Originally published on TamilNet
The assassination of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, political analyst and senior editor of TamilNet, ten years back by the Sri Lankan state was a blow to the intellectual world of the Eelam Tamil nation in particular, the Tamil civilization in general. While 20th century Tamil nationalist movements in both Tamil Nadu and Tamil Eelam saw the rise of orators, poets, writers, novelists and dramatists of fine standing, and who had made no mean contribution to shaping modern Tamil identity, Sivaram was a unique phenomenon.
Informed by Tamil literature as much by Tamil history, Marxism as much as Poststructuralism, Thucydides as much as contemporary COIN theorists, Sivaram worked for the Eelam Tamil cause as a leading politico-military analyst and as a true “organic intellectual.”
The organic intellectual, as Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci defined him, gives a group an awareness of its functions and strategies in political, social and economic fields. What differentiates an organic intellectual from a tradition intellectual is that the latter claims neutrality but serves the status-quo; the former is a partisan for a cause.
Sivaram, without doubt, was a partisan for a sovereign Tamil Eelam. But what differentiated him from other writers was his no-nonsense, non-sentimental approach to politics and military affairs. Engaging with latest theoretical and practical developments in the military and the geo-political field, he wrote to inform both the fighters and masses of the designs of world powers in the island. In as much as he wrote about the military maneuvers of the Sri Lankan military, he also gave adequate focus to the global dynamics that were shaping politics in and geo-politics of the island.
In fact, Sivaram was most apprehensive of the manipulation of the US led axis during the peace process and the Oslo accords.
In an article written in the North Eastern Herald in March 2003, Sivaram said that the geo-political interests of US and India would “want Thamileelam to continue in its current ‘limbo’ statehood for their respective strategic reasons or precipitate its withering through ‘containment.’”
The manner in which this containment played out during the CFA, how supposedly ‘neutral’ observers like the SLMM tilted the balance in favor of the GoSL, has also been documented by the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat.
This grand strategy of containment of the LTTE while giving political and military legitimacy to the GoSL ultimately led to the escalation that was the Mullivaaykaal genocide.
In a follow-up article in the North Eastern Herald in April 2003, titled “LTTE’s big mistake: falling again for federalism”, Sivaram notes how the big powers and their comprador intellectuals were trying to trap the Tigers into working within a unitary Sri Lankan state. Condemning such Tamil intellectuals for their laziness to challenge this manipulation, he writes “by no logic can anyone gloss over the stark fact that political apathy is quite widespread and growing among the Tamils today, much to the delight of India and the US-UK combine that is masterfully choreographing the peace process.”
The Mullivaaykaal massacre, the protracted genocide in occupied Tamil Eelam, the pathetic sham of the LLRC and the several pro-LLRC resolutions that the US sponsored in Geneva must have shaken the apathy of several Tamil intellectuals post-2009. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
The regime change in Sri Lanka and the regime change in India have changed local dynamics. If reports of the US Pacific Command are anything to go by, the ‘Look East’ policy of America is being pursued aggressively. Modi India’s tilt towards Russia and China – preferring to have stronger relationships with regional hegemons – will also have deep consequences for the whole South Asian region in the future. All of this warrants deep, unemotional, sober analysis – Sivaram style.
Sadly, the vast majority of the Tamil intelligentsia has not lived up to its historical responsibility. From the Oslo fraud to the ‘human rights’ festivals in Geneva, from Geneva to the ‘Singapore principles’ of 2013, Tamil intellectuals and political activists are being taken for a ride. Along with powerful global organizations like the ICG, mediator countries like South Africa are also heavily involved in thrusting a ‘reconciliation’ discourse on the Eelam Tamils.
While the pro-establishment Tamil intellectuals blindly toe the line set by the powers, the mainstream Tamil left, or whatever is left in it, is only mouthing empty catch-phrases and pipe-dreaming. Questions around the larger narrative of struggle and the core question of geo-politics are diluted and instead human interest, personalized sad-stories, narrow identity politics, apolitical accounts of human rights violations and defeatist conclusions are drawn.
But this should not be a cause for pessimism. It is quite natural for a people who endured an atrocity at the level of Mullivaaykaal to be shaken for a while. Other oppressed nations like the Kurds also have gone through such phases. We must learn from them that a nation’s ability to spring back to its feet politically depends on how soon it is able to organize itself intellectually.
“My interest is to create a body of knowledge to help oppressed people all over the world help themselves get out from under oppression,” Sivaram told his biographer Mark Whitaker.
Only a new generation of organic Tamil intellectuals, who have a clear understanding of changing global paradigms and who are able to create paradigm shifts in Tamil political discourse, can preserve and take forward Sivaram’s legacy.
This is the need of the hour.
Article jointly written by Krisna Saravanamuttu and myself. Originally published on JDS
Around Geneva, the Rajapaksa regime and its mercenaries raise some self-righteous noise against the ‘neo-colonialists’ in the West. Quarters in the US-led West, tired with Rajapaksa’s intransigence wrt the human rights situation in the island and his supposed inability to provide a stable liberal democratic regime, have been releasing this report and that resolution criticizing the current state of affairs in the island. This contradiction will grow. The US will get angry with Sri Lanka for being unable to provide stability. Its natural allies then will be the Tamils, who are inherently free-market capitalists. And voila, you will have Tamil Eelam on a platter.
Or so some Tamil pundits in the West fantasize. And thus, they believe that it is in the best interest of the Tamil nation to adopt the narrative of ‘reconciliation and accountability’ that is chanted as a prayer in the hallways of Geneva. You don’t want to disappoint your large hearted allies after all.
We wish we could share such colorful dreams, but realpolitik is sadly very sober and requires a ratiocination of the most rigorous kind. Trust ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet and military analyst, an exemplar of parrhesia, the courage to speak truth to power, and who was assassinated for the same virtue.
In the feature he was working on at the time of his death, ‘US’s strategic interests in Sri Lanka’, noting the defense cooperation between US-Sri Lanka, Sivaram argued that “Stabilizing the Sri Lanka state was considered critical for the US at this juncture to consolidate and cement its strategic interests here. The LTTE was a stubborn impediment to achieving this end – particularly the constant threat to Trincomalee and Palaly. Containing the Liberation Tigers and making them more malleable were also identified as priorities.”
A year later, the west managed peace process collapsed, LTTE was criminalized in Europe under US-UK pressure, and Sri Lanka got a free hand to continue its war on the Tamil nation to the best of its potential. And oh, the Sri Lanka signed the Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement with the USA in 2007, a deal to secure exchanges in logistical support, supplies and services. On another front, the Tamil diaspora was extensively studied by US based defense corporations like RAND in studies like the 2001 publication “Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements” or the 2007 article by William Rosenau ‘Subversion and Insurgency’, where the author describes the LTTE as “Subversion on five continents”. The internationally coordinated COIN ops against the Tamil struggle that led to the climax of the genocidal war in 2009 have been discussed earlier.
