Photo by AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena via SBS

We have entered the ninth decade since the Donoughmore Reforms leading to the first State Council elections of 1931. Through the early part of these eight and a half decades, Sri Lankan Tamils had occupied a dominant position in this country, politically, economically and socially. The leading political institution of this community in the 1920s was the Jaffna Youth Congress (JYC) which was very highly regarded by the leaders of every political party of Sri Lanka as well as by the leaders of the Indian National Congress. Virtually every one who was invited to attend one or the other of its annual sessions promptly accepted and participated. These included Gandhi, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, and many others from India as well as the leaders of the Ceylon National Congress, N.M. Perera, Peter Keunaman, Swami Vipulananda, the leaders of the “Indian” Tamils, the Moors and the Malays and numerous others. The JYC could have played a major role in the run up to independence that the Donoughmore Reforms signaled, and helped to shape the Constitution and structure of the Sri Lankan state. Yet they decided to boycott the first State Council elections in 1931 on the grounds that the reforms, though far reaching, were not adequate. Nehru, who was at that critical session on invitation by  the JYC, was horrified but unable or unwilling to interfere when that decision was taken. In consequence of the boycott the JYC excluded themselves from the first State Council, lost their credibility and, within a decade, were no longer taken seriously. This inevitable outcome should have been clear to them when they took the boycott decision because their leaders, though young and inexperienced, were intelligent and persons of some eminence. This was perhaps the first instance of collective masochism and political suicide by the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Sadly, many other such instances followed in subsequent decades.

The first parliament of Sri Lanka was won by the UNP which included those from many ethnic groups including Sri Lankan Tamils, Moors, Malays and “Indian” Tamils and Burghers. The Tamil Congress and the party representing the “Indian” Tamils were also well represented as also the Communist Party and the LSSP. With a view to perpetuate their dominance the Sinhalese led UNP proceeded to remove citizenship and voting rights from the overwhelming majority of the “Indian” Tamils who then constituted 11% of the population of this Island. Most of them were well settled here, working in our tea estates, and knew no other homeland. Virtually all the other political parties were against this and, had they stood together, this project might have been abandoned. Unfortunately, the major section of the Tamil Congress crossed over to the UNP and facilitated the removal of citizenship and voting rights of the “Indian” Tamils. This act was not only treacherous to their less privileged fellow Tamils, but also suicidal in that in future parliaments Tamils and other Tamil speakers would be underrepresented and vulnerable to discriminatory legislation. This too should have been clear to the eminent Sri Lankan Tamil leaders.

Inevitably, many discriminatory legislation followed, notably the Official Language Act of 1956 that made Sinhala the only official language. The passage of this legislation was accompanied by physical violence directed at Tamils. This was followed by a sequence of anti-Tamil legislation, anti-Tamil acts such as Sinhalese colonization of Tamil majority areas and “Standardization” of university admissions, reducing the intake into universities of Tamil medium students, and more anti-Tamil violence. The recruitment of Tamils to the public services, especially to the Police and the Armed Services, was also curtailed. None of these may have happened if the Tamil Congress had not helped the UNP to facilitate the 1949 legislation that targeted “Indian” Tamils, resulting in the depletion of the Tamil composition in parliament and also loss of good will of the left parties. This act of the Tamil Congress was surely as suicidal to Sri Lankan Tamils as cruelly unkind to “Indian” Tamils.

The Tamil youth violence that started in the early 70s could be claimed as having been provoked by severe ethnic discrimination and repeated failure of nonviolent attempts to stop such discrimination. However, such violence was patently doomed to fail. The failure of the Tamil leadership to condemn such youth violence encouraged the youth to embark on more violence. Given the demographics of Sri Lanka, any and every attempt to resolve ethnic conflicts through violence will inevitably hurt the minorities more than the majority and, moreover, such attempts are bound to fail. We thus see this violence as one of the roots of the escalation of anti-Tamil pogroms culminating in July 83 and leading to the 24 year civil war. The ill-considered and provocative Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976 adopting the goal of secession added fuel to the fire. The minorities and especially the Tamils have undoubtedly been victims of grave discrimination and violence, but the Sri Lankan Tamil response was suicidal.

