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Home > General > Rajani Thiranagama’s Vision for Sri Lanka

Rajani Thiranagama’s Vision for Sri Lanka

by University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), 22 September 2009

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A Tribute and Reflections by the UTHR(J)
Upon the 20th Anniversary of the Passing of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama

Issued on 18th September, 2009)

Contents:

  1. Her personal journey and legacy
  2. Forgetting the Past & Warring against Truth
  3. Rajani’s Unfinished Task

1. Her personal journey and legacy

The very fact that Rajani who died young at 35, twenty years ago, is
remembered today with enthusiasm both near and far signifies an immense
void she left behind, one that remains unfilled to this day. She held no
high office. What she leaves behind is an undying model of womanhood
characterised by youthful energy and selfless idealism for an equitable
social order that transcended social and ethnic barriers. Nurtured in
Jaffna of the 1960s and 1970s where narrow Tamil nationalism had taken
root as the only conceivable defence against the workings of Sinhalese
state ideology, her marriage to Dayapala Thiranagama, an academic and
active Sinhalese leftist, opened up new vistas.

She came to see the grinding poverty faced by masses in the Deep South,
the disfranchisement of Tamil plantation labour and the chauvinist
ideology of the Sinhalese ruling class, which in turn pushed the
minorities into extremist positions, as one single continuum of evil. One
cannot describe an order that has long wallowed in an excess of violence
as other than evil. The politics of ethnic patronage centred on the
Sinhalese leadership was founded on wheeler-dealing among ethnic
representatives who might become friends, but it worked by keeping the
people from different ethnic groups divided and suspicious of one another.
It gave no community the intrinsic dignity that comes to a people from
reaching out.

Its working was evident in the first parliament where in the game of
farming out patronage the Sinhalese elite leadership secured the
cooperation of its Tamil and Muslim counterparts to support the
disfranchisement of the Plantation Labour. Violence along ethnic and class
lines became endemic. Yet the minorities never got together in any
meaningful manner. Tamil nationalism inherited the same intolerance
Sinhalese nationalism showed towards the minorities, in its dealings with
other subdivisions of the minorities. Its intolerance towards the Muslims
ultimately reached notorious proportions.

In the following two passages from Vol.II, Chapter 6 of the Broken
Palmyra, which was largely authored by Rajani, the first shows the
inherent nature of Tamil nationalism that developed as a reactive
phenomenon to the violence of the Sinhalese polity. Its fatal weakness lay
in its dependence on rhetoric with no viable programme:

"The failure of the Tamil national leadership to get anything from the
Sinhalese ruling class through parliament was in contradiction with the
rhetoric of anger and the slogans of valour they were feeding the
electorate. As a consequence of this a sense of frustration and bitterness
was created among the people. And as brutal mob violence was the reply to
non-violence, Tamil nationalism no longer confined itself to a class but
reached out to all sectors of the people across class, caste, and regional
barriers."

The second shows its debilitating weakness and cause of ultimate failure,
through its failure to reach out and accommodate:

"The development of the northern front occurred at the expense of many
fundamental tasks of nation building. The blind spot in the concept of the
Tamil nation was the question of two large sections of the Tamil speaking
people - the Muslims or the Islamic Tamils and the hill country
(plantation) Tamils. Tamil nationalism was the ideology of the Tamils of
Sri Lanka. Historically, it had very tenuous links with the ideology of
the Islamic or hill country Tamils of Sri Lanka."

What made Rajani an attractive personality who would not be extinguished
by death was her idealism and urge to fight for justice, taking many risks
in her life. She struggled within herself and tried to find meaning for
her actions and had the courage to change the direction when she felt her
participation was contributing to the subjugation of her own people. It
was her belief that theories were not for conference readings and
discussion papers, but to be used as guides to search the world we live in
and discover paths to change the world and society for the better. Her
avid interest in political theories and Marxist literature continuously
energised her work, driving her towards identifying with the suffering of
the people. It was this spontaneous sympathy with the vulnerable and
downtrodden that led her into the LTTE. This brings us to the present.

