What is the future of Sri Lanka?

Full text of Prof. Hoole’s speech at the Meeting by Canadians for Peace, Toronto, August 17, 2008 follows;

How then do we reassert ourselves to invite foreign intervention without the negative effects of free capital? Was not all this enthusiasm a great waste? We could have achieved much more if we had built up a credible Tamil voice that could challenge the government and restrain the excesses of the LTTE. Now as the LTTE seems weak, the voices critical of the LTTE are louder. Unfortunately many of them through their bitter experience want the LTTE finished off and are not concerned about what happens to the people. We can never tolerate civilians being bombed and shelled indiscriminately and confined to abject conditions in refugee camps with no schooling for the children. No government would have dared to do this to the Sinhalese.

by Prof. Ratnajeeevan Hoole

(August 19, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) Chairman Sir, Mr. John Argue of AI, Ladies and Gentlemen: Good evening.

Thank you, Canadians for Peace and sponsors for the kind invitation to speak this evening. When the invitation came from Chelian, I recalled the advice of one of my old batch mates who had been my room-mate when we were undergraduates. He said to me “Do you think we do not know all that you talk about publicly. The only thing you accomplish is bringing your family and yourself into trouble. It is better to look after your family and be safe.” What he meant is that any reasonable peace loving Tamil who gives voice to his views is slandered, vilified and demonized by the Tamil right. Mr. V. Anandasangaree, Ketheesh Loganathan, and Neelan Tiruchelvam have suffered this fate. Likewise, on the Sinhalese side we see the same thing happening to Elmore Perera, Rohan Edirisinghe, Jayadeva Uyangoda and Jehan Perera. Their stories will tell us what happens to those who refuse to conform with the right.

My room-mate might well be accurate – that most Tamils know what is wrong but keep quiet because of safety issues. But then, as we remain quiet, there is a presumption that we all agree with what is happening. Our silence leads to the presumption of our assent; of our consent. As I was wondering, calls from my friend Janaki Balakrishnan and my relative Ellalan Rajasingham clinched the matter. I agreed and here I am.

According to the letter I got from Chelian, there is a four-fold purpose to this meeting:

1. Condemning the planned bombings in southern Sri Lanka targeting innocent people.

2. Condemning the killings of innocent people in Sri Lanka and the deprivation of their rights by the Sri Lankan Government.

3. Urging a well-deserved, respectable and reasonable political solution to the Muslim people of Sri Lanka. And

4. In order to stop all murders, kidnappings, human rights violations and the ongoing atrocious war completely, urging that all minorities of Sri Lanka should be offered a respectable, reasonable political solution.

I cannot agree more and would add a fifth: The political murders of people like Ketheesh Loganathan, Neelan Tiruchelevan and the 2 to 3 persons who are bumped off every day in the North-East ought to cease.

I am all for peace. Indeed who is not except for arms dealers and those seeking political asylum? To some, peace lies only in victory. So let us be sure about what I mean by peace. I am for a peaceful situation where every Sri Lankan is free to seek his freedom, well-being and development while respecting the rights of others to the same.

To be sure, peace is not antithetical to separation. It is possible to have separate geographical units where the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims pursue their own well-being without clashing with the other communities.

Chairman Sir, it is a great pity that there is no Sinhalese or Muslim person here with us among the speakers today. To bring peace to Sri Lanka, a lot needs to be done. There are things to be done by Muslims; things to be done by Tamils; and most importantly, things to be done by the Sinhalese – for in Sri Lanka’s uneven polity, it is you, the Sinhalese, who hold the keys to power and therefore the keys to a solution. I dare say that if the Sinhalese polity – we Tamils are not part of it – wishes to, peace can be restored right away through a just settlement. Simply implement the thirteenth amendment and the reasonable use of Tamil law, and the cry for Eelam will for the large part vanish. Does anyone here argue that we Tamils made a grave error in sabotaging the Indo-Lanka Accord and that if we had accepted it, we will not be in this sorry plight today?

