Eelam Encounters – 3: Relations with the West

by Revd. Chandi Sinnathurai

Mr. Asok approached the writer quietly while he was having a Doasi-Sambaru breakfast.  Having received the clearance, Asok announced that at a precise time we would need to show ourselves at "point A."  Having looked at the clock, we said to him, let’s hurry, that’s in 50 minutes!  Like a big little brother, he advised me to comb my hair – lest I forget!  ‘Instead of Bata slippers, it is better to wear sandals’ – good thinking we agreed.  Asok chuckled and paused: ‘A photo may be taken’ he gently continued.  ‘It might be better not to take the tape recorder – it’s a 20 minute Santhippu.  Castro annar is looking forward to meet with you’ he confirmed.  We complimented on Asok on his tact. 


Most of the Poraligal we conversed with, like Asok, are self-effacing men and women, with admirable qualities.  One of their main characteristics was that they were rooted and grounded in their cause.  Some might call such qualities, depending on one’s point of view, noble patriotism; yet, others might call it sheer ruthlessness.  One person’s terrorist, as history keeps repeating it self, is another person’s freedom fighter.

On the dot, a vehicle arrived at "point A" followed by two sturdy men in dark glasses on a motorbike.  The pillion rider had an AK47.  These were serious-looking men wearing no smiles.  The Porali driver introduced himself: ‘Father, Vannakam, I’m Nagulan,’ he said with a charming smile.  I found myself on the front seat of an air-conditioned Japanese vehicle.  The vehicle ran at high speed.  Nagulan was a very skilful driver.  The motorcycle men followed our vehicle in all seriousness.  At "point B," there was a seamless operation of swapping drivers.  From then on, the vehicle sped in front of the watchful eye of the motorbike security.  At "point C", we asked the new driver, ‘Are we travelling towards Mullaithivu?’  Concentrating on the gas pedal, he gave the briefest of response: "Sure."

Charm Offensive

A few weeks ago, over a Sunday dinner this writer found himself in conversation with a senior Churchman.  When I was turning fourteen the churchman was my Vicar who was serving in Ceylon as a young Missionary.  He witnessed horrendous crimes done against the Tamils during his stay there.  On his return to Britain, he informed the Church bureaucrats and predicted the ’83 anti-Tamil holocaust.  The senior Church officials were only keen to ‘keep the peace’ and were satisfied to listen to the Sinhala side of the interpretation!  In fact, our missionary friend has sat with the late Mrs.Srimavo Bandaranaike [When she was an internationally-renowned Prime Minister and was referred to in all seriousness as the "only man" in her cabinet].  "Despite the elevated company, we all ate with our fingers," he remembers with a laugh.

Seafood plentiful in Vanni

The vicar was interested to hear about our travels in the Tamil territories.  I was, of course, keen on asking the senior vicar some pin-cushion questions.  Moreover, I was sounding out some burning issues.  I was not expecting from him any straightforward answers.  One would be daft, quite frankly, to expect straight answers from a Briton on slippery subjects.  However, having no axes to grind, he was sure to give an honest response – that’s the legendary fairness of the Brits!

When I conveyed to this senior churchman the dissatisfaction of Castro – Head of International Relations, concerning the British Government’s position on the Tamil Question, he made sure that I understood the ‘Western side’ of the narrative.  He put to me that the liberation discourse of the Tamils has to be intelligently articulated in order for the western mindset to be altered.

The vicar referred to the Sri Lankan strategy as the ‘charm offensive.’  By employing this strategy, he explained, ‘the West has warmed up to the idea that it is the Sinhala people who are made to hold their breath in panic because of the ruthlessness of the Tigers!’  This, therefore, hides the real face of the Sinhala chauvinistic State.  They attract the West with their charm: Kandyan dancers, colourful pageantry, calming hill country, the romanticism of the forest monasteries, tranquillity of Buddhist meditation, the blue seas, etc., etc.

Eelam transport

Hardly any Westerner is confronted with the inner complexity of the true narrative.  The Vicar went on to slice it up.  The struggle of the Tamils, he argued, ‘is still logically quite incoherent.’  The opposing point of view is not aired to the Western public in order for a balanced opinion to be formed.  It may be, he wondered, that the Westerners in general are disabled to make intelligent choices, owing to their wholesale purchase of the ‘charm offensive.’  The West is yet to be convinced of the rationale of the Tamil question.  That is why he reckoned, that ‘the Western governments would not touch the core Tamil issue even with a barge pole.’

Now the Vicar, over an apple pie and ice cream queried, "Why won’t the Tamils try first to change the mindset of the Western media?"  The Palestinian struggle is a good case in point.  Similarly, there is Military occupation and State-sponsored colonisation within the Tamil territories.  Nobody seems to draw positive public attention to these factual denials of human rights – the ones who attempt end up as dead. bodies!  Articulate Tamils, therefore, ought to have a co-ordinated effort; they will have to place themselves strategically in order to be opinion-makers.  It has to be a ‘war’ of coherent conversations.  The mainstream Western media however, is yet to be sympathetic to the Tamil struggle.  In fact, it has projected a total demonisation of the whole question.  The Tigers are still termed as ‘Tamil rebels’ in most English news items!  That derogatory label has to be ripped-off first from the Western psyche.  He questioned the motives thus: "We don’t think of the Palestinians as rebels, do we?"  ‘The Tamils must work hard at presenting their side of the story effectively to the Western public (Guardian readers to begin with…).  These mass misconceptions have to be tactfully tackled.  Such concerted action over a period may no doubt result in changing foreign policy,’ he noted...

By recollecting the conversation with Castro, I perceived that he understood the inner working of international politics.  The Vicar has echoed Castro’s analysis - perhaps couching it in sophisticated language.  In fact, Castro was concerned about certain International aid workers being engaged as spies in the Tamil territories.  The Tamil intelligence has earned its credibility and proved its worth over a 30 year struggle.  The ‘charm offensive’ [Although he didn’t employ this term], according to Castro, has penetrated even within some UN agencies in Sri Lanka.

Peace Trap

The heavy breathing over the shoulder by the US is keenly felt even in the peace negotiations.  It is a tactic of revealing their "Big Brotherly" presence by their seeming absence.  This is a cause for serious concern both to the Sinhalese and the Tamils.  The Sri Lanka State, it is widely known, is using the peace process as a trap to further ensnare the Tamils.  It is indeed a paradoxical positioning.  While the peace process is moving at snail speed, the country’s economy is in shambles.  However, the cash-gain from the Tsunami aid is surreptitiously utilised, as it is widely rumoured, to modernise the war machinery.  It is obvious, that the State is more addicted to blood-spilling than to winning the peace with Tamils!

It is in such complexity that Castro feels that the Tamils must continue to work with the International community.  "We can’t isolate ourselves," he agrees.  "The Diaspora Tamil Media should try and help us to convey the right message.  The world must know that we stand for peace.  The duplicity of the Sri Lanka State cannot be hidden for too long," Castro assures.

Castro was quite an engaging conversationalist over tea and oversized Vadai.  The thing that caught my attention in Castro was his penetrating eyes, sharp wit, and the acute observations of international affairs.  Like all Tiger top-guns Castro is not given to any hyperbolical statements.  His precision in approaching complex geo-politics with an air of humility - coupled with down-to-earth practicalities - has placed Castro well within the faithful inner sanctum of the Tiger Supremo.

There is more to write about our further encounters with others….

Eelam Encounters - 1: Women in Tamil Society

Eelam Encounters - 2 : The Legal System


Posted May 24, 2005