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Internally displaced persons: The new front of an old war in Sri Lanka

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

Since the defeat of the LTTE on 18th May'2009 at Nandikadal, the issue of the 300,000 ' Internally Displaced persons (IDPs)' has become the new front to fight an old war. People who have not been to the IDP camps in Chettikulam have been very vociferous in condemning the conditions and the very existence of these camps. Objective reports based on contextual realities by those who have visited these camps and talked to a cross section of the IDPs are dismissed as propaganda on behalf of the government. Other reports of those who visited these camps, but have highlighted problems that fit in with the agenda of those fighting in the new front are gobbled up with glee. The reports of those who have not visited these camps and are relying on second hand information and photographs, are accepted as the gospel truth. The desire to condemn and use the situation as an opportunity to continue the old Eelam agenda under a new guise is overwhelmingly obvious.

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Internally displaced people (IDPs) sit in a makeshift classroom in the Zone 4 camp at Manik Farm in northern Sri Lanka August 19. 2009-Reuters pic

Many things, some minor and others major, that are wrong in these camps can be written about and photographed. But these do not represent the overall picture. These camps are temporary and the UN demands they be temporary. Tamils also want these camps to be temporary. The government has declared they would be temporary. However, the fact that a sincere and concerted effort is being made to remedy problems and improve conditions cannot be denied. It will be travesty of truth to deny these facts. The conditions in zone-4 camp – reported to be the worst- are remarkably better than in most Colombo slums! The fact that these IDPs have escaped hell, to reach a safe haven, if not heaven, should not be lost sight of.

The circumstances under which these IDPs arrived in Vavuniya - the trauma they had experienced during a brutal war (between the LTTE and its sworn enemy, the Government of Sri Lanka) and the cruelty they were subjected to by the LTTE (The self proclaimed sole representatives and liberators of the Tamils)- are being very conveniently ignored.

The IDPs arrived in Vavuniya in a state no human should ever be. I have seen them as they arrived at one transit camp in Vavuniya. They were able to smile even under extremely desperate circumstances, because they were relieved to be alive! Grand mothers were destined to look after their orphaned grandchildren. Aunts and uncles had to take responsibility for their orphaned nephews and nieces. They had no time to mourn their dead. They had to care for the injured and permanently maimed, while they themselves needed help. They had no hope for the morrow. They were destitute and benumbed.

They were haggard, malnourished and weak. Women were giving birth soon after their arrival in the transit camp. Mothers had no milk in their breasts to suckle new born infants. Many did not know where their children and other relatives were. Many had seen their children, partners, parents, relatives and fellow humans drown, succumb to their injuries or fall dead, while escaping. The misery I witnessed and heard cannot be easily described and have to be seen and heard to be appreciated.

They had to abandon their homes or see their homes destroyed. They had to abandon their villages, towns and occupations and move as the war front shifted, to be finally trapped at Nandikadal. They had to hide in bunkers to save themselves from the bullets and shells flying over them and falling among them. The bullets and shells were being fired by both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. They had to live under flimsy plastic tents or under trees and fend for themselves.

They witnessed their kith and kin being killed and blown up. They saw dead and putrefying bodies around them. They saw fellow Tamils being killed by LTTE cadres. They had to hide their eleven and twelve year olds in camouflaged holes, to save them being conscripted by the LTTE. They had to keep their children for as long as two months in such holes and feed them there. They had to provide for their sanitary and toilet needs in these holes. Some saw their precious children die in these holes, succumbing to the prolonged confinement.

They had to force their young daughters to get married early and get pregnant to avoid conscription by the LTTE. They witnessed LTTE cadres force young pregnant girls jump from trees, to induce abortions (with the intention of qualifying them for conscription). They saw their young children placed in church premises for safety, being rounded up brutally by LTTE cadres as part of a desperate conscription drive.

They were short of food and clean drinking water. They saw the LTTE cadres burn food stocks while retreating. They were shot at by the LTTE cadres, when they tried to get the food being burned. They drank water from holes dug in the sea shores. These sea shores were also their toilets. They were victims of black marketing by LTTE cadres. They saw the same LTTE cadres trying to hawk a bottle of 'Horlicks', which they were previously selling at Rs. 2000/=, at Rs. 500/= (a special bargain!) in the final days of the war. They had to buy the food provided free by the Red Cross and the Sri Lankan government, from the LTTE.

