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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Right to Self Determination - Tamil Eelam > Tamil Eelam: The Legitimacy of a New State - A.J.V.Chandrakanthan
Tamil Eelam: The Legitimacy of a New State
A Report on the Conference on
"Articulating a Vision for the Tamil Nation"
Rapporteur: A. J. V. Chandrakanthan, Professor of Social and Biblical Theology Concordia University, Montreal, Canada
Introduction | Main Themes and the Titles of Papers | The Origins of the Tamil National Liberation Struggle | A Multi-Faceted Struggle (Porrattam) | The Non-Violent or Ghandhiyan Phase | Sinhala Exclusivism and the Birth of Defensive Tamil Nationalism | A Conscious Resuscitation of History | The Sinhala -Tamil Polarization and the Birth of the Tamil Armed Resistance | The Parting of Ways and the Intensification of Armed Resistance | The Determined March Towards Tamil Eelam | Consolidation of the Eelam Struggle | Self-determination as the Most Basic Human Right | Self-determination and Armed Struggle | Failed Efforts of Peace-Building | Conclusion
0. 1 Introduction
Under the auspices of Conciliation Resources -an International organisation based in London and specialising on Conflict Resolution and Prevention' a group of eminent Tamil academics, reputed journalists and committed Human Rights activists came together at Queen Elizabeth House in Oxford from the 24th to 26th of April 1998. This report is based on an involved and sustained discussion that took place among them in a spirit of openness with a serious concern for the future of the Tamil nation called Eelam consisting of the northern and eastern provinces of the island of Ceylon.
Though all the discussants were Eelam Tamils by origin, all except two have been living and working for a considerable length of time in Europe, North America or Australia while actively involving themselves in supporting and espousing the Tamil demand for separation and advocating the Tamils' Right for self-determination and nationhood and in that they convincingly represented the views of the Eelam Tamil expatriates and recent Tamp immigrants living in these large regions of the world.
Almost all of them have been following closely the events unfolding in their homeland and have written and spoken on International platforms for the Rights of the Ceylon Tamils for independence and nationhood. Mr. Andy Carl, one of the Co-Directors along with a Ms. Liz Philipson, a well-informed resource-person from Conciliation Resources was also present at all the sessions and briefly took part in some of the discussions.
0. 2 Main Themes and the Titles of Papers
Orientation papers on the following titles were presented by those appointed from among the group for this task and for each paper a critique was given by a respondent. The titles are
Though these themes served as sign-posts, the discussions touched the whole gamut of social, economic, political, cultural and religious realities that constitute the Tamil nation as a distinct reality within the island polity. Considerable attention was also paid to the military dimension of the conflict as it has become an indispensably determinant factor in the Sinhala - Tamil conflict.
Thus the presentations and critiques were given with the view to initiate discussions to deepen the "Articulation of a Vision for the Tamil Nation" which formed the all - enveloping central theme of the Conference. This theme was explored from the historical political and socio-economic angles with special reference to the Tamil national liberation struggle that has gained momentum since July 1983, the year in which the anti-Tamil pogrom attained the most cruel and crucial heights causing the death of over 3000 Tamils in and around the city of Colombo in addition to the massive loss of Tamils' properties and businesses due to organised looting, arson and burning.
Throughout the discussions a historical perspective was kept alive by taking both a diachronic and a synchronic view of the history especially of the post-independence period beginning from 1948, the year in which Britain unilaterally ceded power to the local Sinhala elites of the island of Ceylon. The discussions were not confined merely to the titles rather an effort was made to draw together the whole gamut of realities that constitute the Tamil national question with all its historical complexities.
The discussions clearly manifested the unanimous conviction of the participants that any productive and realistic pursuit that seeks to resolve the current conflict in Sri Lanka must begin with an objective assessment of the present politico-military situation of the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic imbroglio, without losing the perspectives and dynamics of the onward flow of Sri Lanka's political history particularly of the post colonial era.
This history as maintained by the discussants was saturated with a strong layer of Sinhala exclusivism that deliberately manipulated the democratic principles in favour of the numerical majority and relegated other nationalities to a second class status claiming that it is the will of the numerical majority that should always prevail.
This report endeavours to present in the form of a coherent compendium of the contents of the discussion which touched almost all avenues of the Tamil national struggle in all its multiform ramifications.
