There has to be a solution to the ethnic crisis: Now

Only after President Rajapaksa offers a solution to the ethnic crisis he can order his generals to liberate the country of terrorists; not before.

by Durga Velautham in Chennai

"If in 1971, thousands of Sinhalese were slaughtered, piled up and their bodies set on fire, what will stop an army general to order indiscriminate bombing of Tamil areas to get rid of the LTTE even when it is known that the Tamils too have been terrorized into silence?"

(Sri Lanka Guardian, Chennai October 3, 2008) Neighbouring India has every reason to be concerned about the perennial racial turbulence in Sri Lanka. Ever since the country’s independence, this island nation had not come to grips with its concept of nationhood. In its search for identity, it began to take a narrow-minded view of the majority fearing of being stampeded by the minority Tamil people based on the situation of that time they had such a strong presence in the country’s public service.

This was all because of the lop-sided colonial educational thrust in the country due to English-medium schools being dominant in Tamil areas, in Kandy and its immediate surrounds, and along a narrow strip of the West from Negombo to Galle dominated by Sinhalese Christian folks. In fact, the urban Sinhala folks were more divorced from their rural counterparts than the Tamils of their own.

In Colombo, the Sinhalese and Tamils were quite a united community and they were more bonded together than with their respective people in the rest of the country. The whole racial ill-feeling began with the feeling of the majority of being at risk and the first step taken was to disfranchise thousands of people of Indian origin who were employed in the tea and rubber plantation areas in the Central, Uva and Sabragamuwa Provinces.

They were essentially descended from the labourers British planters had brought over from South India to work in their estates. The move to make them literally stateless was abrupt and had the support of the island’s Tamil community. It was this move that brought India into the emerging communal crisis in Sri Lanka. On hindsight, it is obvious India took a weak stand and this may be more due to New Delhi not being pressurized by South Indian politicians of that time.

The people who came to work in the plantations from India were those from the outcastes and other Dalit communities and they had virtually none to speak for them in India. Even in Sri Lanka, the Tamils reckoned the Indians as of the lowly castes and contemptuously called all Indians as “Vadakkaththaiyar,” people from the north that is across the Palk Straits. They were also reckoned as the worst treated labour force anywhere in the world.

While similar labour classes engaged from the same source in South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana emerged into strong communities totally liberated from their oppressive circumstances, in Sri Lanka the Indian labour community remained enslaved and exploited under conditions of abject squalor. The British planter community never moved to help them and worked hand in glove with upper class Tamils and Sinhalese to exploit them to the hilt.
On the other hand, the fact that Tamils dominated the British Civil Service created sour feelings among the Sinhalese which began to fester with racist Sinhala politicians capitalizing on it against the Tamil minorities. Furthermore, there was always that communal label that did not truly coalesce into a national Sri Lankan identity. For instance in the field of sports, the leading organizations were the SSC – Sinhalese Sports Club, TU – Tamil Union, BRC – Burgher Recreation Club, MCC – Malay Sports Club, ML – Muslim League and only the NCC – Nondescripts Cricket Club seemed an exception.

Rich and Upper Middle Class Tamils lived in urban splendor and had Sinhalese drivers, Sinhalese labourers in their gardens and Sinhalese slaves in their homes. This was possible for the rural Sinhala regions were poverty stricken due to the lack of educational opportunities and economic development. In the Tamil provinces in the north and east, High Caste Tamils had the total sway over their own people.

In other words, there existed among the Sri Lankans at the time of independence a feeble nationhood of stark differences accentuated by caste and class differences and also the new spectre of urban educated having dominancy over the rural folks, more so among the Sinhalese than the Tamils.

The rural Tamils had the benefit of mission schools to serve them which also divorced them from their valuable assets in agriculture when they began to neglect them in favour of British government and mercantile jobs. Many Tamils also sought employment under the British in the Federated Malay States which included Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Sarawak at that time.

