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Five Miscalculations (Part 04)

The Appapillai Amirthalingam Eightieth Birth-anniversary Memorial Lecture ',A Time for Tamil Introspection and Reassessment in the midst of Myth and Propaganda '; delivered by Prof. S, Ratnajeevan Hoole on London, 26 August, 2007

I trust we can see how wrong we have been. We have made many a volte face. M. Sivasithambaram whom many of us Federalists did not like at one time because of his Congress roots, became a genuine hero to us. Sivaram Taraki who had much to explain from a period when he was PLOTE Deputy Leader and many of PLOTE’s cadre were internally killed, went through a remake. The FP that supported Israel in Parliament later would arrange for India to send our boys for training under Arafat’s PLO. Rasa Viswanathan became a TULF hero defending human rights. The effete AG, Siva Pasupathy, who as chief legal advisor to the government did not inform the government that adding 28 marks to every Sinhalese candidate in the 1969 ALs violated Section 29 of the then Constitution, became the LTTE’s legal advisor and a new hero. The very SP whom the students of Jaffna intensely disliked then and who allowed Waragoda to get away from punishment, is a much touted writer. Kumar Ponnambalam in 1990 with his presidential running mate Raviraj was very critical of the LTTE in his articles in the Sunday Times. Many of us Federalists, I recall, had cheered in the late-1960s as cruel jokes about Kumar that cannot be committed to writing were uttered from election platforms, tying him to his close relative Alfred. We thought of his father GG Ponnambalam also as a traitor. Today GG is a heroic founding father of the TULF . Kumar and Raviraj both are our heroes, praised by the very same people who once were against them. There was a time when Mr. Sambanthan, Mr. Suresh Premachandran and others were “traitors” hiding in the Non-aligned Flats guarded by the state. Today they are our leaders. Is it possible that Alfred too, if he had not been so brutally murdered, would perhaps be a hero today? Or perhaps even a Maamanithan? Who is a traitor and who is a hero for us Tamils? It all seems stage managed according to convenience.

In the event, I would like to defend and pay my humble respects to two of my leaders. Mr. Amirthalingam experienced first hand the inveterate racism and unyielding expansionism of the Sinhalese state. He saw in India a friend, a great friend of the Tamil people. It may be argued that India had selfish interests. Surprised? Every state has permanent interests which it pursues, sometimes without principle. What is relevant is that Indian interests were confluent with the interests of the Tamils given two factors – the intrinsic anti-Indian ethos of many Sinhalese and the common cultural links between India and the Tamils. Mr. Amirthalingam simply saw an avenue for advancing Tamil interests and moved strategically into that opportunity. Those of us who were in Sri Lanka as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) moved in are deeply aware of our very high expectations – realistic expectations. Criminals settled in the East had run away. An IIT-like institution for the North-East was in the making, as was a modern highway along the east coast from Batticaloa to Jaffna.

It all came to naught because of our puritanical all or nothing attitude towards the 7 seats of the Provincial Council. Can anyone today really argue that Mr. Amirthalingam was wrong? We have been practically eliminated, slipping in numbers behind the Indian Tamils and the Muslims. Our educational indices are badly down. According to a Ministry of Education study, Jaffna is behind Kilinochchi. Surely the Indian intervention – even if we choose to call it Indian hegemony – would have been far better than what we have today. In hindsight Mr. Amirthalingam was so right!

Similarly a second person whose good name I would defend is the late Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam whose death anniversary just passed us by. He was an internationally recognized constitutional lawyer. He tried his level best to arrive at a negotiated constitutional settlement. He and we Tamils were cheated as the Sinhalese parties went through their now predictable contortions and machinations to defeat even the modicum of a meaningful devolution that the constitutional reforms envisaged. As Ranil Wickramasinghe sent his wavering MPs on paid vacations to Singapore to prevent their voting, even the vote of his own TULF MPs became uncertain. The legislation was withdrawn.

Today in hindsight, who would deny that if that constitutional amendment with all its weaknesses had been passed, we Tamils would have a certain safety in Tamil areas which we no longer possess?

What is sad is that the former colleagues of these two men in the TULF with some notable exceptions behave as if these brave men did not take a stand for and on behalf of the party. We fail to acknowledge that these men were martyrs for the Federal Party and its successor, the TULF. We pretend as if they did not exist and often will not utter their names. They were our enlightened leaders. And leaders must be given the space to take decisions. We failed them.

