Colombo, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Vavuniya

Why are the Vanni civilians still being held hostage?

Menik Camp
Image courtesy IRIN

Throughout the last stages of the civil war, the government of Sri Lanka claimed to be engaged in a hostage rescue mission on behalf of civilians in the Vanni who were being held against their will be the LTTE. How far are its words borne out by its actions?

It is certainly true that the LTTE was keeping hundreds of thousands of civilians hostage and using them as forced labour, a source of child and adult conscripts, and a human shield from behind which they could engage in offensive operations against Sri Lanka’s armed forces. It has also been confirmed that in general the soldiers showed compassion to the escaping civilians, and some even risked their own lives to enable civilians to escape to safety. Although it was clear that for the political and military leadership, the aim of finishing off the LTTE involved sacrificing the lives and limbs of civilians, there did not seem to be any deliberate targeting of civilians during the war. Even the claim by some government spokespersons that shelling was necessary in order to free the hostages has some plausibility, given that the LTTE used the cessation of hostilities over the Sinhala and Tamil New Year to tighten its hold over the trapped civilians, not to release them.

However post-war, the picture gets more murky. Around 280,000 of the civilians who have suffered so much already have been kept prisoners behind barbed wire in camps where conditions are in many cases abysmal. It is clear that the government is unable to provide for them adequately, yet those with relations outside who would willingly look after them are being denied the right to join their families. If others want to check up on their homes in the Vanni or start rebuilding them, no one on earth has the right to stop them. This denial of the fundamental right to freedom of movement is especially cruel for families which have been split up, and are thereby denied the possibility of reuniting, or even finding out what has happened to their loved ones. It is lethal for those who are physically vulnerable; senior citizens were supposed to be released after a court found that many had died of starvation and more were dying daily, but the sick and injured, pregnant women, and mothers with babies are also vulnerable. With the monsoon, it is likely that gastrointestinal diseases will kill thousands. Why, then, are these unfortunate people being penalised like this?

Collective Punishment
Two reasons are cited by the government. The first is that it will take at least six months to make the areas from which they come habitable again, and therefore they have to be kept in the camps until then. This is a patently spurious excuse for denying them freedom of movement. Even if it takes six months to make the war-ravaged areas of the Vanni habitable, why can’t people who have homes or relatives elsewhere leave the camps? Wouldn’t this in fact reduce the burden on the government, and enable it to look after those who remain more adequately? Why can’t camp inhabitants go out to look for missing relatives, or receive visits from friends and relations, or visit their homes if they want to? This cannot possibly be the real reason why civilians are being imprisoned in internment camps.

The other reason given for holding them is that they need to be screened to weed out LTTE cadres who escaped with them. It is true that after hostages have been released, they are often screened to find out if any of the hostage-takers are among them. But normally, this takes just a few hours, and the hostages are released immediately after being screened. Even if the large number of hostages in this case means that the screening process would take longer, there is no conceivable reason why it should take much more than a month. By now, all the civilians, or at least most of them, ought to be free. From Day 1, a steady stream of civilians should have been given the right to freedom of movement, as they were screened and cleared.

Moreover, the reason why such screening is carried out is to prevent terrorists from escaping, rejoining their group, and carrying out future attacks. But in this case, the LTTE’s military capability has been destroyed, its top leadership wiped out; for a group that was identified completely with its supreme leader Prabakaran, and was defined by its military prowess, this means that it is finished. Furthermore, hatred engendered in these IDPs by the LTTE leadership’s utterly brutal treatment of them, especially at the end of the war, is the best guarantee we have that there is no chance it can be revived, regardless of what the pro-LTTE diaspora may think. In fact, as Anandasangaree has pointed out, their escape to government-held territory in defiance of LTTE orders was itself an act of resistance. If any militant group arises in the future, it will be a completely new one. So the benefits of apprehending a few hundred ex-LTTE cadres are far outweighed by the costs of detaining hundreds of thousands of innocent people without charge for an indefinite period and creating, possibly, thousands of future militants.

The fundamental rights petition filed on behalf of five IDPs held in camps at Kodikamam and Vavuniya made it crystal clear that they are being held against their will, and that this constitutes appalling cruelty to individuals still suffering physically and mentally from the trauma they had undergone. The IDPs came out cursing the Tigers and positively inclined towards the government forces which had helped them to escape, but with every day that they remain in detention, their hostility to the government will grow; they will feel that they have jumped out of one frying pan into another. If the new Chief Justice selected by the President delays or refuses to order their release, they will have every justification for feeling that the Sri Lankan state is holding them hostage.

Such collective punishment belies the government’s claim that it was trying to free the hostages, and makes it look as if it simply wanted to take them hostage itself. It contradicts Mahinda Rakapaksa’s statement that there are no longer any minorities in Sri Lanka by making it clear that there are minorities who do not share the right to freedom of movement and equal protection of the law enjoyed by the majority. As former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva pointed out, this lays the groundwork for a new war, since comparable discrimination against and persecution of Tamil civilians played a major role in starting the war which has just ended. It thus insults the soldiers who risked and in many cases lost their lives to free the civilians from the LTTE, and makes a mockery of celebrations of the end of the war.

Indeed, it looks as if this is already the start of a new war: a war against Tamils. The longer Tamil civilians are detained in prison camps, the more disappearances and extrajudicial killings are likely to occur. Given that they are in the custody of an army commanded by Sarath Fonseka, who thinks that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese just as Hitler thought that Germany belonged to the Aryans, we can only fear the worst.

Moving Towards Dictatorship
There are strong indications that some elements in the government and armed forces do not want an end to the war but want to keep it going, or even expand it. The people of Sri Lanka were asked to sacrifice a great deal in the interests of defeating the LTTE, and we would expect that these sacrifices would now come to an end. We would expect at least two-thirds of the soldiers to be demobilised, so that the rest of the country does not have to pay for them any more; they could easily be employed at the same wages to do constructive work rebuilding the war-ravaged areas and upgrading infrastructure elsewhere, thus helping to attract investment into the country. We would expect the government to avoid practices which led to the war, such as discrimination against and persecution of minorities, and to repeal the PTA and Emergency Regulations which were used for the extrajudicial killing of thousands of Tamils as well as Sinhalese.

Instead, the very opposite is being done. Apart from the detention of hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians and the failure to repeal the PTA and Emergency Regulations, we are told that the army, already doubled to 200,000 during the latter stages of the war, is going to be expanded by another 100,000! What earthly purpose could this serve? One purpose, clearly, is that it will enhance the power of military commanders and the Defence establishment, which would otherwise be reduced in peacetime. Presumably the military occupation of the North and East will be continued by the existing soldiers, treating citizens as aliens. But what will all the new soldiers do? Could they, conceivably, be deployed to the South, to crush any protests that might arise when people realise that far from being able to loosen their belts, they have to tighten them even more?

It would not be the first time this has happened. Let us not forget that the Sinhala nationalist regimes of Jayawardene and Premadasa, with some help from the Sinhala nationalist JVP, managed to kill more Sinhalese in the space of three years than the LTTE could kill in thirty. Are some elements in the government and armed forces planning a repeat of the tyre-pyres and mutilated bodies piled up by the roadside, clogging the rivers and washed up on the beaches? There are disturbing indications that the Rajapaksa regime is moving in that direction. The murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the fact that his killers were never caught, and the justification of it in a BBC interview by the Defence Secretary, was an indication that the death squads which had been operating in the North and East have moved South. Other attacks on journalists, the fact that those who reported the assault on Poddala Jayantha were themselves detained, images of Mahinda Rajapaksa as a godlike king, and the proposal to cancel the presidential elections, all suggest a regime in which democracy is rapidly being undermined.

If there are elements in the government and armed forces working to destroy the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, it is incumbent on all of us who love our country to resist. The lack of a viable opposition, given the UNP’s equally rotten record, is a drawback; but the courage of Anandasangaree and others in his Democratic Tamil National Alliance in resisting the President’s pressure to get the DTNA to join the UPFA gives us hope that one could be created. Tamil, Muslim and Left politicians who support a government that is detaining hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens without charge are betraying their constituencies; they should withdraw their support to the government so that they are in a position to put pressure on it, and stand in solidarity with the DTNA. What is required today is a strong grassroots democracy movement throughout the country, out of which a new political leadership could emerge. The first priority of such a movement should be to defend the democratic rights of displaced civilians.

  • The Tamils in exile have seen real democracy – not mockery; real human rights – not state terror; real accountability -not violation of rule of law, and real justice – not the denial of it. They have also experienced freedom and equality and not repression and discrimination as seen in Sri Lanka(SL). With this background, Tamils desire good governance in their homeland, Tamil Eelam(TE).

    TE is a peoples’ demand, established firmly and democratically in 1976 -1977, before Tamil Tiger movement was formed. But the government of Sri Lanka(GOSL), has been prostituting with a blatant lie to the International Community(IC) that Tamil Tigers invented the demand of TE.

    Sinhalese know to deceive the Tamils and cheat the world. President Rajapakse recently even cheated the UN Secretary General.

    Any GOSL is never prepared to honour any democratic mandate of the people of TE; a reason why armed freedom struggle existed. During the last General Election in SL, the people of TE gave a democratic mandate through TNA, for Tamil Tigers to be their sole representative in any peace talks with the GOSL.

    Inspite of repeated calls by the IC to talk to Tamil Tigers, the GOSL defiantly waged a genocidal war.

    Now, Tamil Tigers have announced their decision to set up a committee to create a provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam(TGOTE), in accoradnce with the democratic mandate of the people starting from 1976 -1977.

    Tamils in exile are glad. But the GOSL, that killed more than 20,000 Tamil civilians last month, has called the attempt to work out the independence of TE by TGOTE as “halucination and another illegal attempt to violate the unitary status of SL”.

    Tamils of TE had a de facto state for the past 22 years, with its own national flag and own territory. It was not a halucination but a reality.

    The territory and the governance of de facto state was even recognised as a separate entity by SL in the ceasefire agreement signed in 2002 between Velupillai Prabaharan and the GOSL. There was legality in the action by the GOSL and the unitary status was buried for ever.

    Further, the demand for self determination of TE is legitimate according to the UN charter and conventions.

    In desperation, the GOSL hopes that “the world will not react positively” to TGOTE but the facts are against that hope.

    The world watched the images of Tamil genocidal activities of GOSL on their TV screens for many days. The world also knows that its supreme body the UN, is arrogantly defied by the GOSL whenever it asks for humanitarian intervention to take care of Tamil refugess and conduct probe on the war crimes committed by government soldiers.

    The world, which works for civilised behaviour, justice and peace, will surely recognise the urgent need for a free country for Tamils, to protect and carve out a peaceful future, based on the UN conventions for the self determination of people.

  • Rupert
  • Heshan

    These camps are doing a good business. International aid agencies have access restricted, but some local vendors with connections to GOSL are able to sell as they please to the IDPs. I have also read that extortion and bribery are common. For example, if a youth is taken away from the camp, their relatives in the camp itself can bribe a paramilitary member (paramilitaries have unrestricted access to the camps) to have the youth released. It goes to show, like the author has pointed out, that the military is having life and death power over the camp inmates.

  • Ravi

    They held because there are no infrastructure to support human settlement and still land mines and munitions are laying every where. It is easy for pundits say the IDPs are held when they don’t take any responsibility got the IDPs well-being and safety, the GOSL takes that responsibility with determinations.

    And is it to whose advantage that the IDPs are allowed to go. Some IDPs have better conditions than they had before the war under LTTE.

  • Antonia

    To all who always claims the government is right,

    I am a Tamil who lives in UK, I lived in colombo for many years and I am telling every Tamil pls dont bother trying to say that we were marginalised, dont say that the 1983riots made us to join LTTE, dont say making sinhala language is the official langunage and refusing university entries triggered the violant war.Dont say the last elam war claimed more than 20,000 lives and maimd more than 20,000.Dont say that the IDPs are suffering, all this LTTE fault and the Government of Srilanka and the majority of sinhalese people always did and doing the best for us and they rescued all these people from their homes.

    I come from a moderate family and was married a sinhalses,I tried to get the majority of Sinhala people to see what the Tamil people went through during the war and the IDPS are going through now is cruel ,not many of my friend accepted it.Its always we have to say that LTTE was wrong, they are culprit of everyhting,Tamils are wrong, we should not be protesting the war even if our family members were dying,we should have supported the government irrespective of everyhting.Its ok if our family members been killed.We should not show our PAIN, if we do so then we are LTTE.So lets be it.There are mines every where ,that’s why they givernmnet is not realeasing people, so many people died during the war its because of LTTE, not beacsue army shelled or there were no medical facilities,or not because the last days all the basic necessities were blocked by the governmnet.May be we all in the differnt plannet.

    If all these claims are wrong why not we conduct a independant enquiry, thats also not allowed.So whats the point, we are always fabricating stories.we have nothing else to do.One lady comes and help me out in my home and that women weeped for days after her granchild was killed by shelling, the child didnt dye immediately but died without medicine.imagine the pain that child woudl have gone through.

    But for many all these are fabrictaion, so why bother, if I can see what happened was wrong and the way the war was conducted is wrong and the way people are been kept behind the bars against their will is wrong , why cant another normal human being cant see that.You dont have to be Tamil to understand the pain.

    If someone cant see the devestation even after everything they will never see it.Sadly we have to accept this is how the world is and some of are lucky to live in a free democratic country where the governmnet wont shell and keep the people behind the bars because they are in power.Most of us cant even accept a witness statement from a aid worker who worked in the war zone.Some think that Shamila has an agenda.what agenda she possibily could have.usualy people praise people who works in war zone and I think our country is the only country who penalise them doing so.Apart from the soldiers no body elses was remembered or praisedm, atleast the soldiers died while they were on duty but these civilins got killed for nothing.Hardly any moarning for those who died in the midst.


  • Pearl Thevanayagam

    We allowed the government to carry on with its military offensive against the LTTE inflicting civilian deaths in their thousands. The west had intelligence and images that the government was shelling into civilians using heavy artillery. We remained silent.

    Then the govt. went on to celebrate its ‘victory’ with taxpayers’ (many of whom are Tamils languishing in barbed wire camps) money. We didn’t raise an eyebrow.

    Attempts by the international community to bring the government accountable to its war crimes by the UN security council brought zero result.

    The ship that took food and medicine and human resources to the displaced is now anchored off Tamil Nadu coast after being turned away by the navy.

    So is it any wonder that the government is emboldened by this insouciance and apathy of the Tamils post-war on LTTE who have sought asylum in the West and the international community.

    It will soon make Sri Lanka for Sinhala Buddhists only. And we will sit back and sigh ,’oh well’

    Media thrives on immediacy and bad news. The fighting between the LTTE and the govt. earned much kudos for the international media in particular.

    Now that the guns are apparently silent, it is to hell with those darned civilians in concentration camps. They are not P1 news any more.

    The party is over for the media.

    Pearl Thevanayagam

  • Grim Hope


    You believe this bullshit? Wake up if you are not a paid/getting benefits from government for saying this stuff.


    Antonia, exactly correct. I am a Sinhalese Buddhist and I get appalled by very illogical and one sided responses from my Sinhalese friends and community. I stop talking to them regarding these issues. There are always extreme elements within Sinhalese and Tamils, but moderates shouldn’t let someone corrupt your right thinking. I think Government with the help from the so called “Monks” (In my book these are not real buddhist monks, more like regular people wearing robes and deceiving the large portion of the Buddhist community and getting free food and material. There are only a few left who follow the Dhamma) have been successful in corrupting the thinking of the moderates who have become extreme in recent years. I think they will return to reality within few years.

  • E.N.Gland

    Hello Antonio

    Your comments about Buddhist Monks were not relevant in this discussion. [Edited out – kindly abide by discussion guidelines.] The ‘so called Monks’ are the rightful guardians of Buddhism and they have looked after it for over 2500 years.

  • Pragmatist

    Ms Hensman says: “Let us not forget that the Sinhala nationalist regimes of Jayawardene and Premadasa, with some help from the Sinhala nationalist JVP, managed to kill more Sinhalese in the space of three years than the LTTE could kill in thirty”
    I would like to know under which rock has Ms Hensman being hiding all these years! Absurd statements like this clearly show how credible she is. I will not read even one sentence from her in the future. I ask others to join me in ignoring her writings.

