Looking at Sri Lanka with one eye closed – Part II
Posted on April 11th, 2014

H. L. D. Mahindapala

One clear parallel that runs in the secessionist wars of Sri Lanka and American is that both wars were fought within a democratic frame work, however flawed both may have been. Abraham Lincoln had to curtail civil liberties and even imprison newspaper editors during the Civil War.

Sri Lanka too fought two internal enemies of the state within a democratic framework ” one from the South and the other from the North. Rising sporadically, between 1970 and 2009, these two wars ran for nearly 50 years of its 74 years of independence To have survived 50 years of turmoil without dismantling  its democratic framework is a remarkable feat by any standards of the developing world.

Considering the overwhelming socio-economic pressures it was possible for anyone of the Sri Lankan leaders to suspend/rig parliament, tie up the judiciary hand and foot, and run the executive with an iron fist. In post-colonial Afro-Asian nations, weighed down by the crippling legacies left behind by the imperialist masters, the collapse of democratic institutions was quite a common feature. Sri Lanka is one of the leading exceptions. Sri Lanka not only fought the fascist terror aimed at dismantling the state for the better part of its post-colonial period but also maintained a welfare state which went out of its way to provide essentials like food and medicine ” not to mention free education and  health services ” to the terrorist held territories in times of war.

According to UNICEF, the American-led naval cordon thrown round Iraq to punish Saddam Hussein cut off food and medicine  which caused the death of 600,000 Iraqi children. Madeline Albright, the then Secretary of State, justified it as a political necessity. Sri Lanka on the contrary was commended by the UN for  being the only nation  which supplied essentials to a rebel-held territory. Sri Lanka continued to provide food, medicine and other essentials to its Tamil citizens trapped inside the rebel-held territory.

There is no doubt that aberrations marred the democratic image of Sri Lanka. But then which democracy has not been tainted by aberrations? Despite institutional and political lapses Sri Lanka was embedded firmly in the democratic mainstream providing space for all shades in the political spectrum, including the provision of shelter, security, sustenance to the MPs who were an integral part of the Tamil Tiger terrorists whose main aim was to break-up the nation. These MPs used all the rights and liberties available in the democratic state to defend and back the very terrorists who were violating all the laws of the land in pursuit of their separatist political agenda..

The Tamil Tiger terrorist were the most serious threat to the elected democracy next to the JVP terrorists of the south in the post-colonial period. The Tamil National Alliance MPs, who were dependent on the patronage of the fascist Tamil Tigers for their survival, exploited the liberal freedoms to undermine the very freedoms they enjoyed in the Sri Lanka in backing the fascist Vanni regime. Perhaps, the greatest achievement of the independent Sri Lanka is that it fought two fascist offensives, one from the south and the other from the north, without dismantling the democratic foundations of the nation.

The fact that Sri Lankan managed to retain the fundamental democratic institutions, under the worst imaginable political violence of nearly 50 years of its 74 years of independence, demonstrates the power, stability and the resilience of democratic foundations laid by the founding fathers of the Sri Lankan polity. As stated by Prof. A. J. Wilson, before he began to the mouth the propaganda of his separatist father-in-law, S. J.V. Chelvanayakam, the essential spirit of Buddhist tolerance sustained the success of democratic structures of Sri Lanka. There were threats to the state from Right-wing military coups, Left-wing terrorists of the fascist JVP, and the most destructive of them all, the ruthless Tamil Tiger terrorists. But nothing could destroy the democratic framework that stood the test of time triumphantly. 

Contrast this with the Jaffna Tamil political culture. During the feudal and colonial periods it was under the fascist culture of the Vellahla oppressors who treated their own people as pariahs, excluding them from their casteist circle. The oppression of the Tamil “minorities” ” the euphemism used by them to define the outcast Tamils ” is the darkest chapter in Sri Lankan history. They wouldn’t give a drop of water from  their wells to the low-castes. They wouldn’t let them enter the Vellahla-owned temples. They wouldn’t let the low-caste even bury their dead according to Hindu rituals saying that those rituals were the  privilege of the Vellahlas. They burnt down the schools attended by the low-castes. The Churches built separate pews to separate the “twice-born” Vellahlas from the low-castes.

