Singapore: Festering Wounds in Little India

| by Prof. V. Suryanarayan

( February 28, 2014, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) In a turbulent region, characterized by xenophobia, the Republic of Singapore was considered to be an oasis of stability and orderly progress.

The Republic’s rapid economic strides made it an object of envy and admiration. But this image suffered serious setback following the unprecedented violent clashes in “Little India” between Indian migrants and security forces in December 2013. The spark was provided by the killing of an Indian worker by a bus. Angry spectators took the law into their own hands, went on a rampage and destroyed public property. The police soon arrived on the scene and brought the situation under control.

The immediate response of the Singapore Government was to detain large number of Indian workers who had congregated in Little India to spend the Sunday evening. 53 migrant workers were to be deported and 28 workers will face prosecution and, if convicted, will have to undergo imprisonment, in addition to caning, which is universally considered to be inhuman and barbarous.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long downplayed the seriousness of the incident and characterized it as an “isolated incident caused by an unruly mob”. But perceptive observers of Singapore scene are of the view that frustration, disenchantment and anger have been developing among migrant workers. A closer look at Singapore’s political evolution from 1963, when Singapore got its independence with the formation of Malaysia, provides illustrations of ethnic discontent among all three major ethnic groups - Malays, Chinese and Indians.

In order to understand the problem in proper perspective, it is necessary to highlight certain unique characteristics of Singapore. Since the founding of modern Singapore by Stamford Raffles in 1819, Singapore was made a free port and it attracted migrants from China, India and Malay world. What is more, from the beginning, the Chinese outnumbered indigenous Malays and immigrant Indians. The population of Singapore today is estimated to be 5.26 million, of which the Chinese constitute 74 per cent, Malays 13 per cent and Indians 9 per cent. Of the total population of 5.26 million, 3.27 million are Singapore citizens, half a million are permanent residents and 1.46 million are foreigners. In Singapore one does not notice abject poverty, but there is increasing disparity between the filthy rich and the relatively impoverished many. The local people resent the presence of foreign workers who contribute to overcrowding in public transport and have hiked the cost of living. Singapore citizens of Indian origin are one of the worst affected. According to informed sources, the per capita income of a Singapore citizen of Indian origin is less than the national average. Complicating the situation, there is also a big divide between the highly qualified affluent expatriate Indians and local Indians. They do not interact with one another. Stay in any good hotel, invariably the girl who cleans the room and the toilet will be a local Tamil girl.

Singapore’s demography has undergone rapid transformation during last thirty years. Economic progress had been steady and this development has been fuelled by migrant workers. Singapore citizens are not available or are unwilling to work in sectors ranging from construction to domestic chores. According to the White Paper on population published in January 2013, the population of Singapore in 2020 will be 6.9 million, of which citizens will account for 3.8 million, permanent residents 0.6 million and migrant workers 2.5 million. There is an intense debate taking place among intelligentsia in Singapore as to what is the appropriate balance between growth and quality of life. Many Singapore citizens want quality of life to be maintained whereas the Government subscribes to the view that rapid economic growth alone can provide for a good standard of living.

The migrant workers suffer serious disadvantages. According to Human Rights Watch, “Foreign workers in Singapore, both men and women, are subject to labour abuses and exploitation through debts owed to recruitment agents, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, confiscation of passports, and, in some cases, physical and sexual abuse”. What is more, Singapore is an authoritarian state, laws provide for detention without trial, parliament has become a rubber stamp for government legislation, press is controlled and dissent frowned upon. It is all the more tragic because, in the formative years of the Peoples Action Party (PAP) Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues were passionate advocates of Democratic Socialism.

The first expression of discontent in post-independent Singapore came from Malay community and communal riots took place in July and September 1964. It was a direct outcome of the Malay fear that the policies and programmes of the PAP government will adversely affect the pre-eminent position of the Malays in Malaysia. The Malays in Singapore felt that after the formation of Malaysia they would also be entitled to special rights and privileges as their counterparts in the mainland. Lee Kuan Yew not only rejected their demands, he was also unwilling to negotiate with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as the representative organization of Singapore Malays. Emotions were whipped up by both sides and a tense atmosphere ensued. The mischief makers exploited the procession which took place on the Prophet’s birth day and started the riots. Violence spread far and wide. After an uneasy peace for about six weeks, riots occurred again in early September 1964.

The Chinese migrant workers expressed their discontent in November 1962. This involved Chinese drivers employed in the public transport company SMRT. The Chinese workers were indignant because for the same work Singapore and Malaysian workers were getting more remuneration. On November 26, 2012, 171 workers spontaneously refused to report for work. The Government came down with a heavy hand. Few of them were detained and few others were deported to China.

Little India is located in the heart of Singapore. It has a number of shops, hotels, bars, temples, churches and mosques. After working hard for six days in a week, the Indian migrant workers congregate in Little India to meet their friends and unwind themselves. And on that fateful Sunday in December Kumaravel Shaktivel, after getting inebriated, met a tragic end. The pent up emotions of the assembled Indians burst into the open and they ran amok in Little India. The violence is an outward expression of the accumulated grievances of the migrant community in Singapore.

Singapore is in the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it wants to register continued economic progress, and, for attaining that goal, migrant labour is an essential pre-requisite. But if there is no mechanism to look into and solve the problems of the migrant labour amicably, it is very likely that simmering discontent may erupt once again, tarnishing the fair image of the country.

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan is former Director and Senior Professor, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras)

2013: US Human Rights Eye on Sri Lanka

( February 28, 2014, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multi-party republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to a second six-year term in 2010. The Parliament, which was elected in 2010, shares constitutional power with the president. The president’s family dominates government. Two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts, as defense secretary and economic development minister, and a third brother is the speaker of Parliament. A large number of the president’s other relatives, including his son, also serve in important political and diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Polls were fraught with election law violations by all major parties, especially the governing coalition’s use of state resources for its own advantage. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses.

The major human rights problems were: attacks on, and harassment of, civil society activists, journalists, and persons viewed as sympathizers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization by individuals allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly torture by police and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary. Disappearances and killings continued to diminish in comparison with the immediate postwar period. Nevertheless, attacks, harassment, and threats by progovernment loyalists against critics of the government were prevalent, contributed to widespread self-censorship by journalists, and diminished democratic activity due to the general failure to prosecute perpetrators.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities; and neglect of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Defendants often faced lengthy pretrial detention, and an enormous backlog of cases plagued the justice system. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government, and most major media outlets were controlled by the government. Self-censorship by journalists was widespread, and the government censored some news websites. Citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere on the island, although there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off-limits. IDPs were not always free to choose where to resettle. The president exercised his constitutional authority to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights issues. Lack of government transparency and widespread government corruption were serious concerns. Sexual violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of the victims of human rights violations were Tamils. There was an increase in discrimination and attacks against religious minorities, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians. Discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation continued. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor also remained problems.

