Father of the nation Nadarajah Thangathurai, one of the first Tamil freedom fighters captured by the Sri Lanka government, was sentenced to life imprisonment. On the first of March 1983, he made a statement from the dock of the courthouse, which to this day remains one of the best testaments to the Tamil sentiments in Sri Lanka………..
Leutinent Kuddimani, who was captured, tried and sentenced to death, by the sri lankan government to oppress the tamil uprising, had his last wish for the tamil’s welfare read out to the courts on hearing of his death sentence.
by Nadesan Satyendra ( 9 May 1987) at Newham Community Centre, London
On 24 February 1983, Nadarajah Thangathurai, one of the first Tamil freedom fighters captured by the Sri Lanka government, was sentenced to life imprisonment. On the first of March 1983, he made a statement from the dock of the courthouse, which to this day remains one of the best testaments to the Tamil sentiments in Sri Lanka.
Full Text of the Statement [1 March 1983]:
We have already objected to a Court in Sri Lanka subjecting us to an inquiry. Despite that objection a case has been fabricated against us, and the trial has gone on for nearly four months.
Our Senior Counsel, Nadesan Satyendra, has exposed the somersaults of the Sri Lanka police witnesses both by his cross-examination and by his concluding submissions. He has also exposed the various acts of torture to which we were subjected at the hands of the Sri Lanka authorities. Our respected Senior Counsel has said that he bows his head in humility in front of us who have been willing to give our lives for the liberation of our people. May I only say that his dedication and sustained effort and the many faceted legal skills that he has employed from the day that he took on the responsibility for this case to this very day is a duty that he has nobly discharged for the Tamil people and is in no way less than what we have done.
His skill can be seen in every aspect of this case. His two day address on the question of the admissibility of the statements made in custody served to further the cause of truth and will find a place of honour in the history of our struggle. It is my deepest wish that such legal expertise and noble dedication will not be confined simply to a court of law, or to the cause of a particular people but will shine on behalf all oppressed peoples in the world in the years to come.
When the British government entrusted the fate of the Tamils to a group of Sinhala politicians, the Tamil people did not clamour for freedom for themselves. They did not suspect that they would in course of time be made second-class citizens of this country. But some Tamil leaders did perceptively ask for bigger representation for the Tamils in the legislature. This was justified by later events when the plantation Tamils were deprived of their franchise. What the next 25 years saw was not only the erosion of Tamil rights but also the erosion of the Tamil homeland. For 25 years, the Tamil leaders expressed their protest in Parliament and outside, adopting the principles of ahimsa and Satyagraha. But what happened?
In 1956 the Tamil leaders sat down to a peaceful protest on Galle Face Green. Sinhala thugs were unleashed on them. Later, in 1961, when the Tamil leaders and the Tamil people sat in peaceful Satyagraha in front of the Jaffna Kacheri, the Sri Lanka army did not fail to react with inhumane violence.
In which chapter of your long history of democracy are you going to incorporate these events? Not one, not two, but there have been a continuing series of thuggery and violence inflicted on the Tamil people over a period of 25 years. How many chapters will you need to record this 25-year villainy? How many Tamils have been robbed of both their lives and their material wealth? There have been Tamil women whose chastity has been offended in the very presence of their family members.
Tamil cultural wealth preserved for generations has been put to flames. What a mockery to think that these could be compensated by a few lakhs of rupees! Have all these acts of hurt and humiliation made the Tamil people lose their determination? Have they gone back on their ideals? These acts of hurt and humiliation have only strengthened their resolve. We have never missed an opportunity to make the Sri Lanka government conscious of our mind. Twice in two elections the Tamil people have recently re-stated their aspirations.
Is it not ridiculous for a Government that promotes race hatred and race killings to look at us and call us ‘terrorists’? While on the one hand celebrations were going on to mark ‘50 years of Parliamentary democracy’, (in 1981) Tamil members of the same Parliament were subject to midnight arrest and the house of one Member of Parliament was set on fire. These are not acts that you can do in a civilised world and then hold your head high. You talk of terrorism and robbery. Has this country seen anything to compare with the state terrorism and the race hate carried out with state weaponry? We have even heard of influential Sri Lanka government politicians terrorising people with revolvers!
Allegations are made that we are asking for separation, that we are trying to divide the country. When were we undivided after all? Our traditional land captured by the European invaders has never been restored to us. We have not even mortgaged our land at any time to anyone in the name of one country. Our land has changed hands off and on under various regimes, and that is what has happened. We have yet to reach a stage when we can have our land for ourselves.
What we ask for is not division but freedom. Why we ask this is not because of narrow (minded) thinking. What we hope to achieve is not only the emancipation of the Tamil people but the greater good of the Sinhalese people themselves. Why? Because, thereafter, the so-called Tamil problem will cease to be a livelihood for opportunist Sinhalese politicians. That will provide a chance for the Sinhalese people to free themselves from the political, social and economic shackles that bind them today and realize where their true slavery lies.
There is no testament in the world that declares that a people who fight to recover their own rights or work for their self-determination are guilty of sedition or terrorism. Had you endorsed our basic human rights at the very beginning this situation would not have arisen. You had not only not recognised our rights but for the purpose of clinging on to political seats of power you had been injecting into the poor innocent Sinhalese people hate and venom over the past 35 years. That not all the Sinhala people have fallen victims to your racist poison has been proved by the fact that many of them during the time of race riots, have time and again rescued Tamils from armed thugs and complete extermination. It has been customary for every opposition party in Sri Lanka that wants to come to power to obstruct any settlement of the Tamil question and rouse the Sinhala people for that purpose.
