a gap created by the approach and commitment to helping victims and finding solutions.
Humanitarian help to our suffering brethren is necessary and praiseworthy. But if we stay put merely with humanitarian aid, the oppressor will go ahead with his oppression. As long as hospitals function and cemeteries are available, war and violence will continue. If the war and violence has to stop,
we have also to move beyond humanitarian help, to the courageous task of speaking the truth and arguing for justice. This latter function cannot be done by all. It is the sacred duty of the educated, elite and elder sons and daughters of our expatriate community. Our silence in this regard is betrayal and sinful.
4.4 Finding a solution, not by silent diplomacy nor for economic interests but by supporting liberation struggle
A subject mentality, often encourages merely an academic or a diplomatic approach, or even an economic approach, and discourages an open and critical stance for truth and justice. This may be pleasing not only to former colonial masters and present global money and military powers, but also to the Sri Lankan government
practising internal colonialism and silent genocide, with the help of external aid
It is a strange world in which the powerful and the mighty are quick to condemn the reactionary responses of the oppressed but do not have the courage to condemn the oppressor. Within the Tamil community too, unfortunately there are people maintaining “diplomatic silence” about the sufferings of
the oppressed and of the oppressive actions of the Government forces but extremely critical of the reactions of the oppressed Tamil people.
There is another servile mentality among the rich and the powerful that either searches for a peaceful solution only because their economic interests are affected. Very often you hear the Government telling the southern constituency, that they want peace only because their economic growth is
threatened. Such is also the interest shown by businessmen. Similarly there are also leading economists, like Lal Jayawardene, on the Sinhala side, who reduces the ethnic problem to a mere economic shortage and suggests that if more foreign aid is given to Sri Lanka, it might accommodate the Tamils in the island. It was like telling the world, “give us more money and we would tolerate and keep
the Tamils alive on our island!” (in his forward to Stanley Thambiah’s - Buddhism Betrayed)
In such a context only, I appeal to the intelligentsia and the elite among the Tamils to give up their slavish mentality of serving blindly the ruler by their “diplomatic silence” and by preaching to the victims of oppression. Let them have more strength in their backbones, liberate themselves from their servile mind-set and face courageously the oppressor and her oppressive state and fight for the liberation of their oppressed sisters and brothers
Where is that voice of the Tamil elite and the professional, of the educated and of the well-placed in society, who have a sacred duty to raise their voice in support of the Tamil cause, the Tamil Principles, the Tamil thirst for Truth, Justice and Peace?
Keeping away from the struggle of the people or not contributing to any programme organised by the militant leadership do not make angels of us. That will be pharisaism and hypocrisy. We have the freedom of conscience to identify or not to identify with all the means and methods used by the present
militant leadership of the Tamils. But we, as the educated among the Tamil community, have to do our sacred duty of serving the Tamil Consensus with its ideology of liberation. The silence of the democrat and the educated will mean the betrayal of the mother, motherland and people. Are we ready to be counted as betrayers of the Tamil nation? Or are we prepared, even at this late hour, to close
ranks, to join hands and strengthen the struggle for liberation based on truth and justice?
6.0 Our Collective Guilt and Responsibility
There is a collective guilt and responsibility on the shoulders of many of us - born early enough to have had good English education, born accidentally in a caste that was oppressive of others, maintained diplomatic silence over the sufferings of our people or kept away from the liberation struggle. It is with this collective conscience that I appeal to you to raise these questions in your conscience.
While on the Sinhala side, it has been an arrogant imposition of their will and military power to subjugate us, on our side it has been a struggle in response to theirs. The nature of this struggle is as Nelson Mandela insists, determined by the oppressor. Although the Sinhala people and their
government’s propaganda portrays the struggle as unprovoked and unreasonable Tamil terrorism, are we convinced of the just nature, clear direction and unshakeable determination with which this struggle is being led?
After 450 years of colonialism and fifty years of Sinhala imperialism or democratic dictatorship, we want to be liberated. Liberation is the thirst of all Tamils. It is not an anti-Sinhalese cry, nor a revengeful or hateful cry, but a cry for survival; to
live as dignified human beings in our own homeland, however poor it may be in natural resources. Do we identify ourselves with this cry for survival, cry for liberation?
While the oppressor has a political system and a government that begs international aid, uses paid soldiers to fight their cause of oppression, on the Tamil side, being a struggle a vertical solidarity – a compassionate feeling and aid for the suffering is not enough. Our horizontal solidarity with
the present leadership and its fighting forces is needed.
Participating in a people’s struggle is not a question of finding a fitting job in an institution in keeping with my educational qualifications, experience, service and honour. It is a question of either making use of the position and responsibility one has in the interest of our liberation or of
availing oneself, dedicating oneself in all humility to fit the job to be done for the people
Thic Nathan, a venerable Buddhist monk directing a Centre in Paris says – If we want to work for peace, we need to become peace – in our conscience, with God and with our fellow Human beings.
Similarly, I believe, if we want freedom we have to become free - first liberate ourselves from all forms of slaveries in us Tamils, from the socio-economic distinctions as well as from the colonial mind-set (just as the Sinhala Buddhists have the urgent need to liberate themselves from the Mahavamsa mind-set).
We are made worthy, not by what we have accumulated as wealth as gold, not in the higher jobs we have done, but by what we are to our land and to our people by the service we have done for our suffering people.
Today, friends, I stand here shocked by the agonising cry of the President of Sri Lanka for more international aid from all directions to keep her colonial power over our Jaffna Peninsula.
30 April 2000