But why criticize American concern for human rights now? Doesn’t Uncle Sam have a heart after all?
In his feature referred above, Sivaram had said “The ‘management’ of the ethnic conflict, among other things, is also important for the US to “sufficiently” expand and consolidate its military and intelligence relations with Sri Lanka as an important security partner in the region.”
One portion of this ‘management’ was the internationally coordinated war on the LTTE. And the US is pretty honest on this – Ambassador Michelle Sison in an event in Sri Lanka on March 2013 affirmed “The U.S. also helped the government and people of Sri Lanka in every way we could to try to end the LTTE’s reign of terror”. She also talked about reconciliation and accountability.
Moreover, to properly analyze the current American engagement with the Tamil liberation struggle, we must objectively establish the history of US engagement with the island’s politics. To this end, Jeffrey Lunstead, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, provides an insider’s perspective in his report The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process. Though the US publicly espoused its support to a politically negotiated solution, in actuality it provided a “commitment to strengthening the Sri Lankan Armed Forces”. The American strategy marginalized the LTTE in the international arena (i.e. maintaining the LTTE on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, excluding the LTTE from the Washington Donor Conference) and intensified the US military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lankan government.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in on 19th November 2006. Two days later Under Secretary Burns said “We also believe that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, is a terrorist group responsible for massive bloodshed in the country and we hold the Tamil Tigers responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the country. We are not neutral in this respect. We support the government”.
The Americans provided the Sri Lankans with training, education, and weapons infrastructure. The US played a key role in cutting off the LTTE’s own financial networks yet it handed over millions in foreign military funding to the Sri Lankan government. And Paul Moorcraft, a British military analyst, in his recent book on the war in the island notes the level of assistance that the US gave to Sri Lanka, including the advice to use cluster bombs against the Tamil population. All this while the US insisted that it sought to deter war and not encourage it.
The other portion of this ‘management’ is best observed at, what one diaspora grassroots activist so poignantly termed, ‘the Geneva thiruvizha’. Introducing the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka, 2013. No talk on Tamil nationhood. No talk on Tamil genocide. No mention even of the word ‘Tamil’. But yes, “reconciliation and accountability.”
In order to pacify the Diaspora, the backers of US based resolution give the false impression that it is against Sri Lanka and its adoption would somehow benefit the Tamils. The resolution, whose only implicit reference to the Tamil struggle is ‘terrorism’, harps on reconciliation and the LLRC as a solution to the ongoing conflict. The undeniable fact, however, is that the LLRC was conceived as an escape route for Sri Lanka. When legitimate criticism does emerge about the LLRC based approach, the knee jerk reaction of its lobbyists is to simply argue that the UNHRC resolution is a ‘first step.’ A fine ‘first step’ indeed. Towards a political disaster, perhaps.
After the Mullivaaykaal genocide, Sivaram’s analysis of COIN remains critical to assessing American engagement with the Tamil Diaspora. A key COIN tactic Sivaram addressed was “the promotion and propagation of the conceptual/political dichotomy of the moderate and the militant/terrorist”. Today the Diaspora seems to be a target in US COIN strategy, wherein “the global proscription regime is an institutional, structural violence which criminalizes diaspora politics and affective connections to the idea of Tamil Eelam”. Unfortunately, some sections of the Tamil lobby Diaspora developed selective amnesia regarding US intervention to tilt the parity of status earned by the Tamils in favor of the Sri Lankan war machinery.
First, any serious observer of the Tamil Liberation struggle cannot deny the role played by the global Tamil Diaspora. After all, it was the same Diaspora that was criminalized through the US led proscription of the LTTE in the western world due to its moral, political and economic support of the liberation struggle. The U.S. Army & Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 (2007) advises, “Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government’s legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency”. Thus, to establish victory over the Tamil independence struggle on the international front, the Tamil Diaspora must be conceptually and politically demobilized from its primary objective.
The pro US lobbyists may argue that the Americans looked away in a ‘war without witnesses.’ The sad truth, as seen above, is that the Americans and their allies provided the weapons and the diplomatic cover for Sri Lanka to commit the 2009 genocide. The defeat of the LTTE and the 2009 genocide are an example of what Herman and Peterson called a “constructive genocide” that served the major US interests of stabilizing the island by getting rid of the stubborn LTTE impediment.
With the defeat of the military force of Tamil independence, the US fixed its aims on the Diaspora political force by seeking to reshape and moderate the terms of the debate. Classical COIN theorists like Galula have stressed the importance of the counterinsurgent to work on appropriating and diluting the cause of the insurgent so as to eradicate support while contemporary theorists like Kilcullen have stressed the importance of creating an alternate narrative that excludes the narrative of the insurgent.
To distort and dilute the cause of the Tamil liberation struggle, the LLRC based approach is attempting to change and moderate the debate from sovereignty, freedom, and self-determination to accommodation, integration and co-existence, thus moderating the perception of the oppressed about the conflict rather than helping end the system of oppression itself. The debate shifts from genocide and national liberation to individual human rights problems and political devolution, which can be rectified under a more liberal, democratic Sri Lankan regime. A recent TamilNet feature raised a question whether resolutions and HR reports that fail to recognize genocide or Tamil sovereign nationhood is the other side of a coin where military minds hail the ‘Sri Lanka model’ as a successful addition to COIN theory.
The lobbyists in favor of the US resolution are given the bait of political recognition while those who reject it on principled grounds are deemed as radicals and leftists. The ‘moderates’ are seen to be effective because they can invite their political masters in the west to their meetings and engage in photo ops with them. Yet, the ‘moderates’ can only beg for scraps of justice from their masters but remain powerless to halt, challenge or even address western complicity in the structural and protracted genocide that the Tamil homeland endures.
Why does this same lobby not reject the US approach and demand a more concrete political program of an international investigation and a referendum to establish a sovereign Tamil Eelam? Hair-splitting and claims of being pragmatic aside, the answer is that the pro-US lobby will lose its utility in the eyes of its political superiors at the US State Department. Some take up the ‘reconciliation for all citizens’ narrative as conscious agents, getting perks, grants, and funding. Others do it as unconscious agents, in the best of intentions that by bending over backwards, the world powers will pay heed to Tamil suffering and deliver justice. Either way, the effect is the same.
Of course, the liberal lobbyist brigades will argue that they are keenly aware of the broader strategy at play. These ‘moderates’ insist that they are politically savvy and clever enough to navigate through the western agenda and secure Tamil liberation. Sadly, it is one thing to think like an American and an entirely different thing to think the way the American wants you to think. Confused and impotent, they forget that the dog can wag the tail but the tail can never wag the dog.
Through the use of a resolution that is impotent as far as the Tamil nation is concerned and reports that do not address the crucial questions facing the Tamil nation, the US is pushing for a more user-friendly regime in Colombo. Emphasizing the paradigm of human rights and reconciliation over liberation and justice will in the end only help Sri Lanka rehabilitate itself in the world when a more liberal regime takes over from Rajapaksa.
