We need inter-ethnic, inter-religious bridge building, not the political pie-cutting pretext of "devolution"

By Sebastian Rasalingam

(May 11, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) I read with interest, the feature published on Friday, 8 May, in the Daily News and other media, attributed to Bishop Duleep Chikera. The Rev. Father begins by saying "We require a visible shift from sympathy for the IDPs to an affirmation of their rights and dignity". He concludes: "But, if a lasting solution to our larger and more tragic conflict is ever to be reached we need to engage in two more crucial shifts.The first is to overcome the tendency to see ghosts of the LTTE in every Tamil. If not, an entire Community will be held under surveillance for the rest of their lives, some of whom will inevitably be driven into the arms of the next Tamil militant resurgence. The secondly, is the need for a just and speedy political response to the grievances of the Tamil people."

Here Bishop Chikera must also be reminded that the IDPs displaced from Jaffna in 1990 and 1995 by the LTTE are still languishing in camps in Puttalam , Trincomalee and other areas. They have no champions! Their dignity is forgotten!

Prof. Hoole's comments about Christian Restraint

An entirely different aspect of religio-politics is touched in the thoughtful article by Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, as republished in the Sri Lanka Guardian of May 8th (Link). Here Prof. Hoole recounts how the LTTE has used Hindu militancy to hound those Christians who stood against the Fascism of the LTTE. On the other hand, ironically enough, some Christian priests were leading LTTE activists! Another aspect touched on by Professor Hoole is the existence of anti-Christian groups who are ready to label Christians as pro-LTTE, or anti-national. In effect, in the eyes of a certain group of people, Christianity is even today the religion of the invader.

I believe that the pronouncements of politically naive Pastors and church Fathers do not help in establishing a better understanding among our religiously and ethnically divided society. The same goes for politicized Buddhist monks.

Although I am a Tamil brought up within a Christian background, let me at the outset state that I have always had great difficulty in squaring with Bishop Chikera. The good Bishop is part and parcel of the Colombo social class and reflects the aspirations of the Karuvakkaadu Tamils and many Kurunduvatta Sinhalese. I come from the oppressed classes ("castes") of the Tamils and grew up through the World War II years seeing the worst of the social discrimination that exists INSIDE Tamil society. And yet, much of the "struggle" of the Colombo Tamil leadership has been directed against "Sinhala discrimination",ignoring completely the beam in one's own eye. The Karuvakaadu Tamils were the perpetrators of this discrimination. The Vellalar children may have difficulty in getting to University because of standardization. But some other children could not even get into a good school, or draw water from a well, because they happened to be born to the wrong social stratum of Tamil society. While the chruch had acted against this social iniquity of Hindu orthodoxy, it is also true that being a "-pillai" class person was a near necessary qualification for risng up in the hierarchy of the church.

Moral failure of the Church

It is the Colombo Tamil leaders, mostly Christian and often incompetent in Tamil, who began, in 1949, the claim of exclusively Tamil homelands in the North and East, and launched the civil conflict that has taken the lives of the oppressed of the Vanni - mostly, lower classes too poor to pay the "exist tax " to the LTTE and get out. So they were forced to retreat with the LTTE and become human shields. Rank and file Christian priests aided and abetted the Tigers in this push. No strong moral condemnation of such collaboration came from our pulpits.

The Tamil Nationalist movement gave up the moral path in calling for "driving the invaders from the exclusive Tamil homelands." Why is it that, exactly when we need moral guidance, the church fathers loose thier moral compass? The complicity of the Vatican with Hitler was in some ways similar to the silence of our churches in regard to the immorality of the "exclusive Tamil nation" concept and the militarism of the LTTE.

