By Subra S. Massey
After 60 years of freedom from the Europeans Sri Lanka is fasts becoming an un-democratic and non-democratic country. When the current President, Mr.Mahinda Rajapaksa proclaims that negotiations will be held with the LTTE after they have been defeated in the war, I came to the conclusion that Sri Lanka is not ready for freedom and democracy. Once one party is defeated there is no negotiation, the vindicated accepts whatever crumbs thrown by the victor. Digesting various information from the extreme Singhalese, if the LTTE is defeated there will be total annihilation of the Tamils. Once the matter gets out of control it will be difficult to bring it under control. We witness this kind of human behaviour every day. Further evidences are the abrogation of the Cease Fire Agreement. The President wants to bring in an All Party Representative Committee to put together a devolution plan. I do not see why he has to repeal CFA to bring about APRC. The APRC could have been easily built upon the CFA. CFA is just the foundation and the beginning; one cannot negotiate while the war is going on or once one party is defeated. The President firmly believes that LTTE can be defeated. I think he is presuming. Lets us presume LTTE is defeated, but recent history teaches otherwise. The Israelites came back, of course after a long time, with undefeatable power! So the way I see it, Sri Lanka is not ready for peace and democracy. This lengthy article is about Democracy and Sri Lanka. Are the people ready to live in a democratic system?
[A Sri Lankan minister and his thugs entered a TV station & attacked journalists and other media personnel-pic courtesy of IRTAG Media]
What is needed in Sri Lanka is real democracy, a democracy in the hearts and minds of the people. One should live in a democratic state to understand the multifaceted benefits it offers. In this article I am making an attempt to bring together people of Sri Lanka to live as one people. I am explaining in detail with my limited knowledge, experience and wisdom why we have to live as one people respecting race, religion and language of other people. There are several nations that have transcended natural and external barriers and progressed beyond imagination. A strong social system combined with vibrant economic system makes this possible. I think the train of society rides on a strong socio-economic system. One without the other is difficult to maintain. Democracy is not an absolute or perfect system. It can be improved. I think the world leaders are beginning to accept that we need to talk to the minorities and the aggrieved. In a real democracy every citizen must be equal and it is the duty of the state to ensure they are equal in every respect. This evolution is I happening in the minds of leaders. Mr. Gordon Brown, The Prime Minister of The United Kingdom and Mrs. Hillary Clinton of the democrats in USA have expressed their views on it. Unfortunately other democracies are not inventing new ideas to improve upon this concept of democracy. The reason may be they are still growing democracies. The United Kingdom and The United States of America are good in inventing new ways to ameliorate human life. The civil rights movement in America not only made their citizens equal to each other but also created worldwide civil rights for all suppressed people. India has not come up to the challenge. It lacks leadership to free its people from socio-economic feudalism. It is also very slow to develop its political capital. So India has its own problems. Pakistan is another pariah state. But Singapore, Malaysia and Honk Hong have progressed beyond expectation. What is the problem? This region around the Indian Ocean as a whole is unable to grow up.
