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Eugenics or integration?

by Pearl Thevanayagam

(November 23, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Now that the President has started a term for another six years there are serious concerns affecting the Tamil minority in particular he needs to address. Rumours doing the rounds in Colombo point to the government’s attempts to send Tamils living in Colombo slums to Vavuniya pledging 60-80 perches land.

A similar attempt was successfully carried out by the late President Premadasa to round up beggars in Colombo and send them to Ridiyagama, a village in the Hambantota District prior to the non-aligned summit in Colombo. The beggars in their own way were content to beg daily for their food in the city without worrying about paying bills. To be sent to a far away village which is arid was the last thing they wanted. After all Colombo’s streets and pavements were their homes and where they found benevolent people who would give them food and money.

I was walking with the late editor of The Sun, Kenneth Amarasekera, in the mid-day heat when pointing to a beggar sleeping inside a wheel-barrow blissfully unaware of the stench and the scorching sun around him said, “Look, how content he is. I cannot sleep like him even in an air-conditioned room”.

Now, the Sinhalese who lived in the Jaffna Peninsula before 1983 have been sheltering at Jaffna Railway Station demanding to be provided with lands and housing which they believe is their right.

The recent war resulted in tens of thousands killed both by the security forces and the LTTE. It is hard to forget the July 1983 ethnic riots fuelled by Sinhala nationalism whereby a significant proportion of Tamils lost everything they owned while hundreds were murdered and the survivors had to virtually flee for their lives to foreign countries. This exodus still continues regardless of the fact the war has ended although its ramifications still prevail in that the displaced civilians still have not been able to return to a semblance of normalcy. It is also during this time a circular was sent to all government departments and commercial institutions not to recruit Tamils for fear of LTTE infiltration.

The victims of July 1983 pogrom were never compensated although this writer queued up outside the GA’s office in Jaffna for hours to fill out forms for compensation. My family lost everything we owned for generations including 300 paintings, my father’s life-long works in oils and water-colours. Thankfully he was not alive to see them burning in the pyre the thugs set in the front garden. On return to Colombo in 1986 we still could not find a landlord to rent out a house for us at the mention of a Tamil name. Many Tamils changed their names by deed poll just to stay alive and speaking in Tamil was tantamount to putting your life on the line.

The budget passed today had nothing of significance for compensating the 2009 war victims. The promised rehabilitation and resettlement is being carried out at a snail’s pace.

Time and again Tamils have been disappointed at successive governments’ insouciance and lethargy in keeping its promises made during election campaigns and in the case of the present government an euphoric state over vanquishing the LTTE. The LLRC is now hearing crucial evidence but where are the witnesses who were selling their non-food rations including sanitary towels to buy food to stay alive?

The plight of the inhabitants of Chagos Island in the ‘60s comes to my mind. Chagos Island was a British Colony in the Indian Ocean close to Mauritius and Seychelles. They had plenty of food, grew their own vegetables, had cattle and poultry and were blessed with the bounties of fish and other sea produce. And they were dog-lovers. Now US decided it needed this island to build a naval base to establish their power in the Indian Ocean. So what did they do.

They asked Harold Wilson, British PM, to evacuate the islanders to Mauritius. Overnight they were shipped out with the barest essentials while their pets were rounded up en masse and incinerated by the British who adore their own pets. Need I mention the Chagossians died of broken heart and many committed suicide in Mauritius where there was huge unemployment and they were treated like vermins.

To this day Britain denies that Chagossians were the original inhabitants of the island and that they were recent immigrants. Not unlike Tony Blair who sent troops to Iraq on the insistence of Dubya Harold Wilson also thought more of supporting its war ally over the lives of a few thousand islanders.

Unless and until Tamil grievances are met adequately and their loss compensated the resurgence of a rebellion will always dog those who govern our country. It can no longer close its eyes and pretend that Tamils are a negligible component.

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