by Niro Dissanayake
I have read with great interest Dr Rajasinghams thought provoking follow ups in ‘Tamilweek’, to my original article, as appeared in the Asian Tribune, of the 21st of October 2005.
I would be grateful if I have the opportunity to endorse the views of Dr. Rajasingham, one of the few voices of reason among a babble of confusion, mindless intolerance and ‘the appalling silence of the good people’ on both sides of the great divide.
I have to pass on my sincere congratulations to the good doctor, for advancing my thesis to a greater level, a height which I originally could not have foreseen. He has achieved this displaying an eloquence, backed with perceptiveness and fairness, sound fact and reason, underlined with sorrow at the present state of our Tamil brethren and his country as a whole.
My original article merely identified the problems facing the Tamil community, and highlighted how this state of affairs came to be. This was not a particularly difficult task.
However, I pay tribute to Dr Rajasingham for having the courage to recognise how the present course of militancy has only lead to disaster (and to fearlessly state to that effect, where as most fear to do so out of possible consequences), but most of all plotting a ‘road map’ or a plan of action for the upliftment of the Tamil community (and thereby the whole country). This is, I believe, an infinitely more difficult exercise and requires due recognition.
A very insightful Tamil friend once told me this story to describe the present precarious state of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, which incidentally triggered my thinking leading to the original article. It goes like this;
There are three men on a narrow ledge barely wide enough to support all of them. We shall call them for the sake of this story, Mr Perera, Mr Rajah and Mr Cader. Now suspended on a rope from Mr Rajah is fat man with a moustache, gradually pulling him closer and closer to the edge, but making no attempt to climb up and remove the burden. To make matters worse for Mr Rajah there is a fat lady (fortunately with no moustache, but let’s call her CBK which is just as bad) throwing rocks down at him from the summit of the mountain, trying to dislodge him from the narrow ledge.
Even more unfortunately for Mr Rajah, who should have been able to seek the help from Mr Perera and Mr Cader, cannot do so for various reasons. He sees Mr Perera as his enemy and keeps shouting abuse at him, accusing him of trying to push him of the ledge. Mr Perera does not feel particularly sympathetic to Mr Rajah’s plight, as the fat man in the moustache keeps throwing rocks at him, and it appears to him that Mr Rajah is in collusion with him and is unnecessarily supporting his weight.
Mr Cader does not feel particularly sympathetic either, as not only has the fat man thrown a few rocks at him and alienated him, he’s also been told by both Messrs Perera and Rajah, that they are not particularly interested on what he has to say. He chooses to keep quiet for now and get on with his life as best as he can. But for how long, who knows. Maybe he might give Mr Rajah a small nudge or two one of these days…
So Mr Rajah has two options. One, he does nothing as he is presently doing, and eventually fall into the abyss along with the moustached fat man.
Or as second option he can do the following. Start talking to Mr Cader, listen to his views, and try to heal old wounds. He can talk to Mr Perera and try to build some bridges, and look for ties that bind, rather than the shadows which separate them.
Then with both of their help cut the rope to the fat man, dropping him to the abyss. And finally take some constructive steps together to knock the fat lady and her ilk, from the top of the mountain, to closely follow the fat man, to where they should all be.
It a nice simple story and very clear in its intent. In reality it obviously doesn’t highlight what Mr Perera’s faults have been or his responsibility to reassure Mr Rajah that he is not the enemy. But I guess the theme of these articles has been about the Tamil community and I shall stick with that for the time being.
However before we progress any further in this discussion I would like to set my Tamil brothers and sisters ten tasks (you are lucky, you have 2 less than Hercules, though even he might have difficulty in completing some of them). If you survive these labours, please come back and read on;
The 10 Labours of Ellalan
1. Approach the president Mahinda Rajapakse. Tell him you don’t agree with his political views. Or if you wish to get personal, question his parentage. Or even simpler, start your own political party, get yourself elected and go to parliament and abuse everyone there a la TNA MP fashion in front of the whole world. You have the fundamental right to do so and you will probably still make it back in time for your dinner alive and well, albeit with a feeling with low self worth for dancing like a monkey to the organ grinders tune.