  • Heshan

    After the Allies freed the Jews from WWII concentration camps, they forced some German civilians to go to the camps to witness the horror of Nazi brutality and help bury some of the dead. This is a small piece in the much larger puzzle called “collective responsibility.” Unfortunately, the notion of collective responsibility is missing in Sri Lanka. There are some journalists like Lasantha W. who tried/try to fill the vacuum and a few human rights activists, e.g. Sunila Abeysekera, but by and large the majority community has never taken responsibility for its unfortunate behavior towards the minorities. Thus if one begins to ask in what kind of society does a Government intentionally imprison such a staggering number of its own citizens, any answer must include the proposition that in such a society the majority community does not subscribe to the notion of collective responsibility.

  • punitham

    People are talking about IDPs who have been leaving Vanni in recent months.
    What about the people in the whole of the highly militarised Northeast that have been
    i. denied freedom of movement not only in and out of Northeast but within the Northeast combined with various degrees of embargo on various goods = severe restrictions of livelihoods = socio-economic decay
    ii.out of bounds for journalists

    The plan drawn by DSS has been carried out by successive governments meticulously.

  • Grim Hope


    I wrote about Buddhist Monks and not Antonio. Did you ask why we had to bring buddhistm from different countries from time to time if Sri Lankan Monks have protected it for 2500? Do you ask why we have 5 different Nikayas (sects) because they came from different countries? Only thing ancient monks protected was the “Tripitak”. And i am sure they were not the one who were running around shouting protect buddhism…rather someone who was following it and new the real value of the Tripitaka.

    Buddha never asked monks to protect Country nor Dhamma, he asked them to follow it. If you can find anywhere in Tripitaka about protecting Buddhism and quote it here including the locations, i will stop writing about it.

    Today, monks don’t even follow the five precepts which is for the lay people!


  • rose

    I can feel the power of truth in your anger. It is really sad that a majority community cannot feel human sympathy for fellow-citizens just because they are of another culture. The government wouldn’t have been able to do all its monstrous work if it hadn’t been for the fact that the majority is willing to go along with them.

    After WW2, when the truth of concentration camps and the holocaust emerged, the Germans had to hang down their heads in shame. Ever since then, they have had to feel apologetic. This too will happen to the Sinhalese. One day the truth will come out, and Sinhalese will have to deal with being the pariahs of the world community. This will be a worse fate for them than living in camps. Every time they open their mouths, they will have to apologise.

    I too am shocked by the lack of media attention to the Tamils’ situation. I cannot grasp how Americans can get so excited about a rigged election and the Iranian government shooting a few protesters when 30,000 Tamil civilians were shelled, largely by the SL government, and a quarter of million Tamils are jailed and many dying in camps.

    Where is the morality in all this?

  • Observer

    When the LTTE was running around, there was death and destruction every where! Now that’s not the case. No applause’s fine….
    So you’re complaining about “freedom of movement” now. Next bench mark I suppose. That will not be an issue too after the camps are dismantled.
    If you dealt with LTTE for 30 odd years why not see it through for 6 more months so civilians, especially children can walk around their homes without their legs getting blown off? It’s easy to cry for some rights when there aren’t any land mines in your front yard!
    Now is the most critical time to work patiently.

    Sam, remember one thing please. Tamils in Sri Lanka, especially the North who are suffering didn’t vote for your T-GOAT! Please dominate the expat Tamils with the goat and let the locals be. Thank you.

  • Observer

    My understanding is that, for better or worse, through the latest experience, the government and armed forces have come to the conclusion that if you maintain a significantly large force, insurgencies can be crushed swiftly and brutally. In fact the very strategy Gen. Petraeus implemented with the troop surge in breaking the dead lock in Fallujah and reducing the insurgent attacks in Iraq. It is a militarily tried and tested method now and I guess Gen. Fonseka isn’t leaving anything to chance. That is the argument for maintaining a large force – national security.

  • rose

    Another reason for keeping a large army is to institute military rule. Gen. Petraeus drew down the troops, didn’t he, when the war was over? I thought SL said the war was over.

    I hope Sri Lanka goes now into military rule. That would be too funny for words for the majority population that supported this state regime. Maybe they will finally start to appreciate what democracy and human rights mean.

  • punitham

    Freedom of movement?
    People of one camp are prevented from going to another camp walking.
    But are allowed to travel by three wheelers for which you have to pay.
    War for business.
    Till the last drop of Tamil blood can be squeezed out.
    Camps for business
    Till the last rupee of Tamil sweat can be squeezed out.

  • Observer

    I actually hoped for a military regime 10 years ago when corruption was rife. Not to defeat the ltte. Unfortunately I know it’s not gonna happen. Military rule. The power brokers are too cunning.

  • Karu

    Dear Pragmatist,
    YES the Sinhala UNP govt. of JRJ & Premadasa killed more Sinhalese (JVP & their families) than all Tamil groups combined. Rohini is absolutely right.

    Which rock have you been under?

  • malinda seneviratne

    i’ve spent the last 3 days in these camps….rohini hensman, apart from the carelessness of description (e.g. ‘sinhala nationalist regimes of premadasa and jayewardena’), doesn’t know shit about what’s happening in these camps or why her grand suggestions are utterly impracticable. i will be writing on this at length in the sunday newspapers.

  • malinda seneviratne

    the same goes for ‘Rose’ too, by the way.

  • EW Golding

    There is a fundamental problem facing GoSL. What if a substantial portion of the IDPs are still politically loyal to the LTTE despite the harrowing experiences they suffered at its hands? Or a lesser variant; what if they are not necessarily pro-LTTE but still Tamil nationalist in outlook and hardened by recent experiences? I have been told that similar anti-government sentiments are emerging in the East and I have noticed that Tamil youth, in general, are quite anti-regime.

    Now my point is not whether this is good or bad, but only, what if this is the case? Then there is a permanent and unsolvable contradicition at hand. (Unsolvable if, like me, you reckon that granting substantail real autonomy to Tamil areas is impossible for this government for a variety of reasons). The problem then is much bigger than ‘why the camps?’ and can only get worse. The government cannot and will not allow Tamil nationalism to raise its head again, and the latter, presumably, will not go away; camps etc are small change in this bigger picture.

  • kitchen sink

    Though it really should not matter, I am a sinhalese moderate living for a decade in Europe and since 11 yrs old till 29 lived in Sri Lanka during the reign of terror both LTTE suicide bombs and JVP brutality.

    Homegrown and studying Int Law and seeing the “perfect” democracies in the West where “human rights are not a mockery” I have formed my perspectives that in this day and age, both in the West and East North and South, democracy is blighted.

    There are processes in the West which guarantee you basic rights but there are always humiliating practices, injustice and mockeries- we as Sri Lankans and am sure many columnists could have achieved a great deal if we worked in Sri Lanka in a peaceful and thriving economy – thats where our true potential and cultural and belonging is 100%.

    Yet there is 1983. Can Tamils who were dignified and peaceful ever forget the horror and ignominy the helplessness of fleeing their homes and seeing them burnt and with it their sense of belonging?

    I am not sympathising with Govts but trying to be realistic. The UK, USA and Europe are in a solid mess in many depts. Our country is ruled for the first time in many years by a bunch of politicians who display political will in weeding out the LTTE. It is a complex business and there are no simple answers and one-sided perspectives: there is very little doubt that a rebel movement involves families and go beyond uniforms and idenitifications.

    Tomorrow the entire nation may be at risk if IDPs are sent home without proper screening and processes ( however unpalatable to the rest of us) are not put in place to monitor and stifle any further recruitment of Tamil sons and torment of ordinary Tamil Mothers in the North. The camps are run inadequately am sure but they are supervised and the Govt is reported to be coping with a situation of biblical proportions.

    Let us be realistic. E W Golding’s views are welcomed. Let us be critical without being one sided. Bitterness is natural and suspicion has been the nature of existence of a Sri Lankan up to now. But our children may know another Sri Lanka – those living in Sri Lanka may move on in this SPACE that has been created.

    I am not sure where the author lives, yet i maybe be mistaken in assuming that Groundviews meant views from the Ground and not reproducing articles by people who are writing on their point of view rather than on the situation that they analyse with first hand evidence and witness.

    Let’s be patient for our own sake and realise the magnitude of the problem of an aftermath of a rebel movement. Look at Belfast for the issues, look at Georgia for IDPs since 1990, look at the UK for failed foreign policy, monetary control and rusty healthcare systems and transport, look at Europe for non-existent job potential for Asians and the USA for the lack of a real healthcare system and much poverty and gun-crime.

    Let us be patient with the imperfect resolution of our own mess as the extent of the mess is not known except to those who will hear from with generations of trained LTTE killers under 25 years of age.

  • Realist

    Kitchen sink is not making a distinction between state discrimination and social discrimination. As far as I am aware the State in democratic countries of the West do not tolerate discrimination and there are judicial remedies for those who suffer from them. But social discrimination will always remain. The whites will generally not be on the same intimate terms with the blacks socially as with fellow whites. Similarly with regard to Sinhalese and Tamils. Those brought up on western ethical values may find their prejudices have softened but the natural tendency is to stereotype those who differ from us in race, ethnicity, caste etc.
    The attitude of the authorities to the IDPs is far from humanist. I understand the Government has a showcase of just one IDP camp to which they take all visitors. But in other camps the situation is horrendous. The lack of latrines seems to be the worst problem. Surely the government can allow the old people, the pregnant mothers and even children to leave the camps if there are relatives or well-wishers who will look after them. Ths will reduce the numbers. The impression is that the youth and men are taken away and disappear. I dont know the facts but the answer to falsehood is to permit the free entry of outsiders at least foreigners from International organizattions to find the truth for themselves. Nobody will be so naive as to believe this government which has been proved to be liars and suppressors of the truth, deceivers and charlatans. But as some one said nobody can fool all thepeople all the time.

  • belle

    kitchen sink,

    You said the weeding out of the LTTE is a very complex business. I agree with you there. Several SL governments tried to ‘weed out’ the LTTE and failed. One of the reasons they failed was that they acknowledged the complexity of the problem–they knew it would be barbaric to get rid of the LTTE by killing all the civilians surrounding them. The Rajapaksa regime, by contrast, got rid of the LTTE in the simplest (and most barbaric) way possible. Any idiot can get rid of terrorists by shelling all the innocent civilians surrounding them. It doesn’t need any grand military strategy,or any brainwork. This is the MOST SIMPLE way of solving the problem. The Rajapaksa regime will now resolve the minority rights issue in the most simplest way possible too–by having fake elections, by killing all their dissenters.

    You also talk about being realistic. As you point out, the government has to solve a problem of biblical proportions, the quarter million Tamil IDPs. This problem should not have been there in the first place. It was created by the government killing civilians–when it is a government’s sacred role to protect civilians, not kill them. If you want to be realistic, this genocidal regime should be gotten rid of–by peaceful means of carrying out an UN war-crimes inquiry, or by just killing the genocidal maniacs. That’s realism.

    It is not realistic to get rid of terrorists by incarcerating a whole community. That is a nightmare. Would you get rid of murderers in a society by incarcerating the whole community and then identifying the murderers that way?

    It is also not realistic to be patient, especially if you do not know the extent of the mess, as you admit. You will only be giving the mess more time to grow into a bigger mess. Your children may not grow into a new space. Rather, they may have been killed even before they reach puberty when the genocidal maniacs turn from Tamils to your family.

    You, in fact, are trying to complicate and cloud an issue that is ethically extremely simple. Why do you bring in the Western democracies into your discussion of the SL situation of genocide? Democracy may not be perfect in these places but they are certainly not committing genocide behind an iron curtain. They did not carry out a war without witnesses against their own citizens. These Western countries are not incarcerating an entire ethnic community and denying their evil. This is not about democracy, but human rights. Sri Lanka as a member of UN and a signatory of the UN Human Rights and Genocide conventions is morally and legally obligated not to contravene these laws. Really, a very simple issue. It’s about behaving in a civilized manner.

  • belle

    Excellent comment!

  • belle

    malinda seneviratne,
    I have read some of your articles. Your politics comes across very clearly. That’s hardly objective journalism. You criticise Rohini Hensman’s article for its carelessness of description, yet your articles (those I found on the Internet) are full of rhetoric rather than facts. I used to be a press news reporter, by the way, so I’m able to distinguish between hard news reporting and puff pieces. I hope your upcoming piece for Sunday will belong to the investigative journalism genre and not be an apologia for the government. I will read your piece and judge its truth value based on various criteria. For eg, what was the context of your visit to the camps: were you taken around on a state-sponsored PR visit or were you allowed free, unsupervised access to the camps? Or did you go undercover? Did you use a wide range of sources? Who are your sources and are they credible? What kinds of challenges would you have encountered in obtaining your information? What lens did you use to gather and select information?

  • Manushi

    Tamilnet junkies are now talking about “investigative journalism” ! Hah…the joke of the century….

    These Tamilnet crisis junkies are struggling to sell an image of a deeply divided Sri-lanka, wherein the supposedly irreconcilable differences between the Sinhala and Tamil people will forever keep the country in turmoil. The fuelling of this false dichotomy by the tiger diaspora has more to do with self-glorification and profit than it does with “human rights”. In fact, human rights – the rights of poor men, women and children from the Vanni – were the least of their worries while forcible child recruitment, including the disproportionate use of women suicide bombers by the LTTE went on for decades. The tiger diaspora, conversely, estranged and labeled the Tamils who spoke out against these injustices as “traitors”.

    Unable to integrate into Western society, the tiger diaspora latched on to the notion of a separate homeland as a psychological response to the alienation and racism all immigrants – especially non- white immigrants – are often subjected to in the West. With the demise of the LTTE, the illusion of the “invincible” tiger is now completly shattered. Perhaps it is a good time for the tiger diaspora to examine the psychological underpinnings associated with this unabashed glorification of violence.

    Immigrants not assimilated into the host culture are often limited to a conceptual understanding of the West. This conceptual knowledge is very misleading when it is then used as a guide for analyzing the current political reality in Sri-Lanka.

  • belle

    If you only knew your facts, you would know that a majority of Tamils who are in the diaspora left Sri Lanka to escape the Tigers and to be allowed to live in peace. Where is your evidence that the Tamil diaspora is not doing well in their adopted homes? I happen to know that those who left Sri Lanka in the late 1980s/early 1990s are doing very well in Europe and Britain. Many worked in factories but they have accumulated property such that the locals can’t keep up with them. This generation have visited my home and their children speak Italian, German, French and English languages at first language level, and culturally they are very different from their parents. They have integrated very well into their adopted societies. Their children are now studying for the professions. Many others became professionals when they migrated because their adopted country gave them opportunities that their motherland refused them. UK’s NHS is filled with Sri Lankan Tamil doctors.

    Your intention is very transparent. You are trying to denigrate the Tamil diaspora as psycho, illiterate types. The facts will not bear out your claim. Look at the way they are using the internet. Look at the organisation of protests, the non-Tamil accents of those who are interviewed by the media. Listen to Jan Jananayagam on TV. How did she try to get into the European Parliament and do outstandingly well in a first time bid if she was not integrated into Europe? (Compare Jananayagam’s verbal performance with that of SL’s premier diplomat, the ambassador to US, who talks as if he was just rescued from a rubbish dump.) Look at the formation of the group Tamils Against Genocide, and their filing a case against Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as an American citizen. Look at the way they have garnered support from British, European, Scandinavian, Canadian and American politicians and activist movements. All this could not have happened if they were not in tune with the politics and culture of their adopted homes. It could not have happened if they were illiterate and out-of-step with global culture.

    In the arts too, they have been doing well in an incredibly short time. Already we have MIA and her sisters, the writers Shyam Selvadurai and Shobasakthi, Indran Amirthanayagam. There are famous Sri Lankan Tamil academics in English Departments in the West and Southeast Asia.

    If you want to go back even further to post-war emigres, this generation has done exceptionally well in the countries of their adoption. Singapore has ministers of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. In Malaysia, the law courts are filled with Sri Lankan Tamils, and they were at the forefront of a movement that, for the first time since independence, loosened the tight grip of Malay nationalists in government. One of the top three richest Malaysians, Ananda Krishnan, is of SL Tamil origin. There are also lots of Datuks of the same origins.

    So please, desist from your crude attempt to paint SL diaspora Tamils as a psychologically feeble community. They have always been known wherever they went as top performers.

  • malinda seneviratne


    you really think there is such a thing called ‘objectivity’? i have never been shy of stating bias…unlike a lot of ‘journalists’ and ‘commentators’ who strut around as though they are ‘neutral’.


