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Selected Writings by Dr.S.Sathananthan
PA Plays the Communal Card
24 September 1998
The Action Group of Tamils in Colombo (AGOTIC) was shocked to read the blatantly chauvinist assertion made by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, during her visit to South Africa between 31 August-6 September 1998 to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit. She reportedly said in a live television interview:
"They [Tamils] are wanting a separate state – a minority community which is not the original people of the country, etc".
On returning to Sri Lanka, President Kumaratunga addressed a large gathering of party supporters in Kurunegala during the District Conference of her Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on 8 September. Speaking as Deputy Leader of the SLFP, she unleashed a blatantly pro-Sinhalese political line on the Tamil Question. A Tamil daily newspaper (Thinakkural, 9/Sep/98) reported the next day that, at the Conference, she accused the Opposition United National Party (UNP) of "conspiring" with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to "overthrow" the "democratically elected" Peoples Alliance (PA) Coalition Government, of which the SLFP is the dominant member.
She alleged that some UNP Members of Parliament (MPs) had travelled to the north and east several times in the recent past and held discussion with Mr Thamilchelvan of the political wing of the LTTE. She provocatively emphasised that a Tamil person was the driver of the vehicle used by the MPs.
A Tamil fortnightly newspaper (Sarinihar, 17-30/Sep/98) reported how Sinhalese men confronted three Muslim men and a Muslim girl, who were on their way back from the SLFP Conference, at the Hiripitiya junction. The Sinhalese forcibly detained the Muslims and gratuitously abused them.
Almost simultaneously, following another Sinhalese-Muslim clash earlier in the day (8th), a Sinhalese mob reportedly travelled in a van to the Muslim area of Kumbukketa, in the Kurunegala District. Spitting racist slogans, the Sinhalese attacked the Muslims. The Muslim retaliated in kind and damaged the van.
Anticipating further trouble, the Muslims reported the incident to the Police and requested immediate action to pre-empt violence. The Police took no action. It was a sickening replay of the collusion of security forces Tamils had witnessed in the July 1983 Holocaust.
At midnight, the Sinhalese mob returned to Kumbukketa and torched the Madina Hotel, two stores and a grinding mill owned by Muslims. The mob severely assaulted three Muslim men in the hotel.
Although the Muslims lodged a complaint with the Police, no action was taken.
In a separate incident on the 8th night, reported the Tamil fortnightly, two Sinhalese men were found dead in the Wewalwatta Division of the Alupola Estate in the Ratnapura District. One of them is a well-known underworld figure, a dealer in kasippu (illicit liquor) and a strong supporter of the PA Government.
On the following morning the PA’s MP for the area, Mrs Pavithra Vanniararchchi, rushed to the site of the killing. In the presence of the corpses and amidst the emotionally charged Sinhalese supporters, the MP reportedly mouthed anti-Tamil chauvinist slogans. The supporters evidently took the cue from her and vowed to teach the Tamils a lesson.
True to their word, beginning that night and over the next three days about three hundred Sinhalese men hunted down Tamil plantation workers in seven estates in Ratnapura and Balangoda. A non-governmental organisation working in the area reported that the Sinhalese torched 550 line rooms of Tamil workers, attacked 2,038 Tamils and 470 children. Three Tamils were reported killed so far.
The Police refused to intervene and protect the Tamil victims.
The funeral of the two Sinhalese took place on the 12th. During most of that day Sinhalese mobs roamed the city of Ratnapura chanting "Death to Tamils". No action was taken against the mobs for inciting naked communal violence.
On the 14th, a Tamil plantation worker was burnt alive by a Sinhalese mob.
The Police arrested 21 Tamils on suspicion for the murder of the two Sinhalese. However not one Sinhalese person was arrested for the carnage inflicted on the Tamil plantation workers.
AGOTIC vehemently condemns the racist attacks. Moreover, AGOTIC is appalled by the deafening silence maintained regarding the violence by the Sinhalese-controlled human rights and conflict resolution organisations in Colombo.
The violence in Kurunegala and Ratnapura has an ominous similarity to the supposedly sporadic attacks on Tamils in the months preceding the 1983 Holocaust. Are the Tamils on the threshold of another Holocaust?
AGOTIC views the events in Kurunegala and Ratnapura in the immediate context of the SLFP-led PA Government whipping up Sinhalese chauvinism against Tamils by alleging a conspiracy involving the LTTE. Obviously the SLFP is scheming to harvest Sinhalese votes in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
Indeed, the SLFP is resorting to the tactic employed earlier by the UNP. By 1994 the ruling UNP had alienated Tamils by pursuing the destructive war in the North-Eastern Province (NEP) and by disgorging the infamous theory that Tamils are the "vines" that cling to the Sinhalese "tree". To marshal Sinhalese votes, the UNP unleashed crude Sinhalese chauvinist propaganda in which it accused the SLFP of planning to sell the birthright of the Sinhalese to the Tamils. The SLFP in contrast projected itself as the party for national reconciliation and peace by espousing "negotiations" with the LTTE to reach a political settlement.
Today the roles are reversed. The SLFP has alienated Tamils by the monstrous war it has ruthlessly fought in the NEP. It is obvious except for those who obstinately refuse to see that the armed forces are losing the war against the LTTE-led Tamil National Movement. The killing of the Jaffna Mayor, the Jaffna Brigade Commander and 11 others on 11 September torpedoed the Government’s war strategy of "re-establishing normalcy" in the Jaffna peninsula.
So the SLFP is falling back on Sinhalese chauvinism to bolster its declining electoral fortunes. It has charged the UNP of conspiring with the LTTE to bring down the Government and, by implication, of capitulating to the LTTE’s nationalist demands.
In contrast, the UNP is projecting itself as the peace-maker by calling for "unconditional talks" with the LTTE.
What is most alarming is that the rank communalism of the two Sinhalese parties is not merely political posturing in preparation for the next elections. The UNP and SLFP have cynically and repeatedly stoked Sinhalese chauvinism for more than four decades. Both parties have a long history of fuelling violence – through pogroms and military operations – against the Tamils people. That history and the current Tamil-baiting reveal the UNP and SLFP to be terminally infected with deep-seated Sinhalese racism.
The Tamils now are utterly convinced that both parties have no intention whatsoever of accepting the national rights of the Tamil people.
The Sinhalese chauvinist leadership has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the only way open for the Ceylon Tamils to achieve their national rights and live in security and prosperity in the future is to create the independent State of Tamil Eelam.