Immediately prior to the June war, the Liberation Tigers massacred hundreds of surrendered Muslim and Sinhalese policemen in the Eastern Province and called upon people to join hands with them in the final battle. In Kalmunai on 11th June, they killed 10 Sri Lankan soldiers who had come to buy provisions and desecrated their bodies. Following this display of manly courage, after about 4 days, the Tigers made a precipitate withdrawal. Often, the Tigers in their motorised transport hooked it ahead of frightened people they had pledged to protect, who had to follow on foot.
Then came the "brave" soldiers of Sri Lanka, sending thousands of unarmed Tamils to an involuntary nirvana, displaying an astounding inventiveness when it came to inflicting pain. The anger of the Muslims, following the murder of over a hundred Muslim policemen from the East, was directed into the orgy of barbarity. The Tigers in turn resorted to collective reprisals against Muslims to shore up their credibility amongst "Tamils", which was now close to non-existent. It was collective reprisals by the Sri Lankan state against Tamils in 1983, that had given the Tamil militant struggle its initial legitimacy.
About 12th July, a convoy of Muslims travelling in vehicles between Kalmunai and Kattankudy was stopped by the Tigers. According to Muslim and Tamil sources, several of the Muslims went on their knees and pleaded. Over a hundred were taken prisoner and a few bodies were dumped at Kurukkalmadam - a village reportedly not supportive of the Tigers. This was followed by the massacres of Muslims at Kattnakudy and Eravur on 3rd and 12th August respectively.
Between the government and the Tigers, the destructive anti-people politics of the East was brought to new tragic heights. The people, the Muslims and Tamils, had nothing to thank either side for. Being burdened with so much sorrow and being unable to plan for and contemplate those things that are a source of ordinary human happiness, the people were now being driven to take vicarious satisfaction in the infliction of pain on brother and neighbour, now artificially classified as an enemy. Not having anything to show for their politics except shattered lives and destruction, crusading against Muslims became the mainstay of the Tigers. In early October, a leading Tiger personality visited Vakarai to sound out local feelings. Many took fright thinking that there were going to be renewed attacks against Muslims in the East - although the capacity of the Tigers in that area had been weakened. What eventually did happen by the end of October was the expropriation and expulsion of Muslims from the North. While many Tamils were puzzled and often angry, the shameful act received a measure of approval in the East. Many were also disturbed by parallels in Tamil history - such as the government taking it out on Tamils in Colombo and elsewhere for the killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna. The treatment of Muslims in the North was strangely reminiscent of the anti-Jewish pogroms of the Tsars and other bankrupt European rulers down to Hitler.
On the morning of 16th June, Justice Minister A.C.S.Hameed was flying into Jaffna, for what he yet faintly hoped would be the placing of the formal seal on a cease-fire agreed during the previous day's talks. At 6.30 a.m. the Tigers for some unspecified reason had fired at the Jaffna Fort. The Jaffna hospital which had gone through several bad experiences because of firing from the Fort since 1986 was left in a state of uncertainty. On 19th June the Tigers removed all their cadre from the hospital saying that another lot of injured was being brought in. At 12.30 a.m. on the 20th, there was another round of firing at the Fort. The patients and the hospital staff fled without further prompting. Later in the morning the hospital authorities decided to close the hospital. On the 21st, the LTTE's propaganda chief Yogi, pulled up the puzzled doctors for closing the hospital.
Then commenced the aerial bombing by the Sri Lankan forces, much of which had no military purpose. Officially the bombing was described as a precise operation directed at identified and verified targets. A general described it as something undertaken at great risk in populated areas. In practice any small arms fire from below, any gathering of youth or movement of vehicles of the type used by the LTTE, became legitimate provocations for bombing. What was near these targets, hospitals, dwellings of civilians, or refugee camps did not matter. Privately, several officials held that as long as civilians harboured the LTTE, they ought to take the punishment. The manner in which the game developed, both sides wanted civilians killed. One because of callous anger and the other found use for civilians mainly as propaganda material in the form of corpses. (See our earlier reports).
As the liberators shifted camps by taking over civilian houses, one area after the other became a target. They fired at passing aircraft from the ground, from vehicles, from near refugee camps and once from the proximity of the ICRC building in Temple Road, Jaffna.
With having to fight a war on the cheap with budgetary restrictions, the precision achieved in certain kinds of bombing was of the order of that obtaining with huge catapults throwing molten metal onto the enemy, in use during the epic battle between Dutugemunu and Elara of the 2nd century B.C. Indeed there was much improvisation from the tactics of that period. Barrels of human excreta were air-dropped on Jaffna. The required precision was amply served by Chinese built Y12 transporters. The old petrol filled barrel bombs with rubber casing were replaced by new varieties. When the military called for a ban on urea based fertiliser being sent to the North-East alleging that the LTTE was using it to manufacture explosives, there was an element of set a thief to catch a thief. Some varieties of barrel bomb dropped from Y12's were using urea and salt. Jaffna farmers and housewives are now in search of unexploded barrel bombs.
Civilians from smashed houses sometimes spoke admiringly of Y12 bomber pilots. After a good deal of trial and error, they even managed some bulls eyes. In conformity with IMF restrictions more Y12's are reportedly in the pipeline.
Both sides had long ceased to battle for the hearts and minds of the people. It was rather over their lives. During the battle for the islands in late August, the government announced (an aerially imposed) curfew, and helicopters hovered menacingly to shoot at anything that moved. On the same morning the LTTE announced over the loudspeaker at Muthiraisanthi that travel passes would be issued on that day. Passes to get away from the two forces became such coveted possessions, that hundreds were bound to queue up, parting with two sovereigns and ignoring the risks.
There was seldom any seriousness about defending the people. The object seemed rather to endanger them. After the army had landed in Kayts, the LTTE either denied that the army had landed or assured the people that the army would be resisted and prevented from moving in. Many who tried to get away to the safety of the mainland were stopped from going. Some of these persons were later killed by the army. One of them was shot at a church in front of his young child. The scenario was consistent with what had happened in the East. The pass system together with extortionate transport charges to leave Jaffna fitted into the same pattern.
It was a strange sort of struggle in many ways. The liberators started the war, but the onus for the welfare of the people was being placed on the government. When the liberators could not provide food, electricity and medicine, the government was accused of depriving the people. People sought safety in the enemy territory of Colombo, at least as much because of needless suffering imposed on them by the local regime as by the aerial bombing. Having destroyed all independent organisations, the LTTE showed few signs of taking responsibility for the welfare of the people. Staving refugees were pouring into Jaffna. Many of them readily parted with their remaining capital in the form of jewellery, literally for a meal. A lady was offered a pair of gold bangles for Rs.150/-. She declined because she thought it robbery to accept. Then came the offer, "If the price is high, take them for Rs.50/-!" Some student leaders who tried to work independently with the refugees left Jaffna in frustration and fear after being sternly told that they could only work through big brother. What was being encouraged in the name of liberation was individual greed, selfishness, lying and opportunism. The unwritten philosophy that had grown with this politics was that maximum social frustration brought maximum recruitment motivated by a suicidal will to destroy. A liberation which gives meaning to their life in death only!
The army withdrew after briefly occupying Paranthan in July, during which they had levelled the shops surrounding the market square for their protection. Then the LTTE came and destroyed government buildings including the bank, new post office, MPCS and the water tank, burning valuable files and documents belonging to the people. The apparent excuse was that the army should not be left with buildings to occupy. Equipment at the Paranthan Chemical Corporation providing employment to large numbers was also destroyed. In the meantime Jaffna papers reported that many houses in villages neighbouring Paranthan had been looted by the army. But according to local people, the army had hardly been to those villages and that the looting had been done by someone else while the people had been away during the operation. In one village, Kumarpuram, all houses had been broken into, except that of a leading LTTE supporter. The villagers asked him, "It was the army who did it, didn't they?". After the initial shock, the supporter asked threateningly, "Are you serious or are you being sarcastic?".
