Tissanayagam saga: Part III- New space opens for greater democracy in Sri Lanka
Posted on January 11th, 2010

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Considering that the nation was plunged into violence for 33 years, starting from the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976, it was incongruous and irrational for the “free media” agents to demand that they be given carte blanche right to publish anything and everything deemed necessary by the editors, including some military secrets. Justice T. S. Fernando in one of his judgments dismissed such claims as the “freedom of the wild asses”.

There is no unlimited right granted in any democracy to dissent if that right is likely to lead to the very suppression of the rights of others to co-exists in peace harmony with all communities and neighbours, or if that right to dissent leads to the suppression of the right to dissent as seen in the case of the Tamil Tigers. They were adept in exploiting all the available rights in the book to suppress the rights of others who disagreed with them. Of course, they had the right to dissent non-violently. But when they move aggressively and violently to suppress the right of other to dissent then they become enemies of democracy and forfeit the right to exist as a political entity. Whatever the high-sounding arguments of the deluded idealists living in Cloud Nine may be, no democracy has or will entertain such extremists. As they say in America, the press is free but regulated. Freedom loses its meaning and potency if dissent, armed with indiscriminate violence, attacks the very bases of freedom. How many American journalists hailed the 9/11 attack that killed over 3,000 Americans? How many would have been allowed to? Not even the News York Times, a leading symbol of American democracy, which carries on its masthead the legendary motto, “All that’s fit to print”, thought that violent dissent of the Al Quaeda was fit to print only as condemnation. And it was right.

It is indeed a mockery of freedom and justice if human rights are allowed to be hijacked by violent extremists who use it according to the dictates of their brutal political agenda. Human rights used selectively for political agendas negate the very essence and objectives of human rights. Human rights loses its credibility as a viable force for ending violence if it is weighted heavily and primarily against the democratic forces fighting ruthless and futile violence wrapped in liberation theologies.

Predictably, human rights activists focused essentially on the GOSL and demanded high moral standards in its military offensives or in its dealings with the Tamil Tiger terrorists whose respect for human rights was as great as Hitler’s respect for the Jews. Human rights was a counter-productive force in dealing with the Tamil Tigers. Each concession to Tigers on human rights considerations strengthened the hands of Prabhakaran to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Besides, those who argued that the Sri Lankan state should be guided by international humanitarian law ignored the fact that Prabhakaran too was claiming to be a head of state. Anton Balasingham, the Tiger ideologue speaking on behalf of Prabhakaran, claimed that they on par with the GOSL. His claim to statehood was on the basis that they had all the trappings of a state including an army, navy, air force, police, judiciary etc.

Based on their claim to statehood “”…” a claim endorsed by some NGOs and even Erik Solheim, the pro-Tiger Norwegian facilitator — there was no reason to reduce the responsibility of the Tiger terrorists to maintain the same standards as that of the Sri Lankan state. But the NGO pundits went all out to place the moral responsibilities exclusively on the state and glossed over the responsibilities of the Tamil Tigers, saying that they have no equivalent responsibility as the state.

It was double-speak. When it came to negotiations and dealings with the Tigers the NGO pundits insisted on treating the Tigers on par with the state of Sri Lanka. But when it came to human rights the NGOs argued that the state of Sri Lanka has greater responsibilities than their favored state of the Tigers. To argue for diminished responsibility for one favoured party is to negate the fundamental objectives of human rights. Either you condemn both parties with equal force or you hold you tongue forever. Sri Lanka unfortunately was the victim of the biased doctrine that the state has greater responsibility than the ruthless Tamil Tigers who, despite condemnation, enjoyed favoured treatment to walk in the corridors of Western democracies and manipulate foreign offices from Washington, DC to Canberra. It was the nudge-nudge-wink-wink treatment from these high priests of morality defending human rights that prolonged the agony of a 33-year-old war — a war which could have been shortened if these moral panjandrums knew how to make decisions based on pragmatic strategies to end violence rather using human rights to add fuel the raging fires.