What the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils ought to do, must come from within to be effective. In the absence of Sinhalese and Muslim speakers today, I do not wish to be telling them what they ought to do. For it would seem provocative, if not condemnatory. It must be left for another day, another meeting, where there are Sinhalese and Muslim speakers. It is after all, pretty obvious to any outside observer that a just settlement is easily accomplished through devolution. It is clear to me that some form of separation is the only answer. We Tamils and Sinhalese – and Muslims too – are fighting over – fighting for – the same things. We need our own territories where we can decide our matters by ourselves. Such territorial division is good for all of us, be it through federalism or outright separation.

But such separation is obviously not going to be given by the Sinhalese as is obvious from the sorry state of the All Party Representative Committee and its ever “soon-to-be-released” recommendations. And indeed the Tigers are incapable of winning Eelam through military might. So as things are, unless something gives, we Tamils are due for some kind of homogenization, not separation of any sort.

I propose to use the few minutes allocated to me here today to address the matter from a Tamil perspective. I speak as a Tamil. Let there be no doubt that there are good peace-loving Sinhalese just as there are good peace-loving Tamils and peace-loving Muslims. Some of them are here today. But like us peace-loving Tamils, most peace-loving Sinhalese and Muslims are also quiet so as not to get into trouble. Of what good are we when we take no risks for what we believe in? This is why the Sinhalese right and the Tamil right – despite the verbiage of socialism and democracy that both pretend to – have been able to hijack our peoples and be able to claim to speak for us all.

I worked for 10 years in Sri Lanka before I had to flee for dear life in fear of Tamil guns. Indeed one morning when I came to my office after a lecture, a CID officer was waiting for me. He identified himself as part of a team that tracks the Sihala Urumaya. He cautioned me that their information from Urumaya meetings was that I was a target. He gave me numbers to call in case I saw anything unusual. So I had good Sinhalese friends and good Sinhalese indeed there are. But of what good are good people when they are powerless against evil? In those 10 years I saw no change of heart. I saw hatred from those in power – be they Tamil or Sinhalese, be they armed or holding administrative positions. Of what good are the majority when they are silent? The same goes for the Tamil majority too.

The Sinhalese ruling clique’s mood is to crush the LTTE. Then, upon crushing the LTTE, they say, that all will be right and we Tamils will enjoy democracy. The kind of democracy we will enjoy can be seen in what is happening in the East – more colonization, new Buddhist temples sprouting up everywhere, vote-rigging, more Sinhalesization, etc. When I was on the UGC, there was a proposal to have a massive infusion of money into South Eastern University [sic.]. Billions of rupees were to be poured in. It is officially a national university but understood to be a Muslim university. The suggestion for the expansion came from the ministry. But we of the UGC had to initiate it officially. We enthusiastically supported it. We believed that aid to develop one of the least developed parts of Sri Lanka was a great idea and that economic activity would grow around the university. We proposed the plan. But today, after the liberation of the East, the report is that the new class would consist almost 40% of Sinhalese. Another proposal would merge the Tamil Eastern University with South Eastern University. Why? It is no accident that our UGC began a medical faculty for Eastern university and those seats are a prize. Parallel to these goings-on, Muslim home-guards who worked for the so-called liberation of the East have been assaulted and disarmed now that their usefulness is over and they could become an obstacle to Sinhalesization.

In this gloomy scenario it is tempting for us Tamils to opt for complete separation – Eelam – as the easy way out. But it is not that simple. Can we Tamils really achieve Eelam? I do not think so for three major reasons.

1) Reason 1, we Tamils have lost the moral high ground and with it the world’s sympathies. In 1983 we were the abused people. We evoked sympathy. Since then we are also known for the massacre of civilians such as at Anuradhapura, Temple of the Tooth, Gonagala, and so on. We also have engaged in genocide by evicting Muslims from our midst in the North and slaughtering Muslims at prayer in Katankudi and massacring Muslim villagers including babies. We Tamils are believed to be among the leading drugs smugglers and credit card fraudsters of the world. We rig elections and are so fascist that no Tamil has the democratic right to disagree with our leadership. Our cry for freedom rings hollow. Who would want to support such a community? How can Eelam be established if there is no country prepared to recognize it?

2) Reason 2, because of our terror tactics such as our massacres and bombs in buses and public places, we have acquired the reputation of terrorists. On hearing that we are Tamil, my wife’s professor remarked “Ah so you are the naughty ones!” What shame! In the Post 9/11 period, we who employ terrorist techniques are simply persona non grata in much of the world.

