Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Competing Geopolitical Monologues on Sri  Lanka

by Fr. Chandi Sinnathurai

THE INHUMANE SUPPRESSION of the Tamil-speaking people within Sri Lanka has continued for far too long.  What is meant by the term “Tamil-speaking people” is that, in addition to indigenous ‘Ceylon Tamils’ and the ‘Hill Country Tamils’ of Indian origin [1]; we include here the Ceylon Moors and the Burghers.

The Hill Country Tamils were brought into the country as indentured labor by the British colonialists (the British arrived in 1796) in the beginning of 19th. Century.  The Ceylon Moors trace their origins to the Arab traders and some were converts to Islam from the indigenous population.  The Burghers are mixed race descendents of colonialists: Portuguese and Dutch.  Particularly for the Burghers in the NorthEast territories, their first language is Tamil -- similar to the Moors.

MapThe idea of a UN-recognised right to self-determination for Tamils, therefore, encompasses emancipation for all these populations.   The Tamil armed resistance movement (The Tamil Tigers, LTTE) has grown to be the sole representative of “Tamil speaking people.”   This idea presents the Sinhala chauvinist Sri Lankan Government (GoSL) with the primary intellectual threat ever faced against the Mahavamsa-inspired supremacy ideology. The idea of self-government for the Tamils in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres poses even more of a threat against the politico-Buddhist police state.

In this context, the GoSL is seeking the support of the international community with the seductive persuasion that the Tamil Tigers are a terrorist organisation. They are convinced that in the post-9/11 West such an argument must push the right buttons.

The Tamils, on the other hand, are appealing to the international community for the endorsement of their struggle for human rights and their cry for freedom. The Tamils seem to recognise the importance of having support on the global stage, basing their trust on ethical and moral arguments. It is, however, blatantly evident that the Western Nations, with their trade agendas, are primarily interested in their geo-political corporate manoeuvrings.  Hence, the cut-throat game lies in the inherent greed for trade and economic gain.  While taking control of the lion’s share of the pie, the West wants to ensure that nothing undermines the subtle enforcing of imperialistic mechanisms in the South Asian region.

Geo-strategic reality moves the National Tamil Question onto another plane. The West-supported peace process and the impotent Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) will need to be looked at in the light of global politics and corporate economics.

The open secret is that the U.S. intends to tighten its grip on cheap oil processing plants in the Arab world – especially in Iraq.  Currently this program is unleashed under the respectable pretext of ushering in democracy.  No subtle observation is required to work that out; it requires furthering America’s military presence in that part of the world, perhaps by establishing a symbiotic relationship with the emerging regional power (i.e.; India). [2] If this plan were to go ahead with a ‘wink and a nod,’ then the strategic position of Trincomalee presents itself. 

The natural harbour of Trincomalee lies within the Tamil homeland.  To put it in another way, the dispossessed Tamils are sitting on a potential gold mine.  This brings a mountain of challenges into the equation.  For the West, that is to say, the EU and the U.S., notwithstanding India, political autonomy for the Tamils is a prickly subject.  On the one hand, it is doubtful that the de facto Tamil state would cooperate with the U.S. in establishing a naval base in Trincomalee. It is common knowledge that the Tamil Tigers would be less agreeable to an arrangement whereby Trincomalee – Thamil Eelam’s capital -- becomes something like “an Asian equivalent of Germany” for the U.S.  On the other hand, if the autonomy of the Tamils were to be internationally recognised in the NorthEast territories (Thamil Eelam) then the U.S could be best placed to have meaningful negotiations with the Tamils regarding its strategic interests.

Prior to the independence of Ceylon from the British in 1949, just preceding the formal transfer of power, Don Stephen Senanayake, a loyal collaborator, signed a ‘defence agreement’ with Britain which allowed the British military to retain control, even after independence, over their naval base at Trincomalee on the east coast.  This remained the British naval HQ until 1957.

A Hindustan Times article on Sri Lanka’s Strategic Importance[3]cites three primary reasons for Trincomalee to be of geo-political interest: 1) strategic location 2) ideally situated to be a major communication centre 3) one of the finest harbours in the world.

So, in fact, it is the settling of geo-political accounts, first, that could eventually lend itself to a negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka. 

The non-violent battle for the recovery of lost Tamil sovereignty began in the early 1950s.  The guiding principles for a separate Thamil Eelam were expounded by Dr. Thiyagarasa in a self-published booklet in 1957.  Then in 1961 Mr. C Sundaralingam wrote a book on the same subject and formed a political party (Suya Artchi Kalagam) on the platform of secession.  The TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) put forward the secessionist principle through the Vaddukodai Resolution.  Then in 1977, it put that principle to a democratic test and won a landslide victory.  This victory brought to parliament, for the first time in its history, a Tamil opposition leader!

