Friday, October 29, 2010

Management of Ethnic Relations in Sri Lanka Fifty Years after Independence

Scanned document - hence errors

Paper read at the seminar on Fifty Years after Independence held at te Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue, in February 1998 and Published in Dialogue.

50 - A Critical Evaluation of the Post-Independence Period - 1948 -1998: 25 Silver Jubilee of Dialogue NS 1974-1999. The Ecumenical Institute fo Study and Dialogue, 490/5, Havelock Road, Colombo 6, Sri Lanka

Dialogue (NS) Vols. XXV-XXVI (1998-1999)
See pages 1-32 


Santasilan Kadirgamar


On an occasion like this memories loom large, It is a time to look back and also to look forward. As one who has lived through these years, one naturally recalls the hopes and aspirations, the failures and successes, clinging on desperately to the hope that eventually that which is right and just will prevail. When I was invited to speak today I readily agreed for one primary reason. What ever the frustrations and failures we have to continue to strive for a just peace. ft is extremely important that the free- (loin to debate and discuss, to write and to teach be preserved not only in Lanka but in the region and the world in which nobody seems to be in control. ‘Globalisation’ and ‘market forces’ have marginalised and pauperised the majority while a minority of the old and the new rich are everywhere trying to manipulate, control and retain power. Ours is an option for (he “power of the powerless.”

We remember on an occasion like this those who were part of this fellowship and have passed away. In this place we would iii particular like to recall the contributions made by a galaxy of leaders in the ecumenical movement. I would like to mention those with whom I have personally interacted on issues of common concern. These include Bishop Wickremnasinghe, Rev. Celestine Fernando and Rev. Dr. Lynn de Silva primarily though not exclusively based in the south, and the Rev. Dr. D. T. Niles and Sevaka Selvaretnam whose home was in the north but were Lankan to the core. These together with several still among us stood for a united Lanka with equal rights and justice to the Tamils, Muslims and other ethnic groups and sought to achieve these not through separatist and sectarian paths but through mutual respect, understanding and in solidarity with one another.

I also wish to recall the memory and pay tribute to some persons with whom I had been closely associated in the struggle for human rights in Jaffna . A. K. Annamalai was the district secretary in Jaffna of the NSSP and a founding member of the Jaffna Branch of M1RJE in July 1979. During the 1982 local government elections he was brutally whipped with barbed wire by a group of Tamil youth. When two of us on behalf of MIRJE visited him he pulled out his shirt and showed us the scars. In 1988 he was assassinated by the LTTE when his name was included in the national list of the NSSP for the general election of that year. The well known human rights activist K. Kanthasamy with whom I bad the privilege of working was kidnapped and disappeared allegedly at the hands of EROS in 1989. V.Yogeswaran the popular and much loved Member of Parliament for Jaffna was killed together with Mr. Amirthalingam in 1989 by the LTTE. S. Vimalathasan and N. Kugainoorthy were two committed young men whom I personally invited to join MTRJE in our human rights work in Jaffna and did much of our field work without any remuneration. Vimalathasan bled to death in the 1983 violence, a victim of indiscriminate attacks by the security forces in Jaffna . Kugamoorthy disappeared here in Colombo at the hands of hitherto unidentified gunmen - allegedly by pro-state elements. These and many more have died. These include activists and people from various walks of life, who died as victims of mob attacks, caught in the crossfire or deliberate attacks by both the security forces and Tamil armed organizations in the last two decades. Violence has touched us - the Tam ii people - iii a very personal way. There is hardly a Tamil family that has not felt the pain of violence from 1958 to the present time - the victim was an immediate member of the family, a relative, a friend or someone in the immediate neighbourhood, a contemporary at school or university
- the list is endless. I have personally known at least one or more persons killed in the anti-Tamil mob violence amounting to pogroms, of 1958, 1977 and 1983. By some quirk of fate I left the country for Japan on that fatal and fateful 23rd July 1983 on one years sabbatical leave with my family, not knowing that in a few hours all hell was going to break loose in this country, and determine the destiny of many of us. One scene remains persistently in my minds eye unforgettable through the years. Two days before departure while in a bus I saw my one time colleague at Jaffna College and later Income Tax assessor K. Arumainayagam walking along the pavements in Fort. I wanted to wave to him but did not catch his eye. When I reached Japan the first letter I received from my brother Rajan from Jaffna mentioned about fifteen names of known persons killed all over the island including that of Arumainayagam who was burnt to death. People have died and continue to die and as the well known song goes too many people have died. These include my owi brother-in-law, St. John’s College Principal Anandarajan killed by the LTTE and on my wife’s side Dr. Luther a victim of army shelling. Many more have gone to prison, tortured and broken in spirit. Some died in the prison riots of 1983. Others broke jail in Batticaloa and have melted away into anonymous existence in the worldwide Tamil diaspora. Some are fortunate enough to he alive today, after facing various degrees of violence and intimidation. Pinpricks and insults are the order of the clay. Hundreds of thousands have lost their houses and whatever possessions, especially irreplaceable books, documents and papers both private and of public interest and pictures preserved over generations. People practically driven out of Jaffna in 1995-96 events lost most of their possessions. Among these were those who have deeply regretted more than anything else the loss of (in one case 2000) hooks, academic and personal papers, letters and albums. Why would anyone want to desecrate books? This it is alleged was done by both the armed forces, so-called militants or liberators and anti-social elements in Tamil society. A leading feminist activist commented that this was a form of rape. And yet there arc parliamentarians and media personnel who have the audacity to ask what are the grievances of the Tamil people! I may also add that Sri Lanka is perhaps among the very few states that uses heavy artillery against its own people and perhaps the only state that bombs its own territory.

I am fully aware of the fact that in these decades of violence probably more Sinhalese than Tamils have been killed. I refer to the JVP uprisings of 1971 and 1987 to 1989, The brutalities experienced by these people, most of whom were innocent were in no way less than that experienced by the Tamils. I must also admit that we Tamils have not adequately protested against violence when the victims were Sinhalese and Muslims. Kumar Rupesinghe on one occasion reminded me that when it came to violence against the Tamils we expected our Sinhalese friends to protest vehemently. But when the victims were Sinhalese we Tamils conveniently ignored these violations of human rights. While conceding this failure on our part I must add that the JVP uprisings were primarily based on socio-economic grievances or the deprivations imposed by ‘structural violence’. The Tamil struggle was primarily ethno-nationalist. In other words Tamil youth in particular suffering from the socio-economic deprivations in the same way as Sinhalese youth had an additional grievance based on their ethnic identity. They were discriminated against and subsequently targeted by virtue of the fact that they were Tamils. Ethnonationalism I may add evokes passions that are far stronger than socioeconomic grievances. It may be a subjective factor but it is a complex reality we have to face. Secondly the JVP factor has a complex phenomenon hitherto unexplained, Both in 1971 and in 1987-89 in spite of having been frankly Sinhalese nationalist if not chauvinist, the JVP as far as 1 know never killed or attacked a single Tamil because of his or her ethnic identity. I am open to correction on this. The Tamil people by and large did not feel physically threatened in the predominantly Sinhalese areas by the JVP. What they would have done if they came to power we can only speculate. This only demonstrates how complex our society is and that there are no simplistic, cut and dry solutions.

Tamil  Grievances

Instead of repeating the grievances of the Tamil people amid going into an academic analysis of the problem I have decided today to adopt an anecdotal approach recalling personal experiences and placing on record some events and information hitherto not placed in writing. It is an autobiographical approach as I reach senior citizen status by virtue of my age. I hope it does not appear overtly egoistic. I have found in the course of several discussions that what comes out of true life experiences helps in some ways to shed light on otherwise complex questions.

My last encounter with Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe was in April 1983 sometime before I left for Japan . This was at a meeting of the Christians in the Struggle for Justice. I was the only participant who regularly came direct from Jaffna , and therefore was always given the chance to speak. I explained the developing situation in Jaffna and called Upon the Bishop and others present to impress on President Jayewardene through private channels that we were heading for a bloodbath and that it was of utmost importance to strengthen the hand of Mr. Amirthalingam and the TULF by making the District Councils in the Tamil areas effective with adequate funding and powers. The Bishop wanted us to be brief and to focus on the current situation instead of indulging as most of us Tamils often did in a litany of woes from 1948. Having listened to the grievances of the Tamil people for over two decades lie rightly felt that it would be a waste of time to go over familiar ground. As I read the newspapers and other publications that come out of this country, especially some sickening sections of the Sunday press I can understand the Sri Lanka fatigue phenomenon I mention below. The same arguments and counter arguments have been expressed from 1955 to the present time. Perhaps a younger generation has emerged. If so they should read their history first.

