Sri Lankan Tamils can no longer remain silent – They must now defend the nation

Shenali Waduge

Now is a good time for the Sri Lankan Tamils to finally break their silence. For far too long they have either been silenced or chosen to be silent. Silence has played a pivotal role in the lives of the Tamils throughout the conflict. Now they have the opportunity to start afresh with a new voice but they must silence all the voices that kept them silenced and finally speak out. Those who lived amongst the LTTE must come out and tell the truth. Those who were provided security by Sri Lanka’s armed forces must be honest and openly thank them. Those that the armed forces saved should not need to be asked how grateful they are for the men that braved LTTE guns to bring them to safety. The overdue gratitude is just a miniscule of what the armed forces deserve and no reconciliation can take place without that open gratitude. There should not be any pride in saying thank you to those that saved them.

It would be nice to hear from the Tamils for a change. They can travel freely they have recipients of developments never seen in 30 years!

We can understand their silence when the LTTE prevailed. We can understand how Tamils silently endured LTTE terror but we know that much of that terror was inflicted on the Tamils living with the LTTE whilst for other Tamils it was because they had to contribute monetarily and by other support to the LTTE. We know that the Tamils had to silence endure as objections would have been fatal. We also know that Tamils also silently accepted all that their Tamil politicians said and did and kept voting for them inspite of their allegiance to the LTTE. Do Tamils not wish to question the TNA politicians why they are not speaking on behalf of the Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen who are being harassed and why their silence equates to them siding with the Indian fishermen? For 30 years the voice of the Tamil people was silenced because of their fright. Some would say that being silent benefited them as today close to a million now live overseas all contributing to their families back home.

A conflict lasting 30 years cannot be explained in a few words. The backdrop and root causes go back to colonial rule when Western invaders introduced a minority-preferred social system that would purposely discriminate the majority natives by dividing them as majority/minority. Thus it was the west that differentiated people and having sown the seeds of future conflicts they now claim to have the solutions! Complicating matters further was the colonials bringing in large numbers of foreign labor from India that created an imbalance in population figures with Indian Tamils being more than Sri Lankan Tamils at independence.

It is an opportune time for the Tamils to honestly admit that:

· It was wrong to demand 50-50 representation at independence though Indian Tamils numbered more than the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamil elite voted for their disenfranchisement in 1948.

· There was no conflict in 1949 between Sinhalese or Tamils for S J V Chelvanayagam to create the ITAK – Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Ceylon Tamil State Party) which was camouflaged by its English name – Federal Party.

· This was the 1st instance of Tamils politically preparing groundwork for a separate Tamil state

· Tamils must admit that even before independence, Chelvanayagam claimed in Parliament that Tamils had a right to secede and federate with an independent South India (1947) and this corresponded with the formation of the DMK party in South India by Prof. Appadurai – “”Ceylon is already semi-Tamil and when Ceylon comes under their rule, the envisaged Tamil Free State will possess the best Tamil harbour in the World, Trincomalee.” So Tamils mooted a sinister campaign to secede from Sri Lanka since 1947 onwards to create a separate Tamil state uniting South India. Tamils need to now admit this fact and we wonder how many were aware of this eventual grand plan but more importantly how many Tamils actually subscribe to a Tamil Eelaam state?

· Tamils need to admit that to create the existence of a historical “Tamil Homeland” in Sri Lanka it was necessary to draw up geographical boundaries and a distortion of information and history was launched

· Did the Vaddukkodai Resolution in May 1972 not emerge from that distortion of history claiming “Sinhalese inhabiting the interior parts of the country in its Southern and Western parts from the river Walawe to that of Chilaw and the Tamils possessing the Northern and the Eastern Districts…..and the declaration that Tamil Eelaam would be Northern and Eastern provinces” – misinterpreting British colonial secretary Cleghorn to support their claim? The Government of Sri Lanka needs to put the Tamil homeland myth to rest. To do so it is advised to demand historical evidence to prove and support this claim instead of loosely using these slogans as the Tamil politicians now do making generations of Tamils think there was a Tamil homeland when there never was. Deceitfully created historical ambiguities must be immediately corrected and quell all doubts.

