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Adivasis revolutionary fighters

Adivasis revolutionary fighters

What is the biggest threat to India’s security? You could think of further terrorist operations orchestrated by their arch-enemy Pakistan, the so called containment strategy of China with the String of Pearls, but no, you would be wrong. Surely the Indian armed forces and the RAW, the secret service are taking into account these issues as future menaces. But the current, biggest threat to internal security is the Maoist guerilla of the Naxalites, which count amongst its file indigenous warriors armed with bows and arrows. Members of the Adivasis, the indigenous ethnicity of India, more than 80 millions, are fighting back against the oppression by the central government and joined the Maoist militia in several states. The some of the Adivasis are tired of being discriminated and most of all expropriated of their land rights.

Adivasis's rally

Adivasis’s rally

And New Delhi, the biggest democracy of the world, the strong ally of the good Western government amongst the dodgy, authoritarian Asian states, responded with a responsible, measured, contained military operations, called Green Hunt. In collaboration with the regular forces there are also paramilitary troupes, funded by private stakeholders. These are the best practices exported by the USA during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and we should admire the consistency of India in aligning itself with the best Western policies.

Adivasis' protest against Vedanta

Adivasis’ protest against Vedanta

You may ask why the Indian government is so upset with indigenous populations, who lived for millennia in their forest, with unchanged habits and astonishingly sustainable behaviour, why they are fighting these groups rather than picking them up as global models? Easy to answer, it is the case that they live where there are enormous reserve of metals and minerals. And given the needs of the growing Indian economy and the worldwide prices, many companies are salivating at the idea of grabbing those mines. In particular the giant Vedanta secured vast concessions. And they want to exploit them, so they supported this massive campaign to evict the Adivasis from their property.

Sri Lanka Defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, with alleged blood stains on his shirt.

Sri Lanka Defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, with alleged blood stains on his shirt.

A generous offer of consulting about the matters arrived from Sri Lanka. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of the president Mahinda and plenipotentiary minister of Defence, not to mention acclaimed leader of the army and potential war criminal for the massacres of 2009, offered his help1.

Mr Rajapaksa exposed his rationale: we have matured an extensive experience in counter-insurgency and we learned how to deal with fighters mingled with civilians. You have only to control the media and position yourself wisely in the international scenario, then you can do whatever you want. Seriously, you can slaughter hundreds of thousands (yes, around 3 times the victims in Sirya) of civilians and nobody will mind your business.

If you think that I’m exaggerating, many Indian commentators thoroughly studied the Rajapaksas’ strategy and compiled a brief guideline that is precisely mentioning control over the media, international relations and steel determination to achieve the goal, regardless of civilian casualties2.

Gen. Bikram-Singh visits Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Gen. Bikram-Singh visits Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Finally Rajapaksa can offer an already integrated plan of action: Sri Lankan and Indian forces not only conducted joint operations in the past. During the IV Eelam war, military officer from the Indian forces were actually on the field, monitoring, observing, advising and cooperating with the Sri Lanka’s Army. New Delhi is perfectly aware of what happened in 2009 and the fate of the so called “brethren” Tamil. Tamil Nadu politics is based on the support to the Tamils on the other side of the Strait. At least this is the main characteristic of one of the most important politician, Mr Karunanidhi, who was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu during the final days of the war and who didn’t move a finger to safe his beloved bretheren because was involved in a massive scandal of corruption.

In a matter of days, India answered, that, yes, they are quite interested in the Sri Lankan offer to train them on counter-insurgency. Quoting Gen. Singh: “With significant experience on both sides, we have a lot to learn each other and we look forward to reinforcing our cooperation in the military domain further”3.

Sri Lanka granted exploration right to Cairn back in 2008

Sri Lanka granted exploration right to Cairn back in 2008

A final note: in the Mannar Basin, offshore from the coast controlled by the LTTE and scenario of the massive, brutal counter-offensive of the Sri Lankan army, in which almost 440 000 civilians have been chased like wild animals for months, it has been found oil.

And guess who is taking control of those oil field? You’ll never get it. It’s Vedanta again!

So Vedanta is conducting paramilitary operations in India to evict Adivasis, and then it turned to Sri Lanka to expropriate the Tamils because of the oil, using the ruthless Rajapaksa regime as (happy) executioner of the dirty job. If it was a Hollywood movie, you had say that the figure of the evil company exploiting natural resources and killing poor indigenous would have been too clichè to be true. As usual reality is more surprising than fiction, much more.

290 000 Tamil civilians come out from the last siege of the Sri Lankan army.

290 000 Tamil civilians come out from the last siege of the Sri Lankan army.

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sri lanka military presence 3The Tamil and Sinhalese community are still two divided community. Heroes of one side, are executioners for the other, terrorists here, liberators there. Every propaganda presents heroes as people who sacrificed their life for a cause, fighting. Until you’ll find a hero with guns, bullets and grenades, Sri Lanka will never converge towards a common name. In fact grenades for the cause were thrown against the other faction. The ideals of one side had to crash against the skull of people from the other side. One shared hero based on bullets and guns in Sri Lanka is a contradiction.

