An Exclusive Interview with Fr. Emmanuel
Interviewed by Nilantha Ilangamuwa
(November 23, 2012, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Rev Fr Prof Dr S. J. Emmanuel is an eminent theologian and an academic who devoted much of his time for political upliftment of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The 78 pontiff is the President of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and even at his prime age is energetically campaigning for the just cause of the Tamil people.
Rev. Dr. SJ Emmanuel
NI. Even at your prime age, you are boldly campaigning for justice. It is because of your passion for Tamil people or your Christian mission?
SJE. I was born a Tamil and baptized as a Christian (1934). Birth as a Tamil and call to be a Christian are both God’s gifts and call to me.
My life is to live faithfully to my vocation, vision and mission – all from God. In the changing contexts and challenges of my life, I act according to existential identities derived from birth, faith and profession. Hence my campaigning for justice springs, not from a mere superficial passion for Tamil people, but from my existential identities and mission to fight injustices anywhere and for all peoples.
If I may be allowed to narrate from my own life, it is a conviction and sensibility,from my young age against all forms of injustice, that keeps me struggling for justice.
Already as a young man in my own family, I fought against my own father discriminating others on the basis of caste, as an undergraduate at the University of Colombo (1954-8), I lobbied people on the streets of Pettah against the Paddy Lands Bill of Philip Gunawardene, as a Mannar correspondent for Lake House, Colombo (1959-61), inviting Sinhala politicians from the South, I fought against the Take-over of catholic schools.
After I resigned from my teaching(1962)studied philosophy and theology and ordained in Rome(1962-67),I returned to Sri Lanka where I was Parish Priest, Professor of theology (Kandy,1976-86) Rector of St. FrancisXavier’s Seminary,Jaffna and Vicar General of the Jaffna Diocese till 1997.
As a young priest, I stood against a crowd of over 1000 people in Sillalai giving equal status to a so called “low caste” couple at their wedding in the church, as theologian I fought for the rights of lay people in the church and helped the Asian Bishops at the Roman Synod in 1987, stood in defense of theonce excommunicated Father TissaBalasuriyaomi, both inside and outside Sri Lanka.
I have always encouraged my colleagues and students- priests and bishops – to follow Jesus Christ, the true Liberator of the whole man.
Hence my speaking up for the victimized Tamils is only a part of my mission based on my Christian convictions. That is why I spoke out as Vicar General against the bombing of churches and schools and killing of innocent children.
People accused me as being political and supportive of the LTTE. But that does not stop me from condemning anyone who behaves unjustly against fellow human beings. Silence in the midst of such carnage is connivance and sinful.
I wish my sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka of all religions and races serve the island and its peoples by standing up for truth and justice.
In my view, vis a vis the long ethnic conflict and war, all the four religions have rendered mostly humanitarian services sure, but not done enough by way of courageous protest against evil, standing up for truth and justice to build up a peaceful island.
Religions have their share of blame in our country losing its moral values and standards. Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath, said Jesus. Religions and governments are to serve man, not vice versa.
NI. The status quo has changed following defeat of the LTTE ( Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) . Do you still hold the objective of a separate state for Tamils to make life more difficult for them back home or is GTF you represent is willing to tone down the claim. The status quo has changed, sure, but what is it now?
SJE. It is true that LTTE has been militarily and as an organization defeated.But the political aspirations and ideologies live on among the people.
LTTE, born after 1976, was not merely a terrorist or military outfit as the majority Sinhalese and their governments still make out to be. They fought for political aspirations and goals whichwere there before them. Hence those aspirations and goals do not die or get defeated, they still have much support among the people. And the new status quo as at present is strengthening them.
After May 2009, we see a victorious sand arrogant Government drunk with power, headed by a dictatorial family, executing its Mahinda Chinthanaya mainly against the Tamil people inside and outside the country.
Bulldozing cemeteries and memorials built by the LTTE, but were sacred places also for Tamil parents and people to venerate their sons and daughters are barbaric acts against a people.
Building new military bases on those places is an uncivilized way of showing anger against an enemy!
Are these forces truly descendants of a magnanimous Sinhalese Dutugemunu who built a memorial for a defeated Tamil Elara ?!
Now the Government and its military are eradicating the roots of Tamil claims for nationhood and homeland by militarization, sinhalisation and buddhistisation.