They were shot at by LTTE cadres while trying to escape. They were also fearful of what awaited them in the hands of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Most were surprised they were treated with kindness by the armed forces, when they managed to escape. Most escaped in the final stages of the war, out of desperation. They had to make a choice between certain death and a possible chance to live. They saw LTTE cadres escaping along with them. They had also encouraged LTTE cadres to escape with them. They witnessed piles of currency being incinerated by the LTTE. They also witnessed the LTTE handing over large sums of money to favoured individuals.

They had subsequently identified several LTTE cadres in the IDP camps to the Sri Lankan authorities and went to the extent of beating up several who had treated them badly while in the war zone. They were convinced there were several more LTTE cadres in their midst at the time of my last visit (July'09).

One gentleman in the IDP camp, who had lost two sons forcibly conscripted by the LTTE, whom I tried to console, with the story of how my mother and brother were killed by the IPKF, started sobbing in sympathy. He had known my late brother. Tears welled in my eyes.

The IDPs we spoke to had nothing to complain of the Sri Lankan armed forces, as they had moved ahead of the army, until trapped at Nandikadal. They were however vehement in asserting there was firing from both sides and they were caught in the middle. They definitely had no complaints about how they were treated by the armed forces and police after escaping. They appeared comfortable with the presence of soldiers and policemen in the camps, and went about their lives quite normally.

They were very resentful of the fact they had to pay a price for someone else's war. They regretted having permitted the LTTE to establish themselves in the Vanni and providing them food and shelter, when they were trapped by the IPKF and later chased out of Jaffna by the Sri Lankan armed forces. They were critical of the Jaffna Tamils, who had failed to provide them proper leadership. They were critical of the LTTE for marginalizing the educated Tamils. They want the educated Tamils to return and provide leadership.

The thoughtfulness of those administering these camps in allocating a separate area for the Brahmin priests and their families to reside in zone -4 camp, has to be appreciated. These Brahmin families seem to have adapted to the new circumstances quite well. I witnessed families going out for an evening walk in zone-4 camp at 5 pm, after a bath, in fresh clothes. The ladies were powdered up and were wearing their jewelry. These will not happen in a concentration camp!

I also spoke to a young mother (30 year old) who had six children of her own plus four of her sister's. Her sister and brother-in-law had been killed in the final days of the war. She was poor. Her husband was a labourer who had earned daily wages. She is able to feed her ten children because she is in the camp. Who would provide for her and her family, once they are sent out of the camp? There are thousands like her in these camps. Those who have collectively deposited Rs. 600 million in the camp banks are obviously a minority. The class disparities between the people in these camps will be quite visible to the discerning.

The fact that 54 NGOs and INGOs, including the UN agencies are working in these camps is unfortunately ignored by the international media. The fact that the UN is involved in the care of IDPs is also ignored. The fact that foreign diplomats visit these camps regularly is also being ignored. The fact that organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and certain international news agencies are not permitted to visit these camps because of GOSL suspicions about their intentions, does not negate the fact that these camps are under intense scrutiny. The GOSL is very aware of this scrutiny. The inmates in these camps also have among them leaders and persons who can speak out. I saw them making representations to the officials in charge.

The IDPs want to go back to their homes, villages and towns as soon as possible. However, they want to go back to homes, villages and towns with restored infra-structure and facilities. They want to go back to homes, villages and towns that are safe. They want to go back to homes, villages and towns, where they will have a livelihood. These can only be provided by the government of Sri Lanka with international support.

They also need support to look after their widows, orphans, injured and the maimed, for years to come. They need financial support to establish themselves. They need leadership and financial support to learn new trades. The disabled and maimed have to be rehabilitated and given the tools to live with dignity. These have to done by the combined efforts of the Sri Lankan government, the other peoples of Sri Lanka and the Diaspora.

The Tamil Diaspora is particularly responsible to make use of the opportunity that has unfortunately arisen, to take these people into the 21st century. The Tamil Diaspora funded the war that has affected these people. It is now the moral responsibility of the Tamil Diaspora to help these people resettle and prosper. Most IDPs do not have Diaspora relatives to help them. The Tamil Diaspora has to adopt them as their families.