Other concepts that need improvement are Terrorist and Terrorism. When some one enters your home or property and uses violence he can be called a terrorist, but when you go to defend your home and property you are fighting for your rights as a citizen, you are not a terrorist and the act is not terrorism. Sri Lankan government has been waging a campaign against its own citizens as terrorists. When you deliberately discriminate your own citizens you are putting every other citizen at the perils of an impending social upheaval. Then the current definition of terrorist and terrorism has to be tested against the way the majority treat the minorities in any nation. If a man fight for his rights in a democratic way and if the majority does not address their concern, there should mechanisms to address those grievances. In Sri Lanka most of the readers about my age of 65 know the history of the current situation. For others we have to provide lot of information so that they can make their own deliberations and make educated decisions. In 1956, Singhalese was made the official language, then how do the Non-Singhalese people communicate with the State and the Singhalese? This would not have been done in a democratically well-evolved country. The nation of Sri Lanka was not ready to make such drastic changes. The people were not educated and matured enough to understand the complications of such a proclamation. The country from thereon step-by-step descended and we are in a state of total disarray. No bread but plenty of bullets. About 500,000 people are on non-productive, highly consumptive profession called the military. Then there are thuggerism and paramilitary groups and drug dealers at will. It reminds of the discovery channel on television. When an economy consumes without corresponding production inflation will take over. That is where Sri Lanka is today. The country has become economically, financially, politically, morally and intellectually bankrupt. I think for 500 years we were under the control of the European masters and in 1948 we were let loose and within mere eight years we were back to nature quarreling with each other. Other nations tried vainly to educate us in democracy in a delicate manner but those ideas never sank into our psyche. I think the system of government in most European countries and in the United States of America the constitutions are well evolved to deal with anomalies in an elected parliamentary system. The judiciary, which is free of the elected parliament, is one way it can be addressed. There are other ways such as in Canada where each province has its own provincial government to address regional issues that arise from time to time. This takes courage and willingness on the part of the majority to promulgate a constitution that will protect the minorities. Actually speaking there should not be any minorities in any country or political system. We are all equal and capable. There are so many ways this problem can be solved, but it takes political willingness, courage and leadership to solve it for the purpose of good living. I guess man coming from the cave through the jungle have adopted the mindset of animals; the strong one feeds at the expense and the expensive life of the other. Why would a nation put itself through traumatic experiences for 60 years? My view is that we are unable to develop ourselves into a well-grown democracy. We understand aggravation, violence, abuse and physical force but not dialogue, negotiation, compromise and brotherhood. Once I was traveling in a Jaffna bound train, the military personnel entered the train asked every citizen who paid the fare to travel legitimately to surrender the seat to the army personnel. So from the Late Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranayake to ordinary citizen and soldier there is no respect for his fellow citizen. Respect for fellow citizen is called democracy. It is not rocket science. Are people of Sri Lanka ready for the State of Sri Lanka? Is democracy ready for Sri Lanka? Democracy is blood, flesh, bone, mind and brain of people; it is not an abstract science. It is a collective living will of the people. It is in my selfish interest to be unselfish to preserve myself. In my self interest I am willing to form a union of people and raise the standard of living of all, the nation.
The people in mature democracies recognize the need for social harmony for their well-being. It is in the interest of each other to free every other to be creative and productive. I cannot hold down somebody and free myself, as they say is the prisoner free or the guard is free? If you are going to ensure that the minority does not prosper then you are going to deploy your resources to keep him or her from being free and hence you deprive yourself your freedom to live a contented life. This is exactly what is happening in Sri Lanka. The majority is employing the national resources to suppress the minorities. This is a foolhardy thing to do for it drains the national resources. The question then is, Is Sri Lanka ready for democracy? A democracy is also like a business; every one has to be free to be creative and productive. If one man controls the other man, then we have lost the productivity of two. Does the Sri Lankan people or the Government understands this principle? Only a person or government that lacks self-esteem and self-respect will resort to his or her own destruction. Sri Lanka must grow up with self-esteem and self-respect. I have asked several people why don’t we handover the administration to a foreign country? It is going to happen ultimately for when the debt load becomes unmanageable whoever becomes the government will be under the control of the creditor nations. We may elect the government but the operation of the government depends on the flow and circulation of money and the goods and services. When a government cannot deliver goods and services it becomes defunct. Sri Lanka has been living on grants, loans and subsidies ever sine I have known Sri Lanka.
