Tamils – Need for an innovative and pragmatic approach
By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran
Problems are the common burden of the human species irrespective of where we live in this world. In biblical terms this had become our ‘Curse’ the day Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden apple. If not for this ‘Curse’ we will be yet roaming the Garden of Eden, naked and feasting on nature’s bounty, without any aspirations! Problems have made us become what we are. The challenges posed by the problems we face, have made us destructive at times, creative at others and imaginative at all times. We create problems and then struggle to find solutions. This is what has made us different from others in the animal kingdom.
The problems of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, encompassing various grievances, are serious, but not unique. A pecking order or hierarchy- where the stronger dominate the weaker- is the norm in the animal kingdom, of which we are a junior member. However, as humans, we aspire to rise above our ‘Animalness’ and become ‘Human’, inspired by our beliefs in what is divine or transcendent. Violence subsides and remains subliminal among animals when stable hierarchical arrangements fall into place. Violence erupts only when there are challenges to established hierarchical arrangements. In civilized human societies, social contracts, constitutional arrangements and the rule of law are designed to protect those who are collectively weak - because of their smaller numbers -and are likely to be trodden under foot, by an insensitive majority. Minorities within a majority or minorities within minorities- based on religion, caste, creed or other differences- are also protected by such arrangements. These are designed to prevent our inherent instinct to dominate others, becoming a social evil. Irrespective of what is legislated, there should be covenants unreservedly respected by all nations that all human beings are equal in terms of their individual and group rights, and should be provided the environment to achieve their potential. Those who are handicapped for whatever reason should receive a helping hand to overcome their disabilities. This would be the ideal all peoples and nations should aspire. Any disputes and controversies with regard to these issues anywhere in the world should be open for binding international arbitration.
In Sri Lanka, independence from Great Britain precipitated a challenge to the established colonial social structure and the accompanying hierarchical political arrangements. In the absence of an all-encompassing and lofty vision for the newly emergent nation and a wise political leadership, the jostle for dominance and a greater share of the limited economic pie by various interest groups degenerated into lawlessness, inhumanness, violence and a barbaric civil war. We have been singularly incapable of bringing forth a high calibre leadership with a broad all-encompassing vision for our nation, in the six decades since we gained independence. The qualities of politicians we have permitted to manage our affairs have degenerated by the day and in turn they are contributing to the degeneration of society and the people. The missionary zeal required to move forward towards a lofty vision has been replaced in our politicians by a pernicious zeal for personal aggrandizement, accumulation of wealth, grabbing untrammeled power and exploiting the helpless masses. The ability to identify problems objectively and enunciate and implement strategies to deal with them objectively, for the greater national good, has been an elusive commodity. India on the other hand, despite all her inherent problems and built-in contradictions, millions of fold greater than in Sri Lanka, has been able to enunciate a clear vision encompassing the unity of the whole nation and set herself on the path to greatness in the modern world. She is achieving this greatness too.
The non-visionary, narrow minded and sectarian approach to national politics in Sri Lanka is a reality; we will be unable to overcome for years to come, given the trends persisting over the past sixty years. Despite three decades of civil war and the brutality and blood shed it has entailed, we have failed to learn the lessons that should have been well learnt by now. We are proving our selves to be a nation incapable of civilized responses to national problems. Every new government pretends it has to re-invent the wheel with regards to the Tamil issue, while the so-called Tamil leadership continues to sing the same old tune, to of course a new beat. Tamil leadership of all hues and types has been the pied piper leading the Tamils to the deep blue sea, to drown. While the majority of the people, irrespective of their affiliations and predilections are capable of civilized responses to our problems, our political leadership has been incapable of responding in kind. In fact, the political leadership -of the present and the past- has thrived on frustrating the will of the majority nation-wide- through instigating irrational fears and phobias-to seek civilized visionary solutions. This has been the strategy deployed by our politicians to snatch more and more power away from the people, in contravention of the principles on which our democracy was founded. The so-called Tamil-problem has been manna from heaven for our politicians and militants, and they will not easily permit it to be resolved, even if the nation goes to the dogs.
The election of Barack Hussein Obama – a black man and a self described ‘Mutt’ (Mongrel or cross-bred )- as the President of the United States of America, should be a lesson to nations such as ours and people like us. A black man born to a Muslim, Kenyan ’Black’ father and a Christian, American ‘White’ mother is to be the President of the USA- in effect, the most influential leader in the world. The blacks see in him the emblem of their success at being accepted as equals. Their journey from degrading and inhumane slavery, through segregation, barbarity, disrespect, disdain and social marginalization to the ‘White House’ has lasted three centuries and a little more. The ‘Whites’ see in him a man capable of leading the nation in the 21st century and in a time of economic turmoil. Both 'Blacks and Whites' are enthused by his vision, intellect, charm, oratory and potential ability. His humility is as astounding, as his achievements at forty seven years of age. He has come to represent an America that has very largely purged itself from racial bigotry and the accompanying irrationality. By electing Barack Obama to the presidency, the USA has stamped its mark on the 21st century. As much as the statue of liberty in New York symbolizes the liberty, opportunity and hope America epitomized in the past two centuries, Barack Obama will symbolize an America also freed of racial bigotry in the 21st century. Barack Obama by getting elected President has already done more for America than he could do in his one or two terms in office!
