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Tamils and the LTTE - Then and Now

Reuters Pictures
A boy carries water buckets as he walks past a building damaged during the civil war in Jaffna, about 304 km (184 miles) north of Colombo, July 22, 2011. Sri Lanka's northern cities will hold local polls for the first time in many years on Saturday and though the civil war is over, fear and intimidation remain rife, poll monitors and opposition politicians say.
by I.S. Senguttuvan

(July 24, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There are different perceptions among the majority in this issue. Most of them – coming from the post-1983 generation and the less literate society – think all of them have been and are LTTErs or supporters - then and now. Then there are those of the JVP and Sinhala supremacist variety like the JHU and PNM who know better and yet chose to take the first view for their own political advantages. There is also the more liberal who hold the view VP and the LTTE were the product of Sinhala obstinacy in denying Tamil political dues. Yet there are some in the more initiated who feel Tamils in their majority areas were held captive by a fascist armed outfit and that even those who did not agree with the Tigers’ politics were forced to remain silent.

Having been a political student from the mid-1970s my views very likely coincide with most Tamils – in the North East, in the South and the Hills and in the diaspora. I thought I will give expression to my thoughts since, of late, one sees several articles from mostly wannabe journos insisting Tamils then and now remain firm Tiger supporters. Most of these articles arise out of racial prejudice of these writers, as opposed to reading history in perspective. To them to maintain the lack of understanding of the ordinary Sinhalese to see the Tamil position in contemporary political perspective is bread and better.

Tamil militancy rose in the post-1976 (Vaddukottai etc) by youth tired of being taken for a ride by successive Sinhala governments (SLFP, UNP and coalitions thereto) from 1952. While they supported the Parliamentary search for justice by the Tamil mainstream parties (FP, TULF , ACTC, the LSSP/CP) during this period, the hardening position and vituperative language of the Sinhala political formation - virtually exclusive claim to all the resources and opportunities of and in the State – were driving them to the then globally increasing force of political independence in backgrounds dominated by Colonialism of different forms. The romantic cries of past Chera-chola-Pandiya grandeur raised by the highly emotive and literary political leaders of adjoining Madras State (now Tamilnadu) EVR, CN Annadurai, the Poet Bharathiar and the DMK certainly inspired their thinking. The Standardisation System originally proposed by Dr. Badiu-din-Mahmud under Mrs.B left-oriented 1970 government broke the camel’s back. So admitted Velupillai Prabakaran to Indian journo Anita Pratap.

The Tamils saw the Sinhala Only and Language of the Courts Bill of 1956 – aimed at breaking the dominance of Tamil Professionals – in law-judiciary, the professions – given the fast-forward treatment by the Standardisation rule. As we see today, both sinister schemes have succeeded to the advantage of the majority.That the jaundiced steps have woefully reduced the quality of these professions is hardly mentioned. Hardly spoken is the fact that the Tamil dominance in the post-1956 period was obtained in a level playing field where all other communities competed – and where many came out well.

Prabakaran rode into the equation at this time. His LTTE was to decimate competition within Tamil militancy in different ways over a period of time. The vast majority of Tamils did not agree with the manner in which he eliminated other groups – notably the TELO and EPRLF. They chose to to remain silent. That the LTTE was a bulwark against the then growing incidents of collective communal punishment on Tamils countrywide – 1958 and 1977 in particular most of which committed by Sinhala goondas. This was done often with surreptitious and generous support from the army and police is all too well known. The SWRD government in 1958 and the JRJ government in 1977 encouraging Tamils to leave in trains, trucks, buses and ships provided by the State – to the safety “of your lands” is now an embarrassing point in discussions by the majority side. JRJ’s directive to his nephew “Bull” Weeratunga, the Army Chief, to bring “the Tamil insurrection by all means necessary within 6 months” was taken very seriously by the man (more beast than bull as Tamils who suffered under the army in their torture camps were to report later) Educated Tamil youth of ages 15 – 24 became meat at the various torture camps which the Army named “mas-kade” (meat shops) Analysts on both sides of the divide blame Mrs B for sending her relative Udugama and the army to set up camps in the North East – a function that could have been done efficiently by the then multi-racial Police. Tamil youth began calling these camps as those of “an occupying army” that went out to boost the ranks of the LTTE. Tamilnet in their blogcurrently refers to the Colonial army and the Colonial Governor.

Prabakaran’s resistance to an army and Police gone beserk during the 1983 period and for years thereafter, certainly endeared him to most Tamils here. Although they had no apetite for a Separatism they had reason to believe he would gain, through his chosen extra-Parliamentary path, their long denied rights in language and equal access to the resources of the State. It is also widely believed by all communities attacks and harrassment on the Tamils country-wide ceased, or certainly reduced substantially, after the LTTE grew from a tag-tag 2 dozens to several thousands. This is certainly not because they liked Prabakaran and his style of things more and Sri Lanka less. It is more because Tamils yearned for peace, safety and the freedom to conduct their livelihood which governments of the day were unable to guarantee. Tamils, in the meantime, in various subtle and open ways, were made to feel either as 2nd class citizens, aliens in their own land. As noted Indo-Lankan Social Scientist Prof. V. Suriyanarayan was to note “to be a Tamil in Sri Lanka is to live in fear; being suspect. The “post-7/83” period opened the flood-gates for skilled and professional Tamils, most of them equipped with welcome English-speaking capability - to Britain , Canada , the USA , Malaya and Australia . Many traditionally friendly countries through their missions here were sending out reports to their governments from the 1960s reporting justice for Tamils will be very slow in coming via successive Sinhala administrations. This was same of different political persuasions with anti-Tamil bias

settling deep into the Sinhala psyche. Sri Lanka falling out with India from 1978 too hardened the position against local Tamils – a clear indication of which is the unprovoked attack on “Indian Tamils” in the Plantation areas during 7/83. Even the lesser Sinhala goonda in the streets in these areas knew for certain these Tamils had nothing to do with Separatism and yet they were chosen for attack, pillage and murder.

