PREFACE AND A GENERAL APPEALThe crisis in Sri Lanka which now faces the Tamils, and ultimately all the people of this country with an uncertain future is one that appears to defy definition. The Tamils have largely lost their spiritual and intellectual bearings and their physical existence hangs in the balance. The manner in which the Muslims are being uprooted, robbed and driven out en masse from the North, and the attitudes towards them that are being promoted, puts the dominant Tamil ideology in very disreputable company. In losing any sensitivity to what it means to be a minority, they have forgotten their own history. The Muslims who were making steady gains as a community have suffered setbacks as the result of the brutal intolerance of the Tigers and the manoeuvrings of the government. They are now being inducted into a culture of violence while sober and reflective Muslim voices are being pushed aside. Apart from the Sinhalese peasants being killed in border areas, the devastating potential for the Sinhalese contained in the general degeneration of the political culture is seen in the continuing phenomenon of burning corpses in the South.
It is evident that those who wish for peace on this island are at a loss to identify the problem, leave alone find a solution. A recent press release by the Canadian Foreign Secretary Joe Clark illustrates the point. In a `balanced' statement expressing concern over human rights violations in this country, Mr.Clark called on both sides to go for negotiations as the most appropriate means of resolving the dispute and ensuring the safety of civilians in the North and East. Similar sentiments had been reflected in a recent statement by the British Prime Minister and in a call made by the Indian High Commissioner.
On the other hand when speaking privately, there is general agreement that everyone feels a sense of loss. Most people feel instinctively that a negotiated settlement is a very remote prospect. Since the outbreak of war, the natural, if unspoken, thrust of the government's military and administrative machinery has been to speed up the obliteration of historic Tamil associations and presence in the Eastern province. Its callousness has brought death to over 6000 Tamil civilians - not in combat but in massacres and bombings.
The Tigers on the other hand, by their brutal massacres of hundreds of policemen taken prisoner, and of 700 or so Muslim civilians helped the process of dehumanisation by destroying the possibility of human communication and understanding.
Events over the last four months have left us with two main obstacles to a negotiated settlement. One is the government's attempt to deny Tamil claims in the East by bringing about a fait accompli through decimation and displacement of the Tamil population. Although influential sections of the government and the press have supported such moves, the result will never be acceptable to Tamil opinion or help to build confidence among them.
The other is the character of the LTTE, the natural articulation of which not just helped to precipitate the war, but calculatedly left the Tamils at the mercy of enraged Sri Lankan forces whose nature was well known, without the will or the capacity to protect them. More importantly negotiations would mean talk of constitutional arrangements, elections, settled conditions and some airing of dissenting opinion. Such would mean questioning the legacy of the Tigers - a legacy marked by the tragic demise of hundreds and thousands of young with a feeling and dedication towards the well being of Tamils, TNA conscripts, ordinary civilians and intellectuals. Any hint of openness would make the Tigers immediately nervous, and not without reason. Between the months of January and June this year, there was a precipitous decline in the purely emotional feeling that is called support for the Tigers. Like in October 1987, this consideration must have weighed heavily in the outbreak of hostilities. [See our reports 4 & 5 and special report 3].
We have to examine the peculiar phenomenon referred to and how the government's attitudes have given it strength, durability and according to LTTE sympathisers who leave the concerns of the people out of their emotions, a necessity. It is important to understand this phenomenon because in seeking a solution we have to go beyond feelings that seem very reasonable at a subjective human level, beyond ethnic considerations and see the process as a national malaise threatening all of us - not just in this country, but the fall out from the success of this phenomenon will influence movements in the Indian sub-continent as well.
We spoke of feelings that appear reasonable at a subjective human level, because in the present state of political culture, many ordinary Sinhalese, soldiers and officers feel that the government was very reasonable with the LTTE and that gestures of trust and restraint were rudely and obscenely spurned. The government had provided the Tigers during the 14 months of the LTTE-Premadasa honeymoon with military, material and diplomatic help to replace the Indian army and its allies as the dominant power in the North-East. The Sri Lankan army had also observed unaccustomed restraint during several provocations by the Tigers in the months leading up to June. The other side was not talked about. It is hard to maintain that in helping the Tigers the government was helping the Tamils. During the honeymoon the government had actually connived with the Tigers, directly and indirectly, in the killing of hundreds of Tamils including TNA conscripts, individuals and refugees with dissident associations. Further, the North-East was brought under a regime with an apparatus of repression that was unprecedented. Not knowing this side, but only the government's much publicised generosity to the Tigers which it identified with the Tamils, anger against Tamils came naturally with the massacre of policemen. To those who saw things this way, the punishment of Tamils through bombing and atrocities seemed justified.
We spoke of this phenomenon as a common malaise because of its self reinforcing character and its ability to look larger than life in the general drift of subcontinental politics. Whether, it is the grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka or of the Sikhs, Kahmiri's or Assamese in India, governments have lacked the capacity to take a principled and rational outlook, and instead tend to react with repression combined with a lack of clarity. The ensuing process of alienation gives credibility and strength to extremist violence and totalitarian forms of organisation.
