Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

By Rohini Hensman

After a seemingly endless series of events that made all decent Sri Lankans hang their heads in shame, there is at last something to make us feel proud of our country. The majority report of the panel set up to advise the All Party Representative Committee is impressive not only in its thoroughness and professionalism, but also in its ability to suggest creative solutions to the problems that have plagued us for so long.

Of course it is, as yet, only a draft; it would need to be revised in consultation with the people most affected by the measures it proposes before it can be finalised. With respect to the North-East, for example, an option would have to be chosen and fine-tuned through discussion with the people currently living in that part of the country, as well as refugees and Internally Displaced People (including the Muslims who were driven from the North over sixteen years ago) who wish to return to their homes there. And the proposed Bill of Rights would have to be elaborated to guarantee that the human rights and civil liberties of people of all communities are protected in all parts of the country.

However, even in its present form, with the points in the Annexure on protection of human rights, humanitarian measures, and promoting the use of Tamil as an official language with immediate effect, the document could be presented to the public for discussion. If the government were to accept it as the basis for a solution to the long-standing grievances of the Tamil-speaking minority in the country, the LTTE would be wiped out politically in a few years, as it would then be obvious to everyone that it has nothing to offer Tamils in Sri Lanka. The UNP has indicated that it would support the government in this course of action, making it completely viable. The war could be ended, peace and prosperity could ensue. But will the President and government head towards the light? Or will they turn round and head back into the tunnel?

The Significance of the Majority Report

The importance of this report, authored by six Sinhalese, four Tamils and one Muslim, is immense. It proves that the war that has plagued our country for decades is NOT a war between Sinhalese and Tamils. It proves that where there is a commitment to democracy, people of all communities can work together for a common cause. It shows that the primary struggle is one between democracy and fascism, and then there is a secondary struggle between Sinhala fascists and Tamil fascists. While the latter are locked in struggle against each other, they are united in their attempts to sabotage a democratic solution.

The LTTE’s stand on the proposal was made known to us in advance, with Prabakaran’s overt declaration of war and reiteration of commitment to the goal of Tamil Eelam in his Heroes’ Day speech. No surprises there: a democratic solution could never be palatable to Tamil fascists! If the TNA had been part of the APRC, it would no doubt have echoed the Supremo’s rejection of the panel’s proposals.

On the other side, rejection by the JHU, JVP and MEP was also entirely predictable. The concept of ‘equality’ – the bedrock of democracy – is alien to the stalwarts who lead these parties. In their view, people from minority communities simply have to accept whatever indignities the so-called ‘majority’ inflicts on them. They would be prepared to reject the proposals – and thereby boost the credibility of the LTTE by providing yet more evidence that Tamils can never receive justice in a united Sri Lanka – rather than concede basic democratic rights to Tamils in a united Sri Lanka. They would prefer to send thousands of Sinhalese to their deaths in a protracted war rather than accept the idea of living peacefully with Tamils who have equal rights.

Thus the Sinhala fascists gang up with the Tamil fascists when it comes to rejecting democracy. Yet they represent the Sinhalese people as little as the LTTE represents Tamils. If the government has the courage to call their bluff by explaining the proposals of the majority report to the public, supporting them and inviting a public debate on them, fascistic elements among the Sinhalese would be exposed for what they are and marginalised. If the President has the integrity to recognise that these proposals embody the maximum devolution in a united Sri Lanka that he was calling for, there would be light at the end of the tunnel. On the other hand, if there are attempts to dilute the proposals in accordance with the prejudices of the Sinhala chauvinists, Tamil chauvinists will be seen as being perfectly justified in rejecting them, and the war will go on.

Some people have suggested that the majority report is unacceptable because the TNA, JVP, JHU and MEP reject it. Have they stopped to consider what kind of proposal would be acceptable to all these parties? Prabakaran has never wavered from the goal of a separate state of Tamil Eelam under totalitarian LTTE rule, even going so far as to contradict the late Balasingham when he agreed to a federal solution. And Prabakaran’s writ rules the LTTE, just as the LTTE’s writ rules the TNA. Obviously such a solution would be rejected out of hand by the Sinhala nationalists, but it would also upset moderate Sinhalese, Muslims, and, indeed, Tamils. On the other side, the minimal devolution and Sinhala supremacist goals of the Sinhala nationalists would obviously be rejected out of hand by the LTTE and TNA, but would also upset moderate Tamils, Muslims, and, indeed, Sinhalese.

In other words, the idea that there is any solution whatsoever which would be acceptable to the extremists on both sides is mere wishful thinking. To search for it would be like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: IT CANNOT BE FOUND BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST. Therefore the only hope of a solution lies in marginalising extremists on both sides and concentrating on trying to satisfy the democratic aspirations of moderates from all communities. This is what the majority report of the expert panel does so successfully.

Whether it is accepted or rejected, we owe a debt of gratitude to the authors of the majority report. Crafting solutions to age-old problems requires imagination, standing up for democracy against the prevailing currents of authoritarianism requires courage, and they have displayed both. They have shown
that a peaceful, multi-ethnic, united Sri Lanka is not a mere pipe-dream, but a possibility within our grasp. If the government and President decide to throw away that possibility, they will be responsible for the ensuing bloodshed.

Towards the Sunlight? Or Back into the Darkness?

The President has expressed concern that the JVP could stir up trouble in the South if the majority report is accepted. It is almost certain that they would try to do so, but if the government were to wage an awareness-raising campaign to educate the Sinhala-speaking public on the significance of the report and the dire consequences of rejecting it, the JVP would not succeed in their undemocratic agenda.

The Sinhala and Tamil fascists have no regard for human life or welfare; they will go on fighting regardless of the sorrow and destruction they cause all around them. Unfortunately we cannot pack them off to a desert island to continue their war until death
do them part, but we CAN marginalise them politically by choosing democracy. That is what the people of Sri Lanka must put pressure on their leaders to do.

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