The Vellahla casteist oppression was as bad, if not worse, as apartheid in S. Africa or the Ku Klux Klan in the Bible belt of southern America. The supremacy of the Vellahlas of Jaffna was maintained by an aggressive, oppressive, fascist regime with no democratic or human rights granted to their own people. The Vellahla casteist regime that deprived the Tamil “turumbas” ” a low caste — of their birthright to walk in daytime, in case they polluted the pure sight of the Vellahlas, makes a mockery of their cry of discrimination by the Sinhalese. The “turumbas” were allowed to walk only around midnight with a palm frond wiping the footprints left behind, and yelling loudly: “Turumbas are coming! Turumbas are coming!” to alert the Vellahlas to keep a safe distance away from their polluting presence.

Democratic, liberal and humane strands were never an integral part of the casteist fascist culture of Jaffna. Even during colonial times the Vellahlas managed Jaffna society as sub-rulers. The powerful Vellahla elite used their power to keep the low-castes under their jackboots. They held the monopolistic grip on lands, the Hindu temples, and the key administrative jobs in the Dutch and British bureaucracies ” all of which gave them a commanding position in running the Jaffna political culture according to their needs and aspirations. Every political move, whether in the village councils or in the Legislative Councils, State Councils and Parliaments, were initiated and manipulated by the Vellahlas to protect, preserve and push their political objective of being the “sole representatives of the Tamils”. The lower castes did not have any breathing space in the suffocating Vellahla culture of Jaffna.What was projected to the world as the “grievances and aspirations” of the Tamil people was nothing more than the “grievances and aspirations” of the English-educated Vellahla elite and not that of the oppressed Jaffna people. The oppressed, as in any other place, had no voice in a culture  dominated by the powerful.

To cut a long story short, when  the Vellahlas handed over the power they wielded over the centuries to the rising militants at the Vadukoddai sessions on May 14, 1976, urging them to take up arms to achieve their goal of Eelam, they legitimized the continuation of casteist violence. It was in the Vadukoddai Resolution that the Vellahlas metamorphosed from brutal casteists to brutal mono-ethnic extremists.

In the pre-Vadukoddai period they legitimized  their violence under the Hindu ideology as a God-given right. In the post-Vadukoddai period they legitimized their violence blaming the Sinhalese. Casteist violence was contained within the Jaffna peninsula which the Vellahlas could command and control under the divine order legitimized in Hinduism. The racist violence was directed mainly against perceived external enemies which they couldn’t handle directly. The Vellahlas had already dressed themselves in the Emperor’s clothing of non-violent Gandhism. But these self-proclaimed Gandhis endorsed and legitimized the Vadukoddai violence. So they handed the gun to the militant youth like Velupillai Prabhakaran, a low-caste karaiyar, hoping to ride on  their backs to power.

At this critical stage, suspending casteism to replace it with racism was the only path available for the Vellahlas to retain their political power. In the latter part of the 20th century Hindu Saivite casteism, revised by Arumuka Navalar, the casteist fanatic, had lost its steam. They had lost the  power to claim superiority over the low-castes on an outdated religious ideology. Emerging social fissures were threatening to split the monolithic grip of the Vellahlas based on a feudalistic Hindu ideology. Besides, the militant  youth were against casteism just as they were against the Sinhala bogey man. The only alternative ideology to  maintain their grip on Jaffna political culture was to divert attention to the external enemy. Anti-Sinhala racism provided the ideological cover for the Vellahla elite to hold all castes under their hegemony. It diverted attention from their systemic failures. Scapegoating the “evil” Sinhalese had been going on from the twenties, with G. G. Ponnambalam escalating it in the thirties. By the seventies it was a ready-made mantra that could lit the fires of political passions in the dying days of caste-bound feudal north.  

