Archive for August, 2007

Sri Lankan Politics and National Development

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said recently “the LTTE terrorism has been the greatest setback and the biggest obstacle to smooth socio-economic advancement”. True, the high military expenditure on top of other wasteful expenses is not only depriving funds for development but also hurting many people intolerably, except the agents and their masters who profit dishonestly through the purchases of arms and equipment for the military. Ironically, it is the people in the North-East who are suffering terribly because of the prolonged destruction to life and property. The local economic activities have also suffered immensely depriving families their livelihoods. Education, integral to Tamil culture has suffered enormously because of other priorities of the militant leadership. Jaffna known to be its citadel is now a backward area because of the decline in standards in the secondary schools and the university. Moreover, even early school education has been denied to many children in the North and East because of forced conscription.

Nevertheless, was socio-economic development the priority of governments before ‘LTTE terrorism’? Wasn’t the disparity resulting from the lack of all-inclusive socio-economic development the main reason for the violent uprisings earlier in the South? Didn’t the deprivation of opportunities for capable Tamil students to higher education and employment drive the youth to take up arms instead of books and pens? The divisive educational system that abandoned English completely and compelled students to learn all subjects in their mother tongue-Sinhalese or Tamil was also dictated by shortsighted nationalism, disregarding the future of the country and particularly the youth. Moreover, the Sinhala only legislation contradicting the Sinhala only and Tamil only policy adopted in schools and universities was a national tragedy. It was only a matter of time for the country to be in conflict with itself. Even ruthless dictators would not have been able to suppress the dissent for long. The main cause of the internal conflict is the neglect of balanced development in all sectors and shortsighted policies for political gains that denied equal opportunities and dimmed prospects for a better future for the ethnic minorities. The ensuing analysis shows how divisive ethno-politics influenced the approach to ‘national’ development. It was not rapid development of the country as a whole but the consolidation of Sinhala nation that was important to the nationalists.

With regard to the government’s expressed interest in developing the East after proclaiming it had captured all the areas that were under LTTE control, ‘The Island’ columnist ‘Shanie’ quite rightly raised the following questions (The Island August 18):

“The Government was not fighting a war against the LTTE in vast areas of southern Batticaloa and Ampara districts. The people in those areas live in abject poverty and no development activity has been undertaken by the Government. This was also one of the areas perhaps worst affected by the tsunami of 2004. But very little has been done to restore the housing and livelihoods of these affected persons. Nearly half the tsunami affected still live in makeshift camps under harsh conditions. During the day it simply is not possible to stay inside this zinc-roofed accommodation; and the men have to scrounge for some casual work on a day to day basis. Compare this with the Hambantota district where there is a surfeit of tsunami houses and people not even affected by the tsunami are being allotted newly built houses.

People of the East displaced by the conflict also continue to live in camps. But the disturbing news for them is that some of them may not be allowed to return to their homes and their livelihoods. The problems faced by the by the people in Muthur by the proposed eviction in Arafat Nagar is a case in point. Despite denials, it is now becoming clear that these hapless people have been served with notice. The Tamil and Muslim parties have been saying that under the guise of security, there is a sinister agenda to ethnically cleanse parts of the East of Tamils and Muslims and settle Sinhala people there”. It is obvious the development plan for the ‘liberated’ East is enthused by expedient politics rather than real socio-economic consideration.

Why blame only the law?

The question-‘Do prevailing laws of the country drive the nation towards civilization?’ has been raised by a ‘Concerned Citizen’- Daily Mirror 23 August 2007. It is true, “Law is a product of civilization and becomes a tool to ensure that human beings march forward, not backwards, in this continuing process of civilization. The writer has concluded that “Our law is full of loopholes and these loopholes need to be plugged in order to stop us from regressing from civilization”. The title of the writer’s subsequent contribution in the Daily Mirror August 25 is ‘Laws = civilization’. Laws do not by themselves promote civilization. The kind of laws in the statute book and the way they are enforced depend on those empowered to carry out these tasks. There may be loopholes in the law that need to be closed, but is the law the main reason for the lack of forward movement in the process of civilization? If the loopholes are deliberately left by crafty politicians to achieve their narrow self-serving aims, there is bound to be adverse effects on the law and order situation. How did the culture of impunity develop in Sri Lanka undermining the rule of law? It was not mainly the loopholes but the corrupt politicians and their unethical politics that denied the country good governance, national development and well-being. Sri Lanka had the potential to develop as a peaceful and prosperous multi-ethnic country like Singapore but the political leaders had other priorities in their agendas that changed the life of the island nation. Power was sought not to develop the country for ensuring a better future for all the citizens but to fulfill egoistic political ambitions. It is this desire that induced many power seekers to embrace conflict-ridden politics that harmed terribly national unity and progress.

The democratic political system was manipulated to serve the political interests of the ruling party. The constitutional and administrative manipulations impaired the conditions needed for stability, peace and national development The negative effects are evident from the lack of socio-economic development that has left millions in abject poverty, appalling decline in the value system, the alarming increase in bribery and corruption (according to the Organization of Professional Associations-OPA, 40 per cent of the public funds are wasted annually due to bribery and corruption), the absence of peace and the increased dependence on foreign aid and loans and employment in foreign countries. Malaysia that was below Sri Lanka at the time of independence on the income ladder is now one of Sri Lanka’s aid donors! In 1948, Sri Lanka’s (known then as Ceylon) per capita income was twice Japan’s and more than four times Singapore. At present, Japan’s per capita income is 26 times Sri Lanka’s and Singapore’s is 22 times ours. Japan is Sri Lanka’s largest donor country contributing enormous funds to finance public investment. Even the colossal foreign aid received since 1978 has failed to speed up the development process. The under utilization of foreign aid also indicates the level of importance given to national development.

Employment opportunities then and now

Sri Lankans of my generation would remember the time when Indians came to the then flourishing island (Ceylon) in search of employment. A few educated Indians secured employment as teachers (when English was the medium of instruction in secondary schools and the university) but the majority came illegally (the locals called them ‘Kallathoni’) seeking menial jobs. Now, poor Sri Lankans are seeking jobs as domestic servants and manual workers in the Middle East. Private remittances mostly from the Middle East now constitute the second largest foreign exchange earnings of Sri Lanka. Economic migrants are not confined to the Tamil community alone; many qualified Sinhalese fluent in English are also working in Canada, the USA, Australia and Europe. The social cost of young unmarried and married women working as housemaids in Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, leaving their children with their fathers or some relatives is huge. It is the poverty and hopelessness that compel them to leave their families and go abroad for earning the desperately needed foreign money.

The hardships endured by the migrant workers contributing to this inflow of foreign money that helps immensely to maintain Sri Lanka’s high import capacity became increasingly evident from the plight of the unfortunate 19-year old Sri Lankan girl Rizana Nafeek, who was sentenced to death by a Sharia court in Dawadmi, Saudi Arabia allegedly for the death of a 4-month old baby in her care. The girl from a poor family was a minor, just 17 when she came to Saudi Arabia to work as a housemaid. She had no experience or training in child care. Since the Sri Lankan government failed to defend the rights of its citizens to a fair trial, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deposited the initial fees of Rs. 1.5 million, the equivalent of Saudi Riyals 50,000 with a Saudi law firm for appealing against the death sentence. Rizana is now in jail waiting for the verdict of the appeal court. Despite the known risks, the desperate Sri Lankans seek employment in such difficult places because of the lack of means in their homeland.

Condoning corruption

The OPA’s Bribery and Corruption Monitoring Committee wanted an opportunity to meet and discuss with all concerned parties ways and means to minimize bribery and corruption. None of the major political parties in the government and opposition responded to its request. Moreover, the absence of political leaders at the presentation of the ‘Anti-corruption Action Plan’ at the BMICH on July 28 also demonstrated their lack of interest in matters that hinder national progress. More than US$ 2 million (USAID) was spent on preparing the report. The Daily Mirror in its editorial August 24 has aptly stated: “The point that this indifference drives home is that these parties’ concern about wiping out corruption is confined to taking political advantage over their rival parties. If their interest is real then they should have promptly responded to the OPA’s call and cooperated with it to excise this cancerous growth in the body politic today”.

Because of the terrible impact unrestrained corruption at high level has on the society, the editorial has said that it is a form of terrorism. To quote: “It has been persistently pointed out by concerned groups and discerning citizens of this country that bribery and corruption besides being a moral wrong, contributes to social problems such as poverty. This is also identified as another contemptible form of terrorism as damaging as political terrorism. The fact that the perpetrators of this crime have no human feelings is clear from the way they prey upon funds allocated even for granting relief to those rendered destitute by natural or man-made disasters”.

It is worth reminding here that this kind of corruption hurting the powerless and the poor did not spread from those in the lower rungs of the society but from the dishonest persons in the privileged class who abused their powers for personal gain. The indifference of many politicians to moves to rid the country of the corruption plague reveals the cause of the malaise afflicting the country and the distressed people. The system that permitted the abuse of power in the hands of the lucky few unless changed drastically will continue to serve the privileged class inflicting increasing damage to the well-being of the country and the hapless people. The lethargy of the civil society has also helped the exploiters.

According to COPE findings even state banks and development authorities are in the corruption net. Funds earmarked for humanitarian assistance and regional development have been misappropriated. The first report of COPE, presented to the Parliament on January 12, 2007 revealed the corruption in 26 public enterprises resulted in the loss of Rs. 150 billion. Further 20 public enterprises have been identified as corrupt in the second COPE report presented to the parliament on August 24. The COPE Chairman Wijedasa Rajapakse MP said that the amount pocketed by dishonest persons in the second lot is Rs. 6 billion. Since no action was taken for months after the submission of the first report, the chairman urged the Parliament to act on the findings of its committee, the COPE. In fact there were attempts to cover-up and protect the culprits. After some haggling, the party leaders tried to appoint 26 Parliamentary Select Committees (PSCs) to investigate the corruption charges against the 26 state institutions named in the first COPE report. The resolute Chairman objected saying it was an attempt to undermine the authority of the COPE and the national legislature. It has been the general practice to appoint committees to buy time hoping the public attention will die down. This practice is now very common and the Presidential commissions and committees appointed months ago have not made much headway. Because of the public interest, especially that of the media and agitation by the JVP, Parliament finally abandoned the proposal to appoint temporary parliamentary committees to investigate the findings of a permanent parliamentary committee, the COPE and agreed to refer the COPE findings to the Bribery Commission and other relevant higher authorities. This might have helped to arrest the erosion of public confidence in the system, particularly the legislature but it is uncertain whether this will result in stern punishment that will serve as a deterrent to eradicate corruption in the public sector.

Since the parliamentary committee COPE has the power to investigate but not empowered to take appropriate actions against the State institutions or individuals (in the hierarchy) it found corrupt after thorough investigation, its chairman has urged the enactment of new legislation to ensure COPE has the power to enforce corrective measures. The Bribery Commission too lacks the means to act swiftly on the COPE findings. Moreover, it does not have the same judicial authority as the courts, which are overloaded with many civil cases. These are known to drag on for several years for various reasons, increasing the legal costs (lawyers’ fees) enormously to the litigants. Incidentally, it is widely known that some resort to extrajudicial methods to settle disputes because of the undue delay and uncertainty with the legal process. Sri Lanka’s woes are due to fundamental weaknesses in all three-legislative, executive and judicial-branches of government and the indifference of the main political parties to the known weaknesses.

The Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Wijedasa Rajapakse told an anti-corruption seminar organized by the ‘Retired Senior Police Officers Association’ in collaboration with ‘Transparency International Sri Lanka’ August 23 that the country has been pushed to a maximum state of corruption. He said: “Although we are all responsible for the public enterprises, we, as representatives of the people, are sleeping without contributing our service to society. None of us can escape nor, do away with the fact that, the rule of law is not being upheld in the country. Consequently, every one of us is suffering due to our negligence.”

It was Iqbal Athas, senior investigative journalist and specialist on defence matters who first raised doubts last December about the purchase of second-hand MiG-27 fighter jets from Ukraine at exorbitant price. He is the Sunday Times Consultant Editor and a regular contributor to the ‘Jane’s Defence Weekly’. In his weekly ‘Situation Report’ published recently in the Sunday Times he said that the Ukrainian government had launched an investigation on the sale of the MiG-27 fighter jets to Sri Lanka. He also said the beneficiary of the Sri Lankan payments was an unknown company based in London without a proper business address. Following his startling revelation, the government withdrew the security provided to him and he had also received continuous threats to his life. The intention of the perpetrators said to be within the defence establishment is to stop such embarrassing exposures. The move to silence him evoked widespread condemnation. The protestors demanded the immediate restoration of the security provided following earlier threats against him. Five local media organizations, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media employees Union (FMETU), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Federation (SLMMF), Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Association (SLTJA) and Free Media Movement (FMM) have expressed concern about the withdrawal of Athas’s personal security. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has written to the government urging it to ensure the safety and security of journalists in Sri Lanka. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also voiced deep concern about the safety of Iqbal Athas. Paradoxically, the threatening actions against the journalist for revealing details about the purchase of the second-hand fighter jets have backfired.

National Development

Sri Lanka failed to advance the national development process speedily from socio-economic, political and cultural perspectives. The reason for this can be traced back to the time when the country became a sovereign State. Instead of focusing on developing the national economy the elected government was concerned about achieving certain narrow political objectives. The Sinhalese political leaders were anxious to change the ethnic makeup of the Northern and Eastern provinces populated largely by Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims with the view to weakening the dominance of the Tamils in the region that has been their ancestral habitat for centuries. The Kandyan (the ‘upper’ class hill-country dwellers) and the low-country Sinhalese had little interest in moving to the North-East because there were no great economic opportunities. Nature was benevolent in their regions and they had easy lives. In the case of the Tamils in the North, because of the limited rainfall for year-round cultivation and the lack of other opportunities for earning regular income, they migrated to other promising places. Some migrated to former British colonies like the Federation of Malay States solely for employment. Majority of the migrants did not cutoff their links with their native towns or villages in the North-East. They hoped to return to their mother land after either retirement or earning adequate money. The links with their home land were mostly via ownership of their ancestral property and family members living permanently there. Some migrated alone to earn and support their hard-up families. The extended family system was also strong then with the well-to-do members providing financial support to the poor members.

The living conditions of the poor upcountry Tamils, the descendants of the immigrants from South India who came during the colonial era to work in the tea and rubber plantations were terrible not comparable with the poorest class in any ethnic group in the island. Nevertheless, they were better off working as labourers in the plantations than starving in their native villages in India. Even after independence, there were not many indigenous people willing to toil in the plantations for the same low wages as the workers of Indian origin. The plantation sector could not have performed profitably without the Tamil workers. The revenue from export taxes helped then to finance to a great extent the public welfare expenditure. The decision of the first post independence government to disenfranchise the upcountry Tamils and making them stateless was entirely political. Upon their disenfranchisement, the Sinhalese were able to get more than 2/3 majority in Parliament. This ensured that the minority Tamils cannot exercise an effective impact on national polices affecting them. National development also has a political slant. To successive governments, it did not mean the balanced development of all regions, according to special regional and general national needs making optimal use of the available resources.

Strategically, the East was more important than the North for ‘Sinhalaisation’. The natural resources available there also influenced the decision to colonize the East. Under the Gal Oya development scheme, Sinhalese from the dry zone were settled there. This was the beginning of the State-aided colonization schemes that later changed drastically the ethnic demography of some regions in the East, in particular the territorially important Trincomalee district. The newly carved Ampara (i) district in the East has also sizeable Sinhalese. The Eastern province as a whole has now roughly equal proportion of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, whereas in 1946 the Tamils were the majority ethnic group (44.5%), while the Muslims and the Sinhalese accounted for 30.6% and 20.7% respectively. This has been the significant development since independence.

Despite the pledge given by President J. R. Jayewardene to the TULF that the government will not use the Accelerated Mahaweli River Development Scheme to change intentionally the ethnic demography of the two provinces, the Minister in charge of the Scheme, the late Gamini Dissanayake went on settling Sinhalese colonists in the traditional Tamil areas. JR’s earlier pledge to the TULF as usual was ignored. It is well known the Tamil names of many villages and streets were replaced by Sinhala versions. It was not the Development Schemes per se that the Tamils objected but the political motive behind them. The despotic way the changes were made also hurt the feelings of Tamils.

Development of the Trincomalee harbour, despite the well-known natural facility that would have boosted the island’s economy was shelved because it was in the Tamil area. The conditions for keeping the Tamils powerless would wane if such developments happened. Although the proposal to develop Trincomalee was included in the 1972-1976 Five Year Plan, it was not pursued for ‘political reason’. Concealed partisan politics has prevented the full implementation of not only national development plans but also declared national policies. Even declared commitments have not been observed at the relevant time. It was not only Trincomalee but also the development of other sea and air ports in the North-East was shelved for keeping the region’s economy relatively weak for political reason. There were Tamil entrepreneurs who were interested in starting new industries in the North in the early 1970s but they were dissuaded by the then government’s import license scheme for purchasing raw materials and capital goods. They were indirectly encouraged to invest in industries in the Western Province (Colombo suburbs) through this import control system. The compulsion to ensure that the ethnic minority Tamils do not have an economic advantage over the majority Sinhalese was the underlying political reason for many questionable decisions.

The tacit political aim was to ensure that the Tamils suffer more than the Sinhalese in their daily lives. It is this negative attitude that prevented the rapid development of the national economy and ultimately led to the separatist war. With the intensification of the ethnic problem, the Tamil political leaders were also not pressing for the development of the North-East region. They were concerned mainly about gaining political power thinking development can wait until self-rule is achieved. This stance that denied economic benefits to the people did not help in any way to strengthen the case for self-rule. The LTTE who were fighting for a separate state went further and destroyed even the infrastructure built during the colonial period. There are no train services in the North because the rails have been removed to construct bunkers.

The ethnic problem helped to divert the attention of the people from the economic problems. The inaction that led to its exacerbation helped the egoistic power-hungry political leaders to use it as a weapon in the struggle for power. Now the war is serving the same purpose. The fundamental weaknesses that denied peace, progress and prosperity cannot be got rid of by fiddling with the present constitution.

Devolution for Development

Devolution of powers is needed not just for appeasing the international community. It should really be for durable peace and national development. Regional development must be viewed as essential part of national development. The regional authorities must have sufficient power (shared or independent) over the resources to plan in collaboration with the centre and implement development programmes and projects. Regional disparities in development because of ethnic bias are bound to result in turmoil and violent uprisings. The Sinhalese leaders were not unaware of this danger. They thought they had the power and the cleverness to suppress any rebellion. This attitude seems to prevail even now among some Sinhalese nationalists especially those who are pressing for military victory.

Commenting on the current developments in seeking a consensual political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC), Khaleej Times editorial reproduced in the August 20 Daily News stated: “What must be of essence, under the plan, is how much financial clout, and leverage, the provincial authorities, as also the district administrations, will have. After all, everything about development boils down to matters of economics. Tamils’ grievance has been that their regions, and the people, were being given a step-motherly treatment by Colombo. Devolution of powers must mean, prima facie, an end to such a scenario”. Unfortunately, the approach of some political parties is different. The same old concern for retaining the dominance of the ethnic majority Sinhalese throughout the island is making them blind to present realities and future consequences. The case for extensive devolution to units larger than the present district arises from the neglect of the economic development of the North-East.

The JVP and the JHU are against devolution. However, their reasons for the center to have dominant control over the entire country are different. In the case of the JVP it is largely socialist ideology cum Sinhala nationalism, while the JHU’s stance centers on Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy. The President who is also the current SLFP leader rejected the recommendations of the Experts Panel-majority report because the power sharing and devolution proposals undermined the unitary system. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s current intent to be seen as a robust Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist safeguarding the dominant position of the Sinhalese and at the same time portraying as a national leader concerned about the rights and concerns of the ethnic minorities is not helping to initiate the long overdue political process. His close alliance with the Sinhala nationalist parties has put him in conflict with the views of the moderates in the APRC, including its Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana. President’s stance has given a fillip to Sinhalese nationalists. The ethnically divided Society is now polarized into progressives/reformists and fundamentalists as well.

The five-decade-old ethnic problem is acknowledged by many politicians of different hues to be a hot national issue. Failure to settle it at an early stage has not only destroyed lives and property but is also keeping the country in a state of under-development. Paradoxically, even the parties that accept the ethnic problem to be the burning issue have not come up with a sensible solution. What the country needs is not rhetorical statement but a set of concrete proposals. Tragically, some are determined to sabotage the APRC chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s efforts. The widely acknowledged confrontational politics has also been a bane obstructing the country’s progress.

This writer has stated in previous articles that it is not the unitary structure per se that is responsible for the present unrest and threat to the territorial integrity but the way of implementation as if it has legitimized Sinhala majority rule. It is the disregard for the interests, concerns and aspirations of the ethnic minority Tamils that has made it unreliable and insecure to their future well-being. After nearly half a century of bitter experience with the Sinhala majority rule, without any definite sign of attitudinal change in the majority of the influential political leaders in the South it is difficult for the Tamils to believe that devolution of powers under the unitary system will settle permanently the national issue. Any devolution plan to be credible must be accompanied by adequate safeguards to ensure the noninterference of the center in the exercise of the devolved powers in the subject areas mutually agreed by the ethnic majority and minority communities

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

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Sri Lanka is Our Land Too!

By Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

There is a great conspiracy for Tamils from the North to link with Tamils in the East, with the Indian Tamils in the estates and with the Tamils in Colombo and trap the Sinhalese on the island. Add to this the 50 or is it 70 million Tamils of South India all waiting to swim over”

– Champika Ranawake, Cabinet Minister and JHU Member of Parliament in the Al-Jazeera TV interview.

The recent Al-Jazeera television documentary ‘Monks of war’ provided a rare insight into Sinhala-Buddhist perspectives on the long running ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka . The objectivity and clarity in presenting the opposing viewpoints within this perspective was admirable. The Al-Jazeera TV network and the presenter Juliana Ruhfus deserve our gratitude for a job well done and for bringing issues long swept under the carpet into the open.

I had read some where, although unable to recall the source that,” Mankind would have invented God, even if such an entity did not exist”. Karl Marx on the other hand famously proclaimed, “Religion is the opium of the masses”. I remembered these and their profoundness as I watched this documentary.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me”. Those who do not harbour such thoughts still their hatred”.

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal”.