Let us not force the government to release the IDP into a black hole. Let us not in our short sightedness, emotional state, vindictiveness or inhumanness throw these unfortunate people to the wolves. Let the GOSL restore the infra-structure and other facilities in the Vanni, as planned. Let the GOSL modernize the infra-structure. Let the GOSL lead the effort to care for the IDPs as long as necessary. Let the GOSL discharge its responsibilities towards these unfortunate citizens and through that process bring about national reconciliation. Let us Tamils encourage the government to meet the November-December'2009 deadline to re-settle most of these IDPs and lend a hand in the process.

The Tamil community in the north and east of Sri Lanka as a whole is in a perilous state. Their numbers are depleted through external and internal migrations, and deaths. They have a large number of orphans, widows, injured and maimed among them. A very large number in proportion to the population are in the IDP camps. Once thriving population centers are abandoned and destroyed to various extents. They do not have skilled administrators, teachers, health personnel, carpenters, plumbers, masons etc. The Skilled have to be brought in from the south to carry out reconstruction work. These are realities we have to accept. Tamils have to be aware of the long term consequences of what they say and do now. We have made our mistakes and paid a heavy price. We have also paid the price for the mistakes the GOSL has made over the years. The Tamils of the north and east cannot pay any price any more. Survival as a people has become paramount at this critical juncture. This essentially assumes primacy over other considerations.

The GOSL has to be also transparent and honest. It should do what it has promised. It must be seen to do what it has promised. The 13th amendment to the constitution should be implemented and the intention to do so unequivocally declared.
The APRC proposals should be put forward as soon as possible for enlightened public discussion. The government must fully back the proposals being put forward and canvass support for it actively. The government should cease manipulating Tamil politics and politicians, to convince the Tamils that its intentions are genuine. Let the Tamils make their choices, when they are ready to do so. The government should also appear to encourage the flowering of confidence and genuine grass roots democracy among the Tamils. There is a time to plant and a time to harvest.

There will not be a good harvest if there is a delay in planting. There will be of course no harvest if there is no planting! The government should not procrastinate on political solutions any longer. This will the Tamils hope that they have a place in Sri Lanka. These steps will forestall issues such as the IDPs becoming the new front of an old war. The battle has been won, but the war is yet going on in a different plane. Let us all act wisely.

(This article is based on the two visits made to the IDP camps in Vavuniya, in March and July'2009 as part of a Diaspora group. The others who were part of the second group were: Dr.Noel Nadesan (Australia), Mrs. Rajeswary Balasubramaniam (U.K), Manoranjan Selliah (Canada) and Rajaratnam Sivanathan (Australia). The IDPs met during the recent visit to the IDP camps were men and women, mostly middle aged or old, and married.)

12 Comments

wow, a sober assessment indeed.

Posted by: Vishvajith | August 30, 2009 10:24 PM

DR. Rajsingham,
What we need in multitudes in numbers today are the ilks of you.
The Objective realists who can see through the hatred and rhetoric of the Headless chicken of Tamil Diaspora and the West which comes in various forms of AVATARs like NGOs, Rights Groups, Right To Protect and so forth.
Its really touching to see how deep your understanding and grasp of the situation and the issuses involved.
Especially who is responsible and who is suffering and whom to be relied upon at this moment of time.
The answers in the order : the Tamils in general, the Tamil Diaspora and the Government of Sri lanka.
Now about the boo haa haa, the cirsis let us just ignore the cackophony and move on, do what we have to do, SANITY always Previals upon INSANITY.
The bandwagon of hedgemony, scheming and opportunism will always have a ruptured tyre with no spares to replace it and left behind.
So chugg on and the victory is in our hands in a matter of couple of years, in this second form of WAR too.!
What is most important though is to make sure they go back to well set-up towns with Electricity, Schools and Hospitals and should be the envy of the Sucking up Diaspora who live on multiple Jobs, bankrolling Credit Card debts, who can not realistically afford passage for 6-7 people flying to Sri Lanka just for a visit and filled with Hatred thus contributing 25$( or £s) to surmount the utter frustration eventhough in their hearts they Yearn to visit Yalpanam! for the sake of good old days.
Those who have never been to Jaffna but born in the west were just making a thrilling episode in Marching and Protesting will soon get a paid slave Job in the west, go to pubs in the evenings, enjoy the night life and start living to-gehter with somebody and might be lucky and get on with a married decent life.
Opposed to the suffering breathren who will go from strenght to strength and have decent orderly life with a visit to Kovil and reivived tamil heritage will not even be bothered by the vices of the breathren and the stress they go through in the Western world.
So the tamils in the IDP camps will be out of their misery soon but the Diaspora tamils will be in the Hell hole of Capitalist wetern modern democrac(Z)y and rivelle in their own filth hard to see the reality.!!!!