Sometimes there appeared to be a measure of co-ordination. In Mannar during late October, the LTTE looted the Muslims and expelled them. Immediately afterwards, the army moved in and looted the Tamils. It was all done peacefully with no fighting. So proverbial had become the army's reputation, that some LTTE persons on gold collection campaigns have asked, "Why do you want to keep your gold? If you don't give it to us, the Sri Lankan soldiers will take it from you when they come!"
Looking at the whole struggle, one does not see any aim or strategy except destruction. People in different localities are handled tactically by appealing to dormant rivalries and animosities. Now in mid-November, the LTTE is moving in high profile in Jaffna as though it is in full control, calling upon people to join in patriotic acts of flag flying and making provocative preparations to celebrate National Heroes week at the Jaffna Fort which was vacated by the army. This is being done not in the wake of victory but when the enemy is literally at the gates following a recent advance in Valikamam from the base at Palaly. Many observers know that for some time defences had been prepared along the approaches to Thenmaratchi, in preparation for a withdrawal from Valikamam. People in Thenmaratchi have heard it from local LTTE leaders that the people of Jaffna are to be taught a deserved lesson.
If the government had mature statesmanship, its aim should have been to clearly demonstrate to the Tamil people that it cared for them. But it has instead competed with the LTTE to demonstrate contempt and callousness. Food for starving civilians has been withheld causing tremendous suffering to the sick and those injured by the government's bombs. The LTTE has understandably not faced any deprivation. It has only put the civilian population at the mercy of racketeers and certainly more dependent elsewhere. The government did not stop its harassment here. When people sent food packages to relatives in Jaffna through a church organisation, these were subject to systematic pilfering, including the removal of anything of speculative military value, such as candles and matches. All essential medicines carried for the sick and the ailing were robbed by troops at Vavuniya. Even bottles of Sanatogen were robbed as if the government had intelligence of tottering Tigers past their three score years and ten. By this policy the government lost an important political battle.
Thus were both sides locked in a war against unarmed people, using young men and women forced by one or more of fear, hatred, penury and hopelessness to become `heroes'. It is evident that hatred and contempt for the people was shared by both sides. On the part of the Tamil militants, whose unspecified cause is still being associated with liberation, how does one explain these feelings of animosity towards their own flesh and blood?
One aspect of the matter which was brought to the surface during the LTTE-Premadasa honeymoon still remains valid. When the leaders are pushed by considerations of survival, they are quite capable of becoming natural allies. It is yet possible that both sides will come to a tactical agreement. The leaders of the state will have panegyrics written to their unequalled statesmanship. The Tigers will as before show two faces. One in Colombo and another in Jaffna. One set of interviews for the English press and one for the Tamil. Liberal sentiments in English and threats against traitors in Tamil. Having called upon hundreds of young men to commit suicide for Eelam, they may once more argue that a transitional tactical understanding is necessary. All this is again possible given the nature of the forces and their intrinsic weakness. It will once more be argued that the Tamils got something because the Tigers fought.
There is surely one thing that both sides
would want to forget and even suppress - the sacred memory of the dead. Both
would want to avoid accountability on this matter. This would be a matter of
common concern pushing them to embrace each other. Both sides have behaved as
though individual lives can be snuffed out at any gunman's whim. The causes
and callousness are too ugly to be disinterred. Until we are accountable to
the dead any attempt at peace will be tenuous.
"That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been". - Ecclesiastes.
The Leader gave a series of press interviews about the beginning of the second quarter of this year, largely, though not completely, putting an end to speculation about his continued existence. Answering a question on how the consequences weighed in his declaration of war against India in October 1987, he replied that he was not thinking about the consequences. But, he said, he was thinking about whether to fight a war against India or not. This reply was applauded by many members of the Jaffna intelligentsia as one that was both clever and fitting. One detractor observed: "You go to the Jaffna bazaar on any day, and you will see riff raff elements transporting heavy sacks on their backs between lorries and shops. At the close of the day, they go with their earnings to a tavern, get drunk and often get into violent quarrels. Before a fight, they do not think of the consequences, how it will affect their families, whether they will starve or whether they will be thrown onto the streets. No, they only ask whether to fight or not to fight. In a healthy society, we will call such lumpen conduct irresponsible and will look for means of providing these persons with a more edifying vision about their life. When we have a leader who acts and talks in this vein, and is applauded by those who ought to know better, we are left with something frightening that is within us".
How did an "educated" society come to acquiesce in a leadership that left the people so degraded before the eyes of the world? A part of the answer lies in the acceptance by a large section of the middle class of the utopian ideals of Tamil chauvinism that over-rode basic human considerations. Any objective evaluation of what the LTTE had been doing over the past decade and more, should have left no illusion about what to expect. This is particularly evident in the field of individual killings. These went on despite the fact that there was no organised opposition to the LTTE after 1987. The fact that the LTTE could find no other ways to deal with dissent, symbolises its intrinsic weakness and paranoia.
The manner in which targets were chosen is significant. Sunderam (killed 1982) and Mano Master (killed 1984) were persons who had matured through the militant struggle, and had they lived there would have been a qualitatively different kind of leadership, less authoritarian and more accountable to the people. Sunderam was a member of the PLOTE. Mano Master at the time of his murder had returned to his native place of Pt.Pedro after differences with the leadership of the TELO, to which he had belonged. Though the other groups were strong then, the LTTE timed its killing when an opportunity presented itself, where Mano Master was a lone individual without institutional backing. The LTTE systematically, with patience, looked for opportunities and killed persons who were strong and able enough to give the Tamil struggle a new and healthy direction.
Its fear of ideas combined with individual ability remained strong even after it brutally asserted itself as the leading group in 1986. It killed members of the old Left such as Vijayanathan and Annamalai. It waited two years to kill the student leader Vimalaswaran after terror had largely reduced the students to apathy. Former dissidents and ex-militants were hounded out, detained and tortured, when all they wanted was to be left alone to live quiet lives. hundreds of those taken in are not accounted for. What the LTTE actually achieved was to kill courage, character, ideas and originality among Tamils. The community was forced into a milieu bereft of any fresh air and cut off from any invigorating contact with the outside world.
This is reflected in the drastic change that has taken place in the world of art and literature. 1985, though a period of anarchy in comparison with the past, was a time of intense intellectual activity. Many militant groups were around and many issues were being raised and discussed by young people. There was a variety of literary output. Translations of articles in English were cyclostyled and sold for small sums of money. Leaflets and booklets of poems were in abundance. There were also drama groups providing a variety. All this ceased following the LTTE's decimation of the TELO in mid-1986.
By contrast, in present day Jaffna there is nothing. Whether intellectuals, dramatists or religious dignitaries, the only ones allowed to operate are those who will deliver to order. At all levels of civil life, the soul is fled. The final assault on the university is described in a separate chapter. If one compares the situation in the South, where things are as it is pretty bad, the seriousness of the self inflicted blow that the Tamils have received becomes evident. In the South there is still a variety in journals and of literary output. There are a number of political groups taking a critical line against Sinhalese chauvinism and are raising human rights issues in the North as well as the South. Plays are being produced, occasionally banned, then to reappear. There are drama groups from rural areas producing anti-war dramas, questioning the class based exploitation inherent in sending young men into the battle field. Education in the South is in a far better state than that in the North-East. Much of the disadvantages resulting to the Tamils in education are self-inflicted. Our management of this resource has not been of a quality such as to clearly expose how it has suffered from discriminatory and military actions of the government.