0. 1 The Origins of the Tamil National Liberation Struggle
The first sparks of the Tamil National struggle could be safely traced to the legal expert and eminent national leader, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam who toward the evening of his life in the first quarter of this eventful century said,
These words were spoken by him nearly a quarter century before the island of Ceylon attained political independence from British rule. These words reveal his perception of the early waves of pan-Sinhalization that was gradually unfolding itself. He may not have had then a sovereign, separate Tamil nation in mind, particularly when the British crown was still present in the island as a neutral third party. But he certainly articulated the need to re-affirm the Tamil national identity as a distinct entity in the island.
Governor Manning's perceptive statement made in his despatch sent from Colombo to the Secretary of State in March 1922 that '`no single community can impose its will upon the other communities'' further illustrates the legitimacy of the fears entertained by Sir Arunachalam against the face of a growing pan-Sinhala movement. It is on the basis of these legitimate apprehensions that Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan persistently argued for a "balance of power" in his well-known Memorandum which he despatched to the Secretary of State in July 1930.
The post independence period saw the concrete realisation of these fears and apprehensions. The successive Sinhala governments made a deliberate effort to weaken the Tarsal claim for justice and equality as the over-ambitious demand of a restless minority. But the significant factor was that the Tamil leadership continued to count on the good-will of their Sinhala counterparts despite the betrayals of pacts and agreements and an open show of defiance and military intimidation proffered by the Sinhala establishment.
Now, fifty years after independence when the Tamil struggle has taken the form of a well-organised armed rebellion, the Sinhala establishment is making a concerted effort to project the Tamil struggle as "terrorism'' and "anti-democratic insurgency", against elected governments. In doing this the Sinhala political rhetoric has sought in the international fora to submerge the legitimate Tamil aspirations for nationhood and independence. It is therefore important to retrace the contours of the Tamil national struggle to place it on perspective against the backdrop of the historical injustices perpetrated against the Tamils by the Sinhalese.
1. 1 A Multi-Faceted Struggle (Porrattam)
The discussion at Oxford therefore placed a strong emphasis on the fact that the multifaceted Tamil term porrattam contains the quintessence of the Tamil struggle for equality and justice that began in 1948 and gathered momentum in the subsequent years. Ever since the Tamils began their agitation for equality and justice they selectively used this dynamic and loaded Tamil term porrattam (meaning a persistent agitation, relentless struggle, determined fight, ceaseless confrontation etc.) to signify the pluri-form dimension of their struggle, involving the fight for land, language, culture, dignity, equality, justice, security and also for the intra-social emancipation from the discriminations based on caste, class and sex. The terms Tamil porrattam had been used since 1948 to signify both non-violent and the armed resistance of the Tamils against the oppressive regimes.
1.2 The Non-Violent or Ghandhiyan Phase
In the early phase of the Tamil national porrattam (1948-1977) the leaders adopted non-violent means to secure the legitimate rights of the Tamil ethnic nationality in the island. Their faith in employing non-violent means to secure the rights of the Tamils manifested also their faith in the Sinhala leadership as capable of recognising the Tamil claim within a democratic frame-work. But this expectation was met with brutal and undemocratic forms of military repression from the part of the Sinhala government.
Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, the foremost and prophetic leader of this phase had a political vision for his people and sought their co-operation to take his vision forward. In 1948 he fought against the promulgation of certain Acts in parliament that disfranchised and decitizenized a large number of the Indian Tamil resident population in the hill country of the central parts of Ceylon. In 1956, it was the battle for the right of the Tamil language against the unilateral introduction of the "Sinhala only'' Act. In 1960 it was the introduction of the Sinhala letter SRI on the motor vehicle license plates.
When a coalition government under the leadership of the SLFP unilaterally introduced a Sinhala Constitution as National Constitution, in 1972 he voiced the Tamil opinion that the Tamils are not party to the constitution-making and therefore the Constitution has no binding effect on the Tamils. It shall be pointed out later that Tamils were not party to any of the Constitution-making. To demonstrate the rejection of the Constitution by the Tamils he resigned his seat as Member of Parliament and recontested it against the SLFP government. In the re-election he won with overwhelming majority and proved the point that the Tamils in toto have rejected the Sinhala Constitution. The SLFP government did not pay heed to the protests and demonstrations for justice and equality expressed by the Tamils within a politically acceptable democratic frame-work.
Sadly enough all non-violent protests, demonstrations and sit-ins that were organised by the Tamil political leadership were met with by the iron hands of the Sinhala State. Except to quell the JVP rebellion for a brief period in 1971 and 1989, the Sri Lankan army which is composed of 99% Sinhalese had always been used by the government against the Tamils in the latterís own homeland. By using its military as a repressive force, the Sinhala government was of the view that the burgeoning Tamil nationalist fervour and zeal can be extinguished. Their calculation was proved wrong. Perceiving the anti-Tamil designs of the Sinhala establishment' the moderate Tamil Leadership called for an intra Tamil political unity and joined hands to form the Tamil United Front (TUF) which was renamed later as Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF).
