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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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TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM

World Hunger and Tamils' Hunger

Editorial, Oru Paper
2 March 2007

Most of us cannot forget Madam Kumaratunge's 'war for peace' of the nineties. During this period, a popular argument in favour of the "liberation of the Tamils," was it being a blessing for the hapless Tamils themselves. After the 'war for peace' and four years of talks of peace, the Tamils of Northeast are confronted with the same 'liberation of Tamils' slogan, again. Thousands of Tamils live in refugee camps in the East and one in two Jaffna households food is insecure as a result of this 'liberation'. Two in three Tamil children live in perpetual hunger and suffer from under nutrition thanks to the 'liberation' efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the supporting international community.


Most of us cannot forget Madam Kumaratunge's 'war for peace' of the nineties. During this period, a popular argument in favour of the "liberation of the Tamils," was it being a blessing for the hapless Tamils themselves.

After the 'war for peace' and four years of talks of peace, the Tamils of Northeast are confronted with the same 'liberation of Tamils' slogan, again. Thousands of Tamils live in refugee camps in the East and one in two Jaffna households food is insecure as a result of this 'liberation'. Two in three Tamil children live in perpetual hunger and suffer from under nutrition thanks to the 'liberation' efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the supporting international community.

The other week, James Morris, retiring  from the United Nations World Food Program was, quoted as saying 18,000 children worldwide were starving to death every day. These words, attracted many replies from people of varied back grounds all over the world. Many of them simply showing their deep sympathy: "It breaks one's heart," "Terrible," "Inconceivable figure, incredible," "How can one put to bed a hungry child?" to quote just a few.

Still others tried a deeper analysis, with comments like "Cruel, materialistic world will soon pay the price," or, "Result of capitalism which leads to social and environmental crises," or even, "All this while the Americans pour $100 billion a year on wars."

This was the overwhelming tone of people's reactions to world hunger: human sensitivity, compassion, and empathy, even with some critical political analysis. Some of these humane comments came from Sinhalese.

The Tamils have not suffered an earthquake, famine, or any other natural disaster in the last two years. Their constantly deteriorating economic situation is 100-percent man-made. As the UN and many other reports state, the main causes for their poverty are political: namely, GOSL imposed economic embargo and war, and the international community's indifference.

Agriculture and fishing are the biggest industries in the Northeast. Strangulation of these by economic embargo is leading to their destruction. Hence in a Society crushed by years of Sri Lankan military and economic oppression, it has inevitably lead to massive poverty. In other words, GOSL and the international community are punishing the Tamil population for their resistance, with hunger.

In the South, Tamils' hunger is not perceived as a human catastrophe, but as a political argument. It's as if the GOSL's propaganda machine managed to turn off the most basic human solidarity within the Sinhalese, replacing it by cynical sophistry devoid of any humanity. Hungry Tamils are merely an attack on Sinhala righteousness, and they are confronted as such.

So what do the South and the Colombo based international diplomatic community think of Tamils' hunger? An overwhelming majority among them use one or more of the following ideological strategies:

(1) Outright denial of the suffering. "They look rather chubby on TV" Of course denying the facts is always the zealot's refuge.

(2) Tamils do suffer, but it's good. "Pity, but that's the only way to put them on the right track towards democracy"; "There will be peace when the, other half is hungry too." Here one can clearly see seeds of support for genocide. Similarly: "[To the] GOSL: encourage them to get up and leave LTTE controlled areas!!!"

(3) Tamils may be suffering, but it's none of our business. "We look after them in refugee camps, don't we?" Interestingly, if this argument were true, one would expect to find a similar compassion to that expressed toward world hunger in general; but this is not the case. For many Sinhalese, a hungry child in Somalia is a stain on their collective conscience, whereas a hungry Tamil child in Batticaloa few hours ride from Colombo or Kandy is simply none of their business.

(4) Tamils might be suffering, but the Sinhalese are the real victims. This is a perpetual Colombo's propaganda line: the international media  is "unbalanced" (anti-Sinhalese, etc.), so the Sinhalese' suffering is left out.

(5) But this last argument is often combined with the most popular propaganda guideline of all, namely: Always use the magic word "Terror" to turn the Sinhalese into victims and the Tamils into "terrorists." "Terrorists" are unworthy of human compassion, not even when they are starving; moreover, their suffering is always their own fault.

Tamils' "terror" is conceived of as an eternal, inherent, never changing, and unmotivated national trait, in which all Tamils equally partake doctors and nurses, merchants and students, the elderly and children and for which they all deserve the punishment of starvation, inflicted upon them by an invisible, unnamed, but ultimately just hand.

(6) One last, related motif is to accuse the Tamil leadership. "Demand explanations from your leaders, who get fatter every day"; "With their kind of leadership, they should be grateful that they're still alive. Ifs really a shame that the Tamils blindly follow their stupid leaders."

The Sinhalese' and the international community's reactions to the Tamils' suffering for which they are morally responsible show how pervasively inhumane they have become. A well-oiled propaganda machine turns them from compassionate human beings into heartless parrots of state demagoguery, ready to ignore, excuse, and even support the starvation of other people who live in this same paradise island.

 

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