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India needs to do something about Sri Lanka
August 01, 2006
The President of Sri Lanka recently wrote a scathing article in The Wall Street Journal Asia -- which also appeared on rediff.com -- about the lawless Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or Tigers as they are popularly known. The President's interview with the Indian Women's Press Corps was published on rediff.com with the title 'For anything, we turn to India'.
In recent days, there have also been articles, blogs and comments in bulletin boards saying much the same.
The common thread in all the articles is that the Tigers are a ruthless terrorist organisation. Of the many grievances and accusations leveled against the Tigers are: the forcible recruitment of children, a callous disregard for human life, attempts at provoking a civil war between the different ethnic groups, the killing of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the use of suicide bombers. The list goes on. The Tigers do indeed have a reputation for being ruthless and unmerciful and I have no doubt the above list is factual.
It is now appropriate to ask why this is happening. An examination of the root cause, even a cursory one at that, is appropriate.
Raw savagery and bloodletting in post colonial Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was know then, was first unleashed in 1958 by state inspired and sponsored terrorism against its own citizens. This hideous crime was committed merely to garner support and votes at an election. The head of a nascent political party, first converted from Christianity to Buddhism and then turned to whipping up the flames of ethnic hatred and violence against the Tamils. A scapegoat in the Tamil populace was found for all the problems the country faced.
This was just the beginning of how rotten governance was to unfold in years to come. Hatred, distrust and animosity were fostered and cultivated by the very leaders elected to protect and uphold the law.
Periodically, mostly when votes were needed, the government would let loose a blood thirsty mob to rape, pillage, loot and burn at will.
Several times between 1958 and 1983, homes were burnt to crisp and men, women and children were hacked to death. When your wife, mother or sister is raped and butchered, what will you do Mr President? When death and destruction have visited your fellow man, just how long are you expected to take the pain, suffering and humiliation?
The Tamils were a timid, law-abiding, hard working and enterprising people who contributed handsomely to society. Mr President, you and your predecessors picked on them and trod on their dignity, stripped them of their self esteem and robbed them of their possessions. As long as they didn't retaliate, they were fair game to be picked on at will.
The 'big one' in 1983 was barbaric. It was by all accounts the most brutal, violent and barbaric act perpetrated upon the Tamils. This was the turning point for the Tamils. The Tamils retaliated with a vengeance you never expected or thought possible.
For the Tamils, a whole way of life and a cherished ethos had started to change. Today, every sleepy village and hamlet in the north and east of the Island has been transformed into a battleground. Young boys, girls and children, now battle hardened soldiers, prosecute their mission with an unimaginable ruthlessness.
It has been many years since the 'conflict' intensified, yet the government has been unable to move forward the cause of peace. Successive governments have presided over the breakdown of law and order and caused the rupture of civil society. When people commit unlawful acts against their fellow citizens, we call it terrorism. When a government commits acts of violence and repeatedly perpetrates crimes against its own people, what label does one attach to it?
What name do we give to a government that terrorises its own people? Just when is terrorism not terrorism?
At the forefront of the retaliation are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or the Tigers. From humble beginnings, they have emerged as a deadly fighting force, killing all who stand in their way.
No, I am not a supporter of the Tigers. I do not subscribe to their ideology. I believe in freedom in all forms, which I am afraid is anathema to the Tigers. Rajini (Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama, a Tamil human rights activist, author and feminist who was gunned down in Jaffna while cycling to work in September 1989) and other upstanding citizens like her are clear examples of the fate that befalls those who elect to speak their mind.
Unlike the LTTE, I do not wish for a Sinhalese, Muslim or Tamil to be harmed. I yearn for the times when we all lived in peace and harmony.
I hope the Tigers come to their senses and stop this indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians. The Tigers have done immeasurable damage to the Tamil cause by this senseless killing and intimidation. There is hardly a difference between the Tigers and the government now. Some day in the future, the Tigers will come to their senses and acknowledge another 'monumental tragedy'.
Many Tamils feel the Tigers are the reason the government has stopped the killing of innocents, a routine occurrence prior to 1983. Unfortunately, this protection and safety comes with a hefty price tag. The Tigers have no time or patience for dissent. Dissenters are dispatched with, with brutal efficiency. The hapless Tamil is between the devil and deep blue sea. I will not live in a land governed by the Tigers.