Discrimination – Riots – “Ethnic”

The minorities and the elite Christian converted Sinhalese and Tamils need to all admit that it was the Sinhalese Buddhists who suffered discrimination the most ever since the arrival of the colonials. It is the inability to address these imbalances that continue to haunt the nation but these discriminations cannot be forgotten and need to be addressed.

The Tamils give 3 examples of riots in Sri Lanka though 3 examples with the last taking place 30 years back does not merit Tamils to apply for a separate state given that most of those who were affected by the riots used that to go as refugees and eventually become permanent citizens in the West while scores of others continue to apply as economic refugees. Tamils must admit that many Tamils falsely related tales of discrimination at the foreign embassies to leave Sri Lanka to western shores as refugees though these very Tamils remain good friends of the Sinhalese still.

Thus, Tamils need to admit that

· The riots of 1958 started on account of the killing of a Seneviratne family by Tamils and Tamil politicians getting Tamils to refuse to carry “Sri” on the car plates. Prime Minister Bandaranaike had pleaded with the media not to make public the news of the killing knowing it would create friction. The writings of Tarzie Wittachchi, the Buddhist Commission report, the book by F N D Jilla Sudt of Police would elaborate further.

· 1977 riots – M C Sansoni, former Chief Justice who headed the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the 1977 riots stated that it was the “Eelam” demand by the TULF that caused the disturbances and recommended that Tamil politicians drop the claim for an Eelaam.

· The 1983 riots known as Black July is said to have started after 13 soldiers killed by the LTTE were brought for burial to Colombo. The riots had nothing to do with the public – it was they who protected the Tamils. Tamils have yet to openly thank and acknowledge this fact publicly and now is a good time to do so. Tamils need to set the story straight once and for all. They cannot be silent on this important date because it is unnecessarily humiliating the Sinhalese for no reason. The situation went out of hand when scores of thugs (they were of all ethnic groups) interested in looting rather than feeling any sadness for the dead soldiers and probably with external forces also contributing led to the deaths of close to 1000 Tamils and destruction and looting of property though the President made sure his Tamil friends and favored areas were untouched.

· What people need to remember is that it was the UNP Government that was responsible for 1983 yet Tamils continue to vote for the UNP. If Tamils are so angered by what happened in 1983 why would they continue to vote for the UNP and the same people who were holding posts in that Government? It is during the UNP Government rule that most of the ugly incidents quoted have happened. Moreover, inspite of finding fault with the armed forces Tamils even went on to vote for the former army commander when he contested as presidential candidate. We would like for the Tamils to answer why they vote the UNP while at the same time use examples of discriminations which were instigated by the UNP?

Tamils need to also admit that when Tamil political groups were requested to specify “Tamil problems” in 1984 at the All Party Conference they refused claiming they would solve their problems after creating a separate state.

Did the Tamils solve their problems when they did have a defacto separate state under a Tamil with its own police, its own post office and stamps, its own court system, own currencies and coins? Did Prabakaran solve the problems of the Tamils in the 30 years that he ruled the areas under his control? If so why was it that it was the GOSL that had to send essential provisions, medicines, fuel etc whilst LTTE was making USD300million annually but chose not to make a single road, school, hospital except bunkers, swimming pools for themselves?

Why do the Tamils not openly say how they suffered under the LTTE? They do not need to be silent any longer. The low-caste poor Tamils had to give their children not any Tamil living in Colombo. It was the low-caste poor Tamils who were turned into human suicide bombs – not Tamils in Colombo. A good look at LTTE cadres would reveal how LTTE handpicked from the low-caste and poor while the higher positions in the LTTE were held by elite and with the Christian influence through various foreign governments/NGOs/INGOs LTTE went on to give up their Hindu faith and convert to Christianity.