2. 0 Sinhala Exclusivism and the Birth of Defensive Tamil Nationalism
History attests that the successive Sinhala governments by refusing to accommodate the legitimate Tamil grievances within a pluralistic national polity have by their own narrow-minded Sinhalization laid the foundations for the estrangement of the Tamil population and therefore for the entrenchment of Tamil separatism. The prolongation of the war against the Tamils as it shall be attested later, contributes only to hasten the process of secession as an unavoidable alternative in the face of unmitigated Sinhala State terror.
At a time when political decision-making was left to the wisdom of the elite leadership of both communities the Tamil political leaders expressed their dissatisfaction or disapproval by lawful, non-violent means. (1948, 1956 and 1958, 1960, 1965). More significant was the fact that the Tamil leadership sought an accommodation within a unified national polity even by offering their support to either of the two major Sinhala political parties (i.e. UNP or SLFP) that were contending to for power after the elections. This was so between 1948 and 1971.
The Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam Pact of 1956, the Dudley - Chelvanayagam Pact of 1965 have come into Sri Lanka's political history as the '`lost opportunities." These pacts were signed not merely to safeguard Tamil interests. In hindsight it can be argued that these pacts which were dishonoured and torn to shreds by the Sinhala Leaders (who were both Prime Ministers of Ceylon) were also made to safeguard the national integrity and the unitary national polity of the island State. Having been betrayed by the Sinhala leadership, the Tamil leaders felt that their good-will and confidence were taken too lightly by their Sinhala counterparts who were rapidly moving in the narrow direction of' one nation, one language and one faith". The Tamil nationality was no less convinced of re-affirming their identity as a distinct national entity.
The claim for a limited form of separatist tendency that began with the demand for Federalism and regional autonomy quickly escalated to a cry for a complete secession and separation. Some cliches in politics and state-craft have come true, with yesterday's heresies (the demand for Regional Councils or Federalism) becoming todayís orthodoxy. A solution toward an amicable inter-ethnic accommodation, acceptable sometime in the 1960s or l970s would now be jibbed at as irrelevant or inadequate by the Tamils who are the aggrieved party that has paid immensely in terms of life and wealth, family and friends, properties and possessions.
In response to these articulate trends of Sinhala exclusivism, Tamil nationalism originated with a defensive and reactionary stance. The excessive use of brute military force on Tamil civilians by the government of Sri Lanka, intensified the spirit of Tamil nationalism and the inflexible determination for nationhood. This has come to stay as the vanguard of Tamil separatism with its literature, heroism and myths. Thus, within the Sri Lankan polity the most basic question is: Can two nationalisms that are mutually exclusive, historically hostile, co-exist within a unitary system of government in a single nation-state?
In addition to this the Sinhala governments have also devised and introduced policies that are politically sectarian and racially intolerant. The scheme of standardisation introduced in 1971 was designed primarily to cut down the number of Tamil students seeking higher education. The different colonisation schemes initiated and supported by almost all Sinhala governments from 1948 down to the present day, were done with the motive of altering the demographic patterns of the Tamil homelands and to extend the boundaries of the Sinhala provinces into the Tamil territory. The different measures introduced by the two major parties that alternately came to power between 1948 and 1977 were all done to marginalize the Tamil nationality. All this was done under the pretext of democracy which in reality was the imposition of an aggressive majoritarian rule over other communities which were labelled as minorities.
2. 1 A Conscious Resuscitation of History
Tamils of Ceylon who claim the northern and eastern provinces of the island of Ceylon as their traditional homelands, have for several centuries maintained and nurtured their social' cultural' linguistic and religious separateness despite the economic and commercial contacts they have established with the Sinhalese who inhabit the south and western regions of Sri Lanka.
The theories advanced by scholars from both sides of the ethnic camp concerning the original inhabitants of the island is fraught with many complexities and even controversies, but the fact remains that until the unification of the island by the British in 1833, the two major communities of the island of Ceylon, namely Sinhalese and Tamils considered themselves to be the two founding races of this country which was conquered and ruled by three colonial powers, namely the Portuguese, Dutch and British between 1505 to 1948.
Colonial history attests that the Portuguese and the Dutch recognised the distinctiveness of the two communities and appointed governors who ruled them separately with adequate endorsement of the respective traditional laws and customs prevalent among the two races. Of particular significance are the Tamil land ownership laws codified as Thesavalamai by the Dutch.
