Archive for September, 2007
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The significance of the date September 26th has become another example of differences in perception illustrating the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka. To most members of the Sinhala community it is the day on which Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike died in 1959 after being shot in Colombo the previous day by a Buddhist monk. To many members of the Tamil community it is the day on which Rasiah Parthiban alias Thileepan died in 1987 at Nallur after a 12 day fast unto death campaign protesting actions of the Indian and Sri Lankan Governments.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has been for many decades observing Sep 26th as a day honouring the memory of its founder SWRD Bandaranaike.The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization has also been commemorating the day and even the fortnight preceding it in honour of Thileepan.
[Col Soosai addressing the gathering at Puthukkudityiruppu]
In recent times two other incidents have added to the date’s significance in LTTE annals. It was on September 26th in 1990 that Bhanu the LTTE Jaffna commander of the time hoisted the tiger flag atop the ramparts of the Jaffna Fort after the armed forces abandoned it. Incidently the Present Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and current army commander Sarath Fonseka were involved in this evacuation then.
The other incident was in 2001 when senior LTTE leader Vaithilingam Sornalingam alias “Col” Shankar was killed in a claymore mine explosion on Sep 26th while he was motoring along the Oddusuddan – Puthukudiyiruppu road in the Mullaitheevu district. Shankar was the man who pioneered the LTTE’s airwing and a close associate of tiger supremo Velupillai Prabakharan. The Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) or deep penetration squad was allegedly responsible for the assassination.Nowadays the tigers honour Shankar also on the 26th.
Among ceremonies held this year to observe Thileepan day was the release on Sep 26th of an audio CD titled “Siragu Viritha Puligal” (tigers unfurl wings)consisting of songs about the LTTE’s air wing.This particular event was held at the “Maaveerar Mandapam” (great heroes hall) in Puthukudiyiruppu.While the widows of Lt. Col Chutta and Lt. Col Kunjan lit the special lamps it was the lot of “Col” Shankar’s widow Kuha to do the honours by receiving the first disc of the newly released CD. What was more important as well as interesting was the identity of the person who released the CD officially and handed it over ceremonially to Kuha.
[The wife of late Col. Shankar, Ms Kuga, receiving the first copy of the music CD titled "Airborne Tigers"]
This was none other than Thillaiambalam Sivanesan alias Soosai the “Sirappu Thalapathy” or special commander of the LTTE’s sea tiger division known as “Kadal Puligal”. Soosai whose wireless code sign is Sera Oscar had “surfaced” after going off the public radar for more than two months. The reason for this “absence” was attributed to an accident at sea. But the LTTE’s deafening “official” silence about the incident had led to much speculation and controversy. Soosai’s dramatic appearance on Sep 26th will at least help disprove some of the rumours surrounding his accident.
Soosai in his speech referred briefly to his accident. He pointed out that a motor vehicle attempting to turn suddenly without changing gear at a speed of more than 100 km per hour would overturn .Likewise a speedboat too would at sea. This is what had happened Soosai said and observed that he had lost his son and a bodyguard. Three other cadre and he had been injured. Soosai praised the LTTE’s medical unit and thanked it for his recovery.
Soosai also charged that certain state sponsored elements had exploited the incident and engaged in false propaganda against the LTTE .Though people in the homeland were not taken in the Tamil Diaspora had been confused and upset. Reiterating the LTTE’s commitment to its ideals Soosai also stated that people were worried about advances made on ground by Sri Lankan armed forces. The sea tiger chief sang paeans of praise for his leader Prabakharan and asserted that under his able leadership the LTTE will achieve great military successes leading to a realisation of tiger objectives. Soosai emphasised that no Sinhala government would ever grant Tamil rights willingly and that only an armed struggle would succeed.
LTTE media organs abroad have gone to town with news about Soosai surfacing again. Pictures of the ceremony as well as reports of his speech are being widely circulated in the print, audio, visual and electronic media. The emergence of Soosai and his praise of Prabakharan are being cited as another example of the state’s false propaganda going awry. From the LTTE point of view the re- appearance of Soosai is depicted as a propaganda victory.What is glossed over is the reason for all these tiger media going “silent” on the issue all these weeks. If the Soosai incident was only an accident being exploited by the anti – tiger elements why was it not effectively countered all these days?
Soosai himself explained this by saying at the Puthukudiyiruppu meeting that the LTTE could not be bothered responding to each and every statement of the Government. This is certainly true but does not mean that the LTTE should remain silent on every single matter. Certain issues deserve effective rejoinders promptly. The Soosai issue was such an issue in view of its impact in general and the Tamil people in particular.
Anti – tiger propaganda about a major split in the LTTE and a conspiracy surrounding Soosai’s accident may have been proved wrong by Soosai surfacing publicly on a tiger platform and pledging loyalty to Prabakharan. But there is no denying that the incident was not a mere splash. It caused waves and not ripples. One reason for this was of course the sustained propaganda by anti – tiger websites operating from abroad. The major contributory factor was however the manner in which the LTTE handled the incident and the fickleness of many tiger activists abroad.
It was on July 18th that the purported accident occurred. The sea tigers had received four new boats. They were being tried and tested off the Wattawagal coast. Soosai himself was aboard one of the new boats with his youngest child . The five year old son Shankar was named after his maternal uncle Sathiyanathan alias Shankar of Kambarmalai. Shankar was the first LTTE cadre to die due to combat. He passed away on Nov 27th 1982 and the LTTE observes the date as great heroes day annually.Soosai married his sister in an inter – caste union.
Soosai is a person extremely fond of his children. Nelliaddy residents recall the first birthday of his eldest son Kadalarasan (sea king). The Sivanesans had ordered a massive cake in the shape of “Kadalpura” (sea dove) the first maritime vessel owned by the LTTE. The cake baked at Nelliaddy’s Subash bakery was so large in length, breadth and height that it had to be placed in a pick – up van and take to the birthday party.
Soosai was greatly attached to his youngest son Shankar and was in the habit of taking him along wherever he went. From NGO officials to media personnel many had got used to the sight of “Soosai and his little kid” being seen everywhere. Shankar was seated on the new boat with his father when the accident happened on that fateful day. Apparently one speedboat overturned and collided with another. There was also an explosion.
Shankar was killed. So too was a bodyguard. Three other cadres were seriously injured. Others got minor injuries. Soosai himself sustained major injuries mainly on his back, neck and back of the head. He was reportedly in a coma. Soosai was taken to the Ponnambalam nursing home in Puthukudiyiruppu. Thereafter he was whisked away to an undisclosed location to be treated by the LTTE’s medical unit.
The incident caused pandemonium in LTTE ranks. Many cadres threw caution to the winds and jabbered excitedly on their communication equipment without using appropriate codes. These were intercepted easily by Sri Lankan security forces. The media centre for national security and defence ministry websites came out with the story. Then the mainstream media picked it up.Since first publicity about the episode came from Government circles it was widely believed then that an explosive had been triggered by the newly formed penetration squad of the navy.
The LTTE could and should have come up with an announcement then to set the record straight. But the secretive culture of the LTTE shows little appreciation for “glasnost”. Above all the tigers are hopelessly inadequate in discerning between matters deserving exposure and matters not requiring publicity. So the tigers clammed up. None of the mainstream Tamil newspapers in Sri Lanka reported on it. When friendly media personnel asked LTTE spokesperson Ilanthiraiyan he admitted off the record that there had been an incident but declined to elaborate further.
The tigers enveloped what seemed a bona fide accident with an unnecessary veil of secrecy . This news blackout had a predictable reaction. The anti – tiger websites operating abroad had a field day. All sorts of conspiracy theories were circulated.There were two main aspects to these. One was that there was really no incident and it was all a false tale concocted by tiger intelligence chief Pottu Amman to remove Soosai. The other was that the explosion was due to a bomb planted by Pottu and that Soosai was “removed ” from the scene.
Other developments added fuel to the rumour fire. Soosai’s sons funeral was held on July 21st. Soosai was conspicuously absent. It was said that Soosai was in a coma still. But this led to a wave of fresh rumours that Soosai was executed or imprisoned.
There was also a report that a Tamil sugeon from a Western country had tried to go to the Wanni and attend to Soosai but was refused permission. The story gaining ground was that the explosion was caused by Pottu Amman’s boys and that Soosai had been taken away from the Ponnambalam’s nursing home by intelligence cadres and detained.
Anti – tiger websites
The anti tiger websites had a fresh spurt of activity in mid August. There had been a sea confrontation between the navy and sea tigers off Pulmoddai on August 13th. Among the sea tigers killed were Santhirasegerampillai Thakkuveran alias Lt. Col Thiyagan and Kanniyathamby Sothilingam alias Lt. Col Nishanthan. They were reportedly no 3 and no 4 in the sea tiger hierarchy after Soosai and Cheliyan.. A funeral ceremony was held for them at Puthukudiyiruppu on Aug 16th.
Soosai was once again absent. Among participants lighting lamps, garlanding the bodies and delivering eulogies were deputy special commander Cheliyan and other sea tiger commanders like Kalaarthan, Sreeram, Kaanaroopan and Naren. All of them were referred to in news reports as “kadalpuli thalapathigal’ (sea tiger commanders). An intriguing feature at the funeral was the attendance of Intelligence chief Pottu Amman who garlanded the bodies and also delivered an eulogy.There was no reference to Soosai or his absence.
The anti – tiger websites went to work . They cited the news report as proof that Soosai was had been removed and possibly executed. Displaying complete ignorance – intentionally or unintentionally – about the difference between special commander and commander these websites began stating that fresh replacements had been appointed in place of Soosai. Some sections of the mainstream media also followed suit.
