The Sunday Leader

Looking For Solutions On The Tamil Issue

By Waruni Karunarathne

The Tamil national issue led the country down a terrible war path that lasted for nearly three decades but the real issue remains barely addressed. With the change of the regime, political analysts, activists and academia from the North of Sri Lanka observed a positive political change in terms of freedom of speech and movement given to the people in the North and East. However even the new Government has yet to address the real concerns related to the Tamil issue.

The prolonged inability and lack of willingness of the previous government made it lose credibility and people’s trust blocking the path towards achieving meaningful reconciliation after the war. As a solution for the Tamil national issue in the country, many Tamil political activists have suggested power sharing arrangements and devolution of power – including the land and police powers that need to be vested with the provinces rather than with the centre to ensure that the Tamils get the right to self-determination.

Several other concerns including the need to demilitarise to return to normalcy, meaningful resettlement of people who were displaced during the war and investigations into cases of disappeared and allegations of human rights violations during the war were highlighted as the immediate measures that needed to be taken after the war. However the previous government failed to show their genuine commitment to addressing these fundamental issues of the people from the North and East – and it was surely among many reasons that turned the people against the former government during the last presidential Election. As the new government came to power, even though a very little was included in the 100 day programme towards addressing the Tamil National issue, people from the North observed an environment in which people can enjoy democracy.

 

Lot of expectations

Ahilan Kadirgamar, a researcher and political activist based in Jaffna told The Sunday Leader that clearly there were a lot of expectations with the change of the regime and indeed, certain steps have been taken forward. He noted that there is more freedom of movement, freedom of speech and association in the North and East. “We can see different types of protests in the North and East and people are able to come out and voice their opinion much more openly. However, at the same time, some of the crucial issues related to land, disappearances and releasing political prisoners have not been given enough attention,” he added. Kadirgamar further noted that even though announcements are being made about releasing some land held by the military, expected number of land to be released is much higher – and it is also up to the government to face the challenge as to how they will address the issue of the disappearances.

Further he pointed out that a serious economic crisis has emerged in the war affected areas due to lack of livelihood opportunities and indebtedness. “There is a dire need of some robust reconstruction programmes particularly in terms of creating jobs and other livelihood opportunities in these areas. For that the government and the President need to have a larger vision as to how they plan to address this issue,” Kadirgamar pointed out. He noted that initially in the100 day programme, there was nothing included about the minority to start with and more steps could have been taken during the 100 day programme particularly to address the issues related to land, disappearances and economy.

Kadirgamar also stated that after the next general election, the new government should seriously look at the current issues in the war affected areas with special focus on the economic issues by providing jobs and other livelihood options as it has already begun to reflect in a grave social crisis. He said that the new government that will come in to power after the general election should also meaningfully look at de-militarisation – not only in the North and East but in the rest of the country – so that people will be able to return to normalcy. “In this process, the government has to come up with a programme to demobilise and find other kinds of opportunities for young men and women in the military. Their jobs are also important in the process,” he expressed his views.

Meantime he said that the President has made a number of visits to Jaffna since he was elected and that has sent a very positive message to the people. “There are certain steps taken in right directions. For example, the new Presidential task force on reconciliation under former President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga is seen as a positive step forward. However it is very crucial to keep the momentum going,” he reiterated. Kadirgamar said that with the next parliamentary election coming up, everybody seems to be in an election mood but he hoped that these already initiated programmes will continue after the general election.

 

More democratic way

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Prof Daya Somasundaram, senior lecturer of University of Jaffna and psychosocial analyst also agreed even though the specific issue in question has not been addressed, generally a space has been opened for people to move around and speak in a more democratic way. “There is hope. People are being given access to many of the processes of the state including the police and the legal system of the country. People are now able to deal with issues in a more democratic way rather than being under an authoritarian system. That kind of atmosphere is being created and fear is gradually being lifted,” he added.

According to him, earlier, there was a strong military control in which people felt restricted – actions and thoughts of the Tamils in the North were limited. He pointed out that even though there have not been drastic changes in certain authorities in terms of corruption, things have improved in terms of freedom enjoyed by people in the North and East.

