Friday, October 23, 2009

Freedom of speech is non-existent in Sri Lanka

In the guise of fighting terrorism, the Sri Lanka government has muzzled and suppressed the independent press to the degree that no single publication or electronic media outlet in Sri Lanka is allowed to practice journalism in the way it ought to be.

Dissent is non-existent, self-censorship the order of the day; the ultimate victim – the ordinary citizen of Sri Lanka whose sources of information have dried up so completely that his only version of events mirrors that of the regime of the day. Sri Lankan newspapers are forced to practice a Goebbelian form of reportage, thanks to totalitarian control over the media.

Joseph Goebbels was Adolf Hitler’s most powerful weapon because his propaganda ensured the Nazis popular support. As Propaganda Minister in Hitler’s cabinet, Goebbels perfected an understanding of the "Big Lie" technique of propaganda, which is based on the principle that a lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses.

angerously, the theory led to success with most of Hitler’s Germany actually believing that they were on the right side of history until the very last moment which ended in the destruction of their country. It is tragic to see this trend taking root in Sri Lanka today –the same country that boasted such a vibrant and defiant press not so very long ago.

On the contrary, journalists have been slaughtered, abducted, assaulted, tortured and forced to flee their homeland all under the present regime. Investigations into a single one of these cases of brutality are yet to show any semblance of credibility.

Please remember the brutal murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the horrific assault Upali Tennakoon and abductions of Keith Noyahr and Poddala Jayantha and the myriad incidents of violence perpetrated on those individuals whose only crime has been to attempt to give you a version of the story that the government does not want you to hear. These were ordinary men tasked with an unfortunate duty to report the facts; fathers, husbands, brothers just like any one of us.

Sri Lanka should awake to the reality of this systematic silencing that the long march to freedom and security can finally begin. No amount of Goebbelsian propaganda can keep the truth buried forever however.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The doctors in the concentration camps are seeing 200 to 300 patients a day

For the past three months, a Tamil woman has been living in a concentration camp in Menik farm with her husband and three children.

Two weeks ago, her five-year-old son had a fever and was barely responding. She carried him to the clinic in the camp at 5am and queued until 6pm to see a doctor. Like many others that day, she did not get to see a doctor and she returned with her sick child to their tent without receiving treatment. She went back the next day and again failed to see a doctor after waiting for another 13 hours. It wasn’t until the third day that she finally managed to see a doctor who gave her some antibiotics.

The doctors in the concentration camps are seeing 200 to 300 patients a day, there is little capacity to carry out tests or follow up with patients and only the most urgent cases are transferred to hospitals outside the camps.

Another 24-year-old woman arrived in Menik Farm at the end of May and is badly disfigured since a fragment of bomb shell cut her lips, cheeks and chins during the conflict. Her mouth is always open, her tongue is badly affected and she can barely drink and cannot speak. She is in need of reconstructive surgery, which is not available inside the camp.

When her wounds became infected, she went in pain to the camp’s clinic. There a doctor was unable to do anything for her and she was not transferred to a hospital outside the camp because she was not considered to be an emergency case. She spends her days lying in the sand outside her tent, waiting for the day to pass.

Monsoon in the Sri Lankan concentration camps

I saw a massive flooding in the Indian states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh has at least 230 people dead and more than 10 million survivors homeless. I think it’s going to be a hell in the Sri Lankan concentration camps when NE monsoon starts.
Some Sri Lankan newspaper said that the SL government has taken rapid action in the construction of the drainage system there.

However the images from the BBC are contradicting that.

As you see the, the drainage system is very shallow and utterly inadequate.

The camps occupy vast tracts of formerly forested land near the northern town of Vavuniya. Because the ground on which many of the camps were built was cleared of trees recently, the soil is soft and porous.

The flimsy tents in concentration camps don’t stand a chance...

Many aid groups worry that the hastily built camps will not survive the inundation. Few months ago, he rain fell heavily for much of the afternoon , sent rivers of mud cascading between tightly packed rows of flimsy shelters, overflowed latrines , which have collapsed, sending human waste spilling all over camp. HR groups urged Sri Lanka yesterday to free 300,000 Tamils detained in camps since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May, warning that an outbreak of disease triggered by imminent monsoon rains could claim dozens of lives.
Mike Foster, the UK Minister for International Development who is visiting Sri Lanka, also said that Britain would no longer provide any funding for the controversial barbed wire enclosures once the monsoon was over in two months.
He added that many other donor countries were taking a similar position to put pressure on the Government to release the 300,000 Tamils who were detained after fleeing the frontline. “There’s a pressing need, with the monsoon impending, to get civilians out of the camps,” Mr Foster said after visiting two of the camps before meetings with Sri Lankan officials in Colombo yesterday. He said the monsoon, which is due to start this month, was almost certain to destroy tents already fraying after six months. “Disease, if it takes hold, is going to spread rapidly. Without doubt there will a loss of life,” he said. “Given that there are 300,000 people living so close together, I’d hazard a guess that it’s going to be more than dozens.” Mr Foster said that progress on resettlement had been “disappointing”, that the majority of those in the concentration camps had already been screened, and that moving them to other concentration camps was “unacceptable”. “There really is no reason why they can’t return. If the gates are opened up, the IDPs can be the judge of whether it’s safe or not to go home,” he said. “That should be a choice for them.”