Permit me a slight diversion at this point. I grew up in an Anglican vicarage and have been privy to things of a human nature that many of you are not. When I was in grade 4 or 5 – I cannot remember exactly – a woman member of our parish came distraught and crying early one morning in disheveled night clothes. She charged that she had been beaten up by her husband. A few minutes later her husband came bicycling to our house, the vicarage. Very angry with his wife, he demanded of my father, “Father, if a wife will not obey, what is there to do except beat her?” I do not know what happened after that as my father took them both into his room for good advice and prayers I suppose.

But this I remember – that he so intensely believed in his logic and I laughed at the man in my mind and still do although he was so sure of himself. Many of us Tamils are just like that man. We argue that when the Sinhalese drop bombs on us, our children, our schools and our churches and temples, we are justified in placing bombs in their buses. We are adamantly sure of how right we are. Likewise the Sinhalese seem to think that when we Tamils will not obey, the only solution is to bomb us into submission. Like that husband, we are so sure of that logic. What we sadly do not know is that the whole world outside is disconnected from our thinking and laughs at us.

To those who are still not convinced, I refer you to the paper by Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Research Fellow in the International Security Program at Harvard. He has shown that war crime doesn’t pay: barbarism increases the costs and risks of military operations, and poisons chances for peaceful post-war occupation and development.

Let there be no mistake. Our attitude, our barbarism, will lead to the annihilation of many and probably the total destruction of Tamils as a people in Sri Lanka. The logic of numbers, resources, time and power is on the Sinhalese side.

Let me also be clear that bombing the LTTE into extinction is no solution either. The LTTE may be obliterated but without a political solution the reasons that caused the LTTE will still be there and give rise to another version of the LTTE. Indeed, a government that claims to bomb us to save us from the LTTE and give us democracy, cannot bomb the very people it claims to want to save into refugee camps, if not into total annihilation. Further, to Tamil dissidents who have been hunted by the LTTE, I say this: The right to life of everyone has to be respected including the right to life of LTTE members, not just our rights, the rights of those targeted by the LTTE. Moreover, many in the LTTE, though misguided, are genuinely for the cause of freedom. The solution is in their rehabilitation from their destructive zeal. Remember especially that we who cry foul when children and even adults are forced to bear arms for the LTTE, cannot in the same breath rejoice when they are annihilated. An estimate has it that 30% of forced conscripts are already dead.

3) Returning to the reasons why Eelam is not possible, reason 3, is that after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, India is totally opposed to any Tamil state. Even Tamil Nadu seems disinterested. Mr. Muthuvel Karunanithy, the Chief Minister, composed his ode to the late Thamilchlevan and made many of us think that he is going to support Eelam again. But I have it on reliable authority that after composing that poem, he had told a Tamil lobbyist that his priority is to get development for Tamil Nadu from the Centre without dissipating his influence arguing with the Centre for Tamil rights in Sri Lanka.

There are lesser reasons why Eelam is not possible. I need not enumerate or go into them here. The point I wish to make is what was taught to me in my Economics course as an undergraduate – the Theorem of the Second Best. We were taught this theorem by Tilak Ratnakara of the LSE. By the way, his economics made good sense but not his anti-federal diversions during his lectures. This theorem states that where the best is not attainable, spend your finances and energies usefully by working for the second best. To explain in simple terms, a poor homeless man from Sri Lanka may think that a palace in Beverly Hills is the best. It is an impossible dream. If the poor man waits until he has saved enough to build that palace, he would still be working for that at the end of his life without a roof over his head. But if he dreams of what can be achieved, say a simple decent house in Sri Lanka, and works towards that, there is much better hope that he can achieve it and it is likely that he will spend the last years of his life in that house in some comfort. In this context of the achievable, a decent house in Sri Lanka becomes the best. For this reason alone I am all for a negotiated federal set-up. Then there are other reasons too that would make what is the second best to the Eelamist really the best:

1) Eelam can come only through war and war means many deaths
2) A federal deal avoids the trauma that would be caused to mixed populations in border areas and allows Tamils who prefer living in the South to choose to do so and vice versa. This is of immense importance to Estate Tamils. If we are truly for Tamil freedom, we must give choices to our people.

