Eelam Advocacy in Tokyo during 1980s
by Sachi Sri Kantha, January 18, 2020
After completing my Ph.D at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I arrived in Tokyo in January 1986. Thirty four years had passed. Then, there were four English language print dailies; namely, Japan Times, Daily Yomiuri, Mainichi Daily News and Asahi Evening News. Yomiuri, Mainichi and Asahi were sister papers of their Japanese dailies, with more than a million circulation. With the digital revolution since 1995, Mainichi Daily News and Asahi Evening News have become defunct. The Daily Yomiuri (with changed name The Japan News) and the Japan Times are still in business. The English dailies catered mainly for the non-Japanese speaking population living in Japan, and to the native Japanese who were (are) keen to improve their English skills. The non-Japanese speaking population included diplomats, transient academics, students and workers from other countries as well as tourists.
I became a sort-of regular contributor to the ‘Letters to the Editor’ column of all four Japanese dailies. These contributions, then submitted by snail mail, were labor of love. Between 1986 and 1988, I did contribute three essays/commentaries (both solicited and unsolicited) and received nominal payment. Apart from this, for a while, I also worked as a paid science book reviewer for Mainichi Daily News and Asahi Evening News. I also received an assignment as the Tokyo science correspondent of South (London) monthly magazine, which is now defunct.
One notable component of my letter writing to the dailies printed in Tokyo was Eelam advocacy. I did receive critical comments from fellow Sri Lankans (mostly students) then living in Japan, for my Eelam advocacy. Here, I provide transcribed version of 7 published letters in the Mainichi Daily News, during 1987; and three among the 7 were contributed by me.
Sri Lanka Students Protest – by S. Herath and S.N.J. Nawaratne
An alternate view to Sri Lanka students – by Sachi Sri Kantha
The reality in Sri Lanka – by S.P. [not me, but another reader, – probably a Tamil]
Terrorism in Sri Lanka – by Dammika Perera
Philosphical aspects of Sri Lankan terrorism – by Sachi Sri Kantha
Mr. Srikantha and his philosophy – by Dammika Perera
Terrorism and Independence – by Sachi Sri Kantha
I was a bit ‘tickled’ by the caption (approved by the editorial desk of this print daily) of my critic Dammika Perera that made me as a ‘philosopher’ at the age of 34! This I hardly imagined in my dreams of those days.
Sri Lanka Students Protest
S.Herath and S.N.J. Nawaratne* [Mainichi Daily News, June 22, 1987, p.2]
We strongly condemn Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s invasion of Sri Lanka on June 4. He should be ashamed of this action considering that he is the president of the non-aligned movement and of SAARC. We consider this invasion as a threat to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
This incident proves that Mr. Gandhi has not been honestly mediating the Sri Lankan problem. The political solution suggested by the Sri Lankan government last December was endorsed by Mr. Gandhi, and other world leaders such as Mr. Nakasone and Mr. Reagan praised it as a feasible solution. The proposal was not accepted by the separatists.
Mr. Gandhi has the power to take the separatists to the table, because without his permission, Tamil guerrillas cannot maintain their traing camps and headquarters in Indian territory, violating the international law and taking many innocent Sri Lankan lives.
However, Mr. Gandhi did nothing. Instead, the Indian government provides all the support for the separatists. A few weeks ago, Tamil Nadu state gave Tamil gurerrillas a large sum of money for their movements. The Sri Lankan government decided to use military action as a strategy and as the last alternative to take the separatists to the table. Just as this action was starting to succeed, the Indian government disturbed the whole operation, saying that the civilians were starving in Jaffna. No independent reports confirmed this situation. We do not believe that Mr. Gandhi acted because of the starving civilians. If he is so generous, why doesn’t he supply food to his own citizens, hundreds of whom die every year by starvation in India.
He planned this invasion to give moral support and encouragement to the separatists behind the front of humanitarianism. It is clear that Mr. Gandhi does not want to see the end of the Sri Lankan ethnic problem. He suggests that Sri Lanka looks for political solutions while he uses military action to solve similar situations in India.
We request all nations in the world who respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country and who are against international terrorism to condemn the Indian government’s action.
*Authors had signed themselves as President and Secretary-General, Sri Lanka Students’ Association, Japan.