The major events of the last 50 years include the Citizenship Acts of 1948, the Sinhala Only Act of 1956, the B-C Pact of 1957, the 1960 March and July general election when the Tamil issue occupied prominence and the left parties polled the highest they ever got in Jaffna, the 1961 Satyagraha, the 1965 Dudley -Chelva Pact, the 1972 Constitution, the 1974 violence in Jaffna on the final day of the International Association for Tamil Research, the Alfred Duraiappah assassination in 1975, the riots of 1977 and the burning down of the Jaffna Market, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency 1979 with the horrifying mid-night killings of July 13-14 that led to the founding of MIRJE, the 1981 arson in the city of Jaffna on three consecutive nights on May 31, June 1 &2 including the much publicised Public Library, several book shops, the Eelanadu Press, hundreds of shops and houses including that of Yogeswaran, M.P. for Jaffna and the attempt to kill him (these events were well documented by MIRJE publication titled “Jaffna - Days of Terror”) leading to the founding of the first Citizens’ Committee, the gradual escalation of violence first by the police, the army, the air force and finally the navy in that order, the rise of the Tamil Armed Organizations (at that time referred to as militants) from 1972 to 1982, and finally the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983 that marks a watershed in the contemporary history of Lanka. In addition to the pacts mentioned above we have had several attempts at peace-making from the 1980s such as the District Development Councils Act of 1981, Indian initiatives beginning with the Parthasarathy proposals of 1984, the Thimpu meetings of 1985 and the lndo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, the failure to bring peace and withdrawal of the IPKF, the Premnadasa-LITE talks, and finally the aborted talks between the PA and the LTT’E and the Devolution Proposals now before the country.

Campus Politics - “Christ is dead, long live Trotsky”

The first speech I made on Sinhalese-Tamil relations was in 1957 when some of us Tamil undergraduates in Peradeniya and Colombo formed a short lived Tamil Youth Front, On behalf of the front two of us visited the Karainagar Hindu College and addressed the teachers there. The principal was Mr. Thiagaraiah, (later M.P. for Vaddukoddai 1970-77, and subsequently assassinated in 1981 by Tamil youth). Not quite fluent in Tamil we however made it a point to speak in Tamil My friend’s Tamil was atrocious and the teachers quietly requested him to continue his speech in English. The formation of the Tamil Youth Front and this visit was consequent to a one day token fast undertaken by all the Tamil students in the several halls of residence, on February 4 1957, the first independence day after the enactment of the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. We took our Sinhalese friends by surprise, but surprisingly enough there was a great deal of tolerance if not sympathy tor our cause among the majority.
Campus politics at that time was dominated by the Trotskyites and Communists. Nevertheless the Sinhala nationalists (at that time referred to as communal ists) accused us of being Tamil Federalists and therefore communalists, decided to sing the national anthem before lunch as an act of loyalty to country and the Sinhala only policy. There was however no violence and the whole episode was soon forgotten thanks to the level headedness of student leadership at that time, This bit of activism by Tamils students was not repeated on the campus again as events moved fast with the abrogation of the B-C Pact and the 1958 riots. The riots took place during the University vacation. The Tamil students returned to the campus in June 1958, depressed, despondent and with a feeling of utter insecurity. Then the impossible happened. The Student Council was dominated by the Trotskyites and the Communists who were deeply divided. As one of my contemporaries commented recently, the students of the I950s wasted some of our best years in what turned out to be an absolutely futile and meaningless debate and rivalry between the Trotskyites and the Communists. However in July 1958 good sense prevailed. The leadership of both camps backed by the SCM and the Catholic Students Federation, both having a large membership at that time, were able to call a meeting and the Union adopted a resolution by head count in the midst of severe resistance by the Sinhala Only crowd, declaring that the Sinhala Only Act he revoked and that Sinhalese and Tamil he declared the Official Languages of the country. This restored the dignity and security of the Tamil students on the campus arid we were able to walk with our heads erect again. This event did not receive the publicity it should have received. The total number of Tamil students in the campus at that time (primarily Faculty of Arts) did not exceed 15 per cent. In addition over fifty per cent of the Tamil students including all the women students did not participate out of fear. it was a remarkable act of solidarity with and for justice for the Tamils. It is true that several prominent left activists of that time became bureaucrats and ceased to have a commitment to the Tamil cause. Some of them have held and stilt hold prominent positions. On the Tamil side too some of them have drifted to extremist Tamil nationalist POSIt10US. I have not forgotten these events because in a very special way they influenced my political consciousness and my subsequent involvements. I became one of the very few Christians in the north who became a consistent supporter of what I broadly categorise as the left movement in this country and have inter-acted with the Sinhalese freely for four decades.

The SCM leadership after this event felt obliged to support other meetings arid programmes initiated by these left groups on national and international issues. As a result the SCM became deeply divided. As we went to church one Sunday there was one lone demonstrator standing opposite the Church of Christ the Living Lord with a placard that read “Christ is dead, long live Trotsky” And he was a Tamil ! Our chaplain at that time was that young, brilliant, deeply committed, much loved and revered Rev. Lakshman Wickremasinghe (later Bishop) who with his own remarkable pastoral qualities managed to hold us together. I may add that I have had a long and sometimes controversial relationship with Bishop Lakshman. I happened to be president of the Peradeniya SCM 1958-59 which was also his first year as chaplain. He wanted to observe independence day 1959 with a service of thanksgiving. I strongly objected reflecting Tamil sentiments. It was customary for the Tamils then to peacefully observe this day as a time of mourning flying black flags. We finally arrived at a compromise whereby the service will not be celebratory.

Sri Lanka Fatigue

To be quite frank I have become tired of repeating the grievances of the Tamils and the failures to resolve them. I have been speaking on this issue for four decades. I now consider it my task as a Tamil to focus on the failures of the Tamils. This is being done with some reluctance bearing in mind that there is always the risk of being misinterpreted and quoted out of context in a society where levels of debate, discussion and reporting have reached low levels, in saying this I am not down playing the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. There is a serious problem and there is an urgent need for a solution. What I am trying to say is that the injustices committed against the Tamils have been adequately documented and do not need repetition among a group like the one I address today. To a group outside this country that is totally ignorant of our history, like for example in Japan , I will not hesitate to explain the grievances. There again 1 am beginning to feel this fatigue. We have nothing new 10 say. The fundamental principles on which a solution is possible are clear and have been repeated since 1957 in several pacts and accords. It is now time to stand-up and be counted. We want action, It appears to me that there is an absence of a sense of urgency to find a solution to this problem. Indulging in evasion and delaying tactics have become endemic. We have become insensitive to death and suffering, especially of the poor, the voiceless and the under-privileged.

In this room today we have concerned individuals with some of whom 1 have discussed this problem for decades. In my nearly fourteen years abroad, not only in my inter-actions with people in Japan, but also with many groups in South and Southeast Asia and other parts of the world, 1 can affirm without any doubt that there is a fund of goodwill for the people of this country be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or Burghers. (This is one reason why the problem does not get resolved - there is no clear-cut perceived enemy or villain) This is in spite of alt the negative publicity, much of it true, this country gets in the print and electronic media. At the same time among most foreigners there is an inability to relate to and understand this protracted conflict and violence in Lanka. And this again in spite of an estimated 40,000 publications on our problem. At one time in the 1 980s there were hundreds of documentation centres focusing on this country. It was also commonplace for commentators to speak of the Lebanisation of Lanka. The guns have gone silent in Lebanon , while violence escalates here. No one however talks about the Sri Lankanisation of conflicts! But people are beginning to say that there is a Sri Lanka fatigue. I have heard this from in ore than one person abroad. People are getting tired and fed-up. Dr. N. M. Perera once commented that We the people of Lanka have a frog in the welt attitude. We think tlje world revolves around us. The significance of Trincomalee and the strategic importance of the island has been overrated, Sri Lanka has no global significance in the contemporary world either in strategic or economic terms. In 1990 sometime before he passed away I happened to have a telephone conversation with Prof. Archie Singain. (Archie Singam went to the USA in the 1950s and was a much respected scholar-activist who fully identified himself with the struggle of the Afro-American movements, Third World concerns and the Non-Aligned Movement He returned to the country frequently and retained his Lankan citizenship and passport to the end. Some of you present here may remember that he was in the country to participate in the 1976 Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement and addressed the SCM. His preferred title for the lecture was “The National Question in Lanka.”) He was sick and probably dying at that time when I called him, but upper most in his thoughts was the problem in Lanka. He was at that tune Martin Luther King Fellow in the City University of New York and was in constant touch with American liberals, human rights activists and concerned scholars among whom were Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson. Conversing in lighter vein he said that he had called Jesse Jackson and asked him whether he could do something to bring peace to this country. Jesse Jackson wanted to know whether Sri Lanka had oil!