Like the butchers Pinochet, Pol Pot or the recent Efrain Rios Montt, it can be argued that the US may someday discard Rajapaksa when his usefulness to them is over – or it may not. Rajapaksa’s personal fortunes or misfortunes are of no concrete concern to the Tamil nation. The point is whether Tamil Eelam is to be or not to be. And those who choose to obscure it are by definition against it. It is that simple.
But do puppets ever see the strings attached?
1. William Rosenau, “Subversion and Insurgency”, RAND Report prepared for the Office of Secretary of Defence, 2007, p12
2. Jeffrey Lunstead “The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process: 2002-2006.” Colombo 7: The Asia Foundation (2007), p17
3. Ibid, p39
4. Paul Moorcraft, “Total Destruction of the Tamil Tigers: The Rare Victory of Sri Lanka’s Long War”, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, (2012), p110
5. Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007), p152
6. Vicki Sentas’ “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012), p111
Originally published on TamilNet
Various Tamil diaspora organizations have already started gearing up towards the forthcoming UN session in Geneva. While some believe that the resolution this year might take Sri Lanka to task over human rights, others argue that it will only be an encore of last year’s resolution, one that gives more legitimacy to the fundamentally flawed LLRC and providing Sri Lanka more time to strengthen its military occupation and colonization of the Tamil homeland.
Some have said that America wanted to bring a “stronger” resolution, but that it was watered down owing to India’s compulsions. It seems rather ironic though, that America, which was able to convince India to toe its line in the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement – definitely an issue of much greater strategic importance to India than Sri Lanka – was unable to bring India to its line over the issue of a political solution in the island.
It should be clear that the ‘strategic partners ‘, US and India, are at the moment more or less on the same line as far as the national question of the Eezham Tamils is concerned, the former promoting ‘positive elements’ in the LLRC and the latter, the 13th Amendment. The view that neither can provide any meaningful solution to the Eezham Tamil nation has been consistently expressed by Tamil writers, analysts and activists.
There are other lines too. Some like International Alert use ‘soft power’ to encourage Tamils to collaborate with the Sri Lankan government and to work within the unitary state model. A rapidly emerging ‘South Africa line’ is promoting concepts taken from other contexts, like the sharply criticized ‘restorative justice’ model, and the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, which might have some relevance as concerns “individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives” provided this is placed in the context of the genocidal oppression that Eezham Tamils face as a nation in their occupied homeland. But sadly, context is what these actors mostly ignore.
The International Crisis Group’s line is considered among a few sections in the diaspora. In an interview to TamilNet on October 2012, Alan Keenan said “I hope there will be, an independent investigation into the incidents leading up to the end of the war, and preferably also post-war, the question of genocide should be included among those issues.”
As regards a question on the right of the Tamil people to have a sovereign state of their own, Dr. Keenan responded that in the current context, the demand for separation is not a wise one and if a larger percentage of the Sinhala population was more sympathetic to this demand, it could be pursued.
The ICG report “Tamil politics and the quest for a political solution” released on November 2012 promoted similar ideas. The report suggested “To be successful, the Tamil struggle for rights and justice cannot depend primarily on international support. Tamil politicians and civil society will have to engage more directly in political debates beyond devolution and the north and east and build alliances with southern civil society organisations and parties interested in promoting democratic reforms.”
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to term this idea as ‘idealist’ despite it coming from an organization that is supposed to analyze politics on the basis of historical fact rather than hypothesis. A torturous 65 year history – since the unitary state in the island created by the colonial powers was handed over to the Sinhalese – shows that the Sinhala nation has stood by regimes that progressively intensified persecution and genocide of the Tamil nation.
While a minuscule minority of Sinhala progressives have supported the Eezham Tamil nation’s political rights, only those who have denied it and trampled on it have been the prime movers among the Sinhala nation.
Utopians can entertain fantasies about some time in the future when a majority of the Sinhalese shall recognize the misdeeds of the past. But considering the accelerated rate at which Sinhala militarization and colonization, assaults on Eezham Tamil identity and territory, in short, the protracted genocide of the Eezham Tamil nation is continuing, the Tamils are likely to end up as dispersed tribes and artefacts in a Sinhala museum by the time this realization among the Sinhalese occurs. In a realist analysis, Eezham Tamils neither have time nor the demography on their side.
These, in general, are lines that the diaspora encounter in 2013, three and a half years after the internationally abetted genocidal massacre at Mu’l’livaaykkaal.
What is to be done?
Years back, ‘Taraki’ Sivaram, senior editor of TamilNet assassinated by Sri Lanka, had drawn a line between the control over monopoly of violence by the Sinhalese in unitary Sri Lanka to the constitutionally sanctioned political violence against the Eezham Tamils via the 6th Amendment that made any person or organization demanding self-determination as beyond the frameworks of basic political and civil rights.
While this Sinhala monopoly over violence was halted for a brief period when the LTTE was functional as a de-facto state, after an internationally co-ordinated counterinsurgency campaign against the Tigers, aided by world powers for their vested interests, it was restored in a severe and virulent form post-May 2009.
Without any effective social or political power among the Eezham Tamils in the homeland to check it, the Sinhala military apparatus has deeply entrenched itself in the Tamil homeland, engaging in land grabs, Sinhalization, colonization, besides systematic abuses targeting women and the youth in specific. Besides a planned erasure of the territorial contiguity of the Tamil homeland, these acts are designed to permanently mutilate the Tamil nation. All of these have been documented by non-Tamil sources as well and the Establishments are well aware of them.
While the strategy for the Tamils world over should be the restoration of Tamil sovereignty, the different Tamil diaspora organizations negotiating with powers must arrive at a consensus to pursue an immediate tactic to alleviate the mutilation of the Eezham Tamil nation in the Tamil homeland by the occupying Sinhala military.
This can happen through an interim solution of an intervention of international powers in the island to facilitate the dismantling of the Sinhala military apparatus, thereby placing a check over the Sinhala monopoly over violence which is currently playing out as unchecked genocide.
A TamilNet editorial piece ‘Declare for referendum in any unity meeting’ published on July 2012 charted out a blueprint alluding to such an interim solution.
“The US and India should jointly facilitate conditions to conduct a UN presided referendum. The other powers may be left out, as they never cared for entering into any political interaction with Eezham Tamils.
The SL military has to be completely removed or strictly put under barracks during the interim period. Paramilitary groups have to be completely disarmed.
A situation has to be created for the free travel and interaction of the diaspora with the Tamils in the island. Palaali and Trincomalee airports have to be opened for this purpose.
A UN presided committee of stakeholders and a police recruited by it should take charge of administration, civil security and the process of referendum.”