The recently concluded war is being hailed as an astounding success by the
ruling class, and sundry experts from countries that seem too ready to
come to terms with impunity as a privilege of the State. The success of
the war is being measured by the same yardstick with which Sinhalese youth rebellions were crushed in 1971 and 1990. The same ruling class had
ironically been more than ready to appease the LTTE in 1989-90 and again
in 2002-2005. They were both founded on cynical calculations that
cauterizing the North-East and giving its people over to the whims of the
LTTE, would buy the South an economic reprieve.

Today up to 300 000 IDPs are interned behind barbed wire without any
sensitivity to their real needs, but rather exacerbating the terrible trauma they suffered for several months running from place to place under
government bombardment, suffering injury and bereavement. Adding to this was the LTTE’s conscription of their children, many of them now dead or
maimed. Yesterday it was the LTTE removing their children, and now in IDP
camps it is the fear of the Army abducting them, leaving behind no record.
The Government promised the IDPs who came out a new spring, and that is
the point where reconciliation should have begun. That opportunity was
lost.

The recent story of peace and war reveals the sense of responsibility the
ruling class shows towards the most helpless sections of the people who
become victims of their fickle calculations, each in turn hailed as a
brilliant stroke by the peace community worldwide. The LTTE was given the
freedom to conscript children; and to forcibly transport young men and
women from among the fisher folk and peasantry across the Muhamalai army checkpoint, make them to undergo military training in the Vanni and bring them back to their homes. When the war began in 2006, the State’s killer squads operating in and out of uniform ruthlessly targeted and killed
these unarmed persons on the streets and in their homes before their
families. And so the war was won by massacring thousands of innocents.
That too is being hailed as a brilliant stroke by defence analysts while
the peace community is silent.

The victory against the LTTE, as against the JVP earlier, would soon
become hollow without political transformation that would end the legacy
of conflict. Is it not a tragic irony that in 61 years of independence the
State won several bloody victories against its own people, Tamils and
Sinhalese, without doing any political work necessary for healing? Every
time the fault lines of class and ethnicity crack, the ruling class has
not sought any medicine other than the same brutal bloodletting and then
with their media and experts to pat themselves on the back. In turn this
class has sought relentless centralisation, indeed personalisation, of
power, corrupting law enforcement and rendering the masses even more
helpless against a heartless State. After decades of independence, we have
a mere shadow of the working administrative and law enforcement systems
left behind by the British after thoroughly subverting democracy and the
accountability mechanisms that were in place at Independence.

With the LTTE decimated, in place of undertaking the task of nation
building and a political settlement, the rulers are once more arming
themselves to the teeth. It was as though the State is destined
continually to war against some segment of its own people. Against this
background we have another remarkable phenomenon. In 1983 Human Rights became a bad word, when the victims were Tamils, and Amnesty International hailed a terrorist outfit. Then came 1987 when the South saw bloodletting. Human rights became so popular that it enabled the current President to make his political fortune. What is it that is so terribly wrong with this country, is it that the people are cursed with an unstoppable potency for unruliness and rebellion? Or, is it the rulers who took increasingly to disporting like emperors in their proverbial new clothes, as the State takes on the appearance of the LTTE’s twin?

Rajani, with her broader humanity that reached out across barriers of birth, would have found the recent war completely abhorrent. She understood the nature of the State and the causes of alienation in both the South and the North-East. She understood the provocations and emotional responses that drove the young into violence and how the politics of violence itself deeply divided societies. As much as a section of Tamils saw the LTTE as the only hope against a Sinhalese state that would yield nothing; there were many others who saw mainly its violence against its own people and nothing in its leaders except crass brutality and sadism, and yearned for its demise.

