Understanding the National Question as a Pre-Democratic Problem: A Skeptical Note on the Southern Reform agenda

Photo by AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena, via FT.com

Five years after the end of the war, the Government has now started arguing that the war is not over. The Government doesn’t think the LTTE is finished. Even US and India seem to think that sections of the Tamil Diaspora are raising funds for a possible regroup (or this might be just their inventing of a reason to continue the ban on the LTTE). For the first few years after May 2009, the claim to have won the war was important for the Government to cash in on the political benefits of the victory. Now to make the claim that the war is not entirely over is necessary for the Government to silence and dampen voices and interventions demanding accountability and justice but also more importantly Tamil self-determination. The more immediate purpose is to use the regroup argument to keep the Tamil threat to Sri Lankan state’s territorial integrity alive; through such a discourse to keep the whole country in a ‘national security’ mood and to keep the Government afloat.

The war indeed was never over in 2009. The military defeat of the LTTE was the defeat of the armed project of the Tamil self-determination movement. But that defeat was not enough to defeat the entirety of the Tamil self-determination movement. For that to happen the territorial basis of the self-determination claim had to be weakened and the political will and strength of the Tamils as a collective, their consciousness as a ‘nation’ needed to be squashed. This is in fact the war after the war – the ‘Post-War’-War. The facets of this war include, the normalization of militarization in the Tamil majority areas of the North and East, the continuation of the Sinhala Buddhist spatial territorial socialization of the predominantly Tamil North and East parts of the country, the consolidation and stabilization of the victors peace through the rhetoric of development, and the continued criminalization of the politics of Tamil self-determination through instruments like the 6th amendment, PTA and also now through the proscription of the Tamil diaspora organisations. But these issues aren’t just ‘post-war’. These policies have been a feature of all Governments in post-colonial Ceylon/Sri Lanka. These policies led to the armed struggle and continue even after its bloody suppression. The magnitude, strategy, impact and effects may have varied over time but the policy, design and motive of the Sri Lankan state’s polices have remained the same pre-war, during the war and post-war. It is important to recall that the Tamil armed struggle essentially was conceived as a response to this. The counter-insurgency of the State sought to reinforce the same design and policies while fighting the war. The armed struggle of the Tamil people sought to act as a buffer to the impact and effects of the State’s policies that targeted the collective existence of the Tamils and sought a separate state as an institution that will provide for and protect such collective existence. This is not to say that the different bearers of the Tamil armed struggle including the LTTE were flawless. Far from it. But this should not be used to distract from an appreciation for the reasons that led to the emergence of an armed struggle and the reason for the high level of support that it enjoyed from the Tamil people. The problem with the politics of anti-LTTEism is that it fails to recognize this. Hence Radhika Coomaraswamy is out of her depth to say that it was LTTE’s propaganda alone that explains the Tamil people’s support for the armed struggle[1]. The truth is the Tamil people chose to support the armed struggle based on a reflectively equilibrated choice in response to their lived experience under successive Governments of Sri Lanka. Post-War with the removal of the buffer the consolidation of the Sinhala Buddhist project over the entirety of the geographical space of the island continues unabated and there is nothing that is stopping it. The vast majority of the Tamils are hoping that the ‘International Community’ in the post-May 2009 context will act as the buffer (every single election that TNA has won post-May 2009 has had ‘drawing the attention of the IC’ as its central electoral theme), but the experience of the five years is that it has been a weak and ineffective buffer. In fact as all the US led interventions through the UNHRC indicate, the failure to understand or recognize the fundamental underlying issues relating that threaten the Tamils existence in Sri Lanka, significantly reduces the capacity of these interventions from having a real impact on the ground – in the North – East of the island.

Five years on, I am puzzled that many actors and commentators thought that Mahinda Rajapaksha had the opportunity[2] to resolve the National Question in the wake of the military defeat of the LTTE. The identification of the existence of an ‘opportunity’ stems from a dichotomization of the war against the LTTE and the ethnic conflict, and treatment of each as phenomena that had to be dealt with separately. Such a reading advertently or inadvertently lends credence to the idea that there could be a military solution to the war with the LTTE and a political solution to the national question. But five years on, no political solution has been forthcoming. There is talk only about the dead and gone 13th amendment, which I have argued elsewhere,[3] does not even provide to be a reference point to a serious and genuine discourse on a political solution.

In the midst of all the daily existential problems relating to round up operations, land grabs, disappearances, sexual violence etc., Tamils are now being advised to ‘redefine the national question’ – to contribute and be partners to the so-called ‘Southern Reformist agenda’ as the means of finding a political solution[4]. The current version of this agenda has following logical sequencing:

  1. The root of the evils of contemporary Sri Lanka is the institutionalized dictatorship i.e Mahinda Rajapaksa combined with the Executive Presidency.
  2. A common candidate against Rajapaksha who focuses on the single issue of abolition of the executive presidency should be backed by all including the Tamils.
  3. The common candidate who thus wins will abolish the executive presidency, provide for democratic reforms and the ensuing environment would further provide for an enabling environment to discuss a political solution.

The argument makes many assumptions. The first among them is that the executive presidency is at the root of the problems that the country faces.

It is true that the particular type of executive presidency that the Sri Lankan constitution provides for is deeply problematic and that from a liberal constitutionalist perspective fails to measure up to notions of the rule of law and good governance. I have argued elsewhere that the post-May 2009 moment operated as a ‘constitutional moment’ that reversed the debate on the Southern Reform agenda and provided for the strengthening of the executive presidency system via the enactment of the 18th amendment[5]. But from a Tamil perspective a Westminster style government or a Presidential form makes no difference. Discriminatory laws, policies did exist even prior to 1978. Both a parliamentary form of government and a presidential form of government can be equally majoritarian. That the President requires the votes of the minorities to be elected isn’t just true – the incumbent President is an excellent example of this. The current opposition leader lost the Presidential elections in 2005 because he failed to win votes in the Sinhala heartland. As the debate on who should be a common candidate against Rajapaksa should be reveals, anyone who is not a Sinhala Buddhist will not be good enough. Similarly with a Westminster style system there is no need for the two major parties to appeal to the Tamils as the majority community is resourceful enough to produce a Sinhala Budhdhist Government even in a proportional representation electoral system, given that the Mulsim and Up Country political parties have always shown willingness to align with either of the major parties. Needless to say neither the UNP or SLFP can hope to seriously expect winning substantial number of seats in the North-East in the near future. Hence the institutional choice of a Presidency or Westminster style government is no guarantee against a majoritarian government. Some argue that a Westminster style Government will lead to a better functioning of the Provincial Council system. The 13th amendment is so fundamentally flawed that the form of Government in the Centre is not going to be enough of a cure. It may be the case that a Parliamentary form of Government may better suit a system of power sharing (this need not be necessarily true either) but this is assuming that a Parliamentary form of Government is being proposed alongside serious proposals for power sharing. This as will be demonstrated below is simply not the case.

The second assumption is that once the executive presidency is abolished there will be space to think about a solution to the ethnic conflict. This assumption again is deeply flawed at many levels. The key question is who is going to provide the leadership and space in the Southern Sri Lankan political arena? Let me consider some of the options being thrown around.