[T.Maheswaren a Tamil member of parliament was assasinated on 1st Jan 2008, 4th in recent times-Photo Courtesy of: IRTAG Media]
An average Sri Lankan has no time for democracy; so he does not bother to understand it and exercise it. He is more prone to understand religion and the existence of God. He accepts what ever the local priest preaches him and just follows blindly along the deadly alley. Then there are the socialists who believe in equality. But the socialists in Sri Lanka are more like racists; they want to eliminate the Tamils form Sri Lanka. The JVP in Sri Lanka is a racist organization. So we have a peculiar situation. Since independence Religion and Racism predominate the Sri Lankan politics. The Tamils are Hindus and are Industrious and hence kind of capitalist, The Singhalese are Buddhists and are kind of socialists in their disposition. Brotherhood is fantastic but who is going to put food on the table, roof over the head and other needs? It has to come from Agriculture and Industries. People need the Infrastructure and Institutions to facilitate and develop the economy. Sri Lanka lacks this talent. It is a fantastic country and is located in the right spot but for some reason it is unable to wriggle out of its mindset. The Tamils are basically industrious and ingenious but there is a fear among the Singhalese to allow them to run the country’s economy. I always believed that let the Singhalese run the government and let the Tamils run the economy. That is a safe solution for the Tamils cannot subjugate the Singhalese.
The Singhalese think they are a minority in the region for there are 80 million Tamils in India.
So they behave like a minority in a country where they are the majority. This is the fundamental cause of the strife in Sri Lanka. This is understandable for the Tamils are very aggressive in their disposition and tend to over work and out work the Singhalese. You cannot blame them for the terrain and the climate make them to be aggressive. It is good for the nation, any nation, but the Singhalese are unable to have the courage to harness this greatness for their own benefit.
One way to solve this fear is to make the country one-country one people. We are all one people.
Is there a political will on both sides to make this happen? It happened in the United States of America, but that is United States of America. They had the leadership and the political will to proclaim all people as equal under one constitution. It happened twice when they united the north and the south and then the whites and the blacks. America, we salute you for your courage and leadership. The opposite happened in Sri Lanka, in 1956 late Prime minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake proclaimed Singhalese as the National language. The Tamils opposed but then accepted and learned the language. Knowing another language is good and better. The Singhalese were quick to realize that they could not stop the forward progress of the Tamils. This is similar to the current crisis; they do not want the LTTE to be the leadership of the Tamils. LTTE is too formidable and intimidating and they would prefer a lesser powerful group.
So whatever the Singhalese do to stop the progress the Tamils countered with another strategy. Now they say LTTE is a terrorist organization, okay what is your solution? They don’t have a solution, the seed of courage is not in their mind but fear; Fear of Tamils over running them. Tamils are the best ever happened them but they cannot accept it as a means to economic emancipation and hence prosperity. We need maturity among the Sri Lankans. Please don’t forget that the Tamils invented the sea going ship and discovered antigravity some 2500 years ago. The planet earth has diamonds and gold studded among sand and soil.
Since independence the Singhalese did very little to grow their people. All forms of discriminatory ideas were made and applied as extra incentive, but they could not get their people up and running. When some program failed they blamed it on the Tamils. I remember how they nationalized the Co-Operative system that was fast developing in the North. Then they ruined the very system. It was done to undo the progressive ideas of the Tamils. That was about 35 years ago. Today the Tamils are all over the world and progressing much faster; now what are the Singhalese are doing? They are using their power of the sovereign state appealing the foreign governments to proscribe the Tamil organizations as terrorist organizations and all businesses as front pieces of the LTTE. Well they have succeeded to a certain extent. Country to country respect each other and the Sri Lankan government took advantage of their goodwill and issued a diplomatic passport to a state sponsored terrorist called “Karuna”. When the US, EU and UK displayed their displeasure they were called supporters of terrorist. They did not have the courage and self-esteem to accept their fault and fraud but point the fingers at the respective countries. It looks as if the whole country is in a state of mental disarray. The British may use this misuse of international protocol as a way of bringing the three brothers to the International tribunal in The Hague. The British are very influential in the UN, the USA and the EU.
