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Solution to Tamil issues lies in strengthening the peace process in Sri Lanka

by Vidya Bhushan Rawat, 10 May 2012

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D.M.K. Chief M.Karnunanidhi has revived the idea of Tamil Elam for the Tamils of Sri Lanka which is openly seen as a call for the division of that country. Government of India and its Ministry for External Affairs have categorically said that the solution of the Tamil problem lies in strengthening Sri Lanka and integration of Tamils in the mainstream of Sri Lanka. Indian political leaders should desist from such call that would ruin our relations with our friendly neighbor and could be counterproductive for the integrity and unity of India itself.

There is no denial of fact that Sri Lanka waged a decisive war against LTTE during President Mahindra Rajpaksa’s regime. No one can deny the fact that the army committed excesses against the civilians in Northern Province of Jaffna during the War. While not condoning these crimes, let us be candid to understand as where in the world any war was fought when the winning army did not indulge in violence as well as crime. Have the Americans not done that in Afghanistan and Iraq. Didn’t British do it in their former Colonies or French in their territories? Doesn’t our army face similar charges in Jammu and Kashmir as well as North East? Why these war crimes are only judged when a country is small and you can easily squeeze it. It is important for all of us that picking up arms by a disgruntled group can only legitimize the state’s brutal interventions in their regions. We have witness these in India when the self styled ‘revolutionaries’ pick up guns and abduct or arrest a few of the government officials despite known fact that the same police and officials will then torture their people also and get much wider sympathy of the opinion making middle classes to use the military against them.

Today, the streets of Colombo and other parts of the country can feel the freedom from the instant terror attacks. You can roam around anywhere in the city and outside without any fear. This country was taken to virtual hostage by the terror groups for over three decades and travelling here was meant for those who were ready to face the uncertain future. Bomb blasts, attacks at religious places, in the schools, hospitals, and military installations were norms of the day resulting in enormous loss of national property and lives of innocent people. The country was on the verge of disintegration and the differences grew up between different ethnic groups. But many people here deny that the conflict in Sri Lanka was just ethnic as they feel before 1983 riots when Tamils were the target of Sinhalese and which shook the very foundation of the state with concern over the safety and security of the Tamils grew world over, there were movement by JVP i.e. Janata Vimukti Perumuna, a political outfit violently fighting for the rights of the Sinhala youths.

Tamil constitute nearly 12% of the Sri Lankan population and over 65% of them are living outside the so-called Elam area of the North. Then there are Muslims who are also integrated in the national mainstream. The percentage of the Tamils in the national services is abysmally low though there were several outstanding Tamil scholars and ministers who became victim of speaking openly in support of their integration in the Sri Lankan mainstream. The fact is that Tamil Nationalism could not integrate with Sinhala Nationalism which feels that Tamils had their isolationist and dominant attitude. Many friends here feel that it is actually Sinhalese who face the real threat as they have no place other than Sri Lanka to be called as their own. Tamils can always raise their issues with great lobbyists in India as well as South East Asian countries and United Kingdom and United States. So the real threat, they say, in Sri Lanka is to Sinhalese. Moreover, they feel that the British were the root cause of this whole crisis as they brought the Tamil labors for the tea estate work in the Northern Province of Ceylon. Even today, these Tamils were not able to integrate with other Tamils who were natives of Sri Lanka. There are no marriages among them and caste system is equally prevalent among them. There is also another fact which has not been reported by those who talk of minority rights. That many of the Muslims and Sinhalese used to live in the Northern Province including cities like Jaffna and other places and all of them were either killed or forced to leave those regions. Political activists who I met here blame the human rights group for not speaking against their extermination and killings. It is very much similar to what has happened in Kashmir where the Islamic militants actually terrorized the Kashmiri Pandits and forced them to live in exile. Today, that issue has grabbed the international attention but not the issue of the minorities in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

It is therefore essential for the political parties in India as well as Sri Lanka not to raise communities against each other. The future of Tamils and Sinhalese lies in a unified and strong Sri Lanka. And Sri Lankan government and political class must understand that they will gain nothing by isolating the Tamils who have contributed enormously for the development of this country. The influence of Tamil culture is visible in Sri Lanka and it would be a travesty of truth if we harp on divisions and make one community villain for the entire issue. It is a fact that during British period the participation of Tamils was much beyond their strength and it has drastically reduced afterwards perhaps aggravating their isolation. But many time facts are twisted and used according to our constituencies. There is no denial of fact that the colonial government used these divisions for strengthening their hold over the nation. Whatever people say, every community has its grievances. Some are genuine and the others are with twisted facts for political purposes and there is no end to it as who started discrimination in the beginning. The only way out is to make a new beginning and shed the prejudices by talking openly without concealing your disagreements on various points.

For the first time in recent history, the Vesak Poornima celebrations are enormous with people participating in it. These were virtually done away with once LTTE attacked the Buddhist congregation in Anuradhapura during the Vesak Poornima day killing hundreds of devotees. Hence, it is the return of Buddhism and its values which are the most visible sign of post LTTE Sri Lanka. This country has paid a heavy price for that and India as a big country must not aggravate its problem. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country, a great neighbor and has actually done more than us in preserving and following the great path of Buddha. We must strengthen that path peace and harmony for the betterment of our people. It is our common heritage and it would be good for politicians to work for the people with positive energy. Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha should focus on their work for people more and not on rhetoric and emotions which put one community against other. Let the issue of Tamils in Sri Lanka be dealt by the government of India and its external affairs ministry with its Sri Lankan counterparts so that these issues are seriously resolved and not through street smart politicians who want to make political capital out of the pains and sufferings of the people.