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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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Selected Writings
Rajan Sriskandarajah

In Sri Lanka, Partition Can Stop the Violence
 in New York Times, 17  May 1993

The United Nations working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, reporting on Sri Lanka for 1983 to 1991, characterized killings on that unhappy island nation off the south coast of India as "by far the highest number ever recorded by the working group for any single country." But the United States news media give this tragedy little coverage. "The Tragedy of Sri Lanka" (editorial, May 5) is a welcome change.

Political violence in Sri Lanka started in 1956, when it was still Ceylon. The political system, a legacy of British colonial rule, which coalesced two nation-groups and then granted permanent power to one, is the cause of this discord. The Sinhalese, who acquired the dominant role, embarked on making Sri Lanka a country of one religion and one language. Sinhala was legislated as the official language, Buddhism as the state religion. Discriminatory policies deprived the minority Tamils of education and employment, and the Government began a policy of state-aided colonization of Tamil areas.

Protests were quelled with violent reprisals. There were no fewer than 27 pogroms against Tamil civilians between 1956 and 1983, and 40,000 people were killed. In 1977, the Tamils voted en masse to secede from Sri Lanka. The Government retaliated with repressive steps, resulting in the treatment of Tamil areas as virtual occupied enemy territory. The Tamil response to this was a violent guerrilla war for a separate state. The Government started aerial bombing and naval shelling of these areas. The resultant economic ruin is compounded by an embargo on food and medical supplies.

The irony is that the conflict is easily resolvable. The two warring parties occupy well demarcated areas of the island, the land mass of which is almost twice that of Switzerland, with its federated states. The easiest solution is to segregate the Sinhalese and Tamils by separate self-rule for each area. The two sides, however, are unable to agree on a suitable political structure.

As a result, violence has escalated between the two groups and has spread to political parties and factions within both. This ominous development, compounded by the huge influx of arms and explosives into this once-idyllic island, is what culminated in the May Day assassinations (front page, May 2).

The problem is unlikely to be solved without intervention. The ill-fated effort by India in 1987 failed primarily because India, burdened by its own secessionist groups, used a half-hearted, sometimes partisan, approach. In the end India got embroiled in an unnecessary war with the Tamil Tigers and had to abandon its involvement.

The situation demands an honest broker. Some countries, notably Australia, Norway and Canada have expressed willingness to play this role. Their hands should be strengthened, or the United Nations should intervene.

RAJAN K. SRISKANDARAJAH Poughkeepsie, N.Y., May 6, 1993

The writer is editor of Tamil Voice, the newsletter of the Association of Tamils in the U.S.A.
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