The Indian intervention and arrival of the IPKF in 1987 provided a further opportunity to resolve the ethnic conflict but this was scuttled by the LTTE. The 13th Amendment of 1987 to the Constitution provided a partial solution to the ethnic conflict but this was not fully implemented by the State. Moreover, the LTTE and sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership did not accept the 13th Amendment. The LTTE’s resort to violence against the IPKF not only hindered a political solution but also alienated the Indian government and substantial sections of the Indian people. This was made much worse by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE. These two suicidal acts sealed the fate of the LTTE and severely affected the prospects of the Sri Lankan Tamil population.

The assumption of office of President Chandrika Kumaranatunga provided a further opportunity to settle the ethnic problem. The draft constitution prepared by Neelan Tiruchelvam and Prof. G.L. Peris under her direction was excellent. Again, this was scuttled by the LTTE which assassinated Neelan Tiruchelvam, attempted to assassinate (and gravely injured) President Chandrika Kumaranatunga and compelled the Tamil leadership to reject that draft constitution. President Chandrika Kumaranatunga made vigorous attempts to get that draft constitution accepted in parliament and by the population, but in the context of its rejection by the Tamil M.Ps, those attempts failed. If the LTTE and the Tamil M.Ps had accepted the draft constitution, it is possible and even likely that it would have got through parliament and settled our ethnic conflict. This was yet another instance of collective political suicide by the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership, although in this case they acted under threats of death from the LTTE.

The enforced boycott of the Presidential election 2005 by Tamils in the LTTE controlled areas tilted the balance from Ranil Wickremasinghe to Mahinda Rajapakse. Though a massive bribe was given not to for this enforcement, it was in any case in line with the LTTE’s long standing suicidal boycott policy and precipitated its destruction.   Sadly, it also resulted in the destruction of the lives and livelihood of hundreds of thousands in the Vanni, mostly Tamils, who were unwilling victims of LTTE’s suicidal decision combined with the brutality of the armed forces of the state. In consequence the Sri Lankan Tamil community is now politically, economically and socially a pale shadow of what it had been for centuries.

We now have an unprecedented situation, following the 2015 January Presidential Election, in which the elected Tamil Leadership has been invited to participate in drafting constitutional reforms to be coordinated by Jayampathi Wickramaratne  and in promoting national reconciliation and resolution of  the ethnic problem under the guidance of Chandrika Kumaranatunga. We have also, perhaps for the first time, Sri Lankan Tamil leadership at the apex that appears to be willing to accept these invitations and to participate in government. Unfortunately, there are also other Tamil leaders who echo the old refrain of boycott, boycott, and raise issues such as genocide that can only hinder progress. The issue is not whether there were genocidal policies pursued by the state, by the LTTE or any other agency, but whether raising that issue at this stage will serve any positive purpose. Further there remain numerous problems, eg. of misappropriated lands that could be returned to the rightful owners but have remained in the hands of the armed services, state institutions, and others not entitled to it. Also, the list of those killed or detained by the state has not been supplied. Further continued dominant militarization in the North has provoked affected bur fearful women to boycott the Missing Persons Commission. Despite numerous short comings yet remaining, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity to participate that may not come again for decades. Moreover, as we all know, the socioeconomic position of the Sri Lankan Tamils has continuously declined almost since independence. Not all of us know of the horrible depths to which lives of vast sections of the Tamil population of the Vanni, and very many others too have descended. Dr. Rajan Hoole describes these depths in vivid, meticulously researched detail in his book Palmyra Fallen, UTHR (Jaffna, 2015).

If this decline continues, not only will the terrible misery of war victims multiply; the kind of solution that may be available a few decades from now will be much inferior to what may be available now, and  of course incomparably  inferior to what might have been available decades earlier. What is required, now as always,  is intelligent, principled participation, neither blind acceptance of whatever is offered nor refusal to negotiate. Affluent and well placed Sri Lankan Tamil individuals, especially those in the Diaspora, may contemplate staging yet another boycott, but that will impact cruelly on the vast majority of the Tamils based in this island, of whom over a million are direct or indirect victims of the war.