While there was and always is discrimination, the curtailment and destruction in recent times of the existing infrastructure that makes for civilised life - such as in education, transport, health and communications - has a good measure of what was part of the politics. Again the politics of the LTTE, whenever there was the prospect of something that would challenge its solitary claim for power, irrespective of the promise it held out for the Tamils as a whole, was to precipitate a crisis. This happened during the killings of dissidents and Sinhalese civilians in September/October 1987 and in the killings that led to the current war. It then relied on terror against Tamils and the oppressiveness of the enemy to offer itself as the only medicine. The direction has been to frustrate ordinary human aspirations of the Tamils, deprive them of any alternative, pushing many to opt for the destructive. Sinhalese culture, which many Tamils fervently believed to be a barbaric one is today in a much more promising position than Tamil culture. An Indian journalist G.Ramesh (Lanka Guardian 15th November) has pointed out that Tamils in general have not posed the shocking question - whether the Tamil language will be alive in 100 years time! That would be an ironical postscript in view of the original aims of the struggle.
It is against this backdrop that the LTTE
leadership fears individuals raising questions and has an abnormal fear of those
who have belonged to political groups. In this whole context many dissenters
have claimed that the LTTE has right along paid far greater attention
and has shown a qualitatively superior ability in stamping out Tamil dissent
than in combating the enemy against which they are claiming to fight. Whether
liberation can come as a byproduct is not a subtle question.
The LTTE was an organisation which, particularly in the early 80's, had recruited many persons of ability, humanity and intelligence, like the other groups. Such persons started having doubts, particularly after the crackdown on the TELO, and quietly started leaving the organisation. This phenomenon reached crisis proportions particularly in the months following the IPKF offensive. So desperate had become the situation that according to dissident sources, an order went out to area leaders to shoot civilians arguing against or resisting the laying of landmines in their neighbourhood. It is said that only two leaders, Lollo and Mathi, both now dead, could command the callousness to carry it out.
At this point, a conscious decision was taken to expedite and encourage the mass recruitment of the very young, down to about the age of ten. Instead of exposing this tragic bankruptcy with greater statesmanship and concern, the IPKF actually legitimised and encouraged this process by sponsoring its own conscript army - the TNA. the misbehaviour of other groups also played into the hands of the LTTE. The LTTE had discovered in children its ideal recruits - very brainwashable, totally irresponsible where the public is concerned, and given the lack of an alternative once inside, very loyal if their creature comforts are catered for. This shift was reflected in propaganda against education by LTTE spokesmen. Changes in the pattern of warfare have also paralleled this history. During the IPKF presence following the October 1987 offensive, the main thrust of the LTTE was to frustrate the IPKF as well as to frustrate the emergence of any civilian effort independent of the LTTE. Except in Mannar, there was hardly a successful LTTE attack even against an IPKF sentry point. The success in Mannar was achieved by actually firing at sleeping soldiers from inside the hospital building, calculatedly putting the lives of 89 patients at risk. The LTTE proved that the easiest way to fight an army which was callous about civilian lives, and itself look powerful in the process, was to fight them with total disregard for civilians. The massacre by the IPKF of 53 civilians in Valvettithurai on 2nd August 1989, which cost the IPKF dearly in political terms, followed the LTTE breaking a truce and killing about six soldiers on patrol. During this period, the number of Indian soldiers killed by the LTTE is comparable with the number of unarmed civilians it assassinated. The latter were often done by young boys wielding pistols.
But the myth concerning the superior fighting qualities of the LTTE was decisively broken. With the help of the Sri Lankan army, the LTTE's first attempt to dislodge the PLOTE from the Wanni during mid-1989 was a costly failure. The second attempt in January 1990, as costly as it was, succeeded only because the LTTE was able to launch repeated attacks with fresh supplies of manpower flown in by the Sri Lankan Air Force.
The developing trend became clear with the outbreak of the June war with the Sri Lankan forces. The experienced hard-core who were in short supply would be used mainly to defend places of high military or prestige value. The rest, including children, would be used mainly to harass, frustrate and to go to the frontline. Civilians were to be endangered for propaganda value rather than protected. This is clear from the sketch in 2.1. The young and inexperienced were also frequently used as expendable military material. The copious use of suicide squads, being so unique in the modern world, was often publicised as a mark of high dedication and courage rather than as a tragic misuse of the brainwashed young. There was also a general poverty of military imagination in terms of defining objectives and using manpower and lives effectively. Lives were often expended in purely romantic ventures which were then given a religious significance.
During the first attack on the Fort in June, young boys who were sent to scale the walls of the Fort died attempting the ridiculous. During the second attempt in August, the scheme of action where a crane was to lift the attackers into the Fort was so clumsy, that the crane tilted on uneven ground and 40 of the attackers were mown down in the open. During the army action in Kayts and Mandaitivu in August, the army was hardly resisted, though the people were prevented from fleeing to the mainland for safety. Left in total confusion, over 100 civilians were killed by the army which suffered no loss. 49 Eastern province LTTE cadre sent there with no knowledge of the terrain, committed suicide without seeing action.
While the Tigers were trying to explain away these drawbacks which had become part of a pattern, a parallel drama was being enacted with unerring efficiency by the special surveillance unit of the Tigers, answerable directly to the leader. Mails were tapped, people and their contacts were watched. Ex members of a defunct militant group in Karaveddy, who had even contemplated working with the Tigers after the Indian offensive, were picked up in early September and were tortured. Imagined signs of dissident activity, even Bible studies, were looked into. Considerable talent and resources in the form of mature cadre were channelled into this activity - so much so that persons who had narrow escapes discovered that they had been trailed by parallel units which failed to exchange information. Even when the enemy was at the gates, they were taking no chances with their own people. It is clear that defending the people was not among the priorities of the group. Nor was fighting the enemy among them. They knew they could get power by frustrating any thing by anyone else.
In eliminating other movements, the Tigers also did away with the obligation to defend civilians. Every forum in which civilian concerns could be raised was also suppressed. When several groups operated before mid-1986, competition between them ensured that all tried to show a concern for civilians. The concept of bunkers and air-raid shelters was introduced and popularised by the PLOTE. It built one in front of Jaffna hospital with an alarm system to warn civilians to take cover when the Sri Lankan army started shelling from the Fort. This was widely admired.
Apart from other regular instances of deliberately endangering civilians, we take current patterns of deliberate institutionalised harassment of civilians. Following the July 1983 violence, many people flocked to Jaffna determined to make it a permanent home. But today people want to flee Jaffna on an unprecedented scale, signifying the alienation they feel towards the struggle.
The LTTE has responded by instituting a pass system with draconian conditions. In 1985 people gave gold voluntarily towards the militant cause. Why does gold have to be forced out of people through terror now? A family wanting to go to Colombo has to hand in the house keys. A family leaving for India has to hand over the title deeds as well as belongings such as bicycles. Extortionate transport charges were levied and safety and comfort in travel were deliberately jeopardised. The army was prepared to allow the use of the main road between Vavuniya and Elephant Pass. This was stopped by firing at the first few lorries to take the main road.
There was a massive exodus from Jaffna when the pass system was lifted for two days on 6th and 7th October. Those fleeing were abused through a loudspeaker at Mirusuvil, as cowards and traitors. It is ironical that those going from Jaffna to Colombo are called traitors, while they lucky ones able to make it from Colombo to Geneva, London or Toronto became patriots. They are actively canvassed to make life miserable for their fellows at home. If the same logic applied to those leaving Jaffna is strictly applied to the expatriates supporting the LTTE, the results would be far from flattering. In so many ways enormous pressure is being applied on people not to leave Jaffna - to what purpose? The whole concept of National Heroes week observed from 21st - 28th November is an instance of the indignity with which those in Jaffna are rewarded. The whole notion was ironical.