Long live Dr. Rajasingham, may you please continue your Crusade Sir!.

aj

Posted by: Anonymous | August 30, 2009 10:38 PM

The writer is one of them who were hand picked by the government to visit camps and therefore his views cannot be independant. The government upto now has not allowed non-Sinhalese to visit all the camps. I am sure the writer had visited only one or two show piece camps and is trying to sing praise to the government. The moment he starts to give the correct picture he will fall out with the government and will become a non-entity. Some of the good hearted Sinhala doctors who had visited other camps barred for outsiders have come out with a different story contrary to what this writer is trying to portray. I would like to go into all the camps and see for myself but the government will not allow me to do so. It is of no use to say that people are believing in certain propaganda, when the government is preventing free access to all the camps and trying to hide the truth coming out to the open. Tamil people are intelligent, confirmed by the voting in Jaffna MC polls, where they have not only rejected LTTE but also the Government.

Posted by: RAJA | August 31, 2009 04:20 AM

1.The area is so huge that the author may not have seen even a reasonable section of the spectrum

2.The government may not have allowed them to see the ''bad'' side and would have shown them the ''good'' side.

3.any way why why why aren't the media allowed in?

4.Why restricted access to humanitarian organisations?

5.Why retsrictions on those who have access as to cameras or phones or even talking with the detainees?

Posted by: punitham | August 31, 2009 06:25 AM

The Author is focused only on the past and accusing the LTTE. It is true that LTTE is partly responsible for the present situation of IDPs. But everyone know it and accepted it. But most of the people concern is present and future. You can't just always point to the past. If the government is responsible and think these people are our own people they would treat the IDPs better. The Author is trying to defend the Geovernment not the IDPs. Is it ok for the Author to live in this HEAVEN with other IDPs. It is easy to say. If he were one of the IDPs, I am sure he is the first person to complain about the treatment by the government.

Further i would like to know the Authors very NEUTRAL opinion why the independent media and the opposition parliamentarians are barred from this HEAVEN. Why they can't have the right to see the HEAVEN and report to other people who have not never seen the HEAVEN.

Posted by: Hasan | August 31, 2009 09:09 AM

Of course Dr Nadesan is one of the priveleged few who could visit these camps.We would all love to do so, except that we are not as priveleged. Or at least the media and memebers of parliment should be allowed to do so.
Nor can we read the minds and speak on behalf of 300,000 after visiting the camps for a couple of days and speaking to a handful of individuals, a privilege assumed by Dr Nadesan. However this article is better than the previous which did not mention the neccesity of the government to implement the 13th Amendment etc.
Whereas it is true that conditions may have improved after a lot of pressure from the international community, their situation still warrants concern. To punish all for the sins of a few is contrary to Justice and in violation of the constitution of the Democratic Socialist republic of Sri Lanka. This cannot be justified by third parties but has to be left to the individuals themselves. There is no doubt that any sensible human being longs for freedom as opposed to forced confinement in a camp whatever be the conditions therein.

Posted by: SriLankan | August 31, 2009 05:25 PM

I have disagreed with Dr. Narendran earlier and I have many issues with him still.

Yet I appreciate his resolve and commitment to bring relief to Tamils. At least what I see in the surface, with due respects. He has done well in this piece seeking a better appreciation of the GoSL role.

In the interest of a future united country in general and the suffering Tamil people in particular, I hope his work and the work of many others – many Sinhalese social workers as well – will succeed.