A state that long neglects its obligation to deal with the people politically and resorts to mindless violence and mass killing of the young and family men in suspect groups, marks a symptom of one unable to seek democratic solutions and so nervous and fearful as could base its authority, not on the people but principally on its killer machinery. Understanding the dilemma of the young, Rajani opposed killing in the name of national security or as the prerogative of sole representatives. To her the young under these adverse conditions are bound to make mistakes and they should be given every opportunity to see the consequences of their actions, argue matters out and correct themselves. That needed a collective effort at enlarging political space.

Rajani’s activism in challenging the arrest and torture of students
aroused considerable suspicion on the part of the Indian Army. Her
challenging the views and actions of students supportive of the LTTE,
invited the close and hostile scrutiny of the LTTE. It is a matter for
satisfaction that at that time no university student was detained and
killed. The LTTE ordered her assassination as soon as the Indian Army
announced its departure - an outcome of the opportunism of Sinhalese
politics that did not care about consequences to the North-East.

Soon mass disappearances by the LTTE got under way, fully supported by the Sri Lankan state. Several university students lost their lives in these
purges. Among them were students Manoharan and Chelvi who had been drawn by Rajani’s activism and continued to support the exiled UTHR(J). It is the singular tragedy of the Tamils that many others of no less dedication
and ability were murdered for patriotic reasons by a force that despoiled
them of all that a civilised people holds dear, and left them utterly
forlorn.

Brave in the face of adversity, Rajani’s activism was based on mobilising
the people to outflank all sources of oppression by building structures:
Structures that would enable the people to stand up collectively for their
dignity. The background given below is necessary to understand her
singular legacy. It was both non-violent and political, through people’s
movements and not political parties. The recent war and the detention of
up to 300 000 IDPs exemplifies the void resulting from a perverted
liberation struggle and a mindless and heartless state.

As a young medical doctor who had joined the staff of the University of
Jaffna, Rajani was staying with her parents along with her elder sister
Nirmala. This was in 1982 and she had no involvement with the LTTE, while
her sister and brother-in-law were involved. Dayapala was at home in
January when the LTTE carried out its first major assassination of a key
rival, Sundaram of the PLOTE. Dayapala, among other concerned observers,
warned that this trend of assassination would lead to an immitigable
tragedy. In those early days when the PTA had alienated the community,
state terror was active and the LTTE was a small underground organisation,
hardly anyone, even if sympathetic, was willing to help injured cadres.
Nirmala was in this respect an exception. At a critical time when a doctor
was urgently needed, Rajani, though not involved, went out with her sister
without any calculation to help the injured. Although Nirmala was detained
by the Army, Rajani had left for doctoral studies in England and her role
remained a secret.

This happened years before the LTTE was in control of Tamil society, when
it became fashionable for elite and religious leaders to flatter it with
their sycophancy. This connection took Rajani into the inner circles of
the LTTE in Britain. Again characteristically of her, once she began to
realise that the LTTE was a totalitarian organisation that would destroy
her community, she made a traumatic exit. By then the fears about the
direction of the Tamil insurgency were coming true. The culture of
assassination begun by the LTTE became epidemic among leading militant
groups. Their obsession with assassins, traitors and double agents led to
an internal bloodbath, which became public through dissidents in the
PLOTE.

Rajani’s commitment to the people was such that rather than remain in
Britain and seek a career in safety, she felt duty bound to go back home
and challenge the LTTE politically. She returned to Jaffna at the end of
1986. To many people the notion seemed lunacy, but none of us who moved
with her thought of it in that way. She was an immense source of strength
to many. Looking back over two decades, the singular aspect of her legacy
is the manner in which she inspired others to challenge the terror from a
multiplicity of sources: the Sri Lankan state, the LTTE, the Indian Army
and the groups thoroughly alienated by the LTTE’s violence and wanting to
get their own back.

While the LTTE destroyed the personalities of the young whom it absorbed,
Rajani also understood the attraction such an organisation could pose to
idealistically minded youth who were alienated by the arrogance and
violence of the State. In all human decisions, we are often carried away
and turn a blind eye to some important aspect of the reality we confront.
She understood the oppressive conditions that drive the young to make
mistakes. She felt responsible to give the young the opportunity to come
out of it. Knowing that it may cost her, her life, she did not let it
cloud her enjoyment of it, nor made others conscious of the risk she ran.