In the middle of a war of liberation, it is natural for liberation fighters to appeal to the people not to forget the sacrifice of the dead through leaflets and such like. Any elaborate commemoration is put off until victory. But here enormous resources have been spent at a time of hardship, and people have been forced to decorate and put up shrines while in a state of vulnerability and the enemy virtually at the gates. As predicted, the government which had learnt nothing over the years, fired from the air wherever signs of enforced festivity were visible.
On the final day, the LTTE ordered that all teachers and students, with women in red and yellow and men in white, should present themselves at school at mid-day. Students were asked to monitor the teachers presence during the Heroe's Week celebrations. This piece of harassment had no value whatsoever, not even in terms of publicity. It was meant simply to give the population the message, "We order as we please, and you obey." A similar event took place during the first quarter of 1990. People were forced to decorate and observe for a month, the second death anniversary of Annai Poopathy of the Batticaloa mothers' front, who fasted to death. The order went out that coconut shoots in the pandals should be replaced with fresh ones every 3 days. At Tharmapuram, near Kilinochchi, the people failed to do this when their coconut trees failed to yield fresh shoots. A punishment was enforced in the form of a hartal.
Such deliberate callousness is motivated by the aim of rendering the people docile, by removing any sense of self respect and frustrating every normal human longing. By thus debasing humanity, a small community can pack enormous destructive energy that can frustrate powerful armies. But this society cannot do anything edifying for its own self. In the process of multiplying misery for itself as well as for others, it will commit suicide. It is like nuclear fission. In the process of releasing enormous destructive energy, the mass - the people - is destroyed!
One redeeming feature of the Sinhalese South is that despite the barbarity of burning bodies, the truth is hard to suppress. Still there is a variety of reading matter in circulation. Some diversity of opinion reaches the printed word. Questions are being raised and there is a healthy scepticism about the political leadership. Attempts to strengthen state patronage over religion and use it to cloak infamy can still elicit sharp rejoinders (Sunday Island, September) Pluralism still shows a capacity survive, although authoritarianism and terror bring about from the people the responses of cynicism and indifference, weakening the society and state as a whole.
Between the North and the South truth becomes a casualty in two different ways. In the South the credibility of the state is so low that people have a tendency to disbelieve what the government says. Among ordinary people in the South, there is still confusion about who massacred the Muslims in the East and who drove the Muslims out of Mannar. In this situation the plight of civilians in Jaffna is not difficult to imagine. On the one hand there are the broadcasts by the state which simply turn them off. There is no printed material coming from outside and no foreign news. There are only three Tamil newspapers printed locally, all directly or indirectly controlled by the Tigers. One of them, the Eelanathan, is the Tigers' official journal. Such is the high point of the struggle for freedom.
Yet a discerning reader could learn the truth from these more eloquently from these than from anywhere else. The massacre of Muslims by the Tigers was being denied angrily and strenuously by Tamil orgnisations abroad. According to Tamil ideology the Muslims were part of the Tamil nation and hence any killing of Muslims must be a serious affair. The killing of Tamil civilians by aerial bombing in Jaffna and the massacres of Tamils in the East were events that were regularly receiving front headline coverage. It was only natural that `Uthayan' should have given the massacre of over 100 Muslims in the East on 3rd August, front headline coverage. The other two journals which are closer to the Tigers presented this incident as a small item. It was later learnt that the Uthayan was pulled up for his concern for the Tamil nation.
While the massacre of Muslims by the Tigers was being denied, the Eelanathan was publishing articles of such kind as would incite a reader to feel that physical harm done to Muslims could not be very wrong. In a closed intellectual world where people were forced to breathe the same poison they excreted, there was for the first time, growing talk that the Muslims were separate from the Tamils - something that Muslims had being saying all this time and people would not listen to. The path was being paved for the draconian expulsion of Muslims.
During the battle when Sri Lankan troops crossed from Mandaitivu (Leyden Island) and entered Jaffna Fort, a fighter plane flew seawards over the Fort and disappeared from sight. The Tigers did not know that it had plunged into the lagoon. The news was first given out over the Sri Lankan radio. the local Tiger news bulletins promptly claimed that they had shot down a fighter. The Tiger office in London then made a claim that they had shot down a fighter with a SAM 7 missile. The official version in Jaffna was changed accordingly.
The `Eelanatham' gave Jaffna readers translations of excerpts from Ostrovsky's book on the Mossad, `By Way of Deception'. It gave the portion where a Mossad agent speaking in front of Sri Lankan military officials in Hebrew referred to them as monkeys hardly off the trees, who needed to be given a banana and sent off. He had then shown them slides of the inside of a vacuum cleaner, saying that it represented an up to date sophisticated radar system. The paper failed to mention references to Mossad training given to the Tigers, and that as far as the Mossad was concerned, Tamils too were included in the monkeys just off the trees, all deserving of as much attention as their money warranted.
This silence is also revealing. For many years the Tigers have tried to present themselves as a liberation movement seeking contacts with such, the world over. Their propaganda has been laced with references to the Sandanistas, the Palestinian struggle, the ANC and so on. Moreover, their enemies and victims have been accused of being agents of the CIA and Mossad. This is the level at which the public is being informed.
Thus Tamils are forced to live in an atmosphere
where there is no variety of opinion. No self examination. And crucial questions
about their future are not raised. The atmosphere is demeaning of humanity and
destructive of intelligence. Instead, people live on gossip and pointless speculation
that substitute for factual reporting. Lawyers' courtroom tricks are used to
disown Tamil responsibility by leading persons. Ingenious rationalisations are
found for incidents such as the Kattankudy massacre - "Those who went to
the Mosque as late as 8.30 p.m. could not have gone there to pray. They must
have been plotting something." Or that "Muslims are leaving Jaffna
because the government is paying them to do so". These are elements of
a Tamil disease that has reached new proportions. This is the kind of atmosphere
in which the Tigers' politics of collective suicide can thrive.
During the abortive peace earlier this year, many members of the Tamil intelligentsia living in the West and in Colombo flocked to conferences organised by the ROOTE (Research Organisation of Tamil Eelam) in London and Jaffna. ROOTE is an LTTE organisation which sought to co-opt this intelligentsia in its attempts at development. The meeting in London was opened by Kittu lighting the traditional lamp - a man who claimed to have killed dozens of civilians during his stint as Jaffna leader, and whose gruesome massacre of TELO members remains a public scandal. These meetings came at a time of euphoria when it appeared on the surface that the Tigers would deliver the goods. Several of those attending these seminars were leading authorities in their scientific fields. They were also products of Jaffna's liberal English public school educational system, which reached its peak of success in the 50's and 60's.
Those who commented on attending these said basically the same thing in a self-righteous dismissive manner: "We are not interested in politics. we only want to contribute our share towards the development of our land." Strictly speaking this is not true. Quite often when military successes by the Tigers or the killing of a large number of sri Lankan soldiers or Sinhalese appealed to their chauvinistic vanity or played to their hatreds, they readily applauded it. They had routinely made political judgements and had emotionally identified themselves with the Tigers.
