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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - C Kumarabharathy > War & the Profound Powerlessness of the Ordinary Man

Selected Writings by C.Kumarabharathy

War & the Profound Powerlessness
of the Ordinary Man

28 April 2000

Since the fall of the Elephant Pass (EP) complex to the LTTE, various reactions are coming out of Colombo. What one really expected out of this debacle was a shift in the consciousness of the ruling party, Peoples Alliance (PA), and the opposition party (UNP) as to how they view the conflict.

If anything the EP outcome demonstrates that it is an unwinnable war for both the Government and the LTTE. I do not believe the "wolf" cry of Colombo that Eelam will come with the fall of Jaffna.

The Hindu and the Indian press are already in the fore front of this line of campaign. This is drummed up to get free hardware for further games. The ultra nationalists who did not want foreigners mediating a peace process, now want any foreign power to come and fight their own war. With its dismal human rights record and long history of indulging in a war they created and nurtured, it is doubtful whether there will be any takers for direct involvement.

But reading the reports given out by the Generals conducting the war, it appears that defending Jaffna is their main agenda. Nothing has changed. One would have thought that this is an immediate reaction of losing the EP from Generals, who have a school boy delight in running war games. This sort of reiteration of war policy one would have expected  to be taken by the political leadership. Unless of course what happened in EP, is of no consequence in PA's eyes. That whatever Status Quo decisions that were made earlier stands. " What really has happened to alter it ?-nothing "

So the brief to Army needs no change. This is really frightening, particularly when General Ratwatte on 25th April had said set backs (like EP) are to be expected in the course of a war and that Government will "defend" Jaffna. Such statements do not let it appear that anything has really changed. Inward jitters do not matter, so act brave and on with the war game.

Many people would consider that this is an important point of reckoning and course correction. The BBC interview by Ranil Wickremasinghe reflects that a continuation of war is not an option anymore. But depending on how the public outcry is orchestrated, he can change the tune. The President of Sri Lanka has yet to make any comments and is still out of the country. One has to read, from what is happening in PA circles, that the PA and Army hierarchy have a found a way of fathoming each other's thoughts. They can act by proxy. It shows the kind of feudal cosiness in the power structure which has ruined Sri Lanka. A seamless power sharing.

One's first thought is about the plight of Jaffna Tamils, when this "defending of Jaffna" takes place. As it is, Jaffna is crawling with camps at every road junction, a nightmare troop presence, with daily cries of raping, killings, searching etc. It is bad enough as it is. There is a myth that previous "peace talks" with LTTE had failed. These talks were supposed to have "failed" because of LTTE "intransigence". I am not saying they (LTTE) are intransigent or they are not. But it is necessary to see the myth for what it is; and the mind set of various political constituencies in Sri Lanka.

The environment of these "peace efforts that did not take off" was not a level playing field. "Lay down the arms and come for talks, believe us we are sincere or give up your demand for Eelam we will come up with something" was more or less the underlying tone.

Demonising the LTTE now is of no practical use and more over it is giving diminishing returns to the Government, through its own army's gothic horrors perpetuated on civilians. What is more, local censorship is ineffective as cyber provides a level playing field for all contenders. LTTE could in return name call the government with equal ease. This game has become as meaningless as the war.

This is the first time that a real peace effort has been broached with an experienced conflict resolving mechanism to assist. This point was not easily reached. Even this little shift occurred only after some 15,000(1995-2000: media estimates: ) SLA soldiers have died and double the number were carrying the wounds of war, the economy in doldrums. Youngsters were not enrolling in the army. It is such a hard lesson that changed the stance.

Even at this hour the mindset of the Buddhist clergy is like rock. PA does not want to alienate them. This mind you, is after various "packages" & "constitutional reforms" have been "discussed" for 5 long years. After such an exposure to the word "package to Tamils", one would have thought the Sinhalese people are somewhat conditioned to the idea that substantial power sharing is needed to solve the issue.

It was surprising that the tradition of army regiments being exclusively named after past Sinhala kings who defeated Tamils, this tradition is now been discussed openly. There was even a public discussion about creating a Tamil regiment called Ellalan Army.

These by themselves do not constitute much but there has been some mobility in thought at least. But after the demonstration by monks, Sinhala parties are hesitating to go forward. Norway's flags were burnt by demonstrating clergy. A new ultra right Sinhala party has just been inaugurated.

What would be the outcome 5 years ago, if for example LTTE had accepted a "Proposal or package"? When the earlier peace process was mooted, the clergy did not take to streets. They knew that these were overtures made to appease international community before the next aid Lanka meetings.

"LTTE is an unreliable negotiator" is an image media in Sri Lanka and India has been projecting. I would want to voice an ordinary Tamils opinion which is very much in people's mind. This is the only time some basic ground shift has taken place in which Tamils could expect a breakthrough. So how could any peace process have succeeded in earlier times is beyond comprehension. Thus talking of LTTE as being difficult to negotiate does not present a true picture. There is the other side of the story.

But sometimes I wonder whether any real shift in stands has taken place at all. "LTTE broke the talks in 95" is a kind of joke looked in retrospect. Looking at how hard the mindsets were at that time, any settlement was impossible. I don't want to go into details of how this 1995 "talks" between PA and LTTE failed. Each side I am sure has its own tale and god is the witness. But now at least Norway who knows about such things have come forward and will be a witness.

