By Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra
The recent eviction of Tamil youth from lodgings in Colombo and their forced ‘repatriation’ to the north and east must have left the LTTE rubbing their hands with glee. Not only does this make for excellent propaganda against Sinhala racism but it gives back to the LTTE the very people who were escaping their clutches by fleeing south. Ever since the massacres of July 1983, the Sri Lankan army and police have been regularly recruiting Tamils for the LTTE. Instead of winning “the hearts and minds” of the Tamils in the north and east, and so isolating the LTTE, the government’s endless acts of violence against its own citizens plays right into the hands of the LTTE.
Sri Lanka has long fallen into the category of a “failed state”. It is ruled by a non-elected “inner circle” comprising the President, his brothers and his friends. There is a total breakdown of the rule of law. Criminal gangs and death squads roam unhampered. Corruption is rampant, and the Defence Ministry is the biggest defaulter on debts to public sector utilities. The CID is employed to intimidate all critics, and the judiciary has lost its final shreds of independence. The civil service has been so politicised that is has become incompetent. The government has absolutely no interest in the protection and welfare of its non-Sinhalese citizens.
We have almost half a million internally displaced persons, the vast majority of them Tamils. If Sinhalese villagers are butchered by the LTTE, the President immediately offers their families financial compensation. Young men in the village are given machine guns, a modicum of “training”, and appointed as Home Guards. But when Tamils in the north and east lose their lives or homes, it is left to local NGOs, churches and international NGOs to come to their aid. The present regime is clearly a Sinhala government that does not regard these Tamil refugees as equal citizens of Sri Lanka, despite all the rhetoric about a “unitary Sri Lanka”. If you keep treating people like foreigners or second-class citizens, don’t be surprised that they demand a state of their own.
Why has this senseless war dragged on for so long, with no sign of ending? I suggest the following reasons, among others:
(1) Neither the Sinhala political leadership nor those promoting and funding the LTTE have any stake in the future of this country. All their children are safely settled in the West, and their fortunes in offshore banks. They don’t have to suffer the consequences of their respective nationalisms. The brunt of the war is borne by poor Sinhalese and Tamils who have nowhere else to live. Those who still talk of a “military victory” do so from inside their bullet-proof cars and behind their fortified mansions (all paid for by local taxpayers).
(2) The LTTE have provided the Sinhala political leaders with a convenient scapegoat for all their failures and crimes over the years. The war can also be blamed for the economic backwardness due to mismanagement, corruption and sheer incompetence on the part of politicians and government bureaucrats.
(3) Neither side has leaders with the courage to speak the truth. There can only be healing if we admit that we are wounded and need to be healed. Telling the truth, which begins with public confession of the wrongs we have done to others, is painful and humbling, but it is an indication of human maturity. When any confession of wrongdoing is seen as “losing face”, then there is no hope for peace.
Each day that this war drags on is a day that makes eventual healing and restoration more difficult. We already suffer a massive “brain drain”, many of those who emigrate being Sinhalese. Replacing this loss of experienced and skilled professionals will take many generations. And even if the LTTE leadership were to be killed in a “military victory”, who will guarantee that there will be no remnants who continue to seek bloody revenge in the future? It is our children and their children who will reap the folly of the present regime’s policies. It is a source of wonder to many foreigners that a country with such rich resources in natural beauty, free education and health services, and human manpower, should be committing collective suicide on the scale that we now witness in Sri Lanka.