It is the attitude of the Holy Prelate (and his social class) towards the LTTE that irks me most. Father Chikera stated, not so long ago, that Prabhakaran was "a most humane person". He also proposed that the church should use wine from Killinochchi in the sacred rites of the church. Thus we see the level of political naiveté, fool-hardiness and lack of moral judgment in such pronouncements The LTTE and Prabhakaran have done more harm to the Tamils than the ancient kings and the Portuguese all taken together. He has eliminated the older generation of dissidents and intellectuals by assassinations and forcing exile on them. The middle class has also taken the opportunity to get out of the country as economic refugees, but claiming discrimination or brutalization as there is ground for such claims. But the worst crime of the LTTE is in decimating the next generation of Tamils by converting kids into soldiers, and feeding them to the guns of the army.

Today the Tamil population is perhaps no more than the Muslim population, although two decades ago we were twice the Muslim population. If that is not genocide, then what is it? Rev. Chikera knows that Prabhakaran was guilty of many crimes starting from the murder of Duraiappah, Amirthalingam, and scores of others. And yet, many (fortunately not all) members of the Christian establishment have been consistent fellow travelers of the LTTE.

The English educated upper classes of Colombo, irrespective of whether they are consumers of Killinochchi wine or finer Burgundy, possess one characteristic. Their apparant espousal of Tamil rights is not genuine. It is merely a reaction based on their visceral anger towards the "Sinhala Buddhists". This is the reason why such diverse individuals as Kumar David, Tisaranee Gunasekera, Wikramabahu Karunaratna, "Shanie" and some Bishops could write in appeasement or even support of the LTTE. They fail to see that the LTTE, and not the Sinhala majority, is the biggest enemey of minority. Now, I bear no candle for the Sinhala Buddhist fringe who matched the excesses of Tamil racism with their own brand of racism. However, they too have been an oppressed people, just like the not-so-upper class Tamils, be they Malabars, Mukkuvas, or the hill-country Tamils not considered fit enough to be in the same club as those who live in the "exclusive Homeland" Arasu of the North and the East. What has been missing is that the Tamils have done nothing to bridge the ethnic divide that they began to deliberately create, in the hope of polarizing society to justify the demand for a "separate homeland". Similarly, the higher aristocracy of the Christian Chruches have done very little in terms of inter-group bridge building. They are still burning with vengence against the Sinhala Buddhists who spearheaded the nationalization of church schools.

Bishop Chikera's press release says "secondly, is the need for a just and speedy political response to the grievances of the Tamil people". The Bishop has not proceeded to spell out his vision regarding the "speedy political response". Right now, a Tamil can do, at least in principle, what a Sinhalese or a Muslim can do, in terms of contesting elections, joining political parties etc. What is possible in principle is often incomplete administratively, and this must be corrected administratively. When Tamil politicians of the TNA say this, they usually mean handing over political power of the North and East to some local Tamil Vellalar lord. This further means that the old hierarchy of traditional Tamil society, with its system of dominations, will arise just as it is the case in Tamil Nadu. Even in Scarborough, Canada, it is an open secret that the many Hindu Kovils follow the cast affiliations of the devotees. Prabhakaran was able to control a society which was used to being controlled due to years of "Manu Dharma:.

But we DON'T want any more of these local lords. Let there be NO units of government based on linguistic, religious,racial or caste concepts.

The solution - a multi ethnic society without linguistic subdivisions

The best guarantee and affirmation of the rights and dignity of all people can be achieved when equal opportunities become available to every one in the country. Let me quote Johnpulle, a fellow Tamil from London who writes in the Sri Lanka Guardian of 9-May:Tamils and others were subjected to various forms of injustices over the years. However, today most of those injustices have been corrected. Democratic rights are enforceable and equal. Political groups of unequal numbers made up of individuals with equal rights have unequal power. This is democracy where there is a winner and a loser when two competing concepts clash head-on. If it was not so, no decisions would be made in a democracy. Appreciating this fact is essential for peaceful coexistence.. ". That is the way to "overcome the tendency to see ghosts of the LTTE in every Tamil".