As against that, for a ruling party to permit racist violence as it has done during the past six years is more reprehensible. If the relationship between the Tamil people and the Sri Lanka government has reached the present deplorable state, that responsibility lies squarely with the present dispensation.
For the past quarter century, the ruling governments have like parrots kept on repeating the same threadbare statements ‘we will solve the Tamil question’. Whether we accept your solutions or not, what honest attempts have been made to solve the problems of the Tamils? While holding out the bogus promise of solving the problems of the Tamil people, you have spent all your time in trying to blunt Tamil resistance. What have the Tamil people asked you? Not economic benefits, not employment opportunities. That no such benefits could come from you is a fact well known to them.
Even if you do come forward to grant these benefits, what guarantee can you give the Tamils that they could live with self-respect in this island in the future? What ever you give them without securing that self-respect will be alien to them.
In this island there are sanctuaries for even wild animals, but upto now there is no sanctuary in any part of this island where Tamils can live without fear. This is not something we can expect from you in the future either.
The Deputy Solicitor General in the course of his cross-examination turned to Mr.Yogachandran and asked him: ‘Do you intend to use this court of law as a platform?’ Of what use are platforms to us? We did not ask anybody to provide us platforms. It was you who brought us to this Court and heaped accusations on us. When you not only throw lies at us but also try to make out that we are liars, we simply came out with the truth.
Truth does not require platforms. It has its own glory. No power on earth can suppress it forever.
We are not lovers of violence nor victims of mental disorders. We are honest fighters belonging to an organization that is struggling to liberate a people.
To those noble souls who keep on prating “terrorism, terrorism” we have something to say. Did you not get frightened of terrorism when hundreds of Tamils were massacred in cold blood, when racist hate spread like fire in this country of yours? Did terrorism mean nothing to you when Tamil women were raped? When cultural treasures were set on fire? When hundreds and hundreds of Tamil homes were looted? Why in 1977 alone 400 Tamils lost their lives reddening the sky above with their splattered blood – did you not see any terrorism then? Did your thoughts and feelings become deadened when it concerned Tamil lives and Tamil property or are your minds unable to conceive the very idea of Tamil suffering?
There is nothing that prevents two neighbouring nations living in co-operation. You must not run away with the thought that our sole objective is to establish Tamil Eelam. Tamil Eelam certainly remains an objective because we have learnt through bitter experience over the past several years that it is only by establishing a State of Tamil Eelam can Tamils live with self-respect.
But our vision is broader than that. Our vision is global. Wherever there is oppression, wherever there is violation of human dignity, whether in Africa or in Latin America, we are prepared to link hands with the oppressed and the under dog. When our vision is so global how can it fail to take into account the future good of the Sinhala people?
May I mention this? We will not stop at raising our voices on behalf of those people. There is nothing that prevents two neighbouring nations living in co-operation. Even nations with differing policies get together for common economic good and for the purpose of common security. Does that mean that those nations give up their distinctive characteristics or sovereignty?
We have to safeguard the collective good of this island. If at any time in the future a common organisation has to emerge which could withstand the political and economic onslaught made against third world countries particularly in the areas surrounding the Indian sub continent, you can be sure that Tamil Eelam will rise to lend its might in all co-operative endeavours that will raise the quality of life of the people of this part of the world.
I want to ask this question from my Sinhala friends. Do you accept as correct and justified the various acts of oppression that the Tamil people have suffered until now not only in our land but in various parts of your land as a result of various acts of thuggery and terrorism? Do you also consider wrong our attempt to free ourselves from the inhumane oppression of your government?
Or do you consider that this present eyewash in the form of a trial conducted under special laws an act of fairness to a people like us who are fighting for a noble ideal, the ideal of human freedom? Or does it mean that you do not care what happens because the victims are Tamils? If that is so, our sympathies are with you.
Believe me our freedom is an assured fact and will come. Once that happens your law books and terrorist laws cannot touch us. Thereafter you will be the sole ‘beneficiaries’ of the very laws that oppress us now.
Will you urge your government to stop the injustice against us and acknowledge our sovereignty?
Will you as a first step towards this and towards the eradication of terrorism, urge your government to recall the Sri Lanka Police Force and the Armed Forces – wholesale merchants of terrorism -from our soil?
I leave it to you to decide whether you will show the world how committed you are to justice. Though belonging to a different nation, as fellow humans living in the same island we have participated in the inquiry hoping for your understanding. Today we have made our position quite clear. If the understanding that flows from this prompts you in the future to raise your voice on our behalf, our hearts will be filled with satisfaction.
I wish to tell you sincerely here and now that even if this understanding does not become a reality, we will throw the full weight of our support behind you, when you rise up in the future to free yourselves and shatter the social and economic fetters that shackle you now.
Through this case we have made our real position known to the world and in particular to the peoples of this island. This is the joyous feeling that is uppermost in our minds… Even a hundred fabricated cases against us and all the slanders heaped on us will not bother us. It is we who will win through this kind action of yours – the consequences of the verdict of this Court will not touch us, content as we are that we have done our duty.
We will not flinch from embracing death or spending the rest of our lives in jail, content as we are that we have done our duty. All these are merely commonplace incidents in the history of a nation’s struggle for freedom. We were fully conscious of what we were doing. Hence there is no question of disappointment.
We are firm believers in the saying that what one sows one reaps. That is why our minds are calm. The seeds we sowed were not seeds of poison, our arrow heads were not dipped in venom. But my fervent prayer is that innocent Sinhala people should not have to reap what power hungry Sinhala politicians have sown. These tribulations are a boon bestowed by God to purify us.
The final victory is ours. Long Live Tamil Eelam!
On 25th July 1983, Nadarajah Thangathurai, along with 35 other Tamil prisoners, was killed inside a maximum-security government prison (Welikade), by a Sinhala mob with the connivance of prison officials.
