Rape: Sri Lanka’s Weapon of Genocide

Posted in Liberation Struggles by Karthick RM on July 13, 2013

Article originally published on Sanhati

Co-Authored with Dr. N. Malathy, key member of NESoHR, and author of ‘A Fleeting Moment in My Country: The Last Years of the LTTE De-Facto State”

My fellow Tamil women
What have you done for peace in the isle?
Take off your clothes and open up your vagina
For the Sinhala warriors of the land of Buddha
– Poem by an Angry Tamil Woman

On February 26th 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on sexual violence perpetrated on Tamil detainees by Sri Lankan security forces. The 140 page report, titled “We will teach you a lesson – Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces”, contains 75 cases of Tamil men and women who were tortured and sexually abused repeatedly by Sri Lankan forces. The HRW report further indicates that these cases are but examples of a much broader pattern in the abuses perpetrated by Sri Lanka’s security apparatus.

“The sexual violence that we are talking about in this report, it is not random, it is not some criminal element engaging in violence. There is method in it. It’s deliberate, it’s premeditated. This is coercive, designed to intimidate, to instil fear, to extract information, sometimes to extract confessions… This is a deliberate policy,” David Mepham, UK director of HRW said at a Press Meet in London.

He further stated an independent international investigation needs to take place in Sri Lanka to probe allegations of such abuses. However, in an interview to TamilNet [1], Mr. Mepham said that while HRW was of the view that “systematic human rights abuses have been perpetrated by the Government of Sri Lanka against elements of the Tamil population”, they have not concluded that this was part of a genocidal plan.

Before 2009, the prominent organizations like HRW that were carrying out the public discourses were focussing more on blaming the LTTE on ‘child soldiers’, ‘forcible recruitment’ etc and had little or no focus on the systematic rapes committed by the Sri Lankan army. With the recent admission of a UN official to HRW that “a large number of women fleeing from the conflict areas during the peak of fighting were sexually assaulted” and that “The abuse was extensive, causing a large number of civilians to flee back to the theatre of conflict to escape the abuse,” [2] even the allegation that the Tigers were using civilians as ‘human shields’ falls on weak grounds.

Rapes against Eelam Tamils have been used by the Sinhalese in riots, pogroms, police and military operations ever since the Sinhalese took to power and gained a constitutionally sanctioned monopoly over violence in the colonially created unitary state. After the onset of the Eelam Tamil liberation struggle, if there was one period where the rapes dropped to the lowest levels, it was after Pirapaharan’s LTTE crippled the Sri Lankan military in the Unceasing Waves operations and effectively challenged the Sinhala monopoly over violence through its de facto state. After the internationally aided counterinsurgency operation against the LTTE which led to its military defeat in May 2009, along with a massacre of epic proportions in Tamil history, the Sinhala army went on an orgy of rape of the remaining Tamils, civilians and LTTE cadres alike. The abuses in the IDP camps, aptly described by some as “Concentration Camps”, have been well documented by numerous sources.

A cruel logic for the rapes can be that they were war time ‘excess’ as has known to happen in many wars across the world. But facts on the ground show that it is precisely in the ‘stabilized’, ‘post-conflict’ Sri Lanka that the vulnerability of Eelam Tamil women to sexual abuse has reached levels hitherto unheard of in their history [3]. Indeed, many of the cases in the HRW report are post-2009 and HRW personnel claim that these are but samples of a much larger problem.

One of the authors had already written about the ideology behind rape in united Sri Lanka. [4] The ideology of a ‘united Sri Lanka’, Sinhala colonization and militarization of the Tamil homeland, requires rape of Eelam Tamils as a practice for it to sustain itself. Rape of Tamils is ingrained both in the neurotic-pathological desire of Sinhala nationalism to penetrate and possess the Tamil homeland and in the political economy of the Sinhala military apparatus that colonizes it. HRW is right to note that rape of Tamils was deliberate and methodical. However, HRW would have been closer to the ground reality had it recognized this systematic rape as a weapon of genocide.

