Beginning of an end or the end of a beginning

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

“ Ullathayum Keduthaanaam Kollik Kannan” – Tamil

(Even the little left was destroyed by the ember /fire eyed devil-Translation)

The Human Rights Watch report titled’ Funding the “Final War” LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora’ (Vol. 18, # 1 C) of March’2006, reminded me of the above proverb frequently used by Tamils in Sri Lanka. This report was preceded by the reports of the Sri Lanka monitoring Mission, the UNICEF, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the recruitment of children and other reprehensible acts of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam). However much the LTTE may deny the accusations contained in these reports and seeks shelter under the abominable record of the GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) and the Sri Lankan armed forces with regard to the Tamil minority in the past, most Tamils know the truth as it stands today.

The LTTE and other militant groups had their birth in the grievances of the Tamils against the GOSL, which was perceived as a Sinhala government pursuing the interests of the Sinhala people at the expense of the Tamil minority. The crimes of the GOSL are manifold and have been documented and condemned universally. The Tamil militancy, that came to be dominated by the LTTE, through means both fair and foul, also saw the ushering in of a prolonged period of unprecedented turmoil, agony, death and destruction for the Tamils. What was essentially political, economic and social discrimination against the Tamils in general, interspersed at intervals with violence against the Tamils resident in the South of Sri Lanka, was transformed in to a process of decimation of the Tamil society and culture, and almost daily violence against the Tamils living in the North and East, in the aftermath of the Tamil militancy. Artillery battles and aerial bombardments transformed the North particularly in to a cemetery for the living. Richard Armitage, the former U.S Assistant Secretary of State described the destruction as something he had not seen even during the war in Vietnam. The days when the North and East provided refuge to the Tamils, who were victims of communal or ethnic violence in the South, was history. The Tamils from the North and East increasingly had to seek refuge in the South or foreign climes to escape the ravages of a brutal civil war and the depravity of the Tamil militants. The current ceasefire agreement was the straw that the Tamils latched on to with the hope that the international community would ensure that it is implemented properly and, will lead to a permanent cessation of violence and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Whether it is in education, culture, health, living standards, employment, political rights, rule of law, due process, democratic freedoms, human rights, social and family structures, and even the basic right to live and die as per nature’s dictates, the Tamils living in the North and East of Sri Lanka, are much worse off today than they were at the advent of the militancy. These are undeniable facts. The question then arises as to whether this deterioration in every parameter that is of signal importance in the life of a human being or a group of people, has to be accepted as a sacrifice in furtherance of a noble cause or in anticipation of a better future. In the case of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the dream that was pursued was greater political, economic and social rights within a self- governing entity that would be insulated from the depravities of the GOSL. What this self- governing entity was to be, meant different things to different people. To some, probably the larger number, who accepted LTTE hegemony, this was an independent state of Tamil Ealam. This was definitely the dream peddled by the LTTE and other militant groups, to the Tamil people in general. To others, largely the more thoughtful and far-sighted, this was an area that would be a part of Sri Lanka, but with widely devolved powers for internal self-government. The LTTE has always flaunted the latter as a tantalizing possibility- like a cabaret dancer- to the Sri Lankan government and the world at large, during ceasefires and peace talks. This ambiguous, duplicitous approach of the LTTE has confused and confounded the Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims of Sri Lanka, and the world.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of Tamils who had suffered at the hands of the GOSL from 1948 to 1983, supported the Tamil militancy as it emerged, grew and consolidated itself. The Tamils saw the militancy as the only response that the GOSL deserved, especially after the brutality of the July’1983 riots in the South. It was universally accepted that only counter-violence would halt the depravities of the GOSL and safeguard the Tamils. However, Tamil counter-violence resulted in shifting the theatre of violence from the South to the North and East. Violence, begot more violence in an unending cycle, until the Tamils lost control of their lives, affairs and future in the North and East. The Tamils, a peaceful, cultured, inward looking, hard working, ambitious and religious people, who by their very nature were incapable of violence, delegated by default the path of violence to the emotional, disaffected and semi- educated Tamil youth who took up arms to resist the GOSL. The Tamils thereafter became like a people who had bought tickets to watch a typical Tamil movie in a theatre. They cheered, jeered, cried, laughed and clapped as the scenes unfolded, but had no control over the direction of the movie or its end. This movie theatre approach continued until very recently. The militants, who had been given a free hand by the Tamil society at large, sensing the power they had acquired through the gun and the timidity of the people they had chosen to lead, began to misuse it. This was the beginning of the liberators transformation into predators. The signs of this phenomenon were becoming visible as early as the mid 1980s, but were ignored by the Tamils. Most thought that this was a temporary phenomenon limited to the lower echelons of the militant movements, including the LTTE and would recede with time, as it would not be tolerated by a leader of the ‘supposed’ stature of Prabhaharan.

