Peace and Conflict

Do Tigers Swim in the Sea?

Do they really? Everyone says they do; but I’m not convinced they do it anymore. Yes, I know they did it back in the ‘80s, and even in the early to mid-‘90s. But is it true today? They seem more like amphibious Tigers these days.           

Every expert on guerrilla warfare (armchair or not), will tell you that the fish (and therefore the Tigers) do indeed, need to swim in the sea of the population to survive. The LTTE certainly embraced this philosophy in the early ‘80s, when the waters were very nutritious. This isn’t a history lesson, and no one needs to be reminded that the Tamils of the Northern & Eastern Provinces almost wholeheartedly backed the LTTE, along with the Diasporas. This is the model that most people (including the rabid Sinhalese nationalists and the equally demented LTTE apologists) still have in mind when the situation is debated. One side says all Tamils are Tiger supporters, while the other says that the LTTE has the backing of all Tamils. Who says enemies can’t think alike?

The GoSL certainly thinks so, and has attempted (with certain success lately) to drain the sea and catch the fish. The British did it in Malaysia in the ‘50s and it worked. The Yanks and Russians weren’t really maritime nations, so they failed in Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively.

However, to what extent is this true today? What does the ordinary Sri Lankan Tamil (living in the North & East or not) really feel? Do they really think that the LTTE represents them; that they are the only representatives worthy of backing? Or do they feel that their home has been taken over by a rabid creature that once was their watchdog? Do we really know? Do they even care what we think? I honestly want to know, and so I’m asking.

I’ve asked this question from many Tamils, and I do know some intimately. I’m half Tamil; I once went out with a Tamil girl; two of my best friends are Tamil. I’ve Tamil friends here in Colombo, in the East, in Canada and Australia. I am, however, yet to get a satisfactory answer; or rather, a conclusive one.

I once described the LTTE as a fierce and vicious watchdog that the Tamils of the North & East had raised to protect them from outsiders that want to break in and hurt them. The dog wasn’t very well trained, and the Tamils had to put up with being bitten regularly as a price for that protection. They told themselves that once the threat of the Sinhalese outsiders had been fought off, the dog would grow old and tame, a family pet that they would tell their kids about. But the dog doesn’t necessarily want to grow old and fat. It doesn’t want to live off the family’s handouts. The dog wants the house. It can’t really protect the family from its neighbours, and instead hides behind the family and bites them when they try to make friends with their neighbours.

Now, before anyone starts biting me, let me state for the record that I do realize that it was persecution by the Sinhalese that forced the Tamils to take up arms, and that a lot of the racism and inequality still exists today.

But. And there it is. That but. But, what do we do now?

Are the Tamils happy to let the LTTE make the household decisions? Many Tamils have told me that they feel the Tigers are the only guarantee they have that the GoSL (and the Sinhalese majority) will treat them with a semblance of respect. But have they explored other possibilities? The LTTE has certainly proved that the road such explorers must take is fraught with danger. But how long will the Tamil population of the North & East endure this suffering before they realize that the LTTE is as much the problem as the solution?

I’ve read quite a bit of DBS Jeyaraj’s writing, and I feel he’s probably the most indicative of Sri Lankan Tamil views. He certainly isn’t pro-LTTE, and is obviously anti-GoSL. While he’s highly critical of the latter, he doesn’t pull his punches with the former either, accusing them almost as much of abuses. So is this really the viewpoint of the Sri Lankan Tamil – a community caught between a rock and a hard place? Even DBS doesn’t give any alternatives.

Though this is a blog of sorts, and I’m not convinced that bloggers are indicative of the general population, I would like to hear some honest responses from Sri Lankan Tamils. I’m not sure I’ll get honest answers, but one must try.

So what do the Tamils feel is open to them as an alternative? Are they prepared to put up with this for another decade? It took almost thirty years for the Tamils to take up arms against the GoSL. Will it take another thirty to figure out that it isn’t working, that this road can go no further, and that it’s time to look for alternatives?

There are three main Tamil groups that can really answer this question.

The first are the Tamils actually living in the North & East. They have seen the horrors of war, as well as the benefits of the CFA. They are the ones with the most at stake. It is their children that are being killed, maimed, and starved. How long can this be endured, and if it cannot be endured, what can they do? Can they throw themselves behind the other political/militant groups like the TMVP or the EPRLF? Or are there other alternatives, other groups that can be formed? Just as revolt against the Sinhalese came from unbearable conditions, souldn’t these same conditions spawn a revolt against the LTTE? Is that really the answer?

The second group is the Tamils living in the rest of Sri Lanka. Many have relatives, property, businesses, etc in the North & East. They are also the ones amongst who live the alternate Tamil leadership, and are arguably the most influential of the civil populaces. What do they see as their options? They live amongst Sinhalese; they know that while things are certainly nowhere near perfect, it is better than in the North & East. This group is also a sort of link between the first group and the third.

This third group is the Diasporas. They supply 30%-35% of LTTE funding, and create an international awareness far in proportion to their numbers. They also have the least at stake here. While many have relatives in Sri Lanka, and even in the North & East, they are unlikely to suffer themselves, nor see their children suffer. Most are also unlikely to ever return to the island no matter the result. They are, however, the most outspoken, either by choice or circumstance. What do they want? What do they see as an alternative – or do they even want one? If they do, what will they do to create that alternative?

Please respond. I urge you to be honest, and identify yourself with whichever group you are a part of (or even a part of a fourth group). This isn’t about scoring points for their side or ours, but rather, an attempt to hear some real views. Also, if you are unwilling to use a real name, stick to a single pseudonym rather than attempt to give the impression that your view is shared by others. I know it’s impractical to talk about military revolt against the LTTE, but take it hypothetically if need be.

Do the Tigers really swim in your sea?