Back to Main Page History Briefing Statements Bulletins Reports Special Reports Publications Links

Report 11



In tragic life, God wot, villain need be, passions spin the plot, We are betrayed by what is false within.

-George Meredith, From ‘Modern love.’

6.1 Muslims : Global fears and local implications

6.2 The bleeding community:

6.3 The proximity of death and its influence

6.4 The LTTE, Big Brother Politics and the East

6.5 Tamil Myths about Muslims

6.5.1 Land accumulation:

6.5.2 Muslims are monolithic, closed and conspiratorial:

6.5.3 Muslims deliberately engineer violence against Tamils and use for this an organisation called the Jihad. Muslims are informers.

6.6 Consequences of the Tamil outlook shaped by narrow nationalist Ideology

6.7 The home guard dilemma

6.8 Looking to the future


6.1          Muslims : Global fears and local implications

A leading Tamil religious figure in the East is said to have remarked privately,   “Muslims in the East feel more insecure than the Tamils”. But there is a general reluctance to say such things publicly and challenge myths about Muslims. Both the Tamil ideological outlook and the violence that is being done to Muslims in other parts of the world have conspired to lend an air of legitimacy to murder and expropriation that has been inflicted on   Muslims of the North-East. Bosnia is being carved up by two nominally Christian powers. Bosnian Muslims see the Western initiated arms embargo as having favoured the Serbs and the Croats. The US led Western powers now imposing a new world order, have failed to act convincingly to restrain its protégé Israel’s flagrant repression of Palestinians or to make it cede the territory acquired by force - or indeed aggression hatched in 1967 with US connivance. But Western military action against Iraq which in 1991 is said by aid workers to have claimed a large number of lives and recent air attacks are widely seen by analysts as having gone far beyond the ‘freeing of Kuwait’.In our neighbour India, the Ayodhya controversy had been brewing for some years and it was a time of great insecurity for her 100 million Muslims. The British foreign secretary Douglas Hurd during a visit to India late last year had declared a common cause with India in fighting Islamic fundamentalism without even understanding the precarious internal political environment. With all the injustice, hypocrisy and   resentment that is part of the world order, there appears to be a subtle hint that Muslims, who are being beaten everywhere are the main cause of ills. With the recent massacres of Muslims in the Eastern Province, it is hardly surprising if Muslims there see this as part of a global conspiracy against them, leading to an enhanced feeling of helplessness.

In essence the global political environment reinforces the anti-Muslim traits in Tamil ideology,  which in turn does not allow Tamils to see the disastrous implications of the politics based on that ideology. At the same time the global environment   reinforces the Muslim’s perception that they are being pushed around by every one. It leads them to believe that in order to survive, they need to assert themselves in whatever way they can.[Top]

6.2          The bleeding community:

In the context of the East, a person’s politics and outlook are not influenced by the proximity and consciousness of death alone, but more importantly by the perception of whether the future would bring hope and healing, or the same desultory tread of death.

From the end of 1984 the Sri Lankan forces began large scale massacres of Tamils in the East. Nearly all Tamil villages from Verugal to Muthur in the Trincomalee District were destroyed. A resident of Thirukkovil recounted the first army massacre in 1985. The army came along the main road after their training,in a convoy including armoured cars from the interior jungles. They entered  the twin villages of Thirukkovil and Thambiluvil shooting at anyone within sight. 120 mainly young were killed that day.

It was the same year that Tamil militants turned their guns on the Muslims. From mid - 1986 the LTTE in its rise to dominance began hunting down members of previously fraternal Tamil militant groups, excising the larger portion of the Tamil militant strength in the East. A direct result was the STF advance into Kokkadichcholai in January 1987 and a massacre of 120  civilians.

Members of both communities continued to die in reprisals during the IPKF presence. The anti- Muslim feeling among LTTE cadre surfaced in December 1987 in a massacre of 85 residents of Kattankudy. The redeployment by the IPKF of groups once decimated by the LTTE made anti - Muslim feeling one of the key elements in their competition with the LTTE, although the latter had to tactically rely on the Muslims in order to survive. For, during the IPKF presence the threat from the Sri Lankan state was marginalised. Killings, harassment and extortion of Muslim farmers in the Ampari District began on a much larger scale during the IPKF presence - albeit then by groups close to the IPKF .

As the IPKF withdrew in late 1989, the Tamil National Army (TNA ) conscripted by pro - IPKF groups surrendered to the LTTE in large numbers, many of whom were then massacred. No complete record of this is yet available. Once more 150 youth from Thirukkovil - Thambluvil went missing and are presumed killed - this time by the would be saviours of Tamils. They were TNA conscripts. Between 80 -120 members of the TNA were massacred and buried at Amirthakali at the end of Bar Road, Batticaloa.