The violence directed against the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora by the LTTE has now escalated to the point that it has become visible to the world at large. The Tamils are helpless in the face of the dire consequences that would result if they resist the LTTE. Ignoring or tolerating the initial signs of the in-built fault-lines in the LTTE and the other militant groups, and the lack of moral and philosophical scruples in these groups was a fatal mistake made by the Tamils. The evil grew bigger and bigger by the day and has been institutionalized by the LTTE. The Tamils have become the hapless victims of this evil. To many a Tamil now living in the North and East, the GOSL is a lesser evil than the LTTE. This fact, which many Tamils would consider unfortunate, will be collaborated by any independent study that is scientifically conducted in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The original dream of an independent Tamil Ealam is a burning passion only for the LTTE, its die-hard supporters, and those in the Diaspora who are yet consumed by lingering memories of the depredations of the GOSL – a history that has less relevance in the face of current LTTE depredations. We are at this point in history at present. This is a sad story of a poorly led and politically naive people that would resonate in history.

The dilemma facing the Tamils today is choosing between two evils. The first, the GOSL, which despite its abysmal record of the past, may have already reformed or is capable of reforming under international pressure. The second, the LTTE that was once thought to be the hope for the future, but has transformed itself into the worst of the two evils at present. A difficult choice indeed! The GOSL despite its past record is an institution that is elected democratically, operates under an accepted- though flawed- constitution, subject to International law and covenants, and amenable to international and national pressures. The LTTE on the other hand is an organization unanswerable to the people it claims to represent, practices violence as a tool for compliance from these very people, built on the foundation of violence (“We will kill. That is our job. We do not deny it”- Anton Balasingam), lacks a political philosophy, not constrained by any laws-local or international, minimally responsive to international pressure and is led by trigger happy men corrupted by absolute power. A lethal combination to be burdened with! The LTTE and the other yet lingering militant groups are the ‘Kollik Kannans’ who have destroyed a society, its values and culture beyond recognition – a task that could not be accomplished even by the GOSL. The Tamils must make the choice now, on the basis of current realities and the new possibilities that have appeared in the horizon. We cannot be trapped in the past and lose sight of a future. The past must provide lessons for the future and used as such. The Tamils, through an enlightened forward-looking leadership should deploy political maturity and intellectual sagacity to clear up the present mess and build a better future. The LTTE cannot be given the reigns of unbridled power by default, given its lamentable track record.

The present moment can be the beginning of the end to everything that has been wrong with our past or be the end of a beginning promised by the current ceasefire. Are we capable of making this distinction now? If we miss this opportunity we will live to rue our stupidity.

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  1. You have beautifully composed many arguments about the origins and nature of present political state of the Tamil people. It is sad that some young naïve Tamil LTTE Canadian propagandist still pronounce the Sinhala Only law (which was repelled, before LTTE), Sinhala colonization (which has stopped, before LTTE), and GOSL’s education affirmative actions programs (which now favors the Tamils) as the rallying cry to support the Tamil Cause.

    Many Tamils forgot what Jaffana was, or could have become. They only see the defactro state, and point to its possibilities. I feel it is being built upon shaky foundations. It lacks democracy, freedom of speech, expression and press, and a genuine concern for human rights.

    But, politics, life and history is never clean. In Canada, I have never met a diehard LTTE supporter, everyone has doubts and reservations. I still believe there is room within LTTE, and momentum within Tamils to infuse reform. How? First by articulating as you did a more balanced nature of the current situation. Then by trying to built an open dialogue, where alternative paths can be explored and if possible achieved.

  2. LTTE’s Achilles’ Heels

    It is not wrong for liberation movements to raise money among its constituents. However, if the approach is threat and intimidation, the whole premise of ‘fighting and sacrificing for the people’ goes down the drain.

    Historically, LTTE had two fatal weaknesses that have been crippling the LTTE.

    The first one is tactics used to raise money. Once the bank robbery phase (done by all militant groups in the ’80s) was over, other militants started depending on governments or agencies of India (ENDLF, EPRLF, TELO, PLOTE and may be Karuna now) and Sri Lanka (almost all ‘democratic militant groups who are unable to drop the name Eelam on their title -ENDLF, EPRLF, TELO, PLOTE, TMVP (Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal- Karuna Group) etc. As a price, they have been handicapped by strategic and tactical interests of these countries and their agencies.

    LTTE saw Tamil Diaspora as a revenue stream in perpetuity. This provided them an opportunity to distance themselves from geopolitical intersts of other countries. But, some local actors among the diaspora thought-just as they did in Northeast- threat and extortion paid quick dividends. The risk in this approach is the possibility of killing the goose (diaspora) that lays golden eggs.

