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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Role of Tamil Intellectuals

15 April 1991
an open letter to the Sri Lanka state controlled Observer
edited by H.L.D.Mahindapala

A three day conference on the Tamil Issue was held in Trondheim in Norway on the 15th, 16th and 17th March 1991. Among those who addressed the Conference were a representative from the Norwegian Home office on the Norwegian Government's policy towards Tamil asylum seekers in Norway and Nadesan Satyendra, on behalf of the International Federation of Tamils. The conference at Trondheim was followed by a Round Table at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs on 19 March 1991 at which the principal speaker was Nadesan Satyendra.

Dear Mr.Editor,

Your recent Comment on 'Tamil Intellectuals' makes interesting reading. But then, the views of a paper such as yours, as to what it is that Tamil intellectuals should do and should not do, will always be a matter of absorbing interest - if only because it is a paper controlled by a State which is today, engaged in a sustained genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people.

Again, the intemperate language in which you have chosen to couch your editorial, indicates that, that which was said at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs on the 19th of March 1991, has struck home and has proved unpalatable to a government which would prefer to be allowed to get on, unhindered, with its task of digesting and assimilating the Tamil people within the constitutional frame of a unitary Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka.

You state:

"The failure of Tamil intellectuals to contribute in a dispassionate and objective way to the process of building bridges between the two major ethnic communities is seen clearly in the outlandish and outdated theories mouthed by Nadesan Satyendra who travels widely as a salesman for Eelam. In his address to the Norwegian Institute of International affairs (NUDI) on Monday, the main thrust has been to argue a case for cutting off aid to Sri Lanka. This is the ultimate weapon that the entire Eelam lobby abroad is hoping to use in their campaign to divide Sri Lanka"

However, presumably overcome with concern for the well being of the suffering Tamil people, you add:

"Those Tamil intellectuals who are genuinely seeking a solution, deserve the respect of this nation. Their voice must be heard."

But what type of 'solution' should Tamil intellectuals espouse to deserve the respect of 'this nation'? Again, when you say 'this nation', Mr.Editor, to which nation do you refer ? Do you mean the Tamil nation, or the Sinhala nation or do you mean Sinhala chauvinism masquerading as a so called Sri Lankan nation? Which nation's respect should Tamil intellectuals seek?

It was Professor Seton Watson who declared in 1977:

"...States can exist without a nation, or with several nations, among their subjects... The belief that every state is a nation, or that all sovereign states are national states, has done much to obfuscate human understanding of political realities. A state is a legal and political organisation, with the power to require obedience and loyalty from its citizens. A nation is a community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness..." [Professor Hugh Seton-Watson: Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977]

But then, perhaps you regard Professor Watson's views as 'out-landish and outdated' and you prefer to equate the Sri Lankan state to a so called 'Sri Lankan nation'. Or is it that you and the Government of Sri Lanka would prefer to 'obfuscate human understanding of political realities' by denying that in the island of Ceylon today, there are two nations, the Sinhala nation and the Tamil nation - each of whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture and a national consciousness.

You appear to suggest that the claim that in the island of Ceylon there are two nations is somehow contrary to the 'realities of history, geography, demography and ethnicity.' But whilst you pay lip service for the need for 'cool reasoning', you choose not to give reasons for the views that you assert. You prefer to dismiss as 'outlandish and outdated' that which you cannot reason with. Or, perhaps you believe that the people of Tamil Eelam should accept, without question, the words of wisdom which fall from the mouths of their would be Sinhala rulers.

But, notwithstanding the arrogance of Sinhala chauvinism that your editorial displays, by all means, let us examine the 'realities of history, geography, demography and ethnicity.' After all, the people of Tamil Eelam are a reasonable people and they do welcome 'cool reasoning'.

