The Sunday Leader

Will We Ever Learn?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

V. Anandasangaree and D. Siddharthan

Our problem is 50 years old… If something unacceptable is brought as a solution, the Army camps will have work to do.  If a satisfactory solution is presented, Army will have no work to do at all…” — V. Anandasangree (LLRC Testimony)
Last month, a mob of Southern ‘tourists’ invaded the Jaffna Public Library after closing hours. They responded to objections by the authorities with malicious acts of vandalism and even defied the security forces. No arrests were made; having had their ‘Vini- Vidi-Vici’ moment the vandals returned, safe and sound.
Though the identities of these vandals are unknown, they belong to an identifiable type. Some of their spiritual kindred participated in the wanton burning of the Jaffna Library. Black July was their indelible mark on history. That murderous and destructive orgy ended in a stampede of terrified panic, when the apocryphal tale of a massive Tiger attack on Colombo made the rioters and their moral supporters run, literally, to escape retribution.
Black July was depicted as a reaction to the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE. In the ensuing years, the Tigers killed and killed but the South did not react with another anti-Tamil pogrom. This fortunate absence could not have stemmed from societal opprobrium; though some Sinhalese risked their lives to save Tamil lives, Black July was generally popular in the South. The absence of another anti-Tamil pogrom may have resulted form Sinhala exhaustion or, a more probable explanation, Sinhala fears of Tiger retaliation. That may explain why the advent of an avowedly Sinhala supremacist government (for the first time since 1987) was followed by the 2006 Trincomalee mini-riots. The mob-invasion of the Jaffna Library is a disturbing indication that the Spirit of Black July is still very much alive.
By making Sinhala supremacism de rigueur and by denying the very existence of the ethnic problem, the Rajapaksas caused a paradigmatic shift in Southern perception of the Northern crisis. The resultant reduction of the Tamil problem to a terrorism issue enabled the South to discard whatever sense of responsibility or guilt it may have felt about past errors and crimes, from the Sinhala Only to Black July. Once the Northern crisis is blamed on the malignancy of Tiger fascists and the avarice of Tamil nationalists, we, the Sinhalese, are absolved of blame. Thus the outburst of febrile triumphalism, post-victory, unaccompanied by even a modicum of pity for the plight of civilian Tamils; thus the mad rush to visit the North unaccompanied by any desire to help the displaced Tamils.
The identical attitude made a majority of Sinhala South look away as a minority of rioters killed, looted and burned in 1983. The identical attitude enabled the Sinhala South to remain indifferent as hundreds of thousands of Tamils were bombed and shelled out of their homes, forced to wander for months in a fruitless search for safety and finally incarcerated in open prisons masquerading as welfare villages. The Tamils are undeserving of sympathy because they brought about their own plight. They have sowed and must now reap. That is their karma.