Ven. Sobitha Thero, an early contender for the presidential common candidacy, whose Constitutional reform proposals are silent on the National Question, in an interview to Thinakkural recently(6 February 2014) said that he prefers a district-based system of devolution[6]. This would be to put in contemporary constitutionally fashionable language, 13 double minus (13–). Quite notably the district based devolution system is what the Rajapaksa’s SLFP also proposed to the APRC in 2007[7]. Even Kumar David, an ardent admirer of the monk’s single-issue candidacy thinks that non-reference to devolution in the proposals is a serious defect[8].

What about the UNP of the Ranil Wickremesinghe? In March 2012 I was part of a delegation of Tamil Civil Society representatives and lawyers who met UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe during his visit to Jaffna ahead of their joint may day rally with the TNA. When I asked Mr. Wickremesinghe as to what his proposal to the Tamils with regard to a political solution was, his response was ‘13+’. When I asked him how his proposal was different to that of Rajapaksa’s his response was a weak assertion that Rajapaksa cannot be trusted with implementing what he promises and that he is a man who keeps his words. Ravi Karunanayake who was with UNP leader Wickremesinghe at that meeting advised us to give up on insisting for a merged North-East and warned us that continuing to do so would only provoke violence. Wickremesinghe further told us that the UNP is not for international investigations neither for local independent investigations but for a truth and reconciliation process without any punitive consequences. He reiterated this in a meeting with lawyers in Jaffna in March 2013, in which I was also present. When asked about the Channel 4’s ‘Killing Fields’, he was dismissive of it quite similar to Rajapaksa’s dismissal of the same. Ranil Wickremesinghe used to toy with the idea of an Executive Prime Minister. Now the UNP’s constitutional proposal speaks of a ‘Council of State’ led by an elected Head of State within a unitary constitution[9]. So in substance Wickremesinghe in real terms offers nothing better than Rajapaksa.

If this is Wickremesinghe, one need not even expend space lengthily on what the Sajith Premadasa camp has to offer. Shiral Lakthilaka, a lawyer formerly with Berghof Foundation’s Sri Lanka chapter (where he lead projects that supported and articulated the need for a Federal Sri Lanka), now a UNP Western PC Councilor with Sajith Premadasa, recently claimed that 13A+ is unacceptable to the UNP and would tantamount to secession[10]!

Then of course people say there remains the possibility of another Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge Presidency (May be we should be thankful to the 18th Amendment for this?) Given her ‘war for peace’ (an ideology ardently followed by her successor), her role in rocking the boat with the 2002-2004 peace process, and twice broken promise to abolish the executive presidency, I suppose there is nothing much to be said for that too. People nostalgically recall her constitutional reform proposals of 1995, 1996 and 2000 and love to blame the LTTE for the failure of these projects. They conveniently forget the role of UNP and Sinhala Civil Society (like the Sinhala Commission for example) in bringing down the constitutional reform proposals. CBK herself doesn’t talk much about these proposals (she is hardly present in the public sphere) and those elements that blocked her projects are arguably more visibly present in Sri Lankan political space today.

Let me digress slightly and focus on what the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which arguably provides for the official policy on reconciliation says about a political solution. I once heard a leading member of Colombo’s liberal civil society refer to it as the Bible for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. So what does the ‘Bible exactly say on a political solution[11]? The LLRC provides that in the post-war context the ‘minorities have to re-position themselves to accepting the state’. The state on the other hand must ‘reach out to the minorities’. Advertently or inadvertently the LLRC conceded that the ‘minorities’ were the ‘others’ in the Sri Lankan state; the state identified with the Sinhala Buddhists, and these ‘others’ who are not integral to the understanding of the state, had to be ‘reached out’. The state will not do anything to re-position itself, but it is these ‘minorities’ who have to re-position themselves – re-position themselves to accept a hierarchised state driven by Sinhala Buddhist ideology. If people think that I am reading too much into one sentence I invite them to have a read through of the whole of the LLRC report with an eye to its underlying political philosophy. This is the kind of political reconciliation envisaged by the LLRC report that among many even the UNHRC Geneva resolutions celebrate as a blue print for reconciliation (though probably not on accountability. As if these could be distinguished anyway).

Let me now return to what I have been discussing earlier. I have shown that none of Rajapaksha’s possible alternatives have anything substantially different to offer, regarding a political solution[12]. But a mere analysis of a lack of alternatives to Rajapaksa is not enough as to why regime change will not deliver a political solution. The reason why juggling between different actors in the South (which has been attempted for umpteenth number of times now) is not going to deliver change for the Tamils is because of the nature of the deep, pervasive hegemonic structure of the Sinhala Buddhist ideological project. This is what David Rampton has termed the ‘Deep Hegemonic’ nature of the Sinhala Buddhist ideology over the political landscape of the island[13]. This project is extremely active democratically both in terms of mobilization and through elections. To both get elected and to sustain a regime one needs to abide by the fundamental rules of the Sinhala Buddhist project. Many have expressed surprise that the disappearance activist Rajapaksa came to be crowned King of Sinhala Buddhism. But it should not be surprising if one, as Sivaram put it, makes an effort to ‘understand the psyche of the Sinhala Nation’[14]. The National Movement Against Terrorism, Bodu Bola Sena and Ravana Balaya’s may be fringe organisations but the ideology that they represent is not. As a JHU leader once remarked the success of JHU as a political force is not to be judged by its electoral success but by whether its policies have become policies of the mainstream parties. All serious political actors in the South of Sri Lanka know very well that to engage seriously with the national question and trying to resolve it will end up alienating the Sinhala Buddhist heartland in Sri Lanka.

I must now return to my critique with the identification of the problem itself. There is a wide segment of the Colombo liberal civil society, which believes that democracy needs to be restored before the National Question can be addressed. The rule of law and good governance is the real problem according to this liberal class of Colombo; the National Question can be addressed by restoring democracy (or may even wither away), hence Kishali Pinto Jayawardena’s identification that dictatorship is the ‘new national question’[15]. I think these claims aren’t empirically sustainable (for how many times have the Tamils been asked to wait for the South to get its act together) but I want to end this piece by inviting readers to probe this claim deeper.

My contention is that the national question is a pre-democracy problem. As Prof. F. G. Whelan put it, ‘Democracy, a method for self-governance, cannot be brought to bear on the logically prior matter of the constitution of the group itself, the existence of which it presupposes’[16]. The constitution of the group/people in the Sri Lankan state is identified with the Sinhala Buddhist political group. There is no pluri-conception of the group – the demos - in Sri Lanka. What we have is a unitary conception of the demos which is entrenched in the prevailing conception of the Sri Lankan state apparatus. The difficult truth is that there are no (majoritarian) democratic incentives to change this particular reality of the nature of the State in Sri Lanka. Hence to believe that mere institutional changes (for example like abolishing the 18th amendment and the executive presidency, bringing back the 17th amendment) can transform Sri Lanka into a pluri-national state (or provide the space for it is) is, to put it very harshly, ridiculous.