There is reason to believe “these IDPs have escaped hell” in as much there is much to disbelieve the reasons the Govt tots out for not releasing the large number of those against there is hardly any suspicion of LTTE connections or potential security threats.

Those liberators who sold Horlicks bottles to our own at Rs.2,000 a piece must meet their day. I have no regrets in weeding out identified LTTE cadres who indulged in acts of crime when they held the gun against their own but the charge must be substantiated. Which Tamil – or for that matter of any other race – will tolerate such vermin?

The ordinary teenager forced to join the ranks without an option should not be placed into this category. I am glad to hear him say - enjoying the benefit of the proximity and privy he enjoys with the ruling sources - “sincere and concerted efforts are being made to remedy problems and improve conditions” This is good to hear.

As I have asked previously, we would like to know what questions he raised with the President and other VVIPs in his several meetings; what responses these have evoked and other matters I raised in my postings. I am pleased to note his comments about the decent and sensitive manner in which the Brahmin priests and their families are treated. Separately, we hear all – or at least most – Hindu priests held in the camps have been released.

It is also good to hear the army and police holding these people are treating them well now. We certainly would like to hear this from the internees themselves. I also hope there is no more reason to complain only those with big cash were allowed to leave. Which brings us to the question – if as you say a large number of NGOs are working in the camps and diplomats visit regularly, why is the media still refused entry?

This is the yet another reason for which the Govt is condemned by almost many Govts and institutions of international standing. Yes! “they need financial help and other forms of assistance” as you plead. The Govt has since announced with much fanfare the Awakening the North programme. Let us hear from the people there if they have actually received assistance under this programme to their satisfaction.

The free Press is one vital medium that can tell the world if the programme is working the way it is said to be intended. I am glad to see your change of stance on the 13th Amendment and simultaneously we note Prof Tissa Vitharana has handed over the APRC proposals – finally. You seem to apportion all blame for funding the LTTE on the Tamil diaspora and at the same time you ask this medium to take into their hands the future of the Tamils.

I have also written in recent times most of those in the diaspora – both blue/white collar and professionals – earn just enough to maintain their families and life-style. They only came out to make small contributions because their kit and kin back home were subject to untold suffering and engineered shortage of food, medicines and other essentials. Would'nt the Sinhalese do this to their people if face with the same situation?

There was one former Govt official, who wormed his way unduly as an Ambassador later, who counseled the Govt to “use famine as a tool to bring down Tamil resistance” The man still writes on the peace process although often when he writes he attracts a chorus of condemnation.

I cannot fathom what you have in mind when you state “don’t force them to the wolves?” Those held are adult enough to know what is best for them when they appeal to go home. By all means, those who wish to stay – like that mother of 10 children – can stay for as long as they want and the Govt will. But let the others go – forthwith.

In a recent visit to Europe and North America, I found several Tamils (some of whom I suspected – for no particular reason – could be LTTE supporters) saying there are signs of improvement and they’d like to visit their “villages/homes” provided the arms-culture is done away with by the Govt. They said they have no objection to living with the Sinhalese – and some even talked of the beautiful friendships and visits by both sides "in the old days".

After checking out my background one even said that once peace comes he will seek my assistance to get back his hundred acres paddy land taken in Mullaitivu over by the LTTE. I earlier thought, having no evidence at all, this shop-keeper (in Canada since 1985) was an LTTE collector. He probably thought something similar of me. All they want is just treatment and fair play for their people and the guarantee there shall be no more State-sponsored or other pogroms against Tamils.

Consigning Tamils to remand and prison, it appears, is now taken for granted even for no reason. A Sunday English paper last week carries the news of the fascistic arrest of a young Tamil of the area named Rajesh. It now appears over 20 Tamils are held in the Welikada Police - his crime is he had a Tamil name.

This can be true of many other Police Stations in the country, to prevent which I have earlier suggested in every multi-racial Police area there should be a Welfare Committee of citizens from the different communities empowered to regularly visit those held in extra-ordinary circumstances. This is one more matter Dr Narendran should take up with the Govt. I am not suggesting the President or his brothers have anything at all to do with this.

But I think an earlier Circulat issued in the area where each Police Station was to take in a minimum number of Tamils (for any reason) - is still in force.