‘The Hindu’ – 10th August 1983: “Selvaraja Yogachandran, popularly known as Kuttimani, a nominated member of the Sri Lankan parliament who was one of the 52 prisoners killed in the maximum security Wellikade prison in Colombo two weeks ago, was forced to kneel in his cell, (where he was under solitary confinement), by his assailants and ordered to pray to them. When he refused, his tormentors taunted him about his last wish, when he was sentenced to death. (He had willed that his eyes be donated to someone so that at least that person would see an independent Tamil Eelam.) The assailants then gouged his eyes. He was then stabbed to death and his testicles were wrenched from his body. That was confirmed by one of the doctors who had conducted the post-mortem on the first group of 35 prisoners.
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SRI SABARATNAM MEMORIAL LECTURE – Where do we go from here?
by Nadesan Satyendra ( 9 May 1987) at Newham Community Centre, London
We are met here today to honour the memory of Sri Sabaratnam, the leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation who together, with a few hundred other brave and honest Tamils gave their lives an year ago, in the cause of the Tamil people.
Sri Sabaratnam stood tall for that which he believed to be right. In his death as in his life, he followed in the footsteps of Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran, who too were murdered, whilst engaged in a struggle to free their people. The poignant words of Nadarajah Thangathurai uttered from the dock in a musty court house in Colombo, a few months before his murder in July 1983, retain their eloquence and significance today. He said:
‘Truth does not require platforms and spotlights. It has its own power. We are not persons who suffer from some mental disease. We are not lovers of violence. We are honest fighters belonging to an organisation which is struggling to liberate a people’.
As I stand before you today, I am reminded of my first meeting with Nadarajah Thangathurai. It was at the high security Panagoda Prison, in early 1982, a few months before I commenced his defence at the trial at the Colombo High Court for offences under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I remember telling him that whilst I would defend him to the best of my ability, it was unlikely that a Sinhala Judge acting within the framework of the Sri Lankan judicial system would do that which was fair and that it was inevitable that he would be convicted on the basis of alleged confessions, even though they had been extracted by torture.
I told him that if he had retained me in the belief that my appearance on his behalf would lead to an acquittal then I felt that I should declare to him at the very beginning that I for one did not believe that I would be able to achieve such a result. I shall always remember Nadarajah Thangathurai’s response. It was immediate and spontaneous. He spoke in Tamil:
‘When we first involved ourselves in this struggle, we knew that a situation such as the present one may arise – please do not feel sad about this’.
It was a clear and straightforward response from some one who I shall always regard as a clear, straightforward and honest human being. The second accused at the trial was Selvarajah Yogachandran, sometimes known as Kuttimuni. And there was yet another accused who was not in the dock but who was tried in absentia at that trial – and his name was Sri Sabaratnam.
And so it was that Nadarajah Thangathurai, Selvarajah Yogachandran, and Sri Sabaratnam were content to utilise the court arena provided for them by Sri Lankan state, not so much to defend themselves but to defend the Tamil liberation struggle and place the true facts of that struggle before a wider public, both in Ceylon and abroad.
On the first day of the trial, the objection was taken on behalf of Nadarajah Thangathurai, Selvarajah Yogachandran, Sri Sabaratnam and the other accused that the Colombo High Court did not have jurisdiction to hear a case about an incident that had happened in Thamil Eelam – and the accused refused to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges framed against them.
Today, all those accused are dead – murdered in cold blood and with deliberation – and perhaps, it is not out of place for me reiterate something which I had said at the end of that trial of Nadarajah Thangathurai, Selvarajah Yogachandran and Sri Sabaratnam, in January 1983, in the High Court of Colombo. My words were, and I repeat them today:
“In relation to my clients I would state this publicily and for the record. I have felt humbled in the presence of persons from my own community, who have been willing to give that which is the most precious thing that humans can give – their lives – for the liberation of their people – and before them I bow my head.”
And, this evening, in all humility, I bow my head again, in memory of Nadarajah Thangathurai, Selvarajah Yogachandran and Sri Sabaratnam and thousands of other Tamils, belonging not only to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation but also to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front, the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation, and several other groups and who have willingly given their lives during the past several years – given their lives so that reason may prevail – and given their lives so that those of us who may have been fortunate enough to survive, may also stand up for that which is right .
It was the rejection of reason by successive Sri Lankan governments, during the past 40 years and more that has also constituted the rationale for the armed struggle of the Tamil people in the defence of their basic and fundamental rights: basic and fundamental rights which were crystalised in the four point Thimpu declaration in August 1985:
1. recognition of the Tamils of Eelam as a nation.
2. recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils of Eelam.
3. recognition of the right of self determination of the Tamil nation.
4. recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils who live in the island of Ceylon.
The Thimpu declaration served to give direction to our national struggle not only because it was the expression of the unanimous will of all the liberation organisations engaged in the struggle but also because it was founded on reason.
Where do we go from here?…
But that was in August 1985. Today, we are in May 1987. And during the past 18 months and more, the negotiating process that was initiated at Thimpu has slithered along the slippery path of expediency and in the meantime more and more lives continue to be lost. And so we ask: what is it that we, as Tamils, should do? We ask: where do we go from here?
As always, it is reason that must show the way. To change anything we need to understand – and we understand anything only to the extent that we are able to change it.
Theory and practice are the two legs on which we need to walk – theory informs practice and practice will refine our theory. And let us recognise that reason will not emerge in secret conclave behind closed doors. Reason will not emerge from a conspiracy of silence about the issues that really matter. There are ofcourse, those who respond to any attempt to openly examine the issues that confront us in a rational way by saying: do not rock the boat. And they do have a point. We must not rock the boat. At the same time, it is also true that we are all in the same boat and the direction that the boat should take must surely have something to do with the concerns of all of us as a people.