I understand that one of the new leaders of the party cried at a private meeting and apologized saying his somersault was because of his safety. Today our once able, respected and self-sacrificing leaders are our representatives with the kind permission of the Tamil Juggernaut. Even though I am sure some of our MPs will be returned if the public is allowed to choose and anyone wishing is allowed to contest, many others will not be because they have no standing among the Tamil people. The election of these men of the Federal Party is questionable given the fact that others are not free to challenge them at the polls. One MP of this great party is there because of his experience at rigging votes as a university student and was pushed out by the Senate of the University as a graduate although he had marks below the passing 40. He is today a specialist at shouting the worst possible Tamil filth in Parliament. In contrast, a Sinhalese Professor told me that he used to go to Parliament in his younger days to simply listen to GG and Amir and our leaders. This is another way in which we Tamils have died as a great people.

I cannot help wonder if by simply saying they will not participate in Tamil politics any more, our MPs would not be leading the Tamil people in a big way once again. I do not presume to judge them. But certainly as their admirer and follower, I wish that Mr. R. Sambanthan, Mr. Mavai Senathirajah and Mr. Sivajilingam would truly lead us again as they once did rather than simply follow orders. While they do what they can, given their circumstances, their example of subservience as leaders and their silence on one half of the atrocities that our people are put through, is very disheartening to us of their old fold.

The real crisis facing the Tamil leadership then is that anyone who comes forward to deal with the Sri Lankan government goes back empty handed. In the process they are, what I might call, Arfatized – drained of the goodwill that the people have for them, despite the great sacrifices they made and continue to make in striving for a solution with minimal loss of life. It is the challenge confronting Mr. V. Anandasangari, another great unarmed Tamil leader taking great personal risks for what he believes in. He is raising serious questions about the wisdom underlying many of our political methods and we would do well to enter and encourage that dialogue. If the Sri Lankan government is serious about freedom for and the well being of the people over whom it presides, it must deal honestly with those who are still willing to talk. The experience of the ongoing All Party Conference and the Commission of Inquiry into Disappearances, it seems to me, points to the government’s resolve to use these conferences and inquiries not to progress but to delay what is owed to the Tamil people. As the government digs in its heels on these two important institutions, those Tamils participating will unfortunately get devalued before the Tamil public.

Irony indeed it is that we who do not allow Tamil intellectuals to think freely cannot see what we do to ourselves in the process. To demonstrate, I would like to take up the situation with Dr. Mohammed Imtiyaz, a good friend of mine from Temple University. He is a Muslim scholar and takes an independent line of thinking rather than the so called line “that a Muslim ought to take.” In his writings in Tamil Week and other places, he has pointed out where the Muslims need to change and stated that in the circumstances devolution of powers is a sound way out of our common predicament.

Tamils who spew virulent nationalism have congratulated him for his liberal positions. “Very well analyzed,” “It’s about time the non tamil [sic.] elites speak out and defend humanity and democracy in Sri Lanka,” and “Quite right Dr Imtiyaz,” were some of the encomiums he received from the cowards who always use pseudonyms. One “Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan,” styling himself after the royal monk Ilango – thereby indicating the old imperial grandeur of a bygone era in which he had cloaked himself – declared Dr Imtiyaz as “one of those who analyses [sic.] the Lankan situation in perspective and dispassionately.”

Sinhalese readers for their part got very upset and called up Dr. Imtiyaz’s Department Head at Temple University and demanded that he, a supporter of terrorism as they described him, be put out. The international attention to his scholarship impressed the Head so much that he asked Dr. Imtiyaz to teach an extra course on South Asia.

Muslims for their part directly contacted him threatening him physically.

The same phenomenon can be seen in the hate letters and columns directed by Sinhalese at two of my good friends, Dr. Jehan Perera and Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda, two Sinhalese who speak up for a liberal Sri Lanka accommodating of Tamils and for that reason regarded highly by Tamils.

Just imagine a Tamil writing independently. These reactions would have been reversed. A good example is the Martin Ennals 2007 award winning UTHR-J and Tamil reactions to it.

We who thank God for people like Drs. Imtiyaz, Perera and Uyangoda must do so not because they agree with us on some things, but because of the liberal ethos they fearlessly defend and uphold. As The Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph poignantly reminded us recently from Mannar, “Where there is no truth, there can be no justice and peace.”