-The Dammapada-

These words from the Dammapada came to life in this documentary when the Sinhala-Buddhist mother narrated the story of her son who had served in the Sri Lankan army. She was told that her son was ‘Missing-in-Action’ and subsequently made the gruesome discovery that the army had burnt the bodies of its dead soldiers. This abominable act has not been acknowledged yet. She yet does not know whether her son is alive or dead and is unable to reconcile to the reality of her son’s possible death. She however was very vehement that more Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims should not die in this war and in simple terms explained the repercussions of the ‘Tit for tat’ revenge cycle. While she yet awaits the return of her ‘Missing’ son, she bears no animosity towards the Tamils. Her son was probably killed by the LTTE in the northern war front. She not only presented the compassionate face of Buddhism, but also epitomized Buddhism. This is the Buddhism that permeates the lives and deeds of an overwhelmingly large majority of the Sinhala-Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

This is the Buddhism that will ultimately rescue Sri Lanka from the madness that has overtaken her. This is the Buddhism that will restore sanity and logic to governance and socio-political life in Sri Lanka. This is the ‘God’ humankind needs to underline its humanity and aspire to sublime values.

“A fool who knows his foolishness is wise at least to that extent, but a fool who thinks himself wise is a fool indeed”.

“One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness thereafter”.

“Those who mistake the unessential to be essential and the essential to be unessential, dwelling in wrong thoughts, never arrive at the essential”.

“Whoever, on account of perverted views, scorns the teaching of the perfected ones, the Noble and Righteous Ones- That fool, like the bamboo, produces fruits only for self destruction”.

“There are many evil characters and uncontrolled men wearing the saffron robe. These wicked men will be born in states of woe because of their evil deeds”.

-The Dammapada-

The graduate student monk, researching the role of war in Buddhism and Champika Ranawake, the minister quoted at the beginning of the article , who is obviously suffering from chronic ‘Persecution Complex’, represent the other ‘Extreme, Militant and Cruel’ form of political ideology pedaled as a resurgent Buddhism by a miniscule minority of the Sinhala-Buddhists. Champika Ranawake sounded like a clone of Osama Bin-laden, when he voiced his extreme (& mad) opinions and threatened the world that militant Buddhism was on the rise. This voice of militancy is being sounded from tiny Sri Lanka that many find difficult to identify in the world map! To me Champika Ranawake standing in front of a map of Sri Lanka and expounding his grand conspiracy theory sounded like a fool who thinks he is wise!

The Buddhist monk researching the role of Buddhism in war, might as well have researched (and a little more relevantly ) the influence of Buddhism on Hugh Hefner , as his ‘Playboy’ magazine is largely devoted to female nudity- physical nirvana! I wonder what the Dhamma-abiding Buddhists think of such men. Such men are a blemish on a great people and a great religion. It is unfortunate that this minority pedaling a pernicious ideology that portrays Sinhala-Buddhists as besieged people and re-paraphrases the famous lament attributed in the Mahawamsa to Prince Dutu Gemunu ( That he is trapped between the Tamils and the deep blue sea, when questioned about his curled up posture in bed by Queen Viharamahadevi-his mother), is the bane of Sri Lanka. Buddhism, Sinhalese, Tamils, Hinduism and the deep blue sea have survived the irrational fears of Dutu Gemunu, although he gained the crown from the old and just King, Ellalan (Elahara)! Mosquitoes and malaria did far greater damage to the great Sinhala civilizations based in Anuradhapura and Polonaruwa than the Tamils, Tamil, Hinduism or the Chola invasions ever could have done!

The entire focus of this ideology is to marginalize, brutalize, destroy, assimilate or drive off the non-Sinhala-Buddhists in the island. The Tamils are the immediate focus and the other minorities will follow-suit. Sri Lanka is for only Sinhala-Buddhists is the essence of this pernicious ideology. This is the Nazi-like ideology that has to be stripped of its façade of Buddhism, which provides it legitimacy in the eyes of the innocent. Buddhism is founded on logic, rationality and profound compassion. It has nothing to do with the irrationality and loony theories expounded by these extremists. Such men have seeded the Tamil militancy and help nurture it, while most Tamils have tolerated it for lack of alternatives. These extremists use religion as a slogan to cloud peoples thinking and arouse their animal passions. This phenomenon is what made Karl Marx call religion the opium of the masses. In Sri Lanka the reality of bad governance, failure of the rule of law, corruption and the exploitation of the people by its rulers, are blanketed out of the focus of the people by these elements pedaling their pernicious ideology. The ruling class in Sri Lanka needs such men and women for their survival. S.W.R.D. Banadaranaike had his Mapitigama Budharakita Thera, Wimala Wijeywardene, Prof. Jayasuriya and K.M.P. and Kusuma Rajaratne. J.R.Jayawardene had Cyril Mathew and his ilk. Chandrika Kumaratunge had her JVP ideologues. Mahinda Rajapakse has his JHU monks, the JVP ideologues and the likes of Champika Ranawaka. If such men and women were not readily available, they will be invented by the ruling political class! The decency of a great people and their essential goodness is being raped by these obnoxious elements for their personal gain. This is a truth the Sinhala-Buddhists have to yet discover.

Starting from Don Stephen Senanayake (son of Don Spater Senanayake), through Dudley Shelton Senanayake, Sir John Lionel Kotelawala, Neelaperumalge Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (previously Kalukapuge), Wijeyananda Dahanayake, Sirimavo Banadaranaike (of Mawalatenne Mohattala lineage), Thambi Mudiyansalage Junius Richard Jayawardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa (son of Richard Ranasinghe), Dingiri Banda Wijetunge, Chandrika Banadaranaike Kumaratunge and Mahendra Percival Rajapakse (Son of George Rajapakse), among our heads of government from Independence to date, I find only two men who can claim to have been untainted by the ‘Adaptation to colonialsm syndrome’, in name, religion or way of life. They are W.Dahanayake and Dingiri Banda Wijetunge. Of the others, some are of mixed race- sometimes multiple, most have conveniently adopted western and Christian names, and or religion to suit the periods their families have lived through and most have changed their mode of dress and way of life very quickly to facilitate political survival. Most of these men changed from ‘Brown sahibs’ to ‘Arya Sinhala, Buddhist patriots’ almost overnight. However, all of them including W.Dahanayake and D.B.Wijetunge were standard-bearers for the Sinhala-Buddhist extremist ideology, in its many nuances to some degree or other. If not, they could not have attained power and held on to it. Mahinda ( Mahendra) Percy (Percival) Rajapakse, the current President, has become the current standard-bearer of this extreme Sinhala-Buddhist ideology. Pursuit of power, wealth and the right to exploit the common person and make a fool of him/her has been the only driving force behind these chameleon-like transformations.

While one cannot complain against adopting a new name, a new religion or a new way of life among people for whatever reason, what is abhorrent is the ease with which such transformations have taken place in most of these families, defying conscience and logic. Men and women who occupied the front pews during Sunday services in churches became regular visitors to Buddhist temples and patrons of Buddhism overnight. Men and women who had western Christian names, eliminated them from their families very quickly and started using names linked to Buddhism and Sinhala history. How much of this change was out of genuine conviction and how much of it is the continuance of a charade and political expediency? The lap dogs of the colonial rulers of the past, had however very quickly became the keepers of a pernicious Sinhala-Buddhist ideology. Whether these men and women are selected, groomed, brought to power and kept in power, by the purveyors of this pernicious Sinhala-Buddhist ideology or whether these men and women in pursuit of power and wealth use these purveyors of hatred, is difficult to answer. It is however a marriage of convenience that has benefited both. It has given those ruling, the space to abuse power and given those collaborating with them in the name of Sinhala-Buddhism to exercise a hold on power disproportionate to their strength. Both have successively taken the people for a ride for almost sixty years and destroyed Sri Lanka as a nation.

I would like to proclaim to these elements that the decency of the majority of people in Sri Lanka-Sinhalese, Tamils , and Muslims, would ultimately prevail and overcome their present travails. The Tamils will overcome the militancy that has become a cancer and establish their right to live as equal citizens in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is our (Tamil’s) land too and will continue to be so. The north and east will continue to be the land reflecting the culture of the Tamil-speaking people. We Tamils will be always ready to share the north and east with our Muslim and Sinhala brethren who consider these lands theirs as well. They will exercise their rights to their language, religion, culture and way of life untrammeled in any way. We Tamils will exercise our right to live any where in Sri Lanka, if that is our wish and will demand our right to live as a free and secure people wherever we choose to live. We Tamils will also not deny the right of our Sinhala and Muslim brethren from the south to live in the north and east if it is their personal wish. However, we Tamils will resist all efforts to reduce us to second-class status, deprive us of our rights, drive us out of our land and colonize our lands under state sponsorship..

Tamils will not accept government sponsored changes in demographics- linguistically or based on religion any where in Sri Lanka, including the north and east. The Sinhalese, the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Christians and others are our fellow citizens and we Tamils accept their right to prosper in Sri Lanka. Tamils expect the same in return. It is for the likes of Champika Ranawake to accept this reality and in true Buddhist spirit learn to live and let live. Buddhists have their Naga Vihara in Nainativu in the north, where they are free to worship and we Hindus have our Kathirkamam in the South, where we want to worship without hindrance. Buddhist monks who were opposed to caste-based ordination of monks were banished to the north and the Tamils accepted them and treated them with respect. Tamil-Hindus accept Lord Buddha as a saint who tried to reform their religion. Hindus find echoes of their religious philosophy in Buddhism. Buddhism is not alien to Tamil-Hindus because they do not profess to be Buddhists. Buddhism is part of the Tamil-Hindu ethos. We speak different languages. However, they share common grammar and a large number of words. Both are ‘Ela’ languages- Sihala and Demala. Bharathiyar, the great Tamil poet of the last century, was ready to build a bridge to the Sinhala island and refill Sethu Samuthiram to build a highway.

” Sinhala Theevinukku Oorr Paalam Aamaipoem,

Sethuvai Meduruthi Veethi Samaipoem”- Tamil.

Bharathy could have called the island Ealam, the name by which it was known during the Sangam period- long before the Sinhala language and Buddhism became pre-dominant, or Lanka as referred to in the Ramayana. However, he in recognition of the predominance of the Sinhala people, was prepared to call it Sinhala Theevu (island) and was extending a hand of friendship. The Tamils are a people who consider ‘Truth’ a pre-eminent virtue and will never seek to deny what is obvious. The Tamils do not deny that the Sinhalese are the majority people on the island and have no designs to change this fact. However, the Tamils will not accept the Sinhala right to rule and dictate to them. We Tamils want a voice in our governance and the governance of our island. The Tamils are also the children of ‘Mother Lanka’ and demand their share of her milk. Please do not try to deny us Tamils our birthrights, because of your irrational and unfounded fears and complexes. The Sinhala people should not be taken in by efforts to make the Tamils scapegoats for the failures of their leaders. The success of the Tamils will not contribute to the failure of the Sinhalese and the failure of the Tamils will not lead to the success of the Sinhalese. The past sixty years of our history will testify to this. United we will stand, divided we will fall. This is a lesson we have to quickly learn.

Related YouTube Video:

– People & Power – Monks of War – Part 1

– People & Power – Monks of War – Part 2

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Tamil Speaking Aid Workers Becoming an Endangered Species in Sri Lanka

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

” There is a concern…about the safety of humanitarian workers themselves and the record here is one of the worst in the world from that point of view,” John Holmes, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday during a visit to Sri Lanka…”Democratically elected governments are judged by higher standards than other people, so they need to address these concerns, they need to look into them, they need to investigate allegations that are made.”…”It would be good for Sri Lanka’s international image that there is that kind of monitoring to demonstrate, which the government say, they have nothing to hide in this area,” Holmes said.