She was gentle with the young. Her anger was reserved for the elite who
abdicated their responsibility to engage with the Sinhalese forcefully and
non-violently and instead demonised them as a granite block of obduracy,
violence and intolerance. Their politics was intellectually lazy and
morally irresponsible. They were simply transferring to different actors
the phobias and prejudices of the dominant Sinhalese politics; and spurned
overtures to large sections of the Sinhalese people whom the corruption
and nationalist bravado of their leaders had left out in the cold.

It was the same apathy and lethargy of the Tamil elite that shifted the
burden onto the fragile shoulders of the emerging militants. In the coming
anarchy our society succumbed to internal terror, became callous towards
individuals who differed in their opinion and allowed the name of
liberation to be usurped by a fascistic formation, which in its flood of
bloodletting carried the Tamils along a suicidal path with no end in
sight. This created in Rajani a greater commitment to combat this trend
rather than give in to general apathy and disillusionment.

The Marxist in her, also perhaps her Christian upbringing, as with great
men and women of other faiths, did not see death as the ineluctable end
that defeats all endeavour. An obsession with preserving life could be
crippling, and the value of a life is rather to be measured by how it was
lived and the legacy it leaves behind. She spurned individual heroism and
tried to build a legacy by the mobilisation of collective effort to build
structures. The emergence of UTHR(J) and it its activities in Jaffna
University was seen by Rajani as "creating political space" in an
totalitarian environment.

An important experiment that owes much to Rajani was the creation of the
University Staff, Students and Employees Consultative Committee, chaired
by the vice chancellor.

It was meant to meet any threat to persons or the functioning of the
university through collective effort. The University, as long as it was
seen as the person of the vice chancellor and a few deans was a weak
institution. This was seen during the LTTE’s abduction and murder of the
student Vijitharan in 1986 despite Vice Chancellor Prof. Vithyananthan’s
concerned personal efforts to get the student freed. The LTTE easily
manipulated the divided efforts of the university community and the larger
society.

Rajani’s other efforts such as creating a cooperative of women victims
were meant to create structures that would outlive individuals and leave
behind a legacy to benefit the poorer sections.

Eventually Rajani gave her life for her commitment to the people she loved
so much. She strongly felt that teaching students is not simply giving
lectures in theatres but harnessing their inherent potential to make them
useful to the community. From this flowed her empathy towards each student in her class, with whom she spent time discussing a variety of issues. But the politics which dominated the society used some of the students on whom she lavished care as agents of her killers. Some of them have left the country and done well as healers. Rajani would not have grudged this, except to wish that they think back and reexamine their actions and the untold suffering they helped to unloose on the people through their services to a totalitarian organisation, one that inevitably destroyed itself taking thousands with them.

The writing of the Broken Palmyra, the formation of UTHR (J) and other
endeavours where Rajani played a crucial and leading role, were an outcome of real life experiences through which we journeyed, sharing the dangers faced by the people, trying to understand the political and social
dynamisms which entrapped the country in violent conflicts. We have seen
how ordinary people were entrapped by all sides and how their insecurity
and fears were used to justify and perpetuate war with unimaginable
consequences.

In the tragic decades after independence President Kumaratunge was unique in showing a clear ability to understand the root causes of the ethnic
conflict and acknowledge openly that the minorities needed political
space. But too much effort was wasted in trying to get agreement from the
LTTE, which wanted no settlement, and restarted the war to avoid one.
Meanwhile what the minorities saw of the state was the same Sinhalese
state using the war to further centralise its activities and keep the
minorities out. What the Tamils especially experienced was the same brutal
state covering up its violations and forcing them to stand with
outstretched hands before the Sinhalese administrative and military
zamindars for their basic needs. No effort was made to reactivate the
North-East Provincial Council or to give the Tamils any real power over
their own affairs.