There was a story that the reported incident off Pulmoddai was itself false and that the reality was that internecine clashes between Soosai loyalists and Pottu loyalists were taking place. It soon became apparent that some websites were very much in the dark about actualities and were only hitting out “pottai ” shots about Pottu in the dark.
The funeral however added further grist to the rumour mills..Soosai’s conspicuous absence and Pottu’s ominous presence re-invigorated the “buzz” about the Pottu – Soosai divide. It appeared that Pottu had struck against Soosai and scored. “What happened to Soosai”? became the question on many a lip in Sri Lanka and abroad. There were many who confidently asserted that Soosai would not be heard of again.
There was a time when few would have believed a story of a split in LTTE ranks or about intra – tiger feuds between senior LTTE leaders. But after the Mahathaya incident and the Karuna breakaway people are ready to believe any story of a split. Also Pottu Amman has acquired such a terrible reputation that any tale about his ruthless dirty tricks are readily accepted. Besides there had been stories earlier about Soosai having differences with the tiger leadership.
The first person to spread such stories on a global scale was former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. This happened in the aftermath of Soosai going to Singapore for medical treatment for complications arising out of a previous injury.
During the war against the Indian army, Soosai and some other tigers were injured at a clash in Nithigaikulam where the A – 4 base was located then. Among those injured then were the present LTTE police chief Nadesan and Revenue chief Thamilendhi.
Soosai was taken clandestinely to Tamil Nadu for treatment despite the fact that the tigers were fighting the Indian army. Soosai recovered but a piece of shrapnel remained embedded within his chest. That was now causing complications and so Soosai needed advanced medical treatment in Singapore.
It was in October 2004 that Soosai arrived in Katunayake on an air force helicopter. Soosai carrying a passport (N 13565685) issued in the name of Thillaiambalam Sivanesan flew aboard an Airbus 330 on the Sri Lankan airlines flight UL 316 to Singapore. He was accompanied by a doctor from the Wanni , Gnanasekaram Camillus Dharmendra and two bodyguards Quintus Sahayarathnarajah and Gopalapillai Sathyamuhundan.He returned to Kilinochchi after five days in Singapore.
Soosai was placed under close surveillance by Singapore security intelligence , uncomfortable at a “terrorist” in their midst. He was confined mainly to his hotel and visited hospitals. He was not allowed to meet anyone other than medical personnel. Soosai however spoke for long hours on the telephone to many people abroad including Anton Balasingham and KP.
It was against this backdrop that Chandrika Kumaratunga created a stir by saying Soosai had not received any treatment in Singapore. He had quarrelled with Prabakharan said Kumaratunga in media interviews.LTTE activists had met Soosai in Singapore and persuaded him to return. Kumaratunga opined that the LTTE supremo who lost his army chief Karuna was now losing his navy chief.
Kumaratunga’s views apparently relied on Sri Lankan intelligence reports. Karuna’s erstwhile eastern deputy Ramesh had married Soosai’s cousin sister. Soosai had opposed Pottu Amman’s attempts to penalise Ramesh after the Karuna revolt it was alleged. This led to bad blood between the two. Soosai’s Singapore trip was a consequence of these differences it was alleged.But Singapore intelligence refuted these charges in confidential reports sent to Colombo and stated unambiguously that Soosai had not met any outsiders in Singapore and that he had received medical attention only.
While rumours began circulating about a Soosai rebellion the Tsunami struck on December 26th 2004. The sea tigers led by Soosai rendered yeoman service to the affected and afflicted victims. Their performance was highly appreciated by the Western media and NGO personnel. Soosai was in charge of these and subsequent relief efforts. Even if there were any differences within the LTTE the Tsunami seemed to have washed those away.Soosai gained much exposure and prominence after the Tsunami.
[During the visit to tsunami hit areas by Margareta Wahlstrom, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy on Relief Operations in 2005]
Soosai’s recent accident revived speculation again about a split and resultant conspiracies. There were however certain developments on ground before and after the incident that compounded the situation. Friction between Pottu Amman and other senior leaders is a recurring phenomenon in LTTE ranks. This was true in the case of Soosai too. One cause was the difference of opinion about showing leniency to Ramesh after the Karuna split. Soosai won that round and Ramesh was restored to grace.
Another cause of intra – tiger conflict was over Pottu Ammans infiltration of sea tigers for intelligence purposes. Soosai is practically the Pater familias of the sea tigers. The division is closely knit and Soosai enjoys a personal relationship with all senior and intermediate level cadres and their families. Pottu’s intrusion was resented. This led to clashes between sea tigers and intelligence cadres at the “Neidal” tourist resorts set up by the sea tigers in the Vadamaratchy coast during the ceasefire.
The recent accident at sea incident and the LTTE’s excessive secrecy about it caused some convulsions within the LTTE. Pottu Amman’s cadres suspecting the security forces of being responsible had converged on the scene immediately after the incident in large numbers. They had taken Soosai to hospital first and later to the tiger hospital. This aroused suspicion. The nature of the LTTE is such that intra – tiger conspiracies are easily believed by cadres ,supporters, opponents and outside observers.. The lack of openness aggravates this paranoid state of affairs..
This was what happened when former Mannar commander Victor was killed in Adampan in 1986 and also when ex – jaffna commander Kittu lost a leg in a bomb attack in 1987. In both cases an inside job was suspected and caused internal convulsions. There are many who persist in their belief even today that both incidents were inside jobs within the LTTE.
Likewise the Soosai incident also had an effect within. The much hated and much dreaded Pottu Amman was strongly suspected.Several Soosai loyalists within the sea tigers revolted.Initially some sea tigers refused to beach their boats fearing further repercussions at the hands of Pottu. Subsequently Chelian persuaded them to return ashore.
There was also much heartburn among sea tiger cadres and supporters. The Coastal community relying on fishing as an occupation was intricately inter – twined with the sea tigers. Soosai himself hailing from the coastal village of Polygandy in Jaffna peninsula shares a common heritage and empathy with these people. He had the common touch and is one of the few tiger leaders who is genuinely liked by the ordinary people. Like former Tamil Nadu chief minister MG Ramachandran the popular Soosai is also called “Makkal Thilagam” (peoples leader)
Naturally there was much suspicion and grumbling about what happened to Soosai.Matters got exacerbated when Pottu Amman’s cadres began investigating the critical sentiments expressed by cadres and supporters over Soosai. Pottu sensed dissension and wanted to nip it in the bud.Some cadres openly rebelled when attempts were made to quiz them. Some cadres shattered by the “mystery” surrounding Soosai’s fate began deserting. This led to Pottu Amman’s operatives visiting their homes and interrogating family members to find out their whereabouts.
In a controversial incident a group of sea tiger deserters escaped by boat to Tamil Nadu on August 22nd. The Indian authorities were tipped off that LTTE men were trying to enter Tamil Nadu for nefarious purposes. A red alert was issued and intensive searches of coastal areas were conducted. It is strongly suspected that the LTTE “misinformed” the Indians about the incident to put the escapees in trouble.
While trouble brewed in the Wanni the LTTE conduct abroad was baffling . The LTTE did not refer openly in any of their overseas media organs to Soosai or the accident. But tiger operatives conducted a vicious oral campaign against Soosai in Europe, North America and Australasia. They spread word of mouth tales far worse than those churned out by anti – tiger websites.
Soosai was accused of being in cahoots with the Reseaearch and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India.; he was accused of tying up with Karuna and Sri Lankan intelligence; there was a story that Soosai was trying to escape to India by boat and that Pottu Amman had foiled it by ramming into the vessel . Soosai’s brother Thillaiambalam Sivalingam was accused of hatching a conspiracy with Indian intelligence to help Soosai escape. The irony in all this was that so called tiger supporters and not enemies were blackening Soosai for some inexplicable reason.
Demoralisation was visible in LTTE ranks at home and abroad. The inherent weakness of the LTTE’s overseas structures became obvious as there was no reference let alone denial of the incident officially. The losses suffered by the sea tigers in many sea skirmishes suggested that the absence of Soosai was being felt. The “bad mouthing “about Soosai by some tiger activists abroad resulted in expatriate Soosai loyalists protesting. The LTTE through mishandling had worsened the situation.
It was at this point that the LTTE attempted some damage control. A few weeks ago the LTTE broke its silence and officially acknowledged that Soosai had met with an accident. The occasion was a release of a video No 11 in the series on sea tigers. A sea tiger commander Vinayagam referred to the accident and said Soosai was recovering fast. Vinayagam said that Soosai had planned the Video release ceremony while being in hospital. He predicted that Soosai will appear publicly very soon. Had the LTTE done this earlier much of the controversy could have been minimised if not avoided.
The re- appearance of Soosai on Sep 26th and the tone and tenor of his speech indicate that he will continue to serve Prabakharan loyally. Soosai’s first task will be to pacify and unify the sea tigers. He will have to reach out to his loyalists and re-integrate them within tiger folds.His larger than life presence will reassure sea tiger cadres and supporters and recent upheavals may be gradually forgotten. This will depend on the visible role to be played by Soosai in the future.Soosai and the sea tigers will be under public scritiny as much as possible.Any ostensible marginalisation will have repercussions.
The rumours surrounding his accident will continue to linger. There will always be people saying that a serious rupture had taken place. The role of Pottu Amman like that of Beria during Stalin’s era will always be controversial. There will be a conspiracy theory afloat that Soosai has really been sidelined and that the “reappearance” was stage – managed to alleviate suspicion and rebellion within the tigers and their supporters. Soosai may be kept as a figurehead in future. Whatever the truth about intra – tiger fissures the reality is that Soosai himself has no “future” outside the LTTE.