With the Colebrooke Reforms of 1833, the British crown created an artificial unity of the two nations and peoples to enhance its colonial administrative machinery. Living in the dry and arid tropical lands, the Tamils perceived a new economic advantage in the colonial administrative system and given their intellectual astuteness and hard-work swiftly acquired a lion's share in the colonial bureaucracy. Many Tamils migrated to the south and western provinces and the more adventurous among them took up various jobs in the British colonies as far as Malaya, the Fiji islands and Mauritius.
This form of pathetic dependence on the British colonial administrative apparatus blinded the educated Tamil elite leadership from looking ahead into the future and to secure adequate constitutional guarantees for their political and national existence in their traditional homelands. With the introduction of universal franchise in 1931, as a means of instituting the democratic system the Tamils found themselves relegated to a minority status vis-a-vis the Sinhala majoritarian numerocracy. The electoral argument advanced by the prominent Tamil Leader Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam, in favour of a balanced representation (popularly known as "Fifty-Fifty'') as opposed to territorial representation, in the pre-independence period fell on deaf years.
The danger alarm began to sound when Britain unilaterally ceded power to the Sinhala leadership and left the Tamils to the benevolence of the Sinhala leaders. Within months of the British withdrawal the Sinhala government enacted laws and legislation that were directly aimed at curbing the Tamil influence on the national polity. This led to the birth of the Tamil Federal Party in 1949 which advanced the case for a Federal constitution with a limited self-governance for the distinct Tamil region composed of the north and east. It should be remembered that at that point of time north and east were considered as one contiguous entity.
As referred to earlier between 1948 and 1978, the Tamil leadership engaged in their porrattam employing Gandhian methods of non-violent protests as a means of securing their legitimate rights. These were met with the iron hands of the Sinhala State. The Sinhala hostility and chauvinism became more pronounced under the SLFP government led by Mr. S. W .R D. Bandaranaike and later his widow Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
The former championed the "Sinhala Only Act" (1956) and the latter in addition to nationalising all denominational schools (1960) made the local languages as medium of education (1965), and introduced a discriminatory admission system to the Universities (1971). All these changes were aimed directly at the Tamils to curb the educational and employment opportunities of the Tamils in the public and private sector.
Tamils from all walks of life, especially High school and university students organised massive non-violent protest demonstrations against these legislations which were evidently discriminatory to the Tamils. Once again these demonstrations were put down by blatant military force. Arbitrary arrest of young students, detention, torture and disappearances became commonplace. The ground was made fertile for the armed Tamil resistance to be born. The Tamil schools became the arena of ethno-national politics.
2. 2 The Sinhala -Tamil Polarization and the Birth of the Tamil Armed Resistance
Sirima Banadaranaike's government gave the Sinhala name "Sri Lanka" to the country which was known until then as Ceylon and unilaterally introduced a pro-Sinhala Buddhist constitution (1972) much to the disadvantage of the Tamils and Muslims' thereby relegating them to a second-class status. By conferring a special status on Buddhism, this constitution denied equality to non-Buddhist religions. Mr. J. R Jayowardene, her successor who assumed power in 1977 introduced the system of Executive Presidency (1978) and further widened the ethnic gap by re-introducing a pro-Sinhala-Buddhist constitution.. The Tamils were not part to any of the process of constitution-making from 1948 to 1978.
The periodical anti-Tamil pogroms of 1956, 1958, 1960-61, 1965, 1977 and 1983, largely instigated by the government in power with the tacit or at times direct involvement of the Sinhala security forces and in the latter stages even some Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament, cemented the fear in the mind of the Tamils that they cannot look upon the Sinhala State to ensure their safety and security.
More than once the Sinhala army used unpardonable brutality on the Tamil population especially on the youth, high school and university students who were among the most affected lot due to the discriminatory legislation introduced by Mrs. Bandaranaike and Mr. Jayawardene. During and after these pogroms Tamils in the south and west flocked in large numbers to the north and east where they found relative security and peace in solidarity with their ethnic kith and kin in their homeland.
During this period, at least on two occasions the moderate Tamil leadership sought an over-arching accommodation within a unified national polity by engaging in negotiations with their Sinhala counterparts. The first one was between Prime Minister Bandaranaike and the Leader of the Federal Party, S. J., V. Chelvanayagam (1957) which came to be referred to as the B-C pact in the Sri Lankan political lexicon. The second was between Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and Chelvanayagam (1965).