Unless you resort to people who were fighting with the sole courage of their words and ideas. These people can really become the light of rebirth for Sri Lanka. One of these heroes of justice and truth was Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Lasantha Wickrematunge (5 April 1958 – 8 January 2009)

Lasantha Wickrematunge (5 April 1958 – 8 January 2009)

He was a thorny journalist, from the Sinhalese side but undeterred to speak against his president and friends. He was fighting for a better society, for a Sri Lanka more inclusive and just. He attacked a ruthless and brutal regime also because he was part of the same community. Rajapaksa was a family friend and he started to criticize him as an old mate. He could say more than anybody else, because he knew the people very intimately. He reached the line and he was told so. When he crossed the line, he was eliminated. But with his death he was reborn a hero of Sri Lanka.

In fact he didn’t challenge the authority because of arrogance or imprudence. He didn’t die because of a miscalculation of risk.

On the contrary, he was perfectly aware of the offence committed against power. He confronted a violent despot with perfect conscience that he wouldn’t survive this trial. He decided to sacrifice his life, in a state of pure clarity of mind.

In one of the most touching article in the history of journalism, the day after his death, he wrote a posthumous editorial. He accused his killers and left his legacy. It is a testament for all the people with heart and mind, with the will to change society for the better. He gave his life intentionally, choosing truth and justice for a happy life with his son and daughters, his wife

Wickrematunge family

Wickrematunge family

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When you renounce to your existence for a cause, you deserve respect; but sometimes your sacrifice takes also the life of others and when they are innocents, your gesture is compromised. But if you give your life in a pure manifestation of generosity, of love for truth and justice, then you really become a light and an inspiration.

Lasantha Wickrematunge is an example for all Sri Lanka, the ultimate hero for a united sense of justice. If you think that justice must prevail in the country, if you think that violence must be left behind, if you think that the war is over, (but not oppression), if you think that guns should leave the way to words and ideas, if you think that heroes are those who lead the way, then please remember Lasantha and his sacrifice.

When enough Sri Lankans will consider true heroes people like him, when they will take him as their hero, the country will automatically become a better place.

Procession at Wickrematunge's funeral

Procession at Wickrematunge’s funeral

An article of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge will always protect my conviction in the power of words.1 In his last column, Wickrematunge denounced his killers and linked it to the president Rajapaksa. He was aware of the danger of his editorial freedom and his last gesture stands as a temple of courage, intelligence and justice. His magazine’s mission, the Sunday Leader was the critical conscience of civil society in Sri Lanka. After his death, Frederica Jansz, took over and you can say she maintained the spirit of the founder.

In a famous article, she questioned the almighty defense’s minister, state brother Gotabaya on a petty incident. The reaction of the Rajapaksa was arrogant, brutal and violent. Few months after, the struggling Sunday Leader accepted a new owner. And in weeks, the new publisher sacked Frederica.

On the 18th of November it published an apology for the episode2.

It is clearly a heartache for me to read on the same column of Wickrematunge such cowardliness is painful.

But paradoxically this apology screams even louder the arrogance of power, the oppression over freedom of expression and the danger of criticizing the regime than a polemic editorial.

 

Sri Lanka is heading rapidly towards an authoritarian regime and this apology represents a desperate call for freedom.

I just hope that any member of the civil society in Sri Lanka realizes the danger of supporting the Rajapaksa regime, regardless of the short term benefit that could obtain. Any dissent is increasingly seen as anti-patriotic.

This article one time more is denouncing the climate of rising fascism in Sri Lanka. In a convoluted and sad way, the Sunday Leader is still accusing the government, but what a shame that we need to hear it with such oxymoron.

1http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/13/wickrematunga-final-editorial-final-editorial

Episodes of unrest in Greece.
Courtesy BBC

In States governed by the rule of law, governments have a monopoly of violence, but it is restricted to specific occasions and circumstances. It is a failure of the rule of law when a state commits a murder. Always. There are countries which consider themselves at war; this is the case of Israel. Recently a leader of Hamas has been killed1. What is the legitimacy of actions like that? In principle, very low. A governmental entity should always bring to justice any person that is labelled an enemy. A proper tribunal will verify the charges and eventually, sentence to death. This is legitimate.

You can advance an exception when there is an immediate danger for public security: killing one man to save many. To our knowledge, this wasn’t the case. But Israel claims it is in a permanent state of war. The consequence we can draw is that Israel is in a state of suspended legality.

Osama Bin Laden

A second situation in recent history is the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This is a high profile case. Two wars have been declared on the basis of his responsibilities; he wasn’t an immediate threat. The whole event is surrounded by mystery and suspicions. The impression is that the dimension of his personality was growing completely out of control. He was an icon and the US were quite disturbed by his popularity, which was extending beyond the Middle East. His statements about his own actions but also his involvement with the US secret service would have helped a lot in understanding the recent events of world history. The killing of Osama seems very much like cleaning up an uncomfortable and disturbing presence, more than the elimination of a security threat. Legitimacy absent, but not even in discussion: it’s the case of national interest and it’s a curtain on truth and legitimacy.