This writer met Soosai for the first time in 1986 when working as Colombo correspondent of The Hindu and Frontline. There was an on going clash between the army and the tigers in Thondaimanaru in the vicinity of the Sellvasannathi Murugan temple. When I expressed a wish to see the actual fighting the LTTE Jaffna commander Sathasivampillai Krishnakumar alias “Col” Kittu called someone who I think was “Sukhla” and asked him to take me to the scene of fighting.
Kittu changed his mind suddenly and called Soosai. Kittu then introduced Soosai to me and said of Soosai ” He is careful and acts with patience and responsibility. He will take you and bring you back safely”. He then bade us good – bye telling Soosai only one word “Kavanam” (careful). I recall Soosai asking me to remove my cream coloured shirt and then crawling behind him clad in denim trousers to the different tiger positions to witness the combat. As Kittu said Soosai brought me back safely after that experience.
Personified sea – tigers
Soosai born on October 16th 1963 is a first batch tiger recruit who received training in North India. The former Vadamaratchy area chief under Kittu has been in charge of the sea tigers from 1991. In 2001 Soosai lost his deputy Gangai Amaran in a landmine explosion at Akkarayankulam in Kilinochchi. The deep penetration squad was suspected.
[Performance at an Arts Festival held at a Sea Tiger base on Sep 19, 2005]
The sea tigers as Soosai himself is fond of saying is a “child brought up ” (naan valartha pillai) by him.Soosai is an old timer who has proved to be a tower of strength to the LTTE. In recent times he has personified the sea tigers.Alienating Soosai or his support base can only harm the LTTE in the long run.
The LTTE seems to have realised this and adopted some belated damage control. The situation could have been vastly different if the LTTE had exercised openness about the incident from the beginning. Excessive secrecy is unnecessary and often counterproductive.
The Soosai affair was a mere ripple made into a splash by the anti – tiger lobby but the tigers have made it a wave. The LTTE needs to contain the negative fall – out caused by the Soosai incident. There is also a necessity to reduce secrecy and be more open about matters.The coming months will demonstrate whether the tigers have learnt their lesson on this or not.
[A female cadre records the Martyr's day memorial held in Kallapadu, Mullaithivu coast, Nov 2005]
More importantly the return of Soosai is likely to impact on the sea tigers in the future. There will certainly be a revival of morale and spirits. It remains to be seen whether this resurgence will be demonstrated in maritime clashes.
[Photos Courtesy: Aruchuna, LTTEPS, Pathivu, HumanityAshore]
September 29th, 2007
Brothers and Sisters
We, the humanitarian community of Mannar, are deeply distressed by the assassination of a beloved and respected member of our community, the Rev Fr Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith; Director, JRS. This tragic and dehumanizing assassination took place while he was performing his duties under challenging conditions, in order to bring relief to the recently displaced communities of the Manthai West and Madhu divisions. He has always been a model to emulate, and his passion for service has indeed been a consistent source of inspiration to our society. His inclusive outlook earned the deep respect of all segments of the Mannar society irrespective of creed, caste and ethnicity.
We would like to express the following on behalf the humanitarian community in Mannar:
1) Our heart felt sympathies to his family, JRS colleagues and the Roman Catholic Community at large
2) We resolve to boldly follow in the footsteps of Rev. Fr. Ranjith to bring relief and support to communities in need even in this high risk environment. We will not deterred by these acts of violence to fulfill our humanitarian mandate.
3) We believe Fr Ranjith’s reaction to his killers would have been in the spirit of his master Jesus Christ who said while hanging on the cross before his death “Father forgive them as they do not know what they are doing” . In the same spirit we forgive our beloved friends killers whoever they may be.
4) We call upon the killers to explain the purpose of this killing so that together we may find a way forward to avoid these types of murder and resolve our conflicts mutually and non-violently in order to maintain the space for humanitarian work during these difficult times.
5) We call upon on all stakeholders to respect the work of humanitarian workers and create an atmosphere where humanitarian work can be carried out without any hindrances and threats.
6) In turn, we humanitarians resolve that we will do our utmost to remain independent and not become a party to the prevailing armed conflict.
7) The need of the hour in Sri Lanka is saving lives together. This reckless killing brings home the need to recover from the disastrous path of violently resolving of our differences. Instead each and every one of us must extend the hand of brotherhood to fellow men and solve the issues in a peaceful, humane manner. In conclusion, it is vital that we remember that peace is never achieved by violence; and hence we must strive for peace by non-violent means.
CONSORTIUM OF NGOO MANNAR
Field Lane, Sinnakkadai, Mannar.
Fax/Tel: 0602232062 Date: 29/09/2007
[Pictures Courtesy: Puthinam]
September 29th, 2007
by Prof. Wimal Dissanayake
Cinema has become one of the most popular and important forms of mass entertainment throughout Asia. It has also, over the years, become a valuable site in which negotiation of meaning related to a complex web of issues such as modernity, nationhood, Westernization, feminism, colonialism, urbanisation, civil society, cultural citizenship get purposefully articulated. No cinema emerges from a cultural vacuum; indeed, all cinemas display the stamp of the culture, social formations, political structure, historical moment that produced them. Asian cinemas are, of course, no exception to this general rule. They have sought to explore issues such as modernity, nationhood, urbanisation, in terms of their specific experiential backgrounds.
Most film-goers would agree that cinema is a significant social practice inflecting communities in complex and interesting ways. What this means is that we need to recognise that there are manifold dimensions to cinema – social, cultural, political, ideological, technological, aesthetic and so on which deserve our close and sustained attention. They are closely and vitally interconnected and constitute an important cultural discourse with vast ramifications. It is often remarked that cinema mirrors social reality; however, it is equally important to appreciate the fact that cinema shapes and informs reality in fascinating ways. Cinemas of India, Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong etc. exemplify this fact very forcefully.
Commentators on Asian cinema, usually, make two statements with unfailing regularity. The first is that cinema as a form of mass entertainment is an importation from the West. The second is that cinema was, in the early stages, marked as an inferior and derivative form of entertainment given over to sentimentality and inane melodrama. These statements are true, so far as they go. However, they need to be immediately qualified in order to attain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Asian cinema. For example, it is important to bear in mind the fact that in many Asian countries, early cinema was implicated in the public sphere in interesting ways.
When we discuss the concept of Asian cinema, it is important to bear in mind its close relationship to the writing of film history. Film history is an open-ended enterprise that admits of pluralities if interpretation. In writing film histories, we produce the historical objects we seek to study. This has great implications for the exploration of the idea of Asian cinema. Today, when we write film histories of diverse Asian cinemas – Indian, Korean, Japanese, Sri Lankan etc – we need to simultaneously occupy different spaces created by the past and history, by transnationalization, by the ever changing shapes of cultural modernities. Writing film history is also a way of charting the course, the preferred trajectory for growth for the future. Hence, in our efforts to understand and map the meaning of the concept of Asian cinema, we need to pay particular attention to the complex ways in which film histories have been produced, and are been produced today. Film histories widen the discursive domain of Asian national cinema; this is clearly evidenced in the work of say, Nick Deocampo with regard to the Spanish influences on early Filipino cinema.
Let us consider the experience of early Indian cinema. D.G. Phalke is generally regarded as the father of Indian cinema. His films as well as his writings illuminate in interesting ways some of the important issues that we have focused on. The early Indian films were vitally connected with the ongoing activities of the Indian public sphere. The idea of India as an independent and modern nation was at the heart of these activities in the public sphere. Phalke was closely identified with the national liberation movement and played a crucial role in it. Until, 1947, India was under British domination, and filmmakers such as Phalke sought to instill a sense of confidence in Indians about their skills, their capabilities, their visions, and their films were seen as a means of achieving this goal.
Later filmmakers sought to focus on the fissures and fault lines of society such as those represented by religious fanaticism, caste distinctions, class conflicts as a way of unifying the nation under the banner of social justice. These films, and the discourses surrounding them, served to propagate these ideas and raise the consciousness of the people. It is evident, as we examine the early phase of Indian cinema that entertainment was mixed with social edification. Films were a useful site for the articulation of new cultural meanings and critiques of social injustices.
The work of Phalke is crucial to an understanding of how questions of tradition, modernity, narrative discourse, regimes of visuality, commodification of culture, spectatorial pleasure got discussed in relation to popular cinema. Discussing the Phalke era, the Indian film commentator Ashish Rajadhyaksha focuses on the nature of neo-traditionalism as a way of understanding the complex modes by which traditional forms of cultural articulation and performativities engage modernity. Phalke was operating during the high point of British colonialism and was keen to fashion cinema into a vital instrument of shaping public opinion. He was actively involved in the independence movement, and saw the value of cinema as an ally in the anti-colonial struggle.
For him, cinema was clearly more than a means of public entertainment; his writings bear testimony to the fact that he was deeply conscious of the need to indigenize the newly acquired art of cinematography and infuse it with local modes of aesthetic understanding and evaluation. This desire, at a deeper level, was connected to his interest in fashioning cinema into a productive instrument of conscious-raising and social critique. When we examine the films produced in the early phase in India, both in the North and South, we see a critical and resolute engagement with the vital social issues of the day. For example, during the period 1934-1939, several important films that were made like Chandali, Dharmatma, Bala Yogini, Lakshmi, Thyagabhoomi, explored important social distinctions.
Let us consider next the early cinema of Japan and how it played a pivotal role in the public sphere. Historical records indicate that the Japanese film industry was founded in 1898, three decades after the Meiji restoration which witnessed the country opening its doors to modernization and Western influence. In most Asian countries, initially, film was perceived as a purely novel and intriguing medium of mass entertainment.