Jokes apart, Iraq ’s population is about the same as that of Lanka. See the lengths to which the IJSA and UK go spending billions of dollars to intervene in that country. Iraq has dominated the headlines for years not because of Saddain Hussein’s violations of human rights and his treatment of the Kurds, nor his invasion of Kuwait . It is the American and European insatiable appetite for oil in the middle-east that has placed it in the centre of global politics. Internationally the conflict here has no significance. It is perceived as a petty, little” tribal war” of no global, regional or even domestic significance, between two resource poor groups, while the armed lord it over the civilian population, and journalists and commentators hold forth in the Sunday press on military strategies, battles won and lost, of first, second and third Eelam wars, expressions obviously borrowed from the great Maratha and Anglo-Mysore wars of the 18th and 19th century against British imperialism. There is absolutely no comparison between the former and the latter. There is nothing glorious about this war. There are no liberators or traitors. There are only the armed and the unarmed. The world no longer cares. It is pointless analysing whether this act is terrorist and that state terrorist. And little is gained by declaring the LTTE a terrorist organization. All Tamils are perceived as terrorists. I was branded a terrorist long ago, and two years ago in that peaceful city of Tokyo I received murder threats over the telephone by two anonymous callers, obviously Sinhalese gone beserk over the Central Bank bombing, accusing me and my wife of being LTTE terrorists. As if that were not enough when President Chandrika Kumaratunge came on her official visit to Japan together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs a few weeks later I was not invited for the reception (taking into account that I am a Tamil and a reasonably long time resident in Tokyo and the only Tamil who has consistently participated in several Sri Lankan Embassy functions including independence day for ten years. I decided to participate after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 which I have accepted as a major step towards a solution). The Tamil Ambassador, a friend for years got cold feet. On the contrary my name was submitted to (I have my suspicions as to who did it) the Japanese police to he covered as a possible security threat to the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Imagine mc planting bomb or carrying a gun. I wouldn’t know how to handle one. I have never indulged in fantasies of resorting to such actions as Michael Roberts has recently confessed. The police were embarrassed, paid me a courtesy call and assured me that there were no Tamil “terrorists” in Japan . They were pleased to enjoy a cup of Ceylon tea and I presented them with one of my publications. We are living in that kind of a muddled and murky situation. If we must persist in the use of the word terrorism, I venture to say that we are all terrorists today. My tax money has been used to inflict indiscriminate violence on the people of the Northeast, in fact even to bomb mine and neighbouring relatives’ houses in Jaffna . I stated in Tokyo recently at the International Symposium on Human Security that the Japanese Government in donating 13 billion dollars to the USA in 1990 to bomb innocent people including the children of Iraq used my tax money without my consent. The same applies to Tamil expatriates abroad who willingly or under duress give donations to the LTTE. All of us have the blood of innocent people on our hands.

Management or Mis-management of ethnic Relations in Sri Lanka

What we have had in Lanka since 1948 has not been the management of ethnic relations. On the contrary we have had the mis-management of Sinhalese-Tamil relations. I would go further and say that what happened was the creation of ethnic conflict by men and women on both sides of the ethnic divide. The responsibility falls squarely on the five per cent or thereabouts of the powerful English-speaking class that has exercised power for the greater part of the twentieth century beginning with the Donoughmore Reforms of 1931. Ernest MacIntyre captured the essence of the problem in the play staged in Australia a few years ago titled “Rasanayagam’s Last Riot.” A video-tape of the play should be produced with sub-titles in English and Tamil, and if possible in other Asian languages and distributed widely with explanatory notes. The play is a severe indictneh1t of the English speaking class in this country. Far from frankly discussing the problem and seeking solutions, this class constituting both Tamils and Sinhalese who socialise and fratemise, have swept the problem under the carpets of their drawing rooms.

This class, to which most of us present here today belong, including tens of thousands both Sinhalese and Tamils now living abroad, has felled the people of this country. Recently in a TV program two participants who were probably born around the mid 1950s wanted to know what were the grievances of the Tamil people. In 1977 shortly after the anti-Tamil riots of that year a meeting of the senior friends of the SCM was called. Some of them, pious church-going, normally decent men and women who had fraternised for several years with Tamils wanted to know what were the grievances of the Tamil people and that if there were serious grievances they were prepared to consider what they could do. Nothing constructive came out of that meeting. it ended as most such meetings did with the usual niceties, jokes and good feelings in what is often referred to as wonderful Christian fellowship! From 1956 numerous conferences, studies and discussions etc., had taken place in Christian circles. The SCM had focused on this problem at several meetings and conferences beginning in the mid-fifties. The Sinhala-Tamil question came up for discussion at the SCM conference of April 1958 ( Jaffna College) shortly before the anti-Tamil riots of May that year. it figured prominently in the Uduvil Conference called by D. T. Niles in 1961, which ended abruptly with the declaration of a state of emergency and a 48 hour curfew. The distinguished gathering of delegates including Bishop Harold tie Soyza and others travelled by special buses with armed escort to Anuradhapura . The very same soldiers who came to provide them with security (there was no real need for this at that time, for that matter even now) smashed up two shops in Uduvil prior to departure. Bishop Harold on hearing of this incident after his arrival in Colombo was deeply agitated and condemned these and other incidents from the pulpit only to be taken to task and intimidated by Felix Dias Bandaranaike. A state of emergency was declared to crush the nearly six week long satyagraha and civil disobedience campaign under the leadership of the PP. Bernard Soyza who was sent by the LSSP to report on the campaign acknowledged it as the first major mass movement by the Tamil people. However it remained the first and last major non-violent mass struggle by the Tamils which brought the governmental administration to a stand-still in the districts of Jaffna , Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomafee and Batticaloa. This period also provided the Tamils of this country with their first taste of army rule.

The Sinhalese people were never told the truth of what really happened in the Northeast under the first Sriinavo Bandaranaike Government when she was a political novice. Two dominant figures in the cabinet were Christians - Messrs Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Sam P. C. Fernando. The violations of the human rights of the Tamil people at that time were ably exposed in parliament by Edmund Samarakody (LSSP) and in the Senate by the illustrious S. Nadesan. The English speaking class including newspaper barons refused to acknowledge the grievances of the Tamil people which were ably presented in parliament by not only the Tamil representatives but also by members of the LSSP and CP.

Need for Mutual-Understanding and Respect

The problem we have today was created by this class and the conflict has been allowed to escalate by this class, while the children of Sinhalese and Tamil-speaking poor are sent to be slaughtered in the battle fields of the Northeast, in a war that cannot be won by either side. It is a futile war that has sapped the energies of this country and has already inflicted wounds that will take generations to heal. The perception of the English speaking elite among the Sinhalese is that they judge the Tamil community in the context of their relationships and inter-actions with the privileged Tamil elite. They have hardly seen life and the hardships of the vast masses of people in the Northeast, especially that of the rural poor. Jaffna has always been a distant and alien place to most Sinhalese people.