And this new status quo, with all these acts of hatred and anger,
a) further illustrates the hegemonic intentions of the government and of the majority supporting them,
b)further justify and strengthen the calls for separation which was never an arrogant claim of the Tamils but a helpless cry “leave us alone” for a survival free of oppression
c) shows how the majority have misunderstood the LTTE as mere separatists and terrorists and nothing beyond.
The majority Sinhalese and their governments seem to forget that LTTE was born 3 decades after the conflict started and was born as anti-state-terror outfit.
The birth of the LTTE is a military response of Tamil youth pushed to the wall, both by discriminatory laws passed by a Sinhala majoritarian democracy and executed with the help of a terrorizing military stationed in the Tamil provinces.
Hence “the objective of a separate state for Tamils” is not dead with the defeat of the LTTE. It will remainamong the Tamils as a last resort for survival. This objective is not our seeking, but thrust upon us and will remain with us allTamils inside and outside Sri Lanka, till a just and peaceful solution is found.
There is no question of the diaspora “toning it down for something lower to make life comfortable back at home”. It is up to the Governments of the majority to offer a political solution respecting the fundamental rights of the Tamils and make the objective of a separate state meaningless.
Let us not forget that a people fighting for their basic and fundamental rights and having suffered and sacrificed enormously during the last six decades will now give up their noble aspirations of freedom and human dignity just for a better looking or comfortable life.
Fr. Emmanual with MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan 2011
It is the Tamils in Sri Lanka along with their elected parliamentary representatives, who have the primary responsibility and right to decide and determine the final goal or solution of the struggle.
The Tamil diaspora, in so far as they were forced to leave their homeland, go through much suffering in exile and wanting to return,, are also stake-holders in reaching a solution. Hence the diaspora are called to play a supportive-role in the struggle. This they do in the context of their present living.
And GTF, being a network of diaspora Tamil organizations, is in contact with the Tamils and their representatives in Sri Lanka. In spite of the Sri Lankan Government’s continued propaganda and activities against the diaspora Tamils as terrorists or potential terrorists, we are lobbying support from the international community for a just and peaceful solution.
NI. The GTF ( Global Tamil Forum) issued statements to have dialogue with the GoSL. Did you have any response?
SJE. We never issued any statements to have dialogue with GoSL and we expect no response.
NI A delegation of Tamils consisting of over 20 persons from all over the world are in Sri Lanka to discuss a resolution to the conflict. What is your views?
SJE. I came to know of it only from the SL government media. Why is the Government giving out such news items?
The SLG is obviously under pressure from within and without Sri Lanka with respect to its efforts towards finding a political solution. The international community cannot be deceived longer by development as a way to reconciliation. It expects the Government to seek a political solution through Talks.
If there is to be a genuine dialogue to discuss a resolution to the conflict, it should be foremost with the elected representatives of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The GoSL has failed miserably in such sincere dialogues. It wants to talk only to those who will listen and accept their own views. Unfortunately there are a few Tamils who are “coolies” or “loyal servants” of the Government.
With 18 rounds of Talks with the TNA coming to noght, the Government has introduced another delaying cum deceptive mechanism of a Parliamentary Commission but without success.
Hence another government delaying/ distracting effort is to show that they are talking with diaspora Tamils.
Unfortunately there are Tamils in the diaspora, who have their self-interests. They are friends of the already bought over Tamils like Douglas and KP, who will respond to the Government’s call, and invest for their own profit in some development projects of the government. Their cooperation cannot benefit the Tamils living there nor can they help a political solution.
As it stands no self-respecting diaspora Tamils will go for Talks with the Government and betray the Tamils and their representatives within Sri Lanka.
NI. This is a difficult question for you. But I must ask in the best interest. Is GTF a mouthpiece of the defeated LTTE or represent the wider global Tamils. When screams of the flag holding LTTE activists are strong, there is clearly no room for the wider Tamils and moderate Tamils. Isn’t it not time for the GTF to declare its stand to represent cross section of the Tamils without being heavily influenced by the pro-LTTE activists.
SJE. GTF is a post-LTTE organization and definitely not a mouthpiece of the defeated LTTE nor of any other group.
It is a democratic transparent diaspora network-organization of many country-organisations of Tamils. Hence it is a global organization representing a majority of diaspora Tamils vis a vis the international community and engaged with governments and international NGOs related to Human Rights and Conflict resolution.
