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A documentary about the last days of the Sri Lankan civil war, the eradication of the LTTE and the brutal massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians. Our investigations suggest that the military operations were driven by a hidden political agenda and substantial economic and corporate interests. Follow the story to know more.

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The Sri Lankan Government has a military mindset: it won a war, now it garrisons the peace. Simple as that.

The Sinhalese supremacist narrative told the story of a righteous war: the evil terrorists attacked the righteous Sri Lanka and the brave and peaceful (at the end of the day, aren’t they Buddhist?) Sinhalese were forced to react. 30 years of nightmare were a reaction to the insane plan of a mad leader and his followers. Indeed Prabhakaran was a bloody warrior, he had an obsessive idea and he committed atrocities. But this is only the reverse of what actually happened. The LTTE was a consequence, not the cause.

The ethnic Tamil,working in the plantations, were disenfranchised of the citizenship after independence.

After independence, the Tamils were systematically undermined in the legitimacy of their citizenship: cultural identity, historical heritage were a dangerous claim against the majority. The ideology of a Sinhalese state besieged and threatened in its existence by corrosive forces was the reason of the mandate for president Bandaranaike. The Sinhala Only Act, the decision to downgrade the Tamil culture, was taken on the basis that the simple fact of speaking Tamil is a menace for the entire Sinhalese culture. The Sinhala speaking, Buddhist majority at the time was around 66% of the popultion. The disfranchisement of Plantation Tamil (Tamil of more recent immigration from India: “only” 150 years), put the proportion at 75%. Three quarters of the island is culturally Sinhalese. Nonetheless any presence of difference, is considered a challenge to the majority. The Tamil has been indeed a very influential community. But you can see nowadays the animosity against the Muslim as a product,stemming from the same intolerance.

When in the ’70s the pressure to minimize the Tamil identity started to become unbearable, moderate elements of the Tamil society decided that it was a better idea to second the Sinhalese ideology: if you want a state that is completely Sinhalese, then you can have it. We well retreat to our land of origin, the Northern and Eastern Provinces and secede. Of course the Sinhalese extremists consider this an act of rebellion and used an iron fist to put the Tamils in their place. After that, came the LTTE, a violent, brutal and blind force of reaction against a racist repression.

Note that the decision of living separately and seconding the Sinhalese myth has been considered an act of rebellion. You are a good Tamil citizen if you give up language and culture and embrace the Sinhalisation.

Then it was war, a fight for survival driven crazy by decades of oppression and humiliation. It is ideological to call this conflict a war on terror, a legitimate act of policing against terrorism. It was a civil war, the eruption of ethnic tension provoked by the intransigence of Sinhalese supremacy. The end of the war brought the victory on the Sinhalese side and it is up the victors to write history. Now they can state that any dissent is aligned with the terrorist insurgency. The militarization in the Northern provinces is only the prosecution of the same Sinhalese supremacy: to repress diversity with violence.

The LTTE was a natural consequence of such oppression and the actual exercise of power is the same majoritarian force that caused the reaction. The roots of violence haven’t been eliminated with the annihilation of the LTTE. On the contrary they prosper with under the warmongering regime of Rajapaksa. Nobody but Sinhalese people. This is the brutal, effective message, after the Eelam War. No country for Tamils, no country for Muslims. That implies also: no country for free man (see Lasantha Wickrematunge).

Children killed in a schoolyard bombed

On the 22th of September 1995 government forces started heavy shelling in the area of Vadamaratchi, by Jaffna. The teachers of the Nager Kovil school were quite nervous about the fate of the pupils, because of the nearby bombings. At noon the Junior school ended and so the children went home. The seniors students instead remained. A commemoration was planned at that time, under a tent. At 12:45 a bomb fell among the people, killing instantly 24 children and 15 others. Later many died for the injuries, bringing the final toll to 501.

After a week, the Defence Spokesman admitted the incident. The tent nearby the school was believed to be an LTTE facility2.