– Excerpts from Reuters news story filed by Simon Gardner on Aug 8 th 2007

It was the morning of Monday August 20th 2007. Two Tamil youths were going along Kasthuriar road in the heart of Jaffna town on a motor cycle. Both of them were members of the field staff at the Danish De – mining Group , a respected Non – governmental organization doing yeoman service in mine – clearing in the North.

31 year old Sivaswamy Sreetharan , a native of Puliyankoodal in the off – shore Island of Velanai was the rider. Seated on the pillion was 26 year old S. Vijayenthiran a colleague and friend. A motor – cycle with two helmet clad youths that was following the de – mining aid workers suddenly sped up. The person on the pillion sprayed gunfire on the de – miner duo.

Sreetharan was killed on the spot. Vijayenthiran was seriously wounded and admitted to the Intensive care unit at Jaffna Hospital. The assassins had vanished.Despite the close proximity of the high security zone and the vicinity being saturated with sentry posts the killers were not even stopped let alone being apprehended.

The Danish De – mining Group which functions under the purview of the Danish Refugee Council suspended its de – mining activity in Jaffna. Steen Wetlesen, the DDG’s Country manager also issued a brief statement –

“Danish Demining Group in Sri Lanka deeply regrets to announce that a member of its Jaffna Field staff was tragically shot dead this morning, the 20 th August, whilst on his way to work, by unknown gunmen. In the same incident another DDG staff member was also wounded.

All DDG staff are deeply shocked by this terrible incident and DDG, Jaffna has immediately suspended all Demining activities to evaluate the security situation and safety of its staff.

We know that all DDG staff and the whole aid community would want to pass on their deepest sympathies to the family of the killed staff member and are hoping for the speedy recovery of the wounded staff member”

Two days later on Wednesday Aug 22nd a 25 year old youth from Kaithady in the Thenmaratchy sector presented himself at the Human Rights Organization office at Jaffna. He was also an employee at the Danish NGO and a close friend of Sreetharan.Fearing danger to his life the youth surrendered himself to the HRO seeking protection and safety.

The incident turned the spotlight once again on the plight of an endangered species in Sri Lanka – the “Tamil” humanitarian aid worker. The daylight murder at Kasthuriar rd was not the first of its kind. It certainly wont be the last either if recent events are any indication.

It was only on Aug 8th that Sir John Holmes , UN Under – Secretary – General for Humanitarian Affairs told Simon Gardner of Reuters that there was ” concern about the safety of humanitarian workers themselves ” and that the record here in Sri Lanka ” is one of the worst in the world from that point of view,” .

[Sir John Holmes]

All hell broke loose as the Rajapakse regime began its vilification campaign against Holmes. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake referred to Holmes as a “Yakka” (devil). Prime ministerial aspirant Jeyaraj Fernandopulle called Holmes a “terrorist bribed by the LTTE”.

While these “gentlemen” played to the majoritarian “gallery” two other ministers were engaged in – what is now a familiar scenario – damage control. Rohitha Bogollagama disassociated the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) from the statements made. Mahinda Samarasinghe wrote conciliatory letters seeking to pacify the UN official.

Yet within days of this attempt at damage – control the murderous minions of state terrorism have been at it again. One Humanitarian aid worker is killed and another injured while the Danish De – mining Group suspends work to evaluate the security conditions and safety of its staff.

After Mahinda Rajapakse became president and an undeclared war began, the targetting of certain Tamils became part of the state’s avowed counter – terrorist strategy. The dogs of war were unleashed.

This practice continues and the recent Kasthuriar rd killing is just one more instance. That such incidents could be perpetrated just 12. days after Sir John’s outspoken criticism shows how little this regime cares for International opinion.

State terrorism is now entrenched and the recent incident is but one way of telling the UN and the International Community “Palayang bung yanda”.

An important reason for the venomous anger against Sir John is due to the fact that the UN official placed the targeting of NGO workers in a different perspective.

Instead of viewing the incidents as being done to “Tamils” he looked at the victims as humanitarian aid workers. This altered things drastically and had maximum impact. Hence the unbridled resentment.

The single biggest incident of this type that drew international attention was the killing of 17 aid workers in Moothoor on August 4th last year. It is widely believed that they were killed by army commandoes. The GOSL has vehemently denied this but the clumsy attempts to delay and thwart justice has exposed the truth.

This incident however occurred during a period of intense conflict. There are some who feel that this happened in a tense situation where the LTTE had dominated the place first and the security forces had wrested it back.

This columnist does not subscribe to this view and feels that the “heat of the battle” excuse does not apply here. The brutal massacre was very clearly a cold – blooded , cowardly killing of unarmed innocents by personnel claiming to be “elite” soldiers. It the current war is deemed “legal” it was a war crime. If not it is a crime against humanity

What is of significance here is that a certain pattern exists in this targeting of Tamil humanitarian workers or those connected to aid projects.In most cases the workers were abducted. Some went missing while others were executed ruthlessly after being tortured. Some have also been killed in cold blood. NGO’s like the DDG have been targeted earlier also.

The LTTE has victimised some.The Karuna faction is responsible for some incidents.The EPDP, home guards and para – militaries are also responsible for some acts. The security forces have been implicated in some incidents.

Some of these incidents were reported in these columns earlier. Let me refer to them as far as possible in chronological order.

On January 11th in 2006 two brothers – in – law left their home Odaikkarai lane in Point Pedro at about 5.30 am and proceeded on their motor cycles to work. Narayanamoorthy Kandeepan and his sister’s husband Thambiah Tharmasiri were employed by the Danish de – mining group and were then engaged in mine – clearing at Kuppilan . They were abducted by EPDP operatives at a spot about 150 metres away from the 52 – 4 brigade army camp.

Then came the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) abduction incidents of Jan 29th and 30th..The London based Amnesty International in one of its conspicuously infrequent releases on Sri Lanka issued an appeal nearly six weeks later in March.

The AI also noted that the ” TRO is seen as being closely affiliated with the LTTE”, but pointed out that the TRO “is a legally registered Sri Lankan charity and its mission is to provide much needed relief, rehabilitation and development for the people of the northeast of Sri Lanka”.

On Jan 29th 2006 a TRO vehicle with two males and three females were hijacked by armed men in a white hi – ace van on the Polonnaruwa road close to an army check point in Welikande.

They were on their way from Batticaloa to the TRO headquarters at Kilinochchi. Two females were released the following day and the third a few days later. The two males were reported missing.

On the next day (Jan 30th) 15 TRO employees were travelling in a vehicle from Batticaloa to Vavuniya to attend a training workshop.The vehicle plying on the Polonnaruwa road was hi- jacked at almost the same spot as the previous vehicle. 10 of the occupants were released but another five comprising four males and one female were taken captive.

Several appeals were issued for the release of the missing TRO employees. The Police did not evince any interest in tracing them and began harassing those eye – witnesses who complained about the incident.

Since the TRO was perceived as an arm of the LTTE the abductions did not receive the attention it deserved. A theory was also floated that the abductions were stage – managed by the LTTE for its own purposes.

After one year it was the sad lot of this writer to uncover and expose in these columns what had happened to these seven TRO employees. They had been abducted by members of the Karuna faction on the orders of senior leader Pillaiyan. All six men had been tortured and killed.

The woman had been gang – raped and murdered. TRO officials from Kilinochchi contacted this writer after the article appeared, confirmed details and closed their files on the incident.

Those killed in this horrible manner were TRO director Kasinathar Ganeshalingam, vehicle driver Kathirkamar Thangarasa, Chief Accountant Thanuskody Premini and four accountants Shanmuganathan Sujendram, Thambiraja Vasantharajan, Kailayapillai Ravindran and Arunesarasa Satheesharan.

The Halo Trust in Jaffna is a non – governmental organization engaged in mine clearing. A large number of youths were recruited during the ceasefire to do this type of work. The LTTE played a dominant role in selecting recruits. Since the mine clearance was basically in areas adjacent to the Palaly high security zone Halo Trust activity was looked upon suspiciously by the security forces.

The Halo Trust in Jaffna is a non – governmental organization engaged in mine clearing. Since the mine clearance was basically in areas adjacent to the Palaly high security zone Halo Trust activity was looked upon suspiciously by the security forces.

On Feb 4th 2006 a 23 year old Halo Trust employee, Gunaratnam Logithas left his home in Kaithady at night and proceeded on his motor cycle towards Chavakachcheri town. He was never seen again and presumed abducted at Nunavil along the Kandy road. Logithas is one among the innumerable “disappeared” now.

On April 10th 2006 an army truck was going along the A – 9 highway in the Thenmaratchy area.It was Monday afternoon. A vehicle belonging to the NGO Human Development Centre (HUDEC) was following the truck. At one point in Mirusuvil the HUDEC vehicle tried to overtake the army truck. At that stage a claymore mine attached to a lamp post was triggered off by the LTTE. The tigers were targetting the army truck but both vehicles were hit.

Five soldiers were killed and two injured. Two Hudec employees were killed and another two staffers injured. Those killed were Pathmanathan Shanmugaratnam (55) and Selvendra Pradeepkumar (29). The injured HUDEC personnel admitted to Chavakachcheri hospital were Mayilvaganam Thatparananthan (48) and Ajanthan Mariyarasa (28).

The HUDEC is the social arm of the Catholic Church of Jaffna, which networks at Parish level across the Jaffna Peninsula and the Wanni working with the disadvantaged for the alleviation of poverty, ignorance and social oppression.

On May 26th 2006 an irrigation engineer Ratnam Ratnarajah (48) was killed in the east. Ratnarajah was the deputy director of irrigation in Batticaloa. He was also the deputy project director of the North East Irrigated Agricultural Project (NEIAP) which receives world bank assistance. Ratnarajah hailing from Natpiddymunai in the Kalmunai area was staying at Kalviyankadu in the B’caloa municipality area.

Ratnarajah was shot near his residence at about 2 . 15 pm in broad daylight. He was returning home after an irrigation related meeting. It is widely believed that the efficient and upright official was killed by Karuna faction cadres. Earlier he had been threatened with death by the Karuna group ‘s Markan who wanted two of his relatives appointed as office clerks at the NEIAP office. Ratnarajah had refused and apparently paid the price for such defiance.

The TRO became a target again in the east on July 2nd in 2006. Krishnapillai Kamalanathan a child protection officer at the TRO office in Vaakarai was travelling on his motor cycle to Batticaloa town. He was abducted at 10. 30 am by cadres of the Karuna faction at Vaalaichenai. He was never seen again.

July 8th 2006 saw the discovery of a body in Poligandi in the Vadamaratchy area. The body was that of a 42 year old man named Rasiah Muraleeswaran and bore injuries caused by severe assault. Muraleswaran , a native of Meesalai East was a resident mason at the Nilavan Kudiyiruppu Housing scheme funded by FORUT.

He had earlier worked on an LTTE supervised housing scheme. It was also reported that another construction worker at the site called “Rajini” a 26 year old native of Pukudutheevu had gone missing.

August 4th in 2006 saw the single biggest massacre of aid workers. This well – known incident happened at Moothoor in the Trincomalee district. Fighting had ensued between the security forces and the LTTE after the tigers closed sluice gates at Maavilaaru. The LTTE in a sudden raid had taken control of Moothoor town for a few days. The security forces launched counter attacks and regained their hold.