  • Aia

    An excellent and very timely article Dr Nesiah, not sure if our hot heads able to comprehend the points you make. We, SL Tamils, seem to be our own enemy. Just finished reading an article written by Mr Manickavasakar on SJV’s 110th anniversary, published in CT and, I was wondering what kind of leaders we have had, and still we have some. They cannot think for an ordinary Tamil farmer or fisher folk lives in the land. Did they have wisdom, most of us knew under what circumstance the Vadukottai resolution was brought about, how badly it backfired and spun out of control, and took us almost point of no return. We didn’t recover from the colossal blunder made by TC under the leadership of GGP, sending our brethren back to TN, how could you do it for your own people yet survived as one of their politicians, who are stupid?. Maybe a curse, would haunt us.
    Even then, we have had some openings since 1987, but by then VP has changed into a cult figure and the ones running around him were able to pass only what he wanted to hear, and didn’t they have a nice time too for a while. When you have fraudsters like Anton as advisers what to expect, hallelujah. Does he know or does he care about plight of those people who most likely to be affected by a war. Just sitting at the roof top and shouting loud expecting some sympathy from the IC will not end up in resolving the issue. It may help apply some pressure, but do we capitalize on opportunities hitherto presented such pressure brought to bear?. As you say, here is yet another opportunity, maybe one for a while. Have we got the wisdom to seize it, having given considerations to the reality, most importantly, the plight of our people living in SL, accepting, a practical solution, not the desirable, which may have been preferred 1948 circa, when we have had some numbers.

    • Devanesan Nesiah

      You have well understood what I had set out. Time is against us. We are loosing in every way, in numbers, in our capacity to make a difference, and in the kind of outcome we can expect. I think our present leadership appreciates this but there are others blocking their path.
      Devanesan Nesiah

      • peacelover

        Dr. Nesiah

        Good to hear from you after a long pause.
        I whole heartedly agree with both of you. TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR EEZHAM TAMILS.
        Visionary thamil leadership – Have we ever had such? For an example after all such mistakes in the past few decades, see what is happening on the “ground water contamination” issue in the North.

        Thamils (local and diaspora), polarized in a well defined issue such as “ground water contaminaiton” and blaming each other, rather working together to find a quick solution to this critical issue faced by Northern Thamils. I am very much frustated as how these so called intellectuals, mainly Jaffna Thamils handling each and every social, environmental and political issue faced by Thamils in that island. Have we learnt any lessons from our mistakes in the last few decades? As majority of Jaffna Thamils belong to middle and upper middle social class, who have control over many issues faced by thamils in that isalnd, it is difficult for them to agree upon, as their approach on any issue is mostly “egoistice” in nature. The word “compromise” is not in their dictionary. Their self centered approach is preventing from reaching any solution in many social and political issues. I think it is partly to blame the “Thamil Culture” too as we are too much proud about ourselves and in reality as a society we haven’t acheived much neither in Eezham or Thamilnadu where majority of thamils live. As I said in many public forums, “Eezham Thamils as minority with majority complex and Sinhalese on the other hand majority with minority complex”. I hope we understand this reality and work together to acheive a practical solution to this specific issue as well as to achieve long lasting peace and freedom with dignity to all in that island.

        “United we stand divide we fall”

        • Devanesan Nesiah

          Why be so
          negative? We have had very good political leadership, e.g. Arunachalam and others
          pre-1920, the Jaffna Youth Congress in the 1920s, and a few since then, even
          now. On environmental issues the North had been exemplary, especially in
          organic farming and water conservation with leaders such as Balasingham and Arumugam
          who devised the logistics of a River for Jaffna. There are a few good signs now;
          let us work on these rather than indulge in sterile grumbling.

  • Nirmalan Dhas

    “The issue is not whether there were genocidal policies pursued by the state, by the LTTE or any other agency,
    but whether raising that issue at this stage will serve any positive purpose”.

    I believe that this sentence highlights much that is problematic. The problem is whether “issues should be
    raised” or whether “issues must be swept under the carpet” in order to ensure that “positive purposes” are served. This was not always a problem. Some time ago it was no problem at all since it was very clear to everyone that issues, when they existed, had to be raised and resolved so that forward movement was
    then possible on the basis of such resolution. Those who “raised issues” won the respect of society, their communities, or the companies, institutions or other organizations that they worked for.

    The situation has changed. Today no one wishes to “raise issues” and so issues are allowed to accumulate and
    fester and become shifting sands and decaying mud flats on which nothing of worth can be built. Those who “raise issues” are shunned and ostracized and often asked to resign their positions. Children are taught from a very young age not to raise questions and not to articulate and seek to advance their interests on the basis of their perceptions and so are not taught how to do so with any degree of skill. The outcome of this suppression has time and again turned out to be violence.