The world is fast becoming aware of the real situation and is trying to help the Sri Lankan government, but they were called supporters of terrorist. The Cease Fire Agreement was made after several years of work by few countries but was repealed by the present government of Sri Lanka. Why? They could have improved upon it. It is not in their hearts and minds to give a square kilometer to the Tamils. Tamils are foreign workers so they must go that is the core thinking. As long as even one Tamil stays, it is a threat to their security. I do not know how to address this fear. This fear can be disseminated by dialogue and communication. Of course we had English and then Singhalese language which the Tamils were willing to learn. Tamils are very versatile people; they are capable of adapting to new terrains and realities. But then the fear deep inside the minds of Singhalese surfaces when that barrier is overcome. The ball of fear sinks under the weight of a possible problem but surfaces when the problem is alleviated. The root of fear among the Singhalese has to be addressed and solved. The Tamils want to have a dialogue with the Singhalese but it is always rebuffed by the undesirable elements such as the religious fanatics and social extremist. India and Pakistan play a kind of sinister game in this conflict. India did not take part in the CFA and Pakistan knows only to fuel the fire and provide arms. They should first get their country in order, if they will ever. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bengala Desh what is the problem? I think the US, EU, UK, Russia, Japan, China and India must make political and economic investments to stabilize this region. It is in their interests do so.
The Singhalese are willing to invite foreign powers and tolerate their social influence but are unwilling to accept their nearest cousins with open hearts and fearless minds. It is very sad.
If both sides can find a way to coexist it will be the best relationship. We have to develop mechanisms that can resolve disputes. There is precedence in the free trade agreement of North America and the EU agreement to help us. But Sri Lanka does not have the education, experience, courage, wisdom and political will to do so. Mere education is just a passport it does not guarantee success. We need people with hard experience. If we can keep the religion and the government separate and if we can embrace a common language the fractions and the frictions can be easily resolved. But are the people ready? Sri Lanka is neither the inventor of democracy nor has been free for a long time. It was either fighting among each other or under foreign rule. Before the advent of Europeans there were four regions namely Rajarata. Mayarata, Rhuhuna and Jaffna. In 1948 we became “free” but we could not maintain it. So basically we are not used living free in a free society. Immediately after the British left we regained our natural freedom and in nature the strong one prevails. So one can see the problem in Sri Lanka. The Europeans entered the picture again and brought about an end to the cycle of violence and created a Cease Fire Agreement. The CFA is just the beginning of a long road to social stability. But the present government made up of so many parties could not come up with a common platform to stand on. The President has to compromise to stay in power. He repealed the CFA but he did not have an alternate pact to stand on. He brought in All Party Representative Committee but there are cracks already, a prudent President would have and should have kept the CFA and build on it till the APRC is unanimously agreed upon. It was water under the bridge or the bridge to peace is under water. All these point to a very immature nation.
The strong over the weak is a phenomenon in nature; sometime we call it jungle mentality,
But the strong for the weak is democracy. I am not equating Sri Lankans to animals in nature but I do not know where to draw the line. We need an external presence to resolve this on going dispute. United Nations is the best choice but US or EU can do an effective job. Sometime force may be required to keep the warring parties apart. Some one has to lay down the rules and ensure the cousins do not monkey prank each other. I am not on any side but I will be on the side of the Tamils in any armed dispute because I am a Tamil. So folks now you understand why there is trouble and why we cannot solve it. It is not in our nature to negotiate on equal terms. It was very obvious when Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa said we would negotiate once the LTTE is defeated. He is dreaming, he has seen the width of the Tamils but he has not seen the depth of the Tamils. When you pour water it permeates in all directions soaking up the soil so there is a sphere of expansion going within the Diaspora convincing the world of their greatness. It is Multinational Co-Operation and a Corporation. Few of our organizations were shut down because they were called terrorist organizations but when we operate the same within the laws of the respective countries the law has to be upheld. The court is as equally powerful as the Government. So we now have the experience to deal with future categorization by any government. The organizations when banned by the Government should have taken the matter to the court but they did not, we learn from our mistakes. Again it shows that we are very weak in the understanding of democracy. They did not know that there are two other avenues available when the government acts, namely the media and the court. See democracy to Sri Lankans is electing the government and working for the government. It the western world the government is only a third of the administration; the court and the media play important roles. I do not know if any of these banned organizations were legally constituted. Had they consulted the proper legal authorities they could have operated legally.