[A girl with the photo of her sister, slain in an August 2006 attack on the French aid organization Action Contre Faim in Mutur. Seventeen mostly ethnic Tamil employees were forced to lie face down on the ground and were shot dead – Pic: J. Adam Huggins for The New York Times]

Casualty figures in the fighting were difficult to arrive at but one incident that shocked the civilised world was the massacre of 17 aid workers. The victims comprised 15 males and 4 females. 16 were Tamils and one a Muslim. They were attached to the France based Action Contre La Faim (ACF) or Action against Hunger..THE ACF was set up in 1979 to combat global hunger. It had projects running in Sri Lanka from 1997.

The victims were mainly ACF employees from Trincomalee town who had come to the Moothoor branch office and were unable to return as conflict escalated. Fifteen of the victims were found inside office premises while two bodies were outside in a vehicle. They had all been shot dead at point blank range. One of the victims Kavitha was the daughter of another victim Ganesh.The names and designations of the innocent victims are –

1 – Mr. P. Anandarajah (Assistant Promotion Manager)

2 – Mr. M. Ketheeswaran (Superviser)

3 – Mr. G. Sreethraran (Advanced Field-Officer)

4 – Mr. Narmathan (Field officer)

5 – Mr. R. Arulraj (Field officer)

6 – Mr. P.Pratheeban (Field officer)

7 – Mr. M. Rishikeshan (Field officer)

8 – Mr. Y Kodeeswaran (Field officer)

9 – Ms. K.Kovarthani (Hygiene Promotion Officer)

10 – Ms. S.Romila (Hygiene Promotion Officer)

11 – Ms. V.Kokilavathani (Hygiene Promotion Officer)

12 – Ms. G. Kavitha (Hygiene Promotion Officer)

13 – Mr. S. Ganesh (, Driver ),

14. – Mr. K. Koneshwaran (Driver )

15. – Mr. S.Muraleetharan (Driver)

16. – Mr. A.L. Mohamed Jauffer (minor staff)

17. – Mr. A. Jaseelan (minor staff)

The prevalent belief was that personnel from the army special forces who played a major role in driving the LTTE away were responsible for this cold – blooded massacre of innocents.The GOSL of course denied it vehemently.

Interestingly the GOSL that initially denied the LTTE was in control of Moothoor at any time changed its tale after the bodies were discovered. It was now said that the LTTE was responsible for the killings as the army was not present at the time of the massacre. The army came in only later it was said.

The GOSL also made many clumsy attempts to obstruct justice. The Moothoor magistrate was transferred out and the Anuradhapura magistrate brought in. The local JMO was also disallowed to conduct a post – mortem.Family members of the victims were terrorised..The matter was also put in cold storage on the pretext that it would be probed by a special Commission of inquiry under the scrutiny of a body of eminent persons.

The manner in which the inquiry into the Moothoor massacre is being handled by the state has come under severe criticism from several agencies including the ICJ, HRW, SLMM etc. It became increasingly obvious that the regime was not cooperating in a genuine search for justice and was acting like some one trying to conceal the truth.

The ACF’s Director – General Francois Danel summed up the feelings of the International Community when he told the European Parliament on June 5th ” As humanitarian aid workers, we have to remind all those involved in the conflict, the principles on which our action is based: impartiality, neutrality and independence. Today, I sincerely want the culprits and those responsible for this outrageous massacre – whoever and wherever they are – to be identified. Impunity would only increase our indignation”.

August 24th 2006 saw another killing in the East. 20 year old Julian Jestley a native of Komari in the Amparai district was an employee of the UN agency UNOPS office at Thambiluvil. Armed men on motor cycles came to his office at about 9 am and took him away at gun point. His bullet ridden body was found later at Munaiyoorkulam near Thambiluvil. It is believed that the LTTE was responsible for the killing . The cause for killing is unclear.

The next killing of an NGO worker was in Trincomalee. The Seattle – based Workd Concern Development Organisation was active in the district after the Tsunami of 2004. It was involved in providing relief and rehanilitation to the Tsunami affected and also emergency assistance to displaced persons. Ragunathan Ramalingam was a field worker with World Concern from 2005.

The father of five was returning to the world concern office after having lunch at home on September 12 th 2006. His last child was born only a week old. He was riding his motor cycle when unknown armed men shot him. The assassins are suspected of being Sinhala home guards.”The motive for the killing is not clear” said Rhonda Manville, a spokeswoman for World Concern told the media then..

The Jaffna based de – mining organization Halo Trust became a target again on November 15th 2006 .Charles Hudson Ravindran (30) a married employee of Halo Trust was with his family in his house on Old Park road Chundikuli. His house was only 500 metres away from the Halo Trust head office also on Nalloor cross road..A white van drew up at about 11. 00 am and armed men suspected of belonging to the EPDP barged in. Ravindran was taken away at gun point and never seen again.

The targetting of Halo Trust employees continued after the new 2007 year dawned also. 29 year old Subramaniam Parameswaran a de – miner at Halo Trust was a resident of Rakka road in Jaffna town. He was at home on Jan 4th 2007 with wife and children when a white van arrived and armed men jumped out. They held guns to the wife and children while forcibly dragging Parameswaran away. He was never seen again. The abductors are said to be EPDP operatives.

The Halo Trust was again targetted on Tuesday Jan 9th 2007. 36 year old C. Rajendran was a vehicle driver attached to Halo Trust. He left his home on Kilner rd in Nallur with his son. It was routine for him to drop the son at school and go to work.. On that fateful day he dropped his child as usual but failed to turn up at office. He simply went “missing”. Nothing has been heard since and the victim has become one more statistic in the ranks of the disappeared.

Once again a Halo Trust employee went missing exactly a month after Rajendran. did. 27 year old Nagarasa Narenthiran of Temple road left home as usual for work on the Morning of February 9th 2007. He never reached the Halo trust head ofice on Nalloor cross road. His distraught wife Sarojini complained to the HRC but the man is missing still while the disappeared persons total increased once more.

The TRO was in the news again on March 24th 2007 A TRO vehicle was the target of a claymore mine at Periyamadhu in Mannar district which is an LTTE controlled area . The explosion that occurred at about 12.30 pm killed one and injured three other TRO employees.The deceased victim was 30 year old Muthurajah Aruleswaran from Poonagari. This father of a year old child was an emergency assistance worker and driving the vehicle when the incident took place.

The three injured TRO personnel were the Assistant Executive Director , Vadivel Ramachandran (38),International planning director, Seenithamby Parameswaran (41) and Selvarajah Nixon (37) the head of the TRO’s Akkarayan development unit. The TRO people were returning after visiting a displaced persons camp . The Army’s deep penetration Unit (DPU) was accused of the claymore mine attack inside tiger territory.

The next Humanitarian worker victims were from the high profile Red Cross organization.The shocking incident did not take place in the North or East but in Colombo.

Two Tamil workers of Sri Lanka Red Cross from the east, Sinnarajah Shanmuganathan, 38, and Karthigesu Chandramohan, 28, who had come to Colombo for a training program in Tsunami work were abducted by men in civils claiming to be from the Police.

This happened on Friday June 1st 2007..Subsequently their bodies were found on Sunday June 3rd at Kiriella in the Ratnapura district..

Head of Sri Lanka Red Cross in Batticaloa, Mr Vasantharajah told the media then that the the two were part of a group of six aid workers sent from Batticaloa who had come to Colombo for a training programme related to tsunami relief work on the 30th of May ..

After completing the training program the group had gone to the Fort Railway station at 6:30 p.m. on Friday to take the 7:15 p.m. train to Batticaloa. A group of unknown Sinhala speaking men had examined the Identity cards and had taken Shanmuganathan and Chandramohan to a white van for “questioning,”

. The leader of the aid workers group had told the Sinhala speaking men that the two did not know Sinhala and that he could help in the questioning, but the men declined the offer, the leader of the group said. One of the group was smart enough to note the nimber of one of two vehicles involved in the incident. The other was unmarked.

Though the number was noted no action was taken. Media reports stated that the vehicle belonged to the Karuna faction. But no concrete action was taken. Subsequently UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne exposed the sordid details about how Tamils were being abducted.He provided specific details about the Red Cross abductions and divulged details of the masterminds behind it.

Recently the Police has issued a reward for a person belonging to the Karuna group said to be responsible for the killings. But the popular belief is that the Wanted person is a fictitious name publicised to distract attention from the perpetrators who are allegedly linked to the armed forces.

One of the victims Shanmuganathan joined the Red Cross in 1997 and was from Vi’laavettaan in Vavunatheevu. His address at the time of death was 141/5 St . Sebastian Road Batticaloa. The other victim Chandramohan had been working with Red Cross from 1999. He was from Ka’luwankerni and was living at 1/1 Main Road Batticaloa when killed.

The Red Cross murders like the ACF massacre aroused widespread condemnation and indignation internationally. This however failed to make any solid impact on the Rajapakse regime as the IC for some inexplicable reason is reluctant to chastise Colombo by deed. Mere words are not of any consequence to a regime that is not shamed by any feeling of “lajja”.

June 19th 2007 saw another abduction of a NGO worker. This time the target was the Danish de – mining group also referred to as the Danish Humanitarian De – mining organization that is funded by the Denmark Government. 20 year old Sivarasa Vimalarasa a native of Mayliankaadu in Kuppilan was going to work in the morning on his motor cycle when “unknown armed men seized him in Kuppilan itself.

The incident took place in front of several witnesses.Kuppilan is within close proximity to the Palaly high security zone. The De – mining group officials registered complaints with several institutions and also made representations to defence authorities in Colombo. But the man is missing still while the Danish group became a target again and again.

A month later on July 23rd 2007 a 26 year old man named Arumainayagam Aloysius from Chillalai South was shot dead at Anaikottai at about 8.30 am in the morning. Aloysius was a field officer with the Danish de – mining group that came under the purview of the Danish Refugee Council.

Aloysius was on his way to work when he was waylaid and shot. He had earlier been working at Halo Trust but had joined the Danish organization after Halo Trust discontinued employment for Aloysius and 16 others. The victim had been married for only ten months and his wife was pregnant.

The next humanitarian worker victim was a Tamil speaking Muslim from Trincomalee. Mohammed Zavahir Mohammed Rizwi was attached to the United Methodist Community Organization for Refugees (UMCOR) an International Non – Governmental Organization. He was at the UMCOR office on Arunagiru road when “uniidentified ” persons abducted him. Rizwi’s father has lodged a complaint with the Trinco Police but details of the background to the abduction are still hazy.

And then came the Aug 20th killing of one De – mining group worker and the wounding of another. The DDG is engaged in evaluating the security situation for its employees.

It is indeed time to evaluate the security and safety of all NGO workers in the North – East and not only the DDG. . The targeting of HGO humanitarian aid workers in the North – East has been going on for nearly two years.

The fact that such an evaluation has not been done before and that NGO workers have been rendered vulnerable for so long does not reflect creditably on the NGO “big shots” themselves

One reason for this lack of adequate concern may be due to the fact that all the NGO worker victims have been Tamils except for two Tamil speaking Muslims from the East.. If the victims were from the Sinhala community or foreigners the responses may have been different.

The unpleasant reality in Sri Lanka today is that Tamils can be targeted easily with little fear of repercusiions or retribution. A climate of impunity prevails in this respect.