Remaking Old Mistakes

The Fourth Eelam War (like the First) was waged on a Sinhala supremacist platform; it resulted in a Sinhala supremacist peace, an unjust peace in which all the gains go to the winner and the vanquished must sacrifice all. The Sinhalese are content with such a peace, but are Tamils? Their current silence stems from fear, exhaustion and despair rather than contentment. Tamils (and minorities in general) have not been so powerless, perhaps since Independence (not even post-Black July were they as leaderless, friendless or directionless). The powerlessness of the democratic Tamil polity became evident when the TPPF (which includes the EPDP and the TMVP) asked the visiting Indian Foreign Secretary to persuade the Rajapaksas to involve the elected representatives of the North-East in the resettlement work of the North-East!
The LLRC testimonies by V. Anandasangaree (“the people are not free now; the people want to be free; that is what they want first”) and D. Siddharthan (“the majority community seem to believe they have conquered the Tamils and therefore their problems could be brushed aside”) symbolise this unhappy present and signal a future which may mirror the past.
This political nihilism could have been mitigated had the regime prioritised the housing, health, education, employment and poverty alleviation needs of the Tamils. Though such a Premadasa-type development effort is a national absence, the South has political consolations, such as the defeat of the Tigers and the dawning of a Pax Sinhala. Patriotism is not edible but it dulls the hunger pangs, for a while. With no compensatory political positives, the North urgently needs houses, schools, hospitals and jobs, but the funds are lacking in a budget overshadowed by defence expenditure.
For instance, 89,000 war widows remain mired in poverty because, as the Deputy Minister of Child Development and Women’s Affairs lamented, “Where do we find money to restore livelihoods? My Ministry does not have the needed funds to do this…” (IRIN News  26.10.2010). This year this key Ministry is allocated a paltry Rs.987 million while the Ministry of Resettlement is given just Rs. 2.4 billion. “15,000 school children in the North and East are compelled to study under trees since schools have been converted into IDP and transit camps and detention centres, while the government spends millions on military bases….” (Lakbima News  8..8.2010).
The situation is further exacerbated by the militarization of the civil administration and deliberate acts of economic discrimination (according to Siddharthan, “in the Wanni…non residents living miles away from…inland waterways have been given the sole right to fish…whereas the local people are prohibited from even approaching the tanks by the military”).
Post World War II, the Marshall Plan provided “crucial support at a crucial moment”, enabling Europeans to “break decisively with a legacy of chauvinism, depression and authoritarian solutions”, according to Tony Judt (Post War). The Marshall Plan happened because the Cold War compelled the US to take a ‘longer view’, argued Eric Hobsbwam. The North-East needs its own Marshall Plan; but intoxicated by Sinhala supremacism and cocooned in a Chinese embrace, the Rajapaksas are impervious to enlightened self-interest or external compulsions. The APC is dead and the Tamils are still shell-shocked.
Whatever the currency the democratic Tamils had died with Velupillai Pirapaharan; minority politicians face the Hobson’s Choice of supporting the Rajapaksas for a mess of personal pottage or risking Rajapaksa wrath. The West has little clout, since the Rajapaksas are happy in the company of Zimbabwe and Myanmar. The Sinhala South and the UNP are uninterested in ensuring justice to the minorities. The old left is co-opted while the JVP dreams of escaping the electoral-wilderness by beating the Rajapaksas in the patriotic-stakes. Only Delhi can give the Rajapaksas a momentary pause in their march towards a Sinhala supremacist Sri Lanka via a demographically re-engineered North-East. But Delhi is an occasional irritant not a serious impediment, and can be neutralised with empty promises or the Beijing-stick.
Did the possibility of a consensual peace and a common Lankan future perish beside the dream of a Tiger Eelam on the shores of the Nandikadal lagoon?

19 Comments for “Will We Ever Learn?”

  1. Ratna

    Of course many Sinhalese risked their lives to save Tamils in the 83 pogrom.
    After that the government was doing the dirty work for the Sinhalese. With heavy fire power and war planes, many thousand Tamils were wiped out, and none were allowed to report.
    After Rajapakse came to power, 35 Media personals were killed, and out of that 31 were Tamils.

  2. Thanga

    This piece emphatically portrays the plight of the Tamils. Intoxicated with victory and a sense of triumphalism Mahinda Rajapakse is not listening. He thinks China and Iran will bail him out of both economic and financial crisis.

  3. Thisaranee dear,
    You have missed the girls and boys in the previous “journo refugees” planes. The readers are tired of your usual anti-Rajapaksa, anti-Sinhala, pro-terrorist rantings. Now be a good girl and join your friends in Canada and leave us alone. Try the remote control alternative via

    • LankaLiar

      Asitha you are a true Sri Lankan You speak the Sri Lankan national language. . Lankan should talk like a Lankan or else we lose our culture.Keep it up

  4. Saro

    Tisaranee Gunasekara lives up to her honest reputation that she built in the London press. Sinhalese extremists attack her personally because they have no defence of their oppressive and bankrupt policies. Only hope that optimists expect to happen is that when the South feels the pinch in its stomach it may rise and Rajapakses may meet the fate of nationalistic strong leaders.

    Many Tamils supported the late LTTE not because of their dictates or terrorism but the outfit stood as a guard against the excesses of the South and the chauvinism of its rulers. Both Ananthasangaree and Sitharthan supported the government and helped to destroy the only resistance to the oppression of the minorities and now face the consequences, it is too late.

    • Tamil circle

      Sangaree was writing many open letters to Praba to win favours from the Souther Powers and his security, went to India to on many occasion to promote action action against the Tigers, he did a good job. Sitharthan’s men hunted the Tigers they did the dirty job for the government forces. Both these men a lamenting because they had an illusion that the rights of the Tamils will be given in a platter. Those who forget the past history are condemned to relive it. As it is Tamils are realising what Sarath Fonsaka at the height said war said about the Tamils is very true and that is the notion in the minds of most of the Sinhalese. As Chelvanayagam said only God can save the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is true for other minorities. Please pray for our leaders and our country because we need God blessing now than ever before. Please follow the teaching of the Triple Gems.