    Now, all stars are aligning for the Government of Canada to come hard on LTTE – without a political price to pay. And the LTTE is on the cusp of crippling its largest Diaspora,therby creating an unnecessary complication in their broader goal to get legitimacy.

    The second weakness is child soldiers. Ever since the LTTE ran into human resource challenges, it is unable to shake off its dependency on children to fight the war. The most notorious warlord Karuna who did the most of these conscription is on the GoSL side now and criticizing LTTE for its child soldiers. (Surprisingly he realized the immorality of child soldiers only after he crossed swords with his former boss due to his allerged financial misappropriations)

    Until and unless the LTTE rethinks its whole approach to fundraising and make the Diaspora develop a sense of ownership of the homeland, LTTE will not win their heart and wallets of this unlimited resource. (One does not develop a sense of ownership when the ‘protectors’ threaten them with “we will not allow you to go to Northeast”). And it will risk a ban in the countries where tamil diaspora lives.

  3. It was spoken of the Sinhala Colonisation in the North and East. I wish to ask the writer how he feels about the Tamil colonisation in the South of Sri Lanka. All are human beings and this earth is going to be baren one day. The ordinary people do not worry who lives where. The Tamils are now colonising the West and one day they may ask Ealam in the west as they are going to be settled here for long time to come.



  4. Doctor, being a tamil proffesional I’m surprised with your comment. I guess you were one of those spectators of the scene since the beginning of the crisis.

    We tamils know the pros and cons of supporting LTTE. Honestly tell me which ‘maanamulla thamilan’ would sit and smile listening to JHU’s recent statement, “We’ll send all 4lacks of tamils in coffin to Kilinochi”?? Wouldn’t you feel the ‘tamilness’ within you which automatically make you support LTTE which is the one and only mouth piece we tamils can speak with?? If there’s a tamil (may be you) is not able to feel the ‘thamil unarvu’ then there’s something wrong with that person or his/her generation. Everyone of the tamils live in Srilanka and outside the Srilanka has somehow been effected by the crisis.

    Dr., “patient oraal punnukku marunthu kettal, punn’ukku marunthu podaamal, punn ulla kaalaiye vetta solli solringale, patient viduvaana?”

    “ullathaiyum keduthan kollikannan” yaar theriumaa? Karuna, matrum thamil unarvai alikka sathaa paadupadum kooli kulukkal, etc.


  5. Indian model is not good for Sri Lanka considering the sufferings of the Tamils since independence to date. What the Tamils want a federal model that guarantees autonomy and powersharing at the centre.

  6. As a tamil I can honestly say that the LTTE has sunk lower than the GOSL. The only hope for the tamils of Sri Lanka is for a Nuremberg type tribunal to hold these so called leaders responsible for their crimes. As for all the LTTE supporters in the west, its obvious that not one of them would leave the safety of the democracies they live in to go live in a dictatorship called “EELAM”

  7. Hi, I am a Sinhalese. My parents helped Tamils runnig from Sinhala thugs in 1983 in Colombo. We all know majority of Sinhalese these UNP thugs but were unable to stop JRJ. However after 20 or more years of indiscriminate bombings and killings by LTTE Sinhalese learned their lesson. They have apologised. There are no Sinhala only policies in south. Majority population in Colombo are Tamils and they better off there than in Kilinochchi. We did not support army always. They killed Sinhalese youths in 80s brutally as well. It was the government structutre. Things have changed. As a Sinhalese I support devolution. I would lik three states in Sri Lanka as pre British. Cothern State with Capital Colombo. Kandyan State with Capital Kandy and Northern State with Capital Jaffna. And president who deals only with foriegn policy and security. Three vice presidents for each state which can work independently. No broder controls. But regionel police is a must. Tamils should stop being Racist now. Like this author Tamils shoul objectivly at curerent picture. No lies like “JHU told 4 lacks dead Tamils to kilinochci.” They never said something like that.Prove it. Eventhough I do not like them (JHU) they are still in democratic mainstream. They do not kill their opponnets for differing opinion. LTTE is a neo Nazi movement and has to be defeated ideologically. Tamils should accept that truth and should start changing LTTE to respect the Tamils. I will never accept TAMIL ealam which propagate ONLY TAMIL Racist country. Ealam I would accept which any one can live. Sinahalese, tamils, Muslims etc.

  8. I am a tamil & as a 14 year old witnessed the 83 riots first hand. After supporting the freedom fight in numerous ways over the years, now I am totaly disappointed with the way things are going. If the ENFORCED boycot of presidential election is any indication of things to come, god bless tamils in Sri Lanka.

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