What then, are the realities of history and ethnicity, Mr.Editor? As a propagandist for Sinhala chauvinism, you are, ofcourse not unaware of that which a Sinhala chauvinist, D.C.Vijayawardhana wrote in 1953:

"The history of Sri Lanka is the history of the Sinhalese race... The Sinhalese people were entrusted 2500 years ago, with a great and noble charge, the preservation... of Buddhism.. in 1956 will occur the unique three fold event - the completion of 2500 years of Ceylon's history, of the tie of Sinhalese and Bud-dhism... The birth of the Sinhalese race would thus seem to have been not a mere chance, not an accidental occurrence, but a pre-destined event of high import and purpose. The nation seemed designed, as it were, from its rise, primarily to carry aloft for fifty centuries the torch that was lit by the great World-Mentor (the Buddha) twenty five centuries ago..." (The Revolt in the Temple, by D.C. Vijayawardhana, 1953)

You are aware, are you not, Mr.Editor that it was this potent mixture of legend and superstition, passed off as historical fact, which was cultivated, refined and utilised by successive Sinhala political leaders to secure for themselves the support of the Sinhala people. It was a belligerent Sinhala chauvinism which has often found open and shameless expression:

"...The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birth-right... I will lead the campaign..." (J.R.Jayawardene, Sinhala Opposition Leader reported in Sri Lanka Tribune: August 1957)

"I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people... now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion... the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here... Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy." (President J.R.Jayawardene, Daily Telegraph, July 1983)

The reality of the so called democracy of Sri Lanka was that no Tamil was ever elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Sinhalese was ever elected to a predominantly Tamil electorate. The practise of democracy within the confines of a unitary state served to perpetuate the oppressive rule of a permanent Sinhala ethnic majority.

It was a permanent Sinhala majority, which through a series of legislative and administrative acts, ranging from disenfranchisement, and standardisation of University admissions, to discriminatory language and employment policies, and state sponsored colonisation of the homelands of the Tamil people, has sought to establish its hegemony over the people of Tamil Eelam.

These legislative and administrative acts were reinforced from time to time with physical attacks on the people of Tamil Eelam with intent to terrorise and intimidate them into submission. It was a course of conduct which led eventually to the rise of Tamil militancy in the mid 1970s with, initially, sporadic acts of violence. The militancy was met with wide ranging retaliatory attacks on increasingly large sections of the Tamil people with intent, once again to subjugate them.

In the late 1970s large numbers of Tamil youths were detained without trial and tortured under emergency regulations and later under the Prevention of Terrorism Act which has been described by the International Commission of Jurists as a 'blot on the statute book of any civilised country'. In 1980 and thereafter, there were random killings of Tamils by the state security forces and Tamil hostages were taken by the state when 'suspects' were not found. Eventually, in the eyes of the Sri Lankan state all Tamils were prima facie 'terrorist' suspects.

And in 1983, the Tamils were deprived of the effective use of their vote by an amendment to the Constitution which the International Commission of Jurists has declared to be a violation of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and which rendered vacant the Parliamentary seats of the elected representatives of the Tamil people. Though elections were subsequently held in 1988 at a time when the Indian army occupied the Tamil home-lands, the Sixth Amendment continues in force up to the present day.

So much, Mr.Editor, for the 'realities of history and ethnicity'. Distress has bound the people of Tamil Eelam together and thus united they have found their strength. Tamil Eelam is a deep and horizontal comradeship which exists amongst hundreds of thousands of the Tamil people - and that includes Tamil intellectuals as well. It is a comradeship which has prevailed despite the differences and inequalities amongst the people of Tamil Eelam and it is this comradeship which has made possible the colossal sacrifices of the past several years. As the propagandist for a state which is engaged in a murderous genocidal attack on the people of Tamil Eelam, you may find all this difficult to understand. But please do try.

Again, by all means let us examine the 'realities of geography and demography'. The group identity of the people of Tamil Eelam did not grow in the stratosphere. You will agree, Mr.Editor, that it is not 'outlandish' to suggest that it has grown on land. The group identity of the people of Tamil Eelam has grown, hand in hand, with the growth of their homeland in the North and East of Sri Lanka, where they lived together, worked together, communicated with each other, founded their families, educated their children, and also sought refuge, from time to time, from physical attacks else-where in Sri Lanka.