  • belle

    malinda seneviratne,
    No, I don’t believe objectivity is possible. That’s why I spoke of the “lens” that journalists use in gathering and selecting information. But you spoke of Rohini H as not knowing “shit” about what was happening in the camps. You said you however had been in the camps and that you would be writing all about it. Implication was that you had the handle on the truth, that you knew because you had been there. You’re the one who believes in objectivity.

  • Ravi Shankar

    Can someone explain me about the so called “screening process” ? How many people are screened in a day? If they were screened and come out with the negative results (i.e they are not terrorists), will they be released immediately? or they still have to wait?

    Some humane people considered about the children who could loose their limps if they were back to the former war zone. So can these children with their families move (at least temporarily) to elsewhere in the Island? I’m sure the Budhists people will feed them. After all they fought the war to save these people.

  • Heshan

    There is a video I saw of a delegation of Buddhist monks in Kilinochi, blessing the soldiers. There is another video I saw of Shavindra Silva roaring across Kilinochi in an army vehicle. Clearly, mines are not a threat to the mobility of the soldiers and VIP delegations.

    Let’s also not forget that most of the homes and buildings in the Tiger areas have been destroyed. The few remaining ones have already been searched for mines… in any case, these dwellings are not complex structures. Neither is the accomponying land vast or complex. Given the ferocity with which soldiers raid homes in Jaffna at all hours of the day and night, it would take very little time to scan this virtually barren earth in Tiger areas for a few mines.

    As for screening, most of these people were screened at Omanthai checkpoint or some such prior transit point.

    My guess is that what the Government really wants to do is interrogate all the youth. *It* Government would probably not mind letting everyone else go, but if the camps were to hold just young people, that would lead to a major international outcry.

  • punitham

    The people pushed-pulled into the ”blood” beach of Mullaitivu in the last six months have been driven around many parts of the Northeast by aerial bombing, shelling, PTA/ER/IMPUNITY, economic embargo and tsunami over the last thirty years and have ended up in barbed and barricaded camps.
    They remind me of ”Trash Vortex” – an island of discarded plastic collected over a long time by ocean currents. There are sevaral trash vortices floating in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans now.
    There are several barbed and barricaded camps scattered all over the Northeast.
    When reports about the utterly filthy camps reach us, what else will we be reminded of?
    Nobody is allowed to talk about the IDP camps.
    So even Bishop Ckickera has ‘distanced’ himself from the topic and in his statement on his visit to Jaffna he doesn’t say anything about IDPs in camps in Jaffna.

    Chief Justice Sarath Silva said that the IDPs are outside the law in Sri Lanka.
    Are they outside the Kingdom of God too?

  • Stigmatist

    France to give refuge to Lankan boat people

    (VALLETTA) – France on Friday said it will offer homes to 100 boat people from Iraq, Ivory Coast, Somalia and Sri Lanka, including 20 young children, who were picked up in seas off Malta.

    Immigration minister Eric Besson said at a ceremony at the French Embassy in Valletta that Paris had offered to assist Malta, which routinely fishes clandestine migrants heading for mainland Europe out of its waters.

    Besson told the refugees that France “is giving you a chance to plan for your future in Europe” —


    See, that is democracy for you. Why doesn’t France take these people and stuff them behind barbed wire cages for “screening?” Maybe the great 2500 yr old Buddhist civilization on a distant island could learn a thing or two about compassion. It is a sad but true fact that all Sri Lankans have more rights outside of Sri Lanka.

  • Manushi


    You obviously did not read my comment with close attention. I am not talking about the Tamil diaspora. What I am referring to is the ‘tiger diaspora’ ! It is important for me to draw a clear distinction here.

    I don’t need a laundry list of the all the accomplishments within the Tamil Diaspora because every sizeable ethnic minority in the West can and will wave their respective list of “our great people” at a moment’s notice. As far as speaking with a British, Canadian or American “accent” is concerned, this comes naturally for us kids who grew up in this neck ‘o the woods. It’s no biggie.

    Garnering support from western powers is no indication of assimilating into the host country either. Any ethnic group struck by ‘back home syndrome’ and practising ‘back home politics’ share a tacit understanding with policitians here who will bend over backwards to get that coveted ‘ethnic’ vote. Hah ! This is not rocket science. It is called dirty politics.

    Every group produces “professionals”; but certain ethnic minorites that place a premium on education are more likely to see their children enter the professional world. As Sherlock Holmes would say, ” it’s elementary, my dear Watson”.

    The point I am trying to make here is that ‘integration’ goes beyond the superficiality of mastering the “accent” and getting suited up in the morning for one’s office job. It is much more nuanced.

    A well integrated individual shows love for her new country by working for the collective good of ALL people – not just for the members of her little ethnic enclave. Integration involves the recognition of one’s civic duty to one’s environment, and not abusing the charter of rights and freedoms to oppress members of one’s own community.

    By the way, speaking of Shyam Selvadurai, I hear his book ‘ Funny Boy’ has been translated into Sinhala by Sugathapala de silva as “Amuthu Illandariya”. This is only possible when racism and homophobia are absent, and the love of literature takes precedence over one’s narrow ethnic identity. I wonder how many in the tiger diaspora have actually taken the time to read this novel and appreciate it. This weekend is pride parade (the gay and lesbian parade) in Toronto. I wish the closeted gays and lesbians of the community will feel free to come out in this free society.

    Now speaking of the THAMIL diaspora, what about Dr A Sivanandan, Director of the Institute of Race Relations and editor of the journal Race and Class? Never heard of him?

    Don’t resort to racism if you cannot engage in meaningful dialogue. One’s inability to differentiate the Sri-Lankan government from the ordinary Sinhala people reveals a serious flaw in one’s education and upbringing.

  • Stigmatist

    Some great points in this thread so far:

    Number 1: Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Government killed more Sinhalese than LTTE

    Number 2: Sri Lankans have more rights outside of Sri Lanka than in Sri Lanka

    It looks like that “Tamil terrorist” kool-aid handed out by GOSL for 30 yrs was a wee bit sugary. Pot calling kettle black, anyone?

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Stigmatist >>

    You asked:
    “Why doesn’t France take these people and stuff them behind barbed wire cages for “screening?”

    Maybe because those people aren’t likely to have LTTE cadres in their midst who, once released, will regroup, rearm and proceed to blow themselves up?

    Can’t disagree with your 2nd post where you said:
    “It looks like that “Tamil terrorist” kool-aid handed out by GOSL for 30 yrs was a wee bit sugary.”

    Fair enough but as I mentioned in an earlier thread, I’ll choose a democratically elected terrorist govt. over a self-appointed crypto-fascist terrorist group any day of the week. At least we can get rid of the govt. during the next election, don’t you think?

  • Stigmatist

    I beg to differ on both points. How does an organization regroup if the whole leadership has been wiped out? And second, who gave the mandate to the “democratically elected terrorist government” to detain 300,000 innocents in camps?

  • deshapria

    Check this out before committing yourself, Rohini, and don’t talk from both sides of your mouth!
    Campaigners in the UK for the welfare of those who fail in attempts to seek asylum in the UK, estimate that each year 2,000 children are locked up in immigration removal centres with their parents who have been refused asylum. Together with the parents, the numbers locked up in “removal centres” must be at least 4,000.

    These figures of children locked up for years, even with their parents, would seem only of academic interest, but for all the fuss that Gordon Brown, his tottering Cabinet and badly shaken Labour Government on the verge of a major electoral rout, and the BBC too, are making about the IDPs in Sri Lanka.

  • Observer

    Umm there are certain roads and areas cleared for travel from and mines of course. Check out this video below
    That’s just few square meters. now think how long it will take to clear the whole of wanni. Just be sensible…

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Stigmatist >>
    There’s no point in being contrarian for the sake of it. It displays a staggering lack of understanding on your part to even ask such a naive question. “How will they regroup?”. Read this article in its entirety:
    There are already reports of LTTE activity, so why speak nonsense just so you can reinforce your own beliefs?

    And you seem to have failed to grasp my second point too.

  • Stigmatist

    There are Skinheads & Ex-Nazis who happily wave swastikas around. Does it mean they will someday invade Poland and restart the gas chambers? You fail to comprehend the organizational structure of the LTTE. There were a few veterans in the top ranks (VP, Swarnam, Soosai, Pottu Amman, Durga, etc.) and then there was everyone below them. Difference in mentality between high-ranking and lower level cadres is obvious: all of the high-rankers chose to fight to the death rather than surrender. The low-rankers simply followed orders. They had no idea about operations control. For you to suggest they can reorganize is a spurious claim, at best. No 18 year old youth in those camps can emulate Prabhakaran or Pottu with their decades of experience.

    And these splinter cells do not pose much threat, as long as they work in isolation. They are like the underworld.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Stigmatist >>
    Oh I agree with you there. That’s the bleeding obvious isn’t it? Are you Heshan by another name? There won’t be a reorganization on that scale, but little tribes of people going underground and fighting guerilla could wreak havoc also don’t you think? Random explosions in cities etc. to cripple the economy and which compromise the safety of ordinary people when the govt. is already struggling to keep afloat. So is that not a realistic situation for a govt. to consider? What are your suggestions?

  • George Gunasekera

    When I consider all that has been written and what most of the tamils are trying to do there seems to be some curse on tamils. Tamils fled Sri Lanka to escape the tyranny of the LTTE. They found countries to better their prospects and live happily. Yet they are not prepared to forget the miserable lives they led in Sri Lanka and they are trying to get involved in another fight.They want to give their hard earned money to the greedy war mongers again to start a fight and make the lives of those innocent people living back in Sri Lanka miserable.Why the bloody hell can’t people be satisfied and live peacefully where ever they are living now.Make the place where you live now your home. If you have relatives in the displaced peoples camp come to Sri Lanka and build a home for them without finding fault with the Sri Lankan Government. How can the Sri Lankan Government have thousands of houses constructed for these people over night. Is Pathmanathan helping the cause of these IDPs when he says that there are LTTE fighters still hiding in the jungles and he is in contact with them.Millions in cash and jewellery and all kinds of war materials are being unearthed from the vanni still.Those tamils who fled to India at the begining of the fighting are still confined in much worse camps. If the tamil diaspora are really interested in helping their relatives in Sri Lanka the best they could do is to come to Sri Lanka and get involved with local authorities and help and not promote dreams of creating homelands again.

  • Stigmatist

    @Somewhat Disgusted

    Go back and re-read. Can you grasp the amount of coordination and planning that go into a suicide attack? Probably more coordination and planning compared to begging Westerners to maintain aid camps.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Once again, you’re being contrarian for the sake of it, which you seem to unashamedly consider a virtue. The amount of planning needed for a targeted suicide attack on a single individual would be tremendous, yes. But a random explosion would require little more than a suitably motivated individual. Indeed, these cells are designed to operate in isolation, with little or no coordination and no centralized command and control. You evidently need to read up more about how they work, so pretending to be an expert on suicide attacks just so you can once again reinforce your own beliefs, makes any attempt at discussion completely useless.

    Secondly, who’s talking about suicide attacks anyway? It could be something as simple as a bomb set off remotely.

    Thirdly, you still haven’t raised a single point to counter the fact that there are already reports of LTTE activity within these camps. You conveniently ignore/dismiss a plain as day fact with spurious arguments. What practical suggestions do you have to deal with these problems?

    There’s no point in discussing anything with you because you’re obviously not interested in engaging in a rational discussion, merely in somehow portraying the govt. as “pure evil”, and refusing to address the related issues, for which you seem to have no real solutions. You act like Heshan by another name, so it’s a complete waste of time to try and discuss something with someone who has no interest in understanding the complex nature of the issue and is only interested in a black & white world view. I sure won’t waste another second of my life on such calcified thinking 🙂 Good day!

  • davidson panabokke

    Slogan on the wall of the defence media centre:
    “It’s the Soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press; It’s the Soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech.”

    SLA to increase from 200,000 to 300,000 in peacetime.
    Press Council will do the opposite to the pressmen.

    We are all waiting for the government to make a change from the direction of war to the direction of peace.

    Not in words but in deeds.

  • Belle


    Seems I have raised your ire. It was a serious mistake for you to attack me as someone ignorant of cultural matters and question my education level. Truly a bad mistake because, on these issues, including that of postcolonial culture, literature and race theory, it is impossible for anyone to have a higher education than mine. Have you published international books on race? I have.

    Don’t try to palm off your mistake in failing to distinguish between Tamil diaspora and Tiger diaspora as an error of comprehension on my part. In your original comment, you never made any such distinction and referred only to the tiger diaspora, without mentioning that any other Tamil diaspora existed. Thus, in your comment, the tiger diaspora as a classificatory category functioned as a metonym for the entire Tamil diaspora. Also, prior to your first mention of the tiger diaspora, you had assumed I was a Tamilnet “junkie”. If you read other comments by me in other threads, you would know that I am not a proponent of separatism. That assumption you made was based on other unjustified equations, that my standing up for the achievements of the Tamil diaspora made me a believer in Tamil Eelam, that standing up for a specific ethnic group means that one is not integrated into a multicultural national community.

    You think that speaking in Western accents does not mean the Tamils have integrated. Surely it is one of the signifiers of integration. Speaking in Western accents means that you have been properly schooled in that country, and have substantial daily contact with the dominant Western community and culture. It means that you are not exclusively hanging out with “your own kind”. Your wider notion of integration is that one must work for the good of all rather than for one’s own ethnic community. I agree with you to an extent. But I do not agree that taking up the cause of an ethnic community means that one is giving up on cosmopolitanism or intercultural relations.

    Try reading some work by Arjun Appadurai, one of the leading cultural theorists today on global culture and cosmopolitanism. He speaks of the complexity of cosmopolitan subject-formation, and shows that it is possible for people today to be totally integrated into their adopted Western nation while also having postnational attachments to their home country and its ethnic politics. That is part of the fact of being integrated into global culture, that despite physical distance, one can be connected to the home country and its politics as if one is physically there. It is this dualistic subject position that has made it possible for new immigrants in the West to raise their homeland issues with Western political establishments.

    For you it is just “dirty politics” to approach Western politicians for support of the Tamil issue back home. It is not “dirty politics” to seek protection against government shelling, rape and murder of the community you left behind at home. The Tamil diaspora knows that SL governments have not just recently shelled civilians, but have been doing so for the past few decades. How is it “dirty politics” to prevent or curb a genocide?

    It is not rocket science, you say, to use Western politicians’ need of the vote, to seek Western support for the Tamil situation. The Tamil vote in these countries is insignificant. Where Western politicians take up the Tamil cause, they have done it largely in terms of their political party’s value system, and stood up against injustice and minority rights as principle, not for the ethnic vote. For Tamils to approach these Western politicians, they needed to be culturally integrated into their adopted country, they needed to be fluent in the language and grasp the politics of the country. Today, arguing the homeland ethnic cause in the West is absolutely dependent on being integrated into the adopted country. To desire to seek Western support is one thing. To know how to do it is another.

    Yes, every ethnic minority has accomplishments. I didn’t claim that the Tamil diaspora was better than others, but that it was not weak and psychologically unstable and un-integrated as you tried to suggest. You appear miffed that I point out the Tamil diaspora’s accomplishments. You use my mention of Shyam Selvadurai to provide evidence that it is Sinhalese and not Tamils that read him by mentioning the translation of his work into Sinhalese, that Sinhalese are able to cross cultural barriers and are not homophobic. Firstly, “Funny Boy” grabbed a lot of attention in SL because the writer came from an extremely famous Sri Lankan cricket and tennis playing family. The author’s father himself was a national sports icon. Many Sri Lankans would have read the book in that context—of the son of a famous icon of ‘jock’ Sri Lankan masculinity doing a gay outing. It was sensational, and would have been especially so to a homophobic audience. I’m not saying that’s why they read “Funny Boy”, but it is a distinct possibility. Did they read his “Cinnamon Gardens” too with as much interest? Only a person not sufficiently trained in literature would make such bold claims about the reception of a literary text without providing evidence. Perhaps Tamils do not require Tamil translation because they are sufficiently English-educated? Do you have statistics on how many of the Tamil diaspora have read “Funny Boy”? Do share. If you don’t, desist from assuming that they haven’t read it.

    I wonder why it is so “Tamilnet junkie” of me to speak up for SL Tamils, but it apparently shows your good integration into the collective good to speak up for Sinhalese as an ethnic community.