Government officials and others tied to the ruling coalition enjoyed a high degree of impunity. The government prosecuted a very small number of government and military officials implicated in human rights abuses and had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

Individuals suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces

I'm fair, my family is fair, my relations are also fire but you are unfair - Rajapksa

Rajapaksa 'uncomfortable' with rights resolution

( February 28, 2914, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka's president on Friday acknowledged his discomfort at the prospect of being censured by the UN's top rights body, as he accused Washington of treating Colombo like Muhammad Ali's "punching bag".

The United States is the author of a resolution due to be voted on by the United Nations' Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 28, which accuses Sri Lanka of failing to investigate allegations of war crimes at the end of its conflict against Tamil separatists in 2009.

But in an address to foreign correspondents on Friday, President Mahinda Rajapakse insisted he had done all he could to ensure reconciliation after crushing the Tamil Tiger rebels and ending the 37-year conflict.
"The whole resolution, we are uncomfortable with," Rajapakse said at his Temple Trees residence. "There should not be a resolution at all."

Rajapakse said he was at a loss to understand why the US was moving a third resolution in as many years, accusing it of bullying the Indian Ocean island.

"This is like Cassius Clay using a school boy as a punching bag," Rajapakse said in reference to the former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Rajapakse's unease at the likely upbraiding in Geneva was echoed by his Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris who told the gathering: "We feel acutely uncomfortable by the pressure brought on us by a powerful country."

UN rights chief Navi Pillay has already recommended the rights council order an international investigation into the war crimes allegations.

Rights groups say up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by government forces in the bloody finale to the war. Rajapakske has denied his troops killed any civilians.

Although the exact text of the resolution is still not known, the US has said it will file a motion that buttresses Pillay's recommendations made after a controversial visit to Sri Lanka in August when she declared that the Rajapakse administration was becoming increasingly authoritarian.

The government said this week that Pillay's recommendations reflected "bias and is tantamount to an unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state".

Rajapakse said he was committed to ensuring investigations into any allegations of wrongdoing by his security forces and challenged his accusers to provide evidence.

"I advocated investigations into disappearances in 1989 and 90 (during an uprising by Sinhalese Marxist rebels). Even today, I believe in it (human rights)," Rajapakse said.

Sri Lanka has previously said it needs more time to address issues of accountability and reconciliation after ending the Tamil conflict, which according to UN estimates claimed at least 100,000 lives.

Sources: AFP

International Investigation Now

Solidarity groups launch Social Media Campaign!

In the past China and Pakistan have led the campaign to oppose any such
 Resolution against Sri Lanka.

( February 28, 2014, Geneva, Sri Lanka Guardian) Transnational solidarity groups have launched a Social Media Campaign, using Facebook and Twitter, to call for an International Investigation on Sri Lanka at the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council session in March.

Already United National High Commissioner Pillai has called for an International Investigation for Sri Lanka. Several international organizations like International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are also campaigning for International investigation.

In a powerful endorsement to this investigation, Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council has unanimously adopted a Resolution calling for an International Investigation to investigate War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.

So far the call to establish an International investigation was advocated only by International NGO’s and diaspora groups like Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). This is the first time; Tamils within Sri Lanka through their elected representatives have called for such an investigation.

There are reports that several countries are planning to introduce a Resolution at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council Session calling for an international investigation for Sri Lanka.

In the past China and Pakistan have led the campaign to oppose any such Resolution against Sri Lanka.

The call for international investigation is to investigate killings that took place in the final months of the war between Sri Lankan Government and Tamil rebels called Tamil Tigers.

According to a UN Internal Review Report on Sri Lanka, troops under the Sri Lankan President's command, killed over 70,000 Tamils in five months in 2009, mainly due to bombing and shelling of Tamils who were cornered into places designated by the Sri Lankan Government as “No-Fire Zones.” Food and medicine were also restricted to the trapped Tamils resulting in several died of starvation, sickness and many of the injured bleeding to death.

There are also reports of sexual violence against Tamil women by Sri Lankan Security forces. According to a May 2012 report by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Human Rights and Democracy; there are up to 90,000 Tamil war widows in the North & East of Sri Lanka.

UK’s Channel 4 has produced series of documentaries on mass killing of Tamils during the war.

Boston Lanka Special Edition with Dayan

( February 28, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In this special edition on UNHRC Sessions in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka who is a Political scientist, author and who served Sri Lanka as a diplomat talks about his views on resolution against Sri Lanka and the SL government's response. Part 1.
For more up to date news Go to:

Eran demands DIG Colombo to produce Wanathamulla Sunil's abductors or resign

( February 28, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe along with Eran Wickramaratne MP visited the residents in Wanathamulla to witness Sunil swearing an affidavit in front of the lawyersregarding his abduction.

Eran Wickramaratne MP questioned as to why the DIG Colombo, Anura Senanayake could not produce the abductors of Mr Sunil who had been abducted over 10 days ago. If the DIG cannot produce the culprits, he called on the DIG to resign before he is removed by the President.

The residents of Wanathamulla complained that they were treated in high handed manner with little or no respect and dignity.

Eran Wickraratne requested the Government to providehousing units not less than 750 sq.ft. to these residents as they could not accommodate their families in smaller units. He said that the present units built were more like prisons than houses. He also appealed that the down payment of Rs. 100,000/- was a burden on low income families and it be reduced, permitting them to make payment over 20 years. When valuable houses were being demolished it was necessary to pay compensation.

Consider Joint Inquiry Instead Of International Inquiry

Image courtesy:
( February 27, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian ) The Sri Lankan government has rejected the report submitted by the UN Human Rights Commissioner that recommends an international inquiry into alleged war crimes and human rights violations in the last phase of the country’s war. The government continues to deny the allegations and asserts that it only carried out a humanitarian rescue operation during the last stages of the war due to the forcible holding of the civilian population by the LTTE and also asserts that the alleged number of persons who had died or disappeared as a gross exaggeration. It set up an inquiry but entrusted it to the military against whom the allegations are made, which does not make it an independent investigation. It is an accepted principle in law that no person can be a judge in their own cause.

The last resolution that was passed in the UNHRC called for an independent and credible domestic investigation. Sri Lanka possesses individuals who have held very high positions both internationally and nationally in human rights investigations, and who could be acceptable to all stakeholders. But with the erosion of the Rule of Law and the independence of the Judiciary with the 18th Amendment and impeachment of the Chief Justice, it is unlikely that the UN would accept a purely domestic investigation as a credible alternative at this time. It is reported that the Western countries, led by the United States, are proposing to pass a resolution at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that would pave the way for the establishment of an international investigatory mechanism.

