Responses and clarifications on Sri Lanka: Is the war really over?
[Editors note: This is a detailed response to over 30 comments left on Sri Lanka: Is the war really over? andÂ read over 2,500 times to date.]
Though several comments made on my article were not directly related to the topic, I wish to respond to some of the issues that have been raised.
The lop-sided comments about the JVP do neither take into account the context nor the causes for their insurrections. Political violence in Sri Lanka cannot be properly understood without recognizing its complex relationship with the socio-political establishment. When social groups vied for access to state power or when they demanded their just rights, the state used repressive and violent force against them. The political violence of the state was accompanied by a continuous march towards authoritarianism, in which people’s hopes, aspirations, human rights and civil liberties were increasingly curtailed.
My argument was based on the fact that the ruling elite has cleverly manipulated the existing social divisions such as nationality, language, religion, caste to establish and maintain their political power.
The grant of universal franchise and lowering of the voting age allowed young people to take part in active electoral politics but no opportunities to take part in the social, economic and political life of the country. This led to unrest and armed insurrections
Free education was introduced in 1945. The medium of instruction was changed to local languages that led to an expansion of higher educational opportunities but not the freedom to question the existing social, political and ideological status quo and its value systems.
All governments, regardless of their political hue, failed to see or ignored the underlying socio-political, economic and psychological causes of youth unrest.
I have openly admitted that the JVP in 1971 should not have reacted to the government’s repressive measures the way it did. However, it was the domestic socio-economic crisis and the cold-war situation in the sixties and seventies that led to that situation. To simply put the whole blame on the JVP indicates one’s lack of understanding of what really happened during that period.
The pre-conditions for the insurrection in 1989 were creations of the then government. The repressive environment against the working people (when the government introduced neo-liberal economics to Sri Lanka) and the proscription of the JVP under the pretext that it was behind the 1983 Black July riots were the major two factors that led to this situation.
With regard to the size of the cake and the trickle down effects, let me say this. Making the cake bigger is necessary. However, that does not automatically make it possible for everyone to get a piece. Unless the working people ask for a piece and make demands for it, only a handful will share the whole cake.
Some western nations which have learnt this lesson have created social security networks and support systems to look after those who are in need. Countries like Sri Lanka cannot afford to make this happen because the ruling elites do not wish to share the cake.
‘Governments have a duty to safeguard their peoples and countries’ was another comment. I agree but with one condition. Governments have to equitably and fairly safeguard all its citizens and its provinces (or regions). Sri Lanka is in this current position precisely because successive regimes did not look after all its citizens and provinces fairly and equitably. That is why there is an urgent need to implement power sharing as a solution to the problem. I would like to add that I have never opposed attempts to delivering a political solution to the national problem.
They did not â€œget it” that I began my article began with the statement that the conventional war between the GoSL and the LTTE has ended. There is no mention of a war continuing in the island. My point was, the political causes that led to the national problem and the war still remain. I have openly advocated power sharing as the political solution to this problem while consistently stating that a separate state was not going to address it.
As a matter of fact, in the 80′s, it was Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamil militant groups (including his EPRLF) that demanded the establishment of a separate state of Tamil Eelam to address the issues of the Tamil people. Dayan was a frequent visitor at JVP public meetings demanding that the JVP accept Eelam as the only solution to the national problem.
The JVP and I responded to this position by pointing out that Eelam was a non-solution to the problems of the Tamil people. Trying to divorce the question of power sharing from the militant struggle that was led by many groups (before the LTTE physically eliminated most of them) is to me more than hypocritical.
There is a great opportunity for all the Sri Lankans to make a fresh start towards a better future by making room for all its citizens to live as equals and be treated as equals in all respects. President Rajapakse has got the best chance to lead the island towards such a destiny.
All those who demanded a military solution to the separatist demand, have a duty and responsibility to call on the ruling elite to proactively provide leadership towards such a destiny by creating equitable opportunities for all citizens in Sri Lanka irrespective of their socio, economic, cultural and ethnic background. This is no time to be complacent as some comments indicate.
May be some of the issues I raise and the positions presented are based on ‘old politics, old slogans’ and the like. I would like to ask those who make such comments whether their politics and slogans are older or not.
The public meetings I attended in Canada were open to all. Despite the boycott by both the extremes, many moderates attended these meetings. The comment is entirely false and based on hearsay and nothing else.
Furthermore, it is just historically specious to state that that the war is over because one side lost and the other side won. One major example comes to my mind. The Allied Forces when they declared victory in 1918 thought it was a war to end all wars. Yet, thirty years later they had to fight another war.
A more recent example is the Israeli state. It has won every war with its Arab neighbours and the Palestinians, yet there is no peace. The reason is that they failed to take account of the underlying causes for the respective conflicts and attempted to deal with such issues only militarily. This brings me to the next point. How is the peace going to be sustained? Is it by dealing with the issues that gave rise to the conflict in the first place; or is it, sadly, going to be business as usual and the cycle repeats?
If the government is committed to the welfare of the people in the South, the North and the East then why is it:
- Continually narrowing the parameters of civil society by actively stifling dissent;
- Refusing to allow the media and the independent observers to report on what is happening to the 300,000 displaced people in the North;
- Not taking measures in a practical way to devolve power, apart from words and pronouncements to that effect;
- Unnecessarily delaying the implementation of the 17th amendment to the Constitution
- Not showing empathy for legitimate grievances of non-Sinhala communities;
- Avoiding the implementation of political reforms that are amenable to the island’s multicultural heritage;
- Expanding the security forces in a large scale;
- Not dealing with the causes that aggravate the economic crisis such as wastage, bribery, corruption and debt etc.
If these happen, I ‘will get over it’ ‘accept the reality’ and see the ‘current President is not like previous leaders’ of Sri Lanka.
Till then I reserve the right to my critical facilities, and skepticism.
Thanks to all those who commented on the article.