3) A federal deal would avoid the ruination of Tamils living in the South, especially the many Tamils who have investments in the South. Eelam means that the multimillions in new flats in Colombo might have to be sold in fire sales as happened after the 1983 riots which probably in monetary terms were of higher value than the properties that were destroyed.

4) A negotiated federal settlement would give us Tamils most of what we want.

5) A settlement keeps open the possibility of mutually beneficial engagement with the Sinhalese.
6) A settlement avoids the continuing climate of war, associated with separation, as a result of a long border.

Surely many of us know that these things are necessary corollaries of Eelam. To right thinking people – especially Tamils in Sri Lanka – these are really important things to think about. Any Tamil who says these are but trivial excuses against Eelam, I dare say, is an expatriate who has nothing to lose, has all his properties in Toronto, New York, London, Sydney and places, and wants to act out his dream of being a little “Kattai Pomman.” To those who do not know, Kattai Pomman was a Tamil bandit (or kollaikaaran in Tamil reports) in India who defied the British by not paying taxes and was celebrated as a hero-king of the Pandiyan dynasty in a movie where Sivaji Ganeshan played Veera Pandiya Kattai Pomman.

Let us then agree on a negotiated federal set up as the best solution. But then is that going to happen? Given the present mood of the Sinhalese and their confidence they can defeat the LTTE and given the historical legacy of reneged deals, I can hear some of you of saying, “A negotiated federal arrangement is also an impossible thing.”

You may well be right. I see no mood among the Sinhalese to cede anything to us. After all, what has the dilatory APRC offered us? Good Sinhalese there are, but they are irrelevant in the present political order. These good people today are overwhelmed by the forces that march inexorably to crush the Tamil people into submission. In the process of being politely mindful of the sensibilities of good Sinhalese, we sometimes fail to see the enormity, the evil, of the Sri Lankan state.

Should we then look for a third scenario? Alas, the only third best thing that I see is our losing the war and being assimilated. But thank God for small mercies, assimilation preserves lives. After all, the right to life is higher than the right to language and culture and must be respected as such. It is important not to lose sight of this reality and be carried away by heroic words.

Veerapandiya Kattaipomman said “Thooku Medai, Panju Meththai” – that is, the hangman’s gallows are like a comfortable cotton mattress. We do not even know if he really said that but that is what Sivaji Ganeshan says in the movie as Veerapandiya Kattaipomman. We in Sri Lanka then, carried away by his bravado shortly after the movie was screened in Jaffna, chanted “Thooku Medai, Panju Meththai” during the Satyagraha protests in 1961 and ran away as soon as the Sinhalese police rained their blows on us. Similarly in 1976 our late leader Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanaygam moved the Vaddukoddai resolution for Eelam. Words that our leaders meant as a negotiating position were believed by the youth. We got carried away by our words. On top of all this, Mr. V. Pirabakaran has said that even if one person survives the ongoing war for that person’s eyes to see Eelam, then the war and all the attendant sacrifices would have been worth it.

Let us not be carried away by words like these meant for political speeches. I would rather live than die for one person to see Eelam. After all, the right to life is far higher than the right to culture. It is the highest of the human rights given in any of the instruments. Let us not fool ourselves – we would all choose to live rather than die for earthly things. With life, we can at least have hope to live life the way we want to live it. For those of us who like to live the way we choose, be it as a Tamil Hindu or Christian or as a Muslim, death as a choice is unacceptable.

So in summary, Eelam through war is an impossible goal. Federalism through negotiations seems extremely unlikely given Sinhalese intransigence and a seeming self-perceived God-given right to rule over Tamils. And the third choice is to be assimilated – a horrible choice for any Tamil who values and wants his cultural rights and wishes to live peacefully in Sri Lanka as a Tamil.

In my mind it is clear that all peace loving Sri Lankans ought to work for the second best, the negotiated federal settlement. In the current set up, as remarked earlier, it is not going to come of its own. The government by bombing us to save us has lost its right to rule us. So also the LTTE for robbing us of all freedoms while claiming to fight for our freedoms. Our activities must therefore be directed towards peace through federalism through third parties with power.