Both pacts were the results of long negotiations both before and after the General Elections. It is relevant to recall that during these series of talks that were held between the Sinhala and Tamil leaders, (1956, 1965) the question of the merger of north and east never arose, on the contrary the talks were held with the understanding that the north and east constitute one undivided Tamil homeland. Already then, State-aided or government sponsored colonization was a thorny issue. From the early l950s the government began creating what is known as Sinhala buffer-zones within the Tamil homelands ostensibly to alter the demographic ratio in this region. Between then and now, the State-aided colonisation of Tamil homelands by Sinhala settlers has changed the demographic ratio and it has now become an explosive political issue.
2. 3 The Parting of Ways and the Intensification of Armed Resistance
Due to the short-sightedness of the Sinhala leadership, these two gentlemanly pacts signed after substantial negotiations by the Sinhala-Tamil leadership were unilaterally abrogated by the Sinhala leaders within a few weeks of signing them, much to the dismay of the Tamils. The Tamil leadership could not count on their Sinhala counterparts as worthy of trust and statesmanship. Thus began the parting of ways which gradually culminated in the unity of all Tamil political parties under one umbrella and the formation of the Tamil United Front which later became the Tamil United Liberation front in 1976.
This party retained its moderate political activism despite the declaration it made in unison that the Tamils must determine their destiny by reestablishing their lost sovereignty as a people and a nation. "The Tamil claim is that Britainís paramountcy lapsed with the transfer of power in 1948; that power they insist could not be transferred to the Sinhalese ethnic majority only but was transferred to all the people of the island." Following the transfer of power by Britain, the elites of all communities should have come together to frame a constitution and sought the consensus of all. But none of that consensus was forthcoming in any of the constitutions passed by the Sri Lankan Constitutional Assembly.
The Tamil nationality is wary of the fact that by unilaterally imposing a Sinhala constitution in 1948, 1972 and 1977-78, the Sinhala nation has sought to subjugate the Tamil nation and wanted to impose the will of the Sinhala majority by labelling the Tamil nation as an ethnic minority. This form if majoritarian numerocracy cannot be accepted or tolerated as a rational exercise of democracy.
2. 4 The Determined March Towards Tamil Eelam
Herein lies the springs of Tamil nationalism and the rejuvenation of the concept of Tamil homelands.
Thus at a major convention at Vaddukkoddai, on 14 May 1976 under the chairmanship of the charismatic father-figure S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, it was resolved that "a separate, free 'secular' sovereign, socialist state of Tamil Eelam should be established". This resolution was placed before the Tamils by the TULF at the general elections of 1977. Tamils overwhelmingly voted for the TULF, thus expressing their electoral support and giving them the mandate to deliver what they had promised at the general election.
Among the Sinhala electorates the UNP won with an absolute majority and the SLFP suffered a humiliating defeat. The TULF became the official opposition having the second largest number of seats in parliament and it's Secretary General became the Leader of the Opposition. This was something unacceptable to the Sinhala psyche. They saw the parliament as the new battle ground for ethnic rivalry.
In fact there were semi-official requests made by the Prime Minister J. R Jayawardene to Mr. A. Amirthalingam, the Tamil Leader of the opposition that Mr. Amirthalingam should relinquish his position and make way for the leader of the SLFP (with 8 MPs) far the sole reason that he happens to be a Tamil. Nothing can be more ridiculous in a Westminster -model of democracy! It is in the light of this that one should understand the post election anti-Tamil pogrom of August 1977. This was partially instigated by the government in power with the support of the SLFP to intimidate the Tamil population inclusive of its leadership which was now the official opposition in parliament.
It was during this period that Tamil porrattam for justice and equality began to take an intensely new shape as an armed liberation struggle. It began with the selective assassination of police constables and others collaborating with the government or gathering information about the Tamil rebels involved in political assassinations.
During this period, i.e. 1978 to 1983, Prof. A. Jeyaratnam Wilson, son-in-law of Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayagam and an eminent political scientist of international repute was invited by President J. R. Jayawardene to mediate between the Sinhala government and the TULF. His unsuccessful mediation is now part of the history of "lost opportunities', which has been neatly recorded by him in his out-standing work entitled, The Break-Up of Sri Lanka, (C. Hurst, London, 1988).
After dragging his feet for long period and having employed many skilful political manoeuvres President J. R. Jayawardene came out with the proposal for District Development Councils. It was a case of concessions made at a time when they had totally lost their grace. The Tamil youth rejected these proposals for the DDC and declared that no one should file their nomination for the DDC election. The situation in the north and east became very tense. The President was clearly out of his depths. He had no idea of the defensive and proactive Tamil nationalism that was beginning to burn in the hearts of the Tamil youth and the politically conscious middle-class populace. He sent in a large battalion of reserved police and army into the north and wanted to have the election under duress.