    You mention A Sivanandan as if you are sympathetic to Tamils and want to highlight their achievements. But you only bring him up to say that Sivanandan is anti-racism, presumably as opposed to the “Tiger diaspora” (apparently which I belong to). To fight for the rights of minority groups, to plead their protection is not to be racist. It is an important aspect of being anti-racist, and I am sure A Sivanandan would agree with me here. Let me quote him in a 21 Sep 2000 interview with Raj Pal, where his reference to “blacks” includes people of Indian and Sri Lankan origins in Britain:

    “It is only through embracing our blackness that we begin to drive out Englishness from our psyches. That is the liberation of the black intellectual….We are not writers who happen to be blacks, we are blacks first and last and writers only secondary….A black writer who says he just happens to be black is a mercenary on hire to his people….A black intellectual, an oppressed intellectual, a third world intellectual has to be an intellectual engagé. He has got to be involved in the struggle to liberate himself and his people, whether it is the family, school or the black movement, third world movement, any of these things, anti-colonial movement, anti-global movement. Wherever there is oppression and injustice, we want to liberate ourselves. We cannot be intellectuals per se and hide ourselves in an academic ivory tower.”

    I say it again: your intention was to denigrate the Tamil diaspora, to make it seem as if the entire Tamil diaspora was a tiger diaspora (save for exceptions such as Selvadurai and Sivanandan). That’s why you were quick to brand me a Tamilnet junkie without familiarising yourself with my political views. That’s why you scoff at my mention of achievements of the Tamil diaspora.

    Am I uneducated in viewing the majority Sinhalese as chauvinist, and equating them with their government? Only a dominantly racist, chauvinistic society can vote a racist, chauvinistic government into power within a democratic political system, no? MR teamed up with the JVP—didn’t that tell the Sinhalese something about his politics when they voted for him? I don’t think every SL Sinhalese is racist, but a majority of them are, going by their vote and their failure to raise a ruckus against their government’s shelling of innocent civilians. I know in my country there would be huge protests at the shelling of any civilians, majority or minority.

    How educated are you? Only people who haven’t been academically trained jump to conclusions as speedily as you have done. Why did you assume I have never heard of Sivanandan? Why assume that Tamils haven’t read Funny Boy? Why suggest that Tamils are more homophobic as a community than other communities in this largely homophobic world? Why assume that books about gay outings are necessarily only read by gay-friendly people? Why assume that Tamils who speak up for their community are racist and uneducated?

    My guess is that you are insufficiently educated and, like many people of this ilk, you think you know everything. That is the trademark of the lowly-educated. Those who are highly educated know that there is always something lurking around the corner that they do not know. You with your simplistic, snap judgements are hardly in a position to pontificate about the psychological weaknesses and cultural backwardness of the Tiger diaspora.

  • Stigmatist

    Suicide attacks are (or were) done by Black Tigers, who underwent extreme indoctrination in a carefully selected environment. Such an environment is longer possible in Sri Lanka.

    Random explosions are possible, but they can be done by anyone, not just the LTTE. Effective explosions are a different matter. For an explosion to be effective it can’t be random. The target is known in advance and some kind of execution schedule is assigned A remote explosion falls into this category. A remote explosion requires some kind of timing device. Constructing a good timing device is can involve varying levels of complexity, depending on such factors as scale and availability of materials.

    One of the obvious dangers in making a homemade *bomb* is that it can prematurely go off. This is why most militant groups employ a few experts to get the job done. Of course, once the bomb is actually constructed, there are other factors to consider: concealment, transportation, auspicious time to use it, etc. This is why coordination is very important. The most devastating bombs targeting civilians have always been traced to very structured organizations, not to single individuals or sleeper cells working in isolation.

    Most of the LTTE attacks against the SLA, besides direct combat and suicide attacks, involved throwing grenades, setting off landmines or hit-and-run attacks with pistols. Grenades and landmines, unless they are homemade, need to be smuggled which for all practical purposes is no longer possible. Given the present environment, any homemade devices will be far inferior to the standard product.

    To summarize: what LTTE offered is organizational capability based on real-time intelligence. It provided the goods, the safehouses, the moles, the targets, etc. One merely had to carry out the pre-assigned task. Now there are so many obstacles to overcome, just by way of planning, that the disadvantages of militancy far outweigh any incentives.

  • Stigmatist

    Already the Government is preparing to pardon lower-level cadres. This shows several things:

    (1) There is no LTTE threat in the camps themselves (this should be considering that 10,000 LTTE who surrendered were taken off to detention facilities)

    (2) The camps themselves do not serve the intended purpose of “screening.” Like others have said, most of the screening was done elsewhere

    (3) The ratio of lower-level to high-level LTTE cadres is along the lines of 5000 to 1, thereby effectively rendering any excuse to “screen” and “weed out” useless.

  • Manushi


    When I was in elementary school, if an overbearing kid tried to push the rest of us kids around in the playground, the phrase we commonly used on the bully was : “who died and made you king”? This rhetorical question came to mind when I read your declaration that on matters of culture, including postcolonial culture, “it is impossible for anyone to have a higher education than [yours]”.

    Jump to June, 2009. As a graduate student in English, strapped with a heavy student loan, I am now faced with a self-proclaimed expert on Post-Colonial theory. So let me rephrase the question that was put to the bully in the playground, and ask this “expert”: “When did Homi Bhabha die”?

    There is no need for you to go into Shyam Selvadurai’s family background, including his family’s ties to fortune and fame back in Sri-Lanka. What about Shyam’s mother? In hindsight, perhaps he acquired his creativity and talent for writing from her! My paternal grandparents, Jaffna Thamil Anglicans from Urumburai , are well connected and acquainted with all the Vellala Jaffna Anglicans. Thus, I don’t need any second hand information from the likes of you.

    It’s a pity that novels by Romesh Gunesekara and Michael Ondatjee (please don’t run to look up Ondatjee’s Thamil connections) have neither Thamil nor Sinhala translations. Oooops…I forgot, Thamil people don’t need translations !

    By the way, Dr. A. Sivanandan’s work was first introduced to me by my mother who happens to be a Kandyan Sinhala Buddhist. She was also the first person to read Funny Boy in our family when it came out in the early nineties. She even attended one of Shyam’s reading which was held at Little Sisters’ bookstore located in the heart of Vancouver’s gay district. My father does not have patience for fiction, as he is more into theory, particularly to postmodernism.

    My father, on the other hand, introduced me to essays by Martin Wickramasinghe, to early Sinhala cinema and to Buddhism.

    What I am trying to show you is that your essentialist approach to ethnicity, class and religion contradict the very fundamentals of post-colonial theory. Your bigoted comments tell me that you never grew up in a vibrant, cosmopolitan environment in which children were encouraged to be free thinkers instead of followers. Furthermore, how on earth can a post-colonial theorist (as you’ve indicated you are) give so much prominence to the “accent”? This slavish admiration of the West puts you in the camp of the wannabe Brown Sahib, and far away from post-colonial theorists such as Homi Bhabha, Gayathri Spivak and Arjun Appadurai just to name a few.

    Ahem…Your preconceived notions working overtime have, indeed, led you to believe I am a Sinhalese. My intention is to go to Sri-Lanka after I finish my studies so that I can help with the restructuring process. For the record, I want to stay the hell away from NGOs.

    Even if you now run off to Wikipedia and manage to come up with a counterattack, I will not be convinced because of your downright racism.

  • Belle

    I am supposed to be the egoistic bully in the playground but you are the one who goes into verbal diarrhoea mode talking about yourself? Why did you think anyone would be interested in your personal story? Your way of telling your story, the tone of oneupmanship, tells me that you think you are incredibly unique, nay richer than others, in having inherited some of the major cultures of Sri Lanka. There are millions upon millions of people in your position in the world. For e.g, I have Tamil parents, but I am more competent in English and Malay than in Tamil. I am also quite knowledgeable about Chinese culture as a third-generation Singaporean on my mother’s side. So much for your accusation that I have never experienced cosmopolitanism in my growing up years.

    I made that comment about my own education as a response to your accusation that I was uneducated. I would never have brought up my education otherwise. Schoolyard bullies initiate provocation. I never initiated discussion with you. You jumped into the fray of my commentary directed at someone else, and threw all kinds of unjustified abuse at me–that I was uneducated, a tamilnet junkie, a member of a psychologically feeble “tiger diaspora”, etc. You generated the provocation here so please don’t project your schoolyard bullying tendencies onto me. That I am good at returning the volley doesn’t make me the bully.

    You accuse me of taking an essentialistic approach to ethnicity, class and religion when all the while I was trying to suggest to you that it is possible to be both cosmopolitan as well as invested in homeland ethnic issues and identifications. Who is the one who subscribes here to binaristic either/or thinking?

    I am not sufficiently postcolonial in thought? I am trying to speak up for a minority community of people that has been shelled by state army forces, and who are now incarcerated in camps behind a state-ordained cloak of secrecy–as anyone with a conscience would do. Meanwhile, you denigrate a diaspora that is trying to help this community. Your attitude of suspecting NGOs will strategically support a repressive majoritarian state regime, but, hey, you are the postcolonial one between us!

    It’s strange that you mention Spivak and postcolonial culture, but don’t raise issues of class (which always inflect Spivak’s thinking about postcolonial issues). I thought you were Sinhalese because of your utter lack of sympathy for those who you call the “tiger diaspora” and the vitriol you spew at anyone who wants to help Tamils in Sri Lanka. I can see now I was wrong. Your self-narrative suggests that you are of the elite class. My SL Tamil origins are much more modest. That more than race probably accounts for the differences in our viewpoints, why you see eye to eye with a repressive state regime made up of Sri Lankan political families and loathe the “tiger diaspora”, who are largely of working class origins.

    The problems in SL have not only been about race but about class. Like everywhere else, race and religion were used by an elite class to obscure class exploitation. Your poor Sinhalese soldier is a pawn of the elite class, made to hate poor Tamils when he should be trying to overthrow the political control of the elite class. Hopefully, working class Tamils and Sinhalese will unite now to bring in a new regime that is more supportive of labour interests and gradually boot out the elite class that has been unconscionably grabbing opportunities for itself since independence and even before.

    Me a “brown sahib”? Do you even know what that means? Brown sahibs don’t speak up for coloured folks.

    I am sorry you think I am a racist. It is part of your schoolyard bully tactics that you do not feel the need to provide evidence of my racism, but are happy to just hurl unsubstantiated epithets at people. If you feel any sense of responsibility at all, you will now sit down and provide all the argument and evidence that I am a racist, and I will respond accordingly to your accusations.

  • raj Suthan

    End of fight with LTTE has created uncertainity for Tamils. They way Sri Lanka handled the war, and ignoring the huge casualties , the China/India nacking without pointout the mistakes to Sri Lanka, all these cumalatively staged a huge blood bath.
    In post war scenario we can see that even everybody knows that it wrong to run those camps and those camps are punishment to Tamils , it is very hand to talk. Everytime we write about Sri Lanka injuctice on Tamil our voices are supressed.

    Sri Lanka is punishing Tamils believing that treatment will never let another uprise. but it is not going to work out. It is very obvious that most of the Tamils now want to put effort to build up something against Sri Lanka. That mentality has grown. Governement still focusses on bringing up Karuna or EPDP to replace the Tamil leadership. But it is short term view.

    If a 61 year problem can be solved by military solution , and putting the people in camps , a well understanding human will laugh. the huge momentum is building up within Tamils. Tamils who were spending time on criticising LTTE and governement are now focussing on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka and some elements in Sinhala society try to crush their voice and deny the right to write against Sri Lankan government. This has put the country into open jail for Tamils.

    May be it will take time , but war will return to the island soon. Atleast some Tamil youth will join up to show their anger. Iraq is good examble. Reckless bomb blasts without aim may begin. Or some form of agressive attacks will put the island in deep problem.

    So it is important that Sri Lanka start negotiations with Tamils including Tigers. Unite North and East and allow Tamil to enjoy freedom under powerful state will keep the country united. Many countries including Great Britain is living in peace by accepting other’s freedom.

    The time it takes to change the basic mentality from chauvinism to acceptance of ethinic minority Tamil’s rights , the time the sunny isalnd will face war.

  • There we can see two apparent reasons for some unrealistic journalists to prove what they’ve been reiterating to the world that Tamils are punished by Sri Lankan Govt. Fist one is what has happened here in Sri Lank is totally different what they believe and have been taught as conflict management theories. The second one even it is against the real fact is that they are seeking a different approach to prove that Tamils are being punished by Sri Lankan Govt.
    Maybe they are paid by terrorist related organisations indirectly or they are totally misled by dream theories being taught in the name of Western Democracy reserved to books and theories.

    If those journalists want to know the truth genuinely, they should come here, Sri Lanka. Here neither Govt. nor civilians want to punish Tamils. Both Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims are living like brothers and sisters. The entire nation is now with the government and doing their best to rebuild the war affected area.

    If someone is genuinely worried on indecent Tamil people, there are other ways to facilitate them. But if they want to tarnish gracefullness of the revolutionary effort of eradicating brutal terrorism, shame on them.
    We know that they are not really worried of those innocent people more than our country people do. They don’t know how all other Sri Lankans are trying their best to rebuild the lives of those people. They all know with that we all as one nation can face the challenges to build our nation under one flag. We Sri Lankans have never treated any other people badly and will never do such things in future.

    But I don’t know those journalists are so gullible to listen to hidden voices LTTE, when they are not higly paid to write those malicious fables against Sri Lanka.

  • Please note that in my earlier comment the phrase ‘indecent Tamil people’ should be corrected as ‘innocent Tamil people’

  • ForATruelyIndependantSriLanka


    “I thought you were Sinhalese because of your utter lack of sympathy for those who you call the “tiger diaspora” and the vitriol you spew at anyone who wants to help Tamils in Sri Lanka.” – You accuse sinhalese for being racists and then turn around and write a comment like that. Does the term “racism” only apply to selected races? Or only when you think it helps your agenda?

  • Manushi


    I think my “self-narrative” has really hit a nerve with you. Just for the record, I make no apologies for my background. History is a series of narratives; I have mine and you have yours. Anyway, putting that aside, I am really confused by your argument and train of thought.

    In your previous comments you mentioned an awful lot about the social background of certain Thamil writers and proceeded to paint me a glowing picture of the new tiger “elite” in the West, replete with all the bells and whistles of an economically promising class. In making certain assumptions about my ethnicity/religion, you thought you could easily pull the wool over my eyes by going into lengthy detail about the accomplishments of the Thamil Diaspora, particularly in terms of how the Diaspora has garnered the favour of the West. Interestingly, the mentioning of my Thamil roots has only brought about deep displeasure in you as I have, in one shot, dispelled many of the myths held so dear in the tiger Diaspora.

    Having no recourse, you have now given up on ethnicity and suddenly turned to the subject of class. Unfortunately, this has only made me more convinced of your insincerity. As I see it, if you really care about the poor/working class you would speak up against the forcible recruitment of child soldiers and the injustices perpetrated on the poor in Vanni, while Prabhakaran and his honchos were – to put it mildly – “living it up” ! While you were so busy yapping away about the “accomplishments” of Janani Jananayagam, did it ever occur to you that the child soldiers, too, might have a aspirations of their own. Wouldn’t these children jump at the chance of a university education, a chance to enjoy many of the things we here in the West take for granted??? As for all the innocent Sinhala men, women and children brutally massacred in border villages by the LTTE, I never hear anyone in the tiger Diaspora decry these terrors against humanity.

    The right to Thamil self-determination aside, I can not imagine any serious post-colonial thinker supporting a fascist, right wing organization such as the LTTE. Your supposed concern for the poor, along with your dogged admiration for the LTTE reveals an obvious disconnect. In trying to equate the two you have only made a mockery of women’s rights and of human rights in general. In your desperation, you have even resorted to misrepresent my Thamil background, categorizing me as member of the Thamil “elite” that has no business commenting on Thamil affairs. Does one have to be a tiger to speak on behalf of Thamil people? I was under the impression that the Thamil identity, too, was multi-layered and nuanced as are all identities.

    Since you’ve suddenly become a spokesperson for the poor, you might like to know that the poor Sinhalese are the most voiceless group in Sri-Lanka. No western government is agitating on their behalf. They have no powerful lobby groups to turn to. I find it interesting that you’ve decided to identify yourself with the suffering of the “poor Sinhala soldier” now of all time. If one ever bothered to really examine the roots of poverty – with all the compulsions and motivations associated with it – one would immediately distance oneself from a reductive analysis of the situation at hand. Such an individual would reject crude divisions based on ethnicity/religion/class – reject identity politics altogether – and be more interested in the human condition.