A national struggle is just that: the struggle of a nation. It is not the struggle of any one individual or group. After all, that is also what democracy is about. The democratisation of the Tamil national struggle will not weaken it – it will strengthen it. But democracy is not something that can be ‘given’ to a people – it is something that we, as a people, must build for ourselves.
We cannot mobilise our strength on the basis of a mindless acceptance of that which we know to be wrong. People are not fools. Where they see wrong, their support lacks commitment. It does not endure. Where they see no direction, they keep away. There is apathy. Let us not be afraid to learn from the mistakes that we have made. There is need for self criticism. We need to have the strength to do that. The future cannot be built by denying the lessons of the past.
Experience is a strict instructor and we must learn from our mistakes. At the sametime, let us not believe that post mortems are an end in themselves. They are useful only to the extent that they help to guide our actions in the future. It is only those who are without sin, who can cast first stone. A struggle for freedom is not a sectarian search for revenge. We can go forward only by calmly but firmly reasoning with each other and by taking care to keep the channels of communication open.
Let us, in all humility, reason with each other because it is only around reason that unity will come. It is in this spirit that I would like to share with you some thoughts this evening, so that we may think together about some of the issues that confront the Tamil people today – think together – because as I have said, there is a need for more and more Tamils to interact with each other, honestly and sincerely, and with humility – a humility born out of the knowledge that no one is the font of all wisdom.
Let us ask ourselves some basic questions – what is the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged?…
Let us ask ourselves some basic questions. What is the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged? Is it a struggle for education, security, employment and economic well being or is it a struggle to preserve one’s language and one’s culture? Or is it both? Can one achieve one without the other? And if it is a national struggle, are the Sinhala people too engaged in a national struggle? Is there a difference between our nationalism and their nationalism?
Again, will our struggle be allowed to take its course without the involvement of international influences and what are those influences? What is the international dimension of our struggle and what is India’s role?
Most importantly, what is the contribution that each one of us can make? Our thinking must be related to that which each one of can do – otherwise we will be building castles in the air. The questions that I have asked are not new. Sometimes answers are given on a subjective basis – on the basis of something that President Jayawardene may have said yesterday and something which Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi may have said the day before. But whilst it is useful to pay attention to that which political leaders say, it is also important to recognise some of the structural features which influence and continue to influence their decisions. It seems to me that there is a need to look at some of these issues in greater depth.
The central issue of the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam is the demand to be recognised as a nation. But, what do we mean when we speak about the Tamil nation? What does it mean to us? Is it merely a nice word? Does the Tamil nation have anything to do with our own growth and existence? Is it some rarefied theoretical concept or is it something intimately related to our existence? If it is related to our existence, in what way is it related?
Is it related to our existence simply as an idea that we talk about – at seminars and on public platforms? Again, is it related to our existence because we become emotional about our language and our culture? Is that what nationalism is – a sentimentality? Or again is it that nationalism is merely a convenient vehicle for improving the economic conditions of our life?
Or is it that our national togetherness is a group identity which is related to all these three elements – our mind, our emotions and our physical existence – an identity which has grown through a process of opposition and differentiation spanning more than two thousand years? And, in the end, is not the demand for national self determination no less and no more than a demand for equality?
If we understand this, we may begin to recognise that national self determination is not some rarefied theoretical concept. It is when we are treated differently that we become different – it is when we are treated separately that we become separate.
More often than not, amongst a people, the idea of a nation emerges first in the more socially mobile because it is they who have immediate experience in their own lives of the lines that are drawn against their further growth, and it is they who are determined to change the structures which stand in the way of that growth. The demand for national self determination is concerned with the growth of each one of us and with the growth of our children and our children’s children. To the extent that each one of us recognises this reality, to that extent it will increase the strength of our commitment to the struggle.
The Tamil national struggle is not the struggle of ‘somebody out there’ – it is a struggle which concerns each one of us…
The Tamil national struggle is not the struggle of ‘somebody out there’ – it is a struggle which concerns each one of us.
The political force of Tamil nationalism is rooted in the direct personal feelings and the material interests of large sections of the Tamil people. It is when we understand the nature and content of Tamil nationalism that we can interact amongst ourselves on a proper footing – and it is when we ourselves understand that we can also communicate our understanding to the external world.
The Tamil nation is a deep and horizontal togetherness – deep because it is rooted in the material conditions of existence of the Tamil people and horizontal because it prevails despite the inequalities amongst us.
It is a togetherness which has been moulded by suffering. Suffering is a great teacher. That was the lesson that was taught by Gautama, the Buddha. Our suffering appropriately enough in Buddhist Sri Lanka has served to educate us about our identity and cement our togetherness – that it did not matter whether we were Jaffna Tamils, or Colombo Tamils, or Batticaloa Tamils or Trincomalee Tamils or Badulla Tamils or Indian Tamils – that it did not matter whether we were so called ‘high caste’ Tamils or so called ‘low caste’ Tamils – that it did not matter whether we were public servants, professionals, teachers, students or farmers, employees or employers, well educated or ill educated, qualified or not – that which did matter to the environment in which we lived and to ourselves, was that we were Tamils. Distress has bound us together. Thus bound together, we have begun to find our strength.
There is a need for us to understand the nature and content of Sinhala nationalism as well…
But it is not enough for us to understand the nature and content of Tamil nationalism. There is a need for us to understand the nature and content of Sinhala nationalism as well. Indeed, as we understand one more, we understand the other better. Again nation-ness is not something peculiar to the Tamil people and the Sinhala people.