The recent rituals enacted in the political constituency in Colombo to absorb this single step forward, unfolds the dimension of the problem. The world can see how earlier castigation of the LTTE that they broke peace initiatives is without substance.

But hopefully, even protest against Norway mediation is an exercise people have to go through to exorcise the myths about themselves and Tamils. This is a fragile step and it is the international community who should take meaningful action to consolidate the process.

Left to have its way Colombo will be propelled by the stored flywheel energy to keep on perpetuating the war. It has been begging borrowing for arms and had become very adept at this.

The fate of an ancient community is in balance, people caught in between can not stand the war games any longer.

This war, fuelled by free arms from the International community, has already taken a toll of 65,000 dead on both sides and 30,000 maimed (media estimates). State Departments, South Blocks and all others of similar likes, can choose a bureaucratic response or act with sensitivity. It is up to their exigencies. My beseeching is feeble - so I have not make any requests. But you will learn. Everything is related to everything else and the results of insensitivity will follow their own immutable law, which fortunately can not be re arranged to suit our conveniences.

Now, the LTTE has demanded the withdrawal of troops ( with cessation of its own military hostilities). But more importantly it had asked for the Government to resume civil supplies and medicine to large areas in Vanni, under LTTE control. About 80% area in North is under LTTE's direct or indirect control. For the civilians trapped in the war this is a boon. These appear to be a reasonable pre condition. Government assumes that LTTE should not start from a position of strength.

LTTE was banned for another term in Parliament (which was a war signal ). LTTE was striking again. During the recent period, MSF and other NGOs have been independently requesting the government to allow simple medical supplies like paracetamol into Vanni. This minimum supplies of essential supplies has been agreed for some time but the army has blocked supplies. Reason : paracetamol will reach wounded LTTE.

Even at the cost of attracting international rebuke, the government stands firm. This tells something about the PA government's hardened attitude to the human crisis. Other items barred are fertiliser and torch batteries, so that LTTE can not manufacture bombs which they are in dire need. How governments can tell a lie and stand repeating it, other governments nodding,  is something a simple man can not understand. When a President or a Premier pompously pronounces " We have considered but..." - that word "we" is what nauseates me most, then whatever he or she considers becomes a kind of reality

The worst suffering that Tamils underwent since 1958 (whether in Colombo, Jaffna, Batticaloa) was under PA government. It exceeds previous catastrophes in the sense this went without the moral sympathy of the world- a suffering in silence. Carefully excluding media by censorship, barring journalist visits and hundred other myriad ways. This is also the period of phenomenal growth of LTTE. Government has now trained LTTE hands-on and unwittingly armed it in the last five years to become a matching fighting machine. Every time the army does a search operation in a village outraging modesty and the dignity of a people, 10 young people flee the country and another ten are driven into LTTE. The Sri Lanka Army has been the foremost recruitment agent for the LTTE.

History will record with the benefit of hindsight these times as the worst times for Sri Lanka - times when society both Sinhalese and Tamil (mafia, private armies) are cruelly criminalised and run by people with meaningless ideals. No great proof will be needed, the sequence of events and number of deaths alone will unfold its own story. The anguish of a community has a way of actualising in myriad ways not always discernible.

Look, Politicians! Lot of People now see you very clearly for what you are, your self seeking methods. Then you imagined fear and hatred of Tamils. These have now actualised and revealing itself, for you to see. The ghost you created is what is imprisoning you - for you are as much a prisoner as the ordinary man in Jaffna - the Jaffna where Army is going to go on a rampage defending it.

Simply trace the history from 1958, it will tell the story. You say "Evil must be eradicated". If you had seen that you also are a part of that evil, then some modesty would come, new direction will show. Everybody has erred, but this can be corrected.

There is no "problem" to be solved, it is you who are the "Problem". The world does not always work by your logic and prejudices. You don't have an extra organ that others don't possess. The world fortunately are not only peopled by your camp followers. The artificial image that media has made of you is not durable because truth is illustrated in so many different ways.

The next generation of enduring politicians are going to come from a stock that has courage to bridge the gap between Tamils and Sinhalese.Of this I am sure.

Old feudal hierarchy which transformed itself after independence into a pseudo democratic outfit through Sinhala-Buddhist fundamentalism and its by product Tamil militancy - that mythology will go - really and very soon. This is inevitable, untenable. Because it has no substance.

This happens very often in history. Out moded ethics and family names dwindle into oblivion. People have other ways of seeing than ours. We have had enough Navaly churches, Thenmarachy Schools, Puthu Kudiyirupu Bazaars, Madhu Church, Chemmani mass graves, the Colombo bombings and several others. When writing this at such a sorrowful time, I am keenly numbed by the powerlessness of an ordinary person like me. I too am an inhabitant of this planet and have something to say. I am sure there are lot of people who will echo these sentiments.

De escalating the war and talking with the LTTE is the only option Sri Lanka has to climb out of this cycle of violence. It is a question of when. Now is as good as any other time. That the LTTE will do this at the talks, or do that, is only a presumption. This is the only time they have been given a level playing field. I think I have said enough.


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