Speaking for myself, the only way in which I see that happening, is through foreign mediation. The international community must force a settlement upon the Sri Lankan government. I see three things as necessary for that to happen and without these there will be a serious impediment to any foreign mediation. First, we Tamils need to renounce our violent and undemocratic ways of the past and present, and demonstrate that when we talk of freedom, we really mean it and would give our fellow Tamil citizens the freedom to make choices, including choosing our representatives. We need to renounce terrorism and assassinations. When Tamil leaders refuse to give freedom to Tamils, what indeed is the basis for asking for freedom for ourselves within the Sri Lankan polity?

The second thing that ought to happen concerns India. As long as a Tamil government (whether federal or separate) means an LTTE government, there is no way in which India will countenance it. And without India’s blessings, no other member of the international community would want to become a player in Sri Lankan affairs. For India is far more important to the West than the Sinhalese or the Tamils or the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Our leaders like Mr. R. Sambanthan, Mr. Mavai Senathirajah and Mr. S. Sivajilingam, all three good men who at one time demonstrated stern hearts and a strong love for their people, are today unable to speak of one half of the atrocities that we Tamil people face. It is because they live in fear. I am however aware that they make their views known as best as they can in the Vanni. They will need to lead again if we are ever to overcome this problem of Indian refusal to deal with us when we are represented by the LTTE. As the only leaders with the ability to have a conversation with the LTTE, they have much to offer in gently displacing the LTTE or persuading them to reconcile with India. I hope that when the need arises they will act with the courage they are capable of.

If India can be brought around through Tamils eating humble pie and turning a new leaf, India can be a force for the good of the Sinhalese and the Tamils. India can guarantee a settlement. A guarantor with strength and the willingness to use that strength is a must. In the days of our gentlemen leaders like SJV Chelvanayagam, the Sinhalese cheated many times – the BC Pact, the DC Bill, etc. But today, we Tamils also cheat – recall that according to the Scandinavian monitors of the 2002 cease-fire, it is the Tamil side that cheated most. Things are not so one-sided as we Tamils make out. Recall that in 2000 Chandrika presented a settlement which was an important step towards federalism. With support from Tamils there was a good chance of pushing it through. Although privately TULF politicians from Joseph Pararajasingam to R. Sambanthan wanted it to go through they did not dare to support it because of the LTTE threat. Mr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and Mr. A. Thangathurai who worked for it were murdered. Recall also that we almost had federalism under the Oslo Accord and then the LTTE stopped talking. Three years ago the government was prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate the LTTE despite growing Sinhalese fears, but the LTTE was not interested in getting anything for the people, and only in preparing for war. Even as the LTTE was attending peace talks, I am personally aware that they were publicly promising the final war in public speeches in Jaffna.

So even the Sinhalese can justly say that the Tamil side sabotages peace and cheats. We Tamils, with a self-serving mind-set, believe that we are always right and the Sinhalese are always wrong. The fact is that we both have sabotaged peace. So a strong guarantor is a must to make any agreement stick. Other countries of the international community such as Canada, the EU and Japan, can play a role in overcoming Sinhalese fears over India siding with the Tamils. India, with a natural interest in the security of the region, can invest troops in a realistic way to guarantee peace and deter anyone who dares cheat. And Indian trade along with deals with other members of the international community can develop all the federal states in a negotiated set-up with the associated trade benefits to India too.