Nation-ness remains the most legitimate political value of our times. Ofcourse nations had a beginning. They will also have an end. It is in that sense that a nation is a historical category. Nations have not existed from the beginning of time. Neither will they continue to exist till the end of time.
A matured nationalism will lead to a greater internationalism in the years to come.
In Europe the growth of nations came in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Where land was the dominant means of production, people tended to be tied to the land and they lived in communities separated by relatively large distances. The industrial revolution brought with it the steam engine and the railroad. It also brought with it the printing press. It also brought the need for markets for goods manufactured at relatively low cost in factories using not horsepower but steam and later electricity.
The growth of nations in Europe was linked to the breakdown of the feudal system and the emergence of the new capitalist economy. It was the new emerging bourgeoisie which provided the thrust for the growth of that nationalism. It was the ‘national’ bourgeoisie which provided leadership in the formation of nations in early Europe. All this amounts to traditional wisdom today.
But in the Indian subcontinent, Ceylon and elsewhere, within artificial state boundaries which served the interests of the colonial master, industrialisation was stifled and the local economies managed to provide agricultural commodities and raw material for the industrialising West. It was after independence that the countries of the Third World were faced with industrialising in competition with an already industrialised West.
Within the structural constraints of a dependent post colonial economy…
The structural constraints of a dependent post colonial economy brought with it certain fundamental consequences. Richard Falk of the University of Princeton put it well:
“To participate actively in the world economy as a late comer, it is necessary to enter on terms that serve that wider market at the expense of the domestic population…the logic of the global market is such that a Third World country has little to offer other than commodity exports (that generally divert productive resources from the domestic economy) and cheap labour (that attracts foreign investment).
This cycle has dreadful political effects as well; the export compulsion capitalises agriculture at the expense of marginal peasants and domestic demand, while the investment compulsion both depresses real wages and represses the efforts of workers to resist. In such a context a Third World leader is necessarily alienated from his people, serving interests that are primarily external to those of his country…” [Richard Falk - The World Bank in the Phillipines, Institute of Food and Policy, San Francisco 1982]
Again, the smaller the country, the smaller is the market and therefore weaker is the national bourgeoisie – and the weaker the national bourgeoisie, the more dependent it becomes on the global market and those who influence it. In Ceylon, successive Sinhala leaders have become increasingly linked to the external global market forces and Sinhala chauvinism is the vehicle through which they have sought to bridge the ever widening gap between themselves and the Sinhala people.
Sinhala chauvinism has fed on the latent fear of the Sinhala people of the Tamils of neighbouring Tamil Nadu…
This chauvinism is an exaggerated and distorted Sinhala ‘nationalism’ which seeks to divert the attention of the Sinhala people from the problems of development within the structural constraints of a dependent post colonial economy. On the one hand it preaches Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. On the other hand it opens the economy, builds tourist hotels and encourages the growth of a non Buddhist culture. It is often caught in its own contradictions.
Successive Sinhala governments have sought to use the constitutional framework of a unitary state to perpetuate themselves in power by pandering to Sinhala chauvinism. The Sinhala political leadership has, 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, sought to establish its hegemony over the Tamils of Ceylon, as a way of securing its own power.
These legislative and administrative acts were reinforced from time to time with physical attacks on the Tamils of Ceylon 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 has rendered vacant the Parliamentary seats of the elected representatives of the Tamil people. And it is this ‘democracy’ which the Sinhala political leadership has sought to preserve by recourse to torture, extra judicial killings and by armed force.
Reason shows that Sinhala chauvinism has sought to feed on the latent fear of the Sinhala people of the Tamils of neighbouring Tamil Nadu and has sought to encourage the belief that a ‘Sinhala identity’ can be secured only at the expense of erasing the identity of the Tamils as a ‘people’ in Ceylon if not now, at least at some future date – a Sinhala chauvinism which has sought to subjugate the Tamils of Ceylon by attempting to ‘assimilate’ and ‘integrate’ the Tamil people into a so called ‘Sri Lankan nationality’ within the confines of an unitary state whose official language is Sinhala, whose official religion is Buddhism and whose official name was itself changed to the Sinhala ‘Sri Lanka’ without the consent of the Tamil people.
It is a Sinhala chauvinism which in pursuance of its objectives, has logically, sought to deny the existence of the Tamil nation in Ceylon and which, in addition, seeks to masquerade as a ‘Sri Lankan nationalism’ by denying the existence of the Sinhala nation as well.
Reason shows that nothing, exemplifies the intellectual dishonesty of the Sinhala political leadership more, than its continued denial of the existence of its own constituency namely, the Sinhala nation in Sri Lanka.
Demand for the recognition of the Tamil nation cannot be separated from its socialist and egalitarian base…
Here, it is important to recognise that Tamil nationalism, in common with many nationalisms of the Third World in the 20th century, differs in a significant way from the nationalisms of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. As we have seen, it was the new emerging bourgeoisie which provided leadership to the struggle of the nations of Europe. But, in the 20th century, the structural constraints of a dependent post colonial economy, have had their influence on the growth of the Tamil nation and the Sinhala nation in Sri Lanka.
On the one hand, a weak and dependent Sinhala bourgeoisie has mouthed the slogan of ‘nationalism’ to secure its continued hold on power, whilst serving interests on which its power was dependent – interests which were, at best, unconcerned about the true welfare of the Sinhala people.
On the other hand, so far as the Tamils were concerned, to the extent that they were excluded from even the meagre state power wielded by the Sri Lankan State, the demand for national self determination grew out of the response of a people who were denied their economic and fundamental rights.