Many Tamils willing to take risks and cooperate with Kumaratunge finished
up giving their lives for shoddy returns. Mayors of Jaffna and senior
politicians, Mrs. Yogeswaran and Sivapalan gave their lives having
received no more authority than to sweep the streets of Jaffna. Many
members of the EPRLF, PLOTE and EPDP, like T. Subathiran, gave their lives
for being mere local councillors, when with their commitment and
experience they could have been used with far greater effect. It
reinforced the LTTE’s contention that the Sinhalese would never give the
Tamils their due and the dead were traitors who provided cover for
Sinhalese oppression dressed up in mere promises.

2. Forgetting the Past & Warring against Truth

Today the LTTE has been crushed, and in spite of the tragedy there was an
opportunity for the leaders to open a new chapter. But once more they are
failing the people. They are doing nothing to empower progressive Tamils
to challenge the ideology of violent Tamil nationalism which thrived in
the name of challenging the institutionalised Sinhalese chauvinism of the
State. Instead, the rulers continue to use the state machinery for a
narrow political agenda, further undermining democratic institutions. The
ruling elite in the South have not learned any lessons and continue to
give life to Tamil narrow nationalism.

War, though sometimes legitimate and inevitable carries its price. When it
leads to pervasive suppression of truth as regards the manner in which
humanitarian norms were transgressed, the weaponry used, all for the
dogmatic aim of decapitating the LTTE leadership in the name of hostage
rescue; the wounds easily become septic. It is now abundantly clear that
the IDPs are being detained to suppress the true facts about the ’hostage
rescue’. It is again a fact that many injured were allowed to die and
others starved because the Government refused permission for the ICRC to
collect the injured and deliver supplies over the final nine days.

A government that accuses those who raise these questions as traitors,
detaining some as an example to others, routinely extending detention on
flimsy grounds, while it clutches at straws fishing for charges, before
having judges plonk heavy sentences on them, degrades intelligence and
everything a democracy holds sacred. When someone is deemed a criminal the charges must be precise and justifiable in law.

The Tissainayagam trial is one where the prosecution was fumbling with
charges such as ’bringing disrepute to the government’ by collecting
evidence of war crimes in the East, which were then found not to be an
offence. The case was argued on the draconian provisions of the PTA which
played a crucial role in driving many youths to join militant movements.
After the crushing of the LTTE, at least, the President should have shown
statesmanship and advised the AG’s department to withdraw the case and
signal a new beginning. Instead, he allowed the prosecution to continue
its arguments based mainly on the prejudices and political presuppositions
of the Sinhalese ruling class: Was for example shelling the Tamil people
on the run all the way from Sampoor to Valaichchenai in 2006, and denying
those especially from Sampoor the right of return, a war crime? Or, was it
their liberation from terrorism and therefore a humanitarian action? The
’legal’ proceedings against Tissainayagam were political from start to
finish.

It was the same with locking up the war zone doctors. Dr. Kohona, Sri
Lanka’s newly appointed ambassador to the UN answering a question by Himal (August 2009), declared that Dr. Varathrajah had claimed ’irrationally’
that the Air Force was dropping cluster bombs. It was rather the UN
spokesman who said in early February 2009 that artillery fired cluster
munitions had been used near Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital and played it down under government pressure. Locking up someone without any clear idea of his offence and then fumbling for charges is a practice of the worst
regimes, bringing disrepute to the legal profession, especially when they
fail to protest.

It leads to a culture of impunity when the Police and security forces are
empowered to detain persons indefinitely on the most facile grounds,
torture or even kill. The public knows beforehand which cases would be
hushed up. In the case of the killing of five Tamil students in
Trincomalee in 2006, the people know exactly what happened and the name of the senior police officer who orchestrated the incident. But the witnesses were threatened and the case was hushed up first in the local court and then at the much hyped Presidential Commission of Inquiry. The same fate befell the case of the 17 Action Contra la Faim aid workers killed.