    Let me present a classic example from this article: “Yet they decided to boycott the first State Council elections in 1931 on the grounds that the reforms, though far reaching, were not adequate. Nehru, who was at that critical session on invitation by the JYC, was horrified but unable or unwilling to interfere when that decision was taken”. Nehru though horrified was unable or unwilling to interfere with the decision taken. There may have been other eminent and eloquent leaders present who were equally horrified and equally unable or unwilling to interfere with the decision taken. Perhaps by then even eminent leaders had not been trained how to intervene when interventions was – in their opinion – required. The situation has deteriorated further.

    In the present a serious and manifold issue does exist. An armed rebellion based on a demand for session
    arising from perceived suppression of minority rights has been crushed militarily with the support of the whole world. It was not crushed by an impartial multi national force but by the armed forces of the very state that
    the rebellion had been launched against. Air and sea power also had to be used to crush the rebellion along with a large and heavily armed land force. Damage and destruction of structure, infrastructure and processes has occurred. Suffering death and destruction has been widespread. Considerable collateral damage cannot have been avoided. These losses while largely having been sustained by the armed rebels and the populations and areas within which they operated, have also to a lesser extent been suffered by the rest of the population in other areas of the island. Three types of responses are required.

    The first is an objective and professional one that has to be conducted in an objective and professional manner by trained officers employed by the government specially for this process. The task is to assess the damage and losses that go back to the early years of the eighth decade of the last century at least. Available documentation must be used to reconstruct a picture of the structure, infrastructure, systems, processes and population then and now. Rehabilitation, compensation for loss of life and redesigned reconstruction must be the task entrusted to this cadre along with a reasonable time frame within which to complete it.

    The second task is by far the most difficult one and it consists of reconciliation. It is a social, psychological
    and political task. Reconciliation cannot be dictated and done by the aggressor. Reconciliation has to be done by the victim. The victim must be facilitated in this task. This facilitation must not be an attempt to twist reality and to deny its uglier aspects but an attempt to look at reality and accept it in all its aspects both good as well
    as bad as experienced by the victim.

    This facilitation demands the construction of structure, systems and processes. The victims must be helped to
    organize! There is no way to avoid this fearsome thing. They must be helped to organize their communities, their cultures, their various social organizations, their economic institutions and political ones. The they must be helped to reach out and interact with other such institutions and organizations throughout the island and they must be equipped with the skills required to do so.

    Processes that facilitate reconciliation must be designed and institutionalized within the state and allowed to function. Once sufficient insight has been accessed by the state and its victims, apologies may be publicly made and a framework for future relations institutionalized and articulated.

    The third task is one of complexity. It is a political task. The task of reviewing the conduct of successive governments that exercised the powers of the state in relation to the extended conflict with the rebels and ultimate crushing of the rebel movement. The objective of this task is to ascertain whether the extended
    conflict that progressed over close to three decades as well as the final crushing of the rebellion were conducted according to civilized norms and international instruments that the Sri Lankan state is party to or whether the war was the conducted on the basis of biases, delusions, passions and personal animosities. If there have been lapses then remedies must be sought and applied. If illegal actions have been ordered then those from whom such orders originated will have to be prosecuted and punished. If illegal acts were committed in disobedience to orders then those who committed such acts must be prosecuted and punished.

    None of these can be even attempted by men and women who refuse to call a spade a spade and seek instead to pretend that it is a spoon.

    I wish to conclude with a counter statement to the following: “We thus see this violence as one of the roots of
    the escalation of anti-Tamil pogroms culminating in July 83 and leading to the 24 year civil war”

    I see both the rebellion of the minorities resorting to armed struggle and the escalation of anti-Tamil pogroms
    culminating in July 83 and leading to the 24 year civil war as being the outcome of a continuing failure of the state to educate its citizens and win their consent to membership in the global civilization of the human species
    with its commitment to democracy, the rule of law and the doctrine of the defense of human rights and facilitate their cultivation of the functional skills required to become part of and function within this global civilization.

    • Stanislaus

      Another Utopian and impractical set of demands that will bring further agony to the Tamil masses while legalistic advocates pontificate.Indeed one may say that the tragedy of the Tamil people has been that the leadership has been usurped by lawyers whose vision was limited by the confines of the court room and irrelevant law books.This comment is good example of this tendency…

    • puniselva

      Thank you for such an exquisite comment except:
      ”Considerable collateral damage cannot have been avoided”.
      It could have been avoided had VP ”bitten the phial” (an order given to all the cadres at critical junctures) to save nearly 140,000 lives at least by Dec2008.