It was a struggle of those who neither owned nor controlled the means of production and to whom the demand for equality was not only a demand for equal treatment vis a vis the Sinhala people but was also a demand for equal treatment amongst the Tamil people as well. The demand for the recognition of the Tamil nation cannot be separated from its egalitarian base. It is futile to ignore this hard reality.
It is idle to pretend that the national movements of the Third World may be led by the so called ‘national bourgeoisie’ – the bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka, whether Tamil or Sinhala, are too weak and too dependent to do anything but seek to survive by strengthening their ties with those external forces on whom their survival depends.
We said that we need to think together and understand the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged – and to me, the structural attributes of a post colonial economy appear fundamental to any proper understanding of the issues that confronts us.
The armed struggle of the Tamil people is not taking place in the stratosphere…
It is said that foreign policy is often the external manifestation of domestic institutions and power centres. The open economy brought with it trade, aid and Western influence into the Indian region. Here perhaps, is the point of departure to consider the international dimension of the Tamil national struggle.
The armed struggle of the Tamil people is not taking place in the stratosphere. It is taking place on the ground and in an increasingly small world, the territorial boundaries of states have become porous. No state is an island. And the struggle of the Tamil people has reached beyond the island of Ceylon. It is to the Indian region and the international arena that we must turn, if we are to further our understanding of the nature and content of the struggle in which we are engaged.
Crucial perhaps to an understanding of India’s role is the circumstance that India is a large country with a large market and therefore a relatively large and powerful ‘national’ bourgeoisie which found expression through the voice of Indira Gandhi. Whilst such a national bourgeoisie may have links with industrialised West, at the sametime it has also sought to protect its own interest by import controls and licensing. India will not easily welcome an open economy because it also seeks to compete and it feels that it is large enough to succeed.
The fact that the Indian government has supported the struggle is self evident. The fact that such support has been a qualified support is also self evident. And by that I refer to the often repeated statement of Indian policy makers that they do not support the creation of a separate Tamil Eelam. If we are to understand the nature and extent of India’s support, we must ask ourselves why it is that India has given its support to the Tamil struggle?
It is sometimes said that India has given its support to the Tamil struggle, on humanitarian grounds because of the presence of more than 100,000 refugees on its soil. These refugees are a burden on the Indian government and it is in India’s interest to secure a settlement which would enable the refugees to return to Sri Lanka. Whilst this is undoubtedly one aspect of the matter, we need to ask ourselves whether the presence of a hundred thousand refugees in a country with a population of more than 700 million would by itself lead to that country committing its resources to support a militant movement.
Again, it is stated that India is concerned with the effect on Tamil Nadu where more than 50 million Tamils reside. This may well be a long term consideration. But at the same time, the Central Government may be mindful that overt support for a Tamil militant movement may well strengthen separatist tendencies within Tamil Nadu. Why then does India support the Tamil struggle?
We need to look at the Indian Ocean region as a strategic arena in the larger world context…
We need to look at the Indian Ocean region as a strategic arena in the larger world context. We live in a bipolar world dominated by two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The nuclear deterrent has prevented direct conflict. But the confrontation continues by other means. In the 1950s, Europe was the arena of the cold war. In the 1980s, the Indian Ocean Region has become an important area for the confrontation between the super powers.
Professor L.William Dowdy, Chair of Military and Strategic Studies at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada has remarked in a recent study:
“The British announcement in 1968 of withdrawal east of Suez by the end of 1971 marked the end of the era of British hegemony in the Indian Ocean. The super power competition that has escalated in the area since the British withdrawal can be seen in historical perspective as yet another attempt by external powers to establish a strategic condominium over the Indian Ocean…The interests of the United States revolve around the need to ensure access to Persian Gulf oil for itself and its allies…
“For years the United States, consistent with the Nixon Doctrine, depended upon local surrogates to defend its core political, economic and strategic interests in the Indian Ocean area. But the fall of the Shah in Iran and the presence of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan led Washington to develop a new approach to its security interests in the late 1970s. By actively seeking to enhance its access to naval, air and communication facilities throughout the area, by improving the operational capability of British owned Diego Garcia, by increasing the level of Indian Ocean naval deployments, and by creating the Rapid Deployment Force, the United States has substantially improved its capacity to project power into the Indian Ocean and has thereby declared its intention to take a more active role in the region’s affairs.’
“Whether these military responses are appropriate to what many see as essentially political and social problems in the area, is however another matter. The fact is that the Secretary of State of the Reagan administration declared in 1981 that ‘our broad strategic view of the Middle East recognises the intimate connections between the region and adjacent areas: Afghanistan and South Asia, northern Africa and the Horn, and the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean’. Similarly the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs testified that ‘our approach takes into account threats and developments in contiguous areas. We will carry out a coherent and consistent policy in full awareness of the interrelationships between tensions in different regions and theatres’”
It is not only the United States which is interested in the Indian Ocean Region. I quote again from Professor Dowdy:
“The Indian Ocean region is of importance to the security of the Soviet Union itself. On the one hand there is Moscow’s preoccupation with the maintenance of stability on its borders and of a measure of influence, if not control over its neighbours. The Indian Ocean also offers a backdoor to China by which the Soviet Union could relieve military pressure along their common central Asian border if necessary.
“Thus like the United States, the Soviet Union has an abiding interest in maintaining sea lines of communication throughout the region. Moscow also sees the region as a possible operational area for American strategic missile submarines that should not be allowed to move about unchallenged. Finally, the Indian Ocean is an arena in which the Soviet Union competes for influence with the United States as part of a global search for strategic advantage. It has discovered that in addition to hunting submarines, warships can be used to reassure friends and to discourage potential enemies.”