The public discourses of prominent international organizations like the HRW is sandwiched between two other layers of discourses that continue to take place but do not become very public. One layer of discourse considers the strategies to be used by the real power centres and its military arms for containing the restless masses also known as the counter insurgency strategies. The other discourse in the other layer is indeed that of the restless masses like the poem cited at the beginning. Tamils knew of the strategy of sexual violence used by the Sri Lankan military, its extent and its nature. Several Tamil activists, in the island, from Tamil Nadu, and in the diaspora, have been stating much before the so-called end of the war in 2009 that rape was used as a weapon of genocidal war by the Sri Lankan state forces. For example see the video clip [5] for comments made by three Tamil women as early as 2006. One of them is one of the authors. This author has in possession 60 handwritten affidavits made in 2006 by Tamil political detainees describing in detail the very violent sexual assaults on them by both male and female Sri Lankan armed forces. Another commentator in the video clip, Dr Elumathy Karikalan, was disappeared by the Sri Lankan military after she walked out of the war zone.

While the three Tamil women noted above were able to document and describe the sexual violence in the safety of Vanni under the LTTE in 2006, today no Tamil living in the island has the safety to record them. After marginalising the Tamil women activist through the genocide of the Tamils, organizations like HRW, however, through their vast resources are able to gather and record these thus monopolising the human rights reporting of the Tamils.

The latest attention to the sexual violence against Tamils by the organizations like HRW after neglecting this issue for years is a good example of how these organizations remain loyal to the power centres and selectively focus on the discourses of the masses in their service to the power centres. In this case, the need of the power centres to change the regime in Sri Lanka.

Carolyn Nordstrom who had carried out extensive field work in war zones writes, “‘Rape stands as a powerful example of physical assaults that are intended to carry deeper, supraphysical, impacts. I have listened to hundreds of accounts of rape, and few focus primarily on the physical pain. It is the emotional trauma, the social shame, and the violation of humanity that is conveyed most strongly in these accounts. What makes rape so grievous an act isn’t just the assault against the body, but the attacks against family, dignity, self-worth, and future. I have seen women suffer tremendously, even die, in difficult childbirths. I have seen devastating vaginal infections women have carried for months, even years, on front lines devoid of medicines. The physical pain involved in these is often as severe as that suffered in rape, and the grief over the deceased and the infirm as great as any war casualty. But these don’t invoke the horror of rape and the intent that underlies such aggression.” [6]

Kevin Gerard Neill also commenting on sexual violence perpetrated against women during war writes “Like any rifle or shell, rape in war assumes the level of being a weapon. It serves a specific military purpose. Putting aside for a moment the unforgivable defiling of an individual woman, rape in war achieves the goal of demoralizing and intimidating the side of the victim. It wounds identity and pride. And, in a traditional society, rape will likely be internalized by the victim, her family and, in the end, by the community in which she lives. In this manner, raping the women of a defeated people or nation becomes part of the effort to destroy them.” [7]

Abjectness, in effect, is worse than being objectified because the person is made to feel that they are a polluted object or a despicable thing. The women rape survivors know that they were raped not just because they were women, but because they were Tamil women. Unlike other rape victims, the appearance of PTSD in such women is marked by anxiety about their sense of identity as well because they were defiled by an enemy whom their kith and kin are fighting to preserve their identity. The individual trauma is experienced by those subject to abuse also as cultural trauma, leaving psychological scars on the subject, their families and the community, thus preventing them from creative political participation. The climate of Sinhala omnipresence and dominance perpetuated by the Sri Lankan state in the occupied Tamil homeland only accentuates this trauma. Which is why the argument that the abuses committed by the SL state apparatus should not be seen as individual human rights violations or as ‘sad stories’, as is the fashion with some liberal bleeding hearts, but rather as part and parcel of an intended genocide of a protracted nature.

As noted by the disappeared Dr Elumathy Karikalan in the video clip noted above, on the part of the Tamils at large too, a substantive social change is expected. Vietnamese resistance led by the Vietminh, noticing the stigma that the women raped by American troops faced from their society, declared rape survivors as national heroines. Considering the extent of sexual violence perpetrated in the occupied homeland of Eelam Tamils both during the war and after, Tamils world over should also consider dramatic changes to their social approaches to rape and torture survivors.