But even through their hardened hearts they were dimly aware that things were not altogether right. They were uncomfortable with the Tigers having killed several members of the educated elite. A large number of able young men dedicated to Tamil freedom had met cruel fates at the hands of the Tigers. Over a thousand at that time were languishing in the Tigers' draconian prison system. Then there was the fate of very young children of the largely poorer classes being militarily mobilised - to which a blind eye was being turned. When members of the intelligentsia say that they are not interested in politics and want to join the festive euphoria occasionally spread out by the Tigers, it only means that they wish to indulge their vanity without taking their share of responsibility for this immense injustice and tragedy. The Tigers well understood this. Thus did the `cream' of Tamil society become shameless camp followers to a cause that one day, when sanity is restored, Tamils will be manifestly ashamed of.
This phenomenon also underlines the emptiness of a society where the drive for education in the sense of social and material success was so great that any perspective of the totality of life was lost sight of. So much prestige was attached to routine research into minutiae, where the authors and their publications would be forgotten in 20 years, that there was an arrogant disdain of the common issues of ordinary life -like justice - that make up politics. Opinions are routinely given with such pompous arrogance on political issues, as if social prestige was a substitute for hard time consuming analytical thinking.
Once again the conduct of the intelligentsia in Jaffna was characterised by cowardice and opportunism, safeguarding themselves while endangering others. Some of them would go as volunteers to dig bunkers for the Tigers, an event to which much attention would be drawn. They would then spend a short time in a safe place and get back home. This would then serve as publicity to pull in others to work in really dangerous places. The members of the intelligentsia performing this service would receive privileges - such as immunity for their children from military tasks. Many of them had escorted their sons to Colombo while defending the use by the Tigers of less privileged children. While admitting that use of children is wrong in principle, they would add, "But this is the final battle!" While on the verge of completing immigration formalities to take themselves and their children away to Australia and Canada, they still continue to feed others with irresponsible lies about Muslims, dissidents and about the prospects awaiting those left behind.
Members of the intelligentsia at home could
adduce reasons of survival, however selfish, to explain their behaviour. But
for a sizeable section of those abroad, it is a matter of fighting from a distance
a bizarre battle, according to the dictates of their warped souls. They do not
even want to know the consequences of what they are advocating. When it comes
to home, leading Tamil expatriates in Western capitals practice rules of censorship
which would have been an embarrassment even in Jaffna . When it came to their
acts, the militant groups generally preferred silence to offending the intelligence
of the local man. Among the worst offenders are some of the expatriate publications
in English. They have obfuscated the stories behind several well known killings
about which no one would attempt to fool the Jaffna man. They would have it
that civilian refugees fleeing to India upon the Tigers assuming control early
in 1990, were killed not by the Tigers or the Sri Lankan forces, but that they
were victims of factional fighting in the TNA. The Muslims were not massacred
by the Tigers, but by paramilitary units within the Sri Lankan forces. There
is even an impressive network to co-ordinate the spread of lies. An allegation
against the Tigers would bring the typical response, "Tell us the
source, so that we can deny it." An editorial in the Tamil Times mildly
suggesting that the June war was least wanted by the people and was imposed
upon them, brought about an outraged response from some leading expatriate quarters.
While the propaganda machinery at home is managed unconvincingly, that abroad has several highly educated and able persons in it, who know how to succeed in the West and would spare no effort or expense to get their sons into the most prestigious Western universities. But what do they do to the sons of the soil at home? Some of them have doubts, but they want the recognition of being office bearers in the local Tamil Sangam. So they allow themselves to be used by a minority of active individuals. Some have changed political colours so many times that they are just cynical. A senior and articulate academic in North America would make inspiring speeches about the Tigers being our legitimate representatives. He would then confide privately that he spoke rubbish. A senior Tiger leader told a private audience that he knew that the expatriates were not serious, but that they would use them for propaganda purposes. A study of the expatriate intelligentsia, how they are manipulated by a mixture of fear and appeals to personal vanity, their insensitivity, would all reveal the workings of Jaffna society in the extreme without the benign, mitigating cultural influences at home, which still struggle to survive.
In contrast to the intelligentsia there are
many Tamil refugees in the West, socially insignificant as they are, who have
been through the struggle and make a genuine effort to understand what is happening.
Unlike English journals, there are a number of Tamil journals published by these
groups which raise questions and issues from the heart.
The process of closing all formal fora for alternative opinion is now virtually complete, and there are few places where any intelligent discussion takes place. The lack of any desire to think seriously about the future and demand that there should be an alternative course to collective suicide, coincides with a very widespread practice by the literate (meaning a large section of Jaffna) to find alternatives to living in their homeland. Wherever one comes across groups in conversation, there is a dominant trend towards exchanging information on `travel agents', how to get visas, the point system for Australian immigration and such like. Colombo is awash with Tamils going to travel agencies, embassies and communication centres. Overseas telephone calls have become a way of life in sharp contrast to a decade ago. It is between these preoccupations that people make casual political judgements. Though individuals still take considerable risks to dissent, most observers are agreed that even in the jaws of disaster, there is little chance of any mass protest. The Tigers too recognise that while terror has its effect, the most potent mechanism for dampening dissent has been the ease with which the Jaffna man can go abroad. A significant number of the economic institutions left among Tamils concern this activity. The politics of the Tigers has meshed with this trend. This is why a person who goes to Colombo as a traitor becomes a patriot once abroad. Then the same shallow interest in the well being of their people and the habit of not analysing, would well suit the needs of the Tigers.
Under such conditions it is to be expected that much of the dissent is bound to be private, largely passive and confined to limited long term objectives. The bulk of these dissenters have one thing in common. They are conscientious persons with enormous courage, with a strong commitment to the people and the land. We take three broad categories.
One group consists of Hindus with a deep sense of their cultural roots, with a grounding in the ethical teachings of Indian sages, particularly Thiruvalluvar, and in the laws of nature based on karma. They would have a commitment and a sense of purpose in their work, but would not voice public dissent, though their feelings about the politics of the Tigers could be surprisingly strong and uncompromising. One example is a lady doing a very responsible job. Her outlook was moulded partly by observing her nephew, disillusioned but trapped in the organisation, who in his last days experienced the agonies of a wounded soul. She was once walking to work when she was told of the murder of a prominent person. Upon inquiry she was told that the killers were unknown. In keeping with the training of women of her generation, who would use Tamil to convey affection and intimacy, and English to sound authoritative, she responded sharply: "What do you mean you don't know? IT IS THE TIGERS!" She said nothing more and walked on looking grave. While responsibility for the killing was being obfuscated in expatriate circles, there was no fooling those with a strong instinctive feeling about Jaffna society. They were convinced that the choice was between this politics and the survival of the Tamil community.
Another in this category is a leading citizen faced with considerable risk as well as responsibility through all the recent military operations. He has stuck to his work in Jaffna with his family, rejecting all temptations to emigrate. His identification with the people is so close that he would freely and patiently attend to people who come to him for help at odd hours. For a number of years he did not express his personal opinions, but would answer questions about facts surrounding his experiences with clinical precision. He confided recently: "I have no illusions about what the Sri Lankan army would do if it came in to Jaffna. I may get killed. But that is a small thing. Unless this politics is destroyed, there is no hope." Unlike expatriate sentiments, such come from persons with a sacrificial commitment to the land and its common people!
The second group we consider is a sub category of Christians often at odds with the established church for trying to live and teach the Gospel. The established church in Jaffna is by some tests more compromised than the church in the South. Though the church in the South has been cowardly, it still provides some fora for open discussion. The Church in the North has not voiced itself on issues of traditional Christian concern, such as the militarisation of children. By leaving such matters to the ICRC and voicing itself only on Tamil grievances against the government, the established church may do more harm to the people than good. One or more leading functionaries of one denomination have been saying things like, "95%of the people support the Tigers. The rest are Sinhalese!"