However, before long, it became a significant adjunct of the public sphere. From its inception, in Japanese cinema, the intersecting discourses of tradition and modernity, change and continuity, local and the foreign, dominated the discussions in the public sphere. While the art of cinematography was indeed new, and imported from the West, it was quite evident that the early Japanese filmmakers sought to draw significantly upon the appeal of traditional literature and drama to achieve a measure of cultural legitimacy and approbation. While the rising generation displayed a great interest in the possibilities of cinema, and some of them resolving to be a part of the emerging film industry in the capacity of directors, cinematographers, technicians and so on, the older generation was somewhat skeptical about the potential social impact of cinema, and entertained fears about its potentiality to subvert the cultural identity and cultural values of the Japanese.
Of all the Asian countries, Japan was the most Westernized and technologically advanced, and hence it is not surprising that Japan progressed steadily in establishing a firm industrial structure for cinema, and a film culture. However, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Westernization of culture was neither smooth nor without resistance. The Meiji restoration encouraged the influx of Western influence in the world of arts and letters, and this led to the vitality of cinema as well. However, these influences were absorbed and transformed in keeping with the felt needs and imperatives of Japanese culture as popularly understood.
The path of growth of cinema from the 1920s to 1940s bears this out. The 1930s are a period of special importance to the evolution of Japanese cinema. It was during this period that a characteristically Japanese cinema in terms of styles, techniques, representational strategies and regimes of visuality, took root. Japanese filmmakers were now beginning to turn away from the codes and conventions and semiotic discourses of Hollywood and carve out a representational terrain that bore the imprint of local desire. This trend, as was to be expected, had political and social corollaries. This was a time when society as a whole was looking back to tradition, Japanese cultural values, to guide it in its arduous march towards modernity. In addition, the bourgeois class, which had been the mainstay of cinema since the increasing of sound, increasingly identified itself as a Japanese bourgeois class that espoused Japanese values and life ways.
Japanese cinema, from its inception, was connected closely to the public sphere; indeed it served as a significant component of the public sphere. The idea of nationhood and national cinema was the dominant theme in the Japanese discourse on cinema and the public sphere, as indeed it was in many other Asian countries. However, in the case of Japan, it carried a special inflection shaped by the distinctly Japanese cultural experience. What should a modern Japan look like was the predominant question that engaged the interests of the intellectuals of the time, and it was amply mirrored in the discourse of cinema as well. Some argued for a wholesale imitation of the West; others for a more measured approach; yet some others valorized the past and tradition as sacred entities. There were debates among the bourgeois class, the working class, and the remnants of the feudal class. These had profound consequences for the growth of cinema as well.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the concept of modernity was in the forefront of cultural and intellectual debates as is evidenced in the writings of eminent philosophers such as Mike Kiyoshi. This was a time when the social order of an agricultural society was been transformed into one that suited the demands of an industrializing society. This was a period of panic, as pointed out by then influential writers like Aono Suekichi, as a consequence of the inexorability of social change and the disappearance of stable reference points. Some turned to tradition as a n eternal consoling category. These anxieties were reflected in the public sphere. To many the experience of the new and its concomitant sensory disorientation was the experience of panic. Modernity and its concomitant developments induced a sense of unevenness into social life. Hence, some looked to cultural memory as a possible stabilizing force. These tendencies of thought were reflected in Japanese cinema as well as the public sphere of which it was a part.
The idea of the Japanese self in the modern world was another issue that was of importance in the expressive cultural forms of the time. It was particularly important in view of the fact that the American and European films that were shown in Japan during this period presented the image of a self that was fragmented and subject to contradictory demands. This was most evident in the case of the understandings of female selves. There was much discussion and debate during this period about the concept of the ‘modern girl’ and its relationship to cinema. These issues were explored at length in journals such as Fujin Koron and Shufu No Tomo.
Let us consider next the case of Chinese cinema. Although China was exposed to the art of cinematography from the year 1896 onwards, for many years later film was perceived as an alien and imported form of entertainment. The fact that in the early years cinema was referred to as ‘Western peep shows’ indexes this foreignness. One could observe this felt foreignness at a number of different levels. Until the Communist revolution in 1949, many of the films that were exhibited in China were of foreign origin. And most of the films shot in China were made by non-Chinese. Moreover, a fairly significant number of films produced in China were based on stories by such diverse authors as Shakespeare and Hardy and well-known Japanese and Russian writers. These factors in combination, no doubt, led to the widespread impression that cinema and foreignness were closely connected. This, of course, had its reverberations in the public sphere where cultural commentators who were dissatisfied with the current cinematic fare underlined the need to pursue alternate pathways.
From the very early days, filmmakers in China as well as the audiences were convinced of the fact that there was a close relationship between cinema and didacticism. This conviction later led to the emphasis on the political significance of films. Sensing the great potential that cinema had for generating a political consciousness in the generality of movie-goers, in 1932, the Communist party founded the first film company. It was evident, on the evidence of the best available historical records that the Communist party and left-leaning intellectuals shaped in very significant ways the art of filmmaking in China and the film culture. This statement, of course, is not intended to minimize the fact that foreign films emanating from capitalist countries and commercial and marketing ambitions were also present at the time.
In the 1930s and 1940s, one witnessed a close and valuable relationship between the art of cinema and art of written literature and drama. Most filmmakers were deeply conversant with, and at times engaged in, literary creation and theatre production. The intimate linkage between cinema and literature had two important consequences in relation to the progress of cinema in China. First, literature was held in the highest regard by intellectuals and cultural critics who were associated with the public sphere and, hence, this relationship served to legitimize the art of cinema and invest it with a greater degree of respectability.
Second, until fairly recent times, a distinct feature of Chinese cinema was that the script writer was regarded more highly than even the director, and therefore the interconnection between literature and cinema was an important one. As the war with Japan began to absorb the energies of the country more and more, many writers were resolved to work in the theatre which was seen as an effective site for the generation of patriotism. The war conditions were not propitious for the film production and people associated with cinema turned in increasing numbers towards theatre thereby fostering the relationship between cinema and theatre that I alluded to earlier. Many of the most important dramatists linked to this period such as Xia Yan, Cao Yu, Chen Bauchen, Shi Hui came back to cinema after the war.
When we discuss the growth of Chinese cinema during the early phase of its development, we need to focus on a number of important binarisms – commercialism and didacticism, political indoctrination and entertainment, mass culture and elite culture, Western-oriented audiences and local-oriented audiences.
These dualities need to be understood in their proper historical and cultural contexts. From the 1920s onwards, intellectuals linked to the public sphere were proclaiming the need for cinema to be serious and weighty and raise the consciousness of the people. At the same time, cinema being a capital-intensive mass art, one could not easily escape the imperatives of commerce. Many felt the impulse to make cinema into a useful site where political issues could be productively vented. How this could be accomplished without forfeiting this mass appeal engaged the interest of public intellectuals.
In discussing the way that cinema figured in the Chinese public sphere in the early phase, I wish to focus on the film The Goddess (Shennu ) made in1934 by Wu Yonggang starring Ruan Lingyu, the most popular actress of the day who unfortunately took her life. This film deals with the trope of prostitution, a signifier of urbanisation. This film deals with her struggles to give her illegitimate son an education, in the face of severe in the odds. In the film, her character stands as symbol of women who are fettered by social conventions, shackled to patriarchal norms, and are fighting for emancipation.
The early phase of cinema in Asia, then, raises a number of important issues related to modernization, nationhood, femininity, patriarchal social order. These invite very close and sustained attention. The relationship between early cinema and the public sphere in Asia is one that should be of great interest to cultural historians seeking to open newer windows on to the past.
(Excerpted from a talk given at the University of Hawaii)
September 26th, 2007
by P Shantikumar
The government of Sri Lanka is continuing with the war against the Tamils in the northeast relentlessly. The Tamils who live in the northeast of Sri Lanka have suffered from war for the last twenty-five years continuously. In that time over seventy thousand (70,000) people have died and over half a million (500,000) have lost their dwellings and possessions and have become internally displaced (IDPs). As you would imagine, civil strife for these internally displaced people have become unbearable, with no proper food and shelter and also without regular schooling for their children, let alone the fact that they are unable to earn a living. Sanitation too is non-existent. Most of these people come from farming and fishing communities, in the locality.
Many around the world have taken a closer interest in the civil strife of northeast of Sri Lanka as the tsunami struck them, in December 2004. Of the generous donations received by Sri Lanka, only a meager amount reached the Tamil IDPs. Their fair share of the donations did not reach them. Corrupt officials had swindled most of it, the rest of it never was allocated to the IDPs. The IDP numbers swelled by over three hundred and fifteen thousand (315,000) since Mahinda Rajapakse assumed presidency of Sri Lanka, in November 2005, to the current total of over half a million.
Closure of the only highway (A9) connecting the Jaffna peninsula in the north to the south deprives over six hundred thousand people their food, livelihood, and freedom of movement. Businesses cannot stock their shelves as the closure of A9 denies transportation of essential items from the south-this inevitably makes the people of Jaffna prisoners in their own land. In the east, having captured territory from Tamil homelands unfairly by military means, the military continues to capture further land from Tamil homeland in the north, thereby dislodging more people from their places of dwelling to becoming IDPs.
Murders, abductions and enforced disappearances of Tamils both in the northeast and in Colombo continue with impunity. Since Mahinda Rajapakse assumed presidency over four thousand (4000) people have been killed and over thousand (1000) people have disappeared. The international community is alarmed and shocked at the scale of the violence unleashed with impunity against a small community of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, they seem unable to do much about stopping the war against Tamils despite the fact that it is the funds provided by the international community that is being used to go to war against the Tamils.