Following the new outbreak of war in June 1990, the Sri Lankan forces set about massacring thousands of Tamils. Anti -Muslim feeling among LTTE cadre surfaced in massacres of Muslims at Kurrukkalmadam, Kattankudy, Eravur and more recently in the Polonnaruwa District. Each incident claimed   about 100 or more civilians. Tamils were also killed in reprisals by Muslims in smaller numbers.[Top]

6.3          The proximity of death and its influence

One need not be selective in moving around in the Eastern province to discover that sudden death has been close to ordinary people- a cousin or an uncle when not in the immediate family. Our reports have recorded statements of people who have experienced all manner of death - widows of breadwinners killed by the armed forces, the mother of a missing TNA conscript, a Muslim intellectual from Eravur, most members of whose extended family were killed by the LTTE [Special Report 3, Reports 7 and 8] . During normal conversation, one suddenly finds that behind a placid face there lurks a deep tragedy.

An old lady in Thirikkovil had one of her sons gunned down by the STF in 1985 while getting about his normal business. Another son Stanislaus Yovan, a cultivation officer, who went to the fields was detained in 1985 and released from Boosa in 1987. He spent his time attending to the interests of his sisters, such as building dowry houses for them. In the autumn of 1992 his kidneys failed and he died -a direct result of torture by the armed forces more than six years ago.

In the case of a Muslim intellectual living in Kalmunai, closely identified with the Tamil cause, his brother Sufian, an English teacher, his cousin Issadeen, the latter’s wife Sithi and a young boy were abducted by a splinter group of the PLOTE close to the IPKF   in November l989. They are now presumed dead.   

Venuthas was a lawyer in Batticaloa who withdrew in to the interior with the Tigers when the war broke out in June 1990. His wife Jamuna, a bank officer from Tambiluvil, would have nothing to do with the Tigers. She was returning after seeing her husband in the environs of Chenkaladi, when she and some old folk in her company were gunned down by the armed forces [Report No.8] . This happened in December 1990. In December 1991 Venuthas when travelling in an LTTE vehicle was killed in an army ambush. Puvanasundaram, a teacher and brother in law of Venuthas, was knocked   down by an LTTE vehicle and killed as the LTTE was pulling out of Batticaloa in June 1990. A sister of Venuthas now has many to look after,including the children of the deceased, to think of marriage.

A farmer was a supporter of the TULF. During the run up to the parliamentary elections of February 1989, he had helped the late TULF leader Amirthalingam to campaign in his home area of Unnichchai, Vathakkamadu. During that time Thavarasa, Paskaran and Thurayan of the EPRLF had asked his EROS leaning younger brother for his family’s tractor to use for their own election campaign. This was refused.

In December 1989, the IPKF was pulling out of Batticaloa and the EPRLF was getting ready to follow. The farmer’s brother Sivaprakasam (36) and Thuraisingam (28) came home late after guarding their crops from wild elephants,and fell fast asleep in a hut near their house. Intruders came in the night and shot dead the two brothers. Their sister, Balambikai (30), a law student, hearing the noise , ran out of the house to where her brothers slept. She too was shot dead.

When their funerals were held in Munaikkadu, the EPRLF ordered them, ‘no luxuries’. The farmer remains a bachelor,looking after his other sisters and the responsibilities of the  dead.

These are few instances of many tragedies in the East. In the case of the Muslims, the dominant threat was external - from a Tamil politics gone mad. The  injury to the Tamils went deeper. Apart from the threat from the state there was a powerful element of auto - genocide, both combining to foment a powerful destructive influence. We will take some instances of how this works itself out.

Two LTTE members recently died in an ambush shortly after they had eaten in the house of a widow. The LTTE leader, Suresh, in the Kokkadichcholai area is the son of the late ayurvedic physician Dr.Kandiah. Dr.Kandiah, Suresh’s elder brother and the husband of the widow mentioned, were killed in the STF’s Kokkadichcholai massacre of January 1987.

The story of Mohan who is credited with a considerable share in the army’s recent successes, illustrated  how the accumulated evil in the history of a community is working itself out. This story is now part of the folklore of Batticaloa’s rice wadis. It should be treated as apocryphal. A good deal of it is factual. Parts of it may be speculative. The reader should be able to judge.

Mohan was born in Kothiavalai, one of the villages around Kokkadichcholai. As a young man he was described as a vagabond, who used to steal cattle and sell them to others faraway. Occasionally, the Vithanai (head man of the village) used to lay hold of him and give him a thrashing. When the militancy came to the East, Mohan joined the PLOTE and led a local group. From the end of 1986, they led a tenuous life, hunted by the LTTE which had killed several members of other groups, and living off the land. His group, the PLOTE, later continued to be in the East without coming under the IPKF umbrella, but in a kind of truce with others who had enough on their hands.