But certainly things have gotten out of control as it did when the “Angula Doctrine” was used to gun down 2 youth on which the President himself said the killing was done on the false reason it was done at the request of “Mahinda mama” If this is so in Colombo, it can well be worse in the other areas in the country where Tamils live in large numbers – notably the NEP. In suggesting, our people have still much hope for unity is the fact the Welikade incident crimes I refer to is highlighted by a newspaper - owned entirely by Sinhalese.

ISS

Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | August 31, 2009 06:40 PM

This Diaspora group have taken it upon themselves to engage the Rajapaksa regime and regime in return has been happy to oblige. I do not question the sincerity of the group wanting to make a difference. But I absolutely do not trust the Rajapkasa regime with good reason.

This article should be looked at in the context of the enforced principle of the regime which is, "you are either with us or against us". Many NGOs and INGOs have realised this and have kept their criticism of the treatment of the IDPs to a minimum just to ensure they are not asked to leave.

Similarly for the regime to continue engaging this group, the group has to be seen to be "with the regime". Else, the curtain is closed, which explains the one-sided nature of this article. It is easy to criticise and blame everything on the LTTE because of some of the horrific crimes they committed but as someone wrote on this website, even if the IDPs are provided five star Hotel accommdation, they should not be held against their will. Anything else is nothing but apologies for a brutal regime that has detained 280 thousand of its innocent citizens in detention camps.

Posted by: Kaz | August 31, 2009 11:04 PM

Thanks for your unbiased article and revealing the true situation in the IDP camps. It is the time now to appreciate or acknowledge the tremendous help offered to IDPs by the SL government and the ordinary Sinhalese.

I know that many Sinhalese workers offered part of their salaries to help IDPs. It is now time to focus on racial harmony rather than hatred. In regards to the Tamil Diaspora, majority of them are opportunists. They never worried about poor Tamil people. They encouraged the war for their own selfishness.

Great work Dr Rajasingham.

Posted by: Kumar | September 1, 2009 04:01 AM

The recent circular of Jehan Perera of NPC looks more realistic: I.E

“It needs to be recognised that the focus on national security and on Sinhalese nationalism is the core feature of the present government and its success.

In these circumstances it is unlikely that all displaced persons will be resettled any time soon or given the freedom to move wherever they want. Similarly the devolution of power to the north and east is unlikely to go beyond the present constitutional arrangements for the foreseeable future.

The forces of ethnic Sinhalese nationalism now make the argument that the gains of war, obtained through the sacrifice of Sinhalese soldiers, should not be surrendered through the stroke of a pen by granting greater devolution of power to the Tamil majority areas
-Jehan Perera"

Posted by: Ratnam Ganesh | September 1, 2009 11:24 AM

The article reproduced below appeared in the Colombo Post (now defunct) in December'2007 and was reproduced in Karainet.com. My position as stated in this rticle remain unchanged. However, the LTTE is no longer a player and the north-east merger has been anulled by the Supreme Court. These new realities have to be taken into account in our current approach.

A new leadership has to evolve from among the Tamils that is as much as possible divorced from the remnants of he lingering old leadership and is capable of charting a imginative new course along the lines I have outlined in the artcle reproduced below and also outlined in my recent 'Dreams' article. However, current realities dictate that overwhelming priority be given by the Tamils to bring back their community back to life.

Is this a new beginning?
Monday, 17 December 2007

Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

There are expectations that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which introduced a
new tier of government at the provincial level in 1987, will be implemented in full. The
President is expected to announce this soon. Although the circumstances have changed in
the past twenty years and the IPKF, which was inducted to guarantee its implementation,
is long gone, the full implementation of the 13th Amendment could provide a new
beginning in unravelling the debilitating communal conflict in Sri Lanka. What evolves
out of the APRC process, provided there is political support at the highest levels for it,
could augment and make the 13th Amendment more relevant to the present circumstances.
This is an opportunity to catch up with time, unwisely lost on several occasions.
Doubts are likely to be expressed in many quarters of how sincere and committed the
government would be in its full implementation.