An Alternate View to Sri Lankan Students
Sachi Sri Kantha [Mainichi Daily News, July 12, 1987, p.2]
I’m thankful that your paper provides well-balanced coverage on the events around the Indian subcontinent. Would you permit me to present an alternate viewpoint to those expressed by S. Herath and S.N.J. Nawaratne of Sri Lanka Students Association – Japan? (June 22). I too am a Sri Lankan. I’m sure that many well-informed Sri Lankans and Indians residing in Japan as well as Japanese readers will not subscribe to the myopic views expressed by Herath and Nawaratne.
Herath and Nawaratne assess the Tamil rebels as international terrorists and ‘request all nations in the world…who are against international terrorism to condemn the Indian government’s action.’ They should feel ashamed that on the opposite page of MDN, on the same day, there had appeared the criticism of the London-based Amnesty International (a Nobel Prize winning human rights organization) to the torturing of Tamils in the civilian prisons and detention camps of Sri Lanka.
To evaluate the moral authority to govern and to make credible actions, one needs to compare the present political leadership in India and Sri Lanka respectively. The Jayewardene government in Sri Lanka came to power in 1977, at the same time when Morarji Desai became the prime minister of India. During the last 10 years, two general elections had been held in India and two prime ministers were elected by popular support in 1980 and 1984 respectively. On the contrary, no general elections have been held in Sri Lanka and the Jayewardene regime had instituted a ‘constitutional dictatorship’ in the island. Even recently, Mr. Jayewardene had ‘threatened’ not to hold the general election in 1989, if the going gets tough (MDN, April 28).
Herath and Nawaratne bring to their argument the endorsements of President Reagan and Prime Minister Nakasone to the Sri Lankan government’s ‘political solution’ to the Tamil rights. Now that Reagan’s ‘memory’ had received such a battering after the Iran-Contra arms scandal and Nakasone’s intelligence on the ethnic minorities of America and on Ainus had become questionable, the views of these two ‘lame ducks’ on the Sri Lankan Tamil problem should not be taken too seriously. One should also note that President Reagan’s Cabinet members, including Vice President Bush, made similar type of complimentary endorsements regarding the Philippine situation when Marcos was in power and made fools of themselves.
Herath and Nawaratne also made a slip regarding the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement. Were they not aware that last year, Rajiv Gandhi handed over his responsibility to Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Robert Mugabe at the eighth Non-Aligned Movement summit held in Harare?
I consider the Sri Lankan students who have come to study in Japan as intelligent and sensible in making judgments. They should not behave as gullibles by just being a ‘propaganda arm’ of a tottering dictatorial regime.
The Reality in Sri Lanka
S.P. [Mainichi Daily News, July 18, 1987, p.2]
In reference to the letter by Mr. Herath and Mr. Nawaratne, published in the June 22 issue of the Mainichi Daily News, I would like to state categorically, that I do not share the views expressed by Mr. Herath and Mr. Nawaratne.
The reality in Sri Lanka – one of army massacres of innocent Tamils in the name of anti-terrorism (to the army, all Tamils are terrorists), discrimination against the Tamil minority and flagrant violation of the human rights to Tamils on an organized scale by the government and the indisciplined armed forces of Sri Lanka – are all very well known to the world to require further elaboration. Interestingly, on page 3 of the very same issue as the above-mentioned letter was an item regarding the call of Amnesty International to the Sri Lankan government to end torture of Tamils and to account for over 500 Tamils reported missing.
Also well known to the world is the embargo on movement of goods into and information out of Tamil areas imposed by the Sri Lankan government in early 1987 and the fact that the government capitulated from commonly agreed upon positions for negotiations on December 19, 1986, as it has done on countless other occasions in the past.
Early in May 1987, the Sri Lankan armed forces launched a massive military assault on Tamil areas and began a large-scale massacre of Tamil civilians. Food and other necessities are not allowed to reach Tamil areas, with the result that thousands of Tamil civilians are starving as many escaping from these areas will readily testify.
Given these facts, we are very grateful to the Indian government for having come to our rescue by providing food and medicine, which the savage government of Sri Lanka sought to deny the Tamil people. We deplore the condemnation of India’s noble gesture on the part of some misguided sections of Sri Lankan student population in Tokyo. We will always remember this humanitarian gesture of India and hope that India and other nations like Japan and the United States will come to rescue of the oppressed and battered people of Sri Lanka.