It is wrong to conclude that “when screams of the flag holding LTTE activists are strong, there is no room for the wider Tamils and moderate Tamils”.
The Tamils as a whole have been victimized, but in expressing their reactions against oppression there have been varying degrees – some expressing it in the most violent,some by screaming in pain, and others through their writing and speaking a moderate language.
At the same time there were Tamils who were either anti-LTTE or distanced themselves from the LTTE for other reasons.
But after the defeat of the LTTE, angered by the arrogant attitudes and actions of the government, many of so called “wider Tamils and moderate Tamils” are joining the majority of diaspora Tamils.
For the majority Sinhalese and their government, LTTE was purely a terrorist organization, without any political ideology, but hell bent on terror, nothing more.
They do not ask how or why they came into existence.
They forget the two factors which gave birth to the LTTE, namely, the discriminatory laws of the government and the anti-Tamil terror of the State forces.
Hencethe majority of Sinhalese and their governments were allergic to anything of the LTTE.
Even if a post LTTE organization puts demands for a political solution, the government labels it as an LTTE- demand and try to justify its denial.
The just demands of a people have to be met irrespective of those who shout for it or not.
It is time for the government to stop labeling people and aspirations as LTTE and deal with the demands in a civilized manner.
GTF represents country organizations of Tamils who agree to the vision and mission as articulated in our constitution and in the web page.
We do not cut off or distance ourselves from the screaming and the flag-waving. We understand their feelings.We are in touch with the ground-realities as well as representatives of people inside and outside the country.
What we seek as a solution is not any exclusive privilege for Tamils living on the island, nor robbing anyone else of their birthrights. It is a solution for the Tamils who have inhabited the island as a distinct nation, to live along with other nationalities, side by side, not one on top of another, but as friends and good neighbors.
NI. Thousands of Tamils including civilians and the LTTE cadres have died in the decades old war. But Tamils are limiting the remembrance to the LTTE warriors only. It is nothing wrong in LTTE celebrating the sacrifices of their cadres, but the groups like GTF subscribing to this is causing concerns. Will the GTF move away for a larger agenda.
SJE. The victims of this war has been from all communities and from various sections of these communities.
Tamils have special commemorations for the LTTE cadres who gave their lives voluntarily and consciously for the cause they espoused, namely the Tamils and their homeland.
Besides there are also political and religious leaders and media personnel who were targeted and killed in action.
Then, not the least, there were the innocent civilians killed by state terrorism as in the case of churches and schools bombed. All these are remembered and honored in different ways.
I am happy that you state “it is nothing wrong in LTTE celebrating the sacrifices of their cadres” – But the reality is the SLG with the support of the majority have bulldozed all the cemeteries and war memorials and now eradicating even the roots of Tamil ethnic and religious identities under the military boots.
While the Sinhalese can erect huge war memorials and heroes and have victory celebrations, Tamil people who have lost their sons and daughters have no place, memorials or freedom to mourn!
GTF as an organization of Tamil people victimized and still groaning in pain for survival as a people.
It cannot distance itself from its wounded-identity. For the surviving Tamils, it is not exclusively remembering only those of the LTTE.
It is much more a national remembrance. It is a “remembrance of the past INTO the future”. It is with this consciousness and realityof being a suffering people, the GTF engage with everyone who can help find an end to the suffering and a way to reconciliation and peace.GTF does not hide its identity, nor give up the true aspirations of the people to gain any advantage or acceptance.
NI. The BBC reporter Frances Harrison has said the Tamils are shying away from dealing with the war crimes committed by the LTTE and their campaigns are conditioned and as a result the issue of war crimes against Sri Lanka will wither away. What are your views on this.
SJE. The main intention of Francis Harrison in coming out with her story is to focus attention on the last stage of the war and its continuation in other forms. She has done well.
Her opinion that,” the issue of war crimes against Sri Lanka will wither away” may be pleasing to the SLG.
But, we of the GTF and many others have been saying from the beginning, that both sides must be investigated and we hold on to it. Without justice there is no true reconciliation.
NI. Having raised some difficult questions, I must also say GTF is playing a much broader play of international politics. What do you wish say to the Tamils in the wider world to help build this process?
SLG. The role GTF has undertaken to play at the international level is by no means easy.
It has many challenges with regard to the nature of the new phase of the struggle, with regard to mobilizing people and talents and with regard to leadership.