Sri Lanka was engaged in a war to end violence and the success of that war is visible to all after the Vadukoddai War was brought to an end on May 18, 2009. The unnecessary deaths and violations of human rights have dropped to zero after May 18. This is the ultimate justification for the war waged by the Sri Lankan government. In the extremely tense, highly volatile and militarized Sri Lanka, where there was no way out except through counter-violence, the state had a right to go all out to eliminate the Tamil Tigers with superior forces. After the failure of negotiations, agreements and interventions by international third parties, violence was inevitable. It was in the logic of history. The peace that dawned after May 18 justifies the counter violence of the state to eliminate the Tamil Tigers.

There are, of course, those who argue that using violence to suppress r eliminate intransigent agents of violence is a descent into the same cesspit of those who initiated the violence. They argue that if morality is to make a difference then the defenders of freedom, democracy and justice must eschew the violence of those who attack the bases of peaceful co-existence. The ideal is commendable. But history has been one solid argument to prove the impotency of abstract ideals to advance and preserve ideals that liberated man from the chains of a tyrannical past. The incontestable evidence provided by history, if assessed realistically, goes to prove that ideals were achieved and preserved by meeting violence with violence. At critical times when evolving events explode into violence there is hardly an alternative other than violence to meet the intransigent and irrational violence.

Sri Lanka is a classic case. All the fanciful theories imported from the West, the idealistic principles mouthed by peace-merchants in the NGOs and even the peace formulas worked out by the regional and international super powers failed repeatedly to resolve the violence of the intransigent Tamil Tigers. Ultimately, it was the relentless and superior forces of the counter-violence of the state that finally ended 33-years of Vadukoddai violence. Besides, the ending of violence has opened up space for the survival and revival of democratic institutions and norms. War has always been a hostile environment for democracy to survive. In fact, the fact that democratic institution withstood the pressures of war in Sri Lanka is indeed a remarkable phenomenon. .

What has to be acknowledged is that the reduction of the freedoms in times of war, though repugnant, was kept within manageable limits. The remarkable feature is that a 33-year-old war was conducted within a democratic framework, however defective it may have been. The evidence of violence decreasing at all levels after Nandikadal proves that democracy is not dead like Prabhakaran. It is alive and kicking and is still ready to face other enemies of democracy.

The fear of democracy disappearing, particularly by the political parties not holding power, is a recurring feature of Sri Lankan politics. In all these controversies, one thing is certain: the almost ungovernable and rebellious Sri Lankans will never yield to a dictatorship. They will see to it that it will end sooner than later.

The only fascist dictatorship that had a life of its own in Sri Lanka was in Prabhakaran’s Evil-lam” in the Vanni. The pro-Prabhakaran Tamils were jubilant about their pseudo state, marked distinctly with all the evils of a one-man rule, while condemning the elected “Sinhala governments” as oppressors of the Tamils. One of the fundamental weaknesses of the Tamil political class has been its failure to look inward into their systemic failures. Anyone critical of Tamil society was seen as traitors or enemies of the Tamils.

However, even a cursory glance at history will reveal that the path to the humiliating disaster in Nandikadal was due mainly to the intransigent and short-sighted Tamil political culture, with its peninsular mentality riddled with casteism and racist extremism. It was an inhibiting and restrictive culture that never provided space for the Tamils to enjoy their rights and freedoms as under the “Sinhala governments” which they vilified and condemned.

The Vellahla fascism from feudal to colonial times and its offspring in Prabhakaran’s fascism crushed and oppressed the Tamils under their ruthless governance. The Vellahlas were the subaltern rulers who had a free run under colonial times to impose their Hindu-based ideological will on the oppressed lower castes of Jaffna without any mercy. Prabhakaran, fine tuned the cruelty of the Vellahlas not with casteism but with hate politics against everybody “”…” Vellahlas, Muslims. Indians, and last but not the least the Sinhalese.