The ill-informed President sent also two of his cabinet ministers. The election was a farce in which very few people went out to vote. The Tamil youth killed an army personnel at an election booth and that ignited a chain of events in the heart of the city of Jaffna. on May 31st 1981. Many shops and businesses were looted and burnt. The torching of the prestigious Jaffna Public Library by the Sinhala reserved police with the physical presence and support of two UNP cabinet Ministers on June 15th1981 added fuel to the fire of Tamil armed struggle which was then in its pre-adolescent state. It began to gather momentum and reached a climax after the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom at which over 3000 Tamils were clubbed or torched to death and millions of dollars worth of their businesses and properties burnt.
A racially biased address to the nation given by the President over the national television while the smoke from the burnt buildings were still in the air' gave anew courage to the Sinhala hoodlums and arsonists to continue their destruction of Tamil lives and properties.
All this ignited the fire and fervour of secessionist convictions and induced thousands of Tamils to migrate to western capitals and to Canada and the USA. Between 1983 to 1998 over half a million Tamils have sought asylum out-side of Sri Lanka. An astounding proportion of these were from among the middle-class. This migration has caused a severe dent in the economic and educational life of the north and east. Another significant political event that happened in 1983 which virtually sealed off any future Sinhala-Tamil conciliation was the introduction of the 6th amendment to the Constitution. This legislation made it unconstitutional for any political party to agitate for a separate state within or out-side of Sri Lanka.
By introducing this legislation the President not only unseated the elected Tamil members of parliament but handed over the legitimacy of Tamil representation to the armed Tamil liberation fighters. With the support and help of the nationalist parties of Tamil Nadu and the Central government of India the armed groups reached a significant level of success in their opposition to Sinhala State repression.
It may be pointed out that the armed struggle of the Tamils in its contemporary form emerged to the surface as an ultimate response to the pan Sinhala nationalism that sought a Sinhala-Buddhist religio-political hegemony in the island beginning with the introduction of the Sinhala only Act of 1956 to the unilateral pro-Buddhist constitutions of 1972 and 1978.
The patience of the Tamils began to wear thin already in the beginning of 1971 when the misnomer called "standardization", was introduced purely to curb the entry of Tamil students into Universities and with that the Tamil community and especially the Tamil youth became politically conscious of their present and future in the island State. They began to look critically at the type of treatment meted out to them by the Sinhala government. Forced occupation and colonisation of Tamil lands with Sinhala hoodlums and ex-convicts further complicated matters. The periodic anti-Tamil pogroms punctuated the inter-ethnic hostility nurtured by the governments in power and their unilateral actions. The Tamils had borne the brunt of Sinhala hatred and enmity for over two decades after independence. Their leaders were intimidated by the armed might of the State. The stage for ready for more youthful and militant Tamil political visionaries to enter.
2. 5 Consolidation of the Eelam Struggle
The current political and military scenario in Sri Lanka portends among other things two indisputable facts: The first is the progressive alienation, mutual distrust and a sense of ethno-political exclusivism that has now become cemented between the Sinhala and Tamil nationalities. The second and more crucial reality is the fact that there are two national armies drawing its cadres exclusively from the Sinhalese and Tamils respectively, poised against each other and engaging in conventional battles as two nations at war.
The Peoples Alliance government of President Chandrika which is presently prosecuting a vicious war against the Tamil nation, much to the torment of over two million Tamil civilians in the north and east of Sri Lanka and leading the economic prospects toward a national disaster quite ironically labels this war as a "war for peace." Her understanding of peace is rightly viewed by the Tamils as a form of military subjugation and repression neatly illustrated in the capture and military occupation of the Tamil-inhabited Jaffna peninsula.
With direct and tacit international support she has intensified this war and has led the Sinhala-Tamil hostility to a point of no return and in that the flight of half a million Tamil civilians from Jaffna on the 30th of October 1995 will remain for several decades as the indelible scar of this inhuman war. For the Tamil community that episodic experience is enough justification for secession and self-rule.
The growing intransigence and hardened attitude on both sides of the ethnic divide is further entrenched by the daily arrests, detentions and disappearances of Tamil youth in the military occupied areas, not to mention the rape, murder and extrajudicial executions periodically perpetrated by the army. The embargo imposed by the government on the supply of food and medicine to the Tamils in those areas under the control of the LTTE especially in the Vanni region has been condemned by many humanitarian organisations and agencies as a man-made cause for starvation, malnutrition and death of babies, children and women.
