Tamils of Sri Lanka are at a point in history when we have to:
1. Honestly, dispassionately and objectively view the past and draw the correct inferences.
2. Envision a future that takes into account current realities. The most significant of these being the enfeebled state of the indigenous Tamils (of the north and east) and expectations of extensive devolution of powers to the north and east are a pipe dream.
A review of the past can only point to the bitter truth that we as a people are much worse off than we were when the so-called liberation struggle-the violent phase- commenced in the 1970s. The peaceful agitations in the early years after independence and the violent struggle thereafter, have not brought us any relief. The armed struggle set many precedents on a world scale in terms of cruelty, depravity, tactics, weaponry, and creativity. Yet, we did not get anywhere. The Sri Lankan state as it is constituted will never grant the degree of autonomy or political powers hitherto demanded by the Tamils. It will be almost impossible to get anything beyond those envisaged in the 13th amendment. A bifurcated north and east is also a reality that has to be accepted. Even the claim to exclusive rights to what we considered our traditional lands has become untenable due to the serious decline in our numbers. Lesson: We have to use what is already available to benefit our people the greatest extent, without hankering after the impossible.
We have to adjust ourselves to these realities and forge a future within boundaries dictated by these realities. We have to aim to be a prosperous and vibrant community that wields considerable powers behind the Throne but does not seek to flaunt this power. We have to learn much from the Jewish people in the USA
In my opinion the short and medium term priorities for the Tamils in Sri Lanka (especially in the north and east) are:
1. Resettlement and rehabilitation of those affected by the civil war.
2. Return of those who have voluntarily scattered to various parts of the Island, to their original habitations in the north and east.
3. Safety and security issues- as the LTTE and other paramilitary groups are bound to be a menace for some time (up to five years). This will require accepting a heavy Sri Lankan military presence for at least this duration.
4. Re-building infra- structure
5. A three year interval for political processes to be restored, under whatever arrangement that comes about through negotiations.
6. ‘Interim Governing Councils ‘for the north and east with non-political appointees of high caliber and wide powers to oversee the transformation process.
7. To forge an all-encompassing political identity for the Tamil-speaking people living in Sri Lanka- indigenous Tamils, Muslims and Tamils of Indian origin
8. Build bridges to the majority Sinhala population
9. Renounce separatism and the slogans associated with this without any ambiguity and qualifications.
10. Get involved to a greater extent in national politics and the concerns of all people in Sri Lanka.
11. Create mechanisms to channel the resources available with the Tamil Diaspora to serve high priority areas in the re-building, rehabilitation and development activities.
12. Encourage the return of members of the Diaspora to serve the community.
We are a people on our knees in Sri Lanka, with regard to numbers, misery, and many well known socio-economic and cultural parameters. Our situation is absolutely pathetic to say the least. We have to first stand up and get our bearings before we can talk about empowerment and even our rights. Most people living in the north and east will say in utter disgust,”Engalai nimathiyaai irrukavittaal poethum”. These people have borne the brunt of the war and its aftermath and are in such a state of despair and hopelessness now, they only desire the right to be alive. We will be people living on charity and handouts for a long time to come. There is no alternative to swallowing our pride and quietly working towards recovering our heritage and strength.
The Sinhala polity should be given the time and space to dissipate their euphoria re the victory over the LTTE. They are savoring the repeat of the victory of Dutu Gemunu over Ellalan !! This is a passing phase and is encouraged by the government to make short term political gain. The Sinhala people as a whole are decent, kind and compassionate. It is their political masters who make trouble! We should reach out to the Sinhala people and neutralize the Sinhala extremists. We have to find ways and means of living with each other in the island, with a mutual sense of accommodation, respect, and harmony. We should not pose a threat to the Sinhalese as a people and their strong belief that the Island is theirs. We have to emphasize that the island belongs to all citizens and it is territorially indivisible while being a linguistic and cultural mosaic.
I am personally very concerned the ‘Scum’ who have fed like maggots on us during the long years of the war, will now jockey to occupy the space vacated by the LTTE, if farcical political processes are restored immediately. One can see this phenomenon in operation in the east. One can already see people positioning themselves for a repeat of this in the north. This should be fought tooth and nail. This is the major concession we should demand from the government.
Tamils have to develop a broad vision as to what we want to be in relation to the rest of Sri Lanka, while preserving our distinctive identity. This debate/ discussion should start immediately among the Tamils and with the Sinhalese. We have to make a new beginning, with a completely different vision. If we do not know where we want to go or are yet confused as to where we should go, we will never get there! This vision must be realistic in the current context and fall within the concept of a united Sri Lanka.
I think we should listen to what the government delegates have to say. We should let these delegates know that we are a different breed, ready to talk a different language in our dealings.
The Singapore (now Colombo) meeting should be the first step in pursuing a meaningful dialogue with the government and developing an alternative political and societal leadership among the Tamils. The Mahinda Rajapakse government will stay in power for a second term (his family may be in power for much longer!) and this fact has to be taken account of in our thoughts and dealings.
I welcome the idea that we should get to know each other prior to the meeting with the government and exchange ideas. We should be able to identify at least common goals while having a continuing debate on how to achieve these. Further, it is important that the delegates recognize ground realities and understand the wishes of the Tamil people in various areas and at different levels of society in Sri Lanka.
The facts that our position as a people is different, the Sinhala people are different and Sri Lankan economy and socio-economic structures are different to what the situation was when our struggle began, should be recognized. Much water has flowed under the bridge. If we continue to talk the old, worn out, discredited and now irrelevant language, we will not gain anything from the forthcoming meeting.
If we do not change our objectives and tactics immediately, the Tamil people will be doomed forever completely. We have become a manageable minority, as a former governor of the Central Bank once envisaged. If we do not change course, we will become a species on the verge of extinction. The immediate objective is the preservation of a people, a culture, a heritage, and the claims to equal ownership of the island!