History of the National Conflict in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is the name of the island earlier known as Ceylon and situated at the Southern extremity of the Indian Subcontinent, separated from it at its narrowest point by 22 miles of sea called the Palk Strait.
It covers an area of 25,322 square miles almost the size of Ireland or Tasmania and has a population of 18 million. Both the Sinhala and the Tamil nations co-existed in the island for over 2,500 years, and shared the rule of the island separately. Population ratio is approximately 74% Sinhala speaking and 26% Tamil speaking: Of the Sinhalese 93 % are Buddhists and 7% Christians. Of the Tamil speakers, 60 % are Hindus, 28 % Muslims and 12 % Christians.

The sources of the national conflict in Sri Lanka are historical, economic, cultural & religious. In the words of David Selbourne of Ruskin College, Oxford, it is "a true national question, if ever there was one".

Both the Tamil People & Sinhalese people are indigenous people of Sri Lanka. Early history records that they had their own monarchs and kingdoms. They were conquered by the colonial powers separately and in different periods in history. They existed as separate communities until the British brought them together in 1883 under a single administration (for the very first time in their long history).

The European Colonial Era

1505 - Arrival of Portuguese - They first occupied the low country Sinhalese areas in the south west of the Island.

1621 - Jaffna Tamil Kingdom fell to the Portuguese (more than a century later).

1656 - Dutch occupied areas which were under Portuguese control.

1802 - Treaty of Amiens - Dutch possessions ceded to the British.

1815 - The Sinhalese Kandyan Kingdom in the central parts conquered by the British, having annexed the Tamil Vanni Kingdom in the north.

1833 -The British unified the island based on the recommendations of Cole Brook - Cameron Commission (purely for administrative convenience).

1931 - Donoughmore constitution - State Council elected by Universal suffrage (the first people to exercise universal suffrage in Asia).

1947 - Soulbury constitution adopted & general elections held for the parliament of Ceylon.

The Sinhala-Colonial Era

1948 - British grant independence under the Soulbury constitution.
The parliament, with its entrenched Sinhalese majority, legislates to disenfranchise Tamils of [recent] Indian origin who have lived there for generations and have always exercised their franchise. The Tamil people lost almost half of their representation in the parliament.
The state aided colonisation of Sinhalese people in Tamil areas promoted to annex Tamil homelands and further reduce Tamil representation in the parliament.

1956 - The Sinhalese Language was made the only official language by legislation, disadvantaging Tamil people in dealing with the state administration and denying them equal access to education and employment.

1957 - Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam Pact between the Sinhalese Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike and Tamil leader SJV Chelvanayakam QC to meet some of the demands of the Tamil people.

1958 - The Pact was unilaterally abrogated by the Sinhalese Prime Minister to pacify the extreme elements among the Sinhalese Buddhists. (He is the father of the President of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga (1995 - ) He was assassinated by a Buddhist monk for his pact with the Tamils in 1959.

1965 - Senanayake - Chelvanayakam Pact - entered into, with another Sinhalese Prime minister Dudley Senanayake, and was never implemented by the Sinhalese government.

1969 - The Privy Council in London directs the Supreme Court in Sri Lanka to review the constitutionality of the Official Language Act, since it violated s.29(2) the constitution.

1971 - The government responds by abolishing appeals to Privy Council. The Tamil people's only avenue to seek justice through independent judiciary came to an end.

1972- The new Republican Constitution was adopted and imposed on the Tamil people without their consent.

The only legal safeguard provided by the entrenched section 29(2) of the Soulbury constitution, described by the Privy Council in London that they "represent the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental condition on which inter se they accepted the constitution; and these are therefore unalterable under the constitution", was scrapped.

Tamil parties walked out of the constituent assembly. With this Tamil participation of the democratic process in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) came to an end.

1973 - Through a process of standardization the government restricts entry of Tamil students to universities and institutions of higher education.