For a vast majority of the Tamils the Sinhala areas have become the enemy territory. Mutual distrust and suspicion among the two nationalities have become so embedded that a reconciliation in the near future is seen as intrinsically contradictory. Though there were several armed liberation groups mushroomed among the Tamils in the 1980s, today the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam known popularly as LTTE has become the dominant group embodying the Tamil national aspirations with overwhelming support from the Tamil population both within and out-side of Sri Lanka.
The Thimpu talks held in 1985 were arranged by the government of India, between the representatives of the major Tamil armed liberation groups and the representatives of the government of Sri Lanka. The Tamil delegates presented the following principles as the fundamental condition sine qua non for the talks. These four principles are:
The government of Sri Lanka was unwilling to consider these principles and maintained that these are a stepping stone for secession. On the part of the Tamils these principles constitute their inalienable right as a distinct people and a nation. These are not concessions or privileges given and received. The Sinhala establishment refused to see these principles as the fundamental right of a people who have a historically unbroken existence in the land for several centuries dating back to the pre-Christian era.
3. 0 Self-determination as the Most Basic Human Right
The internal and external facets of self-determination and its pivotal significance to the Tamil national struggle were well expounded and discussed at the Conference. With the emergence of many new nations in the post-World War II period, the concept of self-determination has received a refined and renewed significance as many nations and peoples that are oppressed under dictatorial, military or oppressive regimes.
Self determination has become wedded to the notions of Human Rights and Human Dignity. Self-determination is given primacy in the Human Rights covenant and is exemplified as a prerequisite for the enjoyment of other human rights. It not something that is given and taken. It is to be seen and recognised in the people who constitute a nation in a defined territory of their own with their distinct history' culture and religion.
Self-determination is inseparably bound with one's ethnicity, language, culture, territory and nationality. As an indispensable component of democracy self determination is understood as synonymous with the principle that the government must be based on the consent of the governed.
The application of the principle of self-determination in the international fora has made it clear that the purpose of self-determination is to protect communities from oppression and to empower them. The intervention of the UN to protect the Kurds in Iraq is also a manifestation of the realisation that systematic and gross violation of group rights of an entity within a state is a threat to international peace.
The Tamil population supports and recognises the LTTE as a national liberation movement which is presently involved in armed conflict with the oppressive government of Sri Lanka in order to realise by use of force the right of the Tamils of the island of Ceylon for selfdetermination. In essence the post-independent phase of the Tamil struggle has been at its root a struggle for self-determination against a hegemonistic majoritarian oppressive system perpetuated by the Sinhala State under the guise of democracy.
It has been illustrated already that the manner in which the Sinhala State sought to subjugate the Tamil nation by discriminatory legislations that deprived the Tamils of their right for language, education and employment. State-aided colonisation became a Vicious form of aggression on the Tamil homelands. When they had exhausted all forms of peaceful demonstrations and protests which were met by brutal military force by the Sinhala State the Tamils finally resorted to armed struggle as the ultimate response to Sinhala oppression. It was to assert their inalienable right for self determination that the Tamils resorted to armed struggle.
When it was countered by unimaginable and brute military action it had escalated in time to a full-scale war. The LTTE was determined to carry ahead the mandate given by the Tamils to the TULF to carve out a separate sovereign State of Tamil Eelam in the island of Ceylon. In fact in the 1977 general election' the last free election to be held in the north east' the Tamils not only gave an overwhelming mandate to establish the independence of Tamil Eelam but they also wanted this to be done by "peaceful means, direct action or by struggle (porrattam).
With the emergence of the LTTE the mode of the Tamil political struggle (porrattam) underwent a radical change. Porrattam came to be confined to a politico-military struggle advanced by the LTTE. The armed struggle became effectively institutionalised as the political struggle of the Tamil people; and also as a measure of self-defence in the face of the brutalisation of the Tamils by the Sinhala establishment.
The Indian government which initially supported and aided the armed groups (1983-87) recognised the legitimate demands of the Tamils but in course of time overriding national interests catapulted India to take a stand in favour of the oppressive Sinhala regime. The Tamil population felt betrayed and let down by India which thrust a Peace -Accord amidst opposition Mom both sides of the ethnic camp.
Analysts who studied the motives behind this hasty Indo-Lanka Accord felt that India connived with the government of Sri Lanka to liquidate the LTTE which made a determined effort to champion the cause of the Tamils amidst enormous sacrifices. The induction of thousands of Indian troops into the north and east with the misnomer "Indian Peacekeeping Forces,' further complicated matters. Indian troops had to finally with draw having earned the wrath of the local Tamil population and that of the extremist Sinhala masses as well as humiliating criticism from the International community for the unimaginable war crimes perpetrated by them.