The National Peace Council is concerned that the outcome of the confrontation that is taking place between the Sri Lankan government and those countries that seek to set up an international mechanism against its wishes will stir up hatred and antagonism against the ethnic and religious minorities who having been the victims and can be accused of supporting the UNHRC resolution. There is already increased polarization on the issue within the country with one-sided accounts of the past being actively propagated by the two sides. The Northern Provincial Council, which represents the people in whose midst the last phase of the war was fought, has resolved to support the call for an international investigation.

Apart from the increased internal polarization, which is not conducive to national reconciliation, the National Peace Council is concerned that in the aftermath of a divisive UNHRC vote, there can be further adverse economic and political consequences for Sri Lanka, including isolation from the powerful Western bloc of countries which constitute Sri Lanka’s main source of exports, and even leading to bilateral sanctions. It is necessary to come up with a modified resolution where both the UN and the government can be partners of a domestic investigation process which will be credible in the eyes of the UN and all stakeholders.

The National Peace Council therefore calls on the international community and the Sri Lankan government to resolve their differences through such a joint inquiry with a report back mechanism to the UN. This could avoid the weaknesses of a previous joint effort to investigate human rights violations that led to the setting up of an Independent International Eminent Group of Persons to be observers. In addition, provision could be made for the inquiry to take place in a neutral country as well as in Sri Lanka so that those who make the allegations can be assured that they would not be penalized for giving evidence for or against the allegations.

Statement issued by the, The National Peace Council

Prelude to World War: We Are Hungry in Three Languages

| by John Stanton

( February 27, 2014, Virginia, Sri Lanka Guardian) On 24 February 2014 US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel held a press conference to announce some of the details of Pentagon’s 2015 budget. Beyond the news of cuts in warfighting machinery and personnel--and the pox of “irresponsible” sequestration on the federal government--Hagel made a point of indicating that the world is becoming an increasingly volatile place. He also seemed to express a bit of disgust for nation building of the type attempted by the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Image courtesy:
Those sentiments are directly at odds with the core element of US national and global security strategy in operation since the late 19th Century. Those strategies employ the USA’s considerable instruments of national power to: 1) actively destabilize “elected” governments (Ukraine, Venezuela) through the use of NGO’s, intelligence agencies and proxy groups; 2) prop up brutal regimes (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt) through a US congressionally approved program, executed by the US military, called Foreign Internal Defense; 3) information operations conducted via the printed press, social media, radio, television and film that seek to shape the cognitive local to global environment in favor of US national interests.; and 4) existentially destroy foreign governments through direct military action in conjunction with the weaponry of finance capitalism to create new markets.

All of this is codified in one form or another in US political and military doctrine. Every American president from George Washington to Barack Obama has trumpeted in some fashion what President Obama and President Bush George W, Bush both proclaimed. The former indicated that the US will pursue its own interests no matter what any other nation on the planet thinks, even invoking God’s plan to put the care of the global environment in America’s hands. The latter put it more simply, “You are either with us or against us.” The heads of foreign governments—and their opponents-- are well aware of US strategy, tactics and operations.

What Civilian Leadership?

In the middle of this sits the US Department of Defense and the military branches of the US government. While they certainly advocate for their budgetary interests, have their share of drunks, overstep the civil-military divide, and engage is occasional battlefield atrocities, the fact is that they take their guidance and instructions from American civilians who are elected and appointed to provide the guiding strategy—and funding--to which the military designs its own strategy, tactics and operations.

So as Chief Executive Officer of the DOD Chuck Hagel was announcing austerity measures for the DOD corporate dominion with the closure of unneeded facilities (think factories), personnel (think workers) and benefits (think pensions and health benefits cut for all but generals, admirals and senior government executives), the thought arises that in a dozen countries large and small around the planet, American civilian leadership is either agitating directly or indirectly for the destabilization of those foreign internal governments, or supporting brutal regimes for strategic ends. If these largely economic-based rebellions begin to spill over into neighboring countries--or cause neighboring country leaders to mobilize or put military troops on alert; as in Russia (who can blame them?), then why is American civilian leadership forcing the US Navy, Marine Corps and Army to shrink in size and cut costs?

And with the much ballyhooed pivot to Asia, how much sense does it make cut back US ground forces in the face of a potential adversary (China) that can field at least 300 million soldiers and insurgents? Additionally, and most importantly, why is the US civilian leadership destabilizing its own country by rapaciously cutting an array of federal social programs (food assistance programs and health benefits for example) for its own people, just as corporations hoard cash, pay little taxes and reap increased dividend payments?

Demonstrations the world over are underway not for some nebulous concept of freedom and democracy but rather because mercenary privatization IMF style and messy capitalism are ripping asunder their target societies as prices for water, rent and food skyrocket with no reasonable safety nets established. And when the populace is life-insecure, the nation’s stability is threatened. If it is not the capitalists then it’s the dictators and their minions who seek to fill their bank accounts with cash for the day they are booted out of power. And yet free market and expeditionary economic cheerleaders are the first ones to turn to the State when profits sink which means no one wants to buy what they are selling. Then there is that pesky violent history from the mid-19th to the 20th Century. If the idea of war is to create a better, long lasting peace, as someone once said, are we setting up for a third world war, the trifecta that ends all wars?

Toxic Civilian Combination

The combination of financiers, investors, technocrats and politicians is toxic. They run the world with formulas and a market ideology that has long since past its prime. They simply write off as “bad debt” large swaths of world’s population—to include in the United States and European Union—as unemployable, uninsurable. Once they have jettisoned those millions from the official economic figures, the economy magically improves as investors get excited. They claim that taxes stifle corporate investment when, in fact, corporations pay very little taxes thanks to politicians. Incredulously, they seek a move to the free market in a time of growing poverty, inequality and unrest.

Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Libya, Mexico (?), Chile, Spain, Greece and Yemen are just a few of the countries with populations unhappy with economic conditions ranging from factory closings, low wages and high unemployment. A good lesson for Americans is the plight of one of their own, Detroit, Michigan.

As a placard in Bosnia Herzegovina put it, “I am hungry in three languages.” So when global rebellion comes in dozens of languages--based on the simple desire for the “right” to be secure in work, food, shelter and clothing--spills over to one country after another--to include the USA--the financiers, investors, technocrats and loathsome politicians will turn to the American national security apparatus to protect them, most likely by fighting in a foreign land already in the midst of a civil war or open rebellion. Hagel should say No.

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at

Say Farewell To Battlefield

| by Ali Sukhanver

( February 27, 2014, Islamabad, Sri Lanka Guardian) The law and order situation in Pakistan would have been altogether different, if Pakistan were not so generous in hosting millions of Afghan Refugees. Pakistan is still hosting over 1.61 million registered Afghan refugees and this is the largest number of refugees with the ever longest stay in the present history of the world. According to a document of UNHCR, the return of almost 3.8 million registered Afghan refugees has been made possible since 2002. In spite of the fact that some of the Afghan Refugees have ever been involved in anti-Pakistan activities, the government of Pakistan has never tried to push them back across the borders simply because it has always been the basic ingredient of the Pakistan’s policy to safeguard the basic human rights to every possible extent.