The “Sinhala governments” can be accused of many acts of commission and omissions “”…” especially 1983 — but not the denial of the freedoms imposed by Prabhakaran’s one-man rule, or the earlier Vellahla fascism. Neither gave the Tamils their individual rights as under the democracy of the “Sinhala governments”. The Prevention of Social Disabilities Act of 1959 stands as a monumental attempt by the “Sinhala government” to liberate for the first time in the history of the peninsula the oppressed caste Tamils who could not even enter a Hindu temple to worship their common God.

Tamils of all categories, particularly the low-castes, found greater freedom in the “Sinhala governments” of the post-independence era than under any period of their history. Sankili marched down to Mannar and massacred on Christmas eve 600 Tamils Catholics for declaring their allegiance to another religious power, the Portuguese. Crushing dissent has been a common feature of the Jaffna political culture in all its stages dominated by (1) its pre-colonial fiefs,(2) colonial Vellahlas and (3) post-independence Prabhakaran.

Apart from the numerous cases documented by the UTHR (Jaffna), the case of the veteran Tamil leader, V. Anandasangaree, leader of the TULF, illustrates the plight of the Jaffna Tamils under Prabhakaran. He said that the Tamils had the right to protest when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike went to open the Jaffna University and yet, under the so-called Tamil state of Prabhakaran he could not even step into Jaffna. Even the TNA MPs had greater freedom in protesting against the Sri Lankan government than protesting against Prabhakaran. The NGO theoreticians, who condemned GOSL as “a failed state”, have to ask some serious questions about their own honesty, integrity and capability to assess political realities of the day.

It should also be recognised that in the fluctuating rhythms of history the boundaries of democracy tend to either expand or decrease from time to time, depending on the pressures faced by each nation. When the 7/11 bombing on London buses stunned the British public Tony Blair openly declared that the “rules must change”. And he had no hesitation in rushing through parliament new rules curtailing the existing freedoms.

In Sri Lanka too the change for the good is visible in all spheres. The new post-war dynamics is creating a new environment for greater democracy without the pressures of terror haunting the nation. The rules are changing again, slowly but surely. In this new atmosphere, it is time to release Tissanayagam now that there are no bombs blowing up humans for him to praise that the explosives of the Tamil Tigers serve a higher purpose than that of the Sri Lankan forces. War in all its aspects is horrendous though democratic states are forced to take up violence to end futile and unnecessary wars like the Vadukoddai War waged by the Tamil Tigers for 33 years.

The ending of the war has opened up new space for democracy to expand its boundaries to its status quo ante. Tissanayagam should be allowed to go and enjoy the new freedom which he could never have got if the war dragged on. Nandikadal has come as a blessing to all peace-loving Tamils.

Tissanayagam should be allowed to go home into the bosom of his cultured and loving father whom I knew as a distinguished public servant in the Information Department. He dealt with us reporters with a professional and urbane touch. One of his distinguishing characteristics was his equanimity and ability to rise above racist ideologies. Who knows, given the opportunity, his son may emulate his father and settle down to live happily and peacefully ever after in his new found freedom!


One Response to “Tissanayagam saga: Part III- New space opens for greater democracy in Sri Lanka”

  1. pam Says:

    Well said Mr Mahindapala.
    What all these human rights activists forget in their delirious attacks on a party fighting ruthless terrorists is the fact that terrorists violate all the rights of every human being to be alive and free. The only language they understand is terror and therefore terror should be fought with terror. I was in Singapore during the end of the LTTE and when the hypocritical West was screaming at the SL state for violation of human rights (what a joke) when a number of Singaporeans commented that “terror should be fought with terror, that is all that the terrorists will understand”.
    It is sad that civilians had to die in the process, but that happens in every war. In Nandikadal, it was the murderous LTTE who put thousands of civilians in harm’s way and therefore should be held responsible.
    The West has messed up things all around the world and is still trying to mess things up for non-western nations. If their freedom is threatened in anyway, then the West will kill like no other!!!!
    I salute Mahinda Rajapakse for not giving into the West.

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