    • Devanesan Nesiah

      Your response reflects the thinking of two very disparate
      groups, viz the unbending idealists among the JYC in the 1920s, and the ultra-Tamil
      Nationalists post-independence. Both groups were losers who sunk to the bottom,
      taking the Tamil people with them, and never rose again.

      It’s a matter of opinion whether the JYC demand for immediate
      Independence was preferable to Independence after 17 years of Dominion status. That
      Independence was not available any time ahead of Indian Independence was
      clearly not a matter of opinion. The wise and idealist leaders of the Indian
      National Congress kept pressing for early Independence till they secured it in
      1947. In consequence, Sri Lanka secured independence effortlessly in 1948.

      You go on to prescribe three types of responses to the
      persistent oppression that provoked armed Tamil rebellion. These are excellent responses,
      but who is to design and implement them? Surely not the unrepentant oppressor? We
      need to work out not what the unrepentant oppressor ought to do but what the
      victim could do under the adverse circumstances. None of your prescriptions are
      yet relevant.

      I see the need to work towards reconciliation- a long and
      difficult process. We can learn a great deal from the patience and the
      strategies employed by those who have been successful in such ventures,
      including Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela.

      Issues such as war crimes cannot be swept away under the
      carpet. They will keep reappearing. They need to be raised at the appropriate
      time, at the appropriate forum, in the appropriate circumstances. Raising it
      unprepared and prematurely will only hinder that process and ruin the outcome.

  • Arthagnani

    Bravo,Dr Nesiah. Wise words.
    it was gracious of you include a critique of the moves of the Youth Congress of which your father was a live wire!

  • Maran

    Please don’t say that Srilankan Tamil are responsible. All the political decision was made by Jaffna Tamils. Still they are the problem. They represent less than 4% of the Srilankan population.

    • pasel

      You have understand one thing, every time the down south Sinhalese bring the party power then what are you going to say about them (Racist)?

    • Devanesan Nesiah

      I have served as government agent of Mannar and of
      Batticalloa and am very conscious of the tendency of the Jaffna Tamils to
      confuse the terms Jaffna Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils. I also agree that most
      of the damage attributed to Tamil leaders was done by Jaffna Tamil leaders. Currently
      the TNA is ably led by Mr. R. Sampanthan who is from Trincomalee. Most of his
      deputies and followers are from Jaffna; the ultra-Tamil Nationalists are also
      mostly from Jaffna or are in the Diaspora. However, even within the Diaspora
      some sane voices are emerging.

  • alex

    I am not sure this article is quite right in its depiction of the Tamil state. Nor is it entirely right about the options open to the Tamils. The Tamils of the island have suffered systematic and targeted State / majoritarian violence since independence, and a strong case can be made that it is a Genocide. The reaction has been passive and military resistance, albeit the LTTE was an extreme actor, however, not as extreme as some of the middle-eastern groups.
    At present Tamils have a spectrum of economic status. The Diaspora is extraordinarily wealth and arguably has a GDP far greater than Sri Lanka’s and growing richer by the day. The Colombo Tamils, despite the adversity have done well economically. And in the North-East the State continues its oppression.
    The author is right in the need to engage but not submit. However, the Tamil state is far from desperate. In fact the continuing oppression by Sri Lanka’s military is feeding a global resentment that is turning into lobbying and other political engagement on an unprecedented scale.
    Sri Lanka’s Tamils should engage, but they should also understand that the world’s attention is firmly on the Chauvinistic state and the voice of the Tamils is only going to get louder and stronger from here. The connection between the Diaspora and the North-east is getting stronger and the options for the Tamils are getting wider not narrower.

    • Kailas Pillai

      You say that Eelam Tamil Diaspora are extraordinarily rich. They are NOT – the majority lead a hand to mouth existence. There may be some millionaires but how many have billions? It is quite wrong to say that their collective wealth is greater than the Lankan GDP.

    • Kumara

      “The Diaspora is extraordinarily wealth and arguably has a GDP far greater than Sri Lanka’s and growing richer by the day.”

      Sri Lanka’s GDP is US $77 Billion. New Zeald with a population of 4.4 million has a GDP of abou US $190 Billion.Tamil Diaspora has a population of about 1 million and going by your argument their total wealth is at least US $77 Billion. This number projected into 4.4 million makes it at least US $ 338.8 Billion.

      Wild imagination isn’t it ?