1974 - The 4th International Tamil literary conference in Jaffna was broken up by the police, where many died and several were injured.

1976 - All the main Tamil political parties unite under the leadership of SJV Chelvanayakam QC and at their First National Convention declare:

"The Convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist state of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation in this country."

1977 - Historical mandate of the Tamil people - The Tamil people gave a clear mandate at the general elections to establish their sovereignty. The manifesto called for:

"… in the general Election the mandate of the Tamil Nation to establish an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam that includes all the geographically contiguous areas that have been the traditional homeland of the Tamil-speaking people in the country.

"The Tamil nation must take the decision to establish its sovereignty in its homeland on the basis of its right to self-determination. The only way to announce this decision to the Sinhalese Government and to the world is to vote for TULF. The Tamil-speaking representatives who get elected through these votes while being members of the National State Assembly of Tamil Eelam which will draft a constitution for the state of Tamil Eelam and establish the independence of Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle".

The Tamil resolution also called on

"The Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully in the sacred fight for freedom and flinch not till the goal of a sovereign socialist state of Tamil Eelam is reached".

(The Sinhalese Prime Minister of Sri Lanka from 1970 to 1977 was Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranalke the present Prime Minister and the mother of the President Chandrika Kumaratunge [1995 - ).

The Anti-Tamil Violence - The Tamil people have been subjected periodically to communal violence. There have been anti-Tamil riots and pogroms in 1956,1958,1977 and culminating in the 1983 massacres and holocaust.

Military occupation & Police brutality - First in 1961 and then in 1974, 1979, 1981 and from 1983. Many historical monuments including temples and churches were destroyed. (Attested in two reports by the International Commission of Jurists, and in several other reports of independent international human rights organisations).

The armed struggle by the LTTE on behalf of the Tamil people arose as a rebellion against the tyranny of the Sinhalese state and its brutal repression of Tamil people. It is a just cause in pursuance of their democratic aspirations, and the historic mandate, and therefore is lawful.

1983 - Sri Lanka commenced arbitrary arrests and detention without trial, torture and rape, violence against women, summary executions of the Tamil people. The era of mass exodus of Tamil refugees internally and internationally begins.

1987 - UN Resolution on Sri Lanka country situation for violation of Human Rights. Unsuccessful Indo Sri Lanka Accord and the occupation of Tamil territories by Indian Army. India commenced deliberate and indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Tamil territories.

1990 - Withdrawal of Indian Forces. Unsuccessful Negotiations with United National Party Government. Sri Lanka recommenced deliberate and indiscriminate bombings of Tamil territories. Economic Embargo enforced to the North and part of the East.

1995 to date - Unsuccessful Negotiations with People Alliance Government, with resumption of the war.

History of the Tamils in Sri Lanka part 1

Many renowned Sinhalese and Tamil Historians Archaeologists Anthropologists and Linguistic Scholars as well as Indian, American and British Scholars have engaged in research, on the ancient history of Sri Lanka for more than 30 years, conducting Archaeological excavations.

These excavations were carried out in various parts of Sri Lanka and their findings published. However, some excavations have been suspended while, in other cases, the findings have not been released. In particular, there are many instances where excavations in the northern regions of Sri Lanka were suspended and the findings withheld. However, unbiased and honest historians have openly published the findings of their studies on this subject.

Many facts related to the ancient history of Sri Lanka and its ancient people have been brought to light on the basis of archaeological evidence from excavations. But, various difficulties have arisen in regard to understanding the early Stone Age people, their antiquity and their race. Nevertheless, the scholars referred to above generally accept that the ancient people of Sri Lanka belonged to the Dravidian Language family and followed the Dravidian (Megalithic) culture of 'Urn Burials'. The findings of these scholars also show that there was a strong similarity between the ancient people of Sri Lanka and those of India, particularly from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Kannada and the Andhra regions in South India where Dravidian languages are spoken.

Geologists and archaeologists are of the general opinion that as the result of a natural calamity Sri Lanka broke off from the Indian landmass and became an island many thousands of years ago. Therefore the ancient people of South India and Sri Lanka were of the same ethnic stock. This has been further established by findings relating to their culture, language and religion that show that the people of these two regions were closely connected.

In short, it emerges that the ancient people of Sri Lanka belonged to the Dravidian family and spoke Tamil, one of the ancient languages of the Dravidian language family. However, Pali and Sinhalese historical records and literature claim that the ancient people of Sri Lanka belonged to the Aryan language family and spoke Sinhalese, an Aryan language and that they came from North India. To date no archaeological evidence has been found to support these theories.