I will illustrate this point with one experience I had when I was secretary for political and social issues for the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society (officially related to Jaffna College but situated in the Ashram). The Institute was requested to organise a program by the Rev. Dr. Lynn de Silva of the Ecumenical Institute sometime in 1980. The responsibility was mine and we organized an intensive program for three days wherein the delegation from the South could have some exposure to the socio-economic and political situation in Jaffna . A group of fifteen was expected. Three days before the program I was told ten persons will arrive. The number fell to six and finally when I went to the Jaffa railway station four arrived. They were Rev. Dr. Lynn de Silva, a Sinhalese lady whose children were married to Tamils, a Burgher and Mr. George Gnanamuttu a Tamil. None of them needed the intended kind of exposure. They went back and wrote an excellent report. But that was not the purpose of Vie program. This was not the fault of the Ecumenical Institute and its then director. People who had committed themselves to come dropped out one by one. I think there was something in the psyche of the English speaking class that prevented them from coming. Or they possibly had other priorities. Or it was simply a lack of commitment. We are now paying the price for this. On the contrary MIRJE, the Devasaranaramaya under Yohan Devananda’s leadership, the All-Lanka Peasants Congress, the SCM, CWF and similar organizations kept sending people from the rural areas, students, workers and Buddhist monks. It is as a result of such inter-action that some of us Tamils now have solid contacts with Buddhist monks who are committed to the Tamil cause and with whom a person like me is able to relate very closely.

The same attitude prevailed among the Tamnil elite. Anuradhapura was only the name of a railway station for many of them. There are very few English-speaking Tamils who have cared to visit the ancient and glorious historical remains in Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa to gain an understanding of the glory and splendour of Sinhalese and Buddhist civilization in this country, just as much as very few Sinhalese have cared to visit the famous Hindu temples in South India and learn about Tamil and Hindu civilization. We have failed in not creating an understanding among the Siuhalese and Tamils, the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. A permanent solution cannot come through constitutions, pacts and agreements. These efforts must be based on mutual understanding and respect for peoples, cultures, religions and languages. This remains an unfinished task. The well known story is how Bishop Lakshman organized a meeting of high ranking members of the Buddhist clergy and invited Bishop Kulandran for a dialogue. The Buddhist monks had their say. When finally Bishop Lakshman called upon Bishop Kulandran to respond he made a terse one sentence comment: “Just leave us alone!” That speaks volumes why we are in this predicament.

What went wrong

Marshal Fernando in announcing the purpose and aim of this series of seminars has commented that “pronouncements emanating from the Government agencies and other sources pitch a triumphalistic note on the significance of tie event ... However, in view of the catastrophic civil war which has gone on for the last 14 years, completion of 50 years of political independence should be looked at critically, to understand what went wrong with our recent history for the country to be locked in a devastating Civil War” (emphasis mine), in 1989 the Hong Kong based Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives published “Ethnicity: Identity, Conflict and Crisis” co-edited by Kumar David and myself. I wish to repeat what I said introducing myself and the chapter on “Lanka: Nationalism, Self-Determination and Conflict.” “This essay” I wrote, “is a reflection on, and an attempt at interpreting, the history of the last four decades in the context of the national question in Lanka. It is an exercise in self-criticism. The writer is a Tamil who spent his early years in the Federated States of Malaya under Japanese occupation and returned in 1946 to what was then a peaceful Ceylon . Since then lie has been part observer, past participant in the unfolding events that have led to the tragic situation in the 1980s. Violence since 1956 has touched us Tamils, almost everyone, of us in a personal way. What happened will remain in the collective memories of the Tamils for generations to come. That is all the more reason why we should try to see what went wrong, especially within ourselves as a people.” I was primarily referring to what went wrong among the Tamils. Marshal wants us to reflect on what went wrong with our recent history - that of I believe primarily the Tamils and Sinhalese, though including other ethnic groups. The main purpose of this paper is W be self-critical, of the Christians, the English speaking class and the Tamils. I specifically use the term English- speaking and not English educated. Handy Perinhanayaga.m once referred to a prominent and much advertised Tamil politician as a literate thug, When he was asked whether he meant educated thug he said no, I mean a literate thug. This distinction between educated and literate is important in our recent history.

What happened? What went wrong? I am reflecting from the perspective of my own involvement. Most of us in the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) and the Jaffna Citizens’ Committee had no links with any of the groups involved in armed struggle.

These groups maintained a low profile and a high degree of confidentiality and secrecy prevailed, making it almost impossible for members of the public to relate to any one of them. Nor would they have trusted or wanted the support of the older generation at that time. The Jaffna Branch of MIRJE took the position that it was our task to defend the human and democratic rights of the Tarnil people including the right to self-deternination - to defend this right and not necessarily to advocate and campaign for the right to self-determination. The Citizens’ Committee came into existence spontaneously on 2nd June 1981, when some well-known professionals resident in the city met at Bishop’s House on the initiative of Bishop Deogupillai and some MTRJE activists, in the immediate aftermath of the burning of the city of Jaffna , symbolised by the much publicised total destruction of the Public Library. It had a limited purpose - to defuse tense situations by maintaining a line of communication with the police and the army. It was sought to minimise violence and victimisation of innocent members of the public. Each member of MIRJE or the Citizens Committee had the right to have his own political position. T said ‘his’, because at that time we did not have a single woman in the MIRJE committee or the Citizens’ Committee, though women played a role in meetings and campaigns. The members came together on a minimum program. All the publicly functioning political pasties except the UNP and the SLFP were represented in Jaffna MIRJE. Both groups did not relate officially to any of the Tamil armed organizations, though some individual members may have done so. As I have mentioned in the Kanthasiuny memorial volume various groups made efforts to use these two organizations as front organizations. This was resisted. At any rate until 1983 and to some extent until 1987 both MTRJE and the Citizens’ Committee strove hard to maintain their independence. Eventually MIRJE Jaffna ceased to function and the Citizens’ Committee became a front organization of one of the groups. Those who subsequently became members of this Citizens’ Committee were nowhere near the scene when it was still possible to exercise the people’s democratic rights against the Sri Lankan state. They emerged only when the “quasi-state” came into existence in the North.

The building resentment against the violation of the human rights of the Tamil people rose to a crescendo with the violence of 1983. Prior to that, it has been estimated that there were hardly 100 hard core fighting cadres in the LTTE itself. The following of the other groups were perhaps smaller. Following the 83 riots money and cadres flowed to all the groups that had now found a safe haven in South India . This went to the head of the leadership. Self-confidence led to arrogance. The other side of the Janus faced nationalism, the brutal and intolerant side, showed up. And this was not confined to the aimed organizations alone. In this context one recalls N. Shanmugathasan’s devastating review in the Daily News of a hook published abroad on the Tamil Liberation struggle, which he titled “Tamil Communalism Gone Mad. ”

Internecine conflict, torture and internal killings gradually increased. Attacks on Sinhalese civilian targets (none happened prior to 1983) began to take place and with these became evident the gradual erosion of values in the Tamil struggle. Tamil nationalism lost its soul and with it world sympathy. This was particularly true of most of the Tamil Armed Organizations and large segments of the Tamil expatriate/refugee communities. The criticisms made of the LTTE are applicable to other Tamil Armed Organizations. It’ they had gained power and ascendancy they would have probably been no better - whether it was PLOTE or TELO, and even possibly EPRLF, EROS or the later ENDLF. Uma Maheswaran at one stage was far more ruthless than the other leaders. Internal killings arc alleged to have been considerable by 1984. The internal structure and their styles of functioning demonstrated a similarity. The recent clashes in Jaffna between EPDP and PLOTE cadres are significant in this context, where a gun culture takes precedence over democratic rights and values, in fairness to the EPRLF and EROS it must he said that in the early stages they showed some signs of internal democracy and collective leadership. This did not prevent them from making fundamental errors in relation to the Tamil people and the whole struggle.
Nationalism historically in Europe following the French Revolution grew together with the rise of the bourgeoisie, democratic rights and representative institutions, with the Fall of monarchies and the dismantling of the feudal system. No doubt, that in several cases this nationalism degenerated into jingoism and imperialism. In Asia and Africa nationalism was primarily anti-imperialist and was based on the territorial entity arbitrarily demarcated by the colonial powers. Thus we have the distorted nation-state that lacks legitimacy and the rise of ethnic movements in many so-called nation states. It is however imperative that ethno-nationalism if it is to he progressive must go hand in hand with democratic rights, freedoms and representative institutions. This has been the failure of Tamil nationalism in this country, which became in the words of N. Shanmnugaratnam the very “mirror image” of extremist Sinhalese nationalism, resulting in the near total isolation of the Tamils globally at the present juncture.