These are the name of the victims:

Tharmalingam Usanthini (13),

Markandu Nagalogini (10),

Thamotharam Sakunthala (12),

R. Regina (11),

Pologarajah Thushanthini (14),

Ravindran Amirtha (10),

Balachandran Rajitha (10),

Navaratnasamy Umathevy (12),

Suntharalingam Palani (15),

Suntharalingam Tharsini (14),

Kugasaravanamalai Tharsini (13),

Rajeev Gandhi Venu (11),

Krishnagopal Thavaseelan (13),

Rajaratnam Kavitha (10),

Nagamutthu Senthilvel (15),

Alfonse Amalaviji(14),

Mahalingam Sanmugavadivelan(16),

R. Sumithra(10),

K. Methini(14),

Navamany Mithura(14),

Sellam(15),

Ragavan(16),

Thangarasa Vasanthakumar(06),

Mylvaganam Gananathan(14),

Ranijithkumar Rajitha (11)

 

Rajini Thiranagama

Rajini Thiranagama was a doctor,an LTTE member and a human right activist. Her personal trajectory explains much of the Tamil independence movement and represents also a clear evidence of the derangement of such movement in the LTTE incarnation.

In the early years of the armed struggled, she was very much in tune with the aspiration of the Tigers; later on, she become increasingly critical of both the Tigers and the central government. Sge begun to collect evidence of human rights violation by the LTTE and the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF). She was one of the founder of the University Teacher for Human Rights, whose activity culminated in September 1989 with the publication of “The Broken Palmyra”, a book reporting the violence in Jaffna in the 1980s, committed by all parties involved: Sri Lankan government, LTTE and IPKF.

A week later, she was shot dead in front of her house in Jaffna.

courtesy University Teacher for Human Rights, Jaffna, Sri Lanka (uthr.org).

Her spirit is a guidance for everyone who’s committed to bring back Sri Lanka from the hell where has fallen. It is interesting that a person like Rajini in the first stage of the conflict, was aligned with the military struggle. To me it is a clear sign that the discrimination and the oppression of the Tamil community reached such a point that no other choice was available but to embark on a open warfare with the government. And with equal clarity, her condemnation of the LTTE and her subsequent assassination are the crystal evidence of the Tigers brutality. The LTTE stemmed from a natural sentiment of self-defence and justice, but very soon their ideal spiralled into a blind perpetuation of violence for the pure sake of it.

Students walk past a destroyed building in Jaffna [CC HumanityAshore]

The LTTE mutilated any attempt from the civil society to emerge as an expression of the Tamil community and the result was that no other path was available but to fight till victory or dying trying. The horrendous truth is that the leadership chose that direction intentionally: Prabhakaran eliminated such person from the political and intellectual landscape, precisely because they were representing a voice of conscience and a limit to his delirious warmongering.

The LTTE bears heavy responsibility for the way the IV Eelam War ended. Certainly the strategy on the field has been criminal; but much worst than the frantic decisions of a bunker situation, the two decades of terror imposed first of all on the Tamil people are the moral culprit of the tragic end of the conflict.

The responsibility of Sri Lankan government stands in full, despite this evil collaboration. That is why we must keep on, taking inspiration from people like Rajini Thiranagama towards a salvation of Sri Lanka. The German philosopher Heidegger said that: “where danger threatens, that which saves from it also grows”.

So I’m not surprise that in the moral devastation of the Sri Lankan war, you can find great spirit like her.

Muslim in Sri Lanka are quite a distinct case. Unlike Tamils and Sinhalese, they never made any claim of sovereignty in the island. But they found themselves harshly hit by the civil war. They suffered ethnic cleansing in the Northern Provinces by the LTTE and complete oblivion by the Sri Lankan government as refugees.

About 100,000 Muslim Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for the past 20 years have lived in refugee camps in Puttalam District and neighbouring areas. Tamil Tigers had expelled them.courtesy asianews.it

In Puttalam more than 100 000 people have been forgotten in refugee camps for 20 years. As recent as in 2009 the UNCHR (the United Nations agency for refugees), in partnership with Brandix Lanka were still struggling to deliver basic needs, like water and sanitation to them.

The Muslim in the Northern Provinces were Tamil speakers and lived in the region since hundreds of years. Their presence in modern times is old as the ones of Tamil or Sinhalese; yet they were considered stranger by the LTTE, on the main ground that they weren’t ‘real’ Tamils. If it was necessary, an evidence more of LTTE’s lack of democratic and inclusive conscience.