Sir John Holmes sees the victims as humanitarian workers. This is true but the larger reality is that they are victims because they are Tamils.

The NGO’s themselves arouse resentment among majoritarian hawks because they are doing much service in the North and East. They are hated because they are seen as helping Tamils.

If the reality is that of people being targetted because they are humanitarian aid workers then why is it that the victims so far are Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims alone? How is it that Sinhala or foreign aid workers are not being targets?

It may be that Tamils are targetted because they are the “weak” link in NGO’s and could also be scapegoated as tigers. So messages are being sent to the NGO’s by victmising Tamil NGO employees.

If this is true then the NGO bigwigs in particular and the International community in general can be deemed guilty of collaboration in a crime against a vulnerable section of humanity.

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj@federalidea.com

Comments (7)

Let the All Party Representative Committee complete its Mission

by Rajan Philips

“I don’t know how Colvin managed to put up with those SLFP fellows. I would have flung the whole draft of the constitution at them and walked out.” That was N.M. Perera giving a cavalier assessment on the making of the 1972 Constitution to LSSP insiders after the break-up of the United Front in 1975. “That was the difference”, Colvin R. de Silva, the chief architect of the First Republic, would later chuckle, in private.

Flash forward thirty five years. It is now the turn of NM’s nephew and lone LSSP Minister, Tissa Vitarana, as Chairman of the All Party Representative Committee on Constitutional Reform, to demonstrate all of Colvin’s patience and none of NM’s frustrations in steering a motley group of politicians, most of them supporters of the present Government, to reach a consensus on constitutional change. And the stakes now are considerably much higher, and gravely so, than in 1972.

Tissa Vitarana has been ridiculed by uncharitable detractors as someone without any constitutional expertise, and even those who recognize the need for constitutional change silently laugh at what they consider to be Vitarana’s naïve optimism about persuading the current regime to commit itself to a devolution package.

For the record, Tissa Vitarana brings exemplary credentials to his current tasks. One of Sri Lanka’s pre-eminent medical scientists who was much loved and respected by his peers during his long stint at the Medical Research Institute, Dr. Vitarana is showing all the trademark seriousness of a scientist and the patience of a researcher. More important, he brings to his task a resolute commitment and quiet passion that are sadly lacking in contemporary Sri Lankan politics.

In the 1980s, in Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau brought in a Professor of Mathematics with some political experience to spearhead the controversial task of amending and bringing home at long last the Canadian Constitution from Westminster, London. Mr. Trudeau, himself a constitutional expert among other accomplishments, reasoned that there were enough people around to write a constitution but he needed someone to get it through parliament.

So too in Sri Lanka, after twenty or more years of constitutional debates and drafting, there are enough drafts to draw from and enough experts to write up a constitution overnight to address minority concerns while satisfying a majority of Sri Lankans, if only the political intermediaries can get their act together and reach some agreement among them.

The two doughty Ministers

The task of reaching consensus would be made much simpler if it is backed up by sincere presidential leadership. But the lack of that leadership at the present time is no reason to abandon the task itself. And it is this huge void that Tissa Vitarana is gallantly filling. Supporting him quite comradely and with equal commitment and passion is D.E.W. Gunasekera, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs and the sole representative of the Communist Party in the Rajapakse cabinet.

In any other government, in any other country, the Head of State and the Head of Government would try to get the maximum results out of Ministers like Vitarana and Gunasekera. But in the Rajapakse regime the two Ministers are primarily used for “show and tell” – to visiting foreign government and agency representatives that the government is serious about implementing a devolution package. Rest of the time, every kind of monkey spanner is thrown in their works either directly by the President himself, or indirectly by his attack poodles within the governing coalition.

For the sake of the country and its future, and true to the inspiring political tradition they belong to, Ministers Vitarana and Gunasekera should ignore the insults flung at them, even if they are from the highest oddity in the land, and stick to their tasks with perseverance and patience.

As Chairman of the APRC, Dr. Vitarana has come close to finalizing a consensual document for constitutional change. There is consensus among all the Parties in the Committee, including the Rajapakse-SLFP, the MEP and JHU, as well as the UNP which is keeping its distance from the Committee, that the principal unit of devolution should be the Province, while allowing for further administrative devolution at the district and local levels. This is welcome return to sanity after the unnecessary legal diversions and the Rajapakse-SLFP’s second-guessing about lowering the unit of devolution to the district level.

Eschew labels and be easy on merger!

There are only two matters of disagreement in Vitarana’s draft that is in circulation, namely, the labeling of the constitution and the question of the North-East merger. The three hold-outs are the Rajapakse-SLFP, the MEP and the JHU, who want the label ‘UNITARY’ tagged on to the constitution and who want the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be permanently de-merged.

It is most unfortunate and quite unnecessary that the UNITARY label should become a bone of contention in the APRC deliberations. Thanks to Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama’s recent intervention in the Sunday Island, we now know the genealogy of the UNITARY label in the two Republican Constitutions. The label was first included in the 1972 Constitution at the insistence of a senior SLFP Minister (whose name Dr. Jayawickrama unfortunately chose not to reveal) and against the wiser counsel of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva. Despite this idiosyncratic insertion, the term has since been elevated to sacrosanct status by contrived arguments by lawyers and assertions by ignoramuses. Politically, the label has done loads of harm and little good to the cause of Sri Lanka’s political unity.

It is foolish to suggest that the UNITARY label is necessary to protect Sri Lanka’s territorial unity. On the contrary, the label has provided the single-most trigger for the greatest challenge to the self-same unity. And to insist on preserving that label as part of a constitutional change would be contrary to the very purpose of that change, namely, to address the challenge to the island’s unity by creating a devolved state structure. Prudence and commonsense commend that the proposed constitutional change stay clear of labels-be it the preferred ‘U’ word, or the accursed ‘F’ word.

Equally, there is no need to be hung up over the North-East merger and make it the pretext for creating disagreement within the APRC. As I discussed two weeks ago in these pages, the ground realities in the Eastern Province are quite different from what they were when the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement was entered into and Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, both based on the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. It is again prudent and proper to leave it to the peace negotiations to work out the units of devolution for the two Provinces based on the political aspirations of the Tamils and the security realities of all three communities in the East.

Let the APRC complete its Mission

At this point in the process, it will be criminal to prevent or slow down the APRC from completing its task. President Rajapakse should show leadership and direct his minions to stop crowing about the UNITARY label and the de-merger of the North-East.

Far too long the game has been going on that the President is constrained by the JHU, while the JHU has been taking cover under the Mahinda Chinthanaya. There was a time when J.R. Jayewardene used to pretend that he was hamstrung by Cyril Mathew and his Sinhala-Buddhist constituency and used that as the pretext for inaction and procrastination. When JR finally fired Mathew in 1984, it was too late, the damage was done, and more to the point, as Dr. Colvin R. de Silva characteristically put it, “there was not a bloody hum on the road!”

And so it is time that Mahinda Rajapakse called the JHU’s bluff, unless he wants the JHU to cover his own bluff! He should equally call the JVP’s bluster that it will vote against the Government’s budget if the President were to support the APRC proposals in their present form. Despite our best expectations and the efforts of eminent Indian progressives, the current JVP leadership is irredeemable on the national question. It is time that Mahinda Rajapakse separated himself from the JVP degenerates and the JHU upstarts.

Together, they account for less than a quarter of the representation in Parliament and much less in the country, even among the Sinhalese. If President Rajapakse is not willing to treat them according to their insignificance, others in the Government and in the Parliament should lean on him to do so. Within the government and in the cabinet, the academic likes of Sarath Amunugama (Sociologist), Wiswa Warnapala (Political Scientist) and G.L. Peiris (Law Scholar and one-time Peace Negotiator) should educate the President rather than amplify his inane vibes. In fact, they should take a public stand and stand with Tissa Vitarana and D.E.W Gunasekera. If not, they will for ever stand condemned of what Julien Benda called in the France of the 1920s – ‘the treason of the intellectuals’.

Outside the Government but within Parliament, Ranil Wickremasinghe and Mangala Samaraweera should stop playing hide-and-seek and opportunistically waiting for the Rajapakse regime to self-destruct itself. Instead, they should proactively support the APRC recommendations and force President Rajapakse to unequivocally commit himself to the same recommendations. A sincere parliamentary consensus and presidential commitment on the APRC recommendations are necessary conditions to effectively address the LTTE’s isolation and intransigence.

Comments (3)

Sri Lanka-A Blessed or Blighted Nation

By Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

Sri Lanka, the land in which I was born and grew-up retains a hold on me that only death can probably do apart. I am sure a majority of the Tamils share these feelings, although they have been forced to disperse around the globe by circumstances beyond their control. I have had the fortune to have lived in different parts of Sri Lanka and travel across her length and width. Opportunities to travel widely and study and work in foreign climes – in the west, orient and middle-east- have not tempted me to seek the citizenship of any other country. There is something about Sri Lanka that makes me comfortable and at ease when I am there. I have not found this comfort anywhere else, despite having had the best of facilities where ever I have lived. The sense of belonging that is associated with this feeling of comfort has not been diluted in any way, by the trauma I have suffered in Sri Lanka connected with the communal/ethnic conflict. I have been classified as an incorrigible fool for not migrating by many a friend! Time may yet prove that I am a fool!

The ease and joy with which I switch from almost exclusively speaking English to speaking Tamil or Sinhalese soon after landing at the Katunayake airport and the tendency to talk only Tamil and finding it very difficult to speak English while in Jaffna, have puzzled me over the years. I used to feel comfortable and relaxed laying my head on my mother’s or my maternal aunt’s lap at least for a few minutes well into my adulthood and feel an almost similar sense of ease and belonging every where in Sri Lanka, whether mingling with the ordinary Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. The joy of speaking to the ordinary people in Sri Lanka in their simple lingo- whether Sinhalese or Tamil is something I enjoy to this day. The lilt in the Tamil spoken in Batticalao has always been music to my ears.

Subramanya Bharathy, the great Tamil poet, has summed up this affinity for one’s land in the following verses:

“Enthayum Thaayum Mahillndhu Khulaavi – Irrunthathum In Nadey;

Athan Munthayar Aayiram Aandhuhal Vaalnthu-Mudinthathum In Nadey;

Avar Sinthayil Aayiram Ennam Valarnthu-Sirrhanthathum In Nadey;

Ithai Vanthanai Khoori Manathil Iruthi-Vaayura Vaaltheno.—“ (Tamil)

“This is the land in which my mother and father lived, were happy and enjoyed each others company;

This is the land in which our ancestors lived thousands of years and died;

This is the land in which thousands of great thoughts blossomed in our ancestor’s minds;

I should worship these, remember these and praise these. —“(My translation)

The sense of belonging and attachment to land come from such thoughts and associations with the past, and life experiences- where one grew up, where one schooled, where one played, where one worshipped, etc.- and what these mean to a person. This sense of belonging and attachment cannot be ignored, easily destroyed or subordinated. The greater the pressures to do so, the greater would be the reactions to such pressures. Such actions and reactions under score many tragedies in human history. Sri Lanka is paying the price today for ignoring this reality and will continue to so, until sanity is restored to our ruling class and it is made accountable to the people.