Owing to the GoSL's repeated duplicitous dealings in the past years it has resoundingly undermined its own credibility among the Tamil populace. The Tamils, since the 1950s, have been humiliatingly subjugated by the Sinhala state.  The consequence of state terror has been the Tamil Tigers. 

“When a government takes up arms against its unarmed subjects” said Mahathma Gandhi, “then it has forfeited its right to govern” [4][4]

The endorsement of democratic self-government for the Tamil-speaking people will have to be carefully charted between the devil and the deep blue sea:  The first being the Sinhala state claiming to be the “sole sons of the soil” by divine right vying for the control of the Tamil nation. And the latter being the Western geo-political, strategic and corporate interests vying for influence and political posture (in terms of international sea lanes) in Asia in order to base itself at a stone’s throw from the Arabian Gulf.

Now in between these heated, competing monologues where do the Tamils come in?

The self-government of the Tamils is currently a reality within the nascent Tamil State. 

At a recent Tamil Resurgence Conference the Tamil Tigers called on the Tamil bards to write a national anthem “immaculate Tamil”.  TamilNet reorted: “The call for a national anthem comes in the wake of the Tamil Eelam national flag and national Flower already being established”. [5][5] 

The threat of suppressing Tamil aspirations through militaristic means has proved to be a very weak option indeed.

The onus might be placed at the door of the UN to urge the US and the western corporate giants to deal justly with the aspirations of the Tamil people not solely with their economic interests in mind.  Having said, that we must be mindful of the fact that:

“Of the hundred largest economies today, 51 are corporations and only 49 are nation states” – Rabbi Sacks writes: “Several factors make it difficult to integrate them into a coherent policy arena. They exist to make a profit for shareholders.  That is their raison d’etre and logic of decision making”.[6]

There can be no dialogue when competing monologues are at work and hardly anyone is listening.  The Sinhala state cannot continue to play the role of an artful dodger. The post-tsunami aid distribution and redevelopment revealed to the world that the Tamils do not even have an equitable share in the economic affairs of the island.  The two-state solution has proved yet again, to be the only way in which the Tamil-speaking people can live in honourable peace.  If justice is truth in action; and if there is to be reconciliation to heal wounds, then the truth has to be confronted. 

The perennial issue remains simple: As long as the Tamils remain aggrieved no dialogue is going to be a walk in the park.


1] The entire Tamil population of plantation workers called “Indian Tamils” were disenfranchised and rendered stateless by the Senanayake government’s two pieces of legislation – the Citizenship Act (1948) and the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act (1949). The stateless so-called Indian Tamils were estimated to number in excess of one-million.

[2] Read an interesting article by Conn Hallinan – Iran, India and the US - (26 October, 2005)

[3] PK Balachandran, Sri Lanka’s Strategic Importance: WWW. (May 30, 2005)

[4] Kim Petersen cites interesting arguments in his piece on Making Sense of Terrorism - (July 20, 2005)

[5] (October 27th. 2005)

[6]  Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, New York: Continum, Revised Edition 2003. p.34


1) Adele Balasingham, The Will to Freedom: An Inside View of Tamil Resistance Fairmax Publishing, Second Edition- London:2003.

2) Adrian Wijemanne, War And Peace in Post- Colonial Ceylon:1948 – 1991; sangam Books:1996.

3) Anton Balasingham, War And Peace - Armed Struggle and Peace Efforts of Liberation Tigers, Fairmax Publishing, London:2004.

4) Barnabas Alexander, A Cross-Angle Analysis of the Ceylon Tamil National Question, MA Thesis- London: 2002.

5) Brian Senewiratne, The Abuse Of Democracy in Sri Lanka, London:2001

6) Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, Revised Edition, Continum – New York:2003

7) Mohan Ram, Sri Lanka: The Fractured Island, Penguin Books:1989

8 M. Thirunavukkarasu, Samastiya Thaninada: A Political History [In Tamil] Federalism or Separate State. Arivamuthu, Kilinochi, Thamil Eelam: 2005

9) Sumantra Bose, States, Nations, Soverignity- Sri Lanka, India And the Tamil Eelam Movement, Sage Publications:1994.

10) Satchi Ponnambalam, Sri Lanka: The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle,Zed Books London:1983.

11) Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka. The University of Chicago Press:1992

12) S. Sivanayagam, Sri Lanka: Witness to History (1930 – 2004) Sivayogam,London:2005

13) Vern Neufeld Redekop, From Violence to Blessing, Novalis- Ottawa:2005

14) V. Navaratnam, The Fall And Rise Of The Tamil Nation, The Tamilian Library:1995