As the TNA collapsed in December 1989 after the IPKF pull out, and as the LTTE moved in with the Sri Lankan forces, Kalir, an ENDLF member of the North - East provincial council, and Ganeshalingam, secretary to the provincial council in Batticaloa, escaped into the interior with a large sum of money. They spent a night in the village of Sillikudiaru on their way to Trincomalee through  interior jungle tracts. Mohan with a party of the PLOTE killed the sleeping fugitives and took charge of the money. By this time Mohan was married. Mohan sent his wife to Colombo with the money  to arrange for their exit to Canada. The wife vanished to Canada with the balance money. In the meantime Mohan left the PLOTE. Villagers believe that the PLOTE may have sacked him for not giving the money to his group.

Stranded and hunted with nowhere to go, Mohan came under the umbrella of the Sri Lankan forces and is said to be attached to the infamous unit in Batticaloa prison. His intimate knowledge of the area made him important, and it is said that he goes to operational areas by helicopter. He is credited with a sharp nose for money. The Vithanai who used to beat Mohan as a boy fled to Batticaloa and then to Colombo.

In the sequel to his wife’s abandoning him, Mohan married again in Kokkadichcholai. The LTTE kidnapped his second wife. Mohan sent a message to the LTTE saying that if his wife was not returned before a particular time, he would kill particular family members of LTTE cadre. Mrs. Kandiah, the local LTTE leader Suresh’s widowed mother was assaulted by Mohan. Mrs. Kandiah was hospitalised with a fracture and now lives in Batticaloa town.

A man from Kokkadichcholai collected Rs.40 000/- to send his son to the Middle-East for employment. Hearing this Mohan demanded money. The man and his wife went to Sillikudiaru with the money. When Mohan came there in the morning,the man ran out with his money. Mohan shot him dead. The wife came running and she too was shot dead. Mohan kept the money. Mohan is now said to own considerable paddy lands, including a plot which once belonged to the Society of St.Joseph in Pattipalai.

A businessman Rasan and his wife  and their seven children lived in Kokkodichcholai. A 16 year old son of his was in the LTTE. Mohan demanded Rs.50 000/- from him which was given. Sometime later another 50 000 was demanded. The man told Mohan that he could not afford the sum and instead offered to pay Rs 25 000/-. Mohan said that he wanted this sum brought to him by his daughter within 3 days. The daughter told the parents that if they were to go on like this they would not only lose their money, but also their honour. On her suggestion they all agreed to take their lives, and sat down to a poisoned meal. The three died on 8th July 1992. A child at home whose food was poisoned escaped. The dead are survived by six orphans.

Thus for Tamils life has been brutalised by a politics of fratricide which destroyed the moorings provided by a sense of community. A grieving Muslim has his next door neighbour. A Tamil cannot be sure of that. Several Tamils in the East have observed that Tamils move around with apparent freedom not because they believe it to be safe, but because they have reached a state where they care not whether they live or die. They have been denied the creative possibilities of life. Instead their anger has been mistakenly directed at the Muslims.

Accumulated anger resulting from killings has on both sides time and again burst out in a desire for revenge. This is not the only possible human response. Many have responded to the violent death of persons close to them, not with hate, but by dedicating their lives to work towards an order that will end communal and national divisions, so as to ensure that coming generations will not re-live the same tragedy. This requires a healing influence. We saw this at work in Kattankudy and Akkaraipattu in late January, when the Moulana’s happy influence brought among Muslim victims of Tamil violence the desire to help fellow Tamils. For the long term we need to break out of the desultory and divisive politics of the present and find a politics of healing. This is what the leadership of Konrad Adenauer provided for many Germans following the self-destruction of Nazi rule. Where do we begin? First we need to go beyond good sentiment and understand current realities.[Top]

6.4     The LTTE, Big Brother Politics and the East

Some revealing things said by LTTE spokesmen during Bishop Kenneth Fernando’s visit to Jaffna last January received press publicity. Anton Balasingam said that one should not compare the LTTE and the government (in terms of holding them morally responsible for their actions) because unlike them (the LTTE) the government is responsible for all the people of this country. The LTTE leader made the point that by the government restricting essential items to Jaffna and by banning travel in the Jaffna lagoon, it was the ordinary people who were suffering while the LTTE had what it needed.

These sentiments, though not new, were strange things to say for the leaders of an avowedly separatist war, the rationale for which being that the government had shown itself unfit and incapable of assuming responsibility for the Tamil speaking peoples, compelling them thus to take their future into their own hands. Moreover a liberation struggle is about articulating a higher morality and greater responsibility. What the LTTE’s conduct has shown is a total absence of either. Anton Balasingam said earlier in 1992 something the LTTE had often said in deed: That is if the army came into Jaffna, once the army is in they would withdraw into the jungles and there would then be many civilian casualties which the government would not like! Its message was ‘we will provoke you and do what we like, if the Tamil people suffer you get a bad name!’