2. Approach Prabakaran. Tell him you don’t like that silly moustache he has on his upper lip. Or if you wish to ask him something a bit more serious, ask him why he has no qualms about sending your children as cannon fodder to the battlefield, yet his own children are safely ensconced in Denmark, some of them attending university, which amazingly are always open! Or try to start your own political party in the Wanni. Express your own political view. Observe result.
3. Remain a Hindu. Go to anywhere in the Deep South. Open up a kovil.
4. Become a Buddhist. Move to the Wanni and open a temple. Or again remain a Hindu and try to practise you religion without any interference or seeing the head priest getting shot for some reason or other.
5. Again, I’m sorry; you have to have to make a visit to the racist South again. Open a business. Buy a bit of land. Build a house.
6. Become an entrepreneur. Move to the Wanni. Open up a new business in direct competition to one run by someone with LTTE patronage. Also refuse to bow down to extortion. However I wouldn’t advise you to go in to the sand distribution business like that industrious university student who wanted an extra bit of money to support his family and himself through university, only to be shot and burnt with his lorry.
7. Send your children to school in Colombo. Get them to study hard. They get the marks to go to University. Or if you wish as you don’t quite like the idea why some regions of Sri Lanka you need lower marks to go to University, send them there. Admittedly it is unfortunate they have to learn in Sinhalese, and this different pass mark business is not particularly fair…
8. Send them to school in the North and East. Your kids undergo all the hardships in the world in schools which are occupied by the army or bombed out, and libraries which should be opening that are still closed. But all due credit to them, they manage exactly that and educate themselves despite all the trials and tribulations, and make something out of nothing. But wait, no Jaffna University is closed. Not that it matters if you get conscripted from your class along the way, or your school principal got murdered just the other day.
9. Accompany a Sinhalese or Muslim friend on a holiday to anywhere in the country
10. Take a Sinhalese or Muslim friend to the Wanni for a holiday
Well hopefully my friend, you are still alive and reading this and have successfully completed your 10 labours. Allow me a certain degree of scepticism of you actually having completing all of them however.
Please do not misunderstand me, I am not trying to trivialise the issue or be flippant, or state life in the rest of the country is perfect. Far from it. I am merely trying to highlight that the Tamil community in the North and East do not have such basic liberties and have lost the liberties they once had, and what the rest of us take for granted, even in such an imperfect society such as in Sri Lanka.
If you go on the basis that the areas which constitute a de facto state will be the model for the future Eelam, what do you really have? No political freedom, no religious freedom, no economic freedom, no educational freedom and no personal freedoms. What else remains?
Is this not what you fought for in the first place? To have these basic liberties that every human being is entitled to from birth? Is this not what you were trying to achieve over the last 50 years, sacrificing 65,000 precious lives? How did this happen? How did your community come to this? Why did you let it happen and why do some of you still remain silent or look the other way? Do you not understand that your children will some day curse you for letting this state of affairs come to pass and if you stood by and did nothing?
What price ‘liberation’? Have you not lost your way, from a cause that was just, but is now just riddled with a cancer that is slowly but surely killing it, along with you in the process? Do you not feel any anger how you let your fight be subverted by the GOSL, and then corrupted and murdered by the LTTE?
I’ve also read the arguments presented by some who say once there is Eelam, the LTTE will be challenged. Democracy will be restored. The tiger that could not be tamed by even India will be done so by you, and everyone will live happily ever after. Until then sacrifice your liberties and follow the LTTE. Unbelievable. I hesitate to comment on such blind stupidity of these lemmings walking to their certain destruction.
Do you believe the LTTE will surrender what they fought for or let any individual or group challenge them? Do you propose a peoples uprising or an armed insurrection against a Tiger government at a later date? More deaths? More destruction? Refugees coming across the border. The Sri Lankan government getting involved to protect the people. My friends, you only talk about getting the end result for the ‘Dutu Gemunu’ Strategy, albeit it a different fashion. But the results will be the same, if not even more emphatic. Read your history and learn it. Remember we did this before, with the Portuguese, Dutch and English, getting rid of one group and replacing them with another. Except this time you will not survive.
I can stand in the middle of Colombo and distribute this article to all and sundry as can you. Could you as a Tamil do the same in the Wanni? Could I as a Sinhalese even make it into Wanni? Again I reiterate Sri Lanka is not perfect for the Tamil community (or the rest of us for that matter). But things are changing and you have your freedom to challenge present injustices when seen. To challenge historical grievances as you see fit. To work within the system to change it as Tiruchelvam or Kadirgamar or countless others tried to do and probably would have achieved given the chance.