Sinhalese historians based their theories that the ancient people of Sri Lanka were Sinhalese largely on historical records found in the Deepavamsa and Mahavamsa Buddhist chronicles written in the fourth and filth centuries A.D. and on ancient stone inscriptions written in the North Indian languages of Pali and Sanskrit. These historians are particularly inclined to use the Mahavamsa. written in the fifth century A.D., as a main source. The Mahavamsa begins with the historical legend of Vijaya who was deported from North India and arrived in Sri Lanka in the fifth century BC.

In addition, the Mahavamsa also speaks of the three visits of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka and the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka by the Buddhist mission sent to Sri Lanka by the Maurya Emperor Asoka in the third century BC. This mission was led by his son and Buddhist priest Mahinda. The records of the Mahavamsa along with other historical documents and writings also tell of Devanampiya Tissa, the king of the Anuradapura Kingdom, who embraced Buddhism in the same period.

These accounts have naturally led historians in general to consider that the history of Sri Lanka begins with the third century BC. However, there is no reliable historical evidence of the arrival of Vijaya and his associates in the fifth century BC or of his rule in Sri Lanka. It is possible to infer that, Mahanama, the author of the Mahavamsa, witnessed the decline and disorientation of Buddhism in India during the fifth century BC. Due to his devotion to Buddhism and desire to consolidate this religion in Sri Lanka he decided to write the Mahavamsa. It is also possible that he began his chronicle with the legend of Vijaya with the sole purpose of linking Buddhism with its relationship to North Indian languages as a means to achieve his goals.

The important fact that must be considered in this context is that Saivaism was firmly established in Sri Lanka long before the arrival of Buddhism on the island. The kings of the Anuradapura Kingdom had been Saivaites before the advent of Buddhism. Besides, the Kingdom of Anuradapura was a well developed and strong kingdom in the third century BC, a status that would have required centuries to attain. Would it have been possible for Vijaya who arrived in Sri Lanka only in the fifth century BC to start from scratch and build up such a full-fledged kingdom in Anuradapura? It is apparent that the Kingdom of Anuradapura originated and gradually developed into a strong kingdom through many centuries and that the people who established the kingdom were Tamils of the Dravidian family. Tamil culture and Saiva religion were practiced in ancient Sri Lanka as Tamils were the ancient people of Sri Lanka, a fact established by the archaeological evidence that has come to light.

The culture, language, and religion of an ethnic people are the most significant factors determining their unique identity. Archaeological evidence shows that the ancient Dravidian people of ancient Sri Lanka, influenced by the arrival of Buddhism and the North Indian languages associated with it, gradually embraced Buddhism, its cultural traditions and the languages related to it.

For instance, archaeological findings prove that Buddhism enjoyed an influential status as the religion of the people in the traditional Tamil regions in the north, east and northwest parts of Sri Lanka, during the first two centuries BC. Would it be right to call these people Sinhalese on the basis that Buddhism was their religion in the early historical period? Archaeological studies clearly reveal that Dravidian people were living in the Puttalam and Negombo areas in the northwest region of Sri Lanka from ancient times.

However, the majority of these people, due to socio-economic activities and transitions over the past 150 years, have become Sinhalese and now speak the Sinhalese language. Besides, the majority of Saivites in the Jaffna peninsula were converted to Catholicism during the foreign rule of the Portuguese invaders. Another interesting instance in this context is the fact that the descendents of two significant Chetty families who migrated to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu five generations ago became fervent Buddhist Sinhala nationalists, Prime Ministers and Presidents in Sri Lanka.

It can be surmised from these matters that this same process of assimilation was a common phenomenon experienced throughout ancient Sri Lanka. The history of Sri Lanka, from the third century A.D. to the ninth century A.D., is permeated with the influence of Buddhism and Buddhist culture. This includes from early historical times, the intrusion of Pali and Sanskrit languages and their spread among the ancient Tamils of Sri Lanka and their Dravidian culture, as well as the origin of the Sinhalese language from Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil languages. The younger generation is left with the task of engaging with history and scientific methods to subject this historical period to deep and unbiased studies and write its history with intellectual integrity. When taking up this task, they should strive to find a fitting solution to the ethnic issue that has become an infested sore in Sri Lanka.

Two significant events took place in Sri Lanka following the tenth century A.D. in the wake of the Cola domination of Sri Lanka. The first is that the people who identified themselves as Sinhalese shifted their seats of rule from the ancient kingdoms of Anuradapura and Polanaruwa towards South Sri Lanka. The second was the Tamils moved their ruling structures from these same regions to the north and east of the island.