Image courtesy:
The Afghan Refugees are settled in the provinces of Balochistan, KPK and Punjab and many of them could be seen in the province of Sind also. The government of Pakistan has established 81 Refugee Villages on government-owned land where more than 592,648 refugees are enjoying all facilities of health, education and employment. According to UNHCR there are 1.61 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and such a large number is no doubt a huge burden on Pakistan’s already fragile economy. But throughout these years not even a single complaint has been launched by the refugees against the Pakistani authorities responsible for their rehabilitation. The Afghan refugees have been given the same rights and privileges as are given to the people of Pakistan. It is the basic preaching of Islam to take care of the refugees that is why the Afghan refugees feel at home here.

On the other hand, all over the world, the refugees are never treated with Pakistan like hospitality. Particularly in India, we have the ever worst examples of maltreatment with the refugees. Last December world renowned reporter, producer and TV journalist Karishma Vyas visited a refugee camp at Loi near Muzaffarnager where more than 2000 refugees are living a painful life. All of these refugees are Indian nationals; they had to run away from their native town Muzaffarnager when the Hindu extremists started burning their homes, raping their women and slaughtering them indiscriminately last September 2013.
Karishma Vyas narrated her observations; “This was Loi relief camp, the epitome of misery. There was no electricity and the temperature had plummeted to single digits. A dense winter fog had set in so we could only see the camp in eerie shadows and shapes. Mohammad Shakir wanted to tell us his story. He took us into his flimsy tent where his four children and wife were bundled up under a blanket. If we had visited in November we would have met his nine-month-old son, Sofian. But the infant died of pneumonia on the first of December; unable to survive the poor living conditions and the onset of winter. Almost all are Muslims who fled communal clashes in their villages last September. They told us they have no homes to return to after they were looted and burned by members of another religious community.” Certainly the Afghan refugees must be thankful to God Almighty that they are in Pakistan; if they were unfortunately in India, what could have been their fate; they could easily guess upon. The Indian authorities are doing all best possible for the Muzaffarnager refugees but the sufferers of the Muzaffarnager tragedy are facing everywhere a typical type of racial and religious discrimination. According to different independent media resources, the number of rape victims in the Muzaffarnager riots is more than fifty. The Muzaffarnager riots took place in September 2013 and till now only seven cases of rape have been registered and the latest of these was registered in the third week of this February, almost five months after the incident. This case was registered at Phugana police station against three culprits of Laank village. There names were Kuldeep, Maheshvir and Sakaindar.
These three allegedly gang-raped a Muslim woman during the riots but the police remained reluctant in registering the FIR. At last the woman had to approach the State Government and on the direction of the State Government the case was registered. The spokesman of the AMU Lawyers Forum said in a press briefing that this one is the seventh gang-rape case which has been registered by the police, earlier six cases against 27 people were registered separately and 22 accused in five cases were found involved by the Special Investigation Team.

These examples of lawlessness and racial injustice are no doubt very comforting and pleasing for the peace-loving sections of the Indian society but more unfortunate is the fact that instead of cleaning up the home-grown weeds, the Indian hi-ups are still harping on the same old string trying to frame up Pakistan and the ISI behind every act of injustice and terrorism. A few days back, The Indian Express reported that two Muslim clerics were arrested last month for their suspected links to Lashkar-e-Taiba. These clerics were from Haryana and they had been visiting their distressed Muslim brothers in the Refugee Camps after the Muzaffarnager riots. The Indian Intelligence agencies without any proof, blamed that the two clerics were working with the ISI and were looking for the suitable young men who could work for the ISI.

The crux of the matter is that the Indian authorities must realize that friendly relations between the two countries are the most urgent need of time. Always a state of war and all time a battle-field like scenario would result in nothing but more disaster, more destruction and more depression. Both the countries will have to launch joint venture to counter the menace of terrorism but before this the blame game will have to be ended. In the larger interest of the South-Asian region a Joint Action Team, comprising of the members from all the regional intelligence agencies may also be constituted under the command of the ISI because the ISI is more experienced in the issues of countering terrorism.

A Dangerous Alignment

| by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….drifting into vanities, congregating in absurdities, planning short-sightedly, plotting dementedly.”
George Meredith (The Egoist),

( February 27, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Blackmail or revenge, the Rajapaksas are out to irk India. 

First to take up the ‘If-we-are-investigated-we-will-expose-the-IPKF’ refrain was Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga. On January 27th, he proclaimed from Washington, “If there is an international investigation, the whole period has to be investigated….which includes the two year tenure of the Indian peacekeeping force…” 

Prathiba Mahanamahewa, head of the debased Human Rights Commission , followed suit on February 3rd: “If the US and UN want a war crimes probe then it needs to cover the tenure of the…IPKF in Sri Lanka as well” .

Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka’s permanent envoy in Washington opined that a probe should cover the entirety of the war . 

A complaint against the IPKF was made to the Presidential Commission on Disappearances, during its Jaffna-sittings. Maxwell Paranagama, the Commission’s chairman, stated that “the government may widen the scope of the preview through a new gazette so that it will be able to cover the IPKF period” .

An economic twist was added, to drive the message home. An unnamed ‘top CEB engineer’ was quoted saying that there should be a ‘radical rethink’ on the Sampur project, because India’s real objective is to obtain a ‘presence in the East’ .

Are the Rajapaksas, in an excess of hubris, hoping to frighten the beleaguered Congress government into voting against the next Geneva resolution? Or are they, in a customary fit of pique, punishing Delhi, in advance, for a yes vote? 

The Siblings’ crude attempts to administer some long-distance-pinches to the embattled Congress administration indicate the paucity of their comprehension of Indian politics. 

The plight of Lankan Tamils resonates with Indian politicians only in election times, due to Tamilnadu factor. In between elections, the issue receives only, and occasional, lip-service. Had the Congress Party enjoyed undiminished national popularity, its vulnerability to Tamilnadu would have been limited even in an election year. But given the Congress Party’s waning politico-electoral fortunes, it cannot ignore Tamilnadu sentiments. That is why PM Singh boycotted Colombo Commonwealth. That is why Delhi voted for 2013 Geneva Resolution and will, in all probability, do the same this year. 

That the Congress Party cannot afford to allow the Congress government to flout Tamilnadu opinion a couple of months ahead a national election should be obvious. If the Rajapaksas had any sense, they would have accepted this immutable reality, and given the only ally they have in India a break. After all, the Congress government is doing what it can to accommodate the Rajapaksas even now, as was evidenced by the banning of ‘No Fire Zone’.

Megalomania blinds, deafens and stupefies. The Rajapaksas do not seem to realise that any non-Congress administration is likely to make life far harder for them. 