You will, perhaps agree, Mr.Editor, that the words of Malcolm Shaw in Title to Territory in Africa are not 'outlandish' but are very much rooted in the reality on the ground:

"Modern nationalism in the vast majority of cases points to a deep, almost spiritual connection between land and people. This can be related to the basic psychological needs of man in terms of the need for security and a sense of group identity... the concern for the preservation of habitat exists as a passionate reflex in all human communities. Territory is the physical aspect of the life of the community and therefore reflects and conditions the identity of that community."

But ofcourse, Mr.Editor, these aspects of geography and demography are not unknown to Sinhala chauvinism. Sinhala chauvinism has understood only too well that without an homeland the people of Tamil Eelam will cease to exist as a people. You are aware, are you not, Mr.Editor that Sinhala colonisation of Tamil home-land for forty years and more, was the outcome of a strategy carefully planned by successive Sinhala governments? After all, it is easier to digest and assimilate a people, if they are divided into smaller assimilable units.

You cannot be unaware of the frank statements of the Sinhala Mahaveli Ministry Official, Herman Gunaratne in an article which appeared in the Sri Lanka Sunday Times of the 26th of August 1990:

"All wars are fought for land...The plan for settlement of peo-ple in Yan Oya and Malwathu Oya basins was worked out before the communal riots of 1983. Indeed the keenest minds in the Ma-haveli, some of whom are holding top international positions were the architects of this plan. My role was that of an executor... We conceived and implemented a plan which we thought would secure the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka for a long time. We moved a large group of 45,000 land hungry (Sinhala) peasants into the Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa districts of Maduru Oya delta.

The second step was to make a similar human settlement in the Yan Oya basin. The third step was going to be a settlement of a num-ber of people, opposed to Eelam, on the banks of the Malwathu Oya. By settling the (Sinhala) people in the Maduru Oya we were seeking to have in the Batticaloa zone a mass of persons opposed to a separate state...Yan Oya if settled by non separatists (Sinhala people) would have increased the population by about another 50,000. It would completely secure Trincomalee from the rebels..."

Yes, Mr.Editor, the people of Tamil Eelam, including Tamil intellectuals, are well aware that wars are fought for land and you will agree that to assert that proposition is not 'outlandish'. You are aware, are you not Mr.Editor, that by the mid 1980s, state sponsored colonisation gave way to state sponsored attacks on the people of Tamil Eelam leading to the forced evacuation of Tamils from their traditional homelands. It was, ofcourse, a natural progression for Sinhala chauvinism.

In 1985, Robert Kilroy-Silk, M.P. and Roger Sims, M.P, who visited Sri Lanka as members of a United Kingdom Parliamentary Human Rights Group, reported:

"Witnesses also confirmed allegations made to us that whole villages (in the Eastern Province) have been emptied and neigh-bourhoods have been driven by the army from their homes and occupations and turned into refugees dependent on the govern-ment for dry rations... The human rights transgressed in such a course of action do not need to be detailed here...

More important is that rightly or wrongly it tends to lend credibility to the view so frequently put to us that it is the Government's objective either to drive the Tamils out of the north and east in sufficient numbers so as to reduce their majority in the north and in the east, a process that would be aided by the Government's announced policy of set-tling armed Sinhalese people in former Tamil areas...or to drive the Tamils out altogether. We cannot make a judgement on this issue. We can say, without doubt, that the Government is driving Tamils from their homes and does intend to settle Sinhalese peo-ple in these areas. This, at least, lends support to the more ex-treme version believed by most Tamils." (United Kingdom Par-liamentary Human Rights Group Report, February 1985)

So much, then, for the 'realities of geography and demography'.

You appear to be concerned with that which you regard as 'a basic failure of Tamil intellectuals like Mr. Satyendra' and that is that they 'overtly promote human rights but covertly use it' to advance their Eelam cause.

But, please rest assured, Mr.Editor, that the Tamil people, including Tamil intellectuals, not only overtly and openly promote human rights but also, equally overtly and equally openly promote the cause of Tamil Eelam as well. There is nothing covert in their support for the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for national self determination.