Readers may wonder whether I have argued in this piece for the executive presidency to be retained. I can even be asked whether seeing Rajapaksa go wouldn’t be of some relief to the Tamils. I do not for moment doubt that this regime has been and continues to disastrous for the Tamils. I also think that the kind of executive presidential system that Sri Lanka should not be retained. Regime change may indeed provide some breathing space for the Tamils. What I have contested herein is the idea that regime change will necessarily deliver change for the Tamils. Raising false expectations repeatedly is dishonest. We should be skeptical of those who want to change the terms of the real debate and those who think that reconciliation can be built by dodging the real questions.

Kumaravadivel Guruparan is a Lecturer in Law at the University of Jaffna currently on study leave reading for his PhD at University College London. 

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[1] Radhika Coomaraswamy, ‘Head in my hands’ (May 2009) http://groundviews.org/2014/05/14/head-in-my-hands/

[2] For a most recent example of this, see Gopalakrishna Gandhi, ‘Within Touching Distance’ (May 2014) http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/within-touching-distance/article6009340.ece?homepage=true wherein he asserts, “The end of the war, unacceptably bloodied as it was, opened an opportunity for a new beginning, a great leap forward toward a millennial reconciliation”.

[3] ‘The Irrelevancy of the 13th Amendment to Finding a Solution to the National Question’ 3 (2013) Junior Bar Law Review 30-42. Available at https://www.academia.edu/5725138/The_Irrelevancy_of_the_13_th_Amendment_in_Finding_a_Solution_to_the_National_Question_A_Critical_Note_on_Sri_Lankas_Post-_-War_Constitutional_Discourse

[4] International Crisis Group ‘Sri Lanka: Tamil Politics and the Quest for a Tamil Solution’ (November 2012), available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/239-sri-lanka-tamil-politics-and-the-quest-for-a-political-solution.pdf , p. 30

[5]‘18 May 2009 as a Constitutional Moment: Development and Devolution in the Post War Constitutional Discourse in Sri Lanka’, 2010 Junior Bar Law Review 41-51

[6] N. Jayasooriyan, Interview with Ven Sobitha Thero, http://thinakkural.lk/article.php?article/ybcvya9zpi8383db5bdc8ad417010eoulb6ab6087d9cdfd8a8662ddfhkrjg

[7] See Rohan Edrisinha, ‘The Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s Breathtaking Proposals on Constitutional Reform’, (May 2007) http://groundviews.org/2007/05/05/the-sri-lanka-freedom-party’s-breathtaking-proposals-on-constitutional-reform/

[8] Kumar David, Sobitha Hamuduruvo, ‘A Voice of Sanity’, (April 2013) https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sobitha-hamuduruvo-a-voice-of-sanity/

[9] See further http://www.unp.lk/index.php/proposedconstitution/english/998

[10] Island, ‘Sajith Faction opposes ‘13Plus A’ referred to by Ranil’ (April 2012) http://island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=49859

[11] LLRC Report, para 9.178. Substantively the LLRC suggests Local Government reforms and a Senate. LLRC Report, Para 9.231 and para 9.232. These are similar to the proposals of the current regime for a political solution.

[12] I don’t think they have anything substantially different to offer on accountability or even demilitarization. Given how militarization is key to the fiscal well being of Sri Lanka, I doubt any party can touch on the question of demobilization anytime in the near future. For an interesting perspective on this topic see, Rajesh Venugopal, ‘Market Reform at a Time of Civil War: Military fiscalism in Sri Lanka’, 46 (49) Economic and Political Weekly, pp. 67-75. (December 2011)

[13] Rampton argues that Sinhala Buddhist nationalism must be understood as ‘a socio-political representation of Sri Lanka, in which the territory, state and nation of the island compose a bounded unity revolving around a majoritarian axis of Sinhala Buddhist religion, language, culture and people’. David Rampton “‘Deeper hegemony’: the politics of Sinhala nationalist authenticity and the failures of power-sharing in Sri Lanka”, 49 (2) Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, pp. 245-273 at p. 255 and 256

[14] Sivaram, ‘On the psyche of the Sinhala Nation’ (October 2004) http://www.tamilnation.co/forum/sivaram/041010.htm

[15] Kishali Pinto Jayawardena, ‘Dismantling Dictatorship is Sri Lanka’s National Question’, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130908/columns/dismantling-dictatorship-is-sri-lankas-national-question-61323.html (08 September 2013)

[16] F. G. Whelan, ‘Prologue: Democratic Theory and the Boundary Problem’, in J. R. Pennock and J. W. Chapman, eds., Liberal Democracy, (New York: 1983)

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This article is part of a  larger collection of articles and content commemorating five years after the end of war in Sri Lanka. An introduction to this special edition by the Editor of Groundviews can be read here. This, and all other articles in the special edition, is published under a Creative Commons license that allows for republication with attribution.

  • Radhika Coomaraswamy

    Mr Guruparan says that I am “out of my depths” when criticizing the LTTE/Tamil national project. He may well be right. But being “out of depth” gives me a greater freedom. I would just like to put forward just some suggestions for discussion so that after the discussion I can perhaps gain more depth.
    1. The Tamil national project, especially under the LTTE , has led to the near annihilation of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. Once Jaffna had the best quality of life next to Colombo. Now it has one of the worst. Most of its population is overseas, some clinging for dear life on ships as refugees. Others such as the women left behind often have to turn to prostitution just to survive. The whole of the north is now militarized. Any leadership that brings its people to this level must surely be denounced regardless of what the Sri Lankan government does. A good leadership would anticipate the type of reaction that must follow its actions. It would always act to protect its people. Our people are now considered “pariahs” both locally and internatinally. But has this prompted any type of introspection- absolutely not. Instead we now hear again the same old noises, the same old record starting up again so that we can once more go down the road of annihilation.
    2. No matter what we as Tamils feel there will never be a separate state. India will not tolerate it,nor will any of the permanent five of the security council. They may use us to destabilize the government but there will be no separate state on a platter.nNobody will come to our rescue. We will all be left to die on the banks of a lagoon. It is really time to be realistic and bury this national project and not destroy another generation of Sri Lankan Tamil youth with lofty dreams that cannot be realized.
    3. What we must fight for with our national and international allies is for self respect- a measure of autonomy that also makes the Sri Lankan government feel safe- and for rights- equality in language and religion, as well as justice and accountability for crimes committed. Our people will then be safe and they will be able to develop with dignity and self respect.
    As I said being “out if depth” gives me a lot of freedom.

    • Wijedasa

      Dear Radhika Coomaraswamy,

      This is what you have said in your article: ” A Tamil community that says we are sorry for supporting this ruthless organisation that killed so many people; we were blinded by their propaganda.”

      I think Mr. Guruparan has completely misread what you said. See what Mr. Guruparan says in his article: “Hence Radhika Coomaraswamy is out of her depth to say that it was LTTE’s propaganda alone that explains the Tamil people’s support for the armed struggle.”

      Have you ever suggested in your article that the LTTE’s propaganda ALONE explains the Tamil people’s support for the armed struggle? I have not seen anything like that being even hinted in what you said.

      Also, when you said that the Tamil community was blinded by the LTTE’s propaganda, I don’t think that you did not recognize the reasons that led to the armed struggle, as Mr. Guruparan claims. What I understood was that you tried to say how the LTTE used these reasons to justify the killings (of the Sinhalese) that it presided over and how that justification/propaganda made the Tamil community blind to and uncritical of those killings. And you imply all of that, I understand, in the context of reconciliation.