Against this background conscientious Christians have had a difficult time - particularly those who believe that the Gospel demands the practice of non-violence. A young Roman Catholic clergyman in his parish ministry kept raising questions about what is going on and about his non-violent convictions. A tense situation developed when a section of the parish murmured, "The Bishops in the South are giving money to the president's National Defence Fund. Only our clergy want to talk non-violence." That is a pointer to the failure of the Church as a whole by actually endangering those who are conscientious about the teachings of Christ.
A senior colleague of this young clergyman recently addressed a mass rally as the guest of another parish. Calling for a self examination, he laid down five necessities. One called for a change of heart from the militants. The priest of the host parish became worried upon seeing some militant cadre in front of the church premises. In summarising the sermon, he gave a slight twist to the necessity mentioned - "May God bless the cause of the youth".
Addressing a group of students on social responsibility, a theologian raised the matter of killing Muslim civilians in the East. Talking to him later, a worried official of the institution let it slip that what mattered to them were not his ideas on social responsibility, but his academic credentials.
These person are a handful of individuals in the established church. Others of increasing significance are represented by the growing non-conformist and house churches. Though lacking material resources many of them have laboured with commitment and have advocated non-violence. Though not to the liking of the LTTE any more than of the established churches, open confrontation has so far been avoided. This is largely because they regard their primary task as preaching the Gospel. Though their activities may hamper support, they do not pose a direct threat to political power.
A very significant sector from which passive opposition springs is the hard working peasantry spread across many rural areas of the North and those in allied services. The heyday of their prosperity was during the government of Mrs.Bandaranaike. Since then their economy has been on a precarious footing, at the mercy of market forces, import policies and the security situation, all more unpredictable than the weather. For their survival they have a keen awareness of what is going on around them, decisions in Colombo, oil crises, all of which determine their decisions from month to month. A sudden influx of imported onions into Colombo would mean they have to decide whether to store or to sell at a loss. They also have a tradition of hard work. Such people question everything and are difficult to fool. If transportation that is crucial to their survival is blocked, they would know the politics behind it.
It is such persons who sheltered student leader Vimalswaran for a year in the heartland of Jaffna when the LTTE's writ was unchallenged. Without a political commitment from this class, dissidents on the run would not have stood chance. Not surprisingly some of the populist measures contemplated by the LTTE leadership during the interlude of peace were aimed at this class. These people know that as individuals they do not count. For tactical reasons they would bow to the LTTE and for their survival they would run errands for the LTTE at great risk. But in their minds they are clear that this politics will have to go. For them running risks is a way of life. One of them casually told a dissident he was sheltering, "The local LTTE area leader is coming to lunch. I will take you to another house and bring you back later."
The following episode gives an insight into their spirit. A young man trying to go to Colombo was turned back by LTTE sentries in the Wanni. The young sentry boys would only say, "No travel for the time being. Orders are orders. Don't think we are like the other groups." The young man went back a little and was wondering what to do, when an old Wanni farmer came that way. "In a spot of trouble aren't you? What, going back home? Can you make it? said the old man, and waited musingly. The young man said that he had no choice. "Don't be stupid", said the old man, "Go through this lane. When you come to the end of it, there is a house. The woman there may shout at you. Ignore her and turn left into the paddy field. Go straight. When you get to the end, left again, and you will be back on the main road. Thereafter, no problem." The young man made it.
We have dealt with this matter in various places - particularly the nature of the military response and the general refusal to understand the problem of minorities. We shall briefly dwell on a related aspect. This is the suppression and stifling of any potential to provide an alternative to the dominant politics by Tamils themselves. We have maintained that a solution could only emerge through a politics where the human and democratic rights of all persons in this country are respected. For this to happen those Tamils who feel that they want to live in this country with the Sinhalese and Muslims and make legitimate demands for the well-being of their people, should be respected and their credibility upheld. What is happening now is the opposite. This again and again boosts up the Tigers as the only answer to this government.
An important manner in which this happens is when leaders of the local community are unable to make any impact on the torture and disappearance of thousands of detainees or to provide the community with any assurances. In the Batticaloa area over a hundred young persons picked up from refugee camps are unaccounted for. Peoples' representatives raising the matter are bullied and humiliated. In the Amparai District when the appearance of thirty odd headless bodies was reported in `the Island', the inquiry took the form of intimidating leading local citizens to sign a denial. In the meantime the LTTE successfully ambushed an STF patrol in Panama. Whom would the people turn to for leadership under such conditions?
The use made by the government of Tamil groups is so counter productive as to actually add to the LTTE's prestige. A mature government genuinely wanting to expose the LTTE would have insisted that these groups show more spunk and fight for the interests of their people. Instead it has used their weapons to discredit them and add to their humiliation. MP's from these groups prefer to forget that they were militants with a cause. They are regularly taken on ministerial visits to the East and mostly observe a silence on the indignities being heaped on the people there by government forces. On a recent visit of a multi-party delegation, one representative of a militant group introduced himself to the Colonel as someone working closely with the Brigadier in some other area, whose conduct leaves much to be desired. Another member of the delegation asked the Colonel about missing persons. The Colonel replied casually, that such things must be expected to happen.
An elderly civilian who was recently appointed MP for the Batticaloa District, whose appointment the EPRLF publicly objected to, was the only person to question the Minister of Defence about persons taken from refugee camps and who were now missing. The army initially admitted taking over hundred and reduced the number to about 30 later. The Minister maintained that he cannot account for persons the army does not admit as having taken. The elderly MP persisted on his demand for some time. But his younger ex-militant colleagues kept silent without supporting him.
At another meeting of an all party delegation with the Minister of Defence, the representative of a Left party complained about 30 or so Tamils who went to Amparai, were detained and about whom nothing more was heard until that time. The Minister asked sternly, "Are they your cadre?" On being told that they were ordinary civilians, the Minister replied, "If they are your cadre I will personally make some arrangement. Otherwise you have no business to ask."
Trincomalee is an area about which Tamils are very sensitive. Instead of trying to give Tamils confidence by handling it carefully, it is managed by a Brigadier responsible for several hundred disappearances. The Brigadier enjoys wide powers in this area where Tamils have numerically been the greatest sufferers over the years. We have commented on current rehabilitation efforts in Report No.5. On a visit of the delegation above in October, they were taken to a multi-racial housing scheme sponsored by the NGO Sarvodaya. It turned out that though shramadana (volunteer) labour is provided by Tamils and Muslims, practically all the houses being built are for Sinhalese.
It was explained to them there that the Brigadier was a no-nonsense man who had brought all NGO's involved in rehabilitation under his control. On non-discriminatory principles, the Brigadier had decided on the allocation of Sarvodaya houses. First to the displaced persons of 1987, nearly all of whom just happened to be Sinhalese. Curiously the numerically much larger body of persons displaced in 1983-86 and 1990 are mostly all Tamils. This adds to our earlier insight about government policy in Trincomalee.
One Tamil group, the EPRLF, appears to have privately taken an independent stand on the goings on in Trincomalee, presumably using its connections with the Indian Government. Although there was no public protest from any Tamil group, there were angry references in the press on attempts being made to relocate Sinhalese. During the third week or so of October, some persons working for EPRLF MPs were abducted and evidently roughed up in Colombo. A complaint made to a very senior member of the government is said to have brought about the response: "There are forces outside the control of the government who are unhappy about the President talking to Tamil groups." During this period it is reported that EPRLF MP's felt rather intimidated about leaving Sravasti hostel and going to Parliament. Further inquiries revealed that the `force' concerned was a Tamil group well known to the EPRLF, and by no means outside the ambit of the government.