      • alex

        The brief response is that NZ whilst wealthier than Sri Lanka (which is not particularly challenging) is not that successful on a global scale. Most Tamils live in far wealthier states. Further, in the UK for example most Tamils are concentrated in London. And London’s GDP per capita is disproportionately higher than the UKs. So by OECD estimates the GDP per capita of NZ is $30k, of the UK is $35k but of London is $150k. The GDP per capita of Sri Lanka is $9k.

      • PonniahMahalingam

        Manning petrol shed tills in Croydon is more lucrative than you might think!

    • Shan

      I read the article and comments. While thanking the article for enabling this debate, I must thank Alex for the well thought out comments. I also wish to emphasise that there is great need for dialogue. The plight of Tamils in the country during and after the war and the heavy involvement of international community and India during the war and now, makes non confrontational negotiations an important option. As pointed out by Alex negotiations do not mean submission. Due to the heavy involvement of international community and India and the influence the diaspora exert the negotiations may lead to considerable improvement to the long suffering Tamils.
      The major hindrance to success of negotiation will be the intransigence of Sinhala extremists living in the country and outside as well the Tamil disunity.
      Those who are advocating disunity among the Tamils may have hidden agenda. It is a double sided sword and will harm the acuser and the acused. Tamils must learn to think before making a political statement. They do it in their personal lives. Tamils must also learn not to disrespect their leaders.
      They do it in their personal lives; in their offices. I also sincerely hope that the Tamil leaders will act selflessly and thoughtfully

    • Devanesan Nesiah

      I agree with much of what you say, but would urge you to
      read Rajan Hoole’s recently published Palmiyra Fallen. It provides a
      balance to those who are over optimistic or over confident of an early solution
      or are unaware of the depth and extent of the suffering of hundreds of
      thousands of war victims.

      • alex

        I think the Tamil people’s contemporary history is a great tragedy of modern times and the UN itself is culpable (amongst many other Tamil and non-Tamil actors). However, it means that the Tamils will be more determined than ever to not forget their people in Sri Lanka. The bond post 2009 is getting stronger between the Diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is a good thing and thanks to the internet no Sri Lankan government can impede it.

    • Srivanamoth

      Agree with you wholeheartedly.

      • alex

        Thanks all for your thoughtful comments. Let me address some of the points one at a time.
        * Re GDP – 1 million Diaspora tamils will need a net wealth of $77,000 each to have a GDP of over $77 billion. Assuming a family of 4 with just one breadwinner – thats a net wealth of $350,000. In the UK the average home is worth £200,000 (or $350,000). In many US and Canadian cities average home prices are the same. The Tamils in each of this countries have incomes far above the average. The UK average income is £25,000 but the top 1% earn over £200,000 and the top 0.1% earn over £2,000,000. Tamils make up a disproportionate number of the top 1%.
        * This is not because they are Tamil. Their success is because they are first and second generation migrants (who have been shown to outperform in Western states), and they are aided by the excellent education system that Sri Lanka had in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It means they have the work ethic of other migrants but also benefited from an education system that Lee k Yew envied. Tamil GDP is likely double Sri Lanka’s or more.
        * The reason Tamil GDP is so far in excess of Sri Lanka’s is that they are embedded in systems that allow those with merit and hard work to out-perform. By contrast Sri Lanka does not empower its citizens – and as wealth is relative, Sri Lanka’s citizens will get poorer relative to those in the rest of the Western world. This gap between Sri Lanka’s GDP and Tamil Diaspora GDP will continue to grow until Sri Lanka reforms sufficiently to become competitive, which includes having the right laws that preventing abuse;
        *The Tamils are acutely aware of the suffering of their counterparts in Sri Lanka, through the news but more importantly through direct links. However this poverty is a direct function of the Sri Lankan state’s efforts to directly attack Tamil power on the island, economic and political. Sri Lanka’s Sinhala army has a monopoly on many essential sectors of commerce in the North and East crowding out Tamil businesses. Land is grabbed and not returned (aside from small portions for show). This is one of the points that bolsters the point there is a genocide taking place. It doesn’t have to be violent – it can be done by simply impoverishing a people.
        * Thus Tamil wealth in Sri Lanka is directly correlated to the negotiations taking place and their ability to have political powers and prevent political and thus economic abuse. A flawed negotiation will result in further suppression, economically, politically and physically.
        The only good news is Sri Lanka cannot become wealthy (in relative terms) whilst it has flawed political processes and is thus in constant internal conflict.
        The Tamil Diaspora will continue to get wealthier and through their connection to the North-East, they will continue to ensure that the suppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka is well broadcast around the world.