I also point out that when our freedoms were threatened by the JVP, we stood up and fought. There were many who did not remain silent and paid the ultimate price. We did the same against the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, as did the Tamil community against the government later. Why do you not do the same now when your own liberties erode by the day thanks to the LTTE? Do you in some twisted fashion believe that this is a case of better to rule in hell than serve in heaven?
And I specially note the comment made by Dr Rajasingham ‘Every time a war is threatened by the LTTE, the Tamils in the Sinhala dominated provinces have to panic and rue their fate, as there is yet no guarantee that the change of heart is genuine’. – I agree that this is not way to live if you do live in fear in a place that is your home just as much as the next person.
If you allow me to take my Sri Lankan cap off and briefly put on my Sinhalese, Buddhist one, incidentally something I feel great pride in and make no apologies for. This is by no means making excuses for past grievous mistakes, and it is probably failure on the part of us Sinhalese, if you continue to feel such insecurities. However time marches on. People change. I certainly had my doubts till the day Dalada Maligawa was bombed and there was no ‘retaliation’ against innocents. There was a great deal of anger on that day. But there was also pride that no one gave in to their baser instincts.
My view on this matter was reinforced recently somewhat ironically the day Minister Kadirgamar was killed (to the Sinhalese, he was our one single respected and loved politician), and endless other provocations by the LTTE, and it continues on a daily basis now, every time a claymore mine explodes killing a few dozen soldiers. Stating that this is because of the fear that the LTTE will retaliate is doing us a great disservice.
Raging mobs do not sit down and calmly think of future consequences before embarking on murder and mayhem. They act. There have been no murderous mobs in 23 years. A man, who might have tried to raise a mob, would be given a swift clip around the ear and told to go home to his mother. Similarly much as I loathe them, even the JHU has not propagated violence towards ordinary Tamils.
People change. Our countrymen have changed. They have learnt to live in peace with one another and move on. It is us expatriates who are still stuck in the past and hold onto old enmities and beliefs.
I can not speak for the GOSL. They will continue with the DG strategy as they do not have the vision or wisdom to see different. But the Sinhalese people have not raised their hands in anger at the Tamil community living amongst them in a long time. We should not be complacent, but I am certain that this will never happen again.
We can distinguish between Messrs Prabakaran, Balasingham, the LTTE and the rest of the Tamil community at large. I was but a boy then, but I remember for every mindless thug that was out there on the street in July 83, there were hundred decent Sinhalese who sheltered their Tamil neighbours, although we failed the ones we could not protect. For every nut job monk in the JHU today, there are a thousand peaceful ones. Do not tar us all with the same brush. It may be asking a lot, but give us a chance. Or how will you be any different to some of those who think every Tamil is a terrorist. Not every Sinhalese is a racist. I know my enemy and recognise him well.
Continue building those strong bridges you have ably started on Sir. We will extend our hand back in friendship and with respect, and if you wish it and request it, help pull you back from the abyss. Who knows hopefully we can pull together to get the leaders that we deserve someday. Not this present pathetic visionless bunch on both sides of the divide.
As for defeating the Dutu Gemunu strategy, read the two articles (‘Independence Day Thoughts for a Tamil’ and ‘Dutugemunu Strategy and Ellalan Response’) where it is clearly explained by Dr Rajasingham. Follow the road map he has set out. I cannot present it any better than he has already done so, and unfortunately some will say ‘why trust a Sinhalese, Buddhist’? I can however strongly commend his views and propagate them among my Tamil compatriots in whatever fashion and help in whatever small way.
I will only add to his arguments in saying that, if you succeed in following this path, you will either have a stronger and more viable case for Eelam than you do now, if that is what you still wish for when you reach that stage.
Or alternatively, my own personal hope. That you will uplift your country and its entire people, by uplifting yourselves. Either way you will win.
However if you fail and continue on your present course, you will plunge into that abyss that you are inextricably being pulled towards. Open your eyes. The time for remaining silent and blind is over. Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese and Muslims will continue to survive no matter what. The question is, will you?