The Indian Factor

It is my view that India does not attach much significance to Sri Lanka in the context of India ’s national interests. Prof. Jeyaratnam Wilson in a lecture at the Ramakrishna Hall, Wellawatte in 1977, commented that on one occasion he happened to he resident in the same hotel as the Chief of the Indian Armed Forces. Meeting at the breakfast table, in an informal conversation and in response to his question whether India had ever contemplated taking over Sri Lanka, the army chief is said to have replied that a feasibility study had been made and the army reported to the government of India that it was possible to take the island in three days but that they had added a rider that it would not have been worth keeping it. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions from this comment made ten years before Indian armed intervention. Several publications after the IPKF intervention, including note worthy books by retired army officers who served in the Northeast have now been published.

I venture to draw the conclusion that India would not have handled its relations with Pakistan , Bangladesh , Nepal or Bhutan in the disastrous way in which it handled Lanka and the resulting fiasco. India does not perceive a threat from the south. Historically India has always been threatened from the north-west and more recently has perceived a threat from China in the north and north-east. Indian Universities do not teach Lankan history and politics. In my frequent visits to India I had observed that a great deal of ignorance prevailed about Lankan history, politics and the conflict here. The late Prof. Urmila Phadnis of JNU and Prof. Suryanarayan of Madras University were probably the only two academics in the whole of India who were specialists on Lanka and the ethnic problem in the early 1980s. During my period in the University of Jaffna 1979-83, no Indian academic or journalist visited us until the burning down of the public library in 1981. Even then the first international journalist arrived six weeks after the incident. He was Francis Wheen of the New Statesman. Unnila Phadnis and Suryanarayanan came a few weeks later in separate visits. Salarnat Au of the FEEC (a Pakistani citizen then living n exile in India ), and Venkat Narayanan then of India Today were the two prominent journalists who came from India . Among Indian politicians who cared to come were Nedumaran of the Kamraj Congress and Kalyanasundram of the CPI, both from Tamil Nadu and none from Delhi . [I can speak with some authority on this subject, though open to correction, because in the period 1979-83 1 met practically every foreign visitor, including one from Beijing, who called at the university and several outside the university as well by virtue of my position as a member of the Dept. History - my field being contemporary history. In addition I was also contact person for MIRJE, (being president of the Jaffna Branch) and for the Jaffna Citizens Committee ( of which I had been a founding member). I was also closely related to the SCM and other Christian organisations]. Yogeswaran M.P. for Jaffna unable to cope with several visitors passed on some to Jaffna MJRJE. When he was targeted and his house reduced to ashes in 1981 Yogeswaran confessed to me that he did not regret the valuables he lost, He told me he had more shirts than he needed, in fact too many. He was always impeccably and neatly dressed in shirt and vershti. He regretted most the nearly one thousand name cards he had of international visitors whom he had met in Jaffna and Colornho during his period as M.P. for Jaffna . The point I am making is that there was far more interest in the happenings in Jaffna among human rights and other concerned individuals and groups in Europe than in India . The situation changed dramatically with Indian intervention in 1987, resulting in a new found interest in the little neighbour down south and a plethora of publications.

I have several anecdotes that illustrate the point! make. In 1982 1 was invited at very short notice to participate in a conference called by the American Centre at Osmania University in Hydrebad , India on the theme  U.S. American Relations. Prof.Karl Gunewardene and Dr. Wijetunge, both historians were participants in this seminar. Several top academics from JNU, De[hi and other parts of India including prominent journalists and foreign office personnel were present. In my interactions with them I was amazed at their near total ignorance about the problem here. In 1984 I was invited to speak at a group meeting of Amnesty International in Bangalore on the Lankan situation. Half-way through my talk one member interrupted me and wanted to know why I persisted in using the terms Sinhalese and Tamil and not Buddhist and Hindu. in India the problem is primarily Hindu-Muslim and he perceived ours as Buddhist-Hindu. In Madras a year later I addressed a large gathering. At the end of the lecture in which I laboured to explain the complex nature of our problem, an elderly gentleman who appeared to he well educated walked up to me and said, We Tamils went to Ceylon as labourers. Now we have become affluent and own land. It is not fair for us to ask for a portion of the country”. In 1960, the Executive Committee of the Synod of the CSI met at Jaffna College , Vaddukoddai. Several participants from India including some Bishops and several pastors expressed a desire to do some 5jhtsee1ug. Bishop Kulandran assigned this responsibility to two of us teachers at the College. While drawing up the program I asked them how much time they had. They wanted to know whether they could not see the whole island in half a day’ were quite serious. We put them through a fast pace many of them panting for breath as we managed to do a quick tour by bus of Anuradhapura , Damballa and Kandy in one and a half days.

The Tamil Nadu Factor

In January 1981 took place the sessions of the International Association for Tamil Research at the Madurai Kamraj University in South India . The Tamil Nadu government then led by M.G. Ramachandran hosted the sessions. It was a very big conference with about 350 delegates attending from Lanka alone. The first striking impression that I had was how Indians combined regional loyalties with an all-India identity. The opening sessions began with “Tamil Thai Vannakkani” (Worship of Tamil Mother) and ended with the Indian national anthem. I was reminded about the practice in Jaffua schools from 1948 to sometime in the 1960s where at prize days the ceremonies began with the national anthem ‘Namo Namo Thaye” sung beautifully in Tamil, and invariably included in the programme was the Hymn for Ceylon in Christian schools. I remember that in 1953 or 54 some of us students at Jaffna College submitted a request to principal Selliah (who belonged to the anti-imperialist Jaffna Youth Congress generation). It used to he the custom to fly the College flag and the American flag on the annual field day. Our request was that the Ceylon flag be flown as well. Mr. Selliah in granting the request said “Why not? I wonder why this idea never occurred to me before” and ordered that the flag be flown. Knowing him to be a person of integrity we accepted what he said. I also remember how the government issued a directive that all government and semi-government institutions should hoist the Sri Lankan national flag to observe the visit of prime minister Premadasa to Jaffna in 1982. The flag went up in the University of Jaffna only to be brought down by the students and burnt. Now that the government is in control of Jaffna it would he a major blunder if the state attempted to force the public, state institutions and schools in particular to fly the flag or sing the national anthem, even in Tamil, whether or not an overall political solution acceptable to the Tamil people is arrived at.

Going back to the city of Madurai , Tamil Eelam activists organized an Eelam exhibition. They had also distributed pamphlets advocating Tamil Eelam at the opening sessions, some of which reached the platform where MGR was seated. All this irritated the chief minister. He called upon Minister Rajadurai representing the Sri Lankan state, Mr. Thondaman and Mr. Amirthalingam to speak in that order. On the second day of the sessions he addressed the seminar, In response to a question related to Tamil Eelam, he lashed out at the Eelam activists, ordered the exhibition closed and prohibited any kind of Tamil Eelam activity. This was a terrible blow to the pro-Tamil Eelam lobby including the TULF leadership. Then came the closing sessions marked by lavish festivity. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the chief guest. Selected delegates from all delegations were invited to receive her. Among the Lankan invitees was the late Prof. Kailasapathy who related to me what happened, As soon as Mrs. Gandhi arrived together with MGR she walked up to Mr. Amirthalingam and greeted him warmly before she greeted any of the other guests. Immediately MGR’s attitude changed, and thereafter it was garlands all the way for the TULF in the five day Tamil Nadu tour and first place was given to them at all meetings. On our way back by ferry (from Rameshvaram to Talai Mannar I had the Opportunity to engage Mr. Amirthaljng in an analysis of what happened. He admitted that, “everything went wrong at the beginning but ended well for us.” Here was a clcar illustration that it is Delhi and not Tamil Nadu that calls the shots when it comes to Indo-Lanka relations This is largely true up to the present juncture and is likely to be true for decades to come.
There has been historically and in the last fifty years a deep seated fear among sections of the Sinhalese that the Tamils in this country would secede and join India . There is a false perception among several Sinhalese that India is Tamil, and Tamil means India . This is a hang over from the Chola invasions of the 11th and 12 centuries. This fear is unfounded today. Whoever expected the Tamils to fight India ? (It has been remarked that this was the first time in Indian history stretching over a period of over two thousand years that the south has ever fought Delhi or North India ). In addition an all-Indian nationalism is deep rooted in India . The growing middle-class of nearly 250 million today has a stake in a united though federal India underscored by the market economy in a rapidly developing economy. The future of all the ethnic groups in this country demands the elimination of paranoid fears of an Indian takeover. Regional co-operation through SAARC and the strengthening of economic, social and cultural ties with India in particular is of paramount importance.