    • Devanesan Nesiah

      You are
      thoughtful and correct on many counts. The Tamil Diaspora is potentially a
      great asset to the Tamil people and also to the entire country. We need to
      realize the full potential of that asset. But it is in the nature of Diasporas
      to take extreme positions, and that is often a liability. For example, the
      Irish Diaspora in the USA for many years and the Jewish Diaspora to date have
      hindered progress and reconciliation in their home countries. Fortunately, the
      Irish problem appears to be now working out well, but the Israeli problem shows
      little signs of progress. Happily, there are some hopeful developments recently
      within our island as well as the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. The potential
      benefit, especially to the Sri Lankan Tamils but also to everyone in this
      island includes large inflows of capital, skilled personnel, technology and
      other investment.

  • Kailas Pillai

    Eelam Tamils are not prone to suicide. They are great survivors – withstood 67 years of onslaughts and pogroms. Sri Lankans as a whole are suicide prone – the main provocateurs are the extreme nationalists.

    • alex

      I completely agree. And they will flourish again in Sri Lanka as the pressure to deconstruct the Chauvinist state is now increasing from without and within.

  • Jayalath

    A great article with an excellent realism . Murali was a victim of 83 riots but it did not reason him to be our best loving Sri Lankan cricketer , we all love him so much which will never be faded away ,so what is the fundamental mechanism in there ?

    • alex

      Not sure we all love him. Wonderful cricketer but paid up member of the Rajapakse clan .. perhaps he should stick to what he knows best.

  • Srivan

    The Author has chosen examples to suit his argument. However those who have suffered mightily will tend to disagree. This is a fact. Even if a minority political party expressed dissent it is no reason at all for the ‘State’ to lose its balance and organise race riots and mayhem against its fellow citizenry.

    After all, the main problem from the first State Council days was “official language” and it is well known who introduced it and who opposed it. Since then the language issue had spiralled out of control. Sept. 1956 was a watershed and ensuing recurrent violence over decades. The Constitution of 1972 et al merely formalised continuing discrimination and open ended violence. Why? Because it was also tied to the “votes” and ‘majoritarian rule’ skewing democracy into an idiopathic ethno-religious based rule tied to power regardless of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’.

    To say “why cry over spilt milk” is an all too convenient way of avoiding the gross human rights and civil rights and even the right to life violations in such large numbers an all too convenient a way to dispense with past horrible wrongs. In fact why have a UN Charter in the first place to which Sri Lanka too had subscribed from the very beginning.

    At the heart of the matter is what every country and human being desires to live a life free of violence and lawlessness under the rule of law and justice since post WWII. The lessons of history cannot be wished away and that too by the ‘State’ for the sake of political convenience in the 20th and 21st century.

    • alex

      I agree entirely. In the long term there can be no compromise on fundamental rights. To do so is to accept economic servitude – the Tamils of Sri Lanka can never give up their fundamental rights, regardless of what their political leaders negotiate. These are inalienable rights. It is easy to say that when not living under the oppressive boot of the Sri Lankan military – but in the history of mankind no people have ever submitted completely – resistance has ebbed and flowed but the journey to their inalienable rights has always continued. The Tamil position is actually a lot stronger (globally) than most.

  • Srivanamoth

    Playing piper?

  • n.ethir

    We are both Octogenerian. So please forgive me if my RAM has over time corroded as yours as it does with age and overload of information processing. In addition some cells in the Hard Drive has also infected by Malware and some of its information is also lost.

    Seriously speaking, You are taking events from 60 years onwards and dumping all the blame on the Tamils and the Tamil Diaspora – even when there were no diaspora in the thirties to the sixties. You know it takes two hands to clap as the saying goes. I am surprised that you are failing to examine the flip side of the ethnic coin and its rims. True that coin has worn over 2000 years of rubbing and hard to decipher what it really is worth.

    Look at it not only three dimensionally but also take into account the fourth dimension of time. If you say both communities are engaged in a suicidal dance you may be closer to the truth. Though one community is small in number in this day and age numbers is not that important.

    I am appalled that you would criticise Tamil leaders (Chief Minister Justice Wignesvaran) on their declaration on Tamil Genocide. I hope you look up what the Pope said today on Armenian Genocide by Turkey.

