A statement issued by 50 university teachers during the run-up to the Provincial Council elections of November 1988
University of Jaffna.
October end, 1988.
On 17 September 1988, the Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit held meetings with various sectors of the Jaffna public, at the Jaffna Kachcheri.
The gist of his message was: The only sane and pragmatic option for the Tamils is to participate in the forthcoming Provincial Council elections for the provisionally merged North-Eastern Province. This would help to fill the political vacuum and sort out thorny issues like land settlement. An elected Provincial Council would make devolution a reality and peace a possibility.
On the surface, his thesis sounds cogent. But does it correspond to the ground realities?
Is people's participation in the so-called electoral process a possibility today?
Free and fair elections presuppose an atmosphere where people can make up their minds without being pressurised at gunpoint - whoever holds the gun.
What is the reality today? We know that neither individuals nor community organisations can effectively raise their voices against the many human rights violations that continually take place today. People live in fear. They live unsure of their destiny, in terrorised silence - thanks to the acts of omission and commission by the I.P.K.F. and the various armed militant groups. The run-up to the nominations made the situation worse. Almost daily, revenge killings are taking place; innocent middle-aged civilians - both men and women - have been amongst the victims. In many instances the Indian Peace Keeping Force's complicity is well known. No one has the means or the courage to protest - mostly in fear of the I.P.K.F. and the dominant militant groups. In view of such a situation, for India to exhort full participation in what is portrayed as free and fair elections is a parody; especially because India itself is partly responsible for creating such political conditions in the community over the past five years.
Indian involvement as an instrument in marginalising the people could be traced back to 1983, when India armed the militant groups. Criminal acts by some of them, which included a large number of murders on Indian soil, went calculatedly unchecked. Though India was the common patron of all the groups, divisions and antagonisms between the various groups, grew at a rapid pace, culminating in annihilations.
Thus it seems not incorrect to presume that India's own interests were being served by maintaining these divisions. The militant groups became large military organisations, accountable to different interests, including clandestine state agencies in India. The people had virtually no check over the activities of the groups. The rate and scale of killings in the community and in the atmosphere created by these, made people live in terror, and left them with little choice but to become passive on-lookers. Thus this past, as well as the present, calls into question India's own claims about its intentions to produce a viable democratic political process.
However, even if elections could be technically held, whom can Tamils elect as their representatives? Given the present state of divisions and volatility, it is hard to think of anyone who could function as representatives of the people - rather than as rulers. The future of elections will be decided by the manner in which India and the different groups perceive their own interests. The outcome of elections cannot resolve problems arising from habits that have been exacerbated by the prevalence of murder and assassination. Until the emotions arising from this situation have been curbed and people are able to speak out freely, elections will not be welcomed with any degree of enthusiasm.
It must be mentioned that the generality of Tamils held India in very high regard. There were the links of religion and culture. The leaders of the Indian independence struggle had a devoted following here. Furthermore, in recent times, Tamils owed much gratitude to India for the succour and refuge it provided for Tamils fleeing the state-sponsored violence in Sri Lanka. India also did a great deal to expose the Sri Lankan state's racism internationally. But things changed rapidly from October 1987.
The erosion of confidence in India amongst the Tamils is the result of hundreds of civilians - men, women and children - being killed by the Indian army during the closing months of 1987; and the mounting toll of disappeared, and victims of torture and deaths in custody, continuing unabated to the present day. When such brutal realities are brushed aside and India is able to speak in paternalistic and threatening tones, the community should realize its own position of weakness. The Tamils should be aware of the problems of relying on India to guarantee peace. It is fairly clear that the present elections as a key for a better future for the community is in serious doubt. What is the alternative? It would be irresponsible as well as fatalistic, just to make pronouncements of powerlessness of the people and lay all the blame on Indian involvement. Such a position would not allow the community to extricate itself from the morass it is in and would amount to empty India bashing. This would still leave the initiative and controlling influence in the hands of external forces.
We have to examine not only our relations with the Indian and Sri Lankan states, but also ourselves. Our obeisance to terror within the community, and our opportunism and lack of principles in the face of many internal killings, have made it easy for external forces to use the same weapons to control us. In the face of our acquiescence to anti-democratic tendencies within the community, our plea for democracy becomes a meaningless exercise. Many individuals and young persons who voiced criticism of the political forces have been victimised, driven away, or killed while we looked on.