[1] ‘Sexual violence against Tamils is premeditated, deliberate’: HRW UK Director
[2] “We Will Teach You a Lesson: Sexual Violence against Tamils by Sri Lankan Security Forces”, Human Rights Watch Report, 2013, p7
[3] Former LTTE cadres are in a particularly vulnerable position. See “Genocidal sex abuse of ex-LTTE female cadres becomes routine in North and East
[4] “Ideology behind military rape in ‘United Sri Lanka’” by Karthick RM
[5] Rape – A Poem and Comments by Three Tamil Eelam Women
[6] Carolyn Nordstrom, “Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century”, University of California Press, 2004, p63
[7] Kevin Gerard Neill, “Duty, Honor, Rape: Sexual Assault Against Women During War” in Journal of International Women Studies, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Nov-2000, p47


Cows in Tiger Skin: Lessons from Jaffna 1987 and Geneva 2013

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on March 31, 2013
Of Tigers and Cows

Of Tigers and Cows

Also see at Countercurrents

In the political discourse of the Eelam Tamils, ‘thurohi’ or traitor is the worst abuse that can be hurled at a Tamil. While the armed struggle led by the Tigers began with a punishment meted out to a traitor, the term as such gained popularity in the landmark year 1987.

After Rajeev Gandhi’s India and Jayawardane’s Sri Lankan government signed the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in July 1987, the controversial 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, that promised minimal devolution of powers to Tamils within unitary Sri Lanka, was made. India also despatched the Indian Peace Keeping Force the same year to ensure the implementation of this accord.

Even as other Tamil militant groups were arm-twisted by India into accepting the accord, Pirapaharan’s LTTE stoutly rejected it. What followed, the LTTE-IPKF war, involving over a hundred thousand Indian soldiers at its heights, with Jaffna bearing the worst brunt of Indian army atrocities, is history. And the other Tamil militant groups who uncritically accepted the accord were branded as traitors not just by the Tigers but by the Tamils at large.

Why reject the 13th amendment? A few obvious points:

1. It does not recognize the sovereignty of the Eelam Tamil nation but desires to preserve “the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka”.

2. It does not recognize the North and East of the island (Tamil Eelam) as the historical homeland of the Eelam Tamil nation but that “the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups”.

3. The North and East are not unconditionally recognized as one inseparable unit, but rather the East may have a referendum to decide whether it should “constitute a separate administrative unit having its own distinct provincial council with a separate Governer, Chief Minister and Board of Ministers.” (The Eelam Tamil political pundits who are still talking about ‘internal self-determination’ should note this)

4. While the Tamils will be disarmed, there are no restrictions on the monopoly of violence that the Sinhala state holds in that “The Government of Sri Lanka will utilise for the purpose of law enforcement and maintenance of security in the Northern and Eastern Provinces the same organisations and mechanisms of Government as are used in the rest of the country.”

The other Tamil militant groups who welcomed this accord were not inherently intentionally bad political actors. Most, in fact, with the best of intentions and/or lacking the strength to critically oppose external pressures, adopted the wrong concept. Wrong concepts gave wrong ideas. And wrong ideas brought about wrong actions.

They were confined to the dustbins of history by the Tamils. Branded as traitors.

But the best argument these poor creatures put up at that time was that “If we oppose India, what else do we have for support?”

Come Geneva 2013 and the US resolution on Sri Lanka that was passed on March 21.

The student upsurge in Tamil Nadu, youth protests in the diaspora, several Eelam Tamil grassroots organizations in the homeland and in the diaspora have rejected it outright.

Why did the reject the US resolution which is according to some ‘against Sri Lanka’?

1. Let alone mention of the Tamil national question, there is not even mention of the word ‘Tamil’ in the resolution. Reading the resolution, a person unfamiliar with the conflict would get the image that it was an internal scuffle within a nation called Sri Lanka. Nothing close to the ground reality of an irreconcilable war between Sri Lanka and the Eelam Tamil nation.