This was also echoed in the suggestions put forth by new generation activists commenting to TamilNet in response to Tamil civil society submissions at the recently held ‘Exploring peaceful options’ meeting, convened by the GTF and facilitated by Berghof foundation. They said “The demands have to concentrate more on matters practically facilitating ground realities such as an interim international takeover of the situation, complete removal of occupying Sinhala ethnic military and other SL security forces as the SL military now functions in police uniform, ban on colonisation and guarantee to the territorial integrity of Eezham Tamils, and free access to the diaspora to reach out to its people in the island.”
In the current conditions, this tactic of an interim solution of intervention by international powers can be considered a necessity if the strategy of restoring the sovereignty of the Eezham Tamil nation is to be pursued systematically.
Only if the intervening powers ensure that the genocidal Sinhala military’s stranglehold over the Tamil homeland is broken, the 6th amendment declared null and void, there is a pre-constitutional recognition of the Eezham Tamil nation’s sovereignty and territoriality and an agreement to engage with the Tamils on an extra-constitutional solution, and Tamils in the diaspora and refugees from Tamil Nadu get free and safe access to their traditional homes, can the interim solution work effectively.
A submission by the Tamil civil society at the Berghof foundation meeting mentioned above states clearly why a “pre-constitutional recognition of Tamil Nationhood and self-determination” was imperative and why the 13th amendment or a federal constitution would not work.
Likewise, the tragic history of PTOMS experienced by the Eezham Tamil nation, which the Establishments are well aware of, should also inform why any solution that gives legitimacy to the Sri Lankan constitution can only be fundamentally flawed.
But will Sri Lanka let this happen? Will Sri Lanka’s friends let this happen?
Sinhala diplomat Dayan Jayatilleka, a staunch defender of Sinhala state’s genocidal war on the Eezham Tamil nation, in a recent article cited Sun Tzu’s famous injunction “know yourself, know your enemy”, ‘enemy’ of course being the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu. This article, written in an uncharacteristic forthright manner, provides insights to Tamil diplomats also to “know your enemy”.
About the attitude of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala rulers Dr. Jayatilleka writes “When they look in the mirror they do not see themselves or us as we are, they see Israel. This dangerous delusion confuses this small island which is vulnerable to a naval cordon sanitaire and whose significant military assets can be neutralized in a single strike by its giant neighbour, with the most powerful military entity in the Middle East. It confuses a state which has a powerful ethnic lobby in the world’s sole superpower with Sri Lanka which has and can have nothing of the sort.”
He further adds “Sri Lanka has not a single of Israel’s advantages. It cannot be any kind of model or inspiration for our conduct towards our Tamil citizens in the former conflict areas, the region or the world.
Colombo’s current delusions of being an Israeli type garrison state, seem to regard China as being to Sri Lanka what the US is to Israel as security patron and diplomatic guarantor, though their respective strategic capacities and global reach are vastly different.”
As a second crucial flaw made by the Sinhala rulers, he writes “the Sri Lankan leaders do not understand the limits of their state’s own hard power, in relation to both the soft power of other communities (Tamils, Muslims, Christians) and the hard power of other states (India, the USA). In short they do not understand the balance of power outside their shores. They do not grasp the larger reality in its tangible and intangible dimensions.”
Indeed, Sri Lanka is no Israel. Its military elite like Jagath Jayasuriya may speak about “enhanced C4I capability”, but its base is made of lumpen rural peasant youth who have a xenophobic mindset and paranoia of anything that they see as alien, western or more progressive than what has been instilled to them through the Sinhala Mahavamsa mindset.
While Pirapaharan’s LTTE built a fledgling air force from available talent in the Eezham Tamil nation, the Sinhala military had to rely on external aid even for elementary radars. Sri Lanka’s native model of COIN was genocide pure and simple. Thanks to international guidance, the Sinhala state’s intent to commit genocide was given a lethally effective COIN. Observers among the powers are well aware of the consequences of this, even if they choose to remain silent about it now.
Given this state of the Sri Lankan military, the Sinhala diplomat is right to be apprehensive that a single strike by a super power can take out the entire Sri Lankan military might, for all the bravado it puts up in military conferences.
Sri Lanka is not a market hub either. In simple economics, the combined capital of the Eezham Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu can buy out the Sri Lankan economy many times over. Sri Lankan economy thrives on militarization, a war economy even in supposed peace time. Here is where Dr. Jayatilleka fails to throw light on China’s interest. This model can adapt perfectly well to the Chinese ‘Capitalism with Asian Values’, but the US and India operating on a different premises are likely find themselves left in the lurch sooner or later. Besides, if the genocide of the territory and nation of the Eezham Tamils is complete, “Sinhala dvipa” (island of the Sinhalese) would implode making it unviable for anyone.
The only thing that worked in the favour of the Sinhalese till now is the strategically vital geo-political location of the island. Even here, the US and India have a greater chance of effecting a change in the island than does China.
The diplomats in the Tamil diaspora here need to use to their full extent the soft power they have. Any geo-political calculation for the island does not take place without taking the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu, one of the economically dominant states in India, into account. Tamils, as a whole, are a politically and economically vibrant community, with far global reach, entrepreneurial spirit and a pluralist society. Will the powers be willing to alienate such a people for the sake of short term geo-political interests favouring a genocidal primitivist Sinhala nationalism or will it be possible to arrive at a win-win situation?
If the negotiating Tamil diaspora organizations, with their knowledge and resources, can play its cards well, such a situation can be achieved. But it should be wary that the Powers, in the name of immediate alleviation of suffering of the Eezham Tamil nation in the island, do not lead them into a blind alley where they only end up strengthening the unitary state, through this regime or through a regime change.
The need of the hour is neither a blind faith that the Establishments will automatically deliver justice nor a belief that our moral high ground will automatically take us to victory. What are needed are meticulous planning, non-dogmatic thinking, efficient organization and co-ordination, an acute sense of tactics and strategy, and optimum utilization of available resources.
Using the opportunity created by global circumstances, the Sinhalese wreaked genocidal havoc on the Eezham Tamil nation in May 2009. In the current circumstances, if the diaspora organizations engaging in negotiations and diplomacy can persuade the powers to agree to the immediate tactic of the interim solution, while not losing sight of the larger strategy of securing Tamil sovereignty, the losses can be reversed and the “Thamizharin thaagam” (Tamils’ thirst) can be satisfied.
It should however be added as a sort of a postscript here that, while very important, battles in the grey terrain of diplomacy are not substitutes to grassroots mobilizations based on firm, uncompromising principles. It is a front, and a tricky front. As long as those engaging to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the powers do not forget the national will of Eezham Tamils in settling for nothing short of a Eezham Tamil sovereign political mechanism, so much the better.
Originally published on Sanhati
Speaking at a conference at Trinity College, Dublin on 24th May 2012 titled ‘The Local and the Global: The Geopolitics of Peace and Conflict’ exiled Sinhala journalist Bashana Abeywardane, opined that genocide was used as a Counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy by the Sri Lankan state to crush the armed struggle for a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam led by the LTTE. Citing British military strategist Frank Kitson, who had played an important role in suppressing the Mau Mau uprising and the insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party, Mr. Abeywardane said that when you want to neutralize an insurgency movement, you must destroy its “genuine subversive element” – arguing that in the case of Sri Lanka, the genuine subversive element in the island was the Tamil population as such. He further cited geo-political factors that influenced the decision of the world powers to support the Sri Lankan state’s military offensive leading up to May 2009, arguing that the island held geo-strategic importance only if it was a unitary political entity.