Thus if the people are to regain their lost self-will and dignity, they will have to move towards a principled collective response. We have to assert universal values to which we are both emotionally and intellectually committed.
It is the lack of such commitment that enabled us to come to terms with murder, when it concerned others' sons, and, then, watch helplessly in panic when the cancer, allowed to grow, threatened our own sons. We are now paying the price for our past indifference.
When we look back, there are two aspects to our failing to stand up collectively - as people, as professionals, as institutions or as ordinary workers belonging to unions. First, we were confused about fundamental principles and failed to reach any working agreement. The second is the fear that if one stood up, the person next may let one down, thus placing one in danger. Consequently, a few isolated threats, real or imagined, or even the hint of a gun, have sufficed to close down institutions. We have further dehumanised ourselves by losing a sense of pride in work and service by allowing these to become secondary.
How do we assert ourselves as people when no one dare take a stand on the many pressing issues? As individuals or small groups in our neighbourhoods, places of work, unions or associations, we must question our past, understand where we went wrong, and rediscover our principles. We must be conscious of the message of past experience, that in standing up for others we also stand up for ourselves. This course requires courage; and, no other is open to us. We have tried to play safe in the past. The result was mass murder from several sources. Non-combatant civilians too became unarmed front-line troops facing the wrath of advancing armies.
The future looks even more bleak, with the rapid growth and consolidation in southern Sri Lanka of forces of narrow political vision. This opens the door for further involvement by external forces. Let us not remain forever unprepared and continue trapped in the logic of passivity - hoping against hope that someone else will bring us deliverance.
This statement was signed by a large number of academics from the University of Jaffna. Given below are those who had signed it up to 31 October, 1988.
01. V. Arumugam (Education)
02. K. K. Arulvel
03. Miss. S. Arulanantham
04. Balachandran (Geography)
05. P. Balasundarampillai (Professor of Geography)
06. A. J. Canagaratna (English)
07. V. K. Ganeshalingam (Professor of Zoology)
08. P. Gopalakrishnan
09. M. R. R. Hoole (Mathematics)
10. Miss. S. Indradevi
11. S. Kandiah (Botany)
12. Mrs. P. Kanthasamy (Linguistics)
13. K. Kugabalan
14. A. Kanapathypillai (Geography)
15. Miss. K. Kandasamy
16. R. Kailainathan
17. P. Makinan (Mathematics)
18. M. A. Numan (Linguistics)
19. P. Pusparatnam
20. S. V. Parameswaran (Professor of Physiology)
21. N. Perinpanathan (Ecconomics)
22. Rev. G. F. Rajendran (Zoology)
23. R. Rajmohan (Philosophy)
24. K. Rupamoorthy (Geography)
25. S. T. B. Rajeswaran
26. N. Sivapalan (Chemistry)
27. A. M. T. Savarimuttu (Botany)
28. R. V. S. Sundaresan (Botany)
29. K. Sritharan (Mathematics)
30. Mrs. N. Selvarajah (Zoology)
31. S. K. Sitrampalam (History)
32. Miss. C. Sinnarajah (Hindu Civilization)
33. V. Sivasamy (Sanskrit)
34. A. Sanmugadas (Tamil/Linguistics,Assoc. Professor)
35. S. G. Sivagurunathan (English)
36. J. Sathiadas (Statistics)
37. G. M. Sebastiampillai (Sociology)
38. S. Sathiaseelan
39. Miss. S. Subathirai
40. M. Shanmugalingam
41. R. Sivachandran (Geography)
42. Miss. A. Saverimuttu (English)
43. A. Thurairajah (Professor of Civil Engineering)
44. Mrs. R. Thiranagama (Anatomy)
45. W. Venkatesh (Zoology)
46. P. Vinobaba (Zoology)
47. Mrs. C. Vamadeva (Hindu Civilization)
48. M. Vedanathan
49. Miss. V. Veeragathy (English)
50. Miss. S. Vasuki (Philosophy)
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