Humanitarian aid workers have been murdered in large numbers, around thirty (30) of them, since Rajapakse’s ascendancy to presidency. According to Paris based Reporters Sans Borders (RSF) Jaffna is the most dangerous place on the planet to work for journalists. The All Party Representative Committee (APRC) that was set up to find a political solution to the Tamil issue by the President is only being used to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community to buy time for the government of Sri Lanka to implement a military solution.
Whilst the UK Peace Building Strategy (PBS) is a laudable effort by the UK government, Sri Lankan government has acquired considerable skill in delaying and undermining international community’s efforts to end the war and get the parties negotiate in good faith. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) set up to monitor the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) has expressed disappointment at the progress made by the COI in investigating and inquiring into human rights violations.
This war has gone on for twenty-five years and the Tamils have borne the brunt of it. It is therefore quite urgent that the international community intervenes in a determined manner to end this unending war and give the Tamils the badly needed reprieve they justly deserve. The ceasefire agreement (CFA) entered into by the government of Sri Lanka in February 2002 with the Tamil Tigers should be reinstated and honored in full. Sri Lanka should be persuaded through military and financial sanctions to allow international human rights monitoring to be implemented. It is a pity that Sri Lanka being a resourceful nation should burn its resourcefulness to cinders in this manner because of rather continuously unwise political decision-making.
I therefore urge everyone to kindly campaign vigorously until you bring this rather pointless, brutal and unending war to an end, as a matter of urgency!
September 25th, 2007
by Col R Hariharan (retd.)
When the Sri Lanka security forces’ successfully swept the east and regained control, act two of the theatre of the east opened. There are three actors on the stage-the government and the army, the political parties, and Karuna’s Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), made up of disenchanted members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There is a fourth actor, the LTTE chucked out of the cast, hovering on the wings ready to spoil the act now and then.
The security forces, determined to prevent the LTTE staging a comeback, have continued with their follow up actions to round up the dispersed LTTE elements in the jungles north of Trincomalee and in parts of Batticaloa-Amparai. The security forces dogged search of areas around Thoppigala and other pockets of LTTE have unearthed huge quantities of small arms, mortars and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, ammunition, rockets and mortar bombs. Every piece of such recoveries and every LTTE cadre killed or arrested in the east are making the LTTE’s comeback in the east a little more difficult. Of significance is the failure of the repeated LTTE efforts to land cadres in area Pulmoddai to link up Wanni and the east. This would indicate that the LTTE had not yet given up staging a revival in the east, though its hopes for that might be fading.
Karuna and his TMVP cadres have been a great help to the security forces’ success, though of late the security forces are chary of acknowledging it publicly, perhaps for political reasons. Actually, the world over use of renegades in the fight against insurgents is one of the accepted methods. The renegades are useful as spotters to identify militants and their local helpers, in locating hideouts and caches, and in providing vital information. Their help in organising intelligence networks and special operations is even greater. In India’s own counter insurgency experience, I have seen while employing renegade militants along with troops there is suspicion, and at times opprobrium, both within the armed forces and among policy makers. The experience is the same the world over. So understandably, security forces always tend to underplay their usefulness in operations. And Sri Lanka appears to be no exception.
Karuna has a diminishing value to the government and troops as the LTTE activity is curbed more and more. This evident from the progressive marginalisation of Karuna and his cadres during the security forces operation in the east, particularly after Vakarai.
As this is happening, more and more complaints against the TMVP and its cadres are coming from the public, the NGOs, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and political leaders. These include the TMVP’s acts of omission and commission – child recruitment, kidnapping, extortion, killing, intimidation, and attack on Muslims. These are attributed to the local TMVP warlords and their gun totting cadres. Many of these reports have been verified by international bodies which found the footprints of TMVP in them. So TMVP continues to be in the national media limelight for all the ‘wrong’ reasons and not for the help it rendered for the security forces’ operations in the east.
Though as a body Karuna and his cadres appear to be losing their clout with the government and the security forces, the talk of disarming Karuna and his cadres in response to the pressures of UN bodies, international and local NGOs, SLMM, and political parties, has to be taken with a pinch of salt of strategic compulsion and military realism. This appears to be in the mind of policy makers in Sri Lanka, though they have started uttering more frequent homilies on the question of disarming the TMVP. Moreover, given the option the security forces would have the TMVP fighting alongside rather than against them, at least till they have done away with the LTTE. And even in the east, the LTTE should not be written off as it has a great resilience and reservoir of strength in the north which could activate the remnants in the east. Of course, there is always the danger that any hasty use of force to disarm Karuna’s cadres could provide trained local recruits for the LTTE revival. In all probability, Karuna’s cadres in individual capacity will continue to be employed by military intelligence, even if a political rationale is found to disarm them at a future date; of course these will be disowned in public as intelligence agencies the world over do. So the government response to the demand for disarming Karuna and his cadres will be to buy time till it completes its operations in the north. And probably the Co-chairs of the Tokyo Donors Conference and India are also aware of this.
The LTTE fatwa on Karuna’s head has prevented him providing visible political and military leadership to his cadres. Usually the physical absence of the leader results in the rise of other satraps who try and takeover the leadership mantle. One such leader Pillaiyan who tried to grab the leadership chair, appears to have come to some sort of understanding now with Karuna. But the more embarrassing feature for Karuna is the reported the presence of TMVP cadres defiantly flaunting their arms and muscle power as an extra legal power in Tamil areas and indulging in show of force in Muslim areas in the east. To compensate for his diminishing value as a military ally and points man of the security forces, Karuna has no other choice but to increase his image as a political persona. For this to happen he has to do three things urgently – show his ability to control his cadres, establish himself politically without the help of armed cadres, and provide an ideology that would appeal to Tamils at large and in the east in particular. But to make this transition he has to shed his halo as a militant leader. This is more easily said than done, particularly when he runs the risk of losing his life at the hands of LTTE.
Karuna’s problems were not unexpected, at least by this author. In my article “Karuna in no win situation” on Nov 12, 2004, written after he broke away from the LTTE I had pointed out six factors that could affect Karuna’s political fortunes in the east. Karuna’s performance on the six parameters in the last three years presents an interesting picture:
[in 2004 - file Pic]
- Lack of an ideology: When he started, Karuna had two issues in his appeal to the people for support-denouncing the larger than life image of Prabhakaran, and the LTTE’s discrimination against Easterners. Both are negative concepts. Karuna’s intention “to relieve the liberation struggle of the Tamils from the cruel clutches of Prabhakaran,” remains unfulfilled. The complaint of discrimination of easterners by Jaffnaites is an age-old one. This lost much of its relevance in the current situation when one third of the eastern Tamils have been displaced in the war during 2006-7.
- Winning popular Tamil support: It is not clear how popular Karuna is now in the east. His make over from a militant leader to a political leader is still not complete. His rare public appearances and lack of specific political campaigning perhaps due to personal security the constraints are sure to eat into his popularity. The reported activities of extortion and recruitment by TMVP cadres would not endear him to the local population. Though a TMVP political wing has been created and political statements are made they have not created the political space for them.
- Political leadership: The internal squabble with Pillaiyan and the spat with the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) have exposed the deficiencies in Karuna’s political leadership skills. Perhaps he needs to focus on situational leadership skills such as flexibility in approach, ability to meld with people and places, accepting diversity, and the ability to appeal to the common man and the intellectual, to strike a better political equation with the public.
- Political support from the non-Tamil parties: The two major political parties-UNP and SLFP-appear to be avoiding any visible involvement with Karuna. Perhaps the ruling SLFP want to avoid the fall out such association would bring after the UN Human Rights circles raised a storm over child recruitment by Karuna. The beleaguered UNP might not find it useful now to be seen with Karuna due to TMVP’s abrasive relations with the Muslim constituency. Moreover, many Sinhala politicians might share the views of Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga on Karuna. She had said, “Karuna is as much a terrorist as Prabhakaran, and supporting one terrorist against another will only lead us into a vicious cycle.”As far as Tamil parties are concerned he would be poaching in the same grounds for Tamil votes. And naturally they are wary of his emergence as yet another force. Thus as of now, Karuna continues to be a lone ranger.
- Winning over Muslims: For successful politics in the east a favourable equation with Muslims is crucial. When Karuna broke away, he brought with him the baggage of anti-Muslim record of LTTE in the east. Far from mending fences with the Muslims, TMVP cadres have been accused of harassing and even killing Muslims. In fact, Muslim leaders have given a call for curbing the TMVP activity.
- Organisational structure and financial support: Political party needs an organizational structure to maintain contact with people and influence their thinking on an ongoing basis. These activities need financial resources also. The other Tamil political parties, though small, have been in the scene a little longer. The national parties have favours to dispense, apart from bank rolling their campaigns. Karuna will need enormous financial and material resources. Answer to this question will ultimately decide Karuna’s sustainability.
With the impending local and provincial elections in the east, Karuna’s cup appears full. On top of it, he has the king size problem surviving the LTTE threat to him and his cadres that could disrupt his political activity, unless there is the protection from the security forces. He has to give up arms to become a politician as his operation as an armed political party would not be acceptable to either the government or other parties. However, he has proved himself a great survivor so far and thus should not be underestimated to emerge an important factor in the political horizon of the east. For that he has to do some clever tightrope walking to strike a balance between militancy and political polemics. That would decide his future. But undoubtedly Karuna’s travails appear to have begun with the fall of the LTTE in the east.
(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. E-mail: email@example.com)
September 23rd, 2007
Fr. Angelo Steffenzie S.J.
I was travelling by bus from Colombo to Avissawella on that fateful morning in July 1983 when the ethnic violence erupted in Sri Lanka. Suddenly, our bus braked to a halt: hordes of unruly men armed with bludgeons and knives boarded the bus and ruthlessly set upon Tamil commuters, assaulting them mercilessly.
