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Karuna needs to take note (Last Part)

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

A New Course: A Commitment to Human Rights

If the Tamil people are to survive we need to stop “cancelling people.” We need to recognize that the last 30 years of war have not solved our problems but really made them worse. Is there still anyone who will not concede this?

We need to set ourselves a new course. And what should that new course be? We have tried two courses. The course of cooperation was tried first through our dishonored pacts leading to failure. If we continue to go trustingly to the state, we will be robbed of even the little we have left. The Muslims have tried the same and the state has taken them for granted. I understand that Sinhalese settlements are coming up in Moothur and the Muslim leadership is too scared to protest. Apparently Muslims who fought for the government as home guards have now been beaten up by the government since there is no need for them now that the LTTE has seemingly been taken care of there. It shows that those who cooperate will be used and tossed aside when their use is over. Tamils who cooperate are in like danger. Karuna needs to take note. Thondaman has tried cooperation and has been called a Pariah. He stands humiliated and taken for granted, unable to assert himself in any way.

The second course, the course of war, has also been tried. The power of the gun brought out the worst in us. We killed our own people and turned shamelessly on the Muslims who lived among us, shared our interests and spoke our language. Our MPs who took this course are essentially prisoners, unable to say what they really think, crying in complaint of their status in private before their old friends. War too has failed us. A few more years of it, and we as a people will be no more.

So what is the third way? The only way out is to get the international community to work for us. Only the international community, especially India, can make the Sri Lankan state treat Tamils as equal citizens. And what is stopping that? As most analysts agree, the international community’s hands-off position is because of lack of Tamil commitment to human rights – especially our killing our own people when they do not agree with us and our attitude to Muslims. After all, when two communities are fighting each other with unmitigated savagery, why would an outsider want to get involved? Indeed, in such circumstances the inclination of an outside state is nearly always to side with the state involved in a conflict with its own citizenry and ask that state in conflict to not allow things to be so egregious that it is embarrassing to the outside state to be seen as a friend. We as a minority need to be realistic about this. Instead we missed a rare moment in history when India came forward to uphold our cause against the Sri Lankan state. I strongly believe that a common commitment to human rights is what will make the international community move forcefully on our behalf and demand that the Sri Lankan state give us our due. The International Community controls the critical military and economic wherewithal the Sri Lankan state so badly needs to succeed and therefore the means of persuasion. To survive as a people, we need Sambanthan, we need Sangaree, we need Douglas and yes, we even need Prabhakaran with a new commitment to a pluralistic Tamil polity. Those of us abroad can indeed help. For a start we can push for Tamil rights by exposing all who violate Tamil well-being, be they inside or be they outside the community. Perhaps those who can help the most are those of us who have the confidence of the LTTE – by persuading Mr. Prabhakaran that it is in our self-interest to change course with respect to human rights and enlist the engagement of the International Community as a quid pro quo. I know it is more easily said than done. But at least if we began thinking of these things, perhaps a way out for us as a people would evolve. There is no other way.

We need to be mindful that human rights can become a tool as it all too often does. Remember the talks when most of the political killings were by us? Amnesty International and Colombo wanted a human rights commitment added to the Cease Fire Agreement and the Tamil side objected. Today the killings are mainly by the state and its allies. And we now suddenly want to talk about it! What we want is a true commitment to human rights with powers of enforcement by outside parties. What is a little loss of sovereignty when we will gain much personally? The present so-called sovereignty means nothing when it is national/institutional and does not translate into personal rights.

In my engineering economics I was taught and I teach the principle of the second best. We may work for the ideal solution such as building a motor car with all safety features, fuel economy, eco-friendliness, etc. But that technical perfection will fail because it would be so expensive that no one would buy it. All our good efforts in pursuit of the ideal would be for naught. Instead if we worked on the second best, a motor car that we can afford that is technically optimal within price constraints, our efforts towards the second best would bear fruit. And we would have something.

It is the same with our political predicament. We may feel that a full separate state with all the powers of a sovereign nation is the best. If we work towards that, we will work on that forever as our numbers dwindle and we are finished off as a people. As I see it, any state with the minimal powers over land settlement (so that we may live practising our cultures) and policing (so that we do not face the massacres of Tamils by the state as has happened all too frequently), would be the second best. But it is something we can successfully work for with international pressure on the Sri Lankan state.

Closing Thoughts

I am mindful that as we face extinction, some might ask whether this is the time for these thoughts. I think it is the very time when we are called to think and re-engineer our future before we die off as a people. We need to renew our commitment to the ideals of SJV and Amir and the great party they led.

Let me end with a relevant quotation from Martin Luther King Jr. that I picked up from the Minutes of CIMOGG, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance:

“Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: Is it popular? But conscience asks the question: Is it Right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular – but one must take it, simply because it is right.”

For this we Tamils have been waiting from the time of SJV and Amir

Read Previous Parts

Part 05

Part 04

Part 03

Part 02

Parts 01


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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