      Tamils supporting an armed struggle is very different from Tamil people being (made) blind to killings committed in their name. Mr. Guruparan is conflating these two issues when he critiques what you said.

      Have I read you correctly? Maybe you could have been a little more specific without allowing room for this misreading.

      • Radhika Coomaraswamy

        Thank you Mr. Wijedasa
        I of course recognize the fact that Sr Lankan Tamils have legitimate grievances and have been at the receiving end of state brutality; but resort to armed struggle in the first place and the primacy given to that struggle have helped destroy the Tamil people. Given our numbers and our situation a longer non violent movement that also appealed to allies in the South would have been a better bet- may have taken a long time but would not torn the very fabric of the society.

    • Kumaravadivel Guruparan

      My comment that Dr Radhika Coomaraswamy is ‘out of her depth’ was in relation to her assertion that it was LTTE’s propaganda alone that explains the Tamil people’s support for the armed struggle. I have provided reasoning in this piece as to why this is wrong. This reasoning, I hope the readers will note, is no jingoistic celebration of the politics of the LTTE. This reasoning may I suggest, finds resonance with the reasoning brought to this issue by Late Shanmuagathasan (see Ravi Vaitheespara, ‘Theorising the National Crisis: Shanmugathasan, the Left and the Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka’ (SSA, Colombo 2007) pp. 25 & 26 in particular) and Late Taraki Sivaram (See Mark Whitaker, ‘Learning Politics From Sivaram’ (Pluto Press, 2007). Dr. Coomaraswmay has chosen not to respond to this particular contestation for reasons best known to her. But that’s her choice. I respect that.

      In her response Dr Coomaraswmay raises various other points, which were strictly speaking not subjects of my piece. It is unfortunate that she appears to shift the blame, so to speak, on Tamil politics for the condition of the Tamil people today. She seems to suggest that the choice of the Tamil people and their leaders to take the path of an armed struggle was wrong leading to inter alia eroding the “quality of life” enjoyed by the Jaffna Tamils. I wonder what she means by ‘quality of
      life’? In a materialistic sense? Were the riots of 1958, 1977, 1983 – indicative of this quality of life? May be the burning of the Jaffna Library? I wonder whether she would say the same to the Palestinian people and the Kashmiri people that they have lost the quality of the life that they enjoyed before deciding to embark on an armed struggle. In response to Mr Wijedasa she says the Tamils should have continued to explore non-violent options. Really? How? What were the possibilities, space and opportunities that existed at the time of the advent of the armed struggle through which Tamils could have continued to explore non-violent options??

      None of the above should be interpreted as me suggesting that there is no need for introspection on the part of the Tamil polity as to their political choices and conduct of their armed struggle. But as I have argued elsewhere given the kind of oppression that the people are going through to date there is no such space that is developing/ capable of developing for such introspection. This is truly unfortunate but I hope that we do get to the point sooner rather than later, for the sake of the Tamil people, where a broad and complex discourse introspecting the past is possible.

      As for Dr Coomaraswamy’s comments on autonomy, separate state and external self determination (I think she is referring to my Kumar Ponnambalam Lecture), let me only say that I am acutely aware of the (geo-political) realities that impact on the politics of the Tamil people (which finds expression in the Kumar Ponnambalam Lecture too). In fact I am often criticized (from within the Tamil community) for stressing repeatedly on the flaws with relying too much on the ‘international community’.

      Just one point about internal and external self-determination, which is the subject of the PhD that I am working on. Despite Internal self-determination being referred to frequently in the language of politics and the lex pacificatoria, it can be hardly said to be a separate rule of international law. The ‘right’ is to self-determination. There is no right to specifically its internal and external aspects. As I said in the Kumar Ponnambalam Lecture is that the right to self-determination may be applied internally and externally. But I don’t think there can only be a ‘right’ to internal self-determination and not to ‘external self determination’ for a particular people. It is for the right-holder to decide how to exercise it. However this cannot be done unilaterally and the context will shape how these right holders exercise this right. The key question for those harping only on the internal dimension of self-determination is to help us understand how it could be exercised within the present borders of the Sri Lankan state in light of the post-independence history of this island.

      Finally, my politics is far from perpetuating the dream of a separate state. No one is holding up the TNA. The TNA electorally has had overwhelming support from the people. I just hope that what they say during elections (and how they portray themselves to the Tamil people) and their subsequent conduct is the same. I expect the same, in principle, as does Dr Commaraswmay– good faith politics from the TNA and everyone else too.

      • Radhika Coomaraswamy

        The “quality of life” I was referring to is the physical quality of life index that was used by the UN and others to determine physical quality of life based on indicators. In Sri Lanka Jaffna came second to Colombo in the 1970s. For me increasingly the nature and quality of resistance has as much importance for a people as the nature and quality of state oppression. Both combined destroyed the Tamil people. The Tamil leadership, especially the LTTE must accept responsibility.Yes there were riots, yes spaces were small but for me the future lies in joining with progressive forces in the South to fight for such spaces and not to keep withdrawing into the mindset of a peninsula. As for your comments on self determination, I thought the Canadian judgments challenged the notion that it is up to the right holder on how to express this right and argued instead that any such process must be negotiated. I may be wrong as you are the expert!

        I agree that LTTE propaganda alone is not responsible for the Tamil people to support armed struggle. I am not a fan of Sivaram and we argued bitterly during his lifetime with the freedom we had to do such things in the old days and Shan was a true ally in the years after 1983 though our perspectives differed. However to me as I said earlier leadership matters. The Tamil people felt anger and resentment. Instead if marshaling this anger into a non violent, democratic politics, The LTTE and other groups chose another oath which included the killing of innocent civilians, the expulsion of Muslims, the conscription of children etc… Etc…

        • Kumaravadivel Guruparan

          I am glad that you agree that LTTE propoganda was not the only reason why the Tamil people supported the armed struggle. As for the non violent options that could have been pursued I would kindly refer you to the questions that I have posed regarding the availability of these options.

          I had in mind the Canadian judgment when I said that the exercise of the right cannot be unilateral. The difference is I don’t think this is supported necessarily by moral or ethical reasons but by demands of practicalities. I claim no expertise. Would prefer to remain a student always.