In my view, the main thing that a Tamil (or perhaps even a Sinhalese) feels is the lack of due attention to law and order. Every thing is subject to having political friends. If the possibility of police or army harassment, short comings in our sense of security etc., can be corrected, people have no problem in living in dignity. This involves the proper working of the forces of law and order, as well as transparency in government. The government would actually gain much mor if it would allow more access to independent scholars and UN agencies in its conduct of the war. If people are killed in an offensive it is best to be open about it. This need for transparency is nothing piculiar to the Tamil problem or the IDP problem.

Federalism, Indian models, power devolution etc., are schemes where some local politicians are trying to grab power for themselves. These efforts must be resisted at all costs. A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society as we already have in Colombo now must be encouraged all over the Country. This would encourage the migration of people to the East and the North from the more popullous south, just as there has been constant migration from the North ever since the Jaffna-Colombo railway was opened in 1905. Strangly enough, when we tamils come to Colombo, it is not "colonization", but when Muslims and Sinhalese go to the North, various "intellectuals" claim that it is colonization designed to "upset" the "ethnic ownership" of the Traditional Homelands. This Eelamist thinking has to stop. We need inter-ethnic bridge building and NOT political pie-cutting under the pretext of "devolution".
-Sri Lanka Guardian
Sesha said...

Sebastian Rasalingam, thank you, sir, for saying it like it is. Let those who have ears to hear listen. The platitudes of hypocrites never did any good.

Ram Muni said...

Well done! A heroic deed indded in writing this article in the present climate, and going against the grain of vulture politics of the TTTs.

jean-pierre said...

This article expresses, at long last, the important message that the church has failed to give moral leadership. or morally mislead its flock. Holding people hostage, and using hospitals and Churches as the shield for shelling were things the Tigers did in Vakarai, Madhu and many other places. The Madhu incident is a shameful blot on the catholic Church which made no clear denouncement. The church collaborated with the LTTE. But the real canker began long ago. As this writer has pointed out, the concept of "exclusive Tamil homelands", worked out by Chelvanayagam and others is as odious as the "apartheid" concept of the Afrikaanar separate ethnic- villages. The church system could not condemn it as people like Chelvanayagam were the candle bearers of the church. WE were young people when the Sinhala students who were at the newly opened Jaffna University (1974) were assaulted and thrown out, together with one of the registrars (the sinhalese one). There was no revange attack in Colombo or Peradeniya etc. Perhaps all that anger seethed underneath and came out in later race riots. Ethnic cleansing by the Tamil nationalists started long before the LTTE, but there was never a word of condemnation uttered by the church. Today I live in Mt. Lavinia, and thankfully enough, there has been no significant attack on the Tamils by the Sinhalese during my adult life, in spite of attempts by the LTTE to create back-lash attacks. This attempt to create exclusive Tamil areas under the label of "devolution" or "political packages" is bound to misfire, once again creating anti-Tamil sentiments where the Tamils living in the south will have to face the cry "Tamils, go to your Tamil homelands". Bishop Chikera has to pray (or pay) for averting catastrophe in the whole country
But will God listen to the prayers of a morally mis-gotten church?

Unknown said...

Sebastian should be congratulated for rational thinking as well as for the lucid presentation.

The convincing of the various interacting parties with their own selfish agendas would be the most difficult part.

bodhi Dhana said...

The moral failue of the Chruch is a historical fact. The chruch opposed free education, free health, trade unionism and even independence.

Unknown said...

Great Article from Mr. Rasalingam. We need more moderates like you to come forward and speak the truth. As a Sinhalese Buddhist, I agree with you and part of the problem with the Tamils who complain is that they don't want to participate in the mainstream and choose to blame it on discrimination. The British given privileges for the elite Tamils has never left. They do not have the strength of character to ever admit that they and the extremist Tamil separation and segregation, the need to be exclusive has contributed to all of this mess in no small measure. Being Sinhalese Buddhist is not a crime. In fact, Sinhalese Buddhists saved many Tamil lives, they feed the poor and now take care of the IDPs. It must be a two way street to pass in peace.