Dr. Subramaniam Swamy represents his own view-points and not that of the BJP. Narendra Modi has already ranked Sri Lanka amongst countries not-so-friendly to India: “Small nations are pressuring India and no one is listening to us. It is the weak government which is responsible for this state of affairs. We belong to a noble country but unfortunately India is being troubled by Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan” . (The primacy accorded to Sri Lanka is probably a concession to the venue - Chennai). 

The formation of an ‘alternative coalition’, consisting of eleven national and regional parties, is a positive development because it can become a secular alternative to the unpopular Congress. But this will not be a happy outcome for the Rajapaksas. If the BJP does not do as well as expected (the veracity of some of the opinion polls are being questioned), and the Third Front performs better than expected, Jayalalitha Jeyaram will become a serious contender for premiership . That Ms. Jayalalitha is contemplating an Indian future is evident in the national focus of her Manifesto. It promises to be tough on China and Pakistan and implement Tamilnadu’s popular populist programmes nationwide – plus a UN referendum on Eelam (impossible given the Kashmir-factor ).

Outside Tamilnadu, Lanka and Lankan Tamils are non-issues. In a March 2013 poll conducted by the Lowy Institute, Indians identified Pakistan and China as major foreign threats. 83% said China was a major threat; the reasons given included ‘competition for resources in third countries’ and ‘China’s efforts to strengthen its relations with other countries in the Indian Ocean region’ . 

That is where Sri Lanka is likely to figure, in India beyond Tamilnadu.

The next government of India may or may not be more committed to the cause of Lankan Tamils; but it is likely to be far less moderate in its dealings with both China and Pakistan. And Colombo might find itself in Delhi’s sights, not because of Tamils/Tamilnadu but because of Rajapaksa’s dangerous dependence on China.

Nonalignment in Asia

Asia is the main theatre of the emerging Cold War, between the two regional powers (China and India) as well as the existing and nascent global powers (US and China).

India and China share a highly militarised land-border; Mr. Modi’s recent remark about China’s expansionist mindset was made in reference to Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet , and claims.

In this context, strict nonalignment is the best policy for smaller Asian countries. Cultivating relations with contending powers, while maintaining a careful-neutrality, is the most effective way to avoid the unenviable fate of a vulnerable and dispensable pawn.

Sri Lanka is being pushed in the opposite direction by Rajapaksa dynastic interests and whims (from anti-devolutionism to manic and unproductive construction) Increasing alignment with one of the contending powers is short-sighted enough; the Rajapaksa-decision to ally themselves against the regional power which looms on the other side of a streak-of-a-strait is unimaginably inane. 

The Siblings are making a public spectacle of their Chinese-connection, possibly hoping to browbeat/punish India. “Sri Lanka has become the first country to support China’s plan to build a Maritime Silk Road” . Rajapaksa-acolyte Dhammika Perera’s business empire is opting for Chinese ‘Kingsoft’ software over Microsoft . 

A non-Congress government, especially a BJP one, is likely to be more hardline in its dealings with China – and thus, by extension, with any country seen as a Chinese pawn. And it is the pawn, rather than the principal, who is likely to bear the brunt of such muscle-flexing. 

China is India’s biggest trading partner . Though Indian public is hostile to and suspicious of China, a majority (63%) also want relations with China strengthened. Consequently, Delhi is more likely to twist the arm of smaller Chinese allies to teach Beijing a lesson. Thus Sri Lanka may have a tougher time with a non-Congress government not because of Tamils/Tamilnadu but because of Colombo’s Chinese alignment (attacking Lankan Muslims will not suffice to win favour, even with the egregious Mr. Modi). The popularity of any consequent ‘tough action’ in Tamilnadu will be an added bonus.

Wielding a big stick may, or may not, be effective foreign policy. Either way, it is an option only for those who have a big stick. Sri Lanka does not, and the Rajapaksa attempt to wave a Chinese-cudgel in Delhi’s direction is likely to boomerang on us.

He is also the Dean of the Law Faculty, Kotelawala Defence University, an institution coming under the Defence Ministry
Rajapaksa kinsmen-turned-ambassadors usually end up hogging the choice-locations they are appointed to.
Ms. Jayalaitha will not push this demand seriously, post-election, because no Indian politician outside Tamilnadu will back her, since that will give Pakistan an excellent weapon to be used against India in Kashmir. Even if Ms. Jayalalitha becomes the PM she will be so at the head of a coalition and will have to go out of her way to prove that her regional identity is not a bar to an Indian leadership and an Indian focus. Incidentally no mainstream Tamilnadu leader would really want an Eelam in Sri Lanka because that would inevitably deprive them of their current preeminence and bestow it on the president of the only sovereign Tamil state in the world. Jaffna and not Chennai will become the focus of Tamils and that would not be in the interests/to the liking of either Ms. Jayalalitha or Mr. Karunanidhi.
The MSR is expected to link Indian and Pacific Oceans and is seen as an attempt by Beijing to ally jitters about the supposed ‘string of pearls’ plan. Last October the Chinese PM announced the setting up of a $495 billion maritime cooperation fund, partly to promote the project.
He was appointed as a Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, despite the clear conflict of interest.

India: Law is no exception to god-men or god-women

| Following statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission

( February 26, 2014, Hong Kong , Sri Lanka Guardian) In India, another controversy has erupted concerning yet another spiritual guru. The exception however is, this time, it is a god-woman from the southern state of Kerala. Otherwise, the script is an oft-repeated one.

The book authored by Ms. Gail Tredwell, alleges that she was raped repeatedly by one of the leading personalities in the cult led by a god woman from Kerala that she once followed, and further that the woman she believed to be her spiritual guru was in fact also engaged in criminal activities. Once the book hit the stands, public opinions, for and against the book and the cult movement followed, just as it is expected in any healthy democracy.
The emergence of a person claiming spiritual and god given powers from a remote hamlet in the country to national and international prominence over a period of time; an estranged early disciple breaking off from the sect; and authoring a memoir throwing light into the otherwise unknown inside aspects of the guru as well as the guru's inner circle, alleging crimes of varying nature including sexual violence and financial misappropriation; and the government going out of the way, beyond the mandates of law, to protect the cult and the persons leading it.

Many countries in the world have had their share of gurus and spirituality driven movements, most of them later exposed as mere spinoffs, led by fraudsters. Perhaps in this list, India stands remarkably high up.

India is home to controversial persons like, Mr. Sathyanarayana Raju, who was alleged of crimes including being a paedophile; or before him, Mr. Chandra Mohan Jain, who was accused of masterminding a bio-terror attack - the first confirmed instance of bio-terrorism in the United States, and their modern day counterparts like, Mr. Asumal Thaumal Harpalani, notorious for rape charges and absconding. The country is fertile ground for such money swindlers and racketeers.