Jean Jacques Rousseau in his social contract explains the mechanics behind the formation of democracies. If this could be translated into Singhalese and Tamil and distributed among the people, we may stand a chance of bringing an end to this cycle of violence. Our effort is to keep up with our relentless pressure to uphold democratic values and to curtail the cycle of violence and make all parties to the conflict to come together as equals and see the benefit to each other by agreeing with each other. Jean Jacques Rousseau in Social Contract explains it very well. “The articles of association. rightly understood, are reduced to a single one, namely the total alienation by each associate of himself and his rights to the whole enterprise. Therefore every individual gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all, and precisely because they are the same for all, it is in no mans interest to make the conditions onerous for others. Secondly, since the alienation is unconditional, the union is as perfect as it can be, and no individual associate has any longer any rights to claim; for if rights were left to individuals, in the absence of any higher authority to judge between them and the other member, each member, being his own judge in some cases, would soon demand to be his own judge in all; and in this way the state of nature would be kept in being, and the association inevitably becomes either tyrannical or void. Thirdly, since every member gives himself to all, he gives himself to no one, and since there is no associate over whom he does not gain the same rights as others gain over him, each man receives the equivalent of everything he loses, and in the bargain he acquires more power to preserve what he has. which comes down to this, “Each one of us puts into the enterprise his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will of the enterprise, and as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible parts of the whole enterprise”.
Basically it means The Government is responsible for its citizens, and the people are responsible for the government; it does not matter if they are Singhalese or Tamil. The government cannot err and the people cannot err. Is the Sri Lankan Government behaving like a Government? I doubt it. The ocean of ignorance surrounds the country of Sri Lanka not Indian Ocean. We are exposing our ignorance and inability to the rest of the world.
Democracy is not an external mechanism; it is in our hearts and minds. Democracy is basically self-respect and respect for others. A self-respecting person will not tolerate his rights being infringed upon so if he has to be respected the he must respect others. We have two ancient religions to guide us; both communities put their palms together and pray to God. How can we use those same hands to pick up gun and kill a fellow citizen? “Appi Okkama Lankawe Minisu” “We are all Sri Lankans” “Nangal Ellorum Elangai Makkal”. This is what an old man said when there was a dispute between two people in a Negombo city bound bus (1966). He is not the President of Sri Lanka but he should be the President of Sri Lanka
Democracy is not viable without a strong economy and economy is not viable without a strong Democracy. Citizens needs for basic amenities are the very purpose of an economy. Economy is simply defined as every man and woman gets to work and produce something useful for him or herself and trade the surplus to others. You don’t have to be an Oxford or Harvard trained economist. I think in Sri Lanka the government gets too much directly involved in the management of the economy. Economy needs some form of self-motivation and self-preservation. The government cannot do this because it is a politically elected body and the interest is on the consumption and employment side of the economy, where as businessman is interested in efficiency and profit. In most advanced economies there is a healthy balance between both. I do not know the reason but Tamils are very enterprising and are capable of creating wealth. The Singhalese and their government envy this. 50 years of state intervention with standardization has done very little to alleviate the standard of living of the Singhalese. This artificial form of propping up caused dissent among the Tamils. Hence fear on one side and discrimination on the other side The Tamil invented their own ways to create wealth despite all form of hindrance from the Singhalese mobs. Lately they moved out of Sri Lanka and have found some very encouraging and nourishing economies for their economic advancement. There are about 500,000 Tamils in various countries. The wealth so generated has helped LTTE to self-finance. The government of Sri Lanka through these countries is attempting to discourage these enterprising people. It appears the motive of the Government of Sri Lanka is to degrade the Tamils. They should encourage their people otherwise to become creative. In my personal experience as a university student and then as a State officer in Sri Lanka I observed that to discriminate is more prevalent than making efforts to advance themselves. I think there is an inherent fear among the Singhalese for the Tamils. I think this can be improved by open communication. If they can understand democracy well then they will realize that rising water raises all boats. The government through proper taxation and investment could help the Singhalese to become economically balanced. Due to their living terrain the Tamils have to fight every element of nature to survive and through thousands of years of struggle the ones that survived are the virulent ones. There is no room for the meek and the weak.