On the other side as well, Colombo showed its absolute disinterest for any other ethnic group outside the Sinhalese. During the IV Eelam War, Muslims parties have orbited around president Rajapaksa, on the ground that as a minority, it was better to cooperate rather than contest the majoritarian force of the central government. In the present coalition of government, Sri Lankan Muslims are present as ministers, but this compromise seems shor-lived.

The supremacist Sinhalese sentiment is growing stronger also against the Muslims. In April, radical Buddhists have tried to demolish the mosque of Dambulla. They fire-stormed the mosque and they threatened 70 others buildings of cult.

The monks involved in the protest claimed that they are just protecting Buddhism from encroachment, but everyone knows that all the other religions on the island are quite low-profile and don’t dare to contest the dominant position of the Buddhism. The minorities only try to survive in a climate of mistrust and oppression.

It is significative that the government is placidly turning its eyes somewhere else, when these cases of hatred and violence erupt. In a state where authoritarian rule is based on the iron-fist of the army, you may wonder how episodes of anarchy can take place. The reason is always the same: from the communal riots of ’58 and ’83, the government is implicitly backing up the racist-driven unrest.

All the the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state is dedicated towards a unitarian entity, but in any possible occasion it is remarked that unity Sri Lanka is Sinhalese and Buddhist. Consequently all the other minorities should consider themselves as barely tolerated.

The reality in the island is an intense hatred of the minorities by the majority. Sometimes this underground sentiment surfaces and explodes in violence. But the government is far from trying to reign it. On the contrary it deliberately let the steam off as a measure of control and threaten of the minority.

The LTTE was responsible for heinous crime, but the war was not anti-terrorism. The Tigers desperately tried to resist a force of discrimination and oppression, a violent force with the secret intent of eliminating and wiping out all the outsiders of the Sinhalese mainstream.

Until Sri Lanka will come to terms of the diversity within itself, an underlying resentment of the other minorities will be kept alive for further challenges of this unjust authority.

 

Sri Lanka Buddhist monks destroy Muslim shrine

In Septmber 2011 a mob destroyed the Muslim shrine in the city of Anuradhapura. In April 2012, thugs stormed the mosque of Dambulla. We have already talked about the strange ‘spontaneous mob’ in the history of Sri Lanka and as in previous cases, police officers were present but they didn’t intervene. The peculiarity about these incidents is that they were led by Buddhist monks.

At present they are focusing on the Muslim community ,so Rauff Hakeem, a Muslim politician, asked president Rajapaksa to suppress the ‘yellow robe terrorism’. It seems as the Sinhala Buddhist extremists are tolerating less and less the simple presence of the Muslim community(and now they come for the Muslims!).

Victim of a white van abduction

The message is that the Muslim are the new undesired guest, even if they always maintained a very low profile. This is particularly striking, given that the country just ended a bloody civil war with another minority. Sri Lanka has been characterized by various forms of “terrorism”. The government made a point of its identity in the so called “counter-terrorism”( instead it was a civil war). But the state itself committed act of terrorism, torture and abuse against citizens, like the case of the “white van” abductions are very well recorded. And of course all the atrocities that targeted the Tamil people. So what is the position of the state about the “yellow robe” one?

The answer is that Buddhism is at the core of the Sinhala supremacy. Sri Lanka in its constitution of the 1972 clearly defined itself as Sinhalese and Buddhist. The first victims of this intransigence were the Tamils. In fact the state made any possible gesture to undermine the identity and the position of the Tamil. The Sinhala Act of the 1956, the pogroms of the 1958 and 1983 are all example of majoritarian violence against the Tamils. This absolute intolerance lies in the specific religious tradition of the island. You could find a bit odd that a religion that is professing the impermanence of everything, would be so concerned in affirming it’s mundane presence. But there is a reason behind this. The Sri Lankan school of Buddhism is founded on the ‘Mahavamsa’, a poem of the 5th century CE narrating the early history of the religion on the island. The essential context of these chronicles is the falling of Buddhism in India. Devotees were clearly scared by the eclipse of their religion in the very place of origin, so their reaction was to ground their tradition as a firm stronghold for the doctrine.

Therefore the Mahavamsa itself must be contextualized in a period of profound concern for the survival of Buddhism. But the Buddhist clergy took this mandate in a totalitarian acceptation: any diversity must be considered as a direct opposition. No matter how marginal, any sign of not-alignment with the mainstream, must be viewed as the seed for future destruction. Hence it must be eliminated.