This culture would soon come to haunt the Sinhalese as in two publicised
cases of police brutality in August 2009. One case of abduction and
grievous assault concerned SSP Vaas Gunawardene. The victim was a college student, his son’s rival. But all the horrors in the East where
Gunawardene was posted before being brought to Colombo have been kept away from the Sinhalese or distorted. One incident was the uninvestigated
political killing of the Koneswaram Temple priest who was critical of the
violence of the authorities. The fake encounter killing of the alleged
killers of six-year old Varsha who was kidnapped for ransom has raised
many questions among the people of Trincomalee. The kidnappers, some of
them in a paramilitary group, had worked very closely with the security
forces. The encounter killings were by policemen under Vaas Gunawardene.
The case was hushed up by the murder of suspects, circumventing the
courts.

The Tamils lost confidence in the State and the security forces a long
time ago. It would not be long before the Sinhalese too feel the sting as
they did in the latter 1980s. A nation in which the people know the truth
and has healthy democratic structures that cannot easily be subverted, is
far more likely to make mature decisions. What obtains in Sri Lanka is
that the entire process of governance, the police and the courts are
subverted to cover up the crimes of a small coterie that controls power.
In the recently concluded war the obsession with the suppression of truth
seems to have no logical end. The imprisonment of IDPs is just the thin
end of the wedge.

If the Government believes that the war was a great military achievement,
let the Sinhalese people know the truth and understand the consequences.
The suppression of truth also meant an attack on Sinhalese who were
determined to expose it. There was a steady build up of terror against
journalists who reported on the war culminating in the assassination of
Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, when several other
journalists too were intimidated out of the country. This coincided with
the final drive to end the war, just after the fall of Killinochchi on 1st
January 2009 and days before fleeing refugees, increasingly constricted in
space, began experiencing widespread aerial and artillery bombardment. The latter included the use of cluster munitions (kotthu kundu), and from
April white phosphorous munitions (eri kundu).

We have cross-checked reports of people from the war zone that the LTTE
did provoke the Army at times, such as by firing from behind
Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital. On such occasions the Army’s return fire was
quite accurate, although it was mainly civilians that suffered. But
otherwise regular shelling by the Army, including with cluster shells,
fell all over with many civilian casualties. Medicines and staff were very
short at Putumattalan Hospital, and about 25% of those injured, especially
in the head and stomach, were allowed to die in order to help those with a
greater chance of survival until the ICRC ship arrived. In the latter
stages, from 11th May the hospital in Mullivaykkal even lacked the
capacity for rudimentary dressings, when ICRC was not given clearance by
the Government to deliver supplies and collect the injured. During the
final stages of the war, 16th - 18th May, hundreds of injured without help
were left on the roadside, including young injured LTTE girls, who were
begging for cyanide capsules or for someone to take them along.

Both sides abused the people, but the final feeling among those who
survived is that, even though individual soldiers showed concern towards
the civilians once they escaped from the war zone, the Government did not
treat them as human beings. The number of civilian deaths in 2009, which
we earlier estimated at 13 000
(http://www.himalmag.com/Doctoring-the-evidence_nw3217.html ), must now be placed significantly higher. The civilians were driven from Viswamadu to Putumattalan by relentless shelling and aerial bombardment amidst Tiger shelling sometimes intended to provoke the Army. The Army was intent on making life so miserable for the civilians the LTTE held hostage that they would die or flee to government-controlled territory leaving them free to decapitate the LTTE leadership. It must be remembered that on 17th May just before the final push the Government announced that all civilians had left the No Fire Zone, when there were yet more than 30 000, and moved in dropping grenades into civilian bunkers. The casualty estimate above relied heavily on the numbers of injured taken for treatment by the ICRC and others treated at Vavuniya by MSF. That must now be taken as misleading as very many injured died for the lack or absence of timely medical aid. The number of young LTTE conscripts who died in the last five months may be around 6000.