It is a sorry tale one of the more prominent suspects of pre-conceived attack and harm to Tamils in the Gampola area - both in 1977 and 1983 – is mentioned in the Police registers of the area. He now enjoys high political office. There were many others who were similarly “rewarded” by a grateful Sinhala State. This includes the son of the established main actor of the 1983 communal crimes. He who was made a Minister in Premadasa’s administration and remains high in the political system even today.

While Tamils within the country – and to some extent overseas – gave due credit to Prabakaran and the LTTE for leading Tamil resistance, they were disappointed in his changed attitude to India They were beginning to see signs Prabakaran was beginning to suffer delusions of grandeur – as the Emperor of the 1st Tamil Kingdom in the world. Tamils were to feel Prabakaran was placing his personal Agenda ahead of the collective goodwill of the Tamil people. Anton Balasingham, VPs brain-trust is a virtual congenital Sinhala-hater and saw to it VP rejected all proposals for a shared future with the Sinhalese. This was also on the few proposals made by the Sinhala side where previous injustices to Tamils were to be corrected. VP was convinced Eelam, his pet Project and not necessarily of all the Tamil people in the Island , was at hand and he became more obssessed. Other powers around, with their own Agendas, probably encouraged him in his self-destructive path. Many believed VP bit more than he could chew – and eventually got choked. Dreams of supremacy of the Palk Straits under his personal control, the Rajiv Gandhi incident, inflicting indignity on the Indian army all took their cumulativ toll. As Col. Hariharan observed “Prabakaran’s tragedy was he lacked the right balance of Veeram (courage) and Vivekam (wisdom)” In keeping the people of the North-East virtually imprisoned behind his own version of the iron curtain he was beginning to lose their support. There is no way Tamils were enjoying the strict system he maintained where he imposed heavy charges on those visiting the South - even to meet relatives or for urgent medical purposes. The senseless killing of brilliant Tamils – Rajini Thiranagama, Amirthalingam, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam and dozens of others – he was rapidly losing popular Tamil support. Tamils in the South were bitter when innocent Sinhalese perished in the Central Bank, Pettah Bus Stand, CTO and other carnages – where many innocent Tamil bread-winners themselves perished. In the savage execution of his able lieutenant Mahathaya - Padmanabha, Uma Mahewaran his fascistic face was raising its head. Worse was the emergence of a new class in the North East. For those from the South who ventured behind the Cadjan Curtain we saw the haughty behaviour of the “poraligal” (the fighters) This new class had entre to special privileges – and caste Tamils were usually the victims. Poraligal generally let it be known in the New Society to be born they and their immediate families will secure “priorities” for resources. Tamils found themselves trapped between two evils and were desperately looking for a way out. Most Tamils welcome being “liberated” and are grateful to President Rajapakse for this. But they, to the last man, are opposed to the large number killed/missing. They are collectively opposed to nearly a third of a million Tamils consigned to concentration-camp style poorly provided shelters; exposed to national and global TV – lining up for food, water and clothing. No Tamil will be part of such inhuman shadenfreud.

There were many on the Tamil side that hoped the end of the LTTE rule can bring

Peace, security, freedom and economic opportunity to the Tamil areas. The passage of three years has seen only rhetorical development than real. One evil is replaced, again, by another. Tamil land – residential and agricultural - is being stolen under different guises and their protests are ignored. Sinhala capital is imported for development purposes at the expense of the local Tamil entreprenauer. The ubiquitous presence of the army in the Peninsula is detested - and army sources bringing their friends and relatives to exploit availble resources is viewed with horror. The directive of the Supreme Court in the matter of HSZ properties is ignored. The best they have today is this week’s assurance by the President “there will be no HSZ’s SOON” But we have heard this before. Even such a small matter like the Swimming Pool at Jaffna Central College , whose “stone-laying”ceremony was announced with such huge fanfare – with Namal Rajapakse, the ex-army Governor and the Army Chief of the District in attendance – is now a stale joke. Not only were the Cement and Steel that was seen at the opening subsequently sold to traders in Jaffna, it is now learnt the project is abandoned “for want of funds” ??? The Tamil public have asked the government to publish a list of projects undertaken in the district, the location, their values, source of funding etc., The Govt keeps silent in the matter. Why? In the recent visit of the government the President could have repeated the respect he showed for the Tamils in the UN/ New York where he spoke a few words in Tamil. Why did he not sing a few words in Tamil singing the National Anthem in his present visit - that many asked him to do?

VP and the LTTE are long gone. Their names are invoked only on the day the extension of the Emergency Regulations are taken up in Parliament every month. Now that the LTTE us gone the Prime Minister Jayaratne faithfully warns us the “diaspora” is far more dangerous - and is everywhere. He, therefore, argues the ER must go on. The House and the country agrees – and cheers the man on. The Tamils, the region and the world do not. The Tamils are back, as they did from 1952, in silent prayer for a better day under a Dharma Raj.

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