Many of us are still baffled that Sri Lanka’s conflict has been described as “ethnic” – Tamils have not suffered in Sri Lanka as the blacks suffered in the US, UK or in South Africa. The only basis for concern perhaps is administrative issues following the Sinhala Only policy of 1956 which was an issue for Sinhalese who had studied in English too but it was a non-starter. As for the disenfranchisement of Indian estate Tamils – the Indians numbered far more than the Sri Lankan Tamils throughout colonial rule and would have remained so had not they been repatriated. They were labor brought by the British to serve their advantage. Though Tamils use this as an excuse all the Tamil elite representing Ceylon Tamils voted for the bills repatriating Indian Tamils in 1948. Today, estate Tamils are excluded from all issues put forward by the TNA politicians. The standardization is also brought up as another grievance though realistically it paved the way for less privileged children to gain education.

Where is the Discrimination?

· Can Tamils in Sri Lanka admit that even India with 65million Tamils has not denoted Tamils in the national flag as seen in the orange for Tamils?

· Can Tamils admit that all public documents (marriage certificates, death certificates, immigration forms etc) are denoted in Tamil including currency/notes,

· Can Tamils admit that public events are all presented in Sinhalese, Tamil and English including the national lottery shown on television.

· Can Tamils admit that in the capital Colombo the Sinhalese comprise just 24% and Tamils and Muslims own more property, land and business ventures in the heart of Colombo?

· Can Tamils claim that discrimination experienced by the blacks in South Africa, UK and US was ever experienced by Tamils in Sri Lanka? Did they have to stand in different queues, did they have to step aside and give their bus seats as the blacks had to do in these Western countries? Do restaurants deny entry to them though low caste Tamils were denied entry by the high caste Tamils.

· Can Tamils claim they are discriminated from indulging in sports or even to represent the country at national levels because they are Tamil?

The 1978 Constitution/Article 18 was amended by the 13th amendment declaring Sinhala and Tamil official language while Article 19 declares both as national languages and both are the languages of administration under 16th amendment/Article 22 and under Article 24 both can be used in Courts throughout Sri Lanka. Hiccups like a Sinhalese receiving a letter in Tamil or a Tamil receiving a state letter in Sinhalese is the fault of the officer handling and not the Government though mechanisms to ensure hiccups don’t arise need to be looked into. These are no grounds to claim a separate state.

Discrimination by Tamils against Tamils

· Will a separate Tamil homeland solve the rigid caste system that prevails amongst Tamils? To a great extent the caste divide was curtailed by the LTTE for selfish reasons but even inside the refugee camps the differences was visible and accounted for much of the skirmishes that arose.

· Did the LTTE not start their terror by killing the Tamil Mayor of Jaffna – Alfred Duraiappa? Did LTTE not kill Tamil policeman, politicians, academics, public servants, clergy, civil society leaders all numbering over 250 learned Tamils?

· Can the Tamils admit that it was in view of these caste and class dynamics that Tamil politicians opposed when the Bandaranaike Government introduced the Social Disabilities Prevention Act 21 in 1957. Tamils need to admit that the elite Tamils objected because the Bill enabled low caste Tamil children to gain education yet these Tamil children had to sit on the floor and study.

When the standardization was introduced was it not the elite amongst the Tamils and Sinhalese who objected because it entailed children of less privileged districts/provinces to enter university? Tamils must admit that they (elite Tamils) were enjoying a disproportionate number of university seats and their objection was because rural Tamils were to benefit from the new standardization scheme which was abandoned by 1978/9. In 1982, 35% of doctors,35% of engineers, 33% of accountants, 39% of veterinary surgeons, and 30% of the surveyors were Sri Lankan Tamils.