Its programme was as we have pointed out before not about giving people a healthy, morally liberated life and freedom from fear, but to use every destructive means to secure power. Moreover its whole history of imposing repeated death and humiliation on the people for its survival speaks not of an assertion of sovereignty or independence, but rather a demand for small brother status, in turn with the Indian and Sri Lankan states. Liberation means a strong and generous people. But the LTTE’s military record and the quotes above suggest that its credentials in opposing state power are less convincing than those in opposing its people. As we have written at length elsewhere, it sought a fiefdom in which big brother would let it enjoy unrestricted power. Within this an avoidance of accountability meant that it would not tolerate equals, but only smaller brothers.

Being unclear about what it had to offer the people of Jaffna it was less so about what it had to offer the Muslims and Tamils of the East. The current war began by calculatedly unleashing the state forces on Eastern Tamils following the murder of policemen. All talk about liberating the East has now vanished. The East is being used for recruitment and extortion. The Tamil people are being offered no meaning for the massive death they have endured. The dead served the LTTE’s politics. The families of those who died in the name of liberation have been placed in a position where they could do the dead no greater honour than to have the Grama Sevaka certify them on a piece of paper and use it to try for teaching positions, clerical posts in government service and jobs in garment factories. They would then in a manner suggesting gratitude be paraded before TV cameras during visits of state dignitaries, who themselves have much to answer for. Why did the Eastern Tamils come to this and why all this hatred of Muslims?

The experiences of Eastern LTTE leaders Kadavul and Francis, as we have written in previous reports, showed early that the Jaffna leadership of the LTTE could not countenance independently minded Eastern leaders not playing the small brother role. When Kadavul refused to attack the TELO in mid-1986, the leadership had to send Kumarappa and Pottu of Jaffna origin to enforce its will. The LTTE thus developed without any strong person from the East in its hierarchy. Once it destroyed the other groups, so weakening the struggle, the security that people earlier enjoyed was quickly stamped under the boot of the Sri Lankan forces. The Eastern Tamils in particular therefore generally welcomed the IPKF. Even with occasional reprisals once the LTTE was at war with the IPKF, the need for the IPKF presence was not doubted. It was at this time the Muslims who helped the LTTE to survive in the East.

Although friction between the two communities, in earlier times resulted in isolated incidents,these differences were quickly ironed out in order to continue the intercourse necessary for their common existence. But after 1985 when armed militant groups began to appear prominently on the scene, what would have earlier been minor incidents, which would have died down with a bit of stone throwing, became serious incidents resulting in much loss of life. Later with the Sri Lankan state kept at bay during the IPKF presence, old prejudices against Muslims and the perceived Muslim threat became more the dominant influence among militants in the East. By the time the IPKF arrived in 1987 all militant groups were in many ways discredited. Those with the IPKF actively played up anti-Muslim feelings resulting in serious incidents at Kalmunai (September 1987) and Sammanthurai (May 1989). The LTTE was at this time using the Muslims for its survival. But lacking leaders of stature from the East, it was unable and unwilling to combat anti- Muslim feeling among its Eastern cadre. Lacking in any liberating outlook and unsure of what it had to offer the people of the East, and yet wanting to use Eastern youth, the Jaffna leadership found it prudent to allow its weak Eastern henchmen to use anti - Muslim feelings.

Another aspect we need to look into is the nature of various groups and their rhetoric. All the groups rhetorically accepted the distinctiveness of the Muslim community’s interests and tactically understood the need to win them over to their side. But in practice they have shown that their political programmes were superficial and  have seldom been able to guide their actions. In the case of Muslims, the natural prejudices of their cadre determined their behaviour in particular   localities than their professions. In the early days the groups EPRLF, EROS and PLOTE had a large number of cadre from the East. That was reflected in their behaviour and in several incidents where these groups were involved in activities against   Muslims. The leaderships tried to dissociate themselves from such activities and felt embarrassed, but were unable to have much of an impact. The TELO being purely a military organisation later became prominent in  such activities (In recent times they have been trying to harness anti- Christian sentiments   growing  among   Hindus partly as a result of the aggressive   and insensitive approach of some of the several non- mainline church groups present in the East). The LTTE’s presence in the East being small in the early days, it found it tactically prudent then to avoid overt anti-Muslim activity. The LTTE’s attitudes were very much governed by its military  and survival needs. During the IPKF’s presence it was useful for them to have good relations with the Muslims. But with their authoritarian outlook they could not tolerate  signs of independence from any  community.

Thus when the LTTE took control of the East from the IPKF in early 1990, contrary to Muslim expectations attacks on Muslims did not cease. When Muslims complained, these were blamed on the by- now- non-existent TNA. [See ‘Eelathil innumoru moolai’, Publication Bureau, Juma Mosque, Sammanthurai]

That their instrumentalist approach to social issues centred around their survival  needs explains their contrasting roles at different times. To continue the military campaign in the Eastern Province using guerilla tactics they need   a sympathetic section of the population. In the North the militants were able to keep the Sri Lankan army in   barracks for a considerable time. But in the East such is practically impossible, as the terrain consists of vast open spaces. If the army could maintain a certain minimum discipline and deal with the people considerately,  the people would start feeling the futility of the war and slowly begin to distance themselves from the militants. Eastern Tamils had traditionally resented the authority of the more influential Jaffna Tamils. If the Eastern Tamils and Muslims got together, they may be able to manage their own affairs and the leadership of Jaffna would be challenged. If Eastern Tamils were to swallow their resentment and depend on the Jaffna leadership, they had to be made to feel their Muslim neighbours as the greater threat. Therefore it was necessary for the LTTE not to allow the situation to stabilise. By harnessing local anti Muslim feelings they were able to recruit a large number youths which pushed   anti Muslims feelings to the fore. The retaliations of the Muslims, forced the Tamils to look for saviours and thus legitimise the role of LTTE. All this worked well in the short term. But in the long run it did irreparable damage to all the people in the Eastern Province.    