Too many of my Non-Tamil friends have commented that we work so long so hard. We compete with every other nationality from the world. They like it because prosperity has no borders; it permeates into every citizen’s home and dinning table. Instead of fighting for crumbs make the pie large enough to feed Appuhamy, Arumugam and Ahamad. I hope I can convince the Sri Lankan people to comprehend this fountain of prosperity. Our problem in the west is how to distribute our surplus creations. As a businessman I have surplus capacity and production. How did Sri Lanka miss people like I?
Democracy is not for every one. Democracy is an advanced form of human relationship. It is not for faint hearted. I should know what my rights are and how far I can stretch and where it ends. Where it ends is very important because that is exactly where the rights of the other man begin. That point of contact is well guarded by the constitution of the country. There are several mechanism put in place to safe guard freedom. Are the Sri Lankan people up to this standard? They are not, if they are then this conflict would not have started and continued for 50 years and three generations. Time to put an end to it. But the people are not ready. Sometimes I ponder if a military government or a monarchy or Superstition based governance would be appropriate.
Sri Lanka is not a self-sustainable economy. The Europeans had an export-oriented economy, which supplied all the needs from outside. Rice, Flour, Sugar, Potatoes were all imported.
It may not be the best but it provided food and jobs. The country had foreign governor, foreign military command and the institutions and infrastructure. The country had a balanced budget and no foreign debt. So when they left we had a pretty good country and we should have build on it; but we squandered and plundered. Within eight years of freedom the communal violence flared up. And rest of the story is constant miscarriage of human rights. It never got better.
Democracy is a courageous deed. It needs prohibition of aggravation into another living being.
It runs against nature, for animals live either by consuming or by killing another animal.
So this incursion into another living being is unavoidable. But as human being we can share and live as one people. We have come long way but more to be done at micro-social level. We in the west have excellent mechanisms to deal with even family disputes amicably. The best thing is that the people in the west respect those institutions. So not only we need the institutions but also a population that respects these institutions. In Sri Lanka both are missing. Education is most important aspect of democracy. Sri Lanka has to stop fighting, both LTTE and Government must unilaterally cease hostilities and then slowly but steadily negotiate and continue to negotiate into a utopian society, some time I wonder how did we achieve this in Canada, Sweden, Norway etc. The people seem to be so good you wonder if they are ignorant but they are not. They are at the top of human evolution. I feel so safe in Canada I feel guilty that I am unable to help my people in Sri Lanka. 500 years of European influence has not helped at all. We received independence in 1948 but we didn’t gain independence from our nature. I guess we are not familiar with freedom, the European over lords ensured that we behaved but apparently did not teach us how to manage freedom. Freedom is a huge responsibility.
Late Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranayake may be the cause of this current situation or it may be that we are two incompatible races. We all look alike. But why are we fighting? Is the country naturally and hence economically fertile enough to support 25-30 million people? Is the Land to Man ratio too low to support sustenance? Or is it the way mother nature correcting the imbalances? Whatever it is we are educated enough to make intelligent choices. War is not one of the choices. besides the country has no money to feed the people but has plenty of hard currency to buy military hardware. It runs against my beliefs and runs against any economic theory. Who is financing the war? And what do they stand to gain?
FIFTY golden years have been wasted, it is time to bury our hatchets and get down to nation building. Lets put down the arms, pick up the ploughs and hammers and get to work.