The likelihood of the Sri Lankan government sabotaging the 13th Amendment once again,
with the connivance of the LTTE would be a serious concern, if it were agreeing to its
rejuvenation, only because of pressure from India and other international players. Further,
what is not yet known is whether the original version agreed with India will be resurrected
and the North-East merger restored. Although there are indications that the long awaited
police powers are to be granted to the Provincial Councils, the President had expressed
serious misgivings about this in the past.

Mahinda Rajapaksa will be doing our nation a favour history will never forget, if he could
take this bold step and see it through with sincerity and conviction. The Interim Council
for the north-east that has to be invariably appointed should consist of a council of elders -
Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese - with proven abilities, unimpeachable credentials and the
sense of purpose to oversee the transition from chaos and violence to rule of law and
peace. The international community should do all it can to support this process. The Sri
Lankan government should judiciously harness this support to sort out the intractable
problem that has besieged us for decades.

The LTTE is likely to be a formidable obstruction to this process, and may be even
encouraged by the government to do so, given what transpired during the Premadasa
regime. It is time the LTTE realizes that Tamil public opinion is turning against it,
because of its inability to adapt to circumstances. The aspirations of the Tamils are not
what they were when militancy reared its head. Time has swept away many of the
grievances of the past and made them irrelevant, although the wounds have yet not fully
healed. Plenty of unforeseen new problems have befallen the Tamils now and these are
much worse than those we were agitated by in the past.

A new generation lacking an in-depth understanding of the circumstances that led to
Tamil resistance is coming of age, while the generation that bore the brunt of the events of
1948 to 1983 is slowly, but surely fading out. Some of this new generation sees only evil
in the past, with nothing redeeming to look back to and they are with the LTTE. Others,
having experienced the destruction, fear, misery, suffering and death around them are
more interested in surviving as human beings, more than as Tamils. The latter viewpoint
is preponderant at present. There are many in the Tamil Diaspora, who have the resources,
influence and a lingering angst from the past to continue backing the LTTE. The majority
in the Diaspora is however likely to be amenable to treading a new course provided there
is a chance the end result is just, reasonable and honest.

We Tamils have to acknowledge the problems in our backyard – the serious depletion of
men and women of ability and experience in our ranks, the brutality and criminality that
has afflicted the LTTE, the multitude of para-military groups that are preying on us, and
the decadence afflicting us. We have to be realistic and cease living forever in a past, that
was no doubt brutal and unfair in the extreme. The Tamil Diaspora particularly, although
living physically in various adoptive countries, is yet mentally imprisoned in the towns
and villages in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Although materially prosperous, this
Diaspora is irrelevant in a social context and distressed by the alienation of children from
traditions and cultures it yet remembers and values. It sees the Sri Lankan government and
the Sinhala people as responsible for its unfortunate plight. Restoring a long gone past is
its dream. These sentiments are exploited by the LTTE through its call for
Normalization’- a vague concept- prior to engaging in substantive talks.

‘Normalization’ describes a state of mind in which a large number of Tamils dwell in the
pre-independence past. It is a demand, which can never be defined or specified. It is a
state of mind that refuses to accept reality and tries to revert to a past consisting of
selective memories of what is supposed to have been glorious. In this state of mind, fading
memories are clung on to at the expense of the clarity the present represents. The LTTE
uses this primordial weakness as a weapon to keep the Tamils in its thrall like sheep. The
extremists among the Tamils pull the strings of suffering and frustration, to present a case
for ‘Normalization’, whenever some Tamils try to break free of this mental bondage and
deal with the reality of a ‘United’ Sri Lanka. They will kill, torture and slander, to ensure
that this concept of ‘Normalization’ continues to pull at the heart and purse strings of the
Tamils. The ‘Pongu Thamil’ events orchestrated by the LTTE during the last ‘Real’
ceasefire period, represent this concept of normalization. The ultimate political objective
of this normalization process is to keep the pot boiling.