3) Overseas Tamils presuming to be Tamil Representatives

The third myth is that the Tamils abroad represent the interests of the Tamils at home. I do not say that Tamils abroad have no sympathy for our brethren at home or that they have no role to play on their behalf. Rather, what I say is that the Tamils abroad have different needs and often their work is detrimental to the interests of their home-bound brethren. We have already seen the purple ribbon syndrome from the Tamil Conference in Nanuet.

Unlike the Tamils who live in Sri Lanka, generally the Tamils abroad have a different world view. Here I speak of those who are presuming to act politically on our behalf and against those of us who will not fall under the wheels of the Tamil Juggernaut that runs our lives. The myth is that these activists are interested in the well being of the Tamils at home. Consider the self-styled Diaspora Tamils at Schliran Salmen Hall in Zurich, on July 24, 2006 marking the occasion of the 1983 riots. They sloganeered thus: “Death Won't Deter Us.” Do you think any of them faced death there, far across the seas in Switzerland? I am sure that nearly all of them will die of old age as their lives are artificially prolonged by western medical technology. Surely they mean that the deaths of Tamils in Sri Lanka will not deter them!

This July 23, many of my Tamil friends in the US had a demonstration in Washington DC from noon to 3:00 PM, supposedly organized by “Tamil Americans and Friends for Peace”. I was also asked to attend or at least send my children. They were short of a crowd. Some Senators would be there, I was told as an inducement. In the event only an aide to a Congressman turned up. Within an hour of the event TamilNet.com had photographs and the resolution showing the hidden hand behind the event. Declared the resolution “We, the Tamil Americans, … resolve that our struggle to establish the right of Tamil people to Self-Determination, and to establish self-rule … will continue until our goal is achieved.” I point to the key phrase “our struggle.” What is their struggle except to have meetings in 5-star hotels and organize picnics in Washington DC for their children who have nothing to do in the summers? Meeting a Senator and possibly taking a photo with him was certainly one of the attractions. TamilNet proclaimed a crowd of about a thousand. The real numbers were well short of 500.

A special website created for the newly formed organization behind the demonstration, http://tamilpeace.freewebhosting360.com/, went through other websites making tracing difficult and had no names. The webpage appears to have been taken off as soon as it came on. It was a lot like the anonymous website of the Thamil Changam where the Editor, President, Secretary et al. remain anonymous. The so called struggle has gone anonymous except for fronting white Americans.

The statement in TamilNet was not signed by anyone and merely quoted the LTTE’s Rudrakumaran and an 80 year-old Mrs. Kandasamy who had no fear of prosecution (one as a lawyer and the other because of age). As such neither the demonstration nor its resolution had credibility, any little credibility it had undermined by the exaggerated numbers.

I put it to you that we must regard those activities that do not take into consideration the well-being of the Tamils of Sri Lanka, as those of a deracinated crowd looking for ways to enhance their status and have activities of an entertaining nature for their past time in their rich but boring corners of the world. And of course it is a source of tax breaks – for example, the strange “Continuing Medical Education” event with last year’s Ilangaith Thamil Changam AGM will render all expenses of attending tax-deductible! There is a good chance these expenses would be exaggerated as hotel bills would include the bills for the family vacation and so on, leading to a profit in attending when the tax refund comes in. At best, the Changam is their way of telling off the Sri Lankan government with which they are justly angry. But when they demonstrate and make speeches that list only the Sri Lankan government’s atrocities against the Tamil people and

-Do not recognize the plight of children who are forced to bear arms

-Do not recognize the plight of those Tamils who are shot dead for holding different political opinions

-Do not recognize the right of the Tamil people to buy, publish and sell newspapers of their choice

-Do not recognize the right of the Tamil people to vote for the representatives of their choice

-Do not recognize the right of the Tamils to seek the mandate of the Tamil people for their ideas their work must and will be dismissed as Goebbelsian propaganda perpetuating the Tamil people in slavery. And those who hear only half the story from us, have scant respect for us.

Links to Previous Parts

Part 03

Part 02

Part 01

To be continued …….

About Lecture, S. Ratnajeevan Hoole, Scholar Rescue Fund Fellow, Institute of International Education, New York, NY Drexel University, Philadelphia and former Vice Chancellor in University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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