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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
LTTE's Eelam Project and the Muslim People
15 November 1992
One of the main issues facing the government and the political parties engaged in fording a solution to the ethnic conflict is the safety and security of the Muslims. Hundreds of them have been massacred and thousands have been driven from their homes since the war began in 1990.
The LTTE's position on the Muslims has been made very clear through their actions, but their statements have as a rule tended to be vague. They usually put the blame on one group or the other working with the army. Although it is said that the Tigers promised the Muslims who were chased from their homes in the north that they would be allowed to resettle in their home areas once the war was over, it is now apparent that `cleansing' the north and the east of the Muslims is part of the Eelam project.
A book put out recently in the west by a pro-LTTE group spells out the rationale – and draws a parallel. The Muslims are a subnationality within, who could be used like the south Ossetians in the former Soviet Union to destabilise the creation of a separate state even when international conditions are ideal, argues the book. This is an extremely dangerous trend. It means that military dominance would entail genocide of the Muslims or their total evacuation from their traditional areas of habitation.
The LTTE's attitude towards the Muslims is linked to the perceptions of their eastern command.
As we have pointed out earlier, the Tigers adopted the standard Tamil nationalist attitude as long as their Batticaloa leadership was from Jaffna. Under the commands of Basheer Kaka and later Kumarappa the Batticaloa LTTE strongly oppsed any action against the Muslims that could harm life and property in the Muslim villages of the east. This perception was linked to the extremely cordial relations they had developed with the Muslims in the Jaffna district. In fact one of their senior members was from the Muslim enclave in the Jaffna town. The Tigers had also inheritedthe policies of the Federal Party and the Dravidian movement in South India on the status of the Muslims in the Tamil nationalist project.
Muslims in Tamil Nadu
The Dravidian movement was closely associated within the Muslims of South India from its early days because of their opposition to the Congress Party and later to the separatist cause of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the father of the Dravidian movement EV Ramasamy Naiker brought the Muslims and Dravida Kalagam together in Tamil Nadu. The alliance has survived to this day.
Karunanidhi was mainly instrumental in getting the birthday of the Holy Prophet declared a public holiday in India. One of Tamil Nadu's most influential political leaders Qaide-Millat argued in the Indian constitutional assembly that Tamil should be made one of India's main national languages. A southern district of Tamil Nadu has been named after Qaid-e-Millat. Thus the Muslim factor was important in the evolution of the Dravidian ideology and the Tamilian identity and culture it fostered. Tamil linguistic nationalism subsumed religious identities.
The propaganda of the Federal Party was therefore based on the idea of the Tamil speaking people. The LTTE saw itself as heir to this Tamil nationalist tradition till 1990. Many other east based groups had fallen prey to the bitter antagonism that had developed among the Tamils of the Eastern province following the violence in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts in which many Tamil villages were set on fire by Muslims from neighbouring areas. Many Tamils accused the Muslims at that time of joining hands with the government to wipe out the Tamils from the East.
A report by a non-governmental organization on the burning of Karaithivu in the Amparai district strengthened that belief. The leader of the Batticaloa LTTE at that time, Basheer Kaka, ignored the general mood of hostility among the Tamilsand attempted to impose his organization's decision to punish Tamils who were looting a Muslim shop at Sittandy Junction in Batticaloa. When the LTTE was hard pressed in the east after the IPKF and the EPRLF took the upper hand in most of the Tamil areas of the province, the Tigers became largely dependent on Muslim support for their survival.
They also developed a working relationship with the MULF during this period. After the departure of the Indian army it appeared as though the Tigers would build their own organization for the Muslims whom they referred to as 'Islamic Tamils' in the north and east while allowing the MULF to replace the Muslim Congress. Their problem then was with the Muslim Congress which according to them had become an Indian quisling party. They made a mistake in trying to root out the activists of the SLMC from all the Muslim villages in the east; it aggravated the dormant village level Tamil Muslim acrimony instead of eradicating the influence of the Muslim Congress. The MULF was on the LTTE's side in the mistaken belief that all would be well once the SLMC was kicked out of the east.
Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing But when the war started in June 1990, the LTTE began to systematically massacre Muslim civilians in the east which was followed by their forced mass evacuation from the north.
What made the LTTE turn against the Muslims? It is clear that genocide and 'ethnic cleansing' are on the agenda.
It must be pointed out at this juncture that the Tigers are risking a valuable constituency in Tamilnadu as a result of this policy toward the Muslims. Firstly, the Tamil nationalist lobby across the Palk Straits is basically postulated on the traditional Muslim Tamil politico-cultural unity. In fact some of the staunch defenders of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu are Tamil nationalist Muslims who belong to the secessionist fringe of the Dravidian and Naxalbhari movements. (Recently Jayalalitha ordered the removal of a book of poetry by a pro-Tamil secessionist Muslim writer from a university's curriculum).
Some of the LTTE's supporters like S.V. Rajathurai – the man who propagates the ideas of neo-Marxism in Tamil – fell out with the Tigers on the Muslim issue. In short the attitude of the LTTE towards the Muslims is totally unacceptable to its constituency in Tamil Nadu.
Secondly, the south, southeastern coastal stretch of Tamil Nadu which still functions as LTTE's lifeline is dominated by a large number of Muslim villages and towns that have been traditionally friendly towards the Tamil groups even at times when the Tamil Nadu police imposed a total ban on all smuggling activities.
Some Muslim businessmen used to allow their vast coconut plantations on this coast for the use of the armed Tamil groups including the LTTE.
Why is the Tiger risking a critical support base in Tamil Nadu by persisting in the large scale massacres of Muslims? And some of them do not even live within the Eelam boundary'.
The Conspiracy Theory
The conspiracy theorists as usual link it to an international anti-Islam project in the west. According to the proponents of this theory there is a sinister plan to crush emergent Islamic fundamentalist trends among Muslims through stepping up pressure on the community through massacres and military pressure – that the Tiger benefit materially from attacking Muslims. They adduce the fact that the Tigers benefited tremendously from the Anuradhapura massacre in terms of weapons. If the massacre of the Sinhalese was linked to military supplies in 84-87 then today also, argue the proponents of the conspiracy theory, their supplies can be linked to a similar conditionality – this time the target population being the Muslims. Although this seems to be a bit far fetched the name of an ex-Israeli army officer keeps cropping up as part of the story's substantiation.
The more plausible reason however is that the Tigers have adopted the attitude of their eastern rank and fileas their national policy. This anti-Muslim attitude is mainly the legacy of their Batticaloa based leadership that took over from Kumarappa in 1988. One of these the late Nithyanandan, represented the mindset fostered in the context of the Tamil village on the edge of the expanding border of a prosperous Muslim village. Such Tamil villages also bore the brunt of the violence in 1985.
At a much broader level, the Tigers no doubt seem to have considered the possibility of the Eelam project being sabotaged through militant Islamic fundamentalism as is evident from Rudrakumaran Visuwanathan's book.
A paragraph from an official LTTE publication indicates the thinking behind their position on the Muslims.
`These two years have been full of atrocities by Sinhala chauvinism as far as the people of South Thamileelam are concerned. The main reason forthis has been the Muslims who lived as their neighbours thus far. Tamils have been subjected to genocide by Muslims and their home guards who nurture hatred towards the Tamils.
The Muslim brethren who have fallen prey to the Sinhala chauvinist conspiracy have murdered Tamils as their enemies joining hands with the Sinhala forces.
This is a sad situation which we did not expect or like. Tamil nationalism hopes for the day when the Muslims would free themselves from the Sinhala conspiracy and would look upon Tamils as their brothers'. (Kalathil 21.8.92).
The project of the Tigers to forge a mono-ethnic Eelam national identity is bloody.
Hence the safety and security of the Muslims is now essential to any serious consideration of the national question.