President Premadasa and the LTTE found a common enemy in the Indian government and its interventionist adventurism in Sri Lanka. For a brief period beginning from May 1989 to June 1990 the Premadasa-LTTE peace negotiations were held behind closed doors. Premadasa was reluctant to discuss the thorny issues of the ethnic conflict. Securing his continuity in power for a second term was the main target of his Presidency. Besides mounting criticism from his opponent at the Presidential race, he also had to face conflicts within his own part with two senior cabinet ministers expressing public dissent and eventually forming a new party of their own.
The LTTE felt that the smouldering ethnic issue had been pushed to the back-stage by Premadasa. The LTTE having realised that Premadasa was employing the "delaying tactics" like his predecessor pulled out of the talks and resumed the armed struggle in early June 1990 which was referred to inn popular parlance as Eelam War II.
The vacuum caused by the assassination of Premadasa was filled in by D. B. Wijetunga who seemed to have had no clues about the burgeoning ethnic conflict. During his period in office, the national conflict was once again pushed to the side lines. With the general elections of 1994, the Peoples Alliance party of Chandrika Bandaranaike assumed power and she became the Prime Minister. At the Presidential elections held in November 1994, she was elected to that office with an admirable majority.
President Chandrika's entry into the political arena manifested some signs of hope. During her election campaign she explicitly appealed to a peace constituency and was given an overwhelming majority precisely because she promised to deliver peace. Her party came to power having defeated the UNP which held the reigns of power for seventeen consecutive years. This period was known not only for unmitigated corruption but was a period of political thuggery intimidation, numerous political assassinations and disappearances.
Chandrika therefore exposed the darker side of the UNP regime and promised the dawn of peace, freedom and fearlessness. She invited the LTTE to resolve the national conflict by engaging in dialogue. The LTTE responded positively and a few months of peace talks took place while her deputy Minister of Defence prepared for war. The talks were held in a manner that clearly manifested a hidden agenda on the part of the PA government. While peace negotiations were held tenders were called for the purchase of modern weapons and war planes.
Those whom Chandrika delegated for the peace talks from the government's side were persons with very little if any political experience or even a clear perception of the ramifications of the national conflict. From the beginning the talks were doomed to be a failure as there was very little continuity in issues or persons that constituted the negotiating teams. Each time it was a different composition of the teams that came for peace talks while the LTTE sent the same team all through. The LTTE felt that once again they are engaging themselves in an exercise in futility and withdrew from the talks and resumed their armed struggle.
It is now history that under a deceptive policy of "War for Peace'' President Chandrika declared a vicious war on the Tamil population. Her twin approach of declaring war against the Tamil nation and of presenting a political package as a way of resolving the conflict have both been unmasked today as a clever deception by a Sinhala extremist.
A devolution package that she unveiled on July 28 1995 has now become emaciated and devoid of any strength. Knowing her deceptive approach the LTTE rejected the package as a prey to destroy the Tamil national struggle for self-rule. It is unfortunate that the International community' especially some European nations, USA and Canada pinned their hope in this package and militarily supported the PA government to go ahead with its war for peace strategy.
For ages to come the Tamil nation will remember the misery inflicted on them by Chandrika and the support given by these nations toward the destruction of Tamil lives and properties. It is during her tenure of office that the defence budget has grown sky-high and the death and destruction to property has become endemic. President Chandrika nor her political cohorts has any meaningful alternative to satisfy the aspirations of the Tamils. In fact it is during her period of office that Tamils have been subjected to the most cruel forms of human rights violations.
More lives have been lost among the Sinhala and Tamil communities under her regime than any of her predecessors. Her term of office will go into Tamil history as the one during which the entire population of the Jaffna peninsula numbering over half a million became refugees in their own nation due to the historic exodus and compelled to live under trees and jungles. Chandrika will dominate Tamil demonology for years to come and yet Tamil history will credit her for accelerating the fruition of Eelam!
There seems to be no end in sight to this conflict which had taken a heavy toll of human lives in addition to severe economic hardships suffered by a vast number of poor people from among the two warring communities. Is there a way out of this internecine imbroglio?
There are already two separate political entities in terms of territory and ethnicity, two national armies representing the two nationalities. The secession if effected with the help of an international mediator will save lives and properties and the earlier it is done is better for both communities as it will spare the lives of thousands of poor Tamil and Sinhala youth. The more delay there is, in addition to the economic devastation enveloping the whole island, the process of counting dead bodies on both sides of the ethno-national camp will continue. The future of this island is fraught with too many uncertainties.