    I was right in pointing out that you are a racist. Your thoughts on the matter speak loud and clear when you said ” I thought you were Sinhalese because of your utter lack of sympathy for those who you call the “tiger diaspora” and the vitriol you spew at anyone who wants to help Tamils in Sri Lanka. I can see now I was wrong. Your self-narrative suggests that you are of the elite class”. What a joke, you then go off and pretend to sympathize with the “poor Sinhala soldier”. If this is not an essentialist view of the Sinhala people, I don’t know what is ! Post-Colonial “expert”, my foot !!!!!

    I spoke about my personal background as a way of revealing the ethnic harmony that is very much a reality in Sri-Lanka. My parents’ marriage, along with such similar marriages, are emblematic of an advanced, multi-ethnic and pluralistic society. If you happen to think my background “elite” that, I am sorry to say, is your problem – not mine ! Yes, I have been introduced to a rich and varied understanding of Sri-Lanka, and of the West thanks to the unconventional thinking of my Jaffna Tamil Father and my Kandyan Sinhala mother. For this I will always be grateful !

    In all my discussions I have tried to point out that identity is never static: it is forever proliferating and evolving.

  • Kumaran

    [Comment deleted at submitter’s request.]

  • Belle

    If you were so interested in the human condition, how come you are not talking about the plight of the IDPs, and wanting something to be done to relieve their situation?

    It’s strange that despite my saying that I don’t and never have believed in Tamil separatism, you still carry on talking as if I were. Without that assumption, you don’t have any thing on which to hang the fiction of my racism, do you? The truth is that I have never contributed a cent to the LTTE. Nor was I talking about the accomplishments of the “tiger diaspora” but of the Tamil diaspora in general that is trying to help the IDPs, among other means, by courting Western governmental attention to the IDP plight and Tamil rights in Sri Lanka. Why do you assume that all the Tamil diaspora now active in the cause of Tamils in Sri Lanka are Tiger supporters? I have relatives in three continents and I have visited with them, and none of them, nor their friends, were Tiger supporters–yet now they are joining protests and pleading the cause of the IDPs. Many of them fled SL because of the Tigers. But it sure helps your racist cause to continue to pretend otherwise, doesn’t it, that the entire Tamil diaspora are Tiger supporters?

    It seems to me that you assume that any Tamil who wants to help the IDPs and talks about minority rights is a racist. On the other hand, a Sinhalese that does so is simply being a humanitarian? That is truly a twisted understanding of postcolonialism.

    Excuse me, your parents’ inter-ethnic marriage and that of others do not prove that there is ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka, that it is an advanced, multicultural society. It shows that inter-ethnic harmony is possible and desirable. Unfortunately, alongside inter-ethnic marriages in SL have been race riots and massacres since the 1950s. You are truly ridiculous in arguing that SL ethnic harmony is a reality when over the past 25 years, various Sinhala nationalist governments have come into power and have been fighting with a Tamil nationalist terrorist organization. Maybe you think there’s ethnic harmony in Darfur too.

    Much as we may all want to revile the Tigers, they came into existence due to the chauvinism and racism of the majority community and the governments they elected. Racism breeds racism. Why don’t we compare the political development of Sri Lanka with that of Singapore. Singapore too has an overwhelming majority of one community, but it didn’t go down that road of ethnocentric government as SL did. In fact, it left Malaysia in the 1960s, standing on the ticket of equal rights against Malaysia’s Malay nation stance. It’s first leader was a Eurasian Jewish man, voted in by lots of barely-educated Chinese immigrants. How did that happen? Because they did not vote along racial lines. In any society that runs on democratic political institutions, the leaders and their politics, the party in power, exemplify what the people stand for. Our ruling party emphasises economic performance, and Singaporeans have voted for it for nearly 50 years because economic matters are paramount to them. We have been accused of materialism, of not caring about liberal values, but at least we are not racists.

    Why didn’t Sri Lanka go down that road? It was culturally superior to Singapore in that it had at least two ancient civilizations whereas Singapore was made up largely of poor immigrants and had been a mere fishing village when the British came in. It had no time for much cultural and intellectual development before independence, yet it did ok. Sri Lanka was home of the great Buddhist civilization, yet what ensued? Cultural chauvinism, that’s what.

    What appalls me now about Sri Lanka is that the majority community is not out in full force decrying what is being done to IDPs. They are the majority, they have the numbers–they can go out and protest without fear because the government cannot arrest or kill the masses. They can demand equal rights. Where are the educated youth in this great “advanced” country? Every other advanced country has them, youth who are full of ideals. I heard SL’s ambassador to the US speak. That man could not hope to get into Singapore’s foreign service–he doesn’t have the educational qualifications. I met your Disaster Management and Human Rights minister once, a long time ago. At the very most, he would be a second-tier senior civil servant in Singapore, not one of the bright lights of the country.

    My point is not that Singapore is better than Sri Lanka, but that with so much less potential than SL, without SL’s natural resources, we were able to advance, to climb out of our extreme poverty. Maybe the trick to our success was that we didn’t think much of ourselves and our great cultural heritage, but focussed on simply surviving.

    It is essentialism to inflect race analysis with class? I am not interested in proving myself a postcolonial expert–there are bigger issues, people’s lives and their cultures at stake. Your claim that SL is an advanced country is exactly the kind of thinking that will do your country in–it has certainly done so in the past. Sri Lankans need to recognise and acknowledge the horror of their history of independence, the wrongs they have done and the utter shamefulness of these wrongs (both sides, Tamils and Sinhalese). They have to see also the absolute stupidity of these actions. It is out of this reflection and recognition (especially by the ruling classes of both sides, who should have done so much better with the education they had) that a better future will come. What you want, to focus on poverty across ethnic lines, to move beyond identifications, will not happen at this point in time because racial identifications are even now being consolidated. There may well be a Sinhalese worker mass movement, but do you really expect the Tamils, given their recent history, their incarceration in camps, what they have seen of Sinhalese indifference to their plight, to put their weight behind this? They will stay out of it. The equal rights issue has to be dealt with first, and only with that guarantee will Tamils contribute to society. Only with that assurance can they even begin to feel at ease and contribute to society. You still don’t seem to get it, that the bulk of the SL Tamils have been held hostage by both the Tigers and the SL army for 25 years. They have no reason to trust anybody.

    You can call me a racist if you want–I don’t really care. But I stand by this–that SL’s first duty now is to hammer out equal rights legislation (aside from settling the IDP situation). That is the only basis on which the nation can stand. It is only when equal rights are promised in the law that Sri Lankans can look forward to forgetting about racial identifications. When people are denied something, they will obsess about it–that’s psychoanalytical theory (the Tigers are proof of that). To ask that they focus now on eliminating poverty is an alibi to continue to ignore the plight of poor Tamils because obviously they will not enjoy the fruits of that effort if equal rights legislation is not in place. The anti-poverty project can become a means by which Tamils can be speedily assimilated into the dominant culture, their numbers distributed all over the country so that they are a minority wherever they go in the country and thereby hinder the development of their culture. This is possibly the route the Rajapakse regime will take, and they will also use their “combatting poverty” as an excuse to suppress even dissent from the Sinhalese.

    People have the right to practice their culture and to be able to develop it as well as have the right to integrate with another culture if they so wish.

    Fighting for a group’s rights to development of their culture is not racism, even if it is your own culture you are fighting for. Racism is about stopping another group than your own from developing their culture.

    As I’ve said before, your position is not contradictory to the Rajapakse position. It’s interesting that you speak of the need to address poverty and of the Sinhalese poor, rather than speak of a working-class movement. Yeah, you elite folks better run and address the poverty issue before the working-class decide to create trouble and scuttle the ring of your cash registers.

    You can’t imagine how a postcolonialist can support a fascist organization like the LTTE? The LTTE is dead, or haven’t you heard? How can I be supporting a dead organization? When have I done so? That’s the real pain for chauvinistic Sinhalese, isn’t it? Now with the Tigers gone, they have no one else to use to cloak their chauvinism. So they keep on bringing up the Tiger past and pretending it is still alive. Well done! Just like the Rajapaksa regime which has beheaded the Tigers and taken away their arms, but still want to pretend that they are still a security threat.

    You are so cosmopolitan, wow. Tell me, along with introducing you to Sinhalese culture and film, did your father or mother also introduce you to Tamil culture? You don’t make any reference to Tamil culture. I wonder if that is symptomatic.

    I am not pretending concern about poor Sinhalese, or poor Tamils. But then you are so supremely intelligent that you can even read into people’s hearts. You should go run for office with the Rajapaksa regime. Your graduate education in Vancouver should put you leaps and bounds ahead of most of the ministers in the cabinet! They will think you are the cat’s whiskers.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Manushi, Belle >>

    “If one ever bothered to really examine the roots of poverty – with all the compulsions and motivations associated with it – one would immediately distance oneself from a reductive analysis of the situation at hand. Such an individual would reject crude divisions based on ethnicity/religion/class – reject identity politics altogether – and be more interested in the human condition”

    An absolute gem of a comment! And that’s what Belle doesn’t seem to understand. She continues to view this situation from a racial angle, considering herself a champion of the Thamil people against the callous, unconcerned Sinhalese and its brutal terrorist govt.

    Belle, I’d like some consideration of the following questions/observations so we can all be on the same page.

    1 You.vilify an entire race of people as callous and uncaring, and create an us vs. them, Tamils vs Sinhalese mentality. Yet, you’d be up in arms if all Tamils were similarly grossly generalized as “terrorists”. why?

    2. I’ve asked this question before, but does your race matter in your observation of the pathetic condition of all the human beings caught up in this affair? (From the so-called “terrorists”, to the IDPs, to the poor soldiers, to the Muslims/Sinhalese villagers languishing in camps after the LTTE’s ethnic cleansing etc?)

    3. Last but not least, I think your quote from Sivanandan says it all.
    ““It is only through embracing our blackness that we begin to drive out Englishness from our psyches. That is the liberation of the black intellectual….We are not writers who happen to be blacks, we are blacks first and last and writers only secondary….A black writer who says he just happens to be black is a mercenary on hire to his people….A black intellectual, an oppressed intellectual, a third world intellectual has to be an intellectual engagé. He has got to be involved in the struggle to liberate himself and his people, whether it is the family, school or the black movement, third world movement, any of these things, anti-colonial movement, anti-global movement. Wherever there is oppression and injustice, we want to liberate ourselves. We cannot be intellectuals per se and hide ourselves in an academic ivory tower.””

    If we are talking about black people this may have been valid, but in the context of Sri Lanka, I consider this to be an extremely narrow and parochial outlook, for several reasons. First off, let me say that I see nothing wrong with fighting for the rights of the oppressed, indeed all individuals concerned must have equal rights, no questions. But the problem in SL is that the oppression is not limited to the Tamil people, and you need to have a racial outlook indeed if you cannot see how the country as a whole and all human beings involved are suffering from the constant cacophony/actions of these ethnically motivated forces. Therefore, I think it’s plain wrong to be ethnically biased in this matter. This is not merely an ethnic catastrophe, it’s a humanitarian catastrophe affecting an entire country and the under-privileged of all races. True enough, the Tamil race is more affected, but that’s no excuse for not being concerned about the rest of the people.

    Secondly, this matter can only be reconciled by understanding our common humanity and the superficial nature of these so called “racial differences”. Driving in ethnic divisions and cementing them is probably the worst way to attempt to generate empathy. Vilifying the “other” is an even worse way. We need to think forward towards laying a foundation for a truly plural society, not set the stage for endless rancour based on ethnicity. This is why it’s really important to stop this shrill racial harping, no matter how much of a champion of your people you consider yourself to be, and instead focus on unifying people and generating compassion for all people *regardless of race*. It’s that kind of message that motivated the so called “racist south” to help the IDPs in the north. It’s racial thinking that drove the creation of a monstrosity like the LTTE. You have a choice and 60 years of hindsight to decide which path you want to tread on, so make your pick!

  • Belle


    Could you and Manushi please explain the roots of poverty that you refer to. It doesn’t do any good to coin pretty phrases if you don’t elaborate. I really want to know what roots of poverty don’t go back to class and racial/ethnic exploitation.

    You said: “1. You.vilify an entire race of people as callous and uncaring, and create an us vs. them, Tamils vs Sinhalese mentality. Yet, you’d be up in arms if all Tamils were similarly grossly generalized as “terrorists”. why?”

    Can you please explain why people aren’t out in the streets of Sri Lanka demanding better treatment for the IDPs? If it isn’t about being callous and uncaring, what is it about? I can only speak from my experience of life. I know in Singapore and in other countries that I have studied and lived in for a while, that people would come out in droves if their innocent fellow citizens were incarcerated in camps. The Americans didn’t do so when Japanese-Americans were put in camps in WW2, but that at least is understandable in that a war was on in which the Japanese were aggressive in many theatres. Here the Tigers have been defeated, and yet these people are held in camps, and the general population is A-ok with that.

    I would be up in arms if all Tamils were characterised as Tigers and terrorists, not because of race, but because I happen to know it is not true. Also, I can see that such characterisation is a ploy to deny equal rights to Tamils (i.e. they can’t be given equal rights because they are terrorists). That’s why I would oppose this.

    2. If I am looking at this through eyes of race, it is because race has predominated life in Sri Lanka since independence. Does the fact I am a Tamil matter? Yes. Not because as a Tamil I am bound by my ethnicity to speak up for Tamils, but because, being Tamil, I have seen a lot of traffic of SL Tamils through my home as they came enroute as refugees. Being Tamil, I was caught in the current of what was happening, and got information of their situation. So that is why I try to speak for them.

    Why do you assume that I don’t care about displaced Muslims and poor Sinhalese? Is it your racial thinking that assumes this? I don’t send money/aid through the Tamil diaspora for Tamils, but through the ICRC. I am perfectly happy for them to use my money for whomever requires it. My own work doesn’t focus on Tamils either, but on other besieged communities in Singapore.

    3. Sivanandan was talking about “Blacks” in Britain, under the wider meaning of that term in Britain, where it includes Asians. So he was talking about Sri Lankans, Indians, etc, anyone who were from the former colonies. You consider this black/white division to be inappropriate for Sri Lanka? It should not be but it is. What else do those poor IDPs look like to you but slaves, deprived of their basic human rights?

    You said “True enough, the Tamil race is more affected, but that’s no excuse for not being concerned about the rest of the people.”

    I have never said that you shouldn’t be concerned about the other groups of people. I am asking why the Tamil community is being neglected. As far as I know, no other group is being incarcerated without having committed crimes. Why is this extreme situation of the Tamils being shunted aside to keep the focus on other groups? I would rather be poor than poor AND incarcerated in camps.

    Yes, there are many Sinhalese poor. Lots of people have suffered. Why don’t you ask why this happened? If your answer is to blame this entirely on the Tigers, then you are surely prejudiced. It might do you all good to look in the mirror too. The Tigers were a re-action. What was the action?

    Why did your governments since independence choose to focus on ethnic issues when they should have been looking at trying to create wealth for the people?

    Stop the shrill racial harping? I will, when Tamils and all other minorities have been guaranteed equal rights and opportunities in Sri Lanka under the law. Not before. I am quite aware of the way this call for unity is a cover up to distract minorities from their demand for equal rights. True unity should involve engaging with everyone’s needs, not just with those of the majority.

    By the way, I don’t claim that all Sinhalese are racist and chauvinist. I am aware that many Sinhalese have given their lives fighting against the injustice of the situation for Tamils. They are the ones who should have wound up leading the country. They are indeed special kind of people, the best in the world, who can set aside their own ruling class interests to look at oppressed groups. Not just in insincere words, as you do, but in their deeds and action. Unfortunately, they don’t make up the majority. If they did, like I said, they would be out clamouring in the streets of SL, demanding the freedom of the IDPs.

    The reason I focus on asking the Sinhalese to look at themselves is because they are the majority. Only they alone can cause an instant turn around in SL, to take it from meanness and chauvinism overnight to become a great society. Minorities, especially minorities that are disenfranchised, cannot effect such change. Numbers make a difference in effecting change.

    Yes, indeed, racial thinking drove the creation of a monstrosity like the LTTE . It started with the Sinhalese nationalism drive. Don’t you remember? Or do you have selective amnesia?

    You said, “You have a choice and 60 years of hindsight to decide which path you want to tread on, so make your pick!”