The response of the ‘White’ leadership- Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush- to the travails of the ‘Blacks’ in America, have made it possible for Barack Obama to become President-elect. The struggle , efforts and success of ‘Black’ men and women of the likes of Kunta Kinte (Of ‘Roots’ fame) , through to Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Theodore Marshall, Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, Colin Powel and Condoleezza Rice (a few among a multitude), have made the necessary cracks in the ceiling- to borrow Hillary Clinton’s phrase-which facilitated the Obama break through. The achievements of ‘Black’ sports-persons, musicians and actors that made all Americans proud, paved the way for Obama to win the presidency. All ‘Black’ American who proved themselves in their field of endeavour contributed their mite towards this astonishing journey. This achievement was built brick by brick by thousands of blistered and calloused ‘Black’ hands and bruised minds, over several generations. It was a difficult- an almost unbelievable- and long journey for the ‘Blacks’, but they have achieved the ultimate victory, without tearing their nation apart. They as a people have borne the pains of bigotry- whipping, various forms of physical violence, rape, humiliation, arson, lynching and the murderous activities of the Ku Klux Klan- but have finally reached the ‘White House’ and found national acceptance in very large measure. Their struggle has been largely peaceful. The sporadic attempts to stray into a violent path were unsuccessful. The ‘Bus Ride’ of Rosa Parks, the ‘Dreams’ speech of Martin Luther King and the ‘Peace March’ on Washington D.C by thousands of ‘Blacks and Whites’, had a more profound effect on the American psyche than the flashes of violent response seen throughout ‘Black’ history in America. The democratic and republican parties in the US represent the 'Blacks' and campaign for their votes. Abraham Lincoln, a republican, liberated the 'Blacks' from slavery and Lyndon Johnson, a democrat, accorded the 'Blacks' their civic rights.
The journey of the ‘Blacks’ from plantation slavery to the ‘White House’, should be inspiring to all minorities in the world and particularly the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The acceptance of a ’Black’ man as their President by ‘White’ America and the enthusiasm with which they have done so, should be a lesson for all people who consider themselves the majority in various countries around the world - particularly the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. The Tamils-though a minority- have been a part and parcel of Sri Lanka for thousands of years, stretching back to an unfathomable time. In circumstances where the Tamils are yet not finding acceptance as part of the national mosaic in Sri Lanka and their distinctiveness continues to be under concerted and concentrated attack in the post-independence state, the progress of the ‘Blacks’ in the USA is not only astounding, but an indication of the ascendance of the American civilization over ours.
The Tamils in Sri Lanka have to review their history of the past six decades and contemplate the following realities:
1. The Sinhala political leadership will not grant any significant degree of internal self-governance to the Tamils whole heartedly and willingly, in the near future.
2. In the event significant constitutional arrangements are forced upon the Sinhala polity, concerted efforts will be made to undermine and reverse such arrangements over time.
3. The Sinhala polity as it exists has no respect for constitutions, constitutional processes and rule-of-law. It is divisive by its very nature and incapable of evolving a national consensus on matters of even grave national importance.
4. The Sinhala people will continue to be misled by their political leadership that granting any degree of internal self-governance for the Tamils will lead to partitioning the island.
5. The ancestry of Tamils in Sri Lanka and their claims to areas of traditional habitation will be questioned and unscrupulously undermined by the Sri Lankan government and its cohorts through every means at their disposal using Goebellesian tactics.
6. It was a mistake for the Tamils to have embraced the concept of an independent Tamil Eelam, as a tactic to force concessions from the Sinhala polity. This tactic in the course of time had assumed a dynamic of its own to rebound and bedevil the Tamils.
7. The Sinhala polity, India and the world-at-large will not permit an independent Tamil Eelam to come about in the island.
8. The Tamils will not regain the world’s sympathy, unless they renounce violence and terrorism. The Tamils need the world, more than the world needs the Tamils.
9. The Sinhala people, by and large, are capable of sympathizing with the grievances of the Tamils, provided these are explained to them in a rational manner with respect to their sensitivities and without posing a threat to them as a people. A majority of the Sinhalese yet do not genuinely understand the Tamil gripe.
10. The non-violent struggle the Tamils claim to have waged in the 1956-1976 period, was non-visionary and lacked the ‘Spiritual / moral’ strength to withstand the violent government response.
11. This non-violent struggle was not directed towards winning over the majority of the Sinhalese to the cause of equal citizenship and rule of law, but towards reverting to the status-quo of the colonial era- an impossibility.