Indeed, the Tamil cause represents the very essence of the cause of human rights. It was this which led human rights lawyer, Ms.Karen Parker of International Educational Development, to declare at the 42nd Sessions of the UN Sub Commission on Protection of Minorities, August 1990:

"The Sri Lanka situation has shown that for the past forty years, the Sinhala controlled government has been unwilling and unable to promote and protect the human rights of the Tamil population, and the Tamil population has accordingly lost all confidence in any present or future willingness or ability of the Sinhala majority to do so. Are people in this situation required to settle for less than their full rights. Can the international community impose on a people a forced marriage they no longer want and in which they can clearly demonstrate they have been abused? We conclude that in order for the human rights of the Tamil peo-ple and others in a similar situation to be realised, the interna-tional community must invoke the principle of self determination as it arises from persistent non fulfilment of the rights of minori-ties who have been subsumed into larger states."

Again, it may be that you do not regard this approach of a human rights lawyer as being sufficiently 'objective and dispassionate'. But, please, what does 'cool reason' show?

Reason shows that the 'realities of history, geography and demography' confirm that Professor Virginia Leary was right when she declared in her Report on the Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka in 1981 that the Tamils could be considered to a people with a distinct language, culture and to an extent, a defined territory.

Reason shows that the Tamils are a people who have been ruled for more than four decades by an alien Sinhala people, who do not speak their language, who do not share their culture and their heritage, and who, today, seek to perpetuate that rule by armed might.

Reason shows that the law of nations declares that a people who are subjugated by an alien people are entitled to the right of self determination.

And, reason also shows that 'the process of building bridges' between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people must begin with each people recognising the existence of the other as a people, and thereafter sitting as equals, to agree upon constitutional structures within which such equality may be sustained.

That is why, Mr.Editor, Tamil intellectuals do not seek to 'deserve the respect' of an arrogant Sinhala chauvinism which masquerades as a so called Sri Lankan nation. That is why Tamil intellectuals who seek to stand up for that which is right and just, will continue to identify themselves with the national liberation struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam.

That is why, Tamil intellectuals everywhere will continue to declare that the denial by the Sri Lankan Government of the right of the people of Tamil Eelam to self determination is itself a violation of a human right enshrined in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Article declares:

"All people have the right to self determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

These were the self same considerations which impelled 17 non governmental organisations to declare at the hearings of the UN Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, in August 1990:

"It has become a matter of urgent importance to act on the reports of several Human Rights organisations on the gross and consistent violations of Human Rights in Sri Lanka and to initiate steps to satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil people within the framework of Human Rights and the Right of Self Determination."

But Sinhala chauvinism would have the world believe that such considerations, founded as they are on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human rights are both 'outlandish and outdated'.

Ofcourse, we do understand your concern, Mr.Editor, that the efforts of the Sri Lankan Government at obfuscation have increasingly failed and that the international community has increasingly begun to recognise the political reality of the Tamil nation in the island of Ceylon. We do also understand your concern that the international community has become increasingly reluctant to give aid to a Government which is guilty of gross, consisting and continuing violations of human rights.

But please rest assured, Mr.Editor that this change of perception has not been brought about by the efforts of 'travelling salesmen' for Tamil Eelam. Tamil Eelam is not a commodity for sale whether in the international market or elsewhere. Tamil Eelam is an existential political force which demands recognition in the name of the inherent dignity of a people.

Tamil intellectuals are well aware that even as you wrote your Comment, the genocidal attack by the Sri Lankan Government on the people of Tamil Eelam, continued unabated and with increased ferocity . In the North of Tamil Eelam, bombs are regularly targeted on refugee camps, whether they be situated in temples, churches or schools. Even hospitals with clear red cross markings have not been spared.

"Barrel bombs - 210 litre cast iron barrels packed with explosives, rubber and saw dust - rain down on residential areas with the most devastating effect; each bomb can destroy 20 houses. By its haphazard bombing of civilian targets in the Northern penin-sula of Jaffna, the airforce is imposing an unofficial blockade which is bringing some parts to starvation. Helicopters, equipped with rockets and machine guns hover day and night over Jaffna city and the surrounding towns and villages, ready to strafe any moving civilians or vehicles... The hospital has also been bombed and three weeks ago, a helicopter fired into the operating theatre, killing a doctor... In an effort to dent civilian morale, they have also been showering the area with human and animal excrement." [The London Daily Telegraph, 13th September 1990]

There has been an embargo on the transport of essential medical, food and fuel supplies into Tamil Eelam. Hundreds of sick and wounded have died without medical attention. Many thousands of the people of Tamil Eelam, face death by starvation. The education of Tamil youths has been grievously affected and their safety is always in peril. Arrests and torture of Tamil children as young as thirteen is commonplace and occurs in Colombo as well.