  5. voiceless

    Hello Thisaranee,

    While thanking for your thoughtfull article…,

    there is something that I certainly DO NOT agree with you…., you suggest that ONLY INDIA can STOP Rajapaksa!!!??
    You are a seasoned and learned reporter , you know that it is INDIA which is blocking any meaningfull action being taken by UN or any other Nations, against the Rajapakse regime wrt War crimes or any Human right violations , killings of Journalist, Media right violation and the list goes on….
    UN,under Ban ki moon is just a puppet in India’s hand ,because Moon has to save his Family connection in India.

    ALL srilankans should remember and be warned that ALL the current sufferings and the Maladies that are affecting SRILANKA are caused by INDIA. India is Friend neither to Sinhalease nor to Tamils and never to Muslims. They will always keep our country in peril in what ever form , they will make the Tamils fight Sinhalease or Sinhalease fight sinhalease or muslims fight sinhalease or tamils…becuase ONLY then they can fish in the trouble water. If you really look carefully , there is a hidden hand of India behind every problem that is affecting us.

  6. Bashir

    Learning, it is said, is a life long process. Some do and others don’t while yet a third category are incapable of learnig anything. The first category are far outnumbered by the latter two. As they say carry on regardless! Incidentally what exactly caused the kiiling of the 13 SInhala soldiers in July 1983. There had never been any police investigation or judicial process except a pogrom and a declaration of war by then UNP government. Something horrible is wrong somewhere surely.

  7. narakbadu

    Well said Saro
    Many Tamils supported Tigers for the only reason that to save them from the sinhala army and thugs as they sort protection from them. And tigers are the only power that stopped the bullying sinhala chuvanism.

    Ananthasangaree and Sitharthan are just waking up from a dream and issuing satments that for sure they know nobody takes notice of. For them their personal issue with Tigers are more than the eintie tamils suffering. so did they hand shaked with the sinhala regim.

    What a shame!

  8. P.A.Samaraweera

    Dear Tisaranee,

    Your valuable time and efforts will be recognized and it wil be a great services if you go to the North and help the poor Tamils instead of writing all this rubbish. They suffered in the hands of the terrorists. So you should go and do some social work for them.

    You must recall at least the Tamil people are now living in peace with their children and there is no recruitment of their children to fight for the terrorists.

    • sooya

      Do you know the meaning of peace? You know how many mothers are goinh mad due to missing their sons and daughters? ..if you do,t know the truth…go and see yourself!

  9. LankaLiar

    VA and DS should learn first. They nevr will. To neturalise Delhi it is very simple we know the trick. We did to may MKR $Ram . It doesnot cost much. It looks like the trickle has dried up for VA and DS. Keep trying one day MR will call you to give you something.

  10. Tamil circle

    What about China? There are many to shout when American helps us or EU. all are mum when China is in. Beggars can’t be choosers.

  11. Bruz

    Very correct Voiceless. India is the cause of all problems !

  12. dharma

    sinhalise and tamils have had a peaceful life with there internal problem. they wi l figh t and the live to gether no other alternative.they will forget and forgive. politians take a milage for their benefits .internal problem became a international problem. who was main caused srilankan politicians. dear Tisaranee you are talking about politicans what you writeing is a rubbish.why you are supporting India, INDIA not a democratic country like USA ,UK or EU countries.

  13. Stanley

    Sorry I didnt have time to read this features written by “Where do we find money to restore livelihoods?”

    Wonderful, excellent.

    Surprise to notice that there at least few write the truth.

    Better late than never, CONGRATULATIONS

  14. nathan

    Asitha Gamage is the typical mindset of the non-progressive sinhala people, who may be a minority, who believe in surviving by excuses. It is sad to note that this person refers to terrorism as his only excuse for all the evils without realising the cause and effect mechanism. More tragic is when he equates the author too with terrorists. It is sad and tragic that there are people like Asitha exist among the Sinhalese but I only pray that they are a small minority. Does he has the wisdom or decency to know the number of Tamils who laid their lives by opposing the LTTE or the number of tamils who became “terrorists” because of people like Asitha? Asitha, open your heart and open your mind and see the truth in life if you have the capability. Otherwise ignore me and ignore this note and lead your life with your own thinking and believes.

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