The same workings had their counterpart within the LTTE organisation as well! The Eastern cadre were instinctively suspicious of the Jaffna leadership, and resented instructions coming from Jaffna. Of course the matter would have been different if there had been a strong respected leader from the East in the hierarchy. On top of this, as our reports show, life for LTTE cadre in the eastern jungles is hard and fraught with constant danger. In this respect hatred of Muslims and the freedom to   act against them came in useful as a motivation. The difficulties faced by the Jaffna leadership trying to control Eastern cadre in a local leadership vacuum is evidenced in a number of stories of LTTE members wanting to surrender. 25 of them surrendered to the TELO at Chenkaladi in April 1992. Some of those disillusioned with the group have given the overbearing and insulting behaviour of Jaffna cadre as a reason.

Whatever the role of the Jaffna leadership in earlier massacres of Muslims, recent massacres seem to have posed an acute embarrassment to the Jaffna leadership. Apart from slowly losing ground militarily, the LTTE’s record on human rights has resulted in sharp diplomatic reverses. LTTE lobbyists in the West are being increasingly told that theirs is a fascist group.

Considering the LTTE’s intrinsic weakness and its heavy reliance on international propaganda, its international lobbyists, both expatriates and churchmen, have undoubtedly told the leadership in Jaffna that its massacres of Muslims is causing insuperable problems. Some of the overtures made verbally and through hand bills to Muslims in the East appear to reflect the leadership trying to assert some control. The fact that Muslim residents who have returned to Mannar Island have so far been left alone suggests some change. In another instance two Muslim boatmen trading between Mannar and Kalpitiya got into difficulties and came ashore on LTTE controlled territory. The LTTE men checked them and let them go saying that ‘they had no new orders on what to do with Muslims’.

The expulsion of Muslims from the North appears to be an act where the leadership had played to Eastern sensibilities. A man who was taken by the LTTE into the Eastern jungles for ransom and released said that whenever the cadre spoke of Muslims, their faces ‘assumed a horrifying appearance’ . Having used anti-Muslim feelings, the Jaffna leadership is on the horns of a dilemma. There have been fewer attacks on Muslims in recent months. It also provides an opportunity for those of goodwill who want to protect the long-term interests of the East to build bridges.[Top]

6.5          Tamil Myths about Muslims

In this section we briefly elaborate observations made in Reports 7 and 8   which we have been able to check in greater depth by talking to people, both Tamil and Muslim.

6.5.1        Land accumulation:

Those successful in trade in the East have largely been Muslims. Those accumulating money have to invest it, and these Muslims invest in land in their neighbourhood. Tamils receiving a good price for their land have moved out into areas where land was cheap, giving rise to new villages. This is very similar to businessmen from the islands off Jaffna buying up land in Jaffna town. But unlike in Jaffna when over a number of years a whole GS’s division is bought over by Muslims, there is a visible change of identity. Apart from this there have been some incidents of communal violence involving a relatively small number of people in which neither party came out clean. Tamils tend to put the two distinct phenomena together and build a myth of Muslims intimidating the Tamils through violence and acquiring their lands cheap.

On talking to Tamils at some length, many of them actually blame themselves, rather than the Muslims, and accept their weaknesses. Several of them also accept that not being traders, it was better for them to sell their small plot of land in town, give up a menial job, and use the money for more beneficial activity elsewhere. They also often fail to see that the bulk of the Muslims are as poor as they are. Eravur Muslims are among the worst hit in the East today.[Top]

6.5.2    Muslims are monolithic, closed and conspiratorial:

Nothing is further from the truth. Every Muslim village has its own identity and its own interests. Even when two Muslim villages are adjacent to each other, their perceptions are often different. In Kattankudy, dominated by its commercial class, one finds a studied pragmatic approach, trying to discern what the LTTE really wants from them, can they be pacified by money and so on. In Eravur it is the helpless anger of a peasant population, boxed in and prevented from earning its livelihood. Behind the anger there is almost a plea, “If you get a chance, please ask them (the LTTE) to leave us alone”. The two Muslim communities we have come across with any decision making structure are the ones at Sammanthurai and Kattankudy. These are not military structures. A variety of opinions are voiced and there is a sense of decency and fair play. In most of their communities, Muslims will be the first to admit that it is hard to get any two persons to agree.