The Jaffna Church and the Peace Process

In December 1986 1 wrote a piece in the Tamil Times titled “Spiritual Illiteracy and the Sri Lankan Church” which was received with great delight by several of my Tamil Christian friends abroad. This was a hard hitting critique of the church in the south. I wish today to do a critique of the Tamil church which is long overdue. While remarkable changes have taken place in the south both in the Catholic and Non-Catholic churches, the northern church has recently come in for some criticism. The reports of the University Teachers for Human Rights ( Jaffna , now world famous for their credibility and relentless exposure of the violations of human rights have focused on the role of both the JDCSI and the Catholic Church. Other commentators too have taken the church to task. One has got to he cautious in passing judgment on these churches. The people in the north and east have suffered a lot, including the institutional church, It is acknowledged that the churches have done a fair amount of social relief work among refugees and affected people. The very fact that these Bishops and priests lived in solidarity with the people in the midst of extensive violence is a point in their favour. But these should not blind us to their failures. Relief work has been done by several other organizations as well, and is expected of the church in such situations. The churches with their international connections were able to solicit funding on a substantial scale. In fact the church was a hit of a late coiner into this, long after TRRO entered the field. The church did not enter risky territory such as documenting and defending human rights abuses, providing legal relief or visiting prisoners in the several detention camps. Nor did it involve itself in mass struggles as happened in Latin America, South Africa and the Philippines . It did not take up the abuse of power by the Tamil Armed Organizations or involve itself in a critique of these groups. On the contrary church leaders fraternised with these groups and thereby gave them legitimacy.

One would concede that taking into account the war situation the churches have handled funding with relative integrity. At any rate perfect accounting is not possible in the unstable situation that prevailed. It is the responsibility of the donor organizations to enforce accountability. This problem is not confined to churches alone hut is a phenomenon in the growing crisis among NGOs and has parallels to ODA funding vis-ã-vis state projects. There is one school of thought that alleges that the church is a beneficiary of ethnic conflict (the same could be said of several NGOs as well), in the sense that large sums of money have flowed in for various projects giving bishops and pastors a great deal of power and patronage without transparency and adequate accountability to public opinion. This in turn has led to a culture of arrogance among some members of the clergy and bishops. It is important that in the same way we demand transparency from the state there should be transparency in the large projects undertaken by the church and that under no circumstance should it he a one man show, The church must show an example in practising internal democracy, self-criticism and debate. The one time congregational South India United Church in opting for church union has paid a severe price in adopting the Anglican practice of bishops continuing in office until retirement once elected. The JDCSI has had two bishops who practically dominated the scene for 45 years and have consciously or otherwise invested the Diocese with a degree of authoritarianism. One must however note that these two bishops had a high degree of integrity especially when it came to financial matters. The fault is in the office and how it has evolved rather than in personalities, and qualitatively no better than that of bureaucrats or politicians invested with excessive power, The Methodist tradition in Lanka and the Singapore and Malaysian Methodist practice of elected bishops for a five year term appears more suitable,

It also important that in the current war situation that social welfare and other projects he inter-denominational if not community oriented, broadbased and multi-ethnic and not exclusively under the control of one church, hearing in mind that the non-Roman Catholic Christians are a very small community in this country, How are we going to build-up national unity when there is no unity among the churches and one church tries to gain at the expense of other churches? As is well known the role of the JDCSI and its leadership in recent years has been called into question in this respect. The Pilimatalawa Theological Seminary is an all Island seminary. It is unfortunate that the JDCS1 has persisted in an exclusive seminary in Jaffna . The JDCSI may have its American based financial resources but does not have the intellectual resources for such a seminary, taking into account that several of the Indian educated and well qualified pastors have quit. More importantly we are now entering a phase in which most of the products of this seminary are competent only in Tamil. Ideally the Christians should have set the example in this country by educating their future pastors in one multi-ethnic college, laying a solid foundation for tri-lingualism providing the tools for multi-ethnic communication. One disturbing feature is the absence of an on-going dialogue among the Sinhalese and Tamils in Lanka. One cause for this has been the compartlnefltaliSat1on of education into mono-lingual streams. In our student days Christian leaders in this country inter-acted and knew each other intimately and constituted a fellowship that transcended the ethnic divide. The Ashram in Jaffna , the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya, the SCM, the YMCAs, the Christian Teachers Guild and the Devasaranaramaya provided meeting points that moulded an Island wide fellowship. I have mentioned the Uduvil conference above. D. T. Niles, Sevaka Selvaretnam, Bishop Lakdasa de Mel (who was chairman of the Jaffna College Board of Directors in the 1940s) Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe (who faithfully visited Jaffna every year), Revd. S.K Bunker ( President Jaffna College and as CSI Chaplain to the Peradeniya University ), Revd.Celestine Fernando and Rev. Soma Perera (university chaplains in my time) Revd. A.C.Thambirajah and Sister Elizabeth Baker (of Navajeevanarn, Paranthan) and numerous others were totally committed to this ecumenism. The members of the generation that was part of this fellowship have either passed away or will soon pass away. If we arc to hold together in this country something urgent has to be done to rebuild this fellowship that transcends the ethnic divide.

One of the acts of omission is the failure in not being part of the peace process. The world wide connections the churches had were not adequately used to strengthen the peace process. The peace process requires leadership that is free of extremist nationalist posturing and the capacity to make compromises. Several Tamil armed organizations and parties have been involved in the peace process beginning with the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. The TULF and its predecessor the FP in spite of serious blunders committed in the past including the Tamil Eelam or secessionist demand has from 1977 been involved in the peace process and is seriously involved in negotiations. In fact this is a legacy left behind by Chelvanayagam, the corner-stone of his principles laid down in the B-C Pact. The TULF has paid a heavy price in assassinations for this courage to negotiate. Mr. Sivasjthambaram in spite of having gone through the traumatic experience in seeing his colleagues killed and he himself almost killed in 1989 has relentlessly and patiently pursued a negotiated settlement In its relief work the churches were only treating the symptoms of the disease and not the disease itself. The leadership of the Tamil  churches have adopted a self-righteous and holier than thou attitude, and wrapped this whole stance in a distorted version of liberation theology. It is difficult to assess whether the church leadership is actually free or a prisoner of the forces of Tamil nationalism and its ruthless exponents. The church should have distanced itself from the forces of Tamil nationalism especially after 1985-86 when the Tamil armed organizations went off the track, and should have played a constructive role in the peace process. On the contrary the church leadership took the easy way out becoming stridently nationalist- subordinating the universal values of the kingdom to a gun culture that brutalised society and made life “nasty, poor, and short” irrespective of ethnic identity.

The Church of South India is a large church with formally or informally affiliated schools and colleges, hospitals and numerous institutions and wields considerable influence in South India . (It would he interesting if someone could do a study focusing on per capita funding the churches and their institutions and projects receive here, in India and other Third World countries, along the lines of per capita ODA funding and spotlight how much actually reaches the poor and victims of violence. The same applies to NGOs today. Incidentally, a news report revealed that in Billy Graham’s Tokyo campaign some years ago that the cost of getting one person converted cost one million yen or $10,000, using all the gimmicks of modern day advertizing). The CSI could have played a major role in India and in the World Council of Churches and CCA for peace. The WCC never placed the Tamil issue on the agenda in the United Nations Human Rights Commission. When this question was raised in 1984 a WCC official responded by saying that the WCC could not act unless requested by a member church. The NCC of Sri Lanka was not in a position to do this. But the CSI in India , has a member status in the WCC and could have done this. I doubt that they even considered such a course of action. I do not know whether the JDCSI ever attempted to get them to do so. (On this point! would welcome specific facts and am open to correction.) The CST (here I refer to that part of the church in South India) had become an inward looking church with many internal problems and lacked a dynamic leadership, with some notable exceptions, that characterised the long and hard road to) church union in its early years. This in some ways reflected the changes that had taken place in Indian society and politics where corruption, intimidation and sycophancy are (-he order of the day. Ministers and parliamentarians regularly fell at the feet of chief minister Jayalalitha when she reigned supreme.