COIN, as the term suggests, is a war manoeuvre used against insurgents by states. While the principal feature of COIN is to ensure that a state facing an insurgency does not lose its constitutional-legal monopoly over violence in the territory it controls/seeks to control over to the insurgents, there are specific cases where COIN gains additional features as well. According to David Kilcullen, a leading COIN expert based in the US, counterinsurgency “is an umbrella term that describes the complete range of measures that governments take to defeat insurgencies. These measures may be political, administrative, military, economic, psychological, or informational, and are almost always used in combination.” He further adds that to understand strategies deployed in particular conflicts it is necessary to take into consideration “the nature of the insurgency being countered, the nature of the government being supported, and the environment—especially the human environment—in which the conflict takes place.”
As a phenomenon, countering insurgencies is as old as states and empires. As a concept, study in COIN gained momentum in the colonial period so as to deal with frequently occurring rebellions in colonies as well as to counter the “communist menace”. As a science, it grew with late modernity and the rise of what ‘Taraki’ Sivaram (iconic Eelam Tamil journalist, military analyst and senior editor of TamilNet who was assassinated by Colombo in 2005) called “counter-insurgency nation-states”. We must understand that COIN has developed as a science, deployed by specific actors in specific conditions as a science. And by virtue of its being a science, each deployment – whether successful, partially successful, or failed – is closely followed, studied and applied by various states engaged in COIN operations according to the particular conditions they encounter.
Some refined political analysts, understanding the geo-strategic importance of Sri Lanka, have argued that the Sri Lankan war machine was ideologically and materially equipped in its COIN operations against the Tigers by a confluence of world powers. Reflecting on this, Mark Whitaker writes in his biography of ‘Taraki’ Sivaram that “by the middle 1990s Sivaram had come to view Sri Lanka’s conflict as a kind of military-political laboratory in which the various repressive forces of late modernity (local and international) were testing their clever, often cruel, counter-insurgency tactics”. Just that the lab rats favoured by the world powers in the island had genocidal intentions.
From here, we need to chalk out those points that need to be outlined so as to further study the ‘Sri Lanka model’ of COIN – both objective conditions and subjective forces that existed in the island.
1) Location of the island of Sri Lanka makes it geo-strategically important. The position of the island between the routes of the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz make it an excellent base for a power seeking to exert influence in the Indian-Pacific waters;
2) Demographic distribution in the island, with the Eelam Tamils identifying the North and East region as their traditional homeland (i.e. Tamil Eelam).
3) A virulent strain of Sinhala/Sri Lankan nationalism that seeks to forcibly assimilate Eelam Tamils through Sinhalization, which possesses a neanderthal paranoia about external Tamil conspiracies to take over/divide its Sri Lanka, seeing the entire island as primarily Sinhala property, and exercises control over both repressive and ideological state apparatus;
4) An Eelam Tamil nationalism that had manifested itself as an armed struggle, that aspired for a political solution based on the right of nations to self-determination;
5) World powers with vested interests in preserving the unitary state structure of Sri Lanka.
The author needn’t spend time in elaborating on point (3). The inherent appeal for genocide that such a strain of nationalism would possess should be evident to readers. Suffice to point out that the ideological patriarch of Sinhala nationalism, Anagarika Dharmapala, a xenophobic monk who expounded theories of Sinhala race superiority and the need for their lebensraum, was greatly impressed by Japanese militarist nationalism. No wonder that what his sons did at Mullivaikaal is compared by Tamils to the Rape of Nanking.
Point (4) needs some observation. The armed struggle for Tamil Eelam led by the LTTE was categorized under “Identity-Focused Strategy” by the US Field Manual 3-24.2 on ‘Tactics in Counterinsurgency’ (April 2009). According to the manual, “The identity-focused strategy mobilizes support based on the common identity of religious affiliation, clan, tribe, or ethnic group. In this strategy, legitimacy and popular support are tied to their identity and, often, no effort is made to garner popular support outside their identity. Rather, communities often join the insurgent movement as a whole, bringing with them their existing social or military hierarchy. External support is garnered from international elements of the same identity.” Further, it is argued that this strategy “Protects what it considers the interest of the identity”, and “Mass base easily aligns with insurgency objectives.” In other words, the goals of this type of an insurgency includes preserving and protecting political, historical and cultural symbols that are of core value to the community, and the strength of this type of an insurgency is the support it enjoys amongst masses adhering to an identity.
To use Sivaram’s analysis , the LTTE, after it developed into a conventional army effectively challenging the monopoly of violence that the Sinhala state possessed, required the following conditions:
(A) A politically motivated population from which to raise battalions;
(B) An economy to raise resources to clothe, arm, feed and deploy its forces;
(C) A secure territory to train and barrack the forces;
(D) An efficient logistics system;
(E) Facilities to treat a battalion of wounded fighters.
To this, I would like to add another crucial condition (F), namely, a rear base to withdraw should a situation emerge when the best fighting forces risk complete annihilation. The Tigers had this in Tamil Nadu till the point when the Indian government turned hostile towards the Eelam Tamils’ struggle. The neutralization of the rear base by India cut-off the only possible, strategically favourable sanctuary the insurgents had in the region.
Other than this, the LTTE’s de facto state that emerged after hugely successful military operations against the Sri Lankan military secured all other conditions. Popular support among the Eelam Tamil people, a civilian infrastructure that functioned like a ‘normal’ government with its system of taxation, funds from a million strong diaspora, medical facilities to treat the wounded, a political and military stronghold in the Vanni region, and logistics system secured mainly through control of the sea with the Sea Tigers.
It was this force that the Sri Lankan state faced. From the conditions that the LTTE secured in their de facto state, we can map out those measures taken to destroy them.