I have bravely told my Tamil friends that what is special about Sri Lanka is that even after few days of a communal riot, in which the Tamils have experienced the worst at the hands of some elements among our Sinhala brethren; the ordinary Sinhalese feel comfortable dealing with the Tamils. They will be ready to address a Tamil with respect as ‘Mahathaya or Nona’ (The equivalent in Tamil will be ‘Aiyah and Amma’). Most Tamils feel rather fearful and awkward dealing with the Sinhalese even decades after major communal conflagrations and cannot figure out this aspect of the Sinhala psyche. The lack of deep seated and enduring animus against the Tamils amongst the majority of the Sinhala people should have been the basis on which to resolve the Sinhala-Tamil and majority-minority problems, if the Sinhala ruling class had wanted to reverse the damage done to the nation through their short sighted and self-seeking policies.

A majority of the Sinhalese, as a people, has not done any harm to the Tamils and do not bear any animosity towards them. A particular class of Sinhalese, a dominant but miniscule minority, has been the cause of all the mischief in Sri Lanka. The elements constituting this minority, who are easily identifiable in the political system, are holding the whole country including the Sinhala people in their vicious grip. They are corrupt to the core and have caused unfathomable damage to the country as a whole. The fault of the vast majority of the Sinhalese people, if any, lies in their lack of political maturity, awareness of their democratic rights and far sightedness. President Mahinda Rajapakse is presently providing the leadership for this predatory class and is treading a very dangerous path in a cavalier manner, assisted by his brothers to whom the extremely offensive word ‘Para Demala’ comes easy. This is despite the regular Rajapakse refrain that they have several Tamil ladies (of course also ‘Para Demalas’!) married into their clan. The outcome of the APRC process currently under way and due to conclude soon will clearly demonstrate the President’s bonafides and his ability to tame the rabble rousers he leads.

A majority among the Tamils on the other hand have been the direct victims of this mischief. To the average Tamil the oppressor- aggressor becomes identified as Sinhalese and all the Sinhalese get tarred with the same brush. The Tamils have ceased to interact with the Sinhalese as a people over the past several decades as a result of this alienation. Very few Tamils interact with the Sinhalese socially in their personal day-to- day lives. This estrangement has kept the vast majority of the Sinhalese in the dark about the pathetic plight of most Tamils and the devastation wrought in the north and east, in their name. The majority of the Sinhalese being innocent of any guilt and unaware of the sorry plight of the Tamils cannot understand the Tamil reactions, including the terrorism unleashed by a perverted Tamil militancy. The mischief makers on both sides of the political divide find these circumstances ideal to exploit and thrive on. This darkness of ignorance enveloping a majority of the Tamils and Sinhalese has provided the ideal cover for the power abusers, arch-schemers, bandits, thieves, buccaneers, extortionists, bribe and commission takers, blatant liars and murderers among the ruling class to carry out their evil deeds with impunity. Unfortunately, a very likeable, kind, generous, friendly and hospitable people –the Sinhalese, have been much maligned due to the dastardliness of a few and the lack of awareness among the many.

Historically, Tamil leaders have failed to reach out for the hearts and minds of the majority of the Sinhala people, and convince them of the injustice done to the Tamils in post-independent Sri Lanka, by elements amongst them. The Sinhala ruling class consisting of sections of the politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, media, police, armed forces, judiciary and Buddhist monks, have exploited these circumstances to create a permanent state of turmoil in the country, which has benefited them immensely at the expense of the ordinary people. The money invested in the project to degrade the Tamils and make them a subordinate people over the decades could have made Sri Lanka, a paradise for all her people! This Sinhala ruling class, when convenient has even joined hands with elements of the Tamil political class including an organization such as the LTTE to keep the pot boiling. The agreement reached between Mahinda Rajapakse and Prabaharan, and the vast sums of money paid to the LTTE, to prevent the Tamils voting in the last presidential election is the most sinister example of this criminal collaboration.

It will be obvious to any one who has lived amongst the Sinhalese and Tamils that the latter are more introverted, conservative, defensive and clannish compared to the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese on the other hand are extroverted, aggressive, radical and progressive. The Tamil behaviour is in response to events of the distant and recent past. The introduction of Buddhism and development of the Sinhala language, and their rapid advance through conversions, assimilation and absorption over most parts of the Island over centuries, had forced the ‘Hindu Tamils’ yet loyal to their language, religion and culture to retreat into enclaves and erect their defenses against further intrusions. The events of recent years have forced the Tamils to also come out fighting to defend their ramparts. Most Tamils who have known no other place in Sri Lanka, other than their villages and towns in the north and east, have a sense of belonging to only these areas and not the larger Sri Lanka. The post-independence crusade against the Tamils has reinforced this parochial outlook. Even in the days of the so-called

‘Money Order’ economy, Tamil men who ventured into the South rarely brought their families with them. Their family and social life was rooted in the north and east, and the men were in the south to only earn. The Tamil Diaspora to a very large extent represents this outlook. Despite being scattered around the globe, they yet view the north and east of Sri Lanka as their land, to which they have a deep attachment. Sri Lankan Tamils have also been in the fore-front in contrast to Tamils from India, in establishing symbols of their culture- temples, restaurants, schools, television and radio stations, newspapers, web sites etc., in the countries where they have been forced seek domicile. The average Sri Lankan Tamil is not only strongly bonded to his ancestral land, but also bonded to his ethno-cultural identity.

The progressiveness of the Sinhalese has been demonstrated by their willingness to adopt and adapt several cultural practices that are clearly of Tamil origin. The Tamils on the other hand have refused to accept even what is good among the Sinhalese, in their day to day lives. My maternal grand mother who was the first in my family to migrate to Colombo from Jaffna in the early 1900s had told me that ‘Low Country’ Sinhala ladies were not wearing the sari at that time , but were attired in the ‘Cloth and Jacket’ varying in sophistication in accordance with their social status. The sari was adopted very quickly as standard attire by most Sinhalese ladies. Similarly, Bharatha Natyam, which was pioneered by Padmini Dahanayake among the Sinhalese in the 1950s and performed to Tamil music (Nattuvangam) is being widely learnt and performed by Sinhalese to Sinhala music. I notice the black ‘Pottu’ placed on the foreheads of Tamil babies- a practice to ward off the effects of evil eye amongst the Tamils- appearing with increasing frequency on the foreheads of Sinhala babies. Sinhala- Buddhists are visiting Hindu temples in larger numbers, although they worship in a manner different to that of the Tamils. Sinhala-Buddhist politicians have no hesitation in visiting Hindu temples in India and seeking the blessings of Hindu religious figures. ‘Thosai and Vadai’ have become a part of the Sinhala diet. In a decade are two, I am sure most Sinhalese will look askance if told that these were cultural practices originally of the Tamils.

However, in contrast, the Tamils have not similarly taken to anything specifically identified as Sinhala, including their food. It will be hardly surprising to find a Tamil worshipping at a Buddhist Vihara (This despite Lord Buddha being accepted as a saint by Tamil-Hindus) or learning Kandyan dancing. My grand mother had also told me that those Tamils who had ‘Migrated’ from the north to the south were considered to have demeaned themselves and were disparagingly referred to as ‘Paan Thinniyal (Bread eaters)’ by their contemporaries in the north! In the immediate post-independence years the Tamils began to move into the south in larger numbers seeking education and employment opportunities. They had just begun to think of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as their country! Unfortunately, they were proven wrong by the sinister machinations of the Sinhala ruling class. The heavy Tamil presence in Colombo and some other southern towns at present is only the result of the unlivable conditions in the north and east and not a whole hearted and desired choice.

Several Sinhalese intellectuals, who also happen to be rational human beings, are now acknowledging a Tamil presence in the island as long as, if not, longer than the Sinhalese. Common origins and heavy intermingling have been recognized as very likely historical realities. Tamils and Sinhalese are distant cousins, if not siblings. Sri Lanka is our home and our land, even though we may have preferred areas of residence. We have, along with the Muslims and other minority groups inherited this bountiful and beautiful land, as our common heritage. Let us at least accept these basic realities and learn to live with each other, respecting each others right to existence, livelihood, opportunities, identity, land and share of political power. If all of us do well, our country will do well. Together, we can make Sri Lanka, a heaven on earth and hound those who have betrayed us from their positions of power. It is for us to decide whether Sri Lanka is to continue as a blighted land or one that is blessed, as she deserves to be. The Sinhala people have to make their choice ‘FIRST’ as the majority community, between what Sri Lanka is to be- a blessed or blighted nation. The ball is in their court at this point in our history. 

Comments (11)

The Institutions of Democratic Devolution I: the Unit

Nisala Rodrigo

The unit of devolution remains one of the greatest logjams in finding a political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The various proposals submitted to the All-Party Representative Committee demonstrate that there has been no consensus as to even the direction which discussion on the topic should proceed. Judging from the content of these proposals, there are widely different notions of a just settlement even within communities to the degree that the debate cannot simply be characterized as “Sinhala vs. Tamil.”

Perhaps the greatest obstacle is that only one community, the Tamils demands devolution for only one region of the country, the North-East. Furthermore, the demographics of that particular region confound a simple solution; although the Northern Province is almost entirely Tamil, the Eastern Province is divided between the Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. A merged Northeast results in an overall Tamil majority, and the Tamils demand a merged Northeast out of concern for their security with regard to the central government and the bloody history of the last 20 years. The Sinhalese and the Muslims of the Eastern Province for their part fear Tamil domination just as much as the Tamils of the entire island fear Sinhala domination.

The report submitted by the majority of the expert panel to the APRC was welcomed by moderate Tamils, liberal Sinhalese, and the international community, but it offended the sensibilities of some “patriotic” sections of the Sinhala and Tamil communities and brought the JVP and the Tamil National Alliance together in sanctimonious non-participation in the APRC. As promising as these responses appeared, they masked the discord within the Majority itself regarding the unit of devolution. The Majority agreed to preserve the Province as the unit of devolution, but it did not arrive at a consensus as to the status of the now-demerged Northern and Eastern Provinces and instead offered four options for the North-East. In his own proposal to the APRC, Tissa Vitharana, the Chairman of the expert panel altogether avoided the topic of the North-East.

The ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s proposal for the District as the unit of devolution was not well-received by other political parties, as even Tamil moderates such as V. Anandasangaree rejected it. The SLFP argued that it wants to bring devolution to the most local level to benefit the people, a premise similar to that of Mahatma Gandhi’s proposal in 1947 for the 700,000 village panchayats to be the unit of devolution in India. However, its critics claimed that the Districts are too small to be economically viable, and that they will be dominated by the central government.

The JVP originally argued that it would not support a model of devolution which would divide Sri Lanka along ethnic lines, presumably referring to the North-East merger. However, the JVP opposed the SLFP proposal even though the proposal did not merge the North and East, demonstrating that it would resist any kind of devolution, whether to the Province or the District. After uttering some rhetoric on Mahinda Chintanaya and the unitary state, Wimal Weerawamsa stated, “If the Government believes it can resolve the problem by increasing the number of administrative bodies, it will be a joke. People are already confused about the Provincial Council system, so the establishment of a few other such bodies would only help corrupt politicians misappropriate public funds by being part of the system.” The JVP is clearly laying its bet that the Southern population shares its opposition to devolution, and thus any implemented proposal to devolution will be plausibly discredited by the JVP if it does not improve the quality of governance.

The major defect in the proposals presented so far is that they treat the people as a passive entity which will blithely follow any proffered solution. The contradiction in the pro-devolutionists’ approach is that they seek to devolve power on the premise that Colombo has misgoverned the country, yet they hope to formulate a solution through a consensus of the various interests in Colombo and to bypass the people of the very regions they claim to be acting on behalf of. They see little wrong with a solution to which the public is indifferent at best, and they appear to believe that such an apathetic provincial electorate will produce a regional leadership of a higher caliber than the national.