The fundamental premise of India’s foreign policy is to deny any intermediary role to extra regional powers in the affairs of South Asia…
It is in this frame that India’s own strategic policies must be considered. The fundamental premise of India’s strategic policies can be simply stated – and that is to deny any intermediary role to extra regional powers in the affairs of South Asia.
Mr.Onkar Marwah, Joint Director, Asian Centre, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, has commented:
“The maritime corollary to (this premise of Indian strategic policy) has been to find a means by which extra regional powers could be persuaded to minimise their physical capacity to intervene with sizeable conventional military forces in South Asia…Since India perceived a reduction in super power presence as being equally beneficial to other states in the Indian Ocean Region, the Indian objective was generalised, packaged, and presented as the Indian Ocean zone of peace proposal…
“Containing 60% of the world’s proven oil reserves, the region around the Persian Gulf is considered crucial to the future of the world’s free market economies. After the Soviet lurch into Afghanistan, the region stretching from Pakistan to Egypt and from Kenya to Iran has been declared to be of vital importance to the West, in whose defence all means including force would be applied against ay aggressors – presumably the Soviet Union.
“Beginning in fact earlier than the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, the United States instituted policies to create a Rapid Deployment Force that could, in a relatively short time, introduce upwards of two hundred thousand troops, along with all ground, marine and air support, into any area of Southwest Asia…the emphasis has been on the rapid and massive application of American military power in the region…(and) the significant point for all the states of the northern and northwestern Indian Ocean rimland is that one or another from them, as befits need, is likely to be invited, or coerced into collaborative, antagonistic postures by the two superpowers.
“The organisational framework of the U.S. central command that covers the area, excluding India but including Pakistan in its jurisdiction, should be seen for what it is: a temporary exigency that merely affirms present U.S. confrontation objectives, not those that may arise in the future. The overriding reality is to be seen in the massiveness and permanence of US deployments in the Indian Ocean region. Further they can only increase, not decrease in the future. Assuming that the Soviets are not sitting idle, one must reckon with the certainty that they too are marshalling counter RDF airlift capacities and developing logistical supply lines to their own southern borders.
“At some future date, the Soviets may also seek a level of deployments in the Indian Ocean capable of neutralising the US sea based capabilities …Indian policy makers assess that the cutting edge of the second cold war is going to be the Northern Indian Ocean and that India is perilously close to the area of contention…Given Western premises for action, Indian analysts realise the importance that the Indian Ocean region has assumed in American defense planning as a function of the global confrontation with the Soviet Union.
“They therefore view the current level of forward deployments as only the beginning of a much more massive projection of power that will continue to be fleshed out, improved and honed for the rest of this century. Further it is felt that Diego Garcia by itself will prove insufficient for burgeoning US needs and capabilities. Other Diego Garcias will be needed and therefore sought… (and) the states of the area will have to contend with all the blandishments, pressures and interventionisms that need is likely to entail…In certain respects (however) this inexorable turn in American policies contains the seeds of its own defeat. The Soviets, safe behind their own borders, could, and probably will, adopt low cost non confrontational tactics that continually bait the Americans and engage them in interventions.
“With every intervention, implied or real, the American exposure will increase and anti Americanism will rise. The possible use of surrogate troops instead of their own would only partially deflect the increase in hostility. More likely, the surrogate troops would themselves, along with the home state, become the focus of resentment. Indeed one might surmise that based on their current and evolving pattern of strategic engagement, the prospects for achievement of long term American objectives in the area have been rendered more rather than less difficult…
“But (another) anxiety among Indian policy makers relates to the expected search by the Soviets for their own Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean region. The effort if made, will be directed among islands and island states in the western Indian Ocean. That puts states such as the Malagsay Republic, Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Maldives on notice against interventions, coups d’etat, bribery and coercion from both superpowers – one searching for a base and the other seeking pre-emption…
“And a final set of dangers is seen to arise in systemic form. With their proximate power and presence in the Indian Ocean Region and the varied incentives to control and to rationalise the situation to their respective advantages, both the superpowers will be prey to invitations for support in the internecine quarrels of the region.
“As prospective losers seek one super power patron, their adversaries will invariably run to the other superpower. This happens even now, but the difference will be that with the nearness of their capabilities, the involvements will be deeper,longer and more provocative in exacerbating the local conflicts. It is feared for instance that in addition to facilities in Pakistan, the United States may also be in search of bases for its RDF in Sri Lanka (Trincomalee naval installations) and Bangaladesh (Chittagong harbour).
“Such moves, if undertaken, would create immediate negative repercussions in India-Sri Lanka and India-Bangladesh relations. India’s hardened reactions would complicate the settlement of the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka and it would make more difficult a settlement on the issue of illegal emigration from Bangladesh into the Assam province of India.”
Clearly, the primary Indian objective will be to prevent the fall out from any of the possible super power actions from affecting India’s own economic development, political stability and flexibility of choices.
The way in which big powers intervene in the affairs of smaller powers…
Let us recognise that these are not the day dreams of academics in Universities.
The way in which big powers intervene in the affairs of smaller powers is brought out in a recent book by President Carter’s former National Security Adviser Brzezinski. He writes that on the occasion of Chinese leader Deng’s first visit to the United States in January 1979 -
“I informed the President that Deng told Vance and me that China approved of our decision to support the Shah in Iran, that in the Chinese view the United States should be more active in strengthening Pakistan, and – somewhat ominously – that Deng wished a private meeting with the President on Vietnam.