  • Niran Anketell

    I don’t intend to intervene in the argument Mr Guruparan and Dr Coomaraswamy have entered, but I must confess I am utterly mystified by Dr Coomaraswamy’s suggestion (if I am reading her correctly) that the Tamil political leadership has not been self-critical in respect of the past. I think we can all agree that we must all engage political commentary with a measure of responsibility, and that ideological and political preferences must not stand in the way of acknowledging factual reality. I apologise in advance for engaging in a bit of tedious citation:

    TNA Response to LLRC Report: page xv. “Expressing disapproval of and regret for the loss of life and harm caused to civilians of Sri Lanka and to political leaders from both within and outside the country, by the activities of armed Tamil militant groups during the course of the civil war;” http://www.sangam.org/2012/01/TNA_LLRC_Response.pdf

    TNA Response to High Commissioner’s Report on Sri Lanka, 25 February 2014: “We are mindful of the important need for all communities in Sri Lanka to reckon with the past in a spirit of reconciliation. We sincerely believe that an international Commission of Inquiry into allegations against both sides will provide our communities the space and
    environment to come to terms with crimes committed in our respective names. The TNA remains committed to leading the Tamil people through a painful process of introspection, and encourages the government to use the opportunity of an international inquiry to break with the past and meaningfully pursue reconciliation.” https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/tna-welcomes-navi-pillays-report-on-sri-lanka/

    TNA Welcomes UNHRC Resolution, 27 March 2014: “The passage of the resolution marks a historic moment and finally provides a meaningful opportunity for all communities in Sri Lanka to join an impartial, independent process in which we grapple with serious violations of human rights and crimes committed in our own respective names.
    This is an urgent need, and is critical to ending the spiral of impunity in Sri Lanka. As the political leadership of the Tamil people, we accept this opportunity in a spirit of humility and self-reflection.” http://tnapolitics.org/?p=2103&lang=en

    TNA MP Sumanthiran on ethnic cleansing of Muslims: http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/21064

    Secretariat for Muslims Welcomes Sumanthiran’s recognition of ethnic cleansing of Muslims: “Recognising the Expulsion of the Northern Muslims from the five districts of the North – Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mulaitivu and Kilinochchi as an act of ethnic cleansing, Mr. Sumanthiran reportedly stated that the Tamil community needs to acknowledge its own mistakes and take steps to correct them, including in not neglecting the Muslim community. He emphasized that unless the Tamil community does this, it would have no moral right to expect others, including the international community to take up their grievances. We welcome this statement and the collective statement by leading Tamil political activists in 2011 as important steps in rebuilding and reconciling relations between the Tamil and Muslim communities in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Mr. Sumanthiran’s gesture provides an example to other political and civil society leaders of the measures that need to be taken to strengthen peace in Sri Lanka.”
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/secretariat-for-muslims-welcomes-sumanthirans-recognition-of-ethnic-cleansing-of-northern-muslims/

    Mr Sampanthan in Parliament: “The LTTE was the manifestation of a grave problem that had long existed in this country from shortly after Independence consequent to justice and equity not being meted out to all its peoples on equal terms. The incipient phase of this manifestation in the form of the LTTE occurred only in the late ’70s, almost three decades after the country attained Independence. At the earlier stages, the manifestation of the LTTE seemed inevitable and even justified. It was the several aberrations, primarily the adoption by the LTTE of an authoritarian approach and the disrespect for democracy and human rights that tarnished the image of justification and eventually resulted in several countries the world over, branding the LTTE as a terrorist organization.” http://www.stillcountingthedead.com/wp/?p=7491

    • Radhika Coomaraswamy

      Though one welcomes the TNA’s critique of the LTTE ‘s violations of human rights even at this late stage, none of these statements suggest we move away from the ” nation/self determination” paradigm to one of self respect, rights and justice. As you know Tamil Nadu had a separatist movement in the fifties but the leaders later opted for the latter course.

      • Niran Anketell

        I don’t see why self-determination and what Dr Coomaraswamy calls “a measure of autonomy that also makes the Sri Lankan government feel safe- and for rights- equality in language and religion, as well as justice and accountability for crimes committed” are mutually exclusive. Certainly, the TNA appears to resolutely believe that Tamils are a nation with a right to self-determination and also that a solution should be found within a united country. I need not add that this positioning is fully compatible with contemporary scholarship on the right to self-determination, most helpfully summarised by Judge Cancado Trindade in the ICJ Kosovo opinion:

        “Recent developments in contemporary international law were to disclose the dimensions both external and internal of the right of self-determination of peoples: the former meant the right of every people to be free from any form of foreign domination, and the latter referred to the right of every people to choose their destiny in accordance with their own will, if necessary – in case of systematic oppression and subjugation – against their own government. This distinction [fn196] challenges the purely inter-State paradigm of classic international law. In the current evolution of international law, international practice (of States and of international organizations) provides support for the exercise of self-determination by peoples197 under permanent adversity or systematic repression, beyond the traditional confines of the historical process of decolonization. Contemporary international law is no longer insensitive to patterns of systematic oppression and subjugation.”

        fn196: Endorsed in expert writing; cf., e.g., A. Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples – A Legal Reappraisal, Cambridge, University Press, 1995, pp. 1-365; P. Thornberry, “The Principle of Self-Determination”, in The United Nations and the Principles of International Law…, op. cit. supra n. (192), pp. 175-203; Ch. Tomuschat, “Self-Determination in a Post-Colonial World”, in Modern
        Law of Self-Determination (ed. Ch. Tomuschat), Dordrecht, Nijhoff, 1993, pp. 1-20; A. Rosas, “Internal Self-Determination”, in ibid., pp. 225-251; J. Salmon, “Internal Aspects of the Right to
        Self-Determination: Towards a Democratic Legitimacy Principle?”, in ibid., pp. 253-282.

        • Radhika Coomaraswamy

          You have cited the law correctly but the rhetoric of many groups including Mr. Guruparan’s oration in Jaffna recently suggest that they are thinking in terms of external self determination. My sense is that the dream of that is what is preventing many groups from giving Mr. Wigneswaran and Mr. Sambandan the support and the freedom to negotiate in good faith even if the government was responsive.

          • Niran Anketell

            Dr Coomaraswamy, I think we have come full circle and I appreciate your engagement. I think your exchanges with Guruparan confirm what I initially thought – that the ‘problems’ in Tamil politics you rightly appear to be highlighting are the intransigence of the LTTE in negotiations, its unwillingness to reach out to progressive Sinhalese and the Sinhala public at large, its authoritarianism and its disregard for morality and law in its use of violence; and the continuing legacy of those attitudes in contemporary Tamil politics. This is why I remain as mystified as ever that you would a) suggest that there is no introspection going on in Tamil politics b) when I pointed out that the TNA leadership was indeed adopting a self-reflective approach on the above, you contended that the TNA had not yet introspected on the self-determination claim, which you later granted was legally correct – in fact, you didn’t take issue with my suggestion that the self-determination claim sits comfortably with your own vision for what Sri Lanka would look like and c) you finally appeared to pivot to Guruparan and his fellow travellers, who readily admit that the TNA leadership (with whom they have severe disagreements) are the legitimate representatives of the Tamil people.

          • Radhika Coomaraswamy

            Do not quite understand your points. Leaderships of ethnic groups can decide to use nation/self determination language ( which may be legally correct) or rights language with a more universal message (which is also legally correct). My argument is that if the Tamil leadership had realistically assessed the space and possibilities available to us- they would have stuck to the second. I don’t believe in sole spokesmen or “legitimate representatives” but the TNA were the ones elected to hold office so my powers of persuasion are directed at them! You will admit that they do speak from both sides of their mouth depending on the audience so your citations are selective. Nevertheless the onus to correct the trajectory of Tamil politics is now on them and hopefully they will not again lead us down the path of annihilation.

          • Niran Anketell

            Again, I don’t see why the self-determination claim is incompatible wth rights language, or as pointed out earlier, your own vision of an ideal Sri Lanka. Neither the TNA’s language in its manifestors nor Judge Cancado Trindade’s helpfull distillation of contemporary international law suggest they are.