Tamils need to admit that if there was discrimination there would be no lawyers, accountants, doctors, academics who are Tamil especially those holding key portfolios – the Tamils cannot deny the many Tamils who have made a name for themselves and that the Sinhalese remain indebted to late Lakshman Kadiragamar Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister who was shot dead by the LTTE while the 2002 ceasefire was in effect.

To be qualified to accuse others of discrimination shouldn’t Tamils not discriminate against their own? When Tamil elites do not allow lowcaste Tamils to enter a kovil to pray where is the human rights?

When Tamils are asking for the “disappeared” why do they not ask the LTTE fronts and the TNA about the children taken forcibly by the LTTE? Do we know how many the LTTE forcibly conscripted? To know the numbers the Tamils must break their silence and come forward to name every child taken and every man/woman who “volunteered”.

Tamil “grievances”

· 1956 introduction of the Sinhala Only policy is given prominence as core reason for discrimination. Can Tamils admit that it was the elite English educated Christian converted Tamils and Sinhalese who were affected by this policy having to learn Sinhala. Moreover, it was impractical to run a country wherein the majority of the population were not literate in English therefore it made sense to use the language of the majority – Sinhala though Tamil was allowed to operate as an administrative language and Tamils could also educate their children in Tamil. However, propaganda has unnecessarily downplayed the realities of the Sinhala Only policy while in 1978 Tamil (2.4million of a 20million population) was recognized as a national language though India with 65million Tamils are still to enjoy half as much that the Tamils enjoy in Sri Lanka.

· Accusations of “colonization” – colonization is a reference to invaders. A Government elected is by law entitled to rule the entire nation. Opposition politicians have no entitlement to declare areas their own and promote a grievance of “colonization”. When Tamil politicians use influence to deny other communities from settling where they want it is the duty of the Government to interfere and assist these people. If Tamils claim the North is their “area” why are they continuously buying property and taking up residence in Colombo and outskirts?

Did the Dutch assisted law known as “Thesavalami” not prohibit low caste Tamils to own property that belonged to elite high caste Tamils?

As for the final stages of the conflict the Tamils need to admit that

· LTTE herded them to be used as human shields/hostages and as combatants

· LTTE kept Tamil civilians in underground bunkers and shot at the army so that retaliation fire would result in civilian deaths. It is an international HR violation to use civilians and LTTE is accountable.

· LTTE refused to accept numerous calls to lay down arms and surrender

· LTTE declared the civilians were voluntarily with them turning civilians into combatants and thus denying them rights under civilians in an armed conflict.

· Tamil civilians need to accept that the military used various means of communication (dropping Tamil leaflets, loudspeakers etc) to ask them to move to the areas that were declared safe.

· Tamils cannot shy away from thanking the armed forces for saving approximately 295,000 at the cost of over 5000 military lives. In an armed conflict and war declared and if civilians are said to be combatants the army does not require to be exercising any humanitarian rescue operation. By virtue that they did deserves far more credit than they are getting – the US/NATO would not think of compromising their soldiers to safe any Iraqi, Libyan, Afghan civilian.

· The Tamil people need to break their silence and admit that the LTTE fired at them when they attempted to flee, they must give instances of how LTTE illtreated them denying food and water and confiscating the foot/essentials sent for the civilians by the Govt.

· Can Tamils in Sri Lanka admit that most of the Tamils demonstrating overseas are forced to and the numbers of demonstrators have declined because the LTTE is not around to threaten their families any more.

· Can Tamils also admit that the LTTE uses all types of evil ways to coerce Tamils to do what they want while others agree for the money that are given to them.

Instead of the Sinhalese always defending the nation given the realities and now that the armed forces has eliminated the force that stood between the Tamils, it would be really nice for the Tamils to support Sri Lanka instead of remaining silent and to acknowledge what the armed forces did should not have any pride factor involved especially when Sri Lanka is being bullied internationally.

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About noelnadesan

Commentator and analyst of current affairs.
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