    My dear SomewhatDisgusted, Tamils in Sri Lanka do not have a choice. They have never had any choice since independence. Everything they did, approaching the law, using violence, not using violence–nothing worked; they got killed anyway. Only one move would have absolutely worked, and that should reveal something about your society–if Tamils had given up their culture, all assimilated into Sinhalese culture, became Buddhists, then they would have survived. But their culture would have died. What kind of society demands this sacrifice from its minorities?

    If Tamils do have a choice in the near future, it will be because the international community steps in to protect their interests. Not otherwise. So really, there is no reason for you to issue ominous threats at me.

    If it was really up to me, I would push for Tamils to leave Sri Lanka. No point trying to stake one’s claim in a totally unethical, loser society like this which will never go anywhere–a society where even educated people are speaking up for a genocidal regime.

  • Manushi

    FYI ***I will have to ask anyone cozying up for a “cat fight” to hold off on the beer and popcorn because I am not into “cat fights”. Sorry to disappoint ***

    Before I digress any further, I would like to say that I have unwittingly awakened a leviathan that I always knew existed in our midst but never knew it to be this resentful as it is bitter.

    From my standpoint, when we identify ourselves as a member of a particular community, or a citizen of a given country we are, after all, implicated in the entirety of that experience – good or bad. In order to effect social/political change it is unfair to expect change to always come from one side. Similarly, in Sri-Lanka, if one truly wants peace, equity and an economically vibrant society, then, we must all do our bit to make this a reality. It doesn’t make any sense to demand change from the much maligned ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ while certain Thamils remain steadfast to an exclusivist identity. We cannot have it both ways. An integral aspect of peace building involves cultural give and take from both sides.

    Unfortunately, there are both Sinhala and Thamil naysayers bent on wrecking havoc, and destabilizing any positive work being carried out. Some people want more than their lion share while other people want to withhold everything.
    The biggest scare for such hate mongers – more than another ice age or tsunami – is to see Sinhala and Thamil people (not to forget any of the other communities) getting along. They like to believe in the boogey man, and the ghost in the closet. To see ethnic harmony is an anathema to them because it destabilizes their essentialist notions of ethnicity/religion etc… It frightens the bejeezus out of them.

    Those of us who live overseas, and do not contribute to the Sri-Lankan economy, have no business dictating terms to the hard working men and women – not to mention the non residential workers in the Middle East etc…- giving it all for the country. If they have chosen to have a unified Sri-Lanka, so be it!

    By the way, Belle, who are you to “push” Thamils? You don’t have to be a part of the “loser society”. The “losers”, I am sure, are quite capable of taking care of themselves.

  • SomewhatDisgusted

    Belle >>

    “Can you please explain why people aren’t out in the streets of Sri Lanka demanding better treatment for the IDPs? If it isn’t about being callous and uncaring, what is it about?”

    If you want to go that route, I can show you that someone with a polar opposite view could ask a similar question. I hasten to add that it is not my view at all and as much as I find it distasteful doing this, I merely want you to consider something from an opposing point of view. Here it is: Can you please explain why most Tamils aren’t taking to the streets condemning the LTTE for their atrocities if they aren’t terrorists or terrorist sympathizers? Are they not reaping the fruits of their labour?

    Your explanation is that you “know” that this is not the case, despite their inaction. Someone with an opposite view might say they “know” that Sinhalese do care, despite their inaction. I hope you don’t get hung up on details like Heshan or someone and understand the point I’m trying to make.

    In fact, how do *you* explain why many in the south sent assistance to the IDPs in the north? Why do you refuse to see the good side? Is it because it collapses the condemning world view you’ve built around yourself?

    Now for the reason why I feel many people really are silent on this issue. The reason is that they do buy the argument made by the govt. That many of the people in the IDP camps have brainwashed LTTE cadres in their midst or have close family ties with the LTTE, and that they represent a real threat to peace if they are let free without adequate screening. And we have all seen the commitment from the poorer people towards obtaining this peace at whatever cost, because 30 years of seeing their country being flushed down the tubes by random terror attacks, losing their loved ones to a senseless war, had steeled them to endure things at any cost. They stay silent on the IDP issue for this very reason, not necessarily because they are racist as you seem to assume.


    “Yes, indeed, racial thinking drove the creation of a monstrosity like the LTTE . It started with the Sinhalese nationalism drive. Don’t you remember? Or do you have selective amnesia?”

    Belle, again you seek to justify your racialism by showing that Sinhalese Nationalists are the single core reason for all these issues. I’m glad to see that many Tamils do not share such a simplistic, reductionist world view and understand the issue at some depth. Sinhalese Nationalists are a problem yes, but does that make Tamil Nationalism any better? And secondly, your cause-effect analysis is completely flawed, any historian will attest to the fact. Go back a little earlier, and you’ll see that Ponnambalam was one of the first to bring out racial politics, demanding 50-50 representation. Go back even earlier and you’ll see how the British sowed the seeds for prolonged ethnic conflict through their divide-and-conquer policies.

    The point is, there is no point trying to find a root cause and foist the blame on a single people, because there *is no* root cause. It’s a complex interplay of various factors that has brought us to this stage. Perhaps you should give Sivanandan’s revolutionary rhetoric a miss and contemplate this issue with some academic detachment?

    More importantly, the most important thing for you to understand is that the generation that lives today is not the same one that lived 50 years ago. The younger Sinhalese generation cannot identify with your mindless hate because many weren’t even born when these said events happened. That’s why I said, if you want them to empathize, appeal to everyone’s common humanity, driving in a racial wedge will yield you no results, because the younger generation will wonder why they need to pay for crimes they never committed?


    “Not otherwise. So really, there is no reason for you to issue ominous threats at me.”

    You seem to have got the wrong end of the stick again. I don’t care to issue any ominous threats to you. I was merely trying to make you understand that all the positive results we see so far, from Tamil being made an official language, to people shifting from primitive tribal identities to a broader “Sri Lankan Identity”, to the south helping the North, were all achieved by appealing to the common humanity in us all. What has your racially motivated rhetoric achieved other than death and destruction?


    Belle, I won’t discuss this issue any further with you because like Heshan and Stigmatist, you don’t seem to understand that people are already on your side if you’re willing to be on their side. As Manushi said, change cannot come from one side only. I would follow your very own advice of looking in the mirror, because I have already looked in the mirror long and hard, and that’s why I’m not here campaigning for any single race!

  • Belle

    Manushi, you said:
    “By the way, Belle, who are you to “push” Thamils?”

    You quote me out of context. I had qualified my statement by saying “If it was really up to me”. Obviously, it is not up to me. I was saying what my position might be IF I were a Sri Lankan, which I am not. This was said in response to someone else who had asked me to state my position.

    You also said:
    “You don’t have to be a part of the ‘loser society’. The ‘losers’, I am sure, are quite capable of taking care of themselves.”

    That is your opinion, that the ‘losers’ are capable of taking care of themselves. I am as equally sure that the ‘losers’ will not be able to take care of themselves.

    If my demand for equal rights for Tamils/minorities is what you consider to be a leviathan, why are you surprised at its resentment and bitterness? Didn’t the Tigers start out from that? Have you known any struggle for equal rights to be based on sweet and sentimental feelings?

    I agree that it is up to Sri Lankans to say what they want. But to do that, every group in Sri Lanka must come to the table on equal terms. That is why I have consistently said that SL must first hammer out equal rights legislation. Otherwise, whatever agreement they come up with will be a mockery, will not be based on equal give and take.

    Logically, I would expect that left to themselves, Sri Lankans will want a unitary state. The majority won’t want their country broken up. The Tamil minority is too exhausted by war and violence and just want to be left in peace to live. Some in the diaspora may want federalism or a separate land, but it should not be their call. Their host countries will not agree to support such involvement anyway, without which they will be powerless.

    However, if equal rights is not given to the Tamils, the diaspora will want to intervene, and their host countries will support such a quest. Given that Tamils now don’t have even basic rights and are without leaders, the international community and UN should step in to assure their rights should the SL government fail to do so on its own accord. Equal rights for Tamils is non-negotiable.

  • aloka


    what , country are you in?
    have you ever being to SL?
    are u Sri lankan tamil or a sinalese?

    lest see what you look like?

  • Heshan

    “To see ethnic harmony is an anathema to them because it destabilizes their essentialist notions of ethnicity/religion etc… It frightens the bejeezus out of them.”

    Far more than ethnic harmony, there is ethnic tension and class warfare. Of course if you’re in some hilltop mansion in Kandy, its difficult to see this. On the other hand, the way that the locals try to extort money from you once they know you’re from abroad shows desperation. The barber, three-wheeler guy, the shopkeeper who refused to give me change, the tourist sites that charge foreigners X100 the rate they do locals – if the middle-class/peasant class cannot make an honest living, how can there possibly be harmony. Can a woman even ride a bus in Sri Lanka without being shamed. What about the royal treatment the Government offers tourists – never mind this hulabaloo about NGO’s – a tourist will never ever wait in one of those 12 km long lines which locals are subjected to. Is it any wonder that the locals don’t think twice about dishonesty? Underneath all this is the simmering ethnic tension. After 60 years, the only “political solution” being barely discussed is some proposal that is fully the brainchild of India. This failure of political institutions to evolve – to ACCOMODATE – is prima facie evidence for ethnic disharmony. Sure, there are intellectual solutions – there are even intellectuals to implement such solutions – but there is TOO MUCH ethnic distrust and class warfare for those intellectuals, let alone their solutions – to ever see the light of day. The few brilliant men still left in the civil service – of the Dayan J./G.L. Peiris type – are forced to regurgitate baloney and write highly exaggerated poppycock for the masses. So much for creative solutions – there is only a status quo and dissenters are not allowed. In such a context, what you mistake for “harmony” might be better construed as fear & desperation. In short, it is a fools paradise where those who know better obey without question.

  • stopgenocide

    rohini, the “war against tamils” started at independance

    that’s whay you people don’t get
    this has never been a war agaisnt terroism or against the LTTE – it is, was and always will be a war againts the tamil poeple – it is genocide plain and simple

  • Belle

    You may not want to discuss the matter with me, but I have the right of response.


    I will accept this as a possibility. I keep asking questions, but people prefer to berate me instead of responding rationally. At long last, someone has answered this question of why Sinhalese are not pounding the pavements, demanding an end of the incarceration camps. But if this is their fear, then the majority need to realise that they are the majority–that means the power is in their hands. When I say the Sinhalese have to do something rather than the Tamils, it is a question of pragmatics. Minorities are helpless. The Tamils have no power so they can’t do anything and, right now, as I pointed out, I don’t think they are in a state to trust anyone. Majorities, on the other hand, can challenge the government and its oppressions. Sinhalese should know that it is within their power to do the right thing by Tamils and other minorities, as well as ensure that their government does not oppress them.

    However, I don’t accept that the focus must now be on unity rather than on giving equal rights to minorities. Have you read E M Forster’s “A Passage to India”? It is set in colonial times, and an English guy seeks the friendship of an Indian Muslim in India. He tries to prove that friendship between the races is possible. The book ends with the Englishman realizing that he can never enjoy friendship with the Indian Muslim guy until India is free of colonialism. Because only then can the two men meet as equals. Friendship, unity, is not possible until all parties are equal.

    If you think that demanding equal rights is racism or racialism or playing the race card, so be it. I consider equal rights to be the basic minimal provision of being a citizen.

    I understand that Ponnambalam only came up with his 50-50 representation demand in response to the all-Sinhalese Board of Ministers formed in the 1930s. Also, he demanded 50 % representation not just for Tamils, but for all the minorities put together. He wanted balanced representation. The Soulbury Commission decided against that and gave Sinhalese greater representation because they thought (wrongly as it turned out) that Sinhalese would organise politically among socio-economic issues and not just around communalism. It turned out that they always united themselves around the race/ethnicity card, around preserving the Sinhalese language, the race and Buddhism. Although the British gave special representation to Indian Tamils, within a few years of independence, the politically dominant Sinhalese were dismantling the constitution’s provisions. Indian Tamils were denied citizenship by a Sinhalese-dominated parliament. Then in 1956, a law was passed to make Sinhalese the only official language. But of course G G Ponnambalam Q.C. was the one playing the race card, right?

    Ponnambalam’s idea of 50-50 equal representation may have been somewhat extreme but there were few options in those days. Today, we know that equal representation does not need to be centred on number of seats in parliament, but can be covered in other legislation as well.

  • Belle

    (I am sending this again as I messed up the previous response.)

    You may not want to discuss the matter with me, but I have the right of response.

    You said: “And we have all seen the commitment from the poorer people towards obtaining this peace at whatever cost, because 30 years of seeing their country being flushed down the tubes by random terror attacks, losing their loved ones to a senseless war, had steeled them to endure things at any cost. They stay silent on the IDP issue for this very reason, not necessarily because they are racist as you seem to assume.”

    I will accept this as a possibility. I keep asking questions, but people prefer to berate me instead of responding rationally. At long last, someone has answered this question of why Sinhalese are not pounding the pavements, demanding an end of the incarceration camps. But if this is their fear, then the majority need to realise that they are the majority–that means the power is in their hands. When I say the Sinhalese have to do something rather than the Tamils, it is a question of pragmatics. Minorities are helpless. The Tamils have no power so they can’t do anything and, right now, as I pointed out, I don’t think they are in a state to trust anyone. Majorities, on the other hand, can challenge the government and its oppressions. Sinhalese should know that it is within their power to do the right thing by Tamils and other minorities, as well as ensure that their government does not oppress them.

    However, I don’t accept that the focus must now be on unity rather than on giving equal rights to minorities. Have you read E M Forster’s “A Passage to India”? It is set in colonial times, and an English guy seeks the friendship of an Indian Muslim in India. He tries to prove that friendship between the races is possible. The book ends with the Englishman realizing that he can never enjoy friendship with the Indian Muslim guy until India is free of colonialism. Because only then can the two men meet as equals. Friendship, unity, is not possible until all parties are equal.

    If you think that demanding equal rights is racism or racialism or playing the race card, so be it. I consider equal rights to be the basic minimal provision of being a citizen.

    I understand that Ponnambalam only came up with his 50-50 representation demand in response to the all-Sinhalese Board of Ministers formed in the 1930s. Also, he demanded 50 % representation not just for Tamils, but for all the minorities put together. He wanted balanced representation. The Soulbury Commission decided against that and gave Sinhalese greater representation because they thought (wrongly as it turned out) that Sinhalese would organise politically among socio-economic issues and not just around communalism. It turned out that they always united themselves around the race/ethnicity card, around preserving the Sinhalese language, the race and Buddhism. Although the British gave special representation to Indian Tamils, within a few years of independence, the politically dominant Sinhalese were dismantling the constitution’s provisions. Indian Tamils were denied citizenship by a Sinhalese-dominated parliament. Then in 1956, a law was passed to make Sinhalese the only official language. But of course G G Ponnambalam Q.C. was the one playing the race card, right?

    Ponnambalam’s idea of 50-50 equal representation may have been somewhat extreme but there were few options in those days. Today, we know that equal representation does not need to be centred on number of seats in parliament, but can be covered in other legislation as well.

  • Belle


    The quote I respond to above is this one:

    You said: “And we have all seen the commitment from the poorer people towards obtaining this peace at whatever cost, because 30 years of seeing their country being flushed down the tubes by random terror attacks, losing their loved ones to a senseless war, had steeled them to endure things at any cost. They stay silent on the IDP issue for this very reason, not necessarily because they are racist as you seem to assume.”

  • SomewhatDisgusted


    Since you now seem to be willing to consider alternate points of view also, let’s try to continue this conversation and see where we end up.

    You said: “I keep asking questions, but people prefer to berate me instead of responding rationally.”

    Perhaps the answer lies within and not outside of you. I don’t say this with malice, and I hope you will take it in the right spirit, but if you re-read your very early posts, you’ll see that you didn’t really ask questions, but instead, proclaimed in effect, a genocide by the racist Sinhalese. People reading your posts will naturally have a defensive reaction against such claims, especially in light of facts such as the following
    a. Many of these “racist” Sinhalese harboured and helped Tamils during the ’83 riots for example, at risk to their own lives. A simple logical analysis should tell you that if all Sinhalese were racist/genocidal, far more than the 1000-3000 deaths would have occured in 1983, don’t you think?
    b. Many people in the present generation were not even born when the said events happened.
    c. Innocent Sinhalese/Muslim people too have suffered immensely from terrorism, ethic cleansing etc. but don’t necessarily brand all Tamils as terrorists and live and interact with them on a daily basis.
    d. They wonder why you keep shouting “genocide” when 40% of Colombo, the financial hub, is Tamil, many Tamil people hold high-positions in society and even extremist/separatist groups like the TNA still have pariliamentary representation, Tamil is an official language (although that is being poorly implemented) and yet many people are randomly blown to smithereens, which the “racist Sinhalese” have stoically endured for 30+ years, just as innocent Tamils similarly endured pogroms agains them.

