The anatomy of abductions

by K. Arvind

The alarm expressed by the Tamil minority on the increasing abductions of Tamil persons, particularly in the Colombo District, has neither abated nor been objectively addressed by the government. The crime is on the rise with even an employee of the Indian High Commission being abducted a few days ago. Clearly, it has become a kind of habit with those engaging in that sordid business to the extent of the perpetrators not caring to know who their victims are. The people continue to suffer in spite of assurances given by the highest in the land, the chiefs of the police and the armed forces to the delegations lead by Tamil ministers. There appears to be much more to the abductions than what meets the eye. Last September, someone writing under the pseudonym, “A worried Tamil Businessman” wondered: “Is there a calculated move by sinister forces to break the economic backbone of the Tamil community as part of a wider plan to decimate the community in the South, more specifically in the Colombo District?”

The ubiquitous white van, referred to by those abducted or by their kith and kin witnessing the act, is working full time, under the nose of the police, the army and everyone else entrusted with public security. The Civil Monitoring Committee on Abductions said for the last year or so over 300 had been abducted, several killed, a few released and the majority of the victims were still missing. The ready made excuse is that the abductions are the work of Karuna and his men. It is claimed that those abducted are from the Batticaloa District and could have been either members or financial contributors to the LTTE earlier. The implication being: “So what? or they deserve it, don’t they?”

Karuna’s breakaway was a strategic gain for the army where the State has succeeded in splitting, almost in the middle, the LTTE which was once monolithic. The news is Karuna’s men are willing to identify LTIE cadres and moles much to the delight of the armed forces. After all, the forces are fighting an elusive and formidable enemy and anyone helping in the process may be welcome. They may go on the basis: My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

The list of those abducted so far suggests otherwise. Almost all of those abducted are Tamil businessmen who have lived in the South for decades, continuously. Those who have been abducted confirm that money was the only motive of their abductors. This may justify the fears expressed by the businessman quoted above. There is already visible confusion in the Tamil business community in Colombo as to what their future is going to be. They suspect there are forces bent on driving the Tamil businessmen away. It is an open secret such a move was very much on in the Kelaniya area, where politically-backed Sinhala interests protested against the presence of minority business interests. Showrooms of the late Samuel Gnanam (St. Anthony’s) and Nalim Hadjiar (Bairaha) were attacked and they were warned to stay out. These two multi-millionaires with powerful connections with governments simply fled. While the President has many close Tamil friends and is not known to have been ill-disposed towards Tamils, no effective measures have been adopted to protect Tamils. Why has not at least one person committing these crimes been taken in?

The IGP admitted that some ‘bad eggs’ in the Police and the forces were in cohorts with the underworld in this shameful business. This is perhaps the right time to examine another gnawing fear of the Tamils. The more initiated among them feel that some extremists among the Sinhalese have aligned with mischievous and pseudo-national forces, with strong political backing to gain the gradual and eventual removal of Tamil entrepreneurship from the South so that they could move into fill the vacuum thus created. As is manifestly clear, the share of Tamils getting lucrative government tenders is steadily diminishing. The number of Tamil professionals such as doctors, engineers, lawyers and accountants has been on the decline in the past few decades as seen in the examination results of these published in the press. The distinguished and substantial Tamil presence in the Judiciary, Medicine, Engineering and Architecture, Sports, the higher strata of government service etc., is now fast becoming a thing of the past.

Majority business interests are encouraged and subtly assisted to gain government contracts like in the controversial disproportionate Malaysian Bumiputhra system that stands internationally condemned. During the recent visit of the President to China, an exclusive group of young Sinhala Buddhist businessmen was on show to attract the eyes of the potential Chinese investors in Sri Lanka. There was neither Tamil nor Muslim presence of a relatively substantial nature in this delegation, though many young Tamil and Muslim businessmen in Colombo contribute to the national welfare by heading successful businesses. The same sources feel an organised group among the Sinhalese has come to the conclusion that the Tamil problem cannot be solved militarily – even with a weakened LTTE and a better financed and very well equipped Lankan military. These sources are of the view no Sinhalese Government, be it SLFP or UNP led government, will put forward a proposal to solve the National Problem for fear of loss of votes. Some other factors that aggravate the fears of the Sinhalese are the proximity of Tamilnadu inspiring the Tamils of Lanka; the Indian government and the other perceived enemies like the White Koti (Norwegians) and other members of the international community. Then there is a new theory of the White Koti being surreptitiously eyeing the oil deposits in the Gulf of Mannar. Such fears help extremist elements who want to see a Colombo District totally cleansed of the Tamil presence. The Indian High Commission in Colombo that used to receive only 500 visa applications daily is today inundated with over 1,200 a day. Most of these applicants are from Tamils trying to escape abductions and other threats.

The new scheme of recognizing Overseas Citizens of India is part of an exercise by New Delhi to the decade-old clamour of the powerful 22 million strong overseas Indians (PIO) domiciled mostly in developing countries. A few hundred Sri Lankans of recent Indian origin, who were able to establish the mandatory requirement of Indian parentage, have secured OCI status, largely due to the new climate of fear and insecurity in Sri Lanka.

There is some foolish speculation here that the OCI scheme was formulated by Delhi to trigger a brain drain from here, which is crass nonsense. There is nothing sinister about the OCI scheme. The economy of India is growing at a substantial pace and will gather speed in the next decade. Successful PIO overseas are emotionally interested in contributing to and benefiting from India’s economic progress, to which New Delhi, particularly under the BJP administrations, responded inter alia with the OCI scheme. It goes without saying these PlOs are unhappy with the materialistic culture in their countries by which their children are losing their Indianness. These parents are obsessed with the feeling that their children should not be cut off from their ancient culture and traditions. Under this scheme, PlOs are subject to several conditions: they cannot vote in Indian elections, engage in political activity etc. It may be noted that such facilities are now offered by many other governments. Mainland China is working out a scheme to attract the financially powerful overseas Chinese, settled in almost every major city in the world. It is somewhat tragic while India is doing all she can to bring back sons and daughters of India profitably settled ‘overseas, in Sri Lanka her sons and daughters are being driven away.

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