I sensed from the tone in which Deng asked for this that we would be hearing something significant, especially given mounting indications that the Chinese would not sit back idly as the Vietnamese continued their military occupation of Cambodia. when we sat down together in the Oval office, I had a general sense of what was coming…
None the less, there is a difference between anticipating a situation and actually experiencing it. There was something grave and very special in the calm, determined and firm way in which Deng Xiaoping presented the Chinese case. China, he said, had concluded that it must disrupt Soviet strategic calculations and that ‘we consider it necessary to put a restraint on the wild ambitions of the Vietnamese and to give them an appropriate limited lesson’.
Without detailing at this stage what the lesson specifically would entail, he added that the lesson would be limited in scope and duration. He then calmly diagnosed for us various possible Soviet responses, indicating how China would counter them. He included among the options ‘the worst possibility’, adding that even in such a case China would hold out. All he asked for was ‘moral support’ in the international field from the United States”.
So it was that socialist China invaded socialist Vietnam in February 1979 – a twenty day invasion to ‘teach Vietnam a lesson.’US support in the international arena helped to bring China and the United States closer. We need to bear in mind that whilst a tilt by Sri Lanka towards the United States may concern India, a tilt by India towards the Soviet Union will be a matter of concern to both the United States and China.
‘Thongura’ power, India and Sri Sabaratnam…
When I speak of ‘India’, I am reminded of something that an Indian who works for a human rights Organisation in Geneva once said to me. He said ‘You know, the current joke is that in India, the upper middle class and big business are pro Western, the bureaucrats are pro Soviet and the revolutionaries are pro Chinese – and so, to which India do you refer?” The actions of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government can be properly understood only in the context of the interplay of these different forces within the Indian political frame.
Sufficient, perhaps, has been said to set some of the parameters relevant to Indian foreign policy objectives in relation to the Tamil struggle. These parameters were not unknown to Sri Sabaratnam. It was in August 1985, before I went to Thimpu, that Sri Sabaratnam said to me in Tamil:
“There are to types of power. One is ‘Thongura’ power where you hang on to some body else and seek to derive power from them. The other is the power that accrues to you when you serve your people. Thongura power is not power – because with it, you can only help yourself, you cannot help your people. The only true power is that which comes from your own people.”
Sri Sabaratnam, spoke as the leader of an organisation which had received military assistance from the Indian Government, but who was also mindful of the serious limitations of being the recipient of such help.
What is to be done?…
It is appropriate therefore, that on the anniversary of Sri Sabaratnam’s death, we should give some thought to some of the basic issues that confront the Tamil national struggle today. The way forward is clear. We need to build on the platform of the Thimpu declaration. We need to understand, and bring that understanding to others that the Thimpu declaration sets out a principled framework for the negotiating process and that it is on the basis of the Thimpu declaration alone that justice can be secured.
We need to understand, and bring that understanding to others, that there can be no peace without justice. And above all else, that which is foremost in many Tamil minds today, is the pressing and urgent need for unity because in unity lies strength and today, we as a people need that strength. We need to speak with one voice in order that we may be heard. A divisive cacophony will influence no one. But how do we bring about unity?
In 1902, some 15 years before the overthrow of the Czar, Lenin wrote:
“All without exception now talk of the importance of unity, of the necessity for gathering and organising but in the majority of cases what is lacking is a definite idea of where to begin and how to bring about this unity.”
These words of Lenin, may be of some relevance to all of us who are engaged in the Tamil Liberation struggle. Let us recognise that absence of unity is not something peculiar to the struggle of the Tamil people.
There are some amongst us who mourn about the divisive nature of the Tamil people. They moan that each one of us is too much of an individualist – too full of himself. And they usually end up by saying with self pity that ‘this is the trouble with us Tamils’.
To moan in this way, is to be defeatist. It is also a convenient way of avoiding the difficulty of facing up to the issue and doing something about it. In a sense, it is also to be racist – because to moan in this way is to ascribe ‘divisiveness’ as a racial characteristic of the Tamil people. The Tamil people are no more divisive than those who belong to any other nation.
The differences in approach that exist amongst us is only a sign that our struggle is in the process of maturing. Divisions have existed at various stages in all struggles and Lenin’s words are a reflection of the divisions that existed in the struggle against the Czar. And so my fellow Tamils, let us not moan. Let us not be diffident. We are not without hope. Let us not cry helplessly. We are not helpless. Let us ask what is it that each one of us can do to bring about unity. Again it is reason that must show us the way.
Let us begin by first recognising that the responsibility for the absence of unity amongst us, must lie with each one of us – it must lie with each Tamil without exception and by the same token, it is only, we, who together can help to set the matter right. But unity cannot be built by rhetoric. It cannot be achieved by oratory. It cannot be achieved by moaning about its absence. Neither will unity be achieved by murdering those with whom we disagree. Nor again by assassinating the character of those who differ from us.
Unity will grow only around reason. Unity will grow when each one of us engage ourselves, not in endless talk, but in work in support of the Thimpu declaration – a declaration which as we have seen, was the expression of the unanimous will of the Tamil Liberation movement. As we engage ourselves in that work, we will further our understanding of the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged. As we further our understanding, we will also see the need to interact honestly and openly with each other.
The resources of the Tamil people are three fold: the Tamils of Eelam, the Tamils of Tamil Nadu and the Expatriate Tamil Community. There is a need to mobilise all three resources. Again each one of us cannot do same thing. To each according to his ability. In the words of the Gita – to each according to his Dharma – his way. Can we help in this process? We can give our time or our money or both. What else can we give?
There is a need for us to interact and there is a need for us to set up appropriate institutional fora where such interaction may be furthered. Let us recognise that there may be influences which may be inimical to the interests of the Tamil people which may infiltrate our movement, but the surest safeguard is not secrecy but the scrutiny of a fearless reason and a movement which is at all times rooted in our people. Let us not be afraid to reason with each other to unite: let us unite around reason.