“What have these people done to you that you should do this to them”, I cried to the violent hot-heads.
“They have killed our people in Jaffna”, was their brusque answer.
I then appealed to the bus crew: “Protect your passengers; They are your responsibility.”
“Father”, they replied, “if we do not stop the bus, they will attack us. Our lives are at stake”.
Thus began that tragic week in July for me, which shook Sri Lanka.
By the time I reached Avissawella around 12 noon a curfew had been clamped on Colombo. I then proceeded to Maliboda, my parish.
After a few days, violence erupted in Deraniyagala town. Long-standing Jaffna traders, well known for their social service, were brutally killed and burnt in their own shops.
“The whole island is in flames”, screamed newspaper headlines. Government and religious leaders called for nation-rebuilding.
Overnight peace and reconciliation became national priorities.
What needed to be done?
“The development of all people in solidarity are the two keys to peace”, Pope John Paul II had declared.
In my parish in Maliboda, I tried to do my part to advance these noble aims. I conducted free evening classes for Tamil children, whose education was paralyzed by the violence. Tamil teachers hailing form Jaffna had fled the violence-hit village and returned to Jaffna. Overnight, all Tamil public schools were without teachers.
In a move which won the praise of government officials as an effective means of national integration, qualified persons from the Sinhala community in the village volunteered to teach these abandoned Tamil students.
In estates, we had small nurseries for pre-school children. Qualified Sinhala children from nearly villages volunteered to teach in these pre-schools.
The Tamil teacher in Udabage estate had to run for her life to escape rampaging mobs. A Sinhala volunteer teacher went to her rescue and ensured the safety of the teacher and her wards.
In Godagampola in the Parakaduwa area, a Tamil volunteer took to teaching estate children in the evenings, after work. On his own initiative he restored an abandoned creche for the purpose of teaching. Sinhala children too joined these classes to learn Tamil.
Emulating these exercises in national harmony, a Sinhala girl launched a needle-work class. Tamil and Sinhala teachers joined forces to conduct a cultural programme which proved a success.
“For years I was made to feel I was worth nothing because nobody was making use of my services. Now I feel different”, confessed a young Buddhist woman who was serving as a volunteer teacher in the Orupilla village.
She eventually blossomed into a community leader through her participation in these community development programmes.
The volunteer teachers in the Sinhala village next to Maliboda estate conducted a cultural programme with the participation of students attending the local public school. The entire village turned up for the event, testifying to its success as a bridge-builder among the communities.
Close on the heels of these successes came a ‘Bhakti Gee’ programme organized by the volunteer Sinhala and Tamil teachers of the Kolping Centre, Deraniyagala. The school staff were invited to the event, so were the students. The latter invited other children in the vicinity to attend the event.
The programme proved a great success from the point of view of communal amity. Sinhala and Tamil songs of a religious nature were sung to emphasize fraternal love among peoples. The audience was also regaled by some skits with the same theme.
Thus did nation-rebuilding begin in earnest in distant Maliboda, dispelling the shadows of ethnic hatred and proving a trail blazer in a strife-torn land
September 22nd, 2007
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
If anyone thought that military operations were intended to pressurise the LTTE into coming to the negotiating table, such illusions were effectively dispelled by the Defence Secretary’s frank disclosure. It is no longer a case of bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table through military means for a political settlement. It is now a case of destroying or diminishing the LTTE as a pre-requisite for a political solution
It’s ‘unofficially’ official now! Three things are certain.
-There’s going to be a big war in the Northern Province against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
-There will be no let up until the objective of vanquishing the Tigers is achieved. Even if it is not feasible, an ongoing relentless attempt will be made.
-There won’t be any political solution until and unless the military goal of eradicating ‘terrorism’ (read LTTE) is fulfilled.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa emphasised the above three points unambiguously at Trincomalee last week. The occasion was the felicitation ceremony for the navy for reportedly destroying three ships, allegedly carrying arms for the LTTE.
Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakasa delivers speech during a ceremony in Trincomalee September 17, 2007. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi [Yahoo! News]
The Defence Secretary’s elder sibling, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was also present as Gotabhaya stated these views but maintained silence, indicating tacit consent. The fact that the Defence Secretary stated so in the presence of the Head of State, Head of Government and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces shows that the sentiments expressed were an ‘officially sanctioned unofficial policy declaration.’ So it’s unofficially official.
Calling the shots
It is also crystal clear now who calls the shots literally and metaphorically as far as war and peace is concerned. Mahinda Samarasinghe may say one thing and Rohitha Bogollagama another, but effective decisions are made and articulated elsewhere. The Minister who repeats these more lucidly than any other of his colleagues is Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.
It was only a few weeks ago that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa spoke forthrightly at a passing out parade about a proposed military advance into the LTTE held areas of the north. This was emphatically denied by some Cabinet ministers but within days the Musali region of Mannar District was taken over in a surprise manoeuvre.
If anyone thought that military operations were intended to pressurise the LTTE into coming to the negotiating table, such illusions were effectively dispelled by the Defence Secretary’s frank disclosure.
It is no longer a case of bringing the LTTE to the negotiating table through military means for a political settlement. It is now a case of destroying or diminishing the LTTE as a pre-requisite for a political solution.
There is a saying about an army marching on its stomach. The cost conscious sections of society might be appalled by the economic consequences of prosecuting a prolonged war. But Gotabhaya Rajapaksa thinks otherwise. “We cannot establish permanent peace in the country by winning only half or two-thirds of the war against terrorism,” he said in Trincomalee.
The Defence Secretary also said “President Rajapaksa cannot implement the desired political solution to the north and east conflict unless LTTE terrorism is defeated 100 percent.”
Defence Secretary’s stance
He said that President Rajapaksa, amidst the economic constraints the country is facing, has given all that is required for the security forces and the police to achieve their task of defeating LTTE terrorism.
On another occasion the Defence Secretary’s erstwhile Commanding Officer and present Army Commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka was posed a question by a media person about the impact of the escalating war on the economy. “It is better to have a bankrupt country than half a country,” was the answer.
This then sums up the military mood. The military option against the LTTE will be pursued relentlessly and diligently regardless of economic or any other consequences. The defence establishment has scented blood. It wants to go in for what it perceives to be an easy kill.
The Bard of Avon wrote of a ‘tide in the affairs of men.’ The defence establishment feels that the security forces are riding the crest of a victorious anti-Tiger wave. The wave has to be ridden until the LTTE is engulfed, it is felt.
There is a frenzy of populist euphoria in the air. It is a combination of the natural and artificial, spontaneous and contrived, real and imaginary. But it is there.
It was Talleyrand I think who warned that “war is too serious a matter to be left in the hands of generals.” But currently in Sri Lanka, that is exactly what is happening. The military and defence hierarchy runs the war and makes policy. The political establishment falls in line.
Some might say this is not healthy for a country but there are few takers for this in the upper echelons of the government. A feeble opposition with an unimaginative leadership is hopelessly unable or unwilling to check this militarisation of the government. Arguably, a national security state is in formation.
[LTTE near Mukamaalai, Northern Forward Defence Line, Aug 2006 - Photo: Aruchuna]
The behaviour and conduct of the LTTE in recent times has been, at best, puzzling. The seeming helplessness of the LTTE in the face of Colombo’s military juggernaut has contributed to this new found confidence and determination on the part of the security establishment.
The LTTE is primarily a militant movement fighting for the goal of national liberation. The government depicts it as terrorist while the LTTE self-perception is that of being freedom fighters. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
Fighting for the lofty objective of national liberation does not automatically remove the terrorist tag if terror tactics are adopted. Likewise, the adoption of terrorist tactics does not automatically disqualify a national liberation movement. One can be both a terrorist and freedom fighter. It is not a case of one or the other.
However, realistically, these distinctions do not matter any more in an increasingly uni-polar world where there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ terrorists. No matter what the ideal is, the use of terrorist methods makes a group or an individual, terrorist. The end does not justify the means after September 11, 2001. All terrorists are ‘evil.’
There is a lot of hypocrisy and double standards here. A state is allowed to adopt all sorts of underhand methods amounting to state terrorism but it is not labelled terrorist. An air force plane can kill innocent civilians by dropping a bomb from the air and get away with it by calling it ‘collateral damage.’
But woe unto a non-state actor planting a bomb that kills civilians intentionally or unintentionally-it will be automatically labelled terrorism and very often does deserve that label. But dropping bombs from an altitude allows greater latitude in getting away from the terrorist label. All states gang up in refusing to admit state terrorism.
How does one define the LTTE? Each violent action has to be scrutinised on its own merits to arrive at a definition. The Tigers have three salient aspects when it comes to engaging in violence.
It has the attributes of a conventional militia when it adopts positional warfare. The LTTE fights like an army when it captures or defends territory. The Tigers function as a guerilla force when launching attacks against security force installations or convoys. It is a terrorist outfit whenever it kills innocent civilians through bombs or massacres and assassinates political leaders and other civilians.
Thus, the LTTE can be loosely termed as a self-styled national liberation movement that engages in terrorism at times. Each LTTE action has to be specifically classified into categories of warfare, guerilla tactics or sheer terrorism.
After the LTTE withdrew from the Eastern Province, analysts predicted that all three dimensions of the Tigers would come into play in due course.
The LTTE would engage in positional warfare and fight like a conventional army to retain northern territory. The Tigers would adopt guerilla tactics against security forces in the east. It would assassinate political leaders and destroy economic targets through terrorist methods in Colombo and elsewhere in the south, it was expected.
However, so far, no target has been attacked in Colombo or elsewhere except for the diversionary thrills of a nascent air wing dropping bombs. The limited air strikes too have stopped for some months now.