Common to all of them, is that they could with relative ease get away with their crimes, organise for investigations to be stalled, and prevent prosecutions. They all exhibit the same skill in dodging the criminal justice process in India. They all enjoyed in showcasing their high-profile political clout, that none dared to question them or their cult or its activities. All of them have spoken in international forums, some at the United Nations or are referred to as exemplary examples of humanitarian activists, like Satyanarayana Raju, who was repeatedly appreciated by the UN for his water supply programmes, while his otherwise unknown side of life was involved in deep criminality.

The book authored by Ms. Gail Tredwell, alleges that she was raped repeatedly by one of the leading personalities in the cult led by a god woman from Kerala that she once followed, and further that the woman she believed to be her spiritual guru was in fact also engaged in criminal activities. Once the book hit the stands, public opinions, for and against the book and the cult movement followed, just as it is expected in any healthy democracy.

However, what is appalling is the fact that the state government going out of the way to silence public opinion against the cult. Worse, the Home Minister of Kerala underlined his government's subjugation to the cult, by declaring that the government would not take any criminal actions against the cult and its leadership. The Chief Minister has said that before one criticises the cult, one should remember the good deeds that it has done so far. If this logic is to be agreed as a legal standard, one of the first persons against whom there is a serious criminal charge pending, who should be exonerated is, Mr. Tarun J. Tejpal. Under the leadership of Tejpal, the organisation that he led, Tehelka, has exposed a large number of instances of political corruption and mal-governance in India.

Tredwell in her book has alleged, among other things against the cult that she once followed, crimes of serious nature. Some of them have direct and possible consequences that could endanger the security of the nation. Some of these crimes are of such gravity that the statute of limitation does not apply to them.

The government has the fundamental duty to investigate these allegations. Ministers who act against the constitutional mandate that they are bound to uphold and have sworn allegiance to before assuming office, that is to uphold the rule of law, must be prosecuted for breaching their constitutional promise.

Such statements will demoralise the state police. State opposition to a legal obligation to investigate promptly an allegation of crime only underlines the culpability of the government in promoting criminality.

Once a crime is committed, however small it might be, any amount of good deeds performed later does not have the capacity to exonerate the criminal. The power to acquit and convict a person is with the judiciary in India. Or, are there two sets of laws in India, one for the ordinary citizen and another for the god-men and god-women?

For further information please contact, in Hong Kong: Bijo Francis,, + 852 26986339

Govt. rejects HC Pillay's call "to establish an international inquiry mechanism"

Following statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry, Colombo as the response to the report by UNHCHR. We are republishing the response with the relatively important graphic provided by a source in Colombo.

( February 26, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has rejected the call by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navananethem Pillay's call "to establish an international inquiry mechanism to further investigate the alleged violations of IHRL and IHL and monitor any domestic accountability process in Sri Lanka", saying "it gives scant or no regard to the domestic processes ongoing in Sri Lanka within the framework of the LLRC NPOA, and is politicized in premise". The government said, the trajectory that has emerged with regard to the recommendation of the High Commissioner "reflects the preconceived, politicized and prejudicial agenda which she has relentlessly pursued with regard to Sri Lanka", since just a week following the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka, on 26th May 2009 at the 11th Special Session of the UNHRC on Sri Lanka, and at subsequent sessions and reports. It is noted that the reference in the current report that “the High Commissioner remains convinced” for an “independent, international inquiry” demonstrates her persistent efforts against Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka said, "it is pertinent to question the factual basis for the High Commissioner’s initial formal call to the HRC for an independent, international investigation in May 2009 and its continuation, in order that the international community not be misled".

GOSL made these observations in "comments" submitted to the draft report of the High Commissioner on 12 February 2014, ahead of the High Commissioner's (HC) final report on Sri Lanka to the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which was placed on the OHCHR website today (24 February 2014).

Although on the last occasion when the HC reported on Sri Lanka to the 22nd Session of the HRC, GOSL's "comments" were placed as an addendum to the report, ensuring the integrity of the HC's report and the GOSL comments, and also that they were equally visible, the GOSL's request this year that its comments be published as an addendum to the HC's Report has been refused, and it has only been placed on the UN Extranet which is not directly accessible to the public.
In its "comments" GOSL noting its “non-recognition” and “categorical rejection of resolution 22/1” that mandated the HC's report, observes that "it has nevertheless continued to make significant progress in its own reconciliation process, and has continued to regularly update the Council on such progress. In this context, GOSL rejects, without prejudice to its position of non-recognition of resolution 22/1, the High Commissioner’s claim that most of the recommendations made in her previous report to the Human Rights Council remain unimplemented". GOSL has also "reiterated its categorical rejection of the conclusions and recommendations contained in the HC's Report, which reflects bias and is tantamount to an unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign State".

In its detailed point by point "comments" on the HC's report, GOSL has regretted that "the HC had raised concerns regarding a range of issues based on information of questionable veracity and arrived at conclusions in a selective and arbitrary manner". It added that this included many she had raised during her August 2013 week long visit to Sri Lanka, "where the GOSL had requested the High Commissioner to provide factual evidence to substantiate allegations" and "to refrain from making general comments without a degree of specificity which would allow the GOSL to investigate and respond in a comprehensive manner", which however had not been forthcoming.

The full text of GOSL's "comments" on the HC's draft report submitted to the OHCHR

The full text of GOSL's "comments" on the HC's draft report submitted to the OHCHR is below:

How To Beat Navi Pillay And Jayalalitha

A Chance for GL on March 5th at the UNHRC in Geneva

| by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

( February 26, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is a right way and a wrong way to resist Navi Pillay —and Jayalalitha— and the Sri Lankan regime, I fear, is almost certain to do it the wrong way, which is also the way that is least likely to succeed.

The difference between Navi Pillay and Jayalalitha is that the former is wrong on the most important thing but right on some things while the latter is wrong on everything she says about Sri Lanka.

The way to respond to Navi Pillay is to pull the props or scaffolding from under her outrageous proposals of an international inquiry by implementing or constructively engaging with all her proposals except for that single outrageous one perched at the top of her scaffold of argumentation.

Simply put, her argument is that Sri Lanka has been badly remiss in certain matters and areas. From this she engages in sleight of hand—or makes a leap— to the proposal for an international inquiry. Many states have or have had far worse situations, especially post (protracted) war, but have not had to accept the indignity of an retrospective international inquiry, so there is no reason for Sri Lanka to submit to one.

Sri Lanka can intercept her argument in mid-flight and shoot it down in flames by the simple expedient of pledging in the Council to implement all or almost or of her other recommendations, with the help of her Office. Let’s face it: apart from the claymore mine of her recommendation of an international inquiry, the rest of what she says is pretty accurate and what she recommends —apart from the international inquiry— is quite desirable, not to mention overdue.