When the Indian forces arrived and the accord was placed under severe strain the church both in India and in Jaffna proved ineffective. As I have mentioned below there were three occasions in the last decade when opportunities for peace-making occurred. The Tamil Church failed in not giving the required leadership on each of these three occasions. It is not known whether behind the scene efforts were made. If made, they have not been documented. The churches tailed behind Tamil extremist nationalists and at its worst championed this nationalism or at its best became a mere apologist. Looked at either way it was unfortunate. Some of the passionate Tamil nationalist advocates abroad are eminent Tamil Christians. One of them Prof. Eliezer has recently been honoured by the leader of the LTTE. These distinguished Tamil academics and professional could have played and still could play a notable role in the peace process. Their reluctance or inability to do so reveals a vacuum in Tamil society. One would like to know whether these distinguished men and women are mere followers or whether they have had any influence whatsoever in moderating Tamil demands and finding that little space required at every juncture to carry a negotiated settlement forward. Where is the capacity to forgive, for compassion, sacrificial love and living in the steps of the servanthood of the Lord? We have passed the stage of agitational politics. The challenge facing Tamil Christian leadership is to no longer compromise with the extreme forces of Tamil nationalism and fall victims to the destructive and dehumanising forces of nationalism, the very evil we condemn among our Sinhalese brethren. The Devolution Proposals are before the country and world public opinion. The need of the hour is hard bargaining and the capacity for compromise and certainly not at the point of the gun.

Church, Politics and Liberation Theology

I remember in 1968 after the Tet offensive in Vietnam which marked a major victory for the Vietnamese against the US a representative from the Churches in the USA came to Jaffna . He was visiting Asian churches in order to gain an understanding of how we felt about this war. D. T. Niles organized a meeting at which hardly 15 people were present. Most of them did not understand the purpose of the visit which was in the context of the growing anti-war movement in the USA itself, and growing anti-US public opinion world-wide. They indulged in simplistic platitudes about how grateful we should he to the US , the American Missionaries, their schools, hospitals, the all too familiar litany of praise we have been familiar with in Jaffna . Today there is a tendency at Christian institutions to romanticize the contributions (to overate the messenger and downplay the message) made by the American Missionaries in the 19th century and to conveniently forget the 1920s and 30s which saw the anti-imperialist, Gandhian all-island nationalist phase when Jaffna College was in the forefront of the aspirational politics of that time. These people were totally unaware or were reluctant to admit the arrogance of American power, the imperialistic and brutalised nature of American political leadership especially under Nixon. Bishop Kulandran in a very brief and carefully phrased statement said that the church cannot speak on political issues and that it was desirable that we remained silent and neutral on this issue. Mr. Nesiah instinctively reacted and with a hard-hitting statement said, “even Bishops can be spiritually illiterate” and added that it pained his heart as he listened to the news, about napalm bombs, the destruction and violence inflicted on the Vietnamese people. He unreservedly called for a halt to the bombing of Vietnam and opted for a peaceful solution to the conflict. I need not comment on what Bishop Kulandran’s stance adapted to our situation would have meant. (Those were days when such give and take in discussions was possible. I know that this particular episode did not affect the personal relations between Bishop Kulandran and Nesiah. I have in this paper made several critical comments on Bishop Kulandran. I have not fell inhibited from doing so because 1 have had a very close and personal relationship based on deep respect and affection for him as a person. That was possible because I distanced myself from the institutional church and its administrative bodies. Once and only once did he get deeply disturbed when I made a comment that reflected on his period as head of the church. This occurred after he retired, when I joined him in one of his regular walks on the Bicknell field in Vaddukoddai, He raised his voice and said that I should not make disparaging remarks of persons while they were still living. What he left unsaid was clear. He was big enough to know the value of dissent and history.)

Today we have Christian priests and bishops who like their counterparts among the Buddhist clergy are ardent advocates of a military solution. Far from proclaiming the values of the Sermon on the Mount we have priests and bishops who take cover under liberation theology. The wounds inflicted on Tamil society today are partially self-inflicted. I had the privilege of listening to Gustavo Guittersz when he visited Tokyo in 1984. Responding to a question requesting him to sum-up liberation theology as briefly as possible be did so in one sentence. “Liberation Theology is an option for the poor”. The poor among the Sinhalese and the Tamils have nothing to gain from this conflict and in the last ten years have suffered the most. I repeat what I wrote in the Ethnicity book (1989) mentioned above “On both sides Leaders played on the fears of the people. The Sinhalese elite never attempted to educate the Sinhalese people politically but used their genuine aspirations in a most opportunistic way. In fact, the vast majority of both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, share a common poverty in a typical Third World scenario and have little to gain in improving their quality of life in socio-economic terms from this conflict. Both have sought to achieve through legitimate nationalistic aspirations democratic rights and an egalitarian society. Unscrupulous politicians gave this nationalism a chauvinistic twist and turned them against each other. It is worth noting that in many parts of the country both peoples have closely co-existed through these decades of conflict.” It is time Tamil church leaders initiated an on-going dialogue with the Buddhist clergy. The act of talking alone can defuse tensions.

An Ethnic Problem and not an Ethnic Conflict

‘Stop the war and negotiate’, should be the battle-cry today. What we have in this country today is not an ethnic conflict. Let me not be mistaken. There is an ethnic problem. The national question, and I believe this is a far better term than ethnic problem, remains an unresolved question after fifty years of de-colonisation. But the conflict is not necessarily ethnic. The conflict is the age old struggle for power by several competing groups. It is a complex phenomenon. In the 1987-89 IPKF period Tamils killed Tamils and Sinhalese killed Sinhalese, and the Indian army killed Tamils. The Lankan state under the leadership of a Sinhalese President armed the Tamils and the IPKF armed another group of Tamils. Today the conflict is between the PA and the UNP, a continuation of the age old rivalry between SLFP and the UNP, using the Tamil issue to ride to power. On the Tamil side the Tamil parties are deeply divided while the CITE is pitted against most of the other groups. The victims are the poor and the children of the poor sent to the front-lines to be massacred by the thousands,
From the 1950s to 1983 Tamil Leaders, especially the FP and the subsequent TULF first under the leadership of Chelvanayagalfl and later the joint leadership of Amirthalingam and Sivasithambararn negotiated with either the SLFP or the UNP from a position of weakness. The LTTE has been in a unique position on three occasions to negotiate from a position of strength. This was in 1987 (the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord), in 1990 with President Premadasa, and in 1994-95 with President Chandrika Kumaratunge and the PA . On all three occasions the LTTE was in effective control of territory and enjoyed a fair amount of support among the Tamils in the country and abroad. On all three occasions it failed to demonstrate political maturity and the capacity to make comprises in arriving at a negotiated settlement in what is an extremely complex problem especially in determining the territorial unit for devolution of power. Someday whoever makes peace is going to sit across the table and negotiate. The PLO, the IRA and the MOROs in the Philippines are doing this. One can quibble and debate. But what is required is essentially a capacity for statesmanship and compromise - the qualities that Mr. Bandaranaike and Mr. Chelvanayagam demonstrated in 1957.

Today considerably weakened, having lost major chunks of territory which will require prolonged war to regain and above all having lost a great deal of international sympathy, the Tamils are in a predicament far worse than ever before. The destruction inflicted on the Tamil areas will take decades to restore, in a global economy that is perennially in crisis. The educational system built up in the last 175 years, one of the finest in the world has been shattered. Here I am not talking about GCE/AL results and mere instruction. I have in mind the very ethos of our schools and education in its broadest sense based on the humanities and eternal values instilled by generations of teachers who lived simple lives and gave of their best. These men and women placed the expatriate Tamil professionals where they are today, many of whom in the arrogance of their new found wealth and status feed the passions of extreme nationalism without sacrificing their lives or that of their children and grandchildren, but send the children of the poor to the battle field to satisfy their romantic longings for a Tamil state to which they are most unlikely to return. In its essence there is no difference today between the Tamil nationalist and the Sinhalese nationalist. Both nationalisms are destructive.