When Solomon W R D Bandaranaike found that he had no hope of becoming the leader of the United National Party led by D S Senanayake who was obviously grooming his son for leadership if not his nephew Sir John Kotelawela, he moved out of it and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and raised the Sinhala Only madness to win power. Since then Sri Lanka had gone from bad to worse in racial politics and gave birth to a bloody civil war between the majority Sinhalese and Tamils.

Over a period of time when the country should have embarked on a programme of intense economic development, it has developed an industry for which the key raw material is racial and religious bigotry. And today this has demanded a terrible price of terrorism and the impact on Sri Lanka and even outside, is unbelievable and incredible.

In the field of politics, racist political parties eroded away the only hope Sri Lanka had at that time of independence to take the nation forward. When the country had the choice of leadership, instead of seeking the policies of the left that were headed by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and their allies that have had excellent records working with the people at the grass roots, Sri Lanka opted for the communal capitalist groups. The leaders of the LSSP were very much associated with India’s Swaraj Movement and the only group in Sri Lanka that had the political legacy to lead the nation towards development.

The UNP, SLFP and the various Tamil political parties represented capitalist interests unashamedly. They never understood the needs of the grass roots and the rural people. This remains true even now.

Who would have ever believed that Sri Lanka influenced by four major religions of the world will raise the most brutal terrorist in the world even worse than Cambodia’s Pol Pot? Who would have believed Buddhist monks in their robes screaming murder of the Tamils played chief roles in two many anti-Tamil riots in the country? Who would have believed a Head of State, that was President Jayewardene, divert World Banks funds meant for a major hydro-electric project to purchase arms from the Israelis?

Who would have believed that a government of the time would order the armed forces and the police to massacre thousands of southern Sinhala youths who rebelled for want of opportunities in their regions? Who would believe that an army general would call his country the land of the majority community, naming them as Sinhalese when he should have said, the land of the Sri Lankans?

If in 1971, thousands of Sinhalese were slaughtered, piled up and their bodies set on fire, what will stop an army general to order indiscriminate bombing of Tamil areas to get rid of the LTTE even when it is known that the Tamils too have been terrorized into silence?

Having stated all these, how does one impress on the Colombo government to understand that bringing about a solution to the ethnic crisis is the only way out and on this front the Government of Sri Lanka has not made any progress. The other major crisis is the chaotic situation of the country with hundreds and hundreds of the rural young, mostly women searching for slave labour under atrocious conditions in some countries of the Middle East? These are two major Sri Lankan problems and it is only Sri Lanka that has to face it and seek an immediate solution.

The lack of scream and shout from the well placed Sinhalese against slave labour is akin to the lack of scream and shout from the Tamils when the hill country Tamils were disfranchised. Even the gods may be running out of patience with Sri Lanka!

The current demonstration in Chennai, India has other dimensions. It has a more political bearing in the next elections on the subcontinent than on Sri Lanka. The leaders have very little understanding on the real problems in Sri Lanka and some of the leaders have already had despoiled their stature by the support they give for the LTTE. Where were they when the people of the plantation regions were made stateless?

How have they reacted to the ghastly murder of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE conspirators on their own soil?

India certainly has a role to impress on the Government of Sri Lanka to sort the ethnic issue out once and for all. Rajiv Gandhi forced President Jayewardene to agree to a solution in which North and East were recognized as the traditional homelands of the Tamils but this remarkable move forward was torpedoed by the LTTE and the Tamil community did not even express a view in disappointment.

It is India as a whole not some Tamil politicians that has to move and make Colombo to offer a package of solution acceptable to the international community recognizing Tamils along with Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays and Burghers as Sri Lankans and that means they enjoy equal rights. It is only after that, the President of Sri Lanka can order his generals to free the country of terrorists; not before.

President Rajapaksa must show to the world that his performance at the United Nations recently was not mere theatrical stuff but genuine and he firmly recognizes that Sinhalese, Tamils and other people in Sri Lanka are Sri Lankans. If he fails, Sri Lanka will end up known as the land of modern slavery, being the major source of slaves to the world. It is almost there!
- Sri Lanka Guardian