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.