The problem is that after the Mahavamsa (or even before actually), other communities came to Sri Lanka. The Tamils can indeed trace their presence on the island back for millennia. And yet, this presence after independence was never completely tolerated. The necessity to assimilate the North by the Sinhalese ideology has always been present and fed by the pretext of Mahavamsa (see the very insightful article of Dr. Dewasiri). So the Buddhist clergy actually is the backbone of the movement to subjugate the Tamils before and now the Muslims.

We can see now a very clear trajectory of a supremacist ideology, that wants to eliminate any diversity.

The reaction of the LTTE masked this very simple fact: that the Sinhalese extremists don’t accept any other presence on the island, no matter how small or marginal this difference can be. The Sinhalese supremacy will always consider any difference as a direct opposition (here the hypothesis of a “Buddhist fascism”). The idea of reconciliation cannot exist until the “yellow robe” terrorism is dominant. Sri Lanka will never be pacified with this totalitarian violence of majority: the civil war was not caused by the LTTE; the roots of that virulent reaction are all still present and quite active now. It must be faced the simple fact that the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka is an element of disturbance and violence. I still don’t get how people who profess impermanence and mindfulness can so storm the lives of the others. Really I don’t get it.

Riots May 1958 – A Tamil passenger was taken out of the vehicle and beaten up

In July 1983 it is claimed that a spontaneous violence of the Sinhalese population spurred against the Tamils. It wasn’t the first time. Most notably in 1958, but during the ’60s and ’70s, tension was registered amongst the two ethnic group. Or better: anger and violence from the Sinhalese majority towards the Tamil minority. In fact the killing of the Four Four Bravo patrol was the first example of organized, Tamil aggression. Critically, against a military target.

So, from independence in 1948 to 1983, you have 30 years of growing animosity towards the Tamil minority, which is less and less tolerated. And precisely for that, the Tamil population tried to maintain a very low profile. Indeed the request was simply to exist as a distinctive community, with its own language and cultural identity, within the Sri Lankan state.

Pogroms against Tamil

This is crucial: the Tamils demanded only to exist as Tamils. And they conducted a very peaceful and non violent struggle. And the constant denial of the Sri Lankan state produced a very logical and obvious outcome: if the Sinhalese can’t tolerate the Tamil presence within the same state, it will be better to have a separate one. The request of an independent, separate state indeed came to prominence only in the ’70s, when it was clear that the state couldn’t or didn’t want to protect the Tamil citizens.

This is a point. The official position of the Sri Lankan state has been of mediator between the violent request of the Sinhalese majority and the peaceful resistance of the Tamil minority. It seems as the Sri Lankan government identity is shaped by the containment of Sinhalese justified violence against the Tamils. And sometimes you have to let steam off. It is only but natural that once in a while the majority will overcome its barely repressed tolerance and slash the obnoxious presence of the minority. This is more or less the message. That the Tamil presence is unnatural and it is not completed eliminated only because of mercy by the majority. But you can really blame it if reacts when provoked.

And when a military action took place like in 1983, the reaction involved all the Tamil community. And that was one example where the government couldn’t really defend the minority.

But this impotence was an act of will. In fact the pogroms done by the so-called ‘mob’, were actually quite organized and planned. Properties were carefully targeted, people picked up, check point set up and weapons made available. Most important, the police and the army didn’t really intervene and crack down this form of violence. The state has the right and the duty to eliminate any challenge to its sovereignty. The LTTE attack is an example and the ‘spontaneous mob violence’ is another one. But in the latter, nothing happened. The government actually accepted that kind of violence. You have two possible reasons: the mob violence is actually just an extension of the state will. The government is acting through the thugs, beyond its own legal framework.

Black July ’83 Sri Lanka

Or the government can’t really act against the force that intimately legitimized its authority: the assumption that the Sri Lankan state is founded on the Sinhalese affirmation, which is more grounded that the rule of law. And when the Sinhalese affirmation take a violent form, it is granted legitimacy by its own force. This is a tribal law, whose constitution is illiterate and drawn with blood.

In either cases if you are Tamil, your chances of survival are quite low. Because your state made a point of erasing your identity. Assimilation or elimination. Sri Lanka is not a country for Tamils. Cornered in such a way, some in the Tamil community felt that they had little to lose in fighting till death the Sri Lankan state.