Prof. Somasundaram said that the Tamil national issue can only be addressed through a political solution. “When it comes to addressing the real issue, it is a matter of power devolution. The idea is for people to have a say in the decisions made related to them. People should be able to complain, make decisions, be part of the planning process and development projects. They should be given access to services and opportunities,” he added. According to him, if the land and police powers are vested with the provinces, people can easily solve their issues. “Right now, people have no trust in the police, the legal system or in certain other government institutions in the country due to bad experiences in the past. If those institutions are run by locals and by those who understand the language there may be better trust and they will feel more confident and comfortable – they will also be satisfied by the services received,” he stated.

He noted that there have been many complaints about the Tamil national issue not being highlighted in the 100 day programme in a concrete way – but he expected after the election the new government will take serious measures to put a mechanism in place to address the issue without delay.

Dr. Rajendra Hoole from the University of Jaffna said that the important development is the freedom of expression that is being established after the change of the regime – at least for the time being. He hoped that the government will take further measures in the future towards solving this problem. “I am confident that if the Tamils use the freedom responsibly they can move forward a long way. Eventually we will have to go for further devolution and I think that the Tamils have a very important role to play in this process. Tamils also should address the fears of the Sinhalese. They should not exasperate. That will make it worse,” he added. According to Dr. Hoole, the government too has constrains as they have to deal with some chauvinistic forces in the South and therefore the Tamils too should work with better understanding.

3 Comments for “Looking For Solutions On The Tamil Issue”

  1. anpu

    ‘Looking for solutions on the Tamil issue’ appears to be a glimpse of the Sinhala intelligentsia’s soul searching on the post-war political status and for a real peace in Sri Lanka.

    Of course, many are using a torchlight in the bright daylight to find the missing solutions — to ameliorate the pain of the Tamil people since independence that culminated in a decades-old civil war.

    If not for that war and resolution of it, there would not have been an opportunity and nor confluence of events for the political environment to produce an enlightened leader in the name of Maithripala Sirisena.

    As Prof. Somasundaram has correctly observed Sirisena’s governance to date has created and ‘a space has been opened for people to move around and speak in a more democratic way.’

    There is no minority issue in Sri Lanka. Ceylon Tamil people are an ancient people in the island, distinct and separate from the namesakes in India, and the resolution should be found within that framework for a lasting effect. A 100-day program for a new government is not the location for that size of conflict.

    Good governance should be the prime requirement and when it is in place everything will fall into place and a just society will automatically be created.

    Sinhala intelligentsia has a massive role to play. Unlike many other countries, Sri Lanka is blessed with richly endowed people with culture and education.

    President Sirisena clearly looks like a president of all the people of Sri Lanka. Trust that he will act like one as well for a resolution leading to true reconciliation of all the peoples of Sri Lanka.

    Meanwhile, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa should behave like a gentleman in mature political societies where the democratic process sometime produces undesirable results for the incumbent. He must accept it and let the current leadership that has effectively garnered the respect of the world to function with some space. There will always be a next presidential election. He must take pride in the fact it he who had brought this accelerated change in January 2015.

  2. Martin Milton

    To someone watching from outside there seems to be a problem where most classify these so called ‘problems’ that certain sectors in Sri Lanka suffer are limited to the Tamils only! This is reportedly incorrect as any with financial clout including Tamils have absolutely no problems day to day in Sri Lanka as I hear. The POOR of ALL communities are those that still suffer, certainly NOT the Tamils only. The Tamil community and those representing them must necessarily be far more sympathetic and understanding of the Sinhala majority people and act accordingly without spreading false rumours of Tamil Genocide etc. As I hear the LTTE was the only group that carried out mass murder of people in Sri Lanka. So why don’t the Tamils come out and make public apologies to the other communities and behave as they really wish to live side by side with the rest of the communities in Sri Lanka?After all there are far more Tamils living HAPPILY among the Sinhalese in the Southern regions than in the North!. MM

    • S Shivalingham

      oi fool, it’s the sinhala lot that started killing and rape of tamil men and women soon after independence. tamils did not start this war. it’s the sinhala lot that laid the foundation for this civil war. the apology must come from sinhala lot. don’t you know history. if you don’t know then read the history from 1948 to 1983.
      I have no doubt that will give you an insight into sinhala – tamil conflict.

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