The Sinhala community too contributed their share to the escalating racism of the North. But that’s another story. What is significant is that the fascist violence of the new militants fathered by the Vellahla elite was a carbon copy of Vellahla fascist violence that ruled the peninsula in feudal and colonial times. The new wave of militancy that swept Jaffna in the post-Vadukoddai period inherited all the fascist rigour of the Vellahla casteist culture. Besides, the English-educated Vellahla elite who fanned out to occupy strategic professional places in the West endorsed, justified and financed in devious ways the Vellahla violence they left behind. The tyranny of Velupillai Prabhakaran was no different from the tyranny of the Vellahlas who posed as Gandhians to convince the gullible world that they were exemplary, non-violent pacifists.

The brutalities of Vadukoddai militarism was driven by the first born child of the Vadukoddai Resolution, Prabhakaran. The Tamil elite, running NGO fronts for the Vadukoddians, manufactured excuses to justify Tamil violence even when the Tamil children were abducted to fight in Prabhakaran’s futile war.  For instance, “Paki” SaravanaMUTTu, the pompous NGO loud-mouth, had the freedom to sue the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and win. But this gutless wonder never dared to take up any issue in the courts of Velupillai Prabhakaran, even to test its credibility as an independent judicial system. He knew that he would be toast the next day if he dared to challenge the Tamil Pol Pot whom he never dared to expose the way he attacked the GOSL. He never took him to UNHRC the way he took the GOSL. His bravery was in challenging a democracy in the comfortable cocktail circuits of Colombo but not the fascist tyranny that was dehumanizing his own Tamil people in the Vanni.

Contrast this with the role of the GOSL. The courage and the strength to fight a war against the deadliest terrorists of the world within a democratic framework deserves the highest commendation in any assessment of the longest war in Asia. The victory scored by President Mahinda Rajapakse was not a victory of Sinhalese over the Tamils though undeniably there was some element of it. But in terms of current political values, as interpreted emphatically by the Americans and their fellow-travellers in their wars against terrorism, any triumph of democratic forces against fascist tyranny is hailed as the ultimate in political achievements. Accordingly, crushing the fascist regime of Velupillai Prabhakaran and restoring democracy to the North, is the greatest achievement of the Mahinda Rajapakse regime.

It is the triumph over the fascist regime of the Tamil tyrant that makes Mahinda Rajapakse the great liberator of Tamils. His service to the children of Jaffna, restoring to them the right to go to school and come back safe into the arms of their parents, is a glorious triumph which no SaravanaMUTTu could achieve by parading pompously in the  corridors of UNHRC. The triumphalism of the Rajapakses was justified because what he achieved in saving lives by restoring peace cannot be matched by any resolution passed by the UN or any of its agencies with the aid of hired Negombo women like moon-faced Nimalka Fernando crying over corpses that she never knew before. In the video going  round screening the latest UNHRC session she looked more like a bloated chettiar in a yellow verti tightened round the fat belly with a yellowish shawl thrown over the shoulder than an elegant woman in a sari. Her  outfit sat on her like some oddity she had borrowed from her verti-clad male  partner.

That is the by the way. Getting back to the issue of passing judgment on war, no  one can deny that the North-South conflict in Sri Lanka was costly though not as costly as the American Civil War which ran only for five years. But who would judge Abraham Lincoln today by the standards imposed on Mahinda Rajapakse by the Americans? Would President Barack Obama even hold a moot trial to assess the violation of civil liberties by Lincoln? Would Michele Sisson send pictures of her posing in a graveyard ” no, not Gettysburg ” where the Unionist massacred the Confederates as evidence of violations of international humanitarian law?

History has vindicated Abraham Lincoln’s curbing of civil liberties and his methodologies because he not only saved the Union and its borders but also defined all the contours that gave shape and form to future America. Whatever he did was a historical, political and moral necessity. Where would America be today if the fascist slave-drivers of  the South won the war? Where would Sri Lanka ” and, more importantly, the Tamil children — be today if Prabhakaran was let loose to continue his futile war?

10 Responses to “Looking at Sri Lanka with one eye closed – Part II”

  1. Nanda Says:

    The biggest mistake was not arresting all TNA terrorists soon after the war and sending them to Boosa for at least 10 years.

  2. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Where would America be today if the fascist slave-drivers of the South won the war? the answer? a far better place. Maybe the Confederate states can be deemed as ‘fascist slave-drivers” but that was not the reason of the war. It was state rights over the Federal Government.