Among Muslims one generally finds less prejudice and greater openness. There is less evidence of rigid slogans used by many Tamils such as ‘every action of the Sinhalese state is aimed at destroying the Tamils’ and trying to fit all the facts into that framework. Even when the LTTE had massacred Muslims, a number of Muslims try to inquire into whether there could have been a provocation such as the SLMC leader’s most recent speech. He was even blamed for the expulsion of Muslims from the North. The right to dissent is also evidenced by the multitude of political parties functioning among them, launching spirited attacks on each other. This is not the atmosphere in which conspiracies are hatched.[Top]

6.5.3          Muslims deliberately engineer violence against Tamils and use for this an organisation called the Jihad. Muslims are informers.

There is no evidence of an organised force among Muslims, by the name Jihad or otherwise. If there was such an organised force it would have made itself felt in Muslim politics. Even before the Tamil militant movement became a fully organised force, the TULF which had its backing had virtually become the only political party in the North. By 1981 anyone challenging the TULF electorally was risking his life. This is far from being the case among Eastern Muslims. The SLMC is not the only political force. People living in the area do write to the national press dissociating themselves and large sections of Muslims from the SLMC. Muslims in general talk more freely than the Tamils.

Because of attacks on Muslims in recent times there was a desire to set up a force to protect Muslims. At the same time, on the realisation that Muslims have to live among Tamils, influential sections of the Muslims regarded such a force as a potential disaster. They were not people who could think of going to the West and sending money home for such a force to run riot, and be shielded from the consequences by geographical separation. They had to trade and farm in the Eastern Province and could not afford to alienate Tamils.

It is for this reason that they accepted home guard units to operate under the control of the state and to be disarmed by the state. These units were given inadequate training and are now a dwindling force. There are tensions, much anger and a feeling of powerlessness among Muslim youth following attacks on Muslims. But the larger tendency has been not to challenge the Tamil militant movement and to learn to live with it. This cannot be taken for granted if attacks on Muslims continue.

Violence by Muslims has on the whole been reactive and confined to the immediate aftermaths of attacks on Muslims. Even the role of some Muslims as informers operating alongside the forces with other Tamil groups was largely confined to the second half of 1990 in the wake of provocations. Even then the large scale disappearance of Tamils cannot be attributed to Muslims. The armed forces wanted Tamils to disappear.

At present Muslims who are confined to their villages have hardly any information to give. But because the LTTE created so much division among Tamils by its murders, plenty of information reaches the forces from Tamils themselves, not just in the East, but apparently in Jaffna itself. Branding of Muslims as informers is a refusal by the LTTE and the Tamils to face the consequences of their own divisive politics.[Top]

6.6     Consequences of the Tamil outlook shaped by narrow nationalist Ideology

Under the impact of death and suffering imposed by communal violence the Tamils developed an outlook to the effect that the Sinhalese state was incorrigibly evil and that anything it did was ultimately intended to destroy the Tamils. Separation for the North-East was an outcome of the resulting outlook. It did not allow for a rational framework in which individuals and groups could deal with the state. Tamil government servants and Tamil members of national   parties carried with them an uneasy feeling of guilt, which was expiated in hyper-critical rhetoric about the state uttered in private. The Tamil newspapers and journals published from Colombo, while on one hand accepting self-censorship about some of the worst attributes of the government, promoted the dominant Tamil ideology in very subtle but effective forms.

All this did not allow for the fact that the state is a dynamic and not a static entity, that has to respond to whole host of pressures, both internal and external - not least human rights pressure . Sri Lanka is only geographically an island. If indeed the belief that the state was hopelessly and fatally genocidal was serious, there would have been no rationale for Tamils to deal with the state,as people, public servants or as politicians. But this dichotomy has existed where individual Tamils subscribed to a politics which held that the state was unmitigably genocidal, and continued to have close dealings with the state on the grounds that their role and influence could bring about some good. Thus from the politics of the TULF down to the LTTE and in the bearing of individual Tamils, there was an unbridgeable variance between political rhetoric and actual practice. Nearly everyone goes about or does his work with an uneasy feeling that he is vulnerable to accusations of treachery. A number of Tamil militant groups were cornered by the LTTE into direct association with the government. They in turn rationalised their position in terms of doing something for the people. Those who speak of them with contempt often do so out of a feeling of subconscious unease with themselves. This atmosphere does not allow Tamils to open up and discuss their long-term interests rationally. This ideology has made it un-Tamil and even an act of treachery to question the desirability of the North-East merger or to face the fact the Tamils are often endangered and killed through deliberate and inexcusable provocation of the forces by the LTTE. When Muslims are massacred Tamils who know better find it tactically prudent to blame it on the government and provide reasons for it. The discourse confined by this Tamil ideology has a far reaching consequence. Although there is much uneasiness among the Tamils regarding the behaviour of the LTTE and its excesses they view such consequences as a political mistake rather than as an outcome of the nature of the Tamil nationalist ideology. As a result even articles appearing in Tamil magazines which are critical of the LTTE confine themselves to the same boundary prescribed by Tamil ideology mixed with a bit of progressive rhetoric.