Measures adopted by Sri Lankan government to destroy the LTTE:
(I) The measures taken by the co-chairs (the group of US, EU, Norway and Japan who were ‘managing’ the peace process initiated between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government since 2002 till its collapse in 2006) in the ceasefire period to restrict taxation by the LTTE in the territory in governed – but considering the taxation of the Sri Lankan government as legitimate ;
(II) The measures taken in the ceasefire period to restrict the movement of the Sea Tigers, thereby affecting flow of logistics;
(III) Foreign intelligence supplied to the Sri Lankan military to target and attack the Sea Tigers’ bases, boats and supply channels;
(IV) Proscription of the LTTE in Western countries where the Tamil diaspora is present, arrests of diaspora activists and criminalization of fund raising for political or relief purposes ;
(V) Sri Lanka’s undeclared embargo on food, medical and other basic supplies to LTTE controlled regions;
(VI) Sri Lanka ‘compelling’ the pull-out of relief organizations and NGOs after the collapse of the peace process in 2006;
(VII) Sri Lankan military’s systematic targeting of hospitals, educational institutions and food supplies so as to leave the Tiger’s civilian infrastructure in complete disarray;
(VIII) Making the secure territory of the insurgents insecure for the population;
(IX) Collective trauma inflicted to hurt not the insurgent alone, but the population as such, so as to destroy their political motivation. A study of the patterns of claymore attacks, Kfir bombings, and artillery shelling by the Sri Lankan military would show that these were intended to target the Tamil population primarily. Add to this cordon and search operations in Sri Lanka overrun Tamil territory, creation of High Security Zones and military enclaves, military checkpoints that make the Sinhala repressive state appear omnipresent, destruction of Tamil cultural and political symbols, routine tortures, rapes, interrogations, disappearances etc. The point is, reduce the population to subhuman conditions that let alone being political, even to be treated as something close to a human would appear as an act of benevolence by the Sinhalese.;
(X) Finally, with all external factors in its favour, with the political space for the Tigers completely blocked, and the internal factor of Sinhala nationalism being at an all time high, using the moment to inflict as much casualties as possible on the Eelam Tamil people as a warning of what would happen to those resisting Sinhala hegemony.
The adoption of these measures led to Mullivaikaal, with 40000 plus dead and many more disappeared. An observation of these measures shows that while the genocidal intention of internal actors in the state influenced the manner in which they handled conditions (A) and (C), the counter-strike to conditions (B) (D) (E) and (F) was dealt wholly or largely by external forces. Or, the external forces, which had vested interests in the island, created favourable conditions for the Sri Lankan state to unify the island through whatever means possible.
It all these known factors taken into account that made the ‘Sri Lanka model’ tick.
What followed after shows Sri Lanka’s operations did not stop with the military defeat of the Tigers. They are listed out as points to give readers a general overview – ideally, each of the points merits separate analysis – of what is happening in the so-called ‘post-war’ era. Some of these factors have been listed by Sivaram much earlier as being part of a COIN strategy.
— Increased military presence in the North and East and creation of military bases in Tamil areas. A report published in the July 14, 2012 issue of the Economic and Political Weekly titled “Notes on the Military Presence in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province” states that military to civilian ratio in the North is as high as 1:5 – higher than Kashmir. The Sinhala military monitors, dominates and penetrates all aspects of social, cultural and political life of the Eelam Tamils be it civil society protests, religious festivals or birthday celebrations. Paul Virilio contends that “Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of territory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost a matter of movement and circulation.” Sinhala military control of Tamil territory equals Sinhala possession over it, to facilitate smooth access of the Sinhala state apparatus to all corners of the island.
— Settlement of Sinhalese from the South in places where Tamils have been displaced. Tamil activists argue that this is a system of colonization intended to destroy the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland by bringing about demographic changes that would make them a minority in their own areas.
— Building of Buddhist statues and monuments celebrating Sinhalese triumph in Tamil areas often carried side-by-side with destruction and desecration of places of political or cultural importance to the Tamils.
— Parcelling out Tamil lands to foreign investors through a military-corporate nexus. A combine of free-market capitalism that respects no borders and a militarist state that is bent on breaking the sovereignty that the Tamils aspire to, works towards facilitating exploitation of human and material resources available in the Tamil homeland.
– Induced proliferation of drugs, alcohol and pornography among the Tamil people. Likewise, a high prevalence of sexual abuse of Eelam Tamil women by the Sri Lankan military and police forces has also been recorded. An ICG report on “Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East” credits this to the overwhelming military presence in the Tamil areas. However, the analysis and conclusions of this report has been criticized by Tamil feminists and scholars for failing to recognize the genocidal nature of the sexual violence perpetrated on the Eelam Tamils. Analysts further say that all of these processes have been intended to systematically tear the socio-cultural fabric that binds the Tamil people
— ‘Disappearances’ and routine psychological harassments of ex-LTTE cadres not just to make them broken persons, but also to warn those around of the consequences of rebellion. Particularly affected are women combatants. A TamilNet analytical feature details how women cadres have been subject to abuse and in many cases, forced pregnancies, in the course of ‘rehabilitation’. The fate of about 2000-3000 women cadres is still unknown, the feature notes.
What is to be noted here is that none of the world powers that aided the Sri Lankan state with ammunition and ideas, some of who have now started to ask the Sri Lankan government to speedily implement the “positive recommendations” of the ‘reconciliation’ commission setup by it, have addressed even one of these issues with the seriousness it deserves. Likewise, while the Sinhala nationalists justify/deny the above in the name of security, other observers call these processes a protracted genocide, results of structural violence. These are the effects of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ on the Eelam Tamil nation.
The science of COIN will add the ‘Sri Lanka model’ in its ambit. Already, numerous states across the world facing insurgencies have threatened to do a Sri Lanka on the rebelling people. Turkey of late has been making most references in public to this model to the Kurds. But as mentioned above, the success of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ depended on a combination of internal and external factors, objective conditions and subjective forces, none of which will be found at a different time and a different place – the laboratory and the lab rats would not be the same elsewhere. We must also realize that international legitimacy, ideas and weapons from all directions given to the internal actors who had genocidal intention played the major role in effecting the defeat of the insurgents and the concomitant genocide than the internal actors themselves. Other states needn’t have all the advantages that Sri Lanka had.
Then again, no COIN expert worth his salt would suggest a blind imitation of this model. It needs to be restated here that there is no pure model of COIN – each one influences the other and in turn is influenced by others. What will happen is that those aspects of the ‘Sri Lanka model’ that can find applicability in other conflicts will be studied deeper and applied accordingly.
One can see at least 3 general lessons emerging from the ‘Sri Lanka model’ that other states might find appealing to deal with insurgencies.
– Military solution first. Display ruthlessness in securing your hegemony and the population will be willing to accept any political solution you throw at them later.
– Winning ‘hearts and minds’ is outdated. Break the spine of the population; throw fear in their hearts and numb their minds. They will be grateful to you for letting them to just live.
– The press does nothing to influence public opinion that you don’t want it to. If they are against you, they are with the ‘terrorists’ and are to be dealt accordingly.
What this would mean for people involved in struggles against various oppressive governments is left to the reader’s imagination.
 See Mark Whitaker, “Learning Politics From Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka”, London: Pluto Press, (2007) p. 146.
 For further information on how the LTTE’s Peace Secretariat viewed the tilting of the parity of status by the co-chairs through various means during the peace talks, click this link.
 For a more elaborate account of how the criminalization of Tamil diaspora politics is still taking place in the West so as to arm-twist them to drop the demand for Tamil Eelam, refer to Vicki Sentas’ chapter “One more successful war? Tamil diaspora and counter-terrorism after the LTTE” in “Counter-Terrorism and state political violence: The ‘war on terror’ as terror” edited by Scott Poynting and David Whyte, Routledge (2012).