3. Rajani’s Unfinished Task

It was under similar conditions after the LTTE provoked the Indian Army
into war in 1987, although with deaths on a much smaller scale, when
Rajani and some of her colleagues set about writing the Broken Palmyra
with a view to placing in public how the civilians were victimised by all
the armed parties. Rajani busied herself talking to hospital staff to
write about how the LTTE firing at the advancing Indian Army column and
running away resulted in scores of civilians and staff being killed by the
latter. She talked to families where women had been raped. We recorded how an LTTE provocation of firing at a tank from Kokkuvil Hindu and escaping resulted in a tank firing a shell at a classroom killing 30 refugees.

Rajani had no illusions about the LTTE and was in greater danger as an
ex-LTTEer challenging the outfit. One cannot fully explain the rationality
or otherwise of decisions taken long ago. It was as an act of meaningful
defiance that we decided that the book should be published with the names
of all the authors. The preprint edition was well received by our
Sinhalese colleagues in the South and was widely photocopied.

If Rajani were alive today she would have done the same for the victims of
the war now ended and challenged the ideologues on both sides who boast of
their military genius at the expense of the people. She would not have
stopped there. She believed that the people should be mobilised and
structures built to consolidate their gains. In 1987, the first act in
which she played a leading role was to talk to the Indian Army and reopen
the University of Jaffna, as an available structure that could become a
base for others. She was sometimes almost alone in the Medical Faculty
with a few loyal labourers getting the Anatomy Department back into shape.

We may record here that when the Indian Army found out about the preprint edition of the Broken Palmyra they quickly acquired copies and we were told that three different intelligence teams were assessing them. They
were annoyed, harassed us a little, sometimes on spurious intelligence,
but generally took it up as well as one might expect. While fighting the
LTTE and setting up the conscript Tamil National Army was dirty business,
there was also at some level in the Indian Army sensitivity to democratic
freedoms.

The recent killing and intimidation of journalists and the political
prosecution against Tissainayagam and the detention of National Christian
Council Secretary Shantha Fernando without any charge, besides shutting up the IDPs and silencing of the war zone doctors, have all the suggestion of preemptive steps against any criticism or investigative reporting of the
recent war. A terrorised media has largely fallen into line. It is sad to
see a number of journalists, barred from questioning the State, exercising
their semantic talents in ungenerous, trivial ex-parte attacks on those
like the war zone doctors, whom the Government loves to hate; but with no
acknowledgement of the yeoman service they performed under inhuman
conditions, losing some of their staff to shell fire. One accusation,
revealing for its refusal to understand the harsh ground reality, is
against a war zone doctor, for pronouncing death due to starvation of 13
people without performing autopsies!

This is how a nervous government, unable to acknowledge the war has ended and keeping up synthetically a mood of grave military threat from the
decimated LTTE, wants the Sinhalese to view the problem. The oldest
dissidents on record, the Prophets of Israel, made it uncompromisingly
clear that warring against truth and denying justice makes a people small,
and the state brittle. That is today the main challenge facing the
Sinhalese, against a government that wants to make them a small people.

Patriotism has been narrowed to represent the interest of a section of a
ruling clique. All criticism of how the war was waged is equated with
treachery. Arrogance of Power is so open and naked, that the state is
losing all inhibitions against undermining the rule of law. The Sinhalese
would need to take courage and face up to what the war cost not only the
Tamils, but also the Sinhalese. The Government has made a gross
understatement with regard to the number of soldiers killed, claiming it
was a small fraction of LTTE cadres killed. The casualty rate of soldiers:
LTTE was about 1:1 in 2002. When the truth is patriotically suppressed, it
also means the suffering and loss resulting from subaltern Sinhalese youth
killed and maimed charging through mined ditches, is being hidden by
elites gloating over a great victory. The tears of the bereaved become an
embarrassment.

The problems of all communities who have suffered bereavement are similar. They are the most neglected sections of all ethnic groups. UTHR(J) does not believe that we could advance by simply forgetting the past. The past and the political sins of the fathers are too much and too long with us.
There has been no accounting for the communal violence unleashed several
times in one form or another since 1956. Denial of justice has been
subconsciously assimilated into malefic assumptions by which the State
functions - that the minorities are undesirables to be kicked around as
scapegoats for the failures of the rulers. Little wonder that the State
must somehow resurrect its deceased offspring, the LTTE.