In the east some limited landmine ambushes have occurred in the Ampara and Trincomalee District jungle adjacent areas, but few attacks were reported in Batticaloa District.
In the north, the LTTE has been stoutly defending areas on the Vavuniya-Mannar District borders and in the Weli Oya/Manal Aaru region. It is also defending territory in the Jaffna Peninsula along the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) of the Kilaly-Eluthumattuvaal- Nagar Kovil axis. But in the Musali region of Mannar South, the LTTE did not fire a single shot and allowed a walkover.
Even though a major offensive has not been launched by either side, there have been sporadic exchanges of artillery fire between both sides in the Vavuniya-Mannar District borders and also in the peninsula. There has also been regular aerial bombardment and strafing by the air force at positions in the Wanni. The navy too has shelled the coastal areas and also battled the Sea Tigers off the Mullaitivu coast.
It can be seen, therefore, that war related incidents have been happening since April last year. Many civilians in the Wanni have been killed, injured and displaced over the past 17 months.
Both sides are wary of the other launching an ‘invasion’ into their territory. Therefore, bombing and shelling is done by the armed forces on the one hand and shelling by the LTTE on the other to prevent major offensives. There are widely prevalent minor skirmishes. These activities are done to keep the ‘other’ side on its toes and to keep it guessing from where and when the big attack will come.
The preliminary limited strikes and offensives are no substitutes for the real McCoy. They cannot pre-empt or prevent the major offensive, counter-offensive or raid, if and when they are launched.
The armed forces can commence their ground based drives southwards from the peninsula, south-eastwards from Thallady in Mannar, northwards and north-westwards from any point along the Mannar-Vavuniya Road or from Omanthai or the Iranai Iluppaikulam Road or from Maamaduwa or the Weli-Oya/Manal Aaru region.
Sea-borne invasions across the Jaffna lagoon towards the Mannar-Poonagary coast or via the northern seas on the Mullaitivu-Chundikulam coast are also possible.
The LTTE too can commence major attacks on several possible targets. A sea-borne operation across the lagoon into the peninsula, a ground based offensive from Muhamaalai or Nagar Kovil points; attacks on army camps in Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli-Oya sector are also possible. A long shot could be incursions via jungles into Medawachchiya, Kebethigollewe, Padaviya, etc.
By all accounts the Tigers seem to be adopting a defensive strategy for now. LTTE Political Chief S.P. Tamilselvan said recently that the Tigers were maintaining “patience intentionally.” This strategy may have certain politico-military reasons.
In the first place, the LTTE is heavily disadvantaged vis-a-vis the armed forces in terms of manpower, firepower, airpower, naval power and armoured vehicle power. This places the Tigers in a very weak position.
Therefore, it would naturally be reluctant to hold on to extensive territory. The Tigers will yield some territory in order to prevent over stretching and dilution of personnel. To cite a phrase used by defence analysts, they will “trade space for time.”
What will this time be used for? Obviously, strengthening defences and recruiting cadres is one. This is happening now. But the Tigers will prolong the war in the hope that the time gained will work against Colombo. Rising defence costs will drain the Treasury and increase the cost of living and inflation. Economic problems can cause social and political unrest.
The armed forces may over extend themselves in the bid to gain more real estate. If they bite more than they can chew, the LTTE would like to make them choke.
The mounting tally of alleged human rights violations and civilian casualties caused by the armed forces can discredit the regime internationally. There may come a point where international intervention becomes inevitable.
The Tigers also expect stirrings in Tamil Nadu and related impact in New Delhi. There is also the expectation that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and abroad will rally around the LTTE as the war escalates and civilian suffering increases.
Vital rear base
Even if the LTTE Political Commissar’s claim of exercising patience is true, the security establishment is in no mood to believe it. It will be seen as the LTTE making a virtue out of necessity as the view in defence circles is that the Tigers are weak and vulnerable. Therefore, the resolve to go on the offensive will gain strength.
However, there is a point beyond which the LTTE cannot retreat, lie low or exercise patience. This is because the Wanni heartland is, in guerilla parlance, the rear base of the LTTE. It is very vital to the Tigers that they retain control of a swathe of territory with access to the sea. The LTTE has to offer fierce resistance to preserve some territory at least.
The Tigers have strengthened defences and are ready to adopt positional warfare to defend this territory. Apparently, the Tigers have set up three ‘defence rings’-A primary outer ring around most territory under their control, a secondary inner ring around key areas in Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu, and a tertiary line of defence around strategic areas of the north-eastern sector.
The fact that this primary defensive outer line has been able to prevent government incursions on the Vavuniya-Mannar borders and inside the peninsula shows the determination and grit of the LTTE to resist military advances.
Unlike what happened in the east or the peninsula when defeated, the Tigers have no place to go if the Wanni is overrun. So the Tigers, fighting a desperate battle to safeguard their rear base, will fight hard when the time comes.
The Tigers may even adopt their customary tactic of letting the enemy advance and then hit back swiftly and hard. This was well demonstrated during the conflict of the nineties.
Armed forces strategy
But the armed forces strategy devised by the Sarath-Gotabhaya duo is not likely to be a mechanical repetition of the disastrous approach under ‘Gen.’ Anuruddha Ratwatte during ‘Operation Jayasikuru’ in the nineties.
It is more likely that the government will adopt the ruthless double-track strategy adopted successfully in the east: A widespread campaign of bombing and shelling on a broad scale on points throughout the region on the one hand and on the other, a sustained campaign of intensive concentrated attacks on a limited target area.
The civilians are uprooted and their dwellings and infrastructural facilities demolished. After civilians leave a particular area and move to another place, the vacated place is shelled and bombed to saturation point. Then the army advances on ground, consolidates and establishes control of a limited area.
Thereafter, this process is repeated again and again. In a slow, systematic manner, the armed forces advance and hold target areas while the civilian population flees from place to place or to government areas. This is what happened in stages in the east and after 15 months, the armed forces dominate the province now.
Moreover, unofficial embargoes on food, medicine, fuel and essential items will be imposed as was done in the east. Transport and movement of people will be restricted. Payment of salaries of government employees, including teachers, will be suspended. Agriculture, fisheries and cottage industries will be reduced to a standstill.
If the armed forces have their way as they did in the east, this scenario is likely to happen in the north too.
This strategy will certainly cause immense hardship to the civilians. But judging from the apathy and silence of the international community towards the tragic civilian plight in the east, there seems very little chance of any foreign pressure to make Colombo call off the war or abandon its hard-line strategy.
Beginning of the end
Though Sinhala hawks would like the armed forces to go in quickly and finish off the Tigers, the defence establishment is not likely to rush in. Plans and preparations will be made carefully and cautiously.
However, it seems highly improbable that the Tigers will passively wait for the government to enfeeble, encircle and then engulf them. Contrary to optimistic assertions in Colombo, the LTTE is not both down and out. It is only down, but not fully out. Past experience has shown that the Tigers crouch to pounce.
If the armed forces succeed in dislodging the Tigers from their entrenched positions in the Wanni, it can only mean the beginning of the end. So the Tigers will fiercely resist such moves. It is a back-to-the-wall situation
This resistance is not likely to be reactive alone. There could be counter-offensives and counter-strikes that could change the situation drastically. Also, this counter-strategy need not be confined specifically to the battlefields.
Another moot point having a bearing on the war situation is the approaching ‘Maa Veerar Naal’ (Great Heroes’ Day) on November 27. What will Prabhakaran say on that day? Conversely, what will the armed forces allow him to say on that day?
Whatever the situation, full-scale war seems inevitable and imminent. Even the raging monsoon rains may not be able to deter its pace or intensity.
The fluctuating fortunes of war may be fickle and fluid. But one thing is certain. The civilians are going to suffer. The misery of the east will be repeated in the north. The tragic plight of recently displaced Tamils and Muslims from Mannar South is a sad pointer of things to come in this respect.
September 22nd, 2007
Sri Lankan Tamil and Muslim intellectuals are urging President Mahinda Rajapakse to avoid the ‘unitary’ label as Sri Lanka braces for a new power sharing formula for the island’s northeast.
In an open letter to the president, the intellectuals have urged him to keep away from both ‘unitary’ and ‘federal’ labels in any devolution package so that no community feels offended.
Many in the majority Sinhalese community are bitterly opposed to their country becoming a federal entity, arguing this will be the first step to separation.
Tamils in particular are opposed to a ‘unitary’ state, saying minorities would never get a fair deal under such a dispensation. ‘We plead with you to … show leadership, and create a constitution without labels, one that will make all communities of Sri Lanka feel equal participants in working towards peace and prosperity,’ they said in the letter, a copy of which was made available to IANS.
Among the signatories are professors Mohamed Nuhuman, Santasilan Kadirgamar, Kumar David and Vijaya Kumar, Minna Thaheer, Faizun Zackariya, Rohini Hensman, Krishna Velupillai, Subra Jayanthan, D.B.S. Jeyaraj and Rajan Philips. Also among the signatories, living both in Sri Lanka and abroad, are Bala Sooriyan, Leah Marikkar, Najah Mohamed, P. Rajanayagam and A.R.M. Imtiyaz.
The letter said that the deliberations of the All Party Representative Committee to create a new constitutional framework were stuck over two key issues: whether the constitution should be labelled ‘unitary’ and whether the northern and eastern provinces should be remerged.
‘As members of Sri Lanka’s minority communities, we ask of you, as president, to avoid labelling the constitution ‘unitary’ or ‘federal’ and (to) facilitate reaching consensus over power-sharing units for Tamils and Muslims in the northern and eastern provinces instead of isolating them from one another.
‘Referring to a recent interview distributed by IANS, the letter writers said it was disappointing President Rajapakse had said that he would uphold the unitary character of Sri Lanka’s constitution. ‘We are both disappointed and disturbed by this assertion,’ the letter said.