The Sri Lankan Government is carrying out this onslaught on the people of Tamil Eelam under the pretext of carrying on a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However, Tamil intellectuals are well aware that the genocidal intent of the Government was made clear when it rejected the uni-lateral ceasefire declaration made by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the 31st of December 1990 on the specious ground that there had been violations of the ceasefire by the LTTE. When the LTTE denied such violations and offered to participate in talks to set up a suitable mechanism to monitor the ceasefire, the Sri Lankan Government rejected that offer out of hand!

In a carefully crafted paragraph, you state Mr.Editor:

"If Mr.Satyendra, who describes himself as a human rights lawyer condones the mindless terror of the Tigers and even justifies their actions in the name of a dubious 'liberation struggle' then he is not only betraying the fundamental principles of human rights but also exposing himself as an irredeemable hypocrite."

The use of the word 'if' is significant, because Mr.Editor you were presumably aware that, in fact at no stage during the meeting at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (or for that matter anywhere else) did the speaker condone the violations of human rights by some members of the LTTE. On the contrary, the speaker stated expressly that he cannot and did not condone such violations and stated that an armed struggle was not a carte blanche to kill but was a struggle in the defence of the integrity of the Tamil nation.

However, the speaker did point out that it was important to carefully sift the facts about such alleged violations by members of the LTTE. He pointed out that in June 1990, a report in the world media that more than fifty Muslims were killed by the LTTE in the Amparai District, was later rejected by the government's own Muslim Superintendent of Police, and the newsreport was subsequently withdrawn. But the fact that such a report was initially 'planted' in the world media was evidence of the cynical nature of the disinformation campaign carried on by the Sri Lankan government.

The people of Tamil Eelam are well aware of the need to purify and in that way, strengthen their struggle for national self determination against a Sinhala dominated government which seeks to subjugate and rule them.

But they need no lessons on human rights from those who seek to undermine their struggle for self determination.

They need no lessons on human rights from the servants of a state whose horrendous record on human rights led Amnesty International to launch a three month world wide Sri Lanka campaign in September 1990.

They need no lessons on human rights from the servants of a state which has subjected the people of Tamil Eelam to 'shit bomb' attacks and which has bombed Tamil civilian population centres and hospitals with clear red cross markings.

They need no lessons on human rights from the servants of state which has so institutionalised violence that 60,000 of its own Sinhala people have 'disappeared' during the past two years.

It is well known that the Sri Lankan government has engaged the services of Tamil quislings to help its armed forces and to assist its political initiatives and seeks to pass them off as 'rivals' of the LTTE. Your editorial shows that the Sri Lankan Government is now in search of quisling Tamil intellectuals who will 'deserve the respect' of a Sinhala chauvinism which masquerades as the so called Sri Lankan nation.

You suggest 'that in the absence of a rational leadership among the Tamils', such intellectuals, 'could be the only ones who could help to end the senseless carnage'. You would have your readers believe that the people of Tamil Eelam are without 'rational leaders' and that the ever so helpful Sinhala rulers, who are engaged in aerial bombardment of the people of Jaffna with 'shit bombs', are somehow concerned to 'end this senseless carnage' and encourage the rise of a 'rational leadership' for the Tamil people!

Please, Mr.Editor, please do refrain from insulting the intelligence of the people of Tamil Eelam and please do refrain from this humbuggery. Instead, please do try and wake up your masters to the reality that the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for their right to self determination is rational, that it is just, that it is lawful, that it is not outlandish but rooted solidly on the ground - and that it will succeed. But, then, perhaps, as the leader of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Pirabaharan has very rationally remarked:

'You can wake up some one who is asleep, but you cannot wake up some one who is pretending to be asleep.'

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