The need of the hour is to resist attempts to pervert our democratic
legacy and to break with the past and to lay out a clear demarcation to
reorganise our social and political institutions to manage the conflict
and to focus on issues, which are important for poverty alleviation and
economic development. All the development plans in the North and East are
based on the illusionary belief that when a people is weak it is easy to
consolidate political control by showing some tokens of economic
development, without any concept of accountability or participation of the
community.

If the rulers do not trust the people, especially the Tamils, and try to
impose their control, not only will they fail, but will also keep
divisionary politics alive. If the Government could initiate a broader
process in which all communities could reevaluate their past and work out
a political arrangement which would allow the different communities
political and cultural space to participate as equals in decision making,
then there would be hope. If the country is to become great, it must be
ruled by a broad democratic consensus. A country represented by a royal
president and his hangers on would remain conflict-prone, weak and a
tragic laughing stock among nations.

At this point the Tamils who have been browbeaten by decades of war need
political space to manage affairs of their reconstruction and to overcome
or expiate the legacies of state violence and fascist control. It would
only be then that they could work with other communities without fear. We
end with quotations from the Post Script to the Broken Palmyra written by
Rajani in 1989 (Vol.II, Ch.9) and ’Laying Aside Illusions’ (Appendix IV),
a statement by 50 teachers of the University of Jaffna in 1988, where
Rajani’s contribution comes through clearly. These give insights into
Rajani’s thinking and, sadly, reveal the country’s propensity to forget
the past and arrive back where we began twenty years ago, with everything
in place for reenactment:

"If our earlier account had appeared to be ’plugging a line’, as some
would want to put it, it was because it was important for us to arrive at
a synthesis in analysis, seek an understanding, find spaces to organise,
and revitalise a community that was sinking into a state of resignation.
Objectivity was not solely an academic exercise for us. Objectivity, the
pursuit of truth and the propagation of critical and honest positions, was
crucial for the community. But they could also cost many of us our lives.
Any involvement with them was undertaken only as a survival task.

"Within this tragic history there is still an attempt by concerned people
to think coherently of the future. There are debates going on as to the
correct path for survival, organisation and possible breakthroughs. There
is, especially in the North, a limited attempt at organising at the
grass-roots level, so as to handle the repressive situation and violence
from all sides. These are very small beginnings indeed.For the people, any
solution to the brutal and intense violence has to come from within the
communities and cannot be imposed from outside. The development of these internal structures is a long and arduous task, a process which is only
just beginning to be comprehended."

Finally we quote from ’Laying aside Illusions’, which emphasises
democratic organisation and a collective response:

"Our obeisance to terror within the community, and our opportunism and
lack of principles in the face of many internal killings, have made it
easy for external forces to use the same weapons to control us.Thus if the
people are to regain their lost self-will and dignity, they will have to
move towards a principled collective response. We have to assert universal
values to which we are both emotionally and intellectually committed.
It is the lack of such commitment that enabled us to come to terms with
murder, when it concerned others’ sons, and then, watch helplessly in
panic when the cancer, allowed to grow, threatened our own sons. We are
now paying the price for our past indifference.

"As individuals or small groups in our neighbourhoods, places of work,
unions or associations, we must question our past, understand where we
went wrong, and rediscover our principles. We must be conscious of the
message of past experience, that in standing up for others we also stand
up for ourselves. This course requires courage; and, no other is open to
us. We have tried to play safe in the past. The result was mass murder
from several sources. Non-combatant civilians too became unarmed
front-line troops facing the wrath of advancing armies. The future looks
even more bleak, with the rapid growth and consolidation in southern Sri
Lanka of forces of narrow political vision. This opens the door for
further involvement by external forces. Let us not remain forever
unprepared and continue trapped in the logic of passivity - hoping against
hope that someone else will bring us deliverance."