Peace and Conflict

Arrogance at it’s peak – Expulsion of Tamils from Colombo

“Don’t worry. It’s only those who were not able to prove their identity and those who didn’t have a reason to stay in Colombo who have been evacuated”. This is how a friend who speaks a different language to mine responded to the ouster of 376 Tamils from Colombo on Thursday the 7th of June.

The need to possess a ‘legitimate’ reason to stay in Colombo.
A Tamil is expected to possess a ‘legitimate reason’ to stay in Colombo, which may include attending university, doing a job etc. Otherwise he does not have any business to be in Colombo. Even those who can stay in Colombo are expected to possess sufficient reason to be on the streets. The question “Kohitha Yanne?” strikes at the rock bottom of our freedom and fundamental rights. It wont be acceptable to provide answers in the likes of “off to the beach side to get some fresh air” to this Kohithe Yanne question. That definitely can’t be a ‘good’ reason to be on the streets. Of course the blame shifters will put this on our very own shoulders: “You are responsible. We are helpless as far as you continue to support the LTTE. We are only acting on National Security interests” would be the typical ‘sympathetic’ response.

In a recent forum theatre some of us tried to show how some of the very basic things that ‘normal’ young people would consider as part and parcel of their ‘youthful life’ have to be foregone by young people from the minority communities living in Colombo. Ex: Socialising with peers after 9 pm, spending time at the beach, the freedom to loiter around. I have always experienced a greater sense of freedom when I’m abroad on visits – I have no fear or second thoughts when I walk out on the streets at 12 in the night unlike in Colombo where I would rarely be out after 9 pm. People might want to call this trivial in the wake of the larger issues that loom around us. But these larger issues are a sum total of these trivial issues that we face. And the other way around – the larger issues have resulted in the formation of these trivial issues. In fact it is these trivial day to day issues that determine and help shape the opinion of a person to the larger problems.

The people who have been evacuated.
Most of those who have been evacuated from the lodges I guess are young people. (Though I understand that there were people in their 70s who were among those evacuated). These people (most of whom are my peers in terms of age, ethnicity and place of origin) are in Colombo mostly in search of better education. (Mostly those who have done their Advanced Level Exams and who have qualified for university entrance but left out because there isn’t sufficient space for them in our universities. There are many of them who stay in Colombo to work out their admission to Russia, Belarus (!!!) and Bangladesh(!!!) for medical school entrance. There are others who seek entrance to Indian Colleges.) I know that a lot of my peers stay in Colombo seeking to go abroad, sick of the violence and instability in their lives and in search for a better living. Those who stay in lodges are those who can’t afford a private boarding in the ever increasing CoL in Colombo or those who don’t have relatives or friends who can put them up in their homes. I’m not saying that there are no LTTE carders in disguise in these lodges, probably there are some. But the general profile of people living in the lodges is the above.

The politics
The act of evacuating Tamils from lodges in Colombo shows how the GOSL is emboldened by the International Community’s silence (which is largely because they can’t afford to criticize the Govt in fear of being seen as supporting the LTTE). And of course this is part of the GOSL’s agenda of ‘fighting terrorism’ and hence these foreign governments are worried that people will raise questions of their moral integrity, even if they weakly protest, given their records in Iraq and Afghanistan. This act of barbarism has happened when Akashi the Japanese special envoy is here in Sri Lanka to discuss with different stakeholders about the ‘peace process’.

I was heartened to hear Anadasanagree on Suriyan FM terming this act of arrogance by the GOSL as ‘stupid’. He sounded very angry and was highly critical. He even went to the extent to say “If the armed forces and the police can’t find the real terrorists let them go home. Why are they harassing innocent people? These people have sort refuge due to LTTE atrocities and now they are being subjected to atrocities inflicted by the armed forces. Where do they want us to go? To fall into the sea? If they can push us off into the sea that will be the best thing to do.”. Sangaree needs to do much more than just sending letters and faxes to Mahinda. He must publicly announce that he has lost confidence in the GOSL. His luke warm response to the SLFP proposals should not be repeated. All other minority parties SLMC, NUA, CWC, UPF all should pull out of the govt. I have no doubt though that the only SL Tamil Cabinet Minister will decide to stay on with the Govt.

The ouster and transfer to Vavuniya of those Tamils from lodges in Colombo is one more incident that will now be used by Tamil Nationalists to substantiate the claim that the North and East are the traditional homelands of the Tamil people. The act symbolically says: “That is where you are supposed to be. Not here”. I wonder what people like HL De Silva who seek to negate the homeland theory by advocating the ‘feel good’ philosophy that the whole of Sri Lanka belongs to all people(s) of Sri Lanka have got to say to incidents like this.

What next?

If I say that the police and armed forces will turn next to the people living in private homes and boarding people will tell me that I’m paranoid. They would have said the same if I had written some time back that the govt had plans to evacuate Tamils from lodges. In fact the only way to get Colombo free of terrorists is to evacuate all Tamils from the city. But what about those whom the President himself calls ‘Sinhala Kottiya’ and ‘Muslim Kottiya’? How do we get these people out of the capital?