Consequently, the ancient kingdoms of Anuradapura and Polanaruwa, abandoned by both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, were engulfed by the jungle that temporarily separated the two ethnic groups for the next four or five centuries. As a result, the Sinhalese developed into a separate ethnic people with their distinct Buddhist religion and culture and Sinhalese language while the Tamils, in their traditional regions in the north, east and northwest of Sri Lanka began to establish their kingdoms under the newly risen Jaffna Kingdom, maintaining their distinct Tamil language, culture and Saiva religion.

This situation did not last long. The Sinhalese and Tamil kingdoms declined and eventually succumbed to the Portuguese invaders. The Kingdom of Kandy, however, retained its sovereignty and resisted capture by the Portuguese. The Tamils lost their kingdom forever as a result of Portuguese invasion, and the foreign Catholic religion was forcibly thrust on them. Many were obliged to relinquish their Saiva religion and follow Catholicism and its culture. Above all, they were impoverished by wholesale Portuguese exploitation of their economic resources. This situation allowed the Portuguese to amass great wealth.

The Tamils lost their sovereignty, religion, economic infrastructure and wealth and were reduced to slaves in their own land. It is a bitter historical truth that it was not only the Portuguese who were responsible for this state of affairs but also the competitiveness, jealousy, lack of co-operation and patriotism among the Tamils as well as the evil dowry system and social disparities that existed among them.

This same situation has continued from the time the Tamils and Tamil regions became enslaved to the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. It is unlikely this situation can be changed until the Tamil politicians and officials truly realise the gravity of the situation and apply themselves sincerely to solving these urgent problems. These are the people who have to decide whether or not the Tamils are to continue living as slaves and refugees.

The Dutch, who succeeded the Portuguese, dominated Sri Lanka for 150 years and also amassed wealth by unscrupulous means. They exploited the Tamils and their regions just as the Portuguese did. The Portuguese could be said to have sucked the blood of the Tamils but the Dutch did not stop there but consumed their flesh also. This further reduced the Tamils to utter poverty. The Dutch spread Protestantism, their new brand of Christianity among the forcibly converted Tamil Catholics in the Jaffna peninsula. Dutch documents provide sufficient proof that the Tamils, already afflicted by Portuguese occupation and atrocities, were further severely affected by intense Dutch exploitation of their economic resources along with their religious activities to promote Protestantism among them.

The forced indoctrination of their respective religions and the introduction of western culture to the Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula by the foreign invaders from Portugal and the Netherlands were their sole contributions to the Tamils and their regions, the impact of which is evident even in the present day. However, the Christian missionaries, both Portuguese and Dutch, established schools in the peninsula to impart religious education in addition to a range of basic subjects. Tamil society, for the first time, was exposed to an organised system of education along western principles. It cannot be denied that this experience prepared them for the modern educational methods of the British colonial rule and enabled them to adapt to the judicial, administrative and economic infrastructure of the British.

History of the Tamils in Sri Lanka part 2

The British colonial rule that began in the 1796 in Sri Lanka ushered in changes and new enterprises in the island generally and the Tamils and their regions in particular. The British, like their two predecessors, showed a keen interest in propagating Protestantism with the help of their missionaries who used education to spread their religion. As a result, the Tamils gave English education and Tamil education a primary place in their lives.

The prevailing caste discrimination, socio-economic disparities, lack of land and the oppressive dowry system in the Tamil regions, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula, impelled the Tamils to seek education. Parents invested in their children's education in the hope and expectation that their success in examinations would open up employment opportunities for them in the public and private sector in Sri Lanka as well as in foreign countries such as India and Malaya (Malaysia and Singapore).

True to their expectations, educated Tamils were able to acquire government and private employment in Sri Lanka, India and Malaya and earn a permanent income. This advancement in turn brought social development and progress in various spheres and Tamil society was gradually transformed into an educated society. However, this opportunity was not widely available in the undeveloped Tamil regions.

The dedicated interest shown by the British in the field of education resulted in the establishment of hundreds of primary and secondary schools in the Jaffna peninsula with various missionaries functioning as their driving force. The Tamils also, just as the missionaries established Christian English schools, opened up Saiva English schools. Saivaism and the Tamil language experienced a renaissance while Saiva temples and halls were built in great numbers due to the religious tolerance of the British rulers. This progress in education contributed immensely to various positive developments in the fields of religion, arts, culture, language, literature, socio-economics and politics.