The pathology of the Sri Lankan army in the episode of Mullivaikaal would have been all too obvious to those who watched the Channel 4 video on ‘Killing Fields’ in Sri Lanka released last year – a phenomena that Tamils have been exposed to for decades, but now on prime time. While the zeal that the soldiers in the 99% Sinhala military showed in executing bound prisoners of war shocked audiences world over, many were unprepared for their drive and ‘call of duty’ in dealing with captured Tamil women – as shown in the scenes in the C4 video where Sinhala soldiers vividly describe the naked bodies of Tamil women combatants whom they had sexually abused before executing with words that would make a pornographer blush.
But what is the rationale behind these ‘excesses’? Is there an ideology behind this or is it just yet another crime committed during a counterinsurgency war?
Those who followed what happened after the release of the documentary would be familiar with the crass sexist, gender-insensitive remarks made by Defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on one of the female war witnesses who appeared in the video. While observers looked at it as the rant of a paranoid, what was missed was that same sentiments, if not worse, were expressed by the Singapore based Sri Lankan ‘counterinsurgency expert’ Rohan Gunaratna in one of his lectures on ‘Defeating the LTTE on foreign soil’ recently.[i] The gentleman, who has a few books printed in respectable publishing houses to his credit, instead of addressing the allegations of war-crimes and genocide placed by some prominent Eelam Tamil women war witnesses, was more interested in commenting about their looks and personal lives. An intimidation tactic? Or does an ideology lie behind this?
To paraphrase Mao, the best weapons the oppressed could use are framed by the enemy. Very well then.
The Sri Lankan liberal website Groundviews had a few days back published an article titled ‘History after the war: Challenges for Post War Reconciliation’.[ii] The author Dr. Dewasiri, a Sri Lankan academic, raises some interesting points regarding the dominant ideology in the ‘united island’.
1. In the Sinhala-Buddhist ideology the unitariness of Sri Lanka is not based on modern premises, but on a belief that this has been so for ages.
2. The ‘Tamil North’ in the island is a place to be conquered and occupied.
3. The military defeat of the LTTE, which had put a checkmate to this Sinhala conquest ever since its inception and the concomitant Sri Lankan military presence in the Tamil homelands alone was not enough. Tamils had to be de-nationalized and the Sinhala-Buddhist presence had to be increased in the North and East of the island.
That the author fails to deduce and state from this the genocidal intent of the Sinhala apparatus leading to Mullivaikaal, the protracted nature of the genocide of the Eelam Tamils aimed to culminate at a moment of complete Sinhalization, and the ethico-political need to support the demand for Tamil Eelam, is of course not his fault. A liberal academic, this is as far as he can go.
But his admission of the desire of Sinhala nationalist ideology for the conquest of Tamil lands gives us hints to the problem at hand.
Classic aggressive colonization of a land always imagines and equates conquest of land with control of that land’s women. While in action it usually works out in different forms – enslavement, rape, prostitution etc. in the level of discourse, it works as desire for seduction and possession of the native. From Said on to Chinua Achebe, a variety of postcolonial scholars have written on such ideological functions of colonial literary canons. The narration of ‘white man seducing and possessing the native and living together happily ever after’ has always been accompanied in real life by a most brutal pillage of the land of the natives, which it masks in romance.
Consider this personal narrative of a Sinhala gentleman married to a Tamil woman published on Groundviews.[iii] At surface level, it seems to ooze with sexuality and sentimentality. But as one goes towards the end, the theme is clear. Through an idealization of his relationship with his partner, the idea of ‘they’ existing as a distinct nation is dismissed and only ‘us’ is upheld as ideal. There is no guilt on the fact that over 100,000 of the nation of his ‘Other’ was killed fighting for a separate state by the government he pays taxes to. Only a frustration that despite her willingness to be as Sri Lankan as the Sinhalese, there is still discrimination. The desire for his partner becomes transposed through his narration onto a desire for a united Sri Lanka, which incidentally practices structural genocide against the Other nation.
The cynical multiculturalist argument – ‘Oh, they are not so much different from US after all. And they try to be like US too. So why cant we all just be US?’ To use an argument that Zizek used in his dissection of Avatar, beneath the politically correct words of this narrator, an array of brutal racist motifs exist. For his plea is only for those who are willing to be part of ‘us’. An Isaipriya, who would have never been part of ‘them’, was raped and killed. Along with hundreds like her.
Then, the logic of the soldier who believes that by raping a Tamil woman he is inflicting a blow on Tamil nation/culture is precisely the practical reflection of the logic of the Sinhala male who believes that by his wooing of the Tamil woman, the unitary state of Sri Lanka is possible/preserved.
(Does this mean that love cannot exist between individuals of the two nations? The author would never suggest that. But, if this ‘love’ translates into a discourse, a narration that justifies/upholds/masks an oppressive structure, it ceases to be an emotion. It becomes political. Moreover, in the time of Genocide even love, especially love, is a political act.)
A more obvious example would be the Sri Lankan High Commissioner for Australia, Admiral Samarasinge (himself an individual accused of war crimes) stating to Australian parliamentarians about the success of reconciliation in the island by giving the case of a “recent marriage which had taken place between a Sri Lankan soldier and a former LTTE combatant.”[iv] Meaning is this. The wedding of a Sinhala soldier, emblematic of all that is ‘good’ in Sri Lankan society, to a Tamil Tiger combatant, emblematic of all that is ‘evil’ in Tamil society, shows that the island is finally one. A symbolic conquest par excellence of the hated/desired Other.
Frantz Fanon in his brilliant analysis of the role of Algerian women in resistance in the article ‘Algeria Unveiled’ notes how the colonizer viewed the veil as an impediment to his penetrative gaze, his desire to possess the feminine body of the colonized. “The European faced with an Algerian woman wants to see. He reacts in an aggressive way before the limitation of his perception. Frustration and aggressiveness, here too, evolve apace.”The ‘veil’ in this case is, of course, the Tiger uniform. The female cadre is a revolutionary subject militantly fighting the objectification of the Tamil feminine body by Sinhala patriarchy, creating history on the field through herself, by virtue of her uniform and her weapon. Considering that the women combatant of the LTTE often outshined their male comrades in inflicting crushing defeats on the Lankan army, her body and her uniform were symbolic of castration of the patriarch-par-excellence.
To the army man, the body of the female combatant and the uniform that veils it is unchartered territory, a mysterious locus of his neurotic-pathological desire and hatred, a symbolic challenge to his masculinity. So when the Tigers were militarily defeated, he had to unveil the inaccessible, he had to prove his masculine credentials; he had to reassert the supremacy of Sinhala patriarchy. At the risk of sounding cold, the sexual abuse of Tamil women cadres was expected. The very nature of Sinhala militarist-colonization of Tamil territory seeks to feminize the Tamil body-politic and penetrate it. The rape of the women who resist this penetration at both subjective and symbolic levels then needs to be seen not as case of individual pathology alone, but also as a systemic necessity.