    The above is not an exercise in distributing blame. As I said, my entire point is that, at the end of the day, most people have had nothing to do with this issue. The idea is to consider the situation from another person’s eyes, and see that things are not as one-sided as we might like to believe. So that’s why it’s important to not even accidentally accuse an entire race of people and/or adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, because it makes you appear to be a Tamil racist who is taking every opportunity to condemn the Sinhalese and/or justify terrorism/separatism. As I said earlier, if you are willing to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, they’ll be willing to accomodate you also.

    You said: “But of course G G Ponnambalam Q.C. was the one playing the race card, right?”

    You’ve not understood the point I was trying to make. I don’t think we should be concerned about Ponnambalam at all. The point is that, there really isn’t a single root cause as we might like to reduce it to. It’s a very easy world view when you have a single villain, in this case, “all sinhalese”, which you can hate and blame for all your woes. But even a cursory analysis will tell you that such a gross generalization is a logical fallcy, equivalent in nature to generalizing all Tamils as terrorists. The reality is quite different. Most Sinhalese and Tamil people just want to live and let live. We should never forget that most are very poor and their main order of the day is putting food on the table, not racial politics. The real power struggle was between the elites, manufactured by the British to run their empire, which later escalated into the situation we see today. Please read this 3 part interview:

    In a certain sense, there is an air of historic inevitability in the events that unfolded. The people who are paying for the mistakes by a minority of yesteryear’s generations have never had anything to do with these things. What we should be doing today is not to apportion hate, but to logically think about how to forge a society that guarantees equality for all. How to forge a plural society in line with the ideals and morals of the 21st century, not how to defend races, because races are a concept that belong in the medieval ages, not the 21st.

    You said: “When I say the Sinhalese have to do something rather than the Tamils, it is a question of pragmatics. Minorities are helpless. The Tamils have no power so they can’t do anything and, right now, as I pointed out, I don’t think they are in a state to trust anyone. ”

    I agree with you. The Sinhalese, as a majority, must be galvanized into action. However, what results do you expect when you grossly generalize all Sinhalese as racists? Why do you expect them to take the blame for crimes from the past, while simulatenously not expecting to be blamed for the crimes of the LTTE? Is it because of your comforting world-view that the “Sinhalese started it”? I hope I’ve said enough earlier to realize why this reasoning is flawed and why we won’t see results from it. Instead, we need to get the moderates of all races to empathize with each other and understand that beneath the superficial differences of “race”, people are essentially the same – human beings.

    That’s why I repeatedly say, if we appeal to that common humanity and give up our own racialism, we will see results a lot faster. As I mentioned earlier, all of the positive results we see so far are a result of this kind of thinking. All of the negative results, are a result of the latter type of thinking.

  • Belle

    Apologies for the extremely long post.

    Yes, part of the answer to why I courted nasty responses lie within me. But people seem to have misread my motivation. If I used a declarative tone, it was not because I am bossy or ‘imperialistic’ or racist, but because I am very sure that a state killing civilians and interning innocent civilians in order to find a few (disarmed) terrorists among them, is very, very wrong. I am horrified by that, and frustrated that others seem to want to ignore that and instead discuss other matters. I am also appalled that fellow-citizens aren’t protesting that, and instead are offering food and supplies, which suggests an implicit acceptance of the ethics of the situation. As one writer, Kusal Perera noted, these people are not in camps because a tsunami hit them. They are not victims of a natural disaster but a man-made disaster. They are there because somebody intentionally displaced them and now want to use their presence in the camps to humiliate them. Some writers here want to put a positive spin on the state’s action, and say the state rescued these Tamils from being LTTE hostages, that it was LTTE that used them as human shields and thus forced the army to shoot at them. I don’t see it that way. Anytime innocent civilians are caught in a war zone (whether by terrorist machinations or not), the state’s guns and shelling should just stop. That is the humane and ethical thing to do. Instead, the state used the situation to finish off the Tigers in the easiest way possible. A government is supposed to protect citizens, not shell them. The people need now to protest the state’s internment of innocent civilians and query the government’s actions.

    I need to unpack my idea of what constitutes racism because it may be different from the way others understand racism. Racism is not only expressed by acts done and words said, but also by the ommission of certain acts and words. Also, the more powerful form of racism is not that of individuals calling each other names or even individuals killing each other, but institutional racism, where laws and negative public practices and attitudes towards the ‘other’ have been normalised and made acceptable by the state and public discourse and allow for systematic discrimination. This kind of racism can do untold damage to the targeted community as well as entrench racism among the host community. When I speak of Sinhalese racism, I am thinking of governments that have come into power on the platform of Sinhala chauvinism, the acts they have done on that ticket, and the people who voted them into power. You consider Sinhalese contributions of supplies to the camps to be humanitarian. For me, it is as insidiously racist as colonial memsahibs giving aid to poor peasant and urban ‘natives,’ and patting themselves on the back for their kindness, but never going so far as to question the role of their own community in causing these people’s poverty, and the right of these people to be equal. Underneath these types of acts is the (racist) assumption that these ‘natives’ don’t deserve much, certainly not as much as is owed to whites, and that they should be grateful for any little thing that is given them. It’s patronage. It is this attitude too that I see in these websites where people (educated people, mind you) say things such as the internment camps are decent, that 40 people sharing one latrine is acceptable, that it makes good sense for 300,000 people need to be interned in order to weed out a few thousand (disarmed and headless) terrorists, that Sinhalese harbouring Tamils against massacres shows their lack of racism while ignoring the issues that led to the massacre in the first place. 1,000 to 3,000 killed is a large number, though you seem to treat it here as a blessing that it wasn’t more. This is the number killed in 9/11, which the world as well as the Americans thought was a horrific disaster.

    It is very probable that, in the early days, Sinhalese chauvinism was only practised by a minority. But institutional racism over the decades, the acts of the state, the state’s demonising of Tamil struggle for equal rights as a demand coming from terrorists rather than from a minority community (where they equate Tamils with the Tigers), the racialised theatre of war between the SL army and the Tigers being depicted as Sinhalese vs Tamils, and the state’s repression of liberal views in the media has inevitably led to an entrenchment of racial thinking over the years. Many people may not have been born by 1983, but they would have grown up at the receiving end of all this ideological discourse. Sinhalese and Tamils are only culturally different, and not even hugely different, yet over these decades they have been constructed as ‘races’.

    When I say that the majority of Sinhalese are racist, it is not that I think that they will go out to kill Tamils or steal their property or their rights, but that they will not raise a ruckus when this is done. They may give help on a private basis but so far haven’t done it on an organised, public basis. This may appear to be a benign or half-conscious or even unconscious racism or even just plain indifference but it is very dangerous because it creates a situation where Tamils are placed in jeopardy. Their action, or rather lack of action, is then racist in its effects.

    You think that we should pay equal attention to the racism of the Tamils. What I say now may make you angry, but racism as a sociological concept is linked to power. According to this, a group with power (such as majority groups) that sets up a system that empowers its own race or ethnic group can be described as “racist”. A group without power (for eg, minority/small groups in any country) cannot technically practice racism in a democracy because they lack the facilities to entrench the power of their race over others. They may hate the majority, gnash their teeth and say vile stuff about them, but they can’t do anything to disempower the majority or establish the priority of their culture over that of the majority. All they can do is struggle for equal rights. So the issue of who started it first is not as relevant as who can do damage to others with their racism. Unarmed minorities can’t do this whereas unarmed majorities can harm the others through using instruments of government.

    Having said that, as a minority, the Tigers were exceptional and clearly racist: violence allowed them to beat the odds and establish their power and they did considerable harm to Sinhalese life and culture and to Muslims. So too the diaspora sections that supported them. But Tiger racism has been exterminated. The diaspora that supported them are left sucking their thumbs, and some are even being prosecuted. But Tamils in SL and Tamil Muslims, the ones who are left to negotiate peace and a new constitution, have all this while merely been victims of racism from both sides. What do they have to apologise for? They never elected the Tigers, never brought them into existence, never had the power to influence the Tigers to behave differently.

    Just think of what is happening with the committee charged with looking at constitutional changes. Do you think even extremely racist Tamils and other minority politicians in this committee can force the majority politicians to give them anything? They are at the mercy of the sense of justice of these politicians and of the state regime. Only if the Sinhalese think it is ethical to give minorities equal rights can they hope to get it. India is not going to interfere. Hence my focus on the Sinhalese frame of mind rather than on Tamils.

    I am not at all trying to justify separatism—in this postmodern era, we should be way past that. Nor am I trying to ascribe blame. I’m asking people to look at the past and see how they could have played it differently. If they see how they could have done that, that the present did not need to be the way it is today, they actually liberate themselves from the past and can get down to thinking about a very different future. Let me say that as someone with Sri Lankan origins, I want SL to do well for itself. If tomorrow a great Sinhalese leader or leaders emerged to take the country to great heights, I would be extremely proud. It would not matter to me that he or she is Sinhalese rather than Tamil. That is why I have used harsh terms—because I am truly disappointed that SL has wasted all its great cultural potential.

    Like you, I don’t believe that race is a real category. Human beings are 99% the same genetically. Unfortunately, race is a powerful fiction that has gripped people, not so much since medieval times, but since the European colonial era. Europeans invented race and they used it for capital accumulation. We inherited the concept from them and the usage as well. I’ve read a few texts of European travel writing and was surprised that they focussed on cultural differences rather than on race. Someone said that the last four Kandyan kings were Tamil. If that is true, isn’t that amazing? It won’t happen today. Colonialism interacting with capitalism changed everything.

    I agree that people should abandon racialism and appeal to a common humanity. But you can’t do that with people who do now believe (some very fervently) in race except by making them confront their race ideas, the consequences of it, its fictional status, and acknowledge the futility of it. But this won’t happen overnight. Also, to do it, you need to examine the past very thoroughly to see how SL arrived at the present moment (not in terms of one or two root causes, but of various events, circumstances and ideas coming together at different points in time). When I insist that equal rights be legislated before anything else, it is not because I want to entrench the concept of race but rather because, in a society where people believe in race, it is the one thing that will immediately allow people finally to relax and FORGET about race and see their common humanity. It will be the stepping stone for new and rich cultural and intellectual development beyond ideas of race. Then the unity you want will naturally happen.

  • SomewhatDisgusted


    Thank you for explaining your point of view. I feel that we both to see the same outcome, a just, equitable, plural society. What differs are our perceptions of the events that have occurred so far and perhaps how to get where we want to go.

    I will address the points you’ve raised in greater detail in a few days time. Please check back on this same thread.

    But just a quick point of clarification: “1,000 to 3,000 killed is a large number, though you seem to treat it here as a blessing that it wasn’t more”

    I in no way intended to trivialize it, merely to make my point that it was more a case of a pogrom, with a few opportunistic mobs using the event to pillage and carry out racist attacks against Tamils. For comparison’s sake, take a real genocide, like the Rwandan case, where 7 out of 10 Tutsis were systematically killed over a period of 100 days by well organized groups. Therefore, I don’t feel that the Sri Lankan situation is indicative of a “genocidal Sinhalese”, although there is no argument that, that day will live in infamy as one of the most shameful days in Sri Lankan history. The real reason that the situation escalated to that level was because J.R’s govt. passively endorsed it and did nothing to reign in the mobs, and we all know that mob mentalities take a dynamic of its own when left to its own devices. I think the whole situation is rather well understood, so I won’t harp on it, but that’s on the whole why I think it’s pointless to characterize the Sinhalese as “genocidal”.

    Note also that since that day, there has been no such major event, despite the many desperate and extreme attempts by the LTTE to provoke one, in order to justify their cause and bolster their ranks, such as the bombing of the Temple of the Tooth. So I think we should see the positive side of things and the relative maturity of the country compared to those abysmal days. Improvement will always be incremental, rarely overnight.

  • Kumaran

    I have been following what you have been articulating here in this thread with interest. Thank you for taking the time to write the last long comment (July 5, 2009 @ 2:42 pm). It really spoke to me and I am sure there are many silent readers here, who appreciate your candidness and relentless drive in articulating your view, a much needed perspective at this juncture, if I may add.

    I like what you said:

    “… I am very sure that a state killing civilians and interning innocent civilians in order to find a few (disarmed) terrorists among them, is very, very wrong. I am horrified by that, and frustrated that others seem to want to ignore that and instead discuss other matters. I am also appalled that fellow-citizens aren’t protesting that, and instead are offering food and supplies, which suggests an implicit acceptance of the ethics of the situation.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more and couldn’t have said it better. I left some comments earlier at D.B.S. Jeyaraj’s blog something along these lines: comment no 13, no 144 comment no 21

    This whole IDP camp situation is surreal to me. But as the days go by, I am beginning to realize these camps are here to stay for awhile (long enough to become real and stay in our minds for the rest of our lives).

    What Sinhalese are not realizing is, as the days go by, more and more Tamils are resenting the Tamil IDP camps and dropping off from the reconciliation process.

    After the war, as a moderate, I was excited about reconciliation and peace in SL. But in the meantime, I wanted the innocent Tamil IDPs to go home quickly. Now I no longer see any point in this exercise of leaving comments and agitating for the release of the innocent Tamil IDPs.

    If India and China (considered the “two tracks on a railway-line running independently” as Bogollagama now elucidates) don’t see anything wrong with the long term internment of the innocent Tamils, I think we should begin to suspect their motives.

    While everyone is excited about the gravy train (Yaal Devi train between Colombo and Jaffna, expected to bring in the Tami Diaspora money.), are these big players trying to derail it for their own political benefit of empire building? I dunno.

    GOSL vs. LTTE war came to a quick end because India and China wanted to get on with their empire building business. Now, India and China must impress upon GOSL to release the disabled and innocent Tamil civilians ASAP to diffuse the tension in Sri Lanka and Tamil Diaspora.

  • Manushi

    Somewhat Disgusted, I am sure you will agree with me that it is difficult to have an intelligent discussion with students who come to class with only a few chapters of the novel read. In an effort to dupe their fellow students into thinking they’ve actually done their homework, these intellectually lazy slackers end up making sweeping generalizations without the necessary evidence to back up their claims. In fact, this leads to disinformation that ultimately sabotages informed discussion.

    Endless chatter about “Thamil rights” is only a smoke and mirrors campaign to cover up a much more insidious drama unfolding within the Thamil Diaspora. Many of the people who built their careers, including academic careers, on tiger propaganda find themselves suddenly exposed in the cold light of day. As this was their only claim to fame, it has become more urgent than ever for them to maintain the pretense of ‘genocide’ in Sri-Lanka. They will cling to this propaganda as if to dear life because at the end of the day it consoles them with a false sense of moral superiority.

    This is their ontological security in a world that constantly undermines essentialist interpretations of the world.

  • Belle

    You mentioned the Yaal Devi train, and I was ignorant of that and looked it up. I found a lovely poem in the process that you will probably appreciate. I’ll respond to the rest of your post separately. I have no clue who the writer is nor when it was written. Perhaps you or somebody else can tell me.