12. The Tamil mind-set of the pre-1980s was oriented towards employment in the government services and the prestige and security this entailed. Securing employment in the government services was the pinnacle of Tamil ambition.
Circumstances have since conspired to kill this mindset. This change has also coincided with the national economy escaping the strangle hold of the government.
13. Tamil resistance that progressed into violence, militarism and terrorism, has been counter productive and has caused unforeseen mortal damage to Tamils and their socio-economic-cultural structures. This damage is largely self-inflicted and has surpassed the damage inflicted by Sri Lanka government misrule and Sinhala extremism.
14. Tamil militancy in its various manifestations has alienated a significant number of Tamils, and the Sinhalese who would have otherwise been natural allies in the pursuit of justice, security, equality and opportunities.
15. The so-called Tamil Liberation movements have degenerated into self-seeking gangs and forces of oppression, and hence do not bode well for the future.
16. Tamil militancy and extremism have not brought forth solutions to our problems, but have contributed to entrenching Sinhala extremism and making it more subtle and hence more focused and, vicious.
17. Tamil militancy and extremism will not deliver us solutions –even in an independent Tamil Eelam-that will make us a free people, empowered to determine our destiny.
18. It will take decades for Tamils to throw off the shackles of Tamil militant oppression, regardless of whether or not these militants succeed in establishing an independent Tamil Eelam.
19. The Tamil militancy and the blinkered and immoral approach of the LTTE are very likely to fail, having drained the Tamils of their vitality and resources over the past three decades.
20. To continue on the path of militancy, terrorism and violence, will leave the Tamils, damaged beyond repair as a people.
21. The alternative to the Tamil militancy led by the LTTE, being engineered by the government of Sri Lanka, is a leadership consisting of armed Tamil quislings, collaborators, criminals and other anti-social scum, who have sold their souls to the devil. This so-called alternative to the LTTE will at most times readily and at other times grudgingly acquiesce with the government agenda to marginalize the Tamils further in a more sophisticated manner. Their survival, both in terms of their lives and positions, depend on this type of abject surrender and sell-out. These men and women are not the equivalents of the Theodore Marshals, Andrew Youngs, Colin Powels and Condoleezza Rices- ‘Blacks’, who have served the US government!!
22. The Tamil militancy and extremism have to be renounced fast and a different path
chartered to preserve Tamil heritage and place in Sri Lanka.
A broad vision for the future has to be formulated by the Tamils that would permit them to live in a united Sri Lanka, as a distinctive, distinguished and successful entity, proud of their identity and citizenship, and contributing to the national wellbeing, whilst not posing any threat to their fellow citizens. This would appear impossible to many who have read the realities I have itemized above. However, once broken into components (Eg... Education, health care, employment, agriculture, land use, industry, transport, communications, infra-structure, security, culture, etc.,) that are of crucial importance to the Tamils and subjected to a strategic management approach, involving a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats); it will be possible to understand how this can be done within a decade or two at most. Goals and strategies have to be formulated to give form to this vision and thereafter it should be the single- minded mission of the Tamils to achieve these. A ‘Recovery and National Integration’ movement motivated by this grand vision should replace the Tamil militancy and the LTTE at the earliest.
Tamils should also join the national mainstream by seeking membership of political parties such as the SLFP, UNP, JVP and others according to their personal predilections. These political parties should find a footing in Tamil majority areas and Tamils have to become stake holders in their electoral fortunes. The Tamil issue should no longer be a major factor in the political fortunes of these parties. These parties should also evolve to represent all peoples in Sri Lanka. The political parties bearing the name Tamil, Tamil Eelam, Tigers or other sectarian connotations should not find favour amongst the Tamils any longer. We can be Tamils, as much as we want to be, without flaunting it to the annoyance of others. Sinhala political parties have very largely avoided such sectarian labeling.
Tamils, though badly debilitated, yet have the capacity and resources to do this, mostly by their own efforts. The biggest hurdle to surmount will not be the Sinhala polity, but the Tamil militants who have become their burden. A united stand by Tamils supported by the world will be a moral force these militants will find hard to resist for long. Tamils can achieve all their envisioned goals within the existing set-up in Sri Lanka, without wasting anymore time demanding things that are very unlikely to be granted or gained. Tamils should get out of the rut they are struck for the past sixty odd years and formulate new strategies to survive and prosper as a people in a united Sri Lanka. Do the Tamils have the wisdom and will to do this? How will they do this? These are questions Tamils have to set their minds on immediately. I hope a meaningful discussion, rising above petty name- calling; rancour and baseless accusations will be stimulated following the publication of this article.
I understand the concepts postulated herein will be a red flag to many and considered defeatist and traitorous. I would consider it 'Enlightened self interest' of a people. However, I think a paradigm shift in thinking and modus operandi are needed for the Tamils to survive and prosper as a people in Sri Lanka, having been witness to and victim of what has unfolded in Sri Lanka over most of my conscious life. A people should fight to live and not die! Land is for people to live and not for cemeteries to bury them!