During the IPKF presence, the PLOTE kept its distance and preserved a measure of independence. In January, the Sri Lankan forces helped the LTTE to dislodge them from their stronghold in the Wanni. Following the outbreak of war in June the PLOTE succumbed to severe pressure to work with the forces - some of their cadre were knifed by soldiers in Kalmunai. Later PLOTE cadre were posted with Sri Lankan soldiers at sentry points in Vavuniya. For some time they tried to curb the indignities to which civilians were subject to by soldiers. But they lacked even the means to complain to a responsible person about the conduct of individual soldiers. In turn they became frustrated as people grumbled about PLOTE cadre in the same breath in which they complained about soldiers. Recently there have been a number of complaints about extortion by PLOTE cadre.
To make matters worse there is no move in the South to understand the "Tamil Problem." Numerous articles and editorials are appearing about politico-military approaches, and human rights organisations questioning the treatment of Tamils are being attacked. But no one is asking what is happening to the Tamil community and the cost to the country of its destruction. What progress has been made in making the minorities feel part of the country? In fact despite Tamil being elevated to an official language, the position of the Tamils has worsened. Furthermore, as a general offshoot of insensitivity and repression there are vast segments of disenchantment. A very large number of these people outside the North-East who have not seen a Tiger in the flesh and know little about them except that they have seriously embarrassed the government, hail the Tigers as their vicarious avengers. This group includes Sinhalese and people like Malayali's from Kotahena who were victims of violence unleashed against Tamils in July 1983. Such is the alienation created by the government in many places, that subjective feelings about the Tigers override the key question - what it would mean to them if their own people adopt the politics of the Tigers?
Thus when an elder-statesman representing the Hill Country Tamils who has been a senior member of the government for over a dozen of years, asserts that the Tigers are the representatives of the people of the North-East, one needs to consider his own community's experience. He has a number of times been quoted privately as saying that the government would not give the Tamils anything voluntarily. Interestingly, his assertion came as a response to a question about the Muslim minority's position. (Sunday Times - 9.12.90). He cannot surely mean that Muslims should be part of the North-East in the same manner that his community is part of the South.
Once more it will hardly come as a surprise
if, having strengthened and legitimised the Tigers to this point, the government
would be overawed into taking them on as partners with sole control over the
We concentrate on a salient feature that is informative. Despite the increasing repression and intolerance, the government, like others around the world, retains a capacity to appeal to its political rivals or even enemies, and use them when it can find a common cause or a question of common interest. Thus when this war broke out, the president summoned Tamil opposition groups and had talks with them. He could get even the SLFP which was challenging the legitimacy of his power, and together with other opposition groups, send them to India to sell the war. He could give regular, well-publicised, cordial receptions to Tamil delegations to defuse their complaints about the forces' conduct. He could summon an All Party Conference and sit with opponents, taking his own time evolving a political solution. Even media publicity given to the views of some of his critics, like the leader of the Tamil Congress, is tolerated. But like everywhere else, there is a price for going too far as recently the EPRLF and the SLMC discovered. In the West it may be telephone tapping or surveillance for the purpose of black mail, or, particularly in the US, a rigorous scrutiny of one's income tax returns. In this country, it could be a visit from forces "outside the government's control." The point is that such a relationship with opponents gives the government some options, including that of putting a good face on capitulation.
The Tigers, on the other hand, being the accredited leaders of a small community with few resources, lack the ability to use their opponents even in a crisis. In 1986 it demolished its rival groups in the middle of a war allowing the enemy to make a rapid advance. When some other militant leaders appealed to the LTTE to state its conditions for co-operation, these requests were ignored. When after the IPKF's arrival, a breakaway faction of the EPRLF reportedly sent an emissary to discuss peace with the Tigers, the emissary failed to reappear. Following the war with the IPKF, there was a division among former members of a defunct Left wing group with one faction wanting to do nothing and the other wanting to support the LTTE. Recently the LTTE has detained several tens of these person who were simply staying at home and they are unaccounted for.
Following the outbreak of the current war with the Sri Lankan forces, there was a mood among many ex-militants living abroad to work with the LTTE. News of the LTTE's repression at home put an end to this.
Why is it that a group like the LTTE in a strong position to be generous, and badly needing support, preferred to brutally spurn every opportunity for co-operation, and prefer instead desperate measures such as cannibalising the social fabric and plucking up children in large numbers to keep the show going? An important part of the answer is its use of the twin concepts of the sacred group and traitor to promote its appeal - a potent weapon inherited from the TULF and later used against it. the price paid was a spiralling cycle of repression, desperate measures and a resort to mysticism to explain setbacks, contradictions and somersaults. It is hardly surprising that any open discussion that would be the price of co-operation, is anathema to the LTTE. Take some of the links in history. The LTTE once tried to ingratiate itself with India by boasting with little subtlety that it had given India a foothold in this country. It went to war with India to avoid any power sharing. This was when the other groups became active with Indian Forces. Forced into a corner, the LTTE made a deal with the Sri Lankan government, purportedly because of whose perfidy it fought India, and helped the Sri Lankan forces to decimate its rivals. Now its rivals have been cornered into working with the Sri Lankan government. How does one sort out treachery and patriotism from this mess except by asserting a sacred prerogative?
This is given further substance by the fact that the LTTE has repeatedly shown a willingness to ignore its own rhetoric and sit and make deals with apparently sworn enemies. It made an appeal to India soon after the outbreak of war in 1987 and once more it calls for Indian recognition and talks of not accepting an international peace effort that circumvents India. Soon after hammering the TELO in 1986, it consorted with Sri Lankan army officers and cabinet members on television. Later it made a deal with President Premadasa on the basis of their common patriotic interest in keeping outsiders (namely Indians) out. Thus despite the rhetoric it was not serious about enemies without. But no quarter was given to any hint of dissent within. It was not seeking the right of Tamils to be an independent self respecting community, but was seeking a sub contract from the Indian and Sri Lankan governments to be given sole charge of Tamils. Its main enemy was the independent spirit of Tamil people themselves.
Another feature of Sri Lankan as well as international politics is that politicians authorise or even use accredited agents to do their dirty work and themselves keep aloof. These jobs are done by agencies for intelligence and subversion, special units within the police or by private goons in the pay of politicians. Thus President Premadasa could authorise his forces to do their stuff and himself visit the victims with beaming benevolence, paying his respects to kovils and vihares to the whirr of TV cameras, talk about rehabilitation and issue orders for more supplies. While his forces are waging a brutal war against the LTTE or the JVP, he could on his own account call them for talks.
With the LTTE there is no separation between the military and the political arm. Even in such unjustifiable actions such as the expulsion of Muslims from the North, its political arm, the PFLT, was at the forefront. By contrast none of the Muslim parties talking to Tamil groups in Colombo have any visible connections with the Jihad or the Muslim home guards in the East. This is again indicative of the LTTE's nature. It is not that this makes the government morally superior. No disregard for human rights will work. But for the short term it gives a certain amount of flexibility to avert a precipitate plunge into disaster. When the cost is proving too high, the government retains the ability to sweep the dirty work under the carpet and shake hands with the enemy.