It is a widespread Tamil belief that the Muslims are closed and conspiratorial. Little did the Tamils realise that these were the very qualities they themselves portrayed to outsiders. this powerful inwardness and subjectivism was a direct consequence of their poolitical outlook. It did not allow them to understand the true position of the Muslims. Instead the Muslims were condemned or dismissed as traitors by definition.

It is only in the North-East that Muslims are present as communities with a territorial identity and are in a position to articulate this politically. Elsewhere Muslims are in scattered groups and hence need to identify with one of the national parties. In turn through religious links, the national parties made contact with Eastern Muslims and tried to use them. Tamils in turn who had personal links with politicians in the national parties argued that in view of the perceived Muslim threat the Tamils should support a national party and use it. The inherent conflicting interests of the Muslims and the consequent dynamics needed to be understood.

When the cry of separation was raised in the North-East, many had reservations over what would become of Tamils in the South. The reservation was answered by supposing that the Tamils in the South, with the exception of Hill Country Tamils, had ties in the North-East and could return thence. But Muslims in the South had no links with Eastern Muslims. That Eastern Muslims if they were to join the separatist cry could not give a similar answer to their co-religionists in the south whom they perceive as having same ethnic origin, was not appreciated.[Top]

6.7         The home guard dilemma

The arguement for an armed group to protect the Muslims arose from a perception that the Sinhalese had the national forces, seen virtually their force, to protect them and that Tamils had their armed groups. It was the experience of the Muslims that no other force, whether the IPKF or the Sri Lankan forces, had protected them. Strangely, but not surprisingly, the government accepted the logic of this argument. It revealed that the Sri Lankan state instinctively saw itself as a Sinhalese state, responsible only for the Sinhalese as did the minorities.   

The late minister Ranjan Wijeratne announced shortly after June 1990 that the government would recruit and train Muslim home guards for deployment in Muslim areas and likewise for Tamil areas. In Sammanthurai, the Trustee Board called for volunteers and only 90 came forward as home guards. They were given 3 days training and deployed with shot guns. When they reported for work, the STF often gave them menial tasks such as sweeping the compound. Their small salaries of less than Rs.30/- a day were also paid irregularly. Now there are only 29 home guards left.

On the other hand through experience, such communal armed groups came to be detested, not least by their own community. Although Tamil groups came into being in the early 80s when the Tamils felt threatened and unprotected, in time they came to have deep reservations about them. In a number of areas people came to the point of saying that they would rather put up with the             IPKF or even alien Sinhalese state forces rather than   with their own boys who took up arms to protect them.

Although some Muslims are confident that they could raise their own force and control them, others familiar with the Tamil experience are far from happy about the idea. One Muslim said that shortly after Muslim home guards were raised in Nintavur, there were six violent robberies. Further, such communal forces have been a hated destabilising influence. Tamil groups functioning with the IPKF used that cover for criminal activity, particularly against Muslims. Muslim home guards under the umbrella of the Sri Lankan forces, no sooner they were formed, came to be seen as proxy killers by the Tamils.

This may suggest a better trained and disciplined multi - communal force that could be expected to protect any community as a professional task. The Civil Volunteer Force (CVF) was formed with such an intention to assist the policing of the North-East. Although trained by the IPKF this force was supposed to have paid by the Government of Sri Lanka from which it had received its commission. They in fact received their letters of appointment from Mr. Anandarajah, then D.I.G. of Police, North-East. They were promised full recognition in time and all benefits enjoyed by the police.

But when the LTTE took over the North-East from the end of 1989, they were helped by the Sri Lankan Forces to hunt down Tamil CVF members. 50 of them were gunned down in the lagoon at Savalakkadai by an air force helicopter. Muslim CVF members were among the policemen massacred by the LTTE in June 1990. Surviving Muslim CVF members are presently deployed in police stations. According to Muslim spokesmen the Muslim CVF members killed have received no recognition, nor have their families received any of the benefits given to families of killed policemen. It must also be pointed out that several Tamil policemen who survived the massacre were killed by the forces in reprisals. In the final analysis what the minorities have experienced, even as servants of the state, is that the government carries no responsibility for them, and that they could be dispensed with according to the vagaries of its peculiar brand of politics.