Terrorism in Sri Lanka
Dammika Perera [Mainichi Daily News, October 24, 1987, p.2]
The front page of MDN of Oct. 14 forced me to send this note to you. I wish to quote you as follows: ‘The military option has won out in Sri Lanka where Indian troops are doing what Colombo’s forces tried and failed to do several times – bring to heel the dominant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).’
When we go through the news this month related to this issue, it is now clear that Tamil separatist guerrillas in northern Sri Lanka’s Jaffna peninsula are not prepared for any peaceful solution through discussions and believe only in terrorism.
Before Sri Lanka signed the peace accord with the Indian government on July 29, 1987, I am sure you all are well aware how Sri Lankan authorities tried to make the Indian central government understand this nature of Tamil guerrillas, and how they failed to do. India, which believed of their strength to solve this problem through discussions with LTTE, got Sri Lankan to sign the said Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord with few other motives.
However, Tigers who believe only in terrorism could not be handled as expected by India so easily. They prepared to have discussions neither with India nor with Sri Lanka. LTTE did not hand over their weapons within 72 hours as per the so-called Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord. They went on rampage. India too had to take up the military option against Tamil separatists.
The present situation proves that India has realized what Colombo troops did was correct in Jaffna a couple of months back. I would like to know whether the person who wrote on this issue in this column under the name S.P. in Tokyo has also realized it.
Philosophical Aspects of Sri Lankan Terrorism
Sachi Sri Kantha [Mainichi Daily News, November 3, 1987, p.2]
In this century, two domineering personalities influenced and shaped the future of the two most populous countries in the world. They are Mahatma Gandhi and Mao Tse-tung. Though they were contemporaries, they hardly met and they pursued their ideals in two different philosophies to get rid of colonialism from their lands. Gandhi followed the so-called non violence (properly classified as non-physical violence) philosophy. Mao adopted the terrorism (physical violence) philosophy. Both became experts in their methods and influenced other liberation movements fighting for their rights in other countries. However, even in India, some younger leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose differed from Gandhian philosophy and actively sought the Japanese military help to get rid of British colonialism. This background is needed to understand the present predicament of Sri Lankan Tamil leadership. Those who have read Dammika Perera’s letter on Sri Lankan terrorism (MDN Oct.24) should view the situation from the conflictory ideals of Gandhism and Maoism in the minds of Tamil leadership.
For almost four decades (1944 to 1983), Sri Lankan Tamil community leaders were influenced by Gandhian philosophy to gain their rights; they had participated in parliamentary democracy, peaceful coexistence and negotiated pacts. What they received in return for their people were the ethnic violence of 1958, 1977 and 1983 as well as denial of human rights in diverse forms. So a younger generation of Tamils (who were educated but unemployed) felt that the Gandhian technique cannot and will not work for an oppressor who is living next to them. So, they were influenced by Mao’s philosophy of resisting physical violence by retaliation. Since 1962 almost 96 percent of Sri Lankan armed forces were filled with the Sinhala Buddhist recruits, though they constituted about 67 percent of the population. This further aggravated the problem for the younger Sri Lankan Tamils.
Even in India, how many of Gandhi’s ideals were practiced in the post-independent period? If Gandhi’s methods were practiced in breach by the so-called followers of Gandhism, what worth it has in adapting to a somewhat deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka in 1980s, so argued the younger Tamils? Sri Lankan President Jayewardene, a self-confessed ardent follower of Gandhism has been quoted in your paper (MDN, Oct. 24) stating, ‘We have now the fourth biggest army in the world to help us get over our problem.’ When the majority Hindus were attacking the minority Moslems in Calcutta, Gandhi fasted as self-immolation. Recently, at least one Liberation Tigers leader Amirthalingam Thileepan followed Gandhian fasting and died. I haven’t heard Jayewardene following this Gandhian example during the last three decades of deteriorating ethnic violence in Sri Lanka. So much for Gandhism by the Sri Lankan politicians.
Mr. Sri Kantha and His Philosophy
Dammika Perera [Mainichi Daily News, November 11, 1987, p.2]
Instead of talking about the so-called philosophical aspects of Sri Lankan terrorism (MDN, Nov.3), is it not better to face directly the question in hand?