          • Radhika Coomaraswamy

            I suppose the problem is not law but discourse. The discourse of nation/self determination easily lends itself to placing a primacy on separation and raising very high expectations among the Tamil population- expectations that will never be kept. At the same time it is deeply threatening to the Sinhalese and raises all their fears and defenses. Again I am only putting ideas forward for debate.

  • Thiru K

    Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy has captured the current predicament of Tamils correctly.

    My view is that ever since seeing “Tamil Civil Society” and its ardent spokesperson or face via Mr. Guruparan, their advocacy only seemed aloof from the Tamil Society they claim to represent.

    All what this grouping has done is to have sections of the diaspora enforce a stance that in rhetoric closely resembled that of LTTE. This was done while the proponents also such as Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam (who also appears to be mostly a Colombo & diaspora resident) were happily travelling to diaspora domiciled countries to attend forums and holding press conferences in Jaffna etc. to paint a picture that there is something alternative and more viable in knocking on our doors. They never explain what this viable alternative is by coming out of the “depth” they are in. They dont even have to take any “accountability” or “responsibility” for their on going actions, as in regards to how it impacts the people.

    What they have been doing perhaps suited well in an “academic” or as alternative Tamil politics manner but at times making life even harder for what they were championing, such as student arrest and right of return, detentions etc. was never a concern.

    Then in turn, the TNA was enforced to be rather in a fighting agitation mode and using the NPC to send messages to UNHRC sessions etc. NPC’s sole agenda is now successfully turned into showcasing that the recently voted into office by people are demanding “more powers” & “self determination” etc.

    The fact that voters in North voted in NPC elections for their livelihood and related are matters are forced to be side-stepped and any hard-serious politicking to alleviate the immediate plight are being worsened by globe trotting Tamil civil society and TNPF alike.

    2013 manifesto of TNA: http://sangam.org/tnas-2013-northern-provincial-council-election-manifesto/

    I wonder if there is any other totalitarian state in the world that grants in and out travel privileges from the country or even sanction an academic leave to pursue what TNPF and Tamil Society Forum have been able to do?

  • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

    The article by Radhika Coomaraswamy at the centre of this debate, and referenced by the author above can be accessed here – http://groundviews.org/2014/05/14/head-in-my-hands/. It was part of the Special Edition – http://groundviews.org/category/issues/end-of-war/

  • Radhika Coomaraswamy

    My sense is that the Tamil leadership was grassroot in the North but then only “negotiated” with duplicitous Sinhala leaders. They never tried the long term strategy of working quietly and consistently to win the hearts and minds of the Sinhalese including the Buddhist monks. Have they ever visited the Mahanayake’s? This is because the Tamil national project always thought of us as a nation apart. I am just raising these questions. I have no answers but I think we have to start interrogating the fundamentals given the situation we are in.

  • Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

    So according to Guruparan, the LTTE was the armed project of Tamil nationalism and therefore inseparable from it. That’s exactly what Gota and Champika say! Going by Guruparan, Tamil nationalism (postwar) is the political project of the LTTE (which was the armed project of Tamil nationalism)! With enemies like Gurparan, Gota and Champika don’t need friends, and with friends like Guruparan, Tamil nationalist democrats don’t need enemies! Congratulations, Guru!

  • Upali Wickramasinghe

    “The argument makes many assumptions. The first among them is that the executive presidency is at the root of the problems that the country faces.”

    Mr. Guruparan, you have missed the propensity of both the Sinhalese and the Tamils to argue and not enter into a compromise.Bring in a single issue candidate, is a prescription to continue with the Executive Presidency.The elected EP cannot get rid of the EP with nothing in place.And nothing will come in place.
    Both the 1972 constitution which was the harbinger of the unrest and the 1978 constitution with started all this were never accepted by the people at a referendum.It was in place through the two thirds strength in the parliament, the backing of the courts and the forces.

    As an interim measure, which will ensure the EP is got rid of over night is to call for the re establishment of the Soulbury constitution, which the people accepted , at least indirectly, via the independence.I remember that as a very young school boy, I had to stand on the road, with my fellow students carrying a Sri lanka flag mounted on an ekel stick.

    In the past, starting with gen de Gaulle of France, all changes in the constitution, be it in France, South Africa, venwezuela,Nicaragua and even Burma and Syria, if I am right, had been after seeking the acceptance by the public. Not in this so called thrice blessed island.

    I would welcome, among other things, a candidate that will call for the re imposition of the Soulbury constitution.Any further changes can be attended after that is done.

    With all the reservations that the Tamil people had, it was the only constitution where all of use were happy and contended.

  • Kalana Senaratne

    This is a critical, yet excellent, analysis of Southern politics/mindset by Guruparan [an analysis I can relate to, given my earlier submission to GV]. The two broad concerns I wish to raise here relate to some of the comments made in response to Guru’s piece.

    1. Guru argues: “The military defeat of the LTTE was the defeat of the armed project of the Tamil self-determination movement. But that defeat was not enough to defeat the entirety of the Tamil self-determination movement. For that to happen the territorial basis of the self-determination claim had to be weakened and the political will and strength of the Tamils as a collective, their consciousness as a ‘nation’ needed to be squashed.”

    Now, I am perhaps more critical of the LTTE’s modus operandi than Guru. But I think above point is sought to be projected by some commentators as a claim made in support of the LTTE’s separatist project. Yet this need not be necessarily correct, neither should it be understood as an endorsement of the LTTE’s separatist project (and I feel today, that such an interpretation is sought to be given only by those who are not genuine about Tamil autonomy). Just as a self-determination movement can end up in a federalist arrangement, the end result of the “Tamil self-determination movement” need not be separation. Therefore, while Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists may interpret the above para as a call for separatism (as is done by sophisticated Sinhala nationalists), it is necessary to stress that that is not the sole interpretation.

    2. More significantly, the response of Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy has revealed much about the kind of Tamil politics she stands for, and wishes to endorse, today. I have 3 broad comments/queries:

    A )- One concern has to do with the kind of autonomy that Dr. Coomaraswamy wishes the Tamil people to enjoy. She argues that the Tamils should fight for their “self-respect” which would amount to a fight for rights, equality, justice/accountability, and to “a measure of autonomy that also makes the Sri Lankan government feel safe.”

    Quite honestly, what will make the Sri Lankan government “feel safe” is zero devolution. Period. But the additional problem here is that framing the issue in this way is precisely that which makes the claim for autonomy by the Tamils meaningless. Dr. Coomaraswamy’s framework could very easily be a call to maintain the status quo – perhaps, a call for ‘13th Amendment whatever’ (13A, 13A-, etc) which will
    make the Government feel safe. So, I wonder whether this is the devolution/autonomy
    part of the political solution that Dr. Coomaraswamy has in mind for the Tamil
    polity. [Or wouldn't she prefer, for example, a solution along the lines of the APRC Experts Committe A report? Too much?]

    B) – Dr. Coomaraswamy appears to be undecided on the language of self-determination and its relevance to Tamil politics. So for example, she argues that the Tamil leadership should “move away from the ‘nation/self determination’ paradigm to one of self respect, rights and justice.”