To re-state my case rather differently, Navi Pillay bases her case on the gap between Sri Lanka’s practice and international norms and standards, especially the ones Sri Lanka has entered international commitments to uphold. Our response must be to plug that gap by taking on board and solemnly pledging before the Council to make the rectifications that Navi Pillay has called for— apart from the ‘outlier’ of an international inquiry which is hardly an international norm but is precisely a dangerous precedent.

We can benignly ‘decapitate’ Navi Pillay’s case by adopting the body, the torso, of her proposals and criticisms, thereby separating them from the ‘head’ of her proposal: that of an international inquiry. This is our only chance of winning over the rest while deflecting the West, in the UNHRC and some day at the UN General Assembly. We cannot do so by attacking both head and body of Madam Pillay’s critical report. We must differentiate between her constructive criticisms and moderate proposals on the one hand and her destructive and extreme ones on the other. We must engage with the former while opposing the latter.

The problem with the current Sri Lankan attitude is that it cannot separate the main contradiction— and the primary aspect of that main contradiction— from the rest. The Sri Lankan regime will doubtless find everything that Navi Pillay’s report says, an affront. This approach will prevent Sri Lanka from isolating the West while winning over The Rest— which was our strategy in May 2009. It must be remembered that according to the UNHRC’s founding constitution, The Rest have 34 votes in a Council of 47, while the West can only count on 13.

If I may repeat myself: resisting Navi Pillay and the West can be done successfully only by accepting that which is right in what they have said while isolating and rejecting that which is manifestly wrong, dangerous and unreasonable. It cannot be achieved through a posture of rejectionism on the part of Sri Lanka; rejectionism based on an antediluvian and absolutist notion of sovereignty. In order to be defensible, sovereignty cannot be upheld in an absolutist form.

Navi Pillay and our Western critics must be faulted and rejected when they ask us to go beyond universal norms and global best practices. They must not be spurned when their criticisms are in the ballpark. This is the only way in which to win back the moderate middle ground and thus the majority of the Council.

In saying this I am not preaching something I didn’t practice, nor am I arguing for a reasonable moderation of the part of a Sri Lanka in retreat and on the defensive, which we failed to display when we were on top in 2009. Indeed our winning pre-emptive resolution of May 2009 incorporated a majority of the paragraphs of the EU’s draft resolution against us, discarding only that which was egregiously wrong—most notably the call for an international inquiry into war crimes allegations. As a YouTube search will show, I made that point when making my closing arguments before the vote at the Special Session.

Knowing the Government of Sri Lanka as I do, I am sadly certain it will go about it the wrong way. By contrast to May 2009 when we held the moral high ground, not just in our own eyes but in the eyes of the majority of the Council, through the method of reasoned argument and the practice of persuasion, Sri Lanka in March 2014 will continue on the disastrous path of 2012 and 2013, namely of narcissism and rejectionism; a posture in which we hold the moral high ground only in our own eyes and that of a dwindling minority of the Council’s membership.

Sri Lanka’s discourse— including its diplomatic discourse in Geneva— has shifted to one in which national sovereignty is erroneously interpreted to mean domestic and international unilateralism. While the May 2009 model was of the broadest united front based on ‘uniting the many, defeating the few’, the post war Sri Lankan discourse has been one of rejectionism. In multilateral forums, rejectionism equals neo-isolationism. It is the road to defeat in Geneva.

As for the even more dangerous commitment of Jayalalitha to pushing for a referendum on Tamil Eelam, the Sri Lankan answer must be to seek to convince opinion to the contrary in the rest of India and among responsible elements in Tamil Nadu, and to secure an alliance with the Centre, whichever party is in office.

In short the Sri Lankan policy must be one of greater— and broader spectrum— engagement with India, in an attempt to win over hearts and minds. Balancing off the rest of India with Delhi at its core requires the ability to convince India that its national interests lie more with a united Sri Lanka than with turning a blind eye to Tamil expansionism/irredentism. This in turn means helping Delhi balance of Chennai. Such a strategy of balancing must have as its essential element, the devolution of power to the Northern provincial council to the fullest extent of the 13th amendment (but not beyond). This strategy would strive to utilize the Indo-Lanka accord and its product the 13th amendment as Sri Lanka’s shield against Jayalalitha’s pan-Tamilian expansionism.

The current Sri Lankan approach of regarding the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th amendment not as a shield but rather as impediments to be shuffled off or shrunk is dangerously counterproductive. In the face of the manifest threat emanating from Tamil Nadu, it is even more dangerous to regard Delhi as an enemy which can be balanced off by Colombo through recourse to a very distant Beijing or by imitation of Pakistan.

Difficult as it may be for the rational mind to grasp, the present ‘strategic’ perspective of the dominant faction of the Sri Lankan regime, is that it is possible to simultaneously wage a Cold War against Indian influence (i.e. be locked in a low-intensity Cold War with Delhi) while eyeballing it with the sole superpower, the US.

If Sri Lanka proceeds along its current path it will find itself in the most dangerous of strategic encirclements. Young Prince Gemunu felt himself bereft of strategic space, hemmed in between a Tamil kingdom and the sea. The dogmatic delusions of the current Sri Lankan regime will find us caught between two spearheads: a Western offensive driving through Geneva which will reach its final form with a Hillary Clinton presidency in 2016 (a mere two years away), and a more proximate and ferocious offensive driven by Jayalalitha, while our collective back will always be to the (Indian) Ocean.

Michael Roberts as an Apologist for Sinhala Nationalism/Chauvinism

| by Laksiri Fernando

( February 26, 2014, Sydney, Sri Lanka Guardian) The republication of Michael Roberts’ 1991 article “Nationalism, the Past and the Present: The Case of Sri Lanka” gives rise to some concerns in a context where the efforts on the part of the current political regime can best be characterized as ‘assimilation’ of minority communities and not ‘reconciliation’ within a plural society and a democratic political system. What it tries to establish or re-establish is the hegemonic position of Sinhala Buddhism over the other strands of ethnic or religious identities in the country on the basis of historical legacy which might or might not be correct as an objective or dispassionate historical interpretation.

Even it was the case in the past, which I seriously doubt as a ‘continuity’ even with breaks or change, the glorification of such a hegemony even on the pretext of a ‘defensive mechanism’ is completely unwarranted in the 21st century for the people in the country or anywhere else under similar conditions to live in peace and harmony. Sri Lanka is not the only country with ethnic strife, colonial past, overlapping ethnic solidarities across borders or even perceived or actual external threats. None of these would warrant the domination that the Sinhalese elite exerts on the minority communities, religious or ethnic, in the name of larger community or country interests, not to speak of barbaric acts of violence like in the case of July 1983 for example.