The LTTE by contrast has left itself no options to deal with the Muslims as a self respecting people. They are a very different category from Sinhalese colonists. The latter are essentially poor and exploited people settled in the East by well heeled promoters preferring the flesh pots of Colombo. They are not integrated communities with deep roots in the soil and who are articulate, having produced men of education and influence. They may be killed or driven out as refugees, and the government, if it proves expedient, could afford to drop them and let their grievances fester for decades. It is very different with the Muslims in the North-East. They know and feel that they belong to the region as much as the Tamils. They are integrated communities with deep roots. Their contribution to Tamil culture and scholarship is substantial. Further, a majority can afford to become tired and indifferent as is now symptomatic of the Sinhalese. They could cut their losses and there would still be much left to be rescued. It is very different for a minority - in particular for the Muslims of the North-East. What is worse, the Tigers have taught everyone with a grievance that to succeed easily against the likes of the government or themselves, they need to imitate their methods. Like Tamil dissidents, Muslims cannot be marginalised by branding them traitors. The Tigers forgot that like what Sinhalese governments did earlier, they too were dealing with a minority.
Shortly after the outbreak of the June war, some very senior Tiger leaders addressed a seminar at the University of Jaffna. A question was posed about the LTTE's foreign policy, particularly in relation to Mr.Karunanidhi - Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. A very high ranking LTTE personage made an audible impromptu blurt of something obscene in reference to Karunanidhi, comparing him unfavourably with Amirthalingam. Those near the front clearly heard the remark. This was quickly followed up by a political spokesman with something printable. The audience was thus given an insight into the cynicism and anger governing mutual relations between Tigers and their actual and aspiring Indian godfathers. On the surface it would appear that the Tigers have much to thank Karunanidhi for. Despite the fact that the Tigers kept Karunanidhi at a distance when MGR was alive, he had campaigned for the Tigers when Indian soldiers were dying fighting them, he deliberately slighted the Indian army, he was lenient, to say the least, with Tiger operations in Tamil Nadu and even faced widespread accusations over the killing of EPRLF leaders in Madras on 19th June.
Their relations with Subramaniam Swamy too show similar symptoms. Mr.Swamy has been quoted in the press to the effect that he had made the connection for the Tigers to train with the Israeli Mossad, that does a thriving business in helping some of the worst governments to suppress both violent and non-violent liberation movements. The cause of his present disillusionment with the LTTE is attributed by him, on the face of it, to personal displeasure with Balasingam of the LTTE. It is in the nature of these politicians to pick up something and drop it on mere fancy. The level of their sense of responsibility is such that the fate of a whole people may hinge on their moods and on personal considerations. The LTTE too may not be able to understand that these individuals do not have the capacity to do everything it requires of them. To the LTTE, they are tools to the goal of an agreement with Delhi - not for influence in India but for Delhi's seal on a sub-contract giving the Tigers exclusive rights over the fate of Tamils in the North-East.
The opportunism of Indian politicians who play with such phenomena and strengthen them without the sense of responsibility to understand what it is all about, can cost India dearly. As it is, the Tigers have an image far in excess of their material strength - What is after all left of Ceylon Tamil society? Its apparent success will inspire groups with grievances to imitate its methods. Perhaps after the phenomenon collapses - if only out of sheer material exhaustion - some future Indian artists would represent goddess Kali with the face of a Tigress.
India still appears to view the Tamil problem exclusively in terms of its foreign policy aims. It is yet to understand what is happening to the Tamils and take responsibility for past mishandling. Apart from the needless suffering caused to civilians, it has not admitted responsibility for the cruel fate suffered by TNA conscripts and the fact that arms left behind by India were used in the massacres of Muslim civilians. Until there is a change, there will be more tragedies - both here and in India.
Those in the South who spend too much time accusing India of foul play, should face up to the fact that it was July 1983 that opened the floodgates for this ugly episode. If they would only actively face up to their responsibility - which they have consistently failed to do - there will be no room for Indian interference. They cannot bomb civilians and slaughter by the thousands and think realistically that nothing would move in India. They fail to understand that they do not have the same choices and influence as in 1956.
In closing we present the views of a young man who was an active member of the militant cause half a dozen of years ago. He is not an academic, but through the hard school of life he has earned highly enviable skills that would have made him a millionaire in the West in no time. But he remains in the country because of a strong emotional and political commitment. Being fluent in all three languages, he roams the country in various guises, active now in human rights work. We present his views as something seldom heard and extremely valuable in understanding the crisis:
"A large number of Tamils are in a state of despair, sitting helplessly at what may be the threshold of their final doom. Apart from the vindictive havoc brought about by the Sri Lankan forces, there is internal repression which does not allow us space even to re-evaluate. I blame the Tamil intellectuals for this state of affairs. Today they wring their hands and say what could we have done when our lives were threatened? Was this always true? The signs were there a decade ago and the intellectuals could have checked it.
"The massacre of over a hundred and fifty Sinhalese, including women and children, at Anuradhapura in May 1985, was a crime that blackened the name of the militant cause by bringing it down to the level of the Sri Lankan forces. Again the intellectuals say that they were either unwilling or scared to condemn it. Then there is the other dishonest line that we had frequently heard from intellectuals: "Don't criticise them openly. After all they risk their lives. Tell them privately, they will listen." It is a fact that a large number from all groups gave their lives. But what is happening today is an insult to all of them. I know from a friend who was close to Das of the TELO, that when the Indian RAW approached him about carrying out the Anuradhapura massacre, he was horrified. The LTTE agreed at least partly because it wanted to endear itself to the RAW, above the TELO. When we look back at how the LTTE had worked, how it systematically and patiently targeted individuals who were a challenge to it, it had a very clear mind where its priorities were concerned. Its record in this respect is far more impressive than its military one.
"Yet again and again many intellectuals have seen the whole Tamil cause as banking on this organisation, repeatedly trying to polish the surface of what was rotten within, and at the same time giving an intellectual polish to their cowardice. A key reason why they did not see an alternative to the LTTE stemmed from the psychology of their class. There were healthy attempts at alternatives to the LTTE, but the intellectuals refused to see them and thus weakened them. If these attempts had been supported, the fate of the Tamils would have been different.
"Take the EPRLF for instance, which had started showing symptoms of rot by 1984. In 1985 two EPRLF men shot dead a psychiatric patient in Chunnakam. There was a public protest backed by the LTTE. This was amongst the exceptionally few killings for which the EPRLF was responsible before the Accord. The EPRLF agreed to inquire into the incident and punish the culprits. The heads of the culprits were shaven and they were tied to posts publicly at the Chunnakam market. They were removed only when the LTTE instigated the crowd to stone them. Has the LTTE ever admitted a mistake or held a public inquiry into a complaint against itself? When the TELO was inhumanly decimated and the intellectuals were silent, the EPRLF organised a public protest. One was always able to walk into an EPRLF camp, say anything about them and walk out in one piece. Until the time they were banned, they did keep a space open for the public to protest. But the intellectuals largely despised them, seeing them through spectacles coloured by caste and class.
"But this was not the case with ordinary common people who have throughout shown a sense of decency and displayed guts. I need not repeat the many incidents where ordinary people collectively and individually refused to bow down to oppression. This, despite the fact that there was no one to protect them. At the end of 1986 when the LTTE had launched a hunt for EPRLF members on the run, a friend of mine in a village in Jaffna whom I was visiting, was asked about me. My friend told the questioner the truth, that I never had any connection. Another LTTE member stepped in and slammed my friend in the face, causing him to fall. He got up and went home bleeding from the mouth. Later he went to the bank and cleared all his savings. He gave it all to me and told me to get his family out of there if anything happened to him. He then went to the local LTTE camp, pushed the sentries aside and walked in. He then beat two others who came to stop him. Next he caught the person who had assaulted him, slammed him against the wall and beat him. He then told the LTTE men that he had been born in that village and that he would continue to live there. He did that and the LTTE did not touch him. The LTTE was often afraid of such determination. What was he after all? - an ordinary son of the soil. Our intellectuals never measured up to such levels. My friend is abroad now." [Top]
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