    Ever since the Federal government defeated the Confederate states, centralized power in the US has increased to the level it is currently at. Now the Obama administration runs the nation like a plantation and the power of Washington D.C. over the rest of the nation is hardly any different than the Colonial Empires of the 19th century.
    The rest of the nations is being bled by taxes to feed the appetite of the elite few in Washington D.C. Both Wall street and Main Street (those super wealthy who are not politicians) feed off the trough as the misery of the nation of the US sees no end.

    To quote Abraham Lincoln on his position regarding slavery and the civil war I quote from a letter he wrote to Honorable Horace Greenly:

    …”My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union”

    President Abraham Lincoln was as fascist and cared as much for the black slaves as the supposed “Fascist slave drivers of the south”. If the South won the Union would have seized to be but the right of the American would have been maintained and the value of the 10th amendment in the US constitution would have limited the massive growth of the central government. The world already is paying for it through the intrusion of the NSA and the massive debt the Central government of the US has so far accumulated.

  3. AnuD Says:

    During the war my suggestion was to get LTTE to blow up all TNA. Now the stupid GOSL is suffering.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    AnuD,

    Why would the LTTE want to blow up the TNA? The TNA was the PROXY of the LTTE in Colombo, carrying out the orders of the LTTE. You don’t blow up your loyal soldiers sitting on the other side of the fence and doing your bidding.

    The TNA is STILL acting on those orders given by the SuryaDeva, to create his Eelam in Sri Lanka for his God Fearing devotees can build temples to worship him and preserve his memory in eternity!

  5. aloy Says:

    I like to draw attention of all to another matter that needs urgent action. Here it is:

    “It was reported earlier that the government’s attention has been drawn towards establishing a Monorail service or a train plying on a single rail as a solution to eliminating the traffic congestion in the city of Colombo.

    Now, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) too has revealed the necessity of such a rail service.

    In its 2013 Annual Report, the CBSL has stated that a Monorail service is a timely need to reduce the traffic congestion in the city.
    By now, the Transport Ministry has set up a committee with officials from the relevant government institutions to act on this issue.
    The CBSL has stated that even if the initial cost for such a rail service is high the results would offset it.”

    This is in Ada Derana of today.
    Many a commenter in this forum has express disapproval of such a system which has been proven to be white elephants in other countries. Perhaps somebody powerful is interested, but has to be nipped in the bud. To my mind what is require is a mass underground transit system to be developed in stages, starting from traffic congested areas like Battaramulla, Borella etc.

  6. Christie Says:

    Come on, get off the back of the US and the West and look at the Indian Union. T here was no India before the British made it. Our problem is India, anything else is a side show.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    AnuD and Ananda,

    AnuD is CORRECT.

    LTTE should blow up the TNA.

    Remember the following TNA like SEPARATISTS killed by LTTE.
    Amirthalingam
    Uma Maheswaran
    Raviraj
    Thiruchelvam

    This is EXACTLY what we need. In MY BOOK, “LTTE” is subject to interpretation if you get my drift.

  8. Christie Says:

    The writer is trying to fool us implying that Tamils were in Ceylon before they came on the back of the British after 1792. The Vellars were the first to come from the Malabar Coast as sepoys, coolies and administrators. British replaced the Dutch administration with these Vellars from the Malabar Coast. British administered the newly acquired Dutch possessions from their head quarters on Madras. Taxes like dog tax and coconut tree tax were imposed and were administered by the Vellars. The locals rebelled and, ambushed and killed the Vellars. The British reinstated the Dutch administration system and administration of the Dutch possessions were reverted to Colombo.

  9. Christie Says:

    My friend if Parabakaran continued India will have LTTE and JVP running the country. It is still a possibility.

  10. Ananda-USA Says:

    Lorenzo,

    I was not addressing what the “LTTE” SHOULD do now, but why AnuD expected the LTTE to DO it in the past “During the war”. That LTTE didn’t do it, because they were loyal supporters of that LTTE.

    I do get YOUR drift that the present day “LTTE” should do it; but that was not what AnuD referred to, because he prefaced his comment with “During the war”.

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