The establishment of the infrastructure of finance, justice and administration and the efficient functioning of these structures in the early British rule helped develop the country economically as well as consolidate its administration and law and order. The population began to increase in this peaceful and thriving atmosphere. Roads and bridges were built and health services improved remarkably. This progress in turn paved the way for the Tamils in the north and east to establish contacts and develop mutual understanding with the Sinhalese in the south.

The Tamils, particularly the English-educated Tamils, already disturbed by conversion to Christianity by the missionaries and the spread of western culture among them, rose in protest and reacted against steps taken by the British government. These protest activities relating to culture and economics in turn became factors that kindled the consciousness of the Tamils. The spirit of protest manifested itself in the spheres of society_ religion, culture and language and resulted in the politically motivated rise of Tamil nationalism. The British constitutional reforms and political activities connected to them were the fundamental reasons for the rise and growth of Tamil nationalism.

The Colebrook constitutional reforms introduced in 1833, brought the north and east regions of Sri Lanka, hitherto administered as a separate unit. under a single centralised administrative system based in Colombo. This disoriented the longstanding territorial integration of the Tamils and threatened their national identity.

The 1921-24 Manning constitutional reforms among others that followed were the first to create a permanent divide between the Tamils and Sinhalese ethnic communities. The Donoughmore constitutional reforms introduced in 1931 added their share to compound the situation by implementing universal franchise, abolishing the system of territorial representation and replacing it with communal representation. This resulted in more representatives from the Sinhalese community securing seats in the State Assembly and caused great antipathy and rage among the Tamils and their political leaders. The Soulbury constitutional reforms introduced in 1947 were also partial to the Sinhalese majority representatives. They were drawn up in keeping with the draft proposals submitted by their Board of Ministers and passed in the House of Representatives with the majority of Sinhalese representatives voting in favour. The British ruling powers forcibly implemented this political constitution modeled on the Westminster Parliamentary system as practised in Britain on a country consisting of two Nations, the majority Sinhalese nation and a minority Tamil nation.

In the 1947 general elections held under the newly introduced constitution. the Sinhalese political parties secured the majority representation in Parliament and thereby became the rulers of the country. When the British finally granted independence to Sri Lanka they handed over the government to the Sinhalese majority community leaving the Tamils with a refugee status. The fundamental cause for the loss of thousands of Tamil lives and the destruction of their property in the 60 years following independence was the British government's violation of the trust placed in them by the Tamils. Sinhalese political leaders, by compiling and submitting erroneous statistics to the British rulers, were able to secure sole sovereignty over the whole country, their numerical majority being the only claim.

The Tamil political leaders, due to their dearth of political foresight and propelled by self-promoting motives sought political refuge with the majority Sinhalese political leaders. Safeguards in the form of special Acts in the Soulbury constitution aiming to protect the political rights of the minorities were blatantly abandoned by the Sinhalese majority government within a few months of Sri Lanka gaining independence in 1948.

From 1948 onwards, the Indian Tamils were stripped of their citizenship and their right to vote. Pre-planned Sinhalese colonisation in the traditional Tamil territories was vigorously and systematically implemented. These activities of the government most severely affected Tamil representation in the House of Representatives and the traditional territories of the Tamils.

The `Sinhala Only' Act implemented in 1956 which made Sinhalese the official and national language of the State and granted Buddhism the status of State Religion posed serious threats to the national status and identity of the Tamils in relation to their language and religion. Employment opportunities in considerable numbers were denied to Tamils by the partial activities of the government. Tamil students were denied opportunities in higher studies by the introduction of biased schemes such as 'Standardisation' and the 'Quota System' that were implemented to select candidates for universities.

All fundamental democratic rights such as the freedom to congregate and freedom of expression were largely denied to Tamils. Whenever the Tamil political leaders engaged in passive non-violent protest demonstrations demanding their political rights, the armed forces were used to crush them by attacking demonstrators, forced dispersal of their gatherings and the arrest of Tamil political leaders.

The various pacts the Tamil political leaders entered into with the Sinhalese political leaders following negotiations were all eventually abrogated by the Sinhalese signatories. The Sinhalese regimes, exploiting their majority strength and the power in ruling the country they thereby achieved, used its three armed forces designed to protect the government, to effectively crush the Tamils, their political leaders and their just struggles for their lost rights, in several ways. Above all, they unleashed continuous pogroms on the Tamils from 1958, killing thousands of Tamils, subjecting Tamil women to sexual violence, setting fire to their houses and property, reducing them to the status of refugees in their own country.

