Communal relations in Independent Sri Lanka- 3

| by Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

(September 23, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Once again I welcome Ilaya Seran Senguttuwan’s response in ‘Two Sri Lankan Tamils –Two Perspectives (2) in Sri Lanka Guardian of 22nd September’2011.

I had in my original article on the subject under discussion, provided a panoramic view of our post-independent history in terms of communal relations. I did so, to help see the forest instead of the trees, scrub, elephants and ants- the details. The details are no doubt ugly and question our culture, beliefs and quality as humans. These details belie the fact that we are a very decent people, who were unfortunately caught up in an avalanche of dirt let loose thoughtlessly by our politicians and societal leaders.

The TNA, the pro-Tiger Diaspora and the International Community demanded that democracy be restored to the East and then the North. The government obliged, making sure that it had its own trusted men and women playing a major role.
An understanding of the main contours of our history stripped of the ugly details to the bare minimum is very necessary at this point in our existence. There is a need to understand the changes were necessary and understand what these changes were about. The details of who did what, when and how, have clouded issues and prevented a discussion on the main issues that concern the Sinhalese ,Tamils and other peoples. The details are known to everyone. But the core issues at the heart of the problem are not recognized by many. The younger generation in particular are unaware of these. This recognition is essential, if we are to act rationally to find solutions. History is a record of our failures and success and, our highs and lows. History unfortunately is also a compendium of selected memories. History could be a teacher, but definitely not a leader.

While the issues raised by ISS are valid, they are more in the realm of details. I do not want to get into a discussion of these details. What I want to draw attention to is the need to correct the new imbalance that exists in Sri Lanka today. The Tamils do not play a role in Sri Lankan affairs commiserate with their numbers today. The Tamils are in the throes of a major crisis as a people and urgently need help to recover as humans and as an economical, social and cultural entity. The situation of the Tamils now in Sri Lanka is a blot on our nation. An intelligent, hard working and talented people are virtually on their knees for no fault of theirs. Everything possible should be done to restore the Tamils to the status they deserve in Sri Lanka. Much is being done. More has to be done. The TNA has miserably failed to address the real problems the Tamils are grappling with, in their pursuit of political power. As ISS has correctly pointed out the TNA has a serious deficit of talent. It is compensating for this with a lot of discordant noise and mischief. It has no relevance what-so-ever to the Tamils. It would have been history, if not for the farcical elections being held in the north and east. It will anyway become history soon, if it does not metamorphose to suit the times.

Yes, the Sinhala only and other measures adopted in a cavalier manner by Sri Lankan governments at various stages of our history, led to the Tamil insurrection, terrorism and civil war. The role of the so-called Tamil leadership in pouring fuel on embers has been underlined by ISS. The neglect by various governments of the Southern, Uva, Sabaragamuwa and the North Central provinces, despite the above measures to correct the balance in favour of the Sinhala people, also led to two Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) led insurrections of a very violent nature, which were brutally suppressed. The fundamental problem of poverty and lack of opportunities confronting these predominantly Sinhala Provinces are being only addressed now in a serious manner by the Rajapakse government. As a result the JVP has become irrelevant and is in its death throes.

Since the LTTE was defeated the government has dealt with the enormous crisis in human displacement, human agony, potential starvation and possible disease outbreaks in an admirable manner, with the assistance of the International community. The Sri Lankan government played a leading role in this effort. It had to of course intern the internally displaced in secure camps for their own safety and because of security fears concerning reactions of LTTE cadres who had escaped death or capture in the final stages of the war. However maligned, this was necessary and unavoidable considering the circumstances. The psychological trauma and issue of family losses- deaths, divorce and abandonment, suffered by the war-affected people yet remain unaddressed though of immense proportions. They need protracted help to recover. They are not crying for vengeance. They have accepted the results of the war and are not seeking revenge.

I wish the IDPs were held longer in the camps until their villages were re-built and infra-structural support provided. I have seen the plans government had for this. Unfortunately, the International Community egged on by the TNA and the pro-Tiger Diaspora insisted the IDPs be released. The government obliged. To cry foul now is a despicable charade.

The TNA, the pro-Tiger Diaspora and the International Community demanded that democracy be restored to the East and then the North. The government obliged, making sure that it had its own trusted men and women playing a major role. There was no concern whether the Tamils in the north and east had recovered even to reasonable levels of normalcy to meaningfully participate in elections. There was no consideration as to whether politicians with the capacity to lead the Tamils in their time of dire need were available. Proxies and political opportunists have filled the void.

The results are what we see now. A government that has not yet had time to complete its efforts on the post-war recovery front, yet dependent on proxies to assert its political authority and has not had the time to allay the suspicions and misgiving accumulated over decades, trying to garner votes. A government blowing its horns on activities-although substantial, yet to have a meaningful impact on the day to day lives of the people. A TNA that is pretending that Tamils have no problems other than the need for self-rule, cashing in on past fears to garner votes. A TNA harping on mostly imagined or exaggerated negatives while keeping mum on the many positives. A public that have no need, inclination or desire for politics of any sorts, having elections forced on them. Those who choose cast their votes largely for the TNA- the familiar face, and against the yet largely unknown/unfamiliar (Painted long as an enemy) carrying the baggage of a much maligned past and much detested proxies. Of course money is widely used to buy votes. Do the results mean anything in these circumstances? Does their vote endorse the policies of those elected? Is this democracy?

I think international involvement in our affairs, to the extent it has become intrusive is undesirable. The role of the INGOs and many NGOs are of serious concern to me. Are their intrusions unbiased, sincere and helpful? Do they represent ground realities? Are they misrepresenting issues? Are they a part of a wider plot? The news that LTTE proxies in Toronto, led by David Poopalapillai, are collecting funds for the Amnesty International is of concern to me. Does this represent the visible part of a largely submerged iceberg? How should the GOSL react? How would it react, in terms of war that ended ONLY two and a half years back? Would the Tamils in Sri Lanka be the losers again? Would Sri Lanka be forced to experience a repeat of an ugly past? Should wisdom and prudence prevail in all quarters?

We have to work together as peoples to resolve our problems from within. The Tamils need the help of the Sinhalese and other peoples in Sri Lanka. They can ignore us and justifiably so, if we are hell bent on kicking their shin yet! Can we afford it? We have to forgive. We have to be patient. We have to be honourable. We have to be truthful. We have to be trustable. We are the starting point. Our approach should be reciprocated. We have to identify our problems as a people, on a scale of priorities and seek solutions resolutely and in a pragmatic manner. I do not think we have any other choice.