In Sri Lanka the results obtained by the LTTE and JVP have convinced many people exasperated with the government, to believe that only their methods work. Tamil leaders and parliamentarians had talked about discrimination and federalism and had protested peacefully for decades only to earn contempt, ridicule and organised violence. Peasant organisations and trade unions in the South who protested against the impoverishment and the decline in the quality of life resulting from economic policies of the government, heavily linked to the dictates of Western capital and giving multinationals direct control over large tracts of agricultural land, met with the violence of goon squads and large scale dismissals. The government appeared immovable. This was in 1980. Less than a decade later, the government desperately invited the JVP for negotiations after it demonstrated its capacity to kill, paralyse the nation and strike terror into the very corridors of power. The LTTE after it responded to a similar invitation was feted in the manner of visiting royalty, in sharp contrast to the abject fate meted out by the government to its Sinhalese and Tamil detractors of a milder sort. The government's capitulation to what it had earlier termed criminal groups was even hailed as fine statesmanship by tired intellectuals, only too ready to gloss over the lack of it in the past. The end result was to pour scorn over the values of moderation, reason and decency, which were now consigned to homilies over state television.
The High Cost of Anarchy:
In habitually abandoning interests of the people for transient tactical political advantage, a heavy price has been paid in terms of the dignity of the nation and consequently of the people.
The country is paying heavily for what lies behind those sentiments coming with less subtlety from senior ministers and not repudiated by the President or other cabinet colleagues. The Amnesty International has been called a terrorist organisation and there is little sensitivity to the process of the law which determines the character of the state.
The Independent Surrender Commission was set up by the President to facilitate the surrender of those having real or suspected JVP links without the fear of meeting the scandalous fate of many other youths. This worked well for a time and the commission's work was wound up by the President in August. It has subsequently become well known that a significant number of those who had surrendered had been killed after they were released - something that may not have happened to them if the commission had not existed at all. Answering questions in parliament, the Minister of Defence has maintained that these persons were killed not by the forces, but by villagers angry with the JVP.
In early November `the Island' reported the appearance of about 30 headless bodies in Thirukkovil and Akkaraipattu - a well known fact in that locality. A Deefence Ministry statement published in the Sunday Observer of 4th November described the claim as mischievous, following an `inquiry'. Leading citizens of the area were quoted as having denied the appearance of the bodies. The plight of these citizens who try to keep life going in an isolated area full of refugees, in an atmosphere of terror, is not hard to imagine.
These are two among a host of instances showing that the workings of civil society have ceased to exist in a large category of instances. A generation is growing up without knowing that there used to be such things such as post mortems, magistrate's inquiries and accountability before the law.
In this respect the government has utterly degraded itself. As a liberation group the Tigers have not shown themselves in any way superior to the government. The Tigers too have the last word by simply denying everything. They deny the killings of Muslims and the regular disappearances and ill-treatment of so called traitors that mark their rule. Humanity in this country has been devalued and what increased the sense of loss is the state's incapacity to assume a responsible role.
But the state is itself a product as well as a promoter of our value system, and all secular and religious institutions must share the responsibility for this hopeless state of affairs. The parliamentary opposition too shows no signs of trying to understand the seriousness of the whole issue. The cause of human rights in this country has been made weaker by the Opposition using it as a means to embarrass the government rather than address the issue in depth. Even from some of the more intelligent and articulate Opposition MP's, their contribution to the debate on the Tamil crisis stops mainly at opposition the North-East merger. The main issue of trying to restore a sense of confidence to the Tamil minority who have suffered from years of state violence is hardly addressed. The government, whatever its motives, can give legitimate reasons for seeking a solution outside parliament, effectively devaluing the latter as the institution presiding over the nation's destiny. It is high time that in the interests of democracy the Opposition showed a greater sense of responsibility.
The thinking of the Sinhalese intelligentsia as reflected in the media has shown a general sense of complacency in the face of a very dangerous situation facing the country. Many are advocating going back to square one as if the Indian intervention did not happen. The growing disenchantment in the South itself is lost sight of. Economic conditions continue to worsen. It is a serious reflection on the state of the Sinhalese people if thousands of youth join the army, not through patriotism but through hopelessness and fatalism. What sort of a country is it where youth have to think along the lines that it is better to join the army and be pensioned off with loss of life or limb, than to be physically wholesome and unemployed?
What if after all this repression and frustration, there is a mass swing of Tamil opinion towards a lobby calling for an annexation of the North-East to the Indian federation? To be ignorant or complacent of the many dangerous directions in which the situation could drift is a mark of decadence.
The destructive course of Tamil politics cannot be defeated militarily. A change can come about only by creating space for a new independent Tamil politics that has digested the lessons of the past, to emerge. Though temporarily eclipsed in the North, pluralism in the South is not entirely dead. The government may yet find it in its interests to adopt tactically a radically new approach to the Tamil problem, because of repeated tragedies as well as the sheer dictates of its survival, and to sustain its present economic policies.
This is best done not by discussing issues such as Federalism and the North-East merger at the outset, but by taking responsibility for restoring confidence amongst Tamils. This also means taking responsibility for all the young Tamils, boys and girls, who are faced with a stark choice between a well founded fear of the Sri Lankan army and the Tigers who will use them as tools in their power game. An impartial inquiry into all civilian deaths during this war, particularly into the role of the state forces, is an absolutely necessary part of such confidence building. Without such, accompanied by preventive measures, the dominant Tamil politics will reinforce its claims, steadily destroying the community. The state will go on killing with no tangible restraint, confused about its objectives and denying the ugly things that everyone else knows about, until the nation itself drowns in blood.
Responsibility also means trying to understand why the Tamils were alienated, why they were mortally afraid of state aided Sinhalese colonisation and how the state machinery silently and decisively worked to their detriment. It is no good dodging the issue by saying that the law operates equally, when in fact the power to act and to deci