And the third thing that ought to happen for international mediation is that the expatriate Tamil role must be based on what is good for the Tamils in Sri Lanka and not based on expatriate ego trips that make us living abroad feel-good as little Kattai Pommans. In the past expatriate Tamil meddling has been confined to funding, to angry speeches about the Sinhalese, and to vilifying through slander in their websites those Tamils in Sri Lanka who offer any alternative leadership. But just this July 24, a major departure was when Tamils joined Burmese dissidents and demonstrated against Sri Lanka and China in commemoration of the 1983 riots. Naturally the leaders of the Ilankai Thamil Changam, cautious of the recent arrests of Tamils for promoting terrorism, carefully kept out of it. These people who commit our brethren in Sri Lanka to war and death, will not even put out their own names in public! They were fronted by an organization called PEARL by their children. PEARL stands for “People for Equality and Relief in Lanka”. These children are often uncomfortable with children brought up in Sri Lanka. Do they have empathy? Do they really recognize the powers they are dealing with and the calamities that can be visited on our people by angering China? Demonstrating against Sri Lanka is one thing but China? Enough damage has already been done by angering India over the Rajiv Gandhi matter. We do not need more enemies. I put it to you that their demonstration did not benefit our brethren in Sri Lanka one iota. It might, however, have helped to build up some résumés for those at PEARL. The test for anything we do here must be this: Does it help our people at home?
Speaking strictly for myself, I find being in an Indian orbit preferable to annihilation during an unwinnable war or assimilation following inevitable defeat. After all, India’s is a stable democracy with genuine elections with no rigging in the form of preventing people from voting and stuffing ballot boxes. Hers is an independent judiciary where the Chief Justice does not serve at the pleasure of the President to stave off impeachment. Her civil service is professional and independent. So even if a crazy fellow wants to do something bad to us when we are under Indian rule, it would be well nigh impossible. I think even the Sinhalese would be better off under India than under Sri Lanka’s terribly flawed democracy.

However, there have been some troubling signs of Indian capital moving in to exploit the deprivation of Tamil rights. The people of Sampoor were shelled out by the government which declared it a “High Security Zone” and India is now building a coal power station there. It is good for us to have healthier ties with India on equitable terms but not on terms where Indian capital would act with less restraint than at home and our people are even more at the receiving end. To address this we need a new Tamil leadership with credibility through even handedness that can influence India positively. We need leaders India can talk to.

After this history no one is ready to listen to us Tamils and we as Tamils are not sure what we want. Adding to the tragedy, the expatriate Tamils had an important voice. Those who were clear that the LTTE cannot work for a solution were silenced. Through the 1990s Tamil lobbies were backed by LTTE supporters and persons of no little influence like C.J. Eliezer and a host of university academics, doctors and leading professionals. These people were blindly one-sided and did not want to see that good politics, successful politics, needs the accommodation of the needs and fears of the Sinhalese and Muslims. Instead they gave excuses for anything we did including the massacres and expulsion of Muslims. In time influential foreigners started seeing us as liars, terrorists or the political equivalent of a mad religious sect. Now their influence – our influence as Tamils – is negative as seen by many of these people having fallen silent.

How then do we reassert ourselves to invite foreign intervention without the negative effects of free capital? Was not all this enthusiasm a great waste? We could have achieved much more if we had built up a credible Tamil voice that could challenge the government and restrain the excesses of the LTTE. Now as the LTTE seems weak, the voices critical of the LTTE are louder. Unfortunately many of them through their bitter experience want the LTTE finished off and are not concerned about what happens to the people. We can never tolerate civilians being bombed and shelled indiscriminately and confined to abject conditions in refugee camps with no schooling for the children. No government would have dared to do this to the Sinhalese. Nor could we tolerate the LTTE using the people held as prisoners under it to forcibly fight the brunt of its war or the government indulging in systematic targeted killings. What the Tamil expatriates need now is to build up a credible voice. Is it too much to ask people to think back on the mistakes made all these years? Not only are those supporting the LTTE guilty of sectarianism, but so also those who rightly saw where the LTTE was taking the people and yet remained silent. We have unwanted divisions, which is understandable. But do we also need scurrilous guerrilla attacks on our web sites? If we are to do any good to the people at home, we need to start acting responsibly.

This brings me to the question posed in the flier for this meeting: “What is the future for Sri Lanka?” I think there are presently only 2 possibilities. Either we Tamils lose out and in the long term are assimilated; or alternatively we turn our backs on our fascist past, and woo the International Community, particularly India, into imposing a just settlement. I pray it is the latter and not the former.

(Prof. S. RATNAJEEVAN H. HOOLE holds D.Sc. (Eng.) London, Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, M.Sc. with a Mark of Distinction from London offered jointly through Imperial College and Queen Mary College, and B.Sc. Eng. Hons. from the University of Sri Lanka, Katubedde Campus. Dr. Hoole is the Vice Chancellor of University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka while seconded from his position as Senior Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. On special leave, he is presently a Fellow of the Scholar Rescue Fund, Institute of International Education, UN Plaza, New York and a Visiting Professor at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA.)
- Sri Lanka Guardian