    But Niran’s useful clarification re ‘internal self-determination’ draws the following response from Dr. Coomaraswamy: that “the rhetoric of many groups including Mr. Guruparan’s oration in Jaffna recently suggest that they are thinking in terms of external self determination. My sense is that the dream of that is what is preventing many groups from giving Mr. Wigneswaran and Mr. Sambandan the support and the freedom to negotiate in good faith even if the government was responsive.”

    It is not necessary to go into the nuances of the internal/external dichotomy here (and I think I am far more
    critical of this dichotomy than Niran). But, Dr. Coomaraswamy’s responses still raise the question of what she thinks about the TNA’s use of the self-determination language (because let’s not forget, it’s not only gajen
    Ponnambalam’s TNPF that uses this language): is she for the ‘careful’ or ‘strategic’ use of it, or would it be better for the TNA to abandon the language entirely? She claims she is against it, but then argues that the ‘external’ dimension is what’s more problematic. And furthermore, how does Dr. Coomaraswamy expect the Tamil people to attain even a “measure of autonomy” without reference to Tamil nationhood and self-determination? Such a non-reference is precisely what makes the Tamil people just a minority to which equality before the law, justice and economic development is adequate – in other words, JHU’s Udaya Gammanpila would readily agree with Dr. Coomaraswamy.

    C) – Finally, that thing about Southern allies. I think it is quite heartening to note that Dr. Coomaraswamy
    places much trust in the Southern polity and its allies. For greater clarification, I would like to know who these allies are and whether a few can be named (because we in the South would also like to get to know them better). More seriously, I think today it is necessary to be more open about the indeterminacy surrounding the term ‘allies’; unless the Tamil movement decides to drop their claim for autonomy!

    But I do need to end with the following claim made by Dr. Coomarswamy. Referring to the Tamil leadership, she argues that they “never tried the long term strategy of working quietly and consistently to win
    the hearts and minds of the Sinhalese including the Buddhist monks” and then raises the bizarre query: “Have they ever visited the Mahanayake’s?” Now, if the Ven. Mahanayakas needed a basket of fruits (or pirikara), I don’t see any reason why the TNA leadership should not visit them (and perhaps handover a copy of its political manifesto too). But in addition, Dr. Coomaraswamy appears to think that the TNA or the Tamil
    leadership can convince the most serious and committed institution promoting Sinhala-Buddhist
    nationalism, the Sangha community, about the need for greater autonomy and accountability, by working quietly and patiently. Let’s forget convincing the Sangha about autonomy; can the Sangha community at least be influenced to change its stance on accountability? Can anyone get the Sangha community to at least issue a statement calling for a proper DOMESTIC investigation into alleged crimes committed during the war? I remain very skeptical.

    • Radhika Coonaraswamy

      Thank you Kalana for these interesting comments. This is precisely the kind of discussion I wanted to have.

      A. With regard to the kind of autonomy I am thinking about I would say that the original Tiruchelvam Pieries package put forward by President Kumaratunga is the type of package I feel would give autonomy and also give a measure of security to the Sri Lankan state. I should have not used the word government since it implies this government- I meant more generally a southern government that negotiates in good faith.

      B. Yes I think the Tamil political formations should move away from the discourse of nation/self determination despite the legal discussions. The discourse has an implication of separation and for Tamils raises expectations that cannot be fulfilled. It also deeply threatens the Sinhalese, even the moderates, and raises fears and defenses. I do not feel you need to use that language- the right to autonomy in areas where the Tamil people are a majority is language that is fine enough.

      C. I have worked a long time in the south and internationally in the field of advocacy. First people construct demons. To deconstruct demons you have to be present and in this case means that you reach out to Sinhala audiences through media, theatre, art and culture. Second people just do not understand concepts and legal ideas, they only hear one side of the story. The Suddhu Nelun movement was an example. Whatever one may feel about her Presidency, President Kumaratunga always makes the point that after the work of the Suddhu Nelun movement, a nation wide survey pointed to the fact that 60% of the Sinhalese supported devolution. You will be surprised- as a result of this you may get a few very prominent monks to be champions and that can turn the tables. For example in fighting FGM in Senegal or girls education in certain parts if Afghanistan a few religious leaders were convinced after days if advocacy and then they came forward- one word from them us worth a thousand words front an NGO or an international agency.

      • Niran Anketell

        Excellent comments, Kalana, as usual. I am in almost full agreement. I believe that we must work to recalibrate the way in which the State and the Sinhalese understand their own safety; pandering to exisiting insecurities by eschewing political claims will lead to a race to the bottom. If the then government could agree to explore a federal solution based on the principle of internal self-determination in the Oslo Communique, I don’t see why the term should be jettisoned now on the basis that the Sinhalese are frightened off by the word. The struggle is to find ways to bring the Sinhalese around to where they were in 2001. In this, I agree with Dr Coomaraswamy. However, I say we fight the fear mongers who tell the Sinhalese that self-determination and secession are the same thing, not let their lies straightjacket us. The answer is political education, political education and political education. Dr Coomaraswamy’s position sounds to me to be similar to Sri Lankan ‘liberal’ men agreeing with women’s activists that women have a right to choose, but warning them not to talk about that right in the villages because men are put off by the claim. Let’s not forget that even Neelan was attacked by Nalin de Silva and others for his membership in the TULF. Let’s not also forget that the constitution of this party Neelan chose to seek membership in and through which he was nominated to Parliament is quite strong on the nation/self-determination paradigm. I note Kalana’s unease with the internal/external dichotomy. I didn’t mean to suggest that they were two separate rights – just that the political leadership of the Tamil people are quite clear about how that right needs to be exercised.

        • Radhika Coomaraswamy

          Well now that you have mentioned feminism -as you know feminists have always been skeptical of nation and nationalism as confining and representative of patriarchy. Part of my skepticism comes from there. On this Neelan and I differed. Remember Virginia Woolf “as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world”. I agree with Kumari Jayawardena that the early turn of the century nationalists provided a space for women’s advancement- not so sure of present day nationalists including the present TNA. I prefer the language of politics that stress the universal over the particular- hence rights over nation.

          • Niran Anketell

            Well, I would like to see the eradication of all state borders and social anarchy. In this ideal, we wouldn’t have to trouble ourselves with the notion of a united Sri Lanka either. And I’m all for it.

            But if we acknowledge the reality of the existence of states and of contemporary international relations/politics and law, which have after long years of activism by progressive forces, now come to acknowledge “the exercise of self-determination by peoples under permanent adversity or systematic repression” outside the decolonisation context, then I believe it is problematic to tell those peoples under adversity and systematic repression not to even talk about that right, especially when you think that right is not incompatible with your own vision for the country. It also seems to me that the modern emphasis on self-determination for all peoples undermines the most patriarchal ideas of them all – that of state sovereignty. Like it or not, we live in a world in which self-determination is a foundational organising principle. If we don’t extend it to all peoples – or at least to those under permanent adversity and repression – then it will remain safely esconced in the behemoth of the state, hidden from public view but nevertheless exercised with full force.

