Muslims & Tamil Eelam]
The defeat of the Tamil Tigers has finally provided a rare historic
opportunity to set our war- battered country on the path to progress. The
bitterness and suspicions between the communities remain deep. However, the
need to correct past wrongs backed by remedial and reconciliation measures
are indispensable to bring communal harmony on the principles of pluralism,
equality, mutual understanding and accommodation if we are to move ahead and
ensure a better future for all.
Almost three decades of bloodshed and destruction have brought us full
circle to the gross realization that the destinies of all communities share
common goals and are inextricably interwoven. The earnest desire of every
community, Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and others, is to live together in
harmony. Thus a permanent peace, though still a distant dream, remains the
cherished goal of all and, inevitably, the need of the hour is for a
political solution for permanent peace.
In this context the book “Nobody’s People – The Forgotten Plight of Sri
Lanka’s Muslims” by well known journalist and author Lather Farook is a
timely publication as it highlights the plethora of problems, sufferings and
grievances of Sri Lankan Muslims and their pathetic predicament owing to
discriminatory policies, Tamil militancy and the failure of the community
itself to resolve its burning issues.
As rightly pointed out by the former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva “Muslims
have been a peaceful ethnic group interacting with other religious and
ethnic groups, cordially interlinking those cultures with their own culture.
They never organized themselves for armed insurrection or destruction”.
Contrary to the common belief that Muslims are a wealthy community, the
reality is that around 70 percent of the community lives below the poverty
line. More than 130,000 northern Muslims, forcibly and mercilessly driven
out from their homes and lands on pain of death by the LTTE, languish in
refugee camps in appalling conditions for almost 19 years. Around one
percent of the community perished in the tsunami and,adding insult to
injury, Muslim survivors were discriminated even in the disbursement of aid
that flowed from donor countries.
Muslims were discarded by the now defunct 2002 February Ceasefire Agreement
between the government and the LTTE and taken for a ride in the P-TOMS
agreement that died a natural death. It is a tragedy that the entire
population of Mutur and Thoppur who were 95 percent literate and
self-employed were reduced to paupers and made refugees when the LTTE and
the Government fought their battle there.
In the East, they face numerous obstacles in trading, farming, paddy
cultivation, fishing and livestock breeding activities jeopardizing their
very means of livelihood while, in the rest of the country, poverty,
unemployment, educational and several other problems have raised their ugly
heads in this gloomy scenario.
Despite frustration and privation, Muslims always sought peaceful solutions
to their grievances for co-existence with the other communities,
notwithstanding diabolical efforts to sideline them. Nor were the Muslims
party to the ethnic crisis. They vehemently opposed calls for the division
of the country and firmly stood for territorial integrity and unity only to
face death, devastation, loss of properties, deprivation of livelihood and
displacement with no appreciation from the authorities.
In spite of their miserable plight, it is a travesty of justice that
peacemakers, columnists, commentators and others, both here and overseas,
call for solutions to the grievances of the Tamils and conveniently ignore
the plight of Muslims as if they are non-existent. In the midst of this
calamitous situation, there is a growing feeling among the community that
Muslim parliamentarians have abandoned them for power and benefits and do
not represent their desires and aspirations any more.
Under the circumstances, the book also suggests Muslims should shed
disastrous communal politics and join hands with reasonable and moderate
mainstream political forces to face challenges under the present unfolding
political scenario in the aftermath of the LTTE’s crushing defeat.
Thus, this book seeks redress for the numerous grievances of this
downtrodden community, particularly in any initiative to solve the ethnic
conflict in the larger interests of the country. It is only by considering
each group as stakeholders in any future settlement that we could ensure
lasting peace to the country so that all its citizens could live with