The Tamil political leaders, on realising that the Sri Lanka Sinhalese majority regime would never recognise the Tamil right of self-determination, in 1976 united and arrived at a firm decision that establishing Tamil Eelam was the only way open to the Tamils. This seems to be a belated decision. They contested in the 1977 general election on a mandate for Tamil Eelam. The Tamils responded with overwhelming support of the Tamil political leaders in their demand for Tamil Eelam. Following the demise in 1977 of S. J. V. Chelvanayagam who fought tirelessly for more than 30 years, the Tamil political leaders, led by Amirthalingam, opted to pursue moderate political activities. These leaders who had been elected to establish Tamil Eelam, following the 1977 election victory, tried to solve the Tamil political issue by negotiating with the government.

The young Tamil men and women who had already been pushed to the brink of utter frustration due to the denial of educational and employment opportunities, rose in protest against the activities of the Tamil political leaders who believed they could continue their politics and pacify the Tamil youth. Finally, the Tamils again whole heartedly mandated the Tamil political leaders to establish Tamil [clam in the general election that followed. The government which schemed to crush the demand for Tamil Eelam implemented an Act which called for the loyalty of the members of the Parliament to the national integrity of Sri Lanka as a unitary state. The Tamil leaders found themselves in a precarious situation caught between the intensified demand of the Tamil young men and women and this Act. Unable to go against the mandate they were elected to establish Tamil Eelam, the Tamil political leaders had to forgo their membership in Parliament.

The Tamils, already denied all their democratic rights, were now deprived of their right to representation in the Parliament. Meanwhile, the state terrorism unleashed against the Tamils in 1983 killed thousands of Tamils of all ages specially the youth . Tamil women were sexually assaulted in public. Tamils' property worth millions of rupees were looted and set ablaze. Tamils in their thousands went to Tamil Nadu as refugees while thousands sought refuge in America, Australia and European countries. Those who were not so fortunate were fled to the north and east. Tamil youth specially were arrested and tortured.

These events can only lead to one conclusion. It is that the Tamils and the Sinhalese are two different and separate nations that are unable to live together. These events were a message and open declaration by the Sinhalese nation to the Tamil nation as also the international community that the Tamils should go to the north and east and live there.

The Tamil young men and women took up arms when they realised that this was the language of the Sinhalese majority government and it was the only language that it could understand. The Nanthi (cow) symbol of peace was the emblem of the national flag of the Jaffna Kingdom of the Tamils. The Portuguese as foreign invaders robbed the Tamils of their kingdom and brought the Nanthi flag down.