          • Radhika Coomaraswamy

            Niran- you know these collective terms “peoples” and their rights, “states” and their rights make me nervous because they often hide the diversity and complexities of individuals and communities contained therein. Perhaps you are right that is too impractical a vision for Sri Lanka of today..

          • Fitzpatrick

            Niran, Kalana and Radhika such a wonderful exchange to read and learn from.

            Thank you guys.
            It is nice to read such exchanges without the usual chest thumping statements of “I did ” “I said that” and hearing one boast about some victory in 2009 against imperialists !!

            It has also not escaped me that Radhika in-spite being a professor at NYU (I believe) is simply going as Radhika instead of flashing her credentials about like some political appointments !! Thank you, its a breadth of fresh air in this day and age or self promotion and narcism.

          • Niran Anketell

            I would share your suspicion of collective identities for the same reasons, but I see no way out of it unless we do away with the idea of states and territorial intergrity and so on. Why is a ‘Sri Lankan people with the right to self-determination’ a less terrifying idea that a ‘Tamil people with the right to self-determination’?

          • Radhika Coomaraswamy

            Niran- in the end these are only words, it is the people that matter. A Tamil state with internal or external whatever, without any people or a very destroyed group of people is not what I would opt for. In this globalised, international world it seems even more ridiculous. Hanging onto words without actually looking for new ways in which the Sri Lankan Tamil people can get back their self respect without forcing them to sacrifice even more than they have is I think counterproductive. Haven’t they suffered enough? But then as Guruparan’s has said I am “out of my depth”.

          • Niran Anketell

            Dr Coomaraswamy – I appreciate your honest engagement and the manner in which you have done so. It is refreshing that you haven’t invoked status or superior experience, even though that is the order of the day in these forums. I must confess that I am now a more committed believer in self-determination than when I first responded to your comment a few days ago. It seems to me that jettisoning self-determination will severely undermine the claim made by the Tamil community to autonomy, and that it is not just a word, but a living, breathing legal and political right that has given meaning to the Tamil struggle for decades. However, I am even more convinced of the need to guard against a narrow parochialism in our struggle. The struggle must remain, for want of better words, liberal and cosmpolitan in outlook. It must speak the language of rights, equality, emancipation and anti-racism. It must also seek to actively undermine the misogny, casteism and homophobia that are so prevalent in our community. I don’t think the language of self-determination stands in the way of progress in those areas. At least I hope it will not.

          • Radhika Coomaraswamy

            With the approach you have outlined above I think we can come to an eventual consensus. In addition to ” liberal and cosmopolitan” if you add non violent, I think we are moving in the right direction. Also please note Asanga’s article in this website.

    • Agnos

      Interesting comments. Sorry for just intervening out of nowhere. I am in agreement with the view that the TNA should move away from the language of self-determination, and explicitly state that they stand for a Federal Solution, in keeping with the ITAK’s original stand.

  • Real_Peace

    Dear Guruparan/Dr.Coomaraswamy:

    A thought provoking article and comments…

    Since the Sri Lanka ethnic problem is complex, I was looking for some balanced books on the ‘root causes’ and the civil war. There seemed to be biased books all over.

    I started reading the book you mentioned on Sivaram which gives another perspective.

    http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Politics-From-Sivaram-Revolutionary/product-reviews/0745323537/ref=dpx_acr_rat_t2_txt?showViewpoints=1

    —————————
    Can you suggest other balanced books please?
    Also please suggest any independent video documentaries ?
    ——————————
    (One I found was ‘Silenced Voices’ by Norwegian dir, Beate Arnestead.)

    Thank you

    • Anpu

      Dear Guru,
      My regards to you and your dad Prof Kumaravadivel. I am proud of you.
      Dear Real_peace,

      Good reference materials on SD is available here http://tamilnation.co/selfdetermination/

      “.. Self determination is not a de stabilising concept. Self determination and democracy go hand in hand. If democracy means the rule of the people, by the people, for the people, then the principle of self determination secures that no one people may rule another – and herein lies its enduring appeal… And we may need to attend more carefully to the words of of Yelena Bonner (widow of Andrei Sakharov) that ‘the inviolability of a country’s borders against invasion from the outside must be clearly separated from the right to statehood of any people within a state’s borders.’ ” Nadesan Satyendra in the Fourth World – Nations without a State

      • Real_Peace

        Thank you for this useful reference/link.

  • Fitzpatrick

    I am still waiting for a reply to my earlier question regarding how Tamils in the north are preventing the resettlement of the displaced Muslims. You claimed so, now produce the proof without hiding (unless you made up that statement which it seems like you did).

  • Jayalath

    Dear . Gurupan .
    I can understand that how you have felt to speak out in this level , and as you have accepted that military defeat is done but still the Tamil self determination movement is alive . Which reminds me when the Jvp struck 71 and since then it took another 20 years until the next strike was happened which was 20 years between them , but the struggle was never met an end and it is still alive and we all are still vulnerable . Why it is still there ?
    When it was struck on 71 that many people not knew what it was for , although it was against the capitalists and for so called project that many people had no idea what it is and whom it is for . So , it gave an easy go to the regime at that time to suppress at the dawn
    .Then, , it was struck again after 20 years . Which struck this time like a tsunami and it cost more than 100 thousand lives and uncountable damage to the socialist political movement in Sri Lanka , literarily the socialism was refuged in own political aspiration in the country and the regime at that time became like killer whales in the ocean ,there wasn’t the pardon or compassion , human valuation ran through the drains and the devils were become to worship by people first time which was a common prescription at that horror time . And people began to hate socialism and communism because the majority people had no knowledge of what was it for and whom and they thought the way that Jvp politically did during this time was the way to socialism therefor it was hate by ordinary people . as they only experienced the death and atrocities instead the socialism which was fair and reasonable to think on people’s perspective , finally , As a result of lack of deep engagement with people the movement targeted by killer whales .lately mid 90s the movement’s self criticism released with collection of survivals and in there they confessed to justify what they done which was denied by mass of people which the election was evidence lately .
    However , I hope you will not misunderstand the objectives of these two movements which led to two different purports ,
    but I clearly see one thing from your write up which is the still alive the Tamil self determination movement although it was militarily defeated by regime .
    Therefore , I understand your theoretical challenge to the all regimes in the past and present in term of Tamil Minority issue . And ALSO ,
    i see the logical reasons to your quest as well . which has been reasoning to unimaginable loss of lives and properties around the country for decades .
    However , there are few questions arise after read out your piece of write . Which I would mind to ask you not in the offensive manner . In fact ,I also expect to hear from you as clear as possible to understand .
    As you have described in the article that you directly refer the blame to singhala Buddhist project for all these messes . And once again you blame for the majoritarian where I see that 2/3 of Sri Lankan population is singhalese , hence , isn’t it normal to be elected majority from the majority and in the minorities and their religion,s perspective what would you see all over the cities in the country , don’t you sight mosques , Kovils and Churches more than Buddhist temples ?
    In such a scenario , what made you to say that Buddhists are intolerance and dominative . ( except few nut cases) from there your dissatisfaction toward CBK , Ranil, Sajth Premadasa and LLRC solution can be seen , even if abolished the executive presidency by a common candidate that you sceptical about any goods for the Tamil people .
    So , my query is what will satisfy you and your expectations . Thank you .