Firstly, when India was indirectly supporting Tamil terrorists before they came into a pact with Sri Lanka, readers like Mr. Sachi Sri Kantha never came forward with their new philosophy and they were very pragmatic. This was the very reason for them to support and safeguard India’s invasion of Sri Lankan territory somewhere in mid this year. Readers may recall how they responded to the letter published in this column by the Sri Lankan Students’ Association which condemned India.
People like Mr. Sri Kantha who could not foresee of the motives and long term plans of India do not today have other facts to discuss other than talking so-called theoretical aspects of this kind of ethnic conflict which he probably studied for his examinations in universities.
Secondly, as we give few thoughts for a moment to his new argument, recent developments of Tamil Tigers contradict the crux of his dogma. Isn’t he aware of the statement made by the leader of Tamil Tigers, Mr. Velupillai Prabhakaran, saying that he would follow a non-violence path to achieve his goals? (This statement was made at the speech made by him at Jaffna just after signing the peace accord between Sri Lanka and India. If readers wish to see the speech, same can be made available on request.)
As Mr. Sri Kantha argues if younger generation of Tamils felt that the Gandhian technique cannot and will not work in this decade and were influenced by Mao’s philosophy, what is the meaning of going back to non-violence path which they refused as a failure? Another contradictory point is Mr. Amirthalingam Thileepan’s death after following again Gandhian parth. Same has also taken place after failing Maoism.
Therefore, dear Sri Kantha I would like to hear something related to my simple question raised from earlier letter rather than soundless philosophies.
Terrorism and Independence
Sachi Sri Kantha [Mainichi Daily News, November 19, 1987, p.2]
I would appreciate if you could allow me to respond to Dammika Perera’s recent outburst on my comments (MDN, Nov. 11). Mr. Perera’s two simple inferences in his previous letter in the MDN (Oct. 24) were, (1) “Tamil separatist guerrillas…believe only in terrorism.” (2) “What Colombo troops did was correct in Jaffna a couple of months back.” He is entitled to his opinion and I also appreciate his dislike for philosophy. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? Those who fail to understand the complexities of a problem search for simple answers for a ‘simple solution’. But there are other enlightened readers of MDN who would like to hear both sides of the story. My previous correspondence was written to provide some background information on the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka.
In my opinion, the Tamil Tigers are just following Mao’s dictum of terrorist technique: ‘The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.’ Only those who are naïve would have believed that the Tamil rebels would trust the peace accord negotiated by two politicians in power, of whom one is overstaying his mandate (Marcos style) and the other one having a serious image problem after being ‘Mr. Clean’. Even for moderate Tamils, it was evident that the July 29 peace accord is on the rocks since there was dissent within the ruling Cabinet, including Prime Minister Premadasa. The opposition Sinhalese parties and militant Buddhist monks also opposed the accord. Jayewardene couldn’t even save Rajiv Gandhi from the humiliation of being assaulted while reviewing an honor guard.
If Sri Lankan President Jayewardene and those like Mr. Perera abhor terrorism, that is fine. But they should practice what they preach. They should not have any diplomatic, business and cultural contacts with China which have been led by terrorists like Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-Lai and Den Xiaoping since 1949. Jayewardene also shouldn’t have had any deals with Israel, where ‘terrorists’ are in the Cabinet. He also should not recognize the PLO, whose leader Yasser Arafat is a recognized ‘terrorist’. If Mr. Perera prefers ‘peaceful solutions through discussions’, I suggest ask George Washington, the first American president. For liberation, he showed the way of armed action though it took eight years of revolutionary war from 1775 to 1783 for American independence. Incidentally, George Washington and other founding fathers of modern America were ‘terrorists’ for the British imperialism.
In contemporary Sri Lanka, terrorism wears at least seven faces. (1) State violence against Sinhalese dissidents, (2) Sinhala dissident violence against the state, (3) Sinhala mob violence against Tamil civilians, (4) State violence against Tamil civilians, (5) State violence against Tamil militants, (6) Tamil militant violence against the state, (7) Tamil militant violence against Sinhalese civilians. Mr. Perera, who condemns the last two categories of terrorism, should also vehemently voice his concerns for the first five categories of violence. Then I’ll gladly join hands with him. Amen.