By Dr. A.R.M.Imtiyaz
[Department of Political Science, Temple University , USA]
“It is now crystal clear that the Sinhala leaders will never put forward a just resolution to the Tamil national question. Therefore, we are not prepared to place our trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path…. We therefore ask the international community and the countries of the world that respect justice to recognize our freedom struggle.” This is the key sections of the annual Heroes’ Day statement delivered by the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V. Pirapaharan.
The Sinhalese ruling class in Colombo may simply consider this as a regular political joke of Tamil militancy. However, serious Sri Lanka watchers would agree that such a statement represents not only the Tamil disappointments and distrust, but also it effectively exposes duplicity of five decades old southern Sinhalese politics, which categorically refused to do meaningful political business with the Tamil moderates. Thus statement is strong in its message and accurate in its agendas.
The Tamil Tigers unquestionably are the deadly elements of the Sri Lanka society. Whether the Tamils Tigers are freedom fighters as they claim themselves or deadly terrorists as the Sri Lanka governments describe, history will answer it. My point is here is that the birth of Tamil Tiger movement has roots in Sri Lanka ’s history. In my understanding, they are the byproduct of five decades’ old failed politics and policies of the Sinhalese political class. There was not an overnight decision among the ordinary Tamils to approve the agendas of the Tamil Tigers: the failure of Sri Lankan polity to meet the demands of the Tamil moderates was a key foundation for the origin of the Tamil extremism in Sri Lanka . Instead of listening to the Tamil leaders and accommodating their reasonable demands, the Sinhalese ruling leaders of the time assaulted and stoned the Tamils and their leaders, and even hired the Sinhalese to become butchers to kill innocent Tamils and moderate leaders. One needs to realize that successive government since 1956 controlled by the Sinhalese miserably failed to engage the Tamil moderates such as the Federal Party (FP). The FP sought a comprehensive solution without jeopardizing the unity of Sri Lanka . However, Sinhalese collective, competitive chauvinism turned blind eyes to the Tamil moderates. Sadly, the choice of the Sinhala political class to use violence effectively scratched the Tamil trust in the political system and encouraged some Tamils to adopt violence.
Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, a former Premier of Sri Lanka and considered as an agent of neo-colonialists by the Sinhala chauvinists, during his visit to the United States echoed this truth. He rightly pointed that “the Tamils tried peaceful protests which soon degenerated into violence. With the underlying grievances being unattended the stage was set for terrorists groups to emerge (“Our Approach for a Better Tomorrow Free from Terrorism,”Daily News, July 25, 2002.) This helps us to understand the birth of Tamil violent movements, particularly the Tamil Tigers in the end of 1970. The Sinhalese ruling leaders, however, did not freeze their narrow minded ethnic outbidding policies. They incessantly formulated what I call emotional policies to win the sympathy of the Sinhalese, and continually treat the Tamils inhumanely and refused to offer what political scientists call “consocational democracy” to ease ethnic tensions.
What is more ironic is that in Sri Lanka, even after 25 years of conflict, after victimizing thousands of Sri Lankans, mostly the Tamils, the Sinhalese political class still refusing to recognize that minorities, including the Muslims, have legitimate grievances that require reasonable political solution. In fact, they are deliberately refusing to understand the problems of the minorities; because they hate to challenge the kind of political culture they created to outbid their opponents. To consolidate this narrow political culture, they utilize 5th century Mahavamsa, which plays key role in the formation of Sinhala elite mobilization. According to Mahavamsa, Sinhalese people are the preservers of Buddhism and the entire island is the sacred home of the Sinhalese and of Buddhism.
Separation may not be desirable solution for the Sri Lanka ’s ethnic civil war which killed more than 75,000 people out of the island’s 19 millions. In other words, separation may trigger further instability. But when a particular community continuously being denied their rights and share, and became prisoners of the majority/dominant community, then there must be a solution to arrest unhealthy political situation and to give justice to the marginalized. However, desire for a partition could be challenged if the ruling elites show real willingness to think and act beyond the ethnic emotions, and commitments to share the powers with the minorities. That is to say, their must be an effective power sharing mechanisms with the Tamil ethnic political movements both at center and region. This would more likely undermine the agendas of the separatist movements provided there is a domestic and international political willingness to implement the agreement.
Moreover, it is irrational to demand a particular community to forcefully cohabit with the majority. Also, when there is no space for political accommodation and citizenship for the minorities who claim geographical domination in a certain areas of the country, separation is highly likely. Pirapakaran, who thinks that “uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism” would never deliver justice to the Tamils, seem now strongly believe that an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam can deliver peace and justice to the Tamils. Pirapakaran and its elusive Tamil Tiger cadres may have their own political aims and programs as other political parties or organization share in a democratic political structure, but what is truth is that the Sinhalese polity totally disappointed the minorities, particularly the Tamils.
Therefore, when they say “the uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam,” it is highly demonstrating their frustration both with the impartial delivery of democratic system and the Sinhalese ruling elites. In point of fact, this is serious political development and should be taken seriously, because such a call for partition generally arises out of deep disappointment on the delivery of political leaders.
The best alternative to the partition is, as I mentioned above, serious political package. It would probably provide a political space to cohabit with other groups, while maintaining their own identity and values. The basic logic of unity is acceptance. When we prepare to accept choices made by others regardless their ethnic/religious identity, we not only win their trust, but also their loyalty to the common goals. On the other hand, polity may trigger violence and instability when we shove our preferences on others. Unity and peace among the different groups, by and large, occur when there is a sprit for respect, self-determination, and freedom, in other words, tensions between the different ethnic groups can be disappeared when the state offer the space for the minorities to build their lost trust, and to uphold their citizenship through the political autonomy.
If there is a resistance from the Sinhalese polity for a power-sharing, in that case, the final but undesirable option for the Tamils is partition. The demand of separation becomes strong when a power-sharing arrangement is not possible. The world recognizes that if the people do not want to co-habit in the same polity then, partition should not be automatically neglected as a solution. This might be one way to manage Tamils’ demands for political space since 1977. However, partition would not win the blessings of the global community, particularity New Delhi and Washington would refuse to go along with it for the reasons best known to them.
But is it fair enough to turn blind eyes, while the sections of the human community continually suffer both militarily and humanitarianly in the chunk of the war torn North-East? How are we human enough to tolerate blood and dead of the Tamils at the hands of oppressive Sinhalese forces who even snub to offer minimum power sharing such as Tsunami pact? Do Tamils continually need to bleed for the desires of corrupt and selfish or bad leaders of Sri Lanka ?
If the global community thinks partition is not desirable, then they need to exert tough leverage on the Sri Lanka ruling elites to firmly improve the human rights of the minorities of Sri Lanka , by giving political space for a power sharing democracy. Sri Lanka continue to bleed and remain to be home of deadly but motivated Tamil suicide bombers if there is no outside (effective and honest) pressures. Such a vacuum may further frustrate Sri Lanka , and help to reserve permanent seat in the failed state club. Both the global community and Sinhalese ruling elites would have to share the responsibilities, if such an outcome occurs beyond our expectations.