These extremists would have us believe that working towards a solution other than Eelam
will somehow make life worse for the Tamils, than it already is. The Tamils, both in Sri
Lanka and the Diaspora, have to learn to face reality and deal with it. We were reputed to
be hardheaded realists and this underscored our success in an age long gone by, under
both adverse and favourable circumstances. We have to become hardheaded realists once
again. The Sri Lankan government - irrespective of our labelling it ‘Sinhala’- is a reality
we have to live with forever, however unacceptable its behaviour has been in the past.
If
we are not willing to accept this fact and deal with it in an intelligent manner, the alternate
reality would be the decimation of the Tamils as a people - in numbers, identity, culture
and areas of dwelling - with the passage of time. The latter reality is unfolding at an
accelerating pace right now. We do not have the time, numbers, stamina or the external
circumstances on our side. To ignore these would be to our peril. We have to learn to find
the formula to live with the Sinhalese in a ‘United’ Sri Lanka, in our own self-interest. We
have to help the Sinhala people change Sri Lanka for the better, instead of fighting them.
We have to also do this fast, before the world forgets us as Tamils and Sri Lanka as a
nation.

The LTTE has to fall in line with this trend of thinking, which is finding an increasing
number of adherents among Tamils with each passing day, and change its course. The
Sinhala people by large are now ready to deal with us fairly, provided they are not
threatened as individuals and as a people. We should be able to live as equal citizens in Sri
Lanka, with security and dignity. We should have equal opportunities based on our merit
and abilities. We should be able to manage our affairs to the greatest extent possible in
areas where we are preponderant, within a ‘United’ Sri Lanka. We should be given a
significant say in the affairs of Sri Lanka as a people. We should have the space to
preserve and advance our identity as a distinct people, within an over-arching Sri Lankan
identity. These are the basic requisites for settling the long-running communal conflict,
and the 13th Amendment paves the way for this to happen. Let us focus on realizing these
without wasting any further time on semantics and futile dreams. The LTTE, accompanied
by a change in its nomenclature and mores, should be a part of this process and play an
important role. It has earned this right, despite its many failings and follies.

Peace must be restored in the lives of Tamils and all other Sri Lankans. The Tamils have
to rebuild their lives from ground up, towards a future that will be a blessing for all Sri
Lankans. The Tamils in Sri Lanka need the help of the Diaspora, the Sinhala people and
the world at large to do so. The Sinhalese have to wean themselves from the distraction of
this communal conflict and civil war to work towards a better-governed nation. The
Sinhalese have to work patiently and intently towards defusing the Tamil militancy in a
rational, sensible manner. The Sinhalese are the majority and will always be the over
whelming majority in Sri Lanka. To see ghosts where there is none is madness. Sinhalese
must learn to treat the Tamils as an asset rather than a threat.

Tiny Singapore has 115 billion U.S dollars as reserves and is a respected and progressive
nation in the world. What are we today, despite our brave postures and talk of a history
going back into the mists of time? We are a basket case internationally and fast on track to
become a Somalia or Zimbabwe, unless we take bold remedial actions now. Let us once
again hope miracles can unfold even in Sri Lanka and we will soon have a new beginning.
Hope has to spring eternal in the human breast!

(The writer, having obtained his Ph.D from the University of Guelph in Canada, was
a Lecturer at the University of Peradeniya and Associate professor at the King Faisal
University in Saudi Arabia.)

Posted by: Dr.R. Narendran | September 4, 2009 07:15 PM

The North-East merger flowed from the Indo-Lanka Accord and was a solemn agreement between two sovereign governments calculated to overcome an impasse that drained the resources of the Island for many decades. Though contentious, the highest legal entities here pronounced on the agreement after much deliberation - only after which the polity made it part of the statute through due parliamentary process. It was an activist high judicial officer, whose rise to the top itself was premature and controversial, who sullied the judiciary and brought it into the realm of party politics. His connivance to abrogate the main feature of the IL accord to please the majoritarian religious extremist cabal was commented upon adversely. Some of his more controversial judgements are now being reviewed. Many of them centered on vengeance both of a personal and political nature. At any rate, there has been so much of water that had flowed down the river since 1987 the features of the accord can no longer serve the desired purpose. They need to be re-structured and strengthened if sharing of power with the Tamils in the NEP is going to be an instrument through which unity, peace and harmony to the Tamil people can be guaranteed to prevent them from agitating for separation once again. There can be no debate or let on this.

ISS

Posted by: Ilaya Seran Senguttuvan | September 4, 2009 08:25 PM

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