    Tamils may have to wait 100 years and like the Armenians it is the Diaspora that may bring about such recognition. Reading your article twice, I suddenly realise that you did not write it. You, a Ph.D. From Harvard could not have said that the 1949 Legislation was passed because there were Tamil Ministers in the UNP cabinet. Do you really think that if they were not there such a legislation would not have been passed? Your logic that the 1956 Sinhala Only policy came about because of the positions that the Tamils took to state their rights is difficult to understand. It seems so illogical.
    Again you are putting the blame on the Tamil leaders for all what was visited on the Tamil people including the 1972 constitution and all what happened after that before the Vaddukkoddai resolution on the Tamil leaders. All this before the LTTE.
    Now that the LTTE is not there you are blaming the leaders and the present generation who elected them. How do you explain that the Pre LTTE Generation and the Post LTTE Generation demanding thier rights and justice. You cant, so you invent your theory of “Tamil Political Suicide.” Let us accept that the Tamil – Sinhala problem is a Gordian Knot. If we cannot cut it let us learn to live peacefully with that knot. Explain it does not make the know go away.

    • alex

      Agree with everything except:
      Gordian knots – in the modern day, unless Sri Lanka is willing to reform, the only solution may be to cut the knot and that is not off the agenda – it is up to the sri lankan majority to decide what they want;

    • Devanesan Nesiah

      Your input,
      as always, is valuable. But I think you have misunderstood some of what I have
      said. That we are Octogenarians ( I will be 80 years in a fortnight) may be a
      part of the reason.

      I do think that
      the Sri Lankan Tamil people (not the LTTE, which was an aberration) have been politically
      suicidal. Traditionally, we had been thoughtful and progressive. Acute,
      prolonged discrimination has provoked uncharacteristic overreaction, with
      horrible consequences to the whole country but especially to us. I would
      suggest that Rajan Hoole’s excellent book Palmyra Fallen should be
      compulsory reading to thoughtful concerned people. But there are also some
      hopeful signs.

      Re. Justice
      Wigneswaran, I always had and yet have a very high opinion of him. I was among
      the many who urged him to enter politics. He is an example and an asset to all
      of us, but that does not mean that I agree with him on every issue.

      anti-“Indian Tamil” legislation of 1949, the UNP did have the numbers in
      Parliament to pass that legislation, but they valued international (especially
      Western) opinion as well as securing the best possible national consensus, and
      that is why they needed G.G. Ponnambalam and others within the cabinet.
      Moreover, if all anti-UNPers and the liberals and radicals within the UNP got
      together, the 1952 General Election might have gone the other way. That would
      also extend to the 1956 election, with the left parties, together with minority
      leaders firmly in command. Bandaranaike and the UNP liberals and radicals could
      have become a part of that future. But this is speculation.

      Re. the LTTE, there would have been no LTTE in the scenario
      outlined above. I have not touched on the LTTE except in passing. Suicide,
      individual (cyanide capsules) and collective, such as taking on the IPKF and
      engaging in numerous meaningless massacres (six hundred policemen in one
      instance, many groups of Buddhist and Muslim worshippers, as well as countless
      numbers of individual assassinations meaningful only in their negative
      consequences (Rajiv Gandhi, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Rajani Thiranagama, Amirthalingam)
      and others too numerous to mention are among those that come to my mind. No
      terrorist organization active globally, now or in recent years, can match the
      record of the LTTE, whether in numbers killed or in the counter-productivity of
      their stupid strategies. As in many other cases, significant sections of the
      local and expatriate elite went along with the tragic developments for some
      time, and a few have even tried to justify them after the exercises ended in
      inevitable disaster. Perhaps collective political suicide is not the exclusive
      preserve of Sri Lankan Tamils, but we could make the dubious claim to pre-eminence
      in this field in recent history.

      • Dev

        Good to read the comments of two giants among us, Ethir and Nesiah.

        Tamils have “reacted” when “provoked” we would have been better served with cooler heads and warmer hearts I think.

  • Aruna Devendra

    I agree with Dr Nesiah’s timely and open-minded claim, but it need further analysis on the other groups who igrored public policies in good old days deliberately or otherwise. My concern here is on social interest groups (including Tamil academia) who had the capacity to adopt dissents in to the politics of democracy. On the other hand the various attempts to power devolution (as described by Dr Nesiah) have not likely been in the mainstream debates in the true sense of democracy but of an disillusioned mind set of elam.