Many Indian nationals have spoken out in recent weeks. I wish to draw attention to B Raman's article 'India, Sri Lanka need to destroy LTTE's air, navy' which appeared on June 27, 2006 and also on the same day, Saisuresh Sivaswamy's blog Lankan Lure.
Raman and Sivaswamy advocate the destruction of the LTTE and for India to promote stronger ties with Colombo and not Jaffna.
All right, let's wave the magic wand and do away with the LTTE. What do you suppose happens now? Do you believe we all go back to living in peace, happiness and joy for all?
No, absolutely not! Let me remind you gentlemen that this is how it was once upon a time. Colombo was strong while Jaffna was weak. They were also times when we had frequent pogroms when, amongst other horrible crimes, pregnant women had their bellies slit just like you would fillet trout at a campsite. Mr Raman and Mr Sivaswamy, think of a mother, sister or daughter in such a predicament.
Gentlemen, let me remind you that even a federal system of governance is a scary proposition for the Sri Lankan government. You take your freedoms for granted in India while in Sri Lanka freedom is a cherished dream for many. India produces leaders we in Sri Lanka look up to. The Sri Lankan leaders are, well, you know....
I understand the senseless killing of Rajiv Gandhi, the violence in the streets of Madras and other crimes committed on Indian soil cannot be easily pardoned. Even though culpability rests with very few Sri Lankan Tamils, the whole Sri Lankan Tamil community hangs their head in shame.
The Tamils want peace. They want to educate their young, work in the professions, build homes and prosper. Just like they always did before it was taken away. The Tamils do go to international forums to air their grievances.
India is a member of the international community. India wants to be a regional superpower and to be a big brother to its neighbours, so now's the time to step up and shoulder your responsibility and burden. It won't always go your way. Take your lumps. These are growing pains and part of the learning curve India must go through if it needs to mature as a power of any kind. Don't cry foul and back off the moment you get hurt.
The failure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force to bring the Sri Lankan war to a closure is more a fault of the Indian generals than anyone else. The IPKF landed in Sri Lanka barefoot or in flip flops and carrying WW2 rifles slung over their shoulders. The lush, green landscape and comparative prosperity of the villagers in Sri Lanka was like candy to a child.
The IPKF went on the rampage. This was hardly the behaviour of a liberating army. So, it is no surprise the Sri Lankans, both Tamil and Sinhala, turned against them. Before you point fingers at others, please, treat your soldiers with dignity and respect.
Mr President, when you pronounce 'India is a very good friend of ours. For anything, we turn to India,' are you not speaking with a 'forked tongue'? Is it not true, in the past, Sri Lanka scurried to China and Pakistan for help at the slightest hint of trouble? Was not India deliberately kept at a distance? Even Mr Raman, the super sleuth will agree with me on this.
Are you not turning to India because Pakistan's name now is synonymous with terrorism and India's star shines bright with hope and optimism? There's nothing wrong with being a little opportunistic, is there Mr. President.
The public face you wear exudes peace and tolerance. It makes good press and looks good for the cameras. The other side of you wages a proxy war and turns a blind eye to the hurt and suffering of our citizens.
The 'committee of specialists' which is hard at work to bring about 'the Sri Lankan Model' for peace is, I fear, yet another wet squib. It is yet another charade. It is destined to fizzle and falter.
Mr President, you first need to find a way to appease the Maha Sanga and the JVP. Then you need to control the generals for whom this war is a gold rush. For the generals and some others, there are fortunes to be made hence the war must go on. Yes, Prabhakaran needs to be brought down. But he is not the only problem you have, is it Mr President?
Mr President, it is time for peace and reconciliation. There is no need for peace talks to 'discuss what they want.'
Reflect on the past fifty years and note where Sri Lankan leaders have gone wrong and come clean. We need our own truth and reconciliation programme. It is only by acknowledging past mistakes can we move forward on the path to peace, security and prosperity. If, as you said recently, we are all Sri Lankan, then you also acknowledge we share a common destiny.
I was glad to read the president's recent announcement with regards to developing the North and East. The world watches as Sri Lanka bleeds. Please don't let this be another hollow pronouncement just to appease vested interests. The clumsy efforts of the past prevent me from applauding you just yet.
It is time to demonstrate leadership and vision. The future of Sri Lanka looks bleak. People have lived in the shadow of war and death for far too long. The people are tired, and peace beckons.
Bring it home, Mr President, before the sun sets on the Resplendent Island.
C Yogendran is a Sri Lankan Tamil who has 'serious issues' with both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.>