The British, who were the last foreign rulers of Sri Lanka should have handed Tamils the right to rule their territory when they finally left Sri Lanka. It is tragic that they did not do so. Now, the national flag of the Tamil Nation, with its Tiger emblem of an animal that is totally different to the passive Nanthi, flies in the Tamil nation. It is the Sinhalese government that should bear the responsibility for this. The Sinhalese majority government and the Sinhalese political leaders should consider the Tamils' demand for the right to self-determination with sincerity, humanity and political foresight and act at the earliest to recognise it. Failure to do so will inevitably lead both comminutes to face more blood shed and devastation.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The birth of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Tamil Elam was born in the nineteen fifties, when the Sinhalese majority in newly-independent Sri Lanka set about to build a national identity by appealing to Sinhalese nationalism. By an act of the Sinhalese-dominated parliament, a million Tamils were stripped of citizenship and franchise on the grounds that their parents or grandparents had been born in India. The proportion of Tamil voters in the electorate instantly dropped from 33% to 20%, giving the Sinhalese a lock on the 2/3 parliamentary majority needed to pass any law they wanted. Sinhalese became the official language of Sri Lanka. Tamil civil servants, who had dominated the English colonial administration, were summarily fired. Under the guise of agricultural schemes, the Sinhalese government pushed Tamils off their land, flooding newly-created enlarged tracts of farmland with previously landless Sinhalese. Pogroms and general oppression ensued. In the 1958 riots alone, 25,000 Tamils were forced to flee into the northern part of the island. An effort was even made to deport “stateless” disenfranchised Tamils to India. The Tamil response to this campaign was predictable and obvious.
At first, they followed the non-violent path of Mohandas Gandhi. Old men sat at the entrances of government offices, chanting hymns and preventing government clerks from entering by blocking the entrances with their bodies. The Sinhalese police beat them aside with clubs. Peaceful protests were dispersed by Sinhalese thugs acting with semi-official sanction. The peaceful way of satyagraha was of no avail. Gandhi’s approach had worked with the British because the refined British public and media would take their government to task over the perceived violations of Indian civil rights. It would not work against the Sinhalese because the Sinhalese public and media eagerly applauded the violation of Tamil civil rights.
By the nineteen seventies, the Tamil language was banned and Tamil contacts with the Tamil population of India were forcibly cut off. A policy of deliberate discrimination in everything from housing and employment to university scholarships pushed the Tamils to the fringes of society and sat the Sinhalese firmly on top. Sinhalese troops patrolled Tamil villages, assaulting anyone who dared to look at them the wrong way. A deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing was pushing Tamils deeper and deeper into the north of Ceylon. There was no doubt in the mind of any sane observer that the Sinhalese would not stop until they slowly, by stages, pushed the Tamils into the ocean. In fact, the Sinhalese said as much. Tamils, according to the Sinhalese, were foreigners who belonged in India.
When Tamil youth demanded action in the face of government oppression, their elders quelled them in the name of “national unity” and “non-violence”. They were told that Hinduism prohibited violence. They were told that parliamentary means could ensure their rights. They were told that this Tamil politician or that Tamil politician or some other Tamil politician would somehow magically make an agreement with the Sinhalese in exchange for his vote in one coalition or another.
The agreements were duly made. And they were duly broken. The oppression continued. In the end, the youth did the only rational thing they could have done. They rejected their elders. They rejected the Sinhalese State. They rejected non-violence. They demanded a country of their own. At gunpoint.
It was the seventies. The West seemed on the run, the Soviets were winning the Cold War and Marxist rebels were popping up the world over. For a young man rebelling against the established order and the religion of his elders, Marxism was the logical way to go. Therefore it is not surprising, though unfortunate for the Tamil people on Ceylon, that those who sought to liberate them from Sinhalese rule were mostly Marxists. In May 1976, a group of youth with Marxist rhetoric which adopted the name “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam”. Their leader, a twenty-one-year-old named Vellupilai Prabhakaran, who had already set the tone in July of the previous year.
Things spiraled out control from there and as it happens in conflicts of this type, all pretense of civilization was rapidly thrown aside. The point of no return came in July of 1983, when, allegedly in response to an LTTE ambush that killed 15 Sri Lankan soldiers, Sinhalese civilians rioted across the island, murdering some 3,000 Tamils. The rioters had official government voter lists showing the names and addresses of Tamils. The Sinhalese army and police stood by and did nothing for days as entire neighborhoods were burned to the ground. As Tamil motorists were pulled out of their cars and burned alive at improvised checkpoints, whole families were hacked to pieces in their living rooms and Tamil temples were put to the torch by Sinhalese mobs led by plainclothes police, spontaneity, unlike brutality, was not in evidence. The event would forever be remembered by the Tamils as Black July.
In response to this final atrocity, hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled abroad, while those remaining on Ceylon made their way to the North and East of the island, where the heretofore small-time pro-independence insurgency suddenly had no shortage of recruits. Asia’s longest running civil war was on in earnest, no holds barred.

Sri Lanka should make public a list of all IDPs

With the end of the government’s military campaign, Crisis Group urges that:
The Sri Lankan government should make public a list all those being held in camps for the displaced and in places of detentions, to reassure worried families about the fate of their loved ones, to facilitate the reunification of divided families, and to protect against the threat of abduction and forced disappearance.
The ICRC and UNHCR must be given full and immediate access to every stage of the government’s “screening” for those suspected of involvement with the LTTE. The ICRC should be granted full access to all places of detention to ensure that surrendered and captured combatants and other terrorist suspects are treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and Sri Lankan law. The Sri Lankan government should make public its plans for the demobilisation and rehabilitation of former LTTE fighters.
The Sri Lankan government should remove all restrictions on the access and effective work of the ICRC, UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs in government camps for the displaced in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna and in government hospitals and medical centres. Punitive restrictions on visas and on travel within Sri Lanka for international staff of humanitarian agencies must also be removed. Lack of access and the consequent reduction in services only compounds the already severe physical suffering and psychological hardships the displaced are enduring.
The Sri Lankan government should announce a clear and prompt timetable for the resettlement of all those recently displaced from the Vanni. The government should also establish an open and inclusive process of consultation with independent Tamil and Muslim leaders to devise a fair and sustainable plan for the resettlement of all those displaced from the Northern Province, including the nearly 100,000 Muslims forcibly evicted from Jaffna and Mannar in 1990.
The Sri Lankan government should make tangible and meaningful steps to assure Tamils, Muslims and other minorities that their rights will be respected and their equal citizenship and physical safety will be assured. The government should initiate a new and inclusive process of dialogue between legitimate and independent representatives of all ethnic communities in pursuit of a lasting political settlement that addresses the grievances and insecurities of all communities through constitutional guarantees of power-sharing and individual rights.