‘We are disappointed because your assertion shuts out the opinions of large numbers of Sinhalese who have consistently voted for constitutional change involving devolution of powers in every election since 1994… ‘And we are disturbed because your assertion is also a rejection of your responsibility to serve all Sri Lankans and not just those who voted for you.
‘More important, the assertion alienates the minority communities who want to abide by a Sri Lanka that politically and constitutionally includes them as equal citizens despite their lesser numbers. ‘The unitary label that was first inserted in the 1972 constitution has since produced the biggest threat ever to the island’s unity. Even if that threat were to be defeated militarily, persisting with the unitary label will leave the cancer of alienation.’ [Wednesday September 19 Colombo, Sep 19 (IANS)]
September 20th, 2007
By Dr. Vickrama Bahu Karunaratne
In politics to day, most popular question is, which is the lesser evil? Mahinda or Ranil? Many come to the conclusion that there is hardly any choice; hence the best is to have a joint government so that one could neutralize the evil of the other. Or else Ranil should get a majority in the Parliament so that he could check the President.
While various manipulations are considered to achieve such a dual power, instead of the present monopoly, JVP claims that it is the real alternative. Anura kumara said to Lakbimanews “there should be a viable alternative ready at hand before toppling this government…..We are ready to give the leadership to an alternative force of professors, religious leaders, doctors, workers and entrepreneurs.”
But what are the alternative policies of the JVP? In relation to the Tamil national problem they support Mahinda regime in every thing it does except that they want less corruption and more efficiency. They say they are satisfied with the armed forces, but point to the corruption and the inefficiency at the top. This is completely bogus criticism.
From pre history up to today all wars were filled with corruption and inefficiency. Military rule means corruption and inefficiency, because it is an undemocratic centralist project. When Mahinda says this is the best war we got, he is absolutely correct. Only thing is who wanted a war and who gave direction for this war? It is the JVP that most positively directed Mahinda regime to war.
Honorable Anura kumara should know that it is their pie and they must eat it. After a corrupt inefficient bloody war Mahinda regime wants to negotiate a federal solution garbed in unitary costume. Will the Tigers trust them? What is JVP going to do? What will parents and relations of those who died for the unitary republic and against federalism will say to this unbelievable fraud?
There are those who still refer to the JVP as a Marxist party. How can a party based on Sinhala petty bourgeoisie youth be considered to be a Marxist party? Their base consists of campus students and graduates from Sinhala community. Hon Anura kumara says that they are prepared to give leadership to, firstly professors, secondly religious leaders, thirdly doctors and there after to others. In real terms this means campus intelligentsia, Buddhist monks, and educated middle class of Sinhala community.
Their position on Tamil national problem has been an embarrassment to all leftists who have shown any concern for this party. Wimal and other JVP leaders introduced most poisonous Sinhala chauvinist slogans into the campaign of Mahinda. Furthermore they are responsible for the war mongering path taken by Mahinda. It is true that the JVP still campaigns against world powers and global capitalism while supporting demands of plebeian masses. In that sense it is a plebeian party with a certain social policy. Hence they are similar to the Narodniks or the social revolutionary party of Russia before the revolution.
But no way could one refer to them today as a Marxist party. While opposing present economic policies of the government JVP often talks about a national economic policy. That means a policy to protect local production from ill effects of global capitalism. Such a national freedom policy can be launched only if there is national unity based on autonomy and the right of self determination. Sinhala liberation must unite with Tamil and Muslim liberation.
There after we should seek the support of international left democratic forces. That is the only basis on which one can face Yankee power and the MNC net of global capitalism. JVP Sinhala chauvinist policy is a complete hindrance to such a deployment of forces. Thus, indirectly they contribute to the perpetuation of Mahinda Ranil duality.
In order to create a viable alternative to the ruling duo we must expose the inadequacy of the JVP. It pretends to be very powerful within the trade union movement. But their real support is a sectarian political cell in each work place bringing together their activists from different trade & professional sections. They can command a picket on their own but cannot call a strike on class issues.Their railway strike was a grand failure, but teachers struggle was success as they join with others.
September 18th, 2007
By Dr. S. Narapalasingam
Having seen the Al-Jazeera TV short documentaries about People & Power-Monks of War that drew attention to the conflicting stands within Sri Lankan society and the stalemate in the current move of the government to seek a political solution to the long-drawn-out conflict, this writer’s doubts about the motive and the efficacy of the approach taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure lasting peace have intensified. The usefulness of the TV programme comes from the fact those interviewed were members or supporters of the Buddhist-monks party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), including the JHU parliamentarian and Environmental Minister Champika Ranawaka, and several Buddhist monks though not all supporting the government’s war effort, dubbed as humanitarian operations. Ironically, these have resulted in the displacement of thousands of Tamils from their habitats, as evident from the recent operations in the Mannar district.
The answers given by the Government Minister with the aid of Sri Lanka’s map reflect the mindset of those imagining to be living in the distant past of ancient kings and feudal lords. Who else can think of a great Tamil conspiracy of bringing all Tamils in the North, East, Upcountry and Colombo to trap the Sinhalese with the help of some 70 million Tamils in South India! A wonderful idea that did not occur to Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had been operating overconfidently on one narrow track with violence as the sole weapon! It is surprising the Minister left out the expatriate Tamils in this plot to trap the Sinhalese, as the support of many expatriates to the LTTE cause is well known. Distance was not a barrier and why should it be considered irrelevant to the conspiracy theory? Perhaps this was an inadvertent omission. Tragically, it is the single-minded militant leadership that has taken the Tamils in Sri Lanka into a desolate situation. A party like the JHU would have been considered an ally by the LTTE but after experiencing the costly consequences of their imposed boycott of the last Presidential election, contrary to their expectation, this can be ruled out.
Recently, the JHU spokesman Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe expressed fear that “the entire Eastern Province will be taken over by the Muslims soon, resulting in the Sinhalese being thrown out of the province”. He charged that Muslims in large numbers were being resettled in the province, following the liberation of the East from the LTTE. He is reported to have said (’The Nation’ – September 9) that Muslims “in large numbers prove a threat to the Sinhalese who live in the province,” This too clearly shows the psychological fear of losing control over the acquired land, vital for the future of the Sinhala race! It is this misconception that is beneath the want of the ‘patriots’ to keep the present majority rule. There are al so some bigots who are anxious to keep their bearing as protectors of the Sinhala race and hence their objection to any non-unitary structure. The reasons advanced against structural change based on the claim that it would lead to the division of the country indicate their strong belief that separation can only be prevented by ‘Sinhala majority rule’.
Vindya Amaranayake has described in some detail the “changing facets of temple based politics” in ‘The Nation’ September 9. The article gives the nexus between political leaders in the two main rival parties (SLFP and UNP) and incumbents in Buddhist temples. Its role in party politics is seen from the following: “Party politics that has coloured the post independent political landscape of the country was aided and abetted by some of the main temples in the Colombo District. They have not only managed to bring to power their desired leaders but also, conspired to remove, even through assassination, those that fell out of favour with them”.
The Chief Incumbent of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya – Mapitigama Buddharakkhitha Thera and Thalduwe Somarama Thera were found guilty by the court that heard the famous murder case where the victim was the then (1959) Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. Buddhist monks have since demonstrated against moves to address Tamil grievances. For example, they objected when Dudley Senanayake brought forth the Tamil Language Special Provisions Bill in 1966. In one demonstration against the Bill at Kollupitiya, a protestor Dambarawe Ratanasara Thera was fatally shot by the police. Recently Buddhist monks forcefully tried to disrupt the anti-war demonstration. They wanted the war to continue until the ‘enemy’ is vanquished. Although some monks on their own volition join the political demonstrations against granting concessions to Tamils, it is a fact that the power thirsty Sinhalese politicians urge them to join for giving special strength to the protests. Such thoughtless moves are motivated mainly by the desire to undercut the rival political leadership ignoring the national interests
Those who have commented on the Al-Jazeera TV programme have praised, “the objectivity and clarity in presenting the opposing viewpoints” and “for bringing issues long swept under the carpet into the open”. (Dr. R. Narendran in TamilWeek 2-8 September 2007). Dushy Ranetunge in his comments on the same programme has also praised the producers for the balanced presentation “with JHU and anti-war monks and campaigners being interviewed”. He regretted, the point of view articulated by the JHU member, Minister Champika Ranawaka and other like-minded Buddhist monks and Sinhala nationalists that “did not do any favours for Sri Lanka”.
The fact that JHU is a partner in the government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the patriot who warned of the great Tamil conspiracy to trap the Sinhalese is a Cabinet Minister has been overlooked. Comparisons have been made with racist political organizations in other countries. Can one imagine either the Labour or the Conservative party in Britain forming a government in alliance with the racist National Front or the British National Party? The power of the Buddhist monks to obstruct government decisions on national issues since the forced abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact (1957) has blemished democracy in Sri Lanka. Even the Queen in the United Kingdom does not have such powers to influence state policies.
Any civic role of Buddhist monks should be in the vital area of promoting a righteous society. This also depends on the ethical conduct of political leaders. They were able to act irresponsibly disregarding the moral codes of modern society because there was no one to question them. The Buddhist clergy has been blind to the corruption and the abuse of power by the representatives of the people for narrow gains. The society, particularly the poor people had put up with such hurtful practices. Human rights violations are not sanctioned by any religion. The Buddhist monks did not protest against such deplorable acts, in the same way they did when political decisions helpful for alleviating the problems faced by the Tamils were made. Ironically, their role in national politics is also hindering peace and hurting the country’s image abroad.
September 16th, 2007