Killing of Top-LTTE member Parithy in France.
Courtesy of SL Defence Ministry.

And we have a third, recent case. The killing of Parithy, a Top LTTE member in Paris2. War in Sri Lanka is over; there is more than one issue, but they are grievances of the Tamil community, not of the Sri Lankan state. On the contrary, the misconduct of the government during the final stage of the conflict is dragging down also the UN, with an internal report due to be published in weeks, highlighting the failure of the United Nations in protecting the civilian population3. So no national interest was involved, on the contrary Sri Lanka should have better adopted a low profile. If you want justice and reconciliation is always better to bring to the judiciary authority any person, who is deemed responsible for crimes. And the Sri Lankan state should have also captured the leader of LTTE, Prabhakaran, instead of murdering him. Very much like Osama, the government was uncomfortable in dealing with a personality that could have cast more than shadow on the government’s doing. The LTTE was considered a terrorist organization; the trial of its leader could have been a opportunity to come to terms with its own history for Sri Lanka. Of course this is a painful process and it was much easier to eliminate the problem.

UK and France Foreign Ministers Miliband and Kouchner in Sri Lanka, during the attacks on civilians.

I want to conclude with a small observation with regards of killing of Parithy. Sri Lanka is not the US or Israel; it doesn’t have the negotiating power to impose a killing on French sovereign territory. Parithy has been jailed for a couple of years on the accuse of terrorism; he was freed. The Sri Lankan secret service killed him with the complete consent of Paris. This was an act outside the rule of law, so France is an accomplice of the killing. The clue is important to clarify the European position with regards of Sri Lanka. The West was quite moderate and mild in condemning the massacre of 2009. More than 40 000 have been killed, but it could be a staggering 140 000, according to the respectable source of the Bishop of Mannar. Miliband and Kouchner (UK and France foreign ministers at the time) staged a consequenceless drama during the most severe moments of the killing. Europe was culpably silent. This last favour to Sri Lanka shows that they were also associate with those actions.

The last responsibility is for the civil society and for the Tamil diaspora for not being able to convey this simple message to the public opinion in the West, which sleeps in a state of oblivion with regards of justice, accountability and legitimacy.

 

Tamil civilian victims in Mullivaikal, 2009 Sri Lanka.

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.


On July the 23rd 1983 a small group of Tamil rebels ambushed the Four Four Bravo convoy of the Sri Lankan Army. The rebels, a cell of the LTTE, killed 13 out of 15 soldiers of the patrol. A very severe and negative judgement should be expressed on the overall activity of the LTTE: the Tigers committed several crimes; precise and detailed account are available from international and independent sources. Any Tamil should be more aware of the dark side of the Tigers. The LTTE in many, too many occasions hit civilians and innocents. But in that infamous July of 29 years ago, the target was military, completely military. Within the legal framework of a state is clearly an act of aggression, but it is not even criminal. In fact the rebels stands precisely to contest that framework and they suspend themselves from the law of a state they consider oppressive and unjust. Other laws stand, though. It’s the beginning of war and wartime laws apply. For example, it’s not murder to kill a man of the opposite faction, under appropriate circumstances. But must of all, the laws of humanity apply. Civilians per definition are exempted by the hostilities (and soldiers who surrender).

On the other hand, the state has all its right to eliminate this challenge to its authority and sovereignty. The Sri Lankan army would have been on the right side, had responded to Tigers’ fire.

But it didn’t.

President Jayawardene, few days before the riots, said on the Daily Telegraph:

‘I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now… Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us… The more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhala people will be here…really, if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy’

This is very clear statement that the government is not interested in suppressing violence against the Tamils. These words came out two weeks before the riots.

What happened is that ‘spontaneous mob’ targeted Tamil citizens and properties. People have been decapitated, burned alive, massacred. And the police and the army took very bland and superficial measures. Some members of political parties actually took active part in the violence, leading groups of thugs. Nobody has been seriously prosecuted for those events. The lack of intervention of the state was a clear message that the killing of the Tamils is a legitimated action. At least in the framework of an ethnic pogrom.

Now, in political theory the state has the monopoly of violence: the government had the right of responding to the LTTE attack precisely and only for this reason. From a theoretical point of view, the mob violence is a form of insurgency and a challenge to the state sovereignty of the same nature as the one of the LTTE. Mob violence should be treated as terrorism. Instead the government let it go. It didn’t take appropriate counter measures, it didn’t punish people responsible. In other words, it tacitly condoned the event. Well, as we have seen, not even so tacitly. The words of president Jayawardene are heavy as rocks and sharp as swords, in the agitated context of the July 1983. The pogrom of the Black July is a responsibility of the Sri Lankan state. The Tamil insurgency started appropriately with an army to army aggression, whereas the government reaction continued to target civilians and to be ethnic oriented. No surprise that this single-minded racial violence escalated to a civil war. It is out of the question that the start of war was caused by the oppressive and violent stance of the Sri Lankan government.

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