The key to building popular support and legitimacy for a political solution necessarily rests on the people’s direct participation in the process. A solution which relies on popular support will in turn break the logjam concerning the unit of devolution. If the experts and politicians cannot come to any creative or useful consensus on the unit of devolution and the future of the North-East, then the people should decide the outcome of both. The first principle of the system I call “democratic devolution” is that popular involvement and participation in devolution will be the determining factor of its success or failure.

Constructing, not Imposing the Unit of Devolution

This model of democratic devolution is based on the Spanish method of assembling Autonomous Communities from smaller, preexisting units (the Spanish provinces) through referenda, but it has a precedent in the “Annexure C” proposal of the 1984 All-Party Conference. The strength of the Spanish model is that it is one of the few examples where extensive devolution was brought to a unitary state to the point that the country became a de facto federation. Other federations often trumpeted by Sri Lankan devolutionists, such as Canada and India were never unitary states and never faced the great challenge of implementing devolution from scratch, and thus they have little or no experiences to offer a country like Sri Lanka pursuing devolution.

The unit in democratic devolution is the “Region,” constructed using the District as its basic building block through popular referendum. Unlike the “Region” of the 2000 Draft Constitution, which was simply the original Province under a different name, the shape and size of the referendum-determined Region would reflect the will of the people living within its territory, and it would provide the most democratic answer to the future of the North-East.

Before a general election, the various political parties would be able to publish proposals for the creation of one or more Regions, and then a referendum would be held in the Districts which would be affected by the proposals for the people to choose which proposal their particular District would follow. Additionally, they would have the option to vote for their District not to be incorporated into any Region at all and to remain administered by the central government. The majority vote (reached through preference voting, such as the Alternative Vote) would determine which Region, if any, the District would belong to. Giving the people of each District the choice whether it would form its own Region, join other Districts to form a greater Region, or not belong to a Region at all would provide a democratic solution to the question of how the units of devolution would be drawn, and it would also break through the current impasse regarding the Province, the District, and no devolution at all.

There would be some restrictions on the formation of such Regions; the Majority of the expert panel is mistaken to believe that the merger of any two or three provinces other than the North and East would not pose any problem (section 6.5). The research of Henry Hale shows that the stability of ethnofederations decreases when one regional unit, the “core ethnic region” is able to dominate the others through superior population and resources. In this case, the dominant region would be Western Province, which has nearly one-fourth of the island’s entire population and half of its economy. For this reason, I argue that Colombo District should not be able to join any Region or to establish one for itself (even though it should be represented equally in the second chamber).

The other two restrictions are based on Prof. Hale’s specific recommendations. The first is that no single Region should contain a majority of the country’s population. The second is that no Region should have 20% of the national population more than the next largest Region; if only one Region is established, then it must have less than 20% of the national population (for reference, the Northern and Eastern Provinces together comprise about 11% of the national population). There would be no restriction on non-contiguous districts forming a Region.

An astute friend of mine observed that this idea is not very different from the SLFP proposal which allows only two Districts to join together, whereas democratic devolution allows any number of Districts to join as long as the population requirements are followed. However, a more significant difference is that it allows the Districts to not belong to any Region at all, thus dispelling the JVP’s argument that a second layer of the political class will be imposed on the people against their will.

The Second Chamber

Both the Majority Report/Vitharana proposal and the SLFP proposal recommended the establishment of a second chamber (or upper house) in Parliament, although only the former demonstrated any interest in representing the units of devolution in the central government. As the Majority Report offered the Province as the unit of devolution, it suggested that the provincial legislatures should elect the members of the second chamber through the single transferable vote (the method used to elect the Indian second chamber, the Rajya Sabha). It also stated that the second chamber should be one-third the size of the lower house, which would yield 60 members if the lower house has 180 as recommended.

If the composition of the second chamber were to be determined by Province, then it would be unclear whether the chamber would serve a power-sharing function to protect the island’s minorities. A merged Northeast Province would only represent one-eighth, or 12.5% of such a second chamber. There would actually be a strong incentive to de-merge the North-East, as then the region would receive two-ninths or 22% of the seats with the two provinces.

Using the District as the basis of representation in the second chamber would better serve the minorities, as then it would make no difference whether the North-East is merged or de-merged. Using my above “Region” model, each District would have three representatives for a minimum total of 75 in the chamber. Districts not belonging to a Region would have all three members popularly elected through the single transferable vote. Districts belonging to a Region would have one member popularly elected through the alternative vote. The other two members of each District of the Region, plus one more representing the Region itself would be elected by the regional assembly using the single transferable vote. Even if no Regions are established, the five districts of the former Northern Province alone would contribute 15 out of 75 seats, or 20% of such a Sri Lankan “Rajya Sabha.”

Let us speculate one possible outcome of the reconstitution of the Northeast Province using this model. A party or coalition proposes that the eight Districts of the North-East be merged into a single Region. A referendum is held in these districts immediately before the next general election, and the majority in each votes to form the “Northeast Region.” At the general election, the people of the new Region would elect the Northeast regional assembly, and the majority party/coalition would form the regional government. The people would elect one member to the Rajya Sabha for each district, and the Northeast regional assembly would elect seventeen (two from each district plus one). With a Northeast Region as described above, the districts of the Northeast plus the regional assembly would contribute 25 out of 76 seats, or 33%.

Another scenario takes into account the possibility that the non-Tamil majorities in Trincomalee and Ampara would not want to join such a “Northeast Region,” as well as the reality that the LTTE in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu would prevent these Districts from joining, leaving only Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, and Batticaloa to form the Northeast Region. In that case, the people of the four Tamil-majority Districts not controlled by the LTTE would elect their regional assembly, and they would also directly elect one member to the Rajya Sabha for each District. The assembly in turn would elect nine more members to the second chamber.

Perhaps a Muslim party proposes to establish a one-district “Southeast Region” in Ampara, and a majority in Ampara votes in the referendum in favor of this proposal, instead of merging with the other Districts of the North-East. The people of Ampara would elect their regional assembly and directly elect one member to the second chamber in the general election. The other two members plus one (totaling three) would be elected by the Southeast regional assembly.

Assuming that no other Regions are formed in the country, the six districts of the North-East not controlled by the LTTE (minus Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu) would have 20 out of 71 seats, or 28%: 13 seats for the Northeast Region and its four districts, 4 seats for the one-district Southeast Region (Ampara), and 3 seats for unincorporated Trincomalee. If and when democracy returns to the Vanni, then Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu could then elect to join the Northeast Region, and Trincomalee could also elect to join later if it does not join or form other Regions.

The Rajya Sabha offered by democratic devolution does not guarantee a veto for the minorities, even though it comes considerably closer than the Majority Report’s second chamber. It does guarantee more regional diversity in representation and promotes stable center-region relations. There are two more bonuses as well. The first is that this second chamber cannot be interpreted as encouraging communal differences, because it does not reserve seats for any ethnic group, even though it happens to benefit the minorities. The second is that because its seats are filled through preference voting, candidates will be forced to court local minorities within the districts if they hope to win. Not only will this factor heavily in the ethnically-diverse East, but it will also shape campaigns in Colombo and the Up-Country. With elections for both chambers of the central government held simultaneously, the political parties will be forced to moderate their entire campaigns to avoid sabotaging their second chamber candidates’ electoral bids in diverse districts.

Alternatives

The above method of constructing the Regions may be considered more cumbersome than simply adopting the ready-made Province, but the below alternatives demonstrate that the Province by itself hardly addresses key aspects of the Sri Lankan conflict. The first alternative is simply holding a referendum in each Province to determine whether it would have a Provincial Council- a similar devolution as found in the United Kingdom. The people would be given the choice whether or not to have their own provincial government, but they would not have any power to determine the shape and size of their unit of devolution.

There are two shortcomings with this idea. The most glaring is that adopting the Province as the unit of devolution would not answer the question of the now de-merged North-East. The British model is inappropriate for Sri Lanka because the North-East is not universally accepted as a Tamil homeland, whereas the territory of Scotland is acknowledged by both English and Scots. Any attempt to artificially re-merge the Northern and Eastern Provinces will allow the JVP to argue that the island is being divided on ethnic lines to appease the Tamil nationalists. If the people of the eight districts of the North-East elect to form a single Region under democratic devolution, on the other hand, the JVP would then have to explain why it opposes a referendum for the northeasterners for self-government while supporting the same referendum which would allow the southerners to democratically abolish their Provincial Councils.

The second shortcoming is that Western Province will be preserved, and with current demographic and economic trends it will eventually meet Prof. Hale’s definition of a “core ethnic region” and will control the lion’s share of the country’s resources. If it establishes a Provincial Council, particularly one with control over revenue collection, then it can be expected to resist sharing its resources with the rest of the island or to use its clout to dominate any federal setup.

Assigning the Province as the unit of devolution does not acknowledge the diversity of Sri Lanka. What about the Muslims? The Up-Country Tamils? Would the latter in Nuwara Eliya desire a devolution where they would continue to be a minority in the Central Province? Or would they prefer a common devolved regime with the North-East? Their own one-district unit of devolution? No devolution at all?

Some pro-devolutionists have proposed “asymmetric devolution,” that the southern Provincial Councils should simply be dismantled while establishing a regional government for the merged Northeast- no referendum. Although this solution provides some justice in removing the hated Provincial Councils, it still gives credence to the argument that a Tamil state is being artificially carved. Even worse, asymmetric devolution acknowledges only the Sinhalese and northeastern Tamil communities, and only the latter would have the right to devolution. “Asymmetry” here would be interpreted as giving some people, the Tamils, certain rights which others, the Sinhalese and Muslims would not have, and all would be consigned to the role of mute spectator.

One of the greater, if contradictory strengths of democratic devolution is that it would not necessarily violate either the Oslo Communiqué or Mahinda Chintanaya. The above model gives every potential for Sri Lanka to become a federation if a party or coalition can convince the people to support devolved government in every part of the island through simple referenda. The structure of the current Spanish federation was determined after the ratification of the 1978 Constitution by a coalition of the ruling party and the opposition and supported by referenda, because the Constitution provided a process for devolution, as opposed to a ready-made solution. At the same time, the Spanish Constitution describes the kingdom as a unitary state while simultaneously recognizing the right to autonomy for regions. Would it the phrase “unitary state” be objectionable in a Sri Lankan constitution which provides devolution democratically?

The strength of democratic devolution is that nobody gets more or less rights than another, and that by directly involving the people in the process of defining the unit of devolution, everyone gets a stake in the outcome. (ENDS)

References

“Full Text of Expert Panel (Majority) Preliminary Report.” www.tamilweek.com. 6 Dec 2006

“SLFP proposals for lasting solution to ethnic issue.” Daily News. 1 May 2007

“Vitharana report to APRC.” www.themorningleader.lk. 10 January 2007

Kelum Bandara. “SLFP proposals violate Mahinda Chinthana : JVP.” Daily Mirror. 3 May 2007

Henry Hale. “Divided We Stand: Institutional Sources of Ethnofederal State Survival and Collapse.” World Politics, No. 56. January 2004.

Gagani Weerakoon. “JVP to accept APRC proposals if masses give green light.” Daily Mirror. 7 June 2007

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