We also know that multiplying the types of forces and the number of men under arms has severe drawbacks vividly experienced in recent times. It could finally be said that there is no alternative to ensuring that the regular forces not only represent all communities, but are seen to act impartially. The problem here is that although the government has recently been calling for Muslims and Tamils to join the regular forces, very few of the former and hardly any of the latter have in fact joined. We thus come back to the character of the state and the experience of minorities in the forces. Moreover when the state goes on without reference to attributes of principle or character, making prominent use for transient gain of figures from the minorities such as Mohan, Munas and Suresh Cassim, seen   genarally as criminals, it becomes an insult to the minorities. There seems to be no answer to this dilemma without some drastic reform in the character of the state.[Top]

6.8         Looking to the future

We have pointed out that both communities, however much they have been alienated from each other, feel an instinctive need to reconcile and live together. It is not only the Muslims who have suffered economic hardship because of current divisions, but also the Tamils themselves. This was pointed out by a Muslim. About 400O Tamil peasants around Vantharumoolai and Kaluwankerny used to go down seasonally to Akkaraipattu to harvest Muslim fields and thus earn a substantial income. These people are now desperately poor.

A feeling among many Tamils that they need a militant force to check the Muslims and a Muslim feeling that they need an armed force of Muslims to protect themselves from Tamil militants are tragic illusions that feed each other, profiting only those who have a stake in the politics of division.

Eastern Tamils tend to feel that they need the North-East merger and hence the Jaffna Tamils to protect them from the Muslims and Sinhalese. This too is an illusion. It has never happened in the past and is not happening now. The crux of the problem is poor organisation and the economic weakness of Eastern Tamils.  The Eastern Tamils see the Muslims as using this weakness of theirs against them today. Equally, dominant interests in the stronger society in Jaffna have used it in the past. Unless there arises a vibrant introspective politics in the North matched by one in the East that ceases to be passive, the very same thing could happpen again. Jaffna folk have seen their interests not in terms of trade or cultivation, but in finding avenues of employment for their educated. For this reason they never clashed with Muslim interests. An added cause for a feeling of insecurity among Eastern Tamils is the poor performance of their children in recent A.Level examinations, particularly in outlying areas. This is an area where graduates from the North could have helped both Muslims and Tamils by improving teaching standards. The current war has seen a high exodus of young graduates to the West.

On the other hand, particularly because of recent attacks on Muslims, Muslims feel uncomfortable with the North-East merger. The militant group that has been conducting large scale massacres of Muslims is after all one that is led from Jaffna.

Many of these problems will vanish or appear in a different light if the Tamils and Muslims of the East re-establish good relations. This must be seen as the principal task. If not they have every thing to lose. They hold much in common including the crucial problem of state sponsoerd colonisation. The fate of the North-East merger will depend on whether the Tamils, particularly those in the North, can articulate a new politics that will give confidence to the Muslims, Sinhalese and and Tamil dissidents. The LTTE has spurned every opportunity it had of doing this. Antipathy between Eastern Tamils and Muslims should never become a reason for the merger. On the other hand if the Eastern Tamils gain confidence, they themselves may feel that a separate Eastern Council is workable. To gain such confidence the Tamils should work out a viable economic role for themselves. To try to compete with the Muslims in trade may be unprofitable and frustrating. But there is so much more that could be done in the East.

We have said that the greater responsibility for re-establishing good Tamil-Muslim relations lies with the Tamils. The happy events in Kattankudy and Akkaraipattu during late January have given a strong hint of what is needed. Both communities have remained studiedly ignorant of the horrors   and the experience the other community has been through. The other community’s area is thought of at best as a mysterious land on the horizon which mother told you never to stray into. They need to talk to each other about their experiences so that illusions can be dispelled and wounds   healed.

In Sammanthurai and Eravur which now face some isolation, there is a great desire to have Tamils come and talk to them as human beings rather than from behind a gun.

An organised institution that is in a position to take an initiative is the Church. For a start groups of church leaders with lay persons and leading Hindus could visit Muslim areas frequently and just have informal discussions. Next avenues could be found where ordinary people from both communities can become involved in common activities which benefit both communities. There would always be a threat of disruption. A mechanism must be evolved where leaders of both communities together will condemn and expose any disruptive activity or violence done to any one community. There is some risk, but this may be the right time to begin - a time when international human rights pressure is beginning to bite.

If there is no initiative, the tragic and fatal drift apart of both communities with separate AGA’s divisions, separate hospitals, post offices and MPCSs, will continue. The East instead of a community would then become a patchwork of armed ghettoes with the Sri Lankan forces keeping a strange kind of peace.[Top]


We have been using the term Muslim as one that is well understand in this country in terms of its context. Those who practice Islam in this country broadly fall into three ethnic groups - the Ceylon Moors, Indian Moors and Malays. The Ceylon Moors are descendents of Arab traders who settled in this country from the 8th century A.D or earlier. They form 7% of the country’s population. The Indian Moors are Moor immigrants from India whose proportion declined from 0.8% in 1911 to 0.2% in 1971. The Malays came here mostly during Dutch rule (17th and 18th centurys A.D.) from the East Indies and mostly reside in the Western Province. Muslims in the North-East are nearly all Ceylon Moors.[Top]


Home | History | Briefings | Statements | Bulletins | Reports | Special Reports | Publications | Links
Copyright © UTHR 2001