‘Taraki’ Sivaram, the iconic senior editor of TamilNet who was assassinated by Sri Lanka, had observed that “One of the things that a regime of terror expects is the total submission of women to the regime of terror. Basically the regime of terror expects women to be sex slaves.” Submission needn’t be rape alone, though the threat of rape is always there. It needs simply to be the acceptance of the authority (legal, extra-legal, social) of the Sinhala patriarch and his symbolic figure. Dr. Dewasiri’s article talks about Sinhala-Buddhist ‘pilgrims’ flocking to Jaffna and about this being a politico-ideological act. But it has no mention of the proliferation of brothels in the city and the general profile of its customers. Nor does it mention Sri Lankan brokers from the south trafficking economically disadvantaged Tamil women from their homeland to other parts of the island, and sometimes, even outside the island. Nor the fact some of the commanders of the occupying army have advised the soldiers to ‘fall in love and marry’ the women, if possible that is.
To sum it up, sexual violence/attention that Eelam Tamil women face in their homelands is not an act of aberration committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces occupying Tamil Eelam, but is an inherent necessity of a neanderthalic Sinhala nationalism that wishes complete conquest of Tamil Eelam’s geography and concurrently views the body of the Tamil woman as a landscape of its desire, as an object if possessed will ensure the state’s unitary structure.
It is then obvious, as quite some Eelam Tamil feminists have pointed out, that the liberation of Eelam Tamil women is impossible without the liberation and complete decolonization of Tamil Eelam.
Women’s Day wishes.
Originally on Countercurrents
The ‘Tamil Sovereignty Cognition’ declaration that was released today (Nov 27, 2011), on the momentous occasion of Heroes Day, appears as a significant step in building a political consensus among the Tamils, especially the Eelam Tamil diaspora, in order to pave a path for future politico-legal action that would ensure justice for the Eelam Tamils. It is clear from the declaration that the (much abused) terms ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ are impossible to think of without addressing “the chronic national question of the Eelam Tamils in the island, where genocidal and structural genocidal approaches continuously deployed against the Tamil people in their homeland in the North and East of the island, by the Sri Lankan state with tacit approval of world powers”.
The timing and the structure of the declaration is particularly important in that it is a concrete step in making a solution within the unitary system of Sri Lanka intellectually impossible. While the sham Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report that is to be released soon completely whitewashes the Sri Lankan state and society of all involvement in a clear case of genocide while, maybe, just maybe, having token prosecutions (which again do not indicate any punishment corresponding to the nature of crime committed), the declaration clearly identifies the problem in the root of the conflict – the very socio-political and legal structure of Sri Lanka. It is impossible for a state structure that is based, since its origins, on a systematized oppression of a nationality to dole out any fair solution to them. The solution, then, needs to take place beyond the structure. And the declaration is clear in pointing this out in its assertion that “all outside players should drop insisting on finding solutions only within a united Sri Lanka”.
The signatories to the declaration – Poonkuzhali Nedumaran, writer and activist from Tamil Nadu, Krisna Sarvanamuttu, a student activist from Canada, Rajeev Sreetharan, affiliated to Tamils Against Genocide, USA and Lathan Suntheralingam, activist from Switzerland – who also spoke on the occasion of its release on Heroes Day, highlighted the impossibility of a united Sri Lanka and opined that a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam was the only solution to the problems of the Eelam Tamil people. While Poonkuzhali emphasised the role Tamil Nadu should play in the future struggle, Rajeev Sreetharan spoke of the need for the means of the Tamils’ struggle to evolve by innovative use of politico-legal mechanisms. Suntheralingam spoke of the pressing necessity for the Eelam Tamils to work with progressive and democratic forces world over who principally stand by their just demands. All were of the opinion that there was a need for a co-ordinated global action that would ensure justice for the Eelam Tamils.
Complementing Sreetharan, who observed that one cannot use the argument of ‘territorial integrity’ in the context of decolonization, Krisna Saravanamuttu asserted the need to reject “the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka” and the “constitutional monopoly of violence” that the Sri Lankan state possesses as both necessarily involved genocide of Tamils. Many years back, Sivaram, one of the leading intellectuals of the Eelam Tamil nation who was murdered by the Sri Lankan state, had elaborated this idea of constitutionally sanctioned violence through the following three points
“(a) Control of national wealth by the Sinhalese, as stipulated in the Constitution saying that the Parliament has complete control; (b) control of the monopoly of violence by the Sinhalese in a manner prejudicial to the Tamils – that is, the executive controls the army and the Parliament provides for it; but the executive is always Sinhala and so is the Parliament, and the army always remains Sinhala Buddhist; and (c) complete and inalienable control over the land.”
This is probably the shortest and most precise introduction to Sri Lanka. Sivaram was stating this at a time when these processes received a checkmate through the de facto state of the Eelam Tamils governed by the Tigers. Without the counter-hegemony of the LTTE, of course, it is back to square one.
These points of Sivaram and the arguments raised by Sreetharan and Saravanamuttu are of crucial importance as they compel us to reflect on certain key issues. First, in the inheritance of the colonial state apparatus that brought together two nations in a system that privileges the numerically superior one, conditions were laid to facilitate the socio-economic, political and cultural domination of the Sinhala nation over the Tamil nation. Second, the occupation of Tamil homelands emulates classical models of aggressive colonization where-in, through the direct use of or with the threat of violence, the natives are assimilated or if they resist, annihilated.
Third, a state of emergency is always maintained in the occupied areas so as to keep the subject population in a state of trauma wherein, let alone the right to a political solution, even the right to live appears to be an act of generosity of the Lankan state – this necessarily involves routinization of acts of interrogation, torture, sexual violence, abduction, desecration of cultural symbols, and tearing down of social fabric. The figure of the Sinhala is sought to be made omnipresent and omnipotent in Tamil territories. Fourth, ‘monopoly of truth’, silencing of voices that articulate Tamil national demands, propping up of dummy figures who speak in the name of Tamils but serve Sri Lankan interests, the creation of an intellectual discourse through a carefully cultivated ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ elite that obfuscates the Real question of Eelam Tamil nationality.
The declaration conceptually challenges the ‘monopoly of truth’ that Lanka and its friends claim to wield in defending their unitary state, through its concise elucidation of the three types of sovereignties that the Tamils can lay claim to namely historical, earned and remedial. That the genocide of the Eelam Tamils is a structural and protracted process is made clear. The task now is for the youth, activists, legal professionals, intellectuals and others to use this declaration as a conceptual reference point for future activities and ensure that the question of Tamil sovereignty is never compromised.
It is harmless to remind here once again that the only democracy that the Eelam Tamils tasted in the sordid history of Sri Lanka was when their sole representatives wielded a parallel state power. It is naivety to expect anything democratic from a unitary state of Sri Lanka, no matter who leads it.