General Considerations

As a review of three books that Roberts has mentioned, I have no issue in agreeing with some of the relative merits of what he has to say, particularly in respect of the possibility of some form of ‘nationalism’ or more correctly ‘proto-nationalism’ in the ancient past in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. This must have been there on the part of both the Sinhalese and the Tamils undoubtedly with variations in historical origin, spread and continuity. However, it is completely doubtful whether there was an ‘ethnic conflict’ and associated ‘nationalism’ or anything else in the ancient past as we can see or document today. I am not convinced of any evidence given by Michael Roberts, Leslie Gunawardana or any other on this matter and particularly on so-called ‘Sinhala consciousness.’

The scholars on nationalism (not merely historians) are divided on the issue of the origins of nationalism or more so on its definition. I am not touching on definitions here for the sake of brevity. There are ‘modernists’ (i.e. Gellner, Hobsbawm, Anderson etc.) who primarily believe that nationalism is a modern phenomenon and there are others (i.e. Smith, Hastings, Greenfeld etc.) who believe that nationalism was there even in ancient past or pre-modern times. It is however only the nationalists who believe that nations or nationalism/s are timeless phenomena.

In his review article, Roberts has taken a particular umbrage against the modernists, but has not mentioned at the outset that there are other scholars who differ with modernists. His mentioning or quoting of David Smith is only incidental. Of course he has given an excuse saying “This review article was drafted in 1991 and should therefore be assessed in the light of the literature available then,” but the debates on the two strands of thinking were well known by 1991. Of course there are many other strands of thinking on nationalism.

A Major Mistake

A major mistake of many of those who talk about nationalism, except perhaps the above mentioned ‘modernists,’ is making their take on ‘nationalism’ without any consideration for the period, the country or the region. This has led to considerable confusions. There is no one phenomenon of nationalism that suits all times and all countries. Moreover, there are varieties of nationalism/s (economic, political, cultural, ethnic, religious etc.) largely based on the social groups who espouse them. Roberts has of course made an attempt to make a distinction between the past and the present saying, “In line with my previous writings on the subject (1979a), this, Sinhala identity is labeled a “patriotism” and treated as conceptually distinct from latter-day “nationalism.” This distinction is at best nebulous, and utterly confusing. Today we consider ‘patriotism’ mainly as a part of nationalism, malignant or benign. Just see the historical sweep that Roberts has taken in the very previous paragraph after making this imprecise distinction.

“It [his article] lays special emphasis on the role of oral traditions and the interplay between the oral and the written traditions in reproducing Sinhala consciousness; and on the imprint of conflict between the Sinhalese (under their dynasts) and a series of Indian invaders from the ninth to thirteenth centuries, and the conflict with successive European powers from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. It was this consciousness which informed the efforts of those Kandyan Sinhalese who participated in a massive rebellion against the British occupation in 1817-18.”

In contrast to what Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities, 1983) said about the ‘role of the print media’ in the creation or construction of modern nationalism, I don’t have much issue in accepting a possible role for the ‘oral traditions’ or even ‘the interplay between the oral and the written traditions’ in creating a form of proto-nationalism in the ancient times. Those are possibilities but not established facts as far as I am aware. Perhaps that is where Roberts has an original contribution.

But it is too farfetched to talk about the most undefined and rather metaphysical notion of a ‘Sinhala consciousness’ during these times whether by Roberts or Gunawardena. I would hypothesize that proto-nationalism, if at all, in ancient times by and large was an elite phenomenon and not a mass movement like modern nationalism/s. I would like to talk about nationalism/s in the plural.
Past Conflicts!

On the one hand, if there had been a “conflict between the Sinhalese (under their dynasts) and a series of Indian invaders from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries,” it has to be accepted by Roberts that there must have been a Tamil counterpart ‘under these Indian invaders.’ It was not like colonialism. Otherwise, these invasions were not sustainable if one side is backed by nationalism or masses (i.e. Sinhalese). The period he talks about is at least four centuries.

On the other hand, if these so-called conflicts were primarily in the form of wars between dynasts, there is no possibility or rather necessity of having a (strong) Sinhalese or Tamil elements behind them in the form of ‘patriotism’ or ‘nationalism’ as we understand them today. At best it must have remained at the elite level as proto nationalism, on both sides although at different degrees. In that case one cannot talk them as a conflict with the Sinhalese.
It is my understanding that as we go back in history, the phenomenon of ‘Sinhala’ was more of a religious notion or even a name, than an ethnic or a national one.

I have no qualms with Roberts in identifying some roots of modern (say twentieth century) Sinhala nationalism within the resistance against successive European invasions from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. This is also the case to a lesser extent of modern Tamil nationalism. But both are primarily the products of modern circumstances of capitalism, print media, mass politics and competitive interests (economic, language and religion), to name a few. I use the qualification or adjective ‘modern’ to allow the marginal or theoretical possibility of identifying some forms of group or ethnic identities in the past or even in ancient times. Its historical verification however should be facts based and rational. The glorification is not necessary, directly or indirectly.

Obvious Bias

Of course the nationalists on both sides try to trace their history of nationalisms or nations from ancient times. But the academics should not do that or be apologists to them. The following are two main quotes from Roberts where he talks about the origins of Sinhala and Tamil nationalism separately. 

“It [this refers to his own article] argues that there was a Sinhala consciousness in the past, in the era of dynastic monarchies. On Gunawardana’s own evidence this dates from the eleventh-twelfth centuries, but could arguably (in opposition to Guna¬wardana) be pushed back to the fifth-sixth centuries.” 

“In this strict sense, Tamil nationalism is a late phenomenon, though it clearly developed out of, and in direct linkage with, the body of sentiments, the recursive metaphors (Nash) and the political activities which had empowered a distinct Sri Lanka Tamil group identity in the decades before 1948-49, an identity recognized in Ceylonese English as a “community.”

It is very clear from the above two quotes that Michael Roberts has become an apologist to Sinhala nationalism and its chauvinist claims. He argues that (without definition or interpretation) that ‘Sinhala consciousness’ was there in the past in the era of dynastic monarchies and even the dates can easily be pushed back to the fifth-sixth centuries. The evidence given are all like tall stories.

Why does he talk about fifth-sixth centuries? I believe it is primarily because of Mahavamsa. Ironically, it is only today that Nalin de Silva wrote about “The Mahavamsa Myth” to The Island newspaper (26 February 2014) and said the following.

“Mahavamsa is clearly the Vamsakatha (history) of the Asoka Bududahama, and it establishes the ‘supremacy’ of that sect over the other sects of Bududahama or other Bududahamas. However, Mahavamsa should not be considered a book of history in the western tradition as no attempt has been made to write a history of Sri Lanka or the Sinhala nation. Ideally, it should be treated as a Vamsakatha and nothing more.”

In contrast to Sinhala nationalism, according to Roberts, Tamil nationalism is a late phenomenon. Even he almost blames the Ceylon Communist Party, referring to its 1944 Manifesto, for ideologically influencing Tamil nationalism particularly espoused by the Federal Party. What a tragedy of historiography?