Specific Grievances to National Self-Determination

The national question was initially characterised by specific grievances. Three important grievances among others that led to the rise of Tamil consciousness and eventually Tamil nationalism were (1) the Citizenship Acts (2) The Official Language question and (3) Land development and settlement in particular in the eastern Province. Though the Federal Party in its 1951 Trincomalee Resolution declared in favour of the right to self determination the main emphasis was not on the principle of self determination per se but on the concrete demand for a federal constitution. The failure to redress these grievances the several acts of violence against the Tamils and the standardisation issue and finally the 1972 Constitution drove the Tamils into the secessionist demand based on the principle of the right to selfdeterrniflatb0n by the TULF in 1976. It would be of interest to those present here today that while the TULF was formulating this demand in August 1976, the SCM of Sri Lanka was having its annual conference at St. John’s College , Jaffna . One whole afternoon was devoted to the national question. A member of the Elaignar Peravai or Tamil Youth Front was invited to address the conference with nearly 150 students participating over 50 per cent being Sinhalese from the south. 1 happened to chair this session. It was an extremely difficult and delicate task. The discussions were trilingual. The speaker knew only Tamil. The left radicals from the newly founded university of Jaffna were present. This was the period when we had Sinhalese students in the Jaffna university. More importantly highly articulate persons such as president of the university student council Jeyapalan lecturer Nithiyananthan, Ninnala and Rajini were present. They were all vehemently anti-Tamil Eelam. The dominant trend was for a United Lanka. I found myself in the position of consistently intervening to protect the right of the Youth League member to present his point of view. Then came the 1977 riots. The Sinhalese students refused to return to Jaffna . Tamil youth groups committed to Tamil Eel am rapidly grew in strength. This sea change occurred somewhere between 1977 to 1980. Violence against the Tamils in 1958 was viewed as an aberration that would not necessarily repeat itself. The left movement was strong and supported the language and citizenship rights of the Tamils and the Tamil left was determined in its opposition to the federalists. By 1977 the left had lost all its seats in parliament and the UNP was firmly in power. The TULF was perceived by younger elements collaborating with the UNP and letting down the Tamils.
in fact in certain sectors in spite of the growing oppression in Jaftna there was support for the UNR During the 1982 presidential election in spite of the events of 1979-1981 the TULF did not oppose Jayewardene in the presidential election. It is believed that several prominent Tamils including well known Christian leaders voted for J. R. The TULF as a matter of principle called for a “no” vote on the 1982 referendum but did not campaign as strongly as it should have. Jaffna MIRJE carried on a campaign for a “no” vote. A statement was issued signed by over forty trade unions and organizations and well known senior citizens in Jaffna . When we approached Bishop Kulandran he refused to sign the statement saying he had too many irons in the fire. Asked to explain he said that lie was as chairman of the Jaffna College Board of t)irectors negotiating the return of the Jaffna College library hooks from the University of Jaffna . Here, we had the ridiculous case of Tamils unable to arrive at a agreement over a local dispute seeking favours from a man who headed a government that by acts of commission or omission was responsible for the burning down of the Jafftia public library and a great deal of violence against the Tamils. The Jaffna College library constituted a few thousand books most of them replaceable and those not replaceable could have been photo copied or micro-filmed, Jaffna College having the necessary American connections to do it. The books were at any rate more useful in the newly founded Jaffna university serving Tamil students and which was poorly funded. The specific situation in Jaffna and the Tamil people in general at this juncture called for a partnership in the task of education, taking into account the paucity of state funding in addition to the deliberate discrimination against the Tamils. Church leaders arid college authorities did not have the capacity to forgive nor the will to place the larger welfare of the community above their narrow sectarian interests. The students at one point physically resisted the transfer of these books. Bishop Kulandran got what he wanted from Jayewardene and some members of the Jaffna College alumni called on President Jayewardene in a much publicised ceremony to thank him. This was a sad episode unbecoming of a distinguished college whose alumni paid homage to a man and a government that did so much damage to the Tamils. This was all the more to he regretted occurring after the destruction of the equally valuable Jaffna Public Library. Today some of these people are ardent Tamil nationalists who from the comfort of their first world homes say we must fight. Edmund Burke once declared ‘small minds and great empires go ill together”. We may as well say of these times and events that narrow minds, famous and time-honoured institutions and great causes go ill together.

It came to be known that the TULF was not going to use its radio and TV time on the referendum. When approached Mr. Amirthalingam said that they did not have the funds which at that time was Rs. 15,000 for 15 minutes. He conceded that if it were a parliamentary election he could raise a lalch or two in two days in the Jafina grand bazaar but could not raise that sum for a “no” vole on the referendum. He frankly revealed that the Jaffna business interests wanted the UNP in power and “US (the TULF) in parliament’. These then were some of the contradictions in the early phase of Tamil nationalism.

About this time several of us had became ardent advocates of the right toselfdetei1ition of the Tamils. Those of us who came from Jaffna to the Tewatte conference called by Bishop Lakshman in 1982 projected the demand for selfdetermination. The participants numbered over 150 and included eight bishops (two Tamil Roman Catholic Bishops) and several Tamil catholic priests. The non-Catholic Tamil churches from the north did not respond. Bishop Ambalavanar sent a message at the last minute requesting me to attend though I had no official standing in the church. Bishop Lakshman had called the conference with a very broad participation by Catholics and Non-Roman Catholics, mostly Sinhalese to focus on the legitimate grievances of the Tamils. Some of us upset his plans by demanding that first importance be given to the demand for self- determination. His efforts were frustrated and the whole conference failed. I must admit that we came with an open mind to this meeting. But it was our Sinhalese friends and southern activists who urged us not to dilute the self-determination demand. There was at that time a strong tendency to see in the Tamil militant movement a progressive and socialist content. There was a genuine belief that the Tamil struggle would be a step towards a transformation of Lankan society. We tended to romanticise the Tamil militant movements. We made passionate speeches defending the right to self-determination. I remember Fr. Jayaseelan commending my speech with the words “you were moved by the spirit “! In 1984 having left the country I met several of my former students and other acquaintances openly working for the several armed organizations in Madras, Germany, and in the U.K. Impressed by their commitment and devotion to the cause 1 wrote to the members of my family in Japan that one of these days we will be landing on the shores of Eelam! I now see that period of my life as my Tamil nationalist phase which ended in horror tollowmg the Tamil attack on civilians in Anuradhapura in 1985 and the escalating internecine conflict among the Tamil groups About the same time in the mid 1980s several Tamils including the above mentioned radicals were disillusioned and began to distance themselves from the Tamil armed groups. As is well known, Rajini paid the supreme j-- - in being killed. I must add that in Tewatte, while affirming our position I that there could be no compromise in the self-determination demand, we took the position that given the right to self-determination and in exercis-1 ing that right we would campaign for a united Lanka with the highest degree of autonomy for the Tamils in the Northeast. That I still believe is the correct theoretical position to take even today. The Muslim question did not figure prominently at that time. Today we have to concede the same right to the Muslims especially in the East.

Is there a way out? V.Karalasingham the leading Sama Samajist from the north in 1963 published his “The way Out for the Tamil-Speaking People”. He foresaw a broad alliance of all the communities in the country, trade unions and the left movement under the socialist banner coining together to resolve the National Question. His thesis remains valid to this day. The nearest the country has come to his vision is the PA we have today. Never before in our modem history have we had such a broad- based and all inclusive alliance though not necessarily under the leadership of the left. The alliance has held together in spite of many problems and still remains the best hope for a solution. I do not subscribe to the view that this will he our last chance. If the present leadership of the PA goes back on its stated commitment other alliances can emerge in the future. No one is indispensable. Politicians are as mortal as all of us. But why not now when we have the chance, Must the country bleed to death? Will the Tamils and Sinhalese within the country and abroad who are not part of this alliance respond even at this late stage. There can be no perfect and instant solutions. The solution is a process. The devolution proposals can lay the basis for a solution. The solution will require trust and goodwill. As Johan Galtung suggests conflict there will always be in human society. The challenge is to contain it and end violence. In the final analysis any conflict resolution must go beyond ethnic identities and give first priority to the vast majority that are poor, exploited and less-privileged.

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