    Lost Queen Of The Track

    “Yal Devi”, a word of the past
    The train that no longer arrives
    To see the palmyrah trees…
    The lost beautiful queen of the track
    Woven with a magnificent cloak of blue
    And white,
    Can you take me to Jaffna once again?
    Like you did in the olden days.
    The road is still there, waiting, do you know?
    A road without tracks
    Symbolising a bond without brotherhood
    Limited only to words,
    And perhaps of pen and paper too,
    A road that once was
    Now covered from ashes and sands of time

    Waiting to find her way back again
    And to fly…
    With her majestic powerful engines
    Which pumped life to separate cultures,
    A distant merger written in the sky,
    A dream perhaps,
    Tired of waiting…
    Of an eternal joining of hands
    And a pigeon with wounded wings
    A stream of blood
    Running down
    Making its mark,
    Eye for an eye
    Blood for blood
    The words keep repeating
    And a union that never took place,
    “Yal Devi”, the lost sister of the mist
    Is still waiting to find her way
    But when will you
    Mighty train,
    To take us home again? (JP)

  • Belle

    “Surreal” is the right word to describe the IDP camps. It made me think of surrealistic art, where things/forms are put together in an abnormal conjunction. To recognise the surreality is to acknowledge that these conjunctions are abnormal. But also, in surrealistic art, we become more truly aware of where, what these things truly are in themselves, away from these abnormal, perverse conjunctions. The conjunction of people, crowds, barbed wire in the camps animalizes the Tamils, but also thereby draws our attention to their intrinsic, inalienable humanity. It is just wrong that they should be in this situation. People lying around with nothing to do, as if at leisure, but in an incongruent setting that is not at all like a holiday place, with guns pointed at them–that reminds us about their enforced displacement from the productive lives that should be their natural situation. The camps are uncanny ‘homes’ with guns pointed at people—reminding us that real homes are places of security, safety, which these people lack. The pictures show children and parents behaving identically in these camps, loitering without purpose, quequing up–adults have been reduced into living like children, the dignity of their adulthood denied.

    Except this is not art, is it? There are human beings experiencing, living this surreality, this distortion, this perversion, in and through their body.

    You said: “What Sinhalese are not realizing is, as the days go by, more and more Tamils are resenting the Tamil IDP camps and dropping off from the reconciliation process.”

    Do they not realize it? Shouldn’t it be an obvious deduction? Maybe it is more convenient to have Tamils drop off from the reconciliation process, especially now that there are no arms for them to pick up. Is that the purpose of the camps’ continued existence?

    The camps are to me, an omen, a signifier that the government has planted in full view of everybody about the future it is planning. I just can’t decipher the message yet. Is it saying that Tamils can’t hope to have free movement and free settlement henceforth? Does it speak of plans of colonisation? Would a government that intends to give Tamils more rights do this to them? I think not–it gives off all the wrong signals about their notions of equal/human rights.

    You said: “After the war, as a moderate, I was excited about reconciliation and peace in SL. But in the meantime, I wanted the innocent Tamil IDPs to go home quickly. Now I no longer see any point in this exercise of leaving comments and agitating for the release of the innocent Tamil IDPs.”

    Yes, I agree with you about the China and India involvement, and that their focus on empire-building could mean an eclipse of the Tamil struggle. Will this entanglement be good for SL since the two are rivals? What happened the last time SL pissed off India? India trained the Tigers and made them into a force to be reckoned with. Is the West going to be happy with China’s presence in the Indian Ocean? It’s not clear how these countries will align themselves, but no country can court foreign investment without guaranteeing a peaceful, safe environment. The power also lies with the people of SL and with the people of the world. If you say these commentaries are useless, then you’re saying that education itself is useless. I’d like to think that is not true. That’s how the South African situation changed, with public discourse changing and escaping the control of the government. It wasn’t just about Mandela and all the others who gave up their lives but about the STORIES of these people going around the globe and how it inspired them. Do you remember the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert held in1988 at Wembley Stadium organised by the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, which demanded that he be freed at the age of 70? It was attended by 70,000 people, and watched by billions of people all around the world. I still get goosebumps remembering the power of the audience chanting “The whole world is watching. The whole world is watching”, repeatedly, directed at the South African government. Could South Africans continue to live as pariahs? No. On another matter, how did a Black man become President of USA and cut through centuries of prejudice? Through the appeal of his words and ideas. So let’s keep the hope alive and the conversations going.

  • Kumaran

    Thanks for sharing the “Yal Devi” poem. Nice one! Let’s keep our fingers crossed for it to start running again. It may run sooner than we think, because the people who were squatting at the Jaffna railway station were asked to vacate, almost immediately after the war, seems to indicate this project is on the fast track. Not sure where these IDPs were chased to, another IDP camp?

    I am sure you have already read Rohini Hensman’s follow up:

    She summarizes and clarifies further. She is so thorough in indexing into the arguments of the Tamil IDP issues, I felt relaxed after reading it, because I know she is already packaging and presenting these arguments and agitating for the benefit of everyone in SL. An act of pure benevolence!

    GOSL have heard all these good arguments, but why are they falling on barren rocks? Do we have more weed whackers than planters in GOSL?

    Anyhoo, I agree with you on the point of telling STORIES. If GOSL releases the IDPs now, propaganda wise will be its net gain, because right now, the IDPs hate LTTE more than GOSL. But if GOSL keeps them hostage for six months, they will forget the LTTE atrocities altogether, and will have plenty of bad stories to tell about GOSL, because nobody likes to be held captive for a long period (six months or more?) even inside a five star hotel.

    There is already a creative spurt among Tamils due to their narratives of pain and this IDP situation is only going to make it gush out. Who knows we may soon hear the chants rise from the Wembly Stadium for the Tamils in SL.

    However, this may make no difference in SL. Because some folks say, GOSL has let the massive India and China entrench themselves inside SL. Due to this, the much anticipated nuanced approach (a la Hillary’s nuanced approach to terrorism) to resolve the ethnic conflict has already left our harbor even before it arrived at the shores.

    SL does not matter much to these giants in the global scale of things. They have bigger fish to fry in their empire-building business. They could care less about Tamil Eelam or Temple of Tooth; but the ports and the beaches definitely matter. We just have to wait and see how this plays out in the future.

  • malinda seneviratne

    Sorry belle, saw your response only now. When I said that Rohini H doesn’t know shit about what’s happening in the camps it is because I know she is exaggerating and being mischievous. I have stated my biases, my limitations in what I have written….she cites ‘sources’ and extrapolates beyond reasonable limits. That’s the difference.

  • Belle

    malinda seneviratne,
    The focus of Rohini Hensman’s original article was not on what was happening in the camps. She says many offer absymal conditions (she doesn’t say “most” or “a significant amount”). That I consider to be a reasonable claim because even the government itself has admitted to that in many statements. But you misrepresent her article by making it seem that it was all about disparaging the condition of the camps, and then you pillory her for that. She does not refer to torture in the camps, nor does she call them “concentration camps” but you make it seem so in your opening to your article in The Nation On Sunday. You claim to know the truth of these camps, yet you visited only a few selected camps, and in only one area. Your article doesn’t state how you came to visit these few camps. If it was by government invite or approval, it similarly stands to reason that you visited the best, the showpieces, of the IDP camps. My reasoning is this: if all the camps were not abysmal, the government would open the camps to photographers because it would immediately and thoroughly disprove the alleged lies that the NGOs and international media are spreading. Why would they want to suffer bad press if all these were lies?

    Rohini’s path to truth was through analysis, where she extrapolated a scenario of unethical government behaviour and intent from various facts admitted by government statements, examined the rhetoric of state and army leaders and looked at past events. Given the lack of transparency by the state, she was entirely warranted in doing so. Many other commentators have come to similar conclusions. Also, it is highly difficult to disprove her main concern, that these were incarceration camps since the residents are not given freedom of movement. This is not an unreasonable contention. Even your article cannot claim otherwise.

    Yes, she relies on argument, but in argument we always have to clearly state the premisses on which we make our moves. These premisses are articulated in her article, in particular the ethical principles to which she holds.

    Where you and Rohini differ is that you find the government’s continued incarceration of innocent Tamils to be acceptable for pragmatic reasons (such as to identify Tigers in their midst, to de-mine the villages, etc) and she does not find these to be acceptable reasons to incarcerate innocent people. I agree with her because I too do not think that people’s inalienable rights such as freedom of movement should be sacrificed by taking an instrumentalist view of human beings–that innocent Tamils’ freedom of movement should be sacrificed in order to make life safe for other citizens. The IDPs are not there to serve the interests of other citizens–they are equal citizens. Unfortunately, neither the state nor you recognize that. As for the landmines excuse, are you saying that the path to their homes are littered with landmines? Aren’t there people living in these areas and moving about? They’re talking about mines in rice fields. Well, so, just tell the IDPs to avoid these.

    You claim that you state your biases and assumptions. One bias is clearly stated towards the end: “At the same time, as a citizen, I do not want any fellow-citizen to remain in these conditions indefinitely.” But you follow this up by saying “The speedy return to their homes, however, depends on everyone cooperating, everyone doing their bit and more than all this, to be responsible in their description. It is one thing to alert authorities to problems and to suggest pragmatic correctives to apparent flaws, and quite another to give a free run to a wild imagination.”

    You want speed, yet you name all the conditions that will inevitably slow down the process of return. Plus these conditions are unverifiable. How do you know if an IDP or a journalist is being responsible in his description except insofar as they say what the authorities deem to be the truth? Everyone cooperating? You mean submitting to authority? And you want “pragmatic correctives”, which suggest that you want reformed IDP camps rather than an end to their existence.

    This central contradiction in your article splits the rest of your narrative. You imply that you don’t think the camps are an ideal situation, yet you cite stories that are designed to bring tears to readers’ eyes, and make them think that the IDP camps are far better than returning them to their villages where allegedly even worse conditions exist.

    By the way, I find your story about the woman suffering from Parkinsons’ Disease hard to swallow. My own mother suffered from PD, and she could not usually even recognise her own daughter or her husband of 40 years. She was usually disoriented, even when well-medicated. PD is a neurological condition where the person is shut off from the workings of her brain because of the absence of neurotransmitters. At 70, this woman would be in an advanced stage of PD. I can’t see her getting down on her knees because even standing would have been highly difficult (for neurological reasons rather than due to muscle exhaustion). She might have been trying to get down to the floor simply to ease the pain of standing. Or she might have been pleading for something.

    Something else that perturbs me about your article–your attack on Rohini Hensman, which at times degenerates to the extremely personal, such as when you suggest sarcastically that the government should take all elderly without a home and deposit them at Rohini’s house. It increases a journalist’s credibility when they are able to maintain some detachment, and attack ideas and arguments rather than persons, especially when the other person is a fellow-journalist. Otherwise, it begins to smack of rivalry and jealousy. By contrast, Rohini’s comeback piece is measured in tone and she disagrees with your ideas and claims rather than with your person.

    Kumaran (see above) sees Rohini’s verbal activism for freedom of the IDPs as “an act of pure benevolence.” I agree with that description.

  • SomewhatDisgusted


    You said:
    “… but institutional racism, where laws and negative public practices and attitudes towards the ‘other’ have been normalised and made acceptable by the state and public discourse and allow for systematic discrimination.”

    I think that’s a very good point and I’m in complete agreement that such things should be fought against. But I believe these changes must come gradually, as a country and society develops insight into why such attitudes are wrong. They cannot and will not change overnight. Look at the US today, it’s held up as an epitome of multiculturalism, yet it took till 1968 for all forms of racial segregation to be declared unconstitutional. Sri Lanka *never* sank to that level. So how did the blacks in the US achieve such parity starting from truly appalling conditions? By blowing themselves to smithereens? By trying to create a little black Eelam somewhere? The Sri Lankan problem indicates a deeper problem somewhere don’t you think? And it can’t be just the Sinhalese, because discrimination on a daily basis was never that severe. Part of the problem as I see it, is because Tamil ultra-nationalists continuously rode on these issues to further their own racist ideals, envisioning a little racist utopia for themselves. The Sinhalese ultra-nationalists gave them ample justification, and public Tamil opinion understandably swung in their favour after these violent pogroms. In my humble opinion, the Tamil ultra-nationalists essentually hijacked a struggle for equality and replaced it with a violent struggle for a racist utopia. This is why you see me express equal contempt for Tamil nationalists as much as Sinhala nationalists, because they are essentially two sides of the same coin. It’s not because I don’t understand that the Tamils have suffered the most in this situation, they have, but let’s not let our sympathy for one party cloud our judgement and let an odious evil get a free ride out of it. I had fallen prey to this error in logic for a while before I finally came to the realization that Tamil nationalism should not be continuously excused and ought to be dealt with the same contemptuous disdain as Sinhalese nationalism. Understanding the reasons for some behaviour does not excuse that behaviour, not for the Sinhalese, not for the Tamils.

    But how do we get rid of institutionalized racism? Bringing about actual equality I believe must be a slow process of consiousness raising and legal safeguards to enforce any short-comings. But perhaps the most important factor is to transfer allegiance from a primitive ethnic identity to a broader national identity. This is what most societies have done. They call themselves “Americans” or “Australians”. So too must we forge a “Sri Lankan” identity.

    Even now, even the most advanced countries have instituionalized racism to varying degrees. A poorer country like Sri Lanka, saddled with baggage from the colonial era, has a longer way to go, but I think we can safely say that there has been a great deal of improvement. No pogroms for 25 years right? Tamil and Sinhalese both national languages. No serious discrimination in terms of opportunities for education, employment etc. Colombo is a showcase of multiculturalism. The majority community is a minority in it. Some severe shortcomings in the north, but I consider that to be an exceptional situation, and I’ll explain why later. All in all, I’m hopeful 🙂

  • Belle

    You said: “So how did the blacks in the US achieve such parity starting from truly appalling conditions? By blowing themselves to smithereens? By trying to create a little black Eelam somewhere?”

    If your point is that the American Civil Rights movement had no separatist nationalism in it, you are wrong. Against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement (which emphasised non-violence and negotiation) was violence and the call for a separate nation by the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X. Prior to that, from the 1910s, there was Marcus Garvey, who responded to American white racism by appealing, not to a nationalism, but a pan-nationalism, a transnational black nationalism uniting Africa and the African diaspora, seeking to establish one country for blacks alone (involving fighting colonialism in Africa and transporting black Americans to Africa). The American whites were astute enough to realise that they had to negotiate with Martin Luther King and use him against the separatist elements or it would create a big violent mess. Equal rights legislation was a product of their timely action to contain the problem of black separatist nationalism.

    Sri Lanka missed that moment in the 1970s to co-opt the equal rights movement against emerging separatism. I was reading the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 which demanded a separate Tamil nation. Look at all the reasons cited for the separation. The bulk of it, from the 6th “Whereas” contained instances of all the failures of the Sri Lankan state to offer equal rights. The justifications cited by the “Whereas” 1-5 were weak justifications. I would say that successive Sri Lankan governments basically handed over the moral authority for separation to the Tamil separatist politicians on a silver platter through their action and inaction. They failed to see that when you deny a community equal rights, psychologically the only option left against loss of self-esteem is to take refuge behind a discourse of one’s own ethnic supremacy. Frantz Fanon deals with that in Black Skin/White Masks. The pathology that Fanon talks about showed itself in the emergence of the Tigers’ violence and recalcitrance. I believe, like Fanon, that this won’t take the Tamils anywhere because in the end they must heal themselves from the underlying sense of inferiority and abandonment that the supremacy discourse covers up. But there’s nothing to say that the pathology cannot continue to build up, abroad if not in SL itself. Perhaps the Sinhalese ruling elite think they can continue to deny equal rights now that the Tigers have been defeated, but there’s always Tigers II.

    The Tamil nationalism issue can actually be dealt with right now by the Sri Lankan state, by enshrining equal rights, whether through federalism or the unitary state. But there’s also the pathology of Sinhalese nationalism to deal with, which has been whipped up through the decades by SL governments. Instead of dealing with economic matters, the working-class were offered Tamil nationalism as their enemy, and Sinhalese nationalism as their savior.

    You talk about not allowing an “odious” Tamil nationalism to get a free ride; that both Tamil and Sinhalese nationalism must be disdained with contempt. Your interest is to focus on judgement and blame. Perhaps these nationalisms need to be rather understood and their causes healed? The pathology of the country’s two nationalisms are showcased right out there in the open, in the fact of the IDP camps. The state shows (to me) that it has no intent to heal Sinhala nationalism through its maintenance of the incarceration camps. Its solution appears to me to involve the humiliation and emasculation of Tamils until they are willing to accept the merest semblance of equal rights instead of the real thing. Sinhalese and Tamil racism must be healed together because they are connected and feed off each other. But right now if Tamil nationalism is focussed on and dismantled, it will only allow Sinhalese nationalism to grow. On the other hand, if Sinhalese nationalism is tackled, the Tamils will follow suit.

    Healing can only happen with acknowledgment of the past. I am not as hopeful as you because I see resistance to that coming even from educated Sinhalese. They want to focus on punishing Tamils, never mind that they have already been punished through killing in war and now through incarceration in camps and through having to deal with the violent end of two competing nationalisms. Perhaps the Sinhalese can never have enough punishment of Tamils?

    Maybe I can pose this in another way. If you took ego out of the equation, what do you think would be the sensible thing to do in Sri Lanka now?