Firstly, the SL propaganda through their embassies since the time of Lakshman Kadirgamar has been “that all diaspora organizations are front-organizations of the LTTE”.
Rajapaksas have raised the embassies as military- watchdogs to organize anti Tamil infiltrators.
This has instilled a justified fear among the diaspora Tamils. And keep away even from any form of associations or lawful activities.
And after Mullivaikal, SLG has openly started a new war against the diaspora as announced by the Defence Ministry and its propaganda. It has also sent its trained/brainwashed agents to do some dirty work among the diaspora.
With the defense ministry’s web page portraying me as a key-supporter of terrorism, I too have fears.
Hence, we Tamils in the diaspora, while living as law abiding citizens in democratic and transparent societies, should not allow ourselves to be victims of infiltrators or divisions caused by them.
Let us not dissipate our energies in in-fighting or in competitions but with unity of vision and mission struggle on behalf of our people.
I call upon the diaspora Tamils to play their supportive role for a noble cause of liberation in a responsible manner, not with anger and revenge against a people or religion, but as sincerely wishing a reconciliation and peace based on truth and justice.
We should not engage in any anti-Sinhala or anti-Buddhist activities.
What GTF is doing is to engage with the international community and its organizations within the democratic space available infavour of a just and peaceful solution in Sri Lanka.
But true reconciliation or peace is not possible without truth and justice. Demanding justice for crimes committed does not mean unwilling to forgive.
Forgiveness is due to those who acknowledge their crimes.That is why we demand an independent international inquiry which will establish the truth of what happened on that island and will identify the crimes and their perpetrators.
This is by no means a revengeful act.
NI. If you get an opportunity to meet President MahindaRajapakse what will you say to him?
SJE. I have no thoughts about such a meeting or about what to say to him.
But on a lighter vein, I recall what I wrote to President Premadasa:-Sir, please turn the lion on the National flag the other way, so as not to threaten the two minorities with the sword!
To His Excellency President Rajapakse, I may quote a Chinese proverb from Wang Suo of Hans dynasty: –Nothing brings greater misfortune than killing those who have already surrendered.
NI. What do you wish to say to the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka?
SJE. As a Tamil catholic priest, who has accompanied you for a long time, and suffered with you in Jaffna and in Wanni, I continue to hear your cries, agonies and aspirations.
I like to assure you all my continued solidarity and struggle at the international level for a better life for you all. I will not betray the trust you have placed on me.
NI. Also, the Sinhala people?
SJE. I have spent happy days as an undergraduate in Colombo and later as a priest and professor at the National Seminary in Kandy.
A greater part of my 30 years of priestly life was spent in educating priests at the Kandy National Seminary and in Jaffna.
I have been to the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy to invite a Buddhist monk to teach Buddhism to our students, started getting teachers from outside the seminary to teach Sinhalese and Tamil for our students, drafted for the Provincial Synod of the Church in April 1995 a document titled – Church as Communication between North and South that was read out by the then Auxiliary Bishop Malcolm Ranjith and accepted with applause.
Sadly there was no follow up of actions.
I remain a friend of the Sinhala people and of Buddhism.
Sinhalese are a people only in Sri Lanka and your language and culture must be guarded and nurtured there on that island.
You have a right to bloom as a great nation and also be proud of Buddhism, but not at the expense of destroying or eradicating or oppressing another people, their nationhood and their human and religious rights.
Instead of using me as an instrument in the North-South dialogue, SLG have falsely accused me as promoting terrorism and separatism.
Some irresponsible Sinhalese have spread wild and baseless rumors about me.
But my work in Sri Lanka till 1996 and afterwards in self-exile through speeches and writings will prove my innocence.
I love Sri Lanka and wish all the peoples peace and prosperity.
Sri Lanka has enough place and resources and ways of coexisting for its multiethnic, multi religious population.
Do not allow the politicians to use the Mahavamsa chronicles to politicize or overtake the noble teachings of Buddha.
There are many good courageous political and religious leaders as well as human rights activists and media people among you.
But they are threatened to become a fearful minority. Identify and support them before they are forced to leave the country for their survival.
If we have the courage and wisdom, to cling on only to Truth of history and Justice as due to all human beings irrespective of our ethnic and religious differences, then we can build a peaceful unity in diversity on that paradise isle.
Mr. D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister, who knew the birth pangs and fears of the non-Sinhalese on the eve of Independence, loudly proclaimed to the world: United we stand, divided we fall!