2. Let alone mention of genocide, or even that weak term ‘war crimes’, there is no mention of even ‘war’.

3. The only hint of the Tamil movement in the island is that of ‘terrorism’, thereby delegitimizing the Tamil cause. Or course, with the necessary appeals to adhere to international law. “States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, as applicable”.

4. While abuses should be avoided, and ‘minority’ rights should be safeguarded, the state is the final sovereign authority.

5. Explicit legitimization of LLRC, which does not recognize any Tamil traditional area, and is a blueprint for a protracted, structural genocide through Sinhala colonization.

Now, the people who welcomed this resolution call themselves ‘realists’. And the people who opposed this resolution, which practically is worse than the empty 13th amendment, on conceptual grounds are called ‘leftists’ or ‘extremists’.

Pirapaharan’s LTTE was called impractical for opposing the 13th Amendment and the IPKF by the other Tamil militant groups.

Just like the Tamil groups in Jaffna 1987, the ‘realists’ at Geneva 2013 also say “If we oppose the US resolution, what else do we have for support?”

The obvious historical questions, of course, elude these misguided souls. Why didn’t Pirapaharan do the same in 1987 and accept the solution that India offered? Why didn’t he accept Premadasa’s offer in the early 90’s for ‘ellaam but Eelam’ (anything but Eelam)? Why was he adamant in refusing to unconditionally accept any clause on ‘internal self-determination’ that was unwittingly promoted by certain Tamil sections during the peace talks?

Those who do not understand or who deliberately refuse to understand Pirapaharan the concept will never understand why he did these. Pirapaharan was also a realist – a realist who believed that conceptual weakness would scar the Tamil nation’s polity, a realist who recognized the intentions and interests of powers as regards the island, and a realist who understood that a people’s struggle is the greatest material manifestation of realism.

The Geneva ‘realists’ however seem to believe in a free lunch provided by powers. Rather than a clear calculation on the basis of the collective strength of their people, their experiences, their knowledge, they seem to have more faith that the world powers will be fed up with the intransigence of the Sri Lankan state and would offer them Tamil Eelam on a platter. Maybe this is why they disparage mass protests against the US resolution and prefer to be more western than the west while articulating Tamil concerns.

A popular adage among Tamils is “pasu thol pothiya puli” – Tiger in cow’s skin.

The current context demands the inverse actually. Especially considering that some of these lobbyists wouldn’t dare openly endorse reconciling with unitary Sri Lanka in Tamil forums.

Let the cows in Tiger skin keep waiting for their free lunch. The real realists in the Tamil polity must realize that there is going to be neither justice nor freedom for the Eelam Tamil nation without a concrete, conceptually clear struggle against the establishments.

Negotiating Tamil Sovereignty with the Powers – What the Diaspora Diplomats can do

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on February 14, 2013

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.

Genocide as Counterinsurgency – Brief Notes on the “Sri Lanka Model”

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on October 12, 2012

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.

Objective conditions:

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).

Subjective forces:

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 [1], 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 [2];

(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 [3];

(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.

[1] 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.
[2] 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.
[3] 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).

Chencholai in Image and Words: A Personal Account

Posted in General by Karthick RM on August 15, 2012

Originally published on JDS

I never thought writing would become a passion before that fateful night. In fact, I was averse to writing like most of my classmates in my undergrad course. Surrealist writers have contested that words contain magical powers, that they can provide the reader who listens to the heartbeat of the script a plethora of sounds, images and sensations. I didn’t attach much meaning to words then.

And like many who can talk but cannot speak, I was immune to the magic of the word, deaf to the music that it contains, blind to the colours it shows. Yet, it was through words that I heard of sufferings of Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. Through stories, I had heard of past and present horrors committed on an ethnic group – one to which I belonged to but rarely identified with till then. Words spoken by those who fled the island country in the past projected to me a picture of what life under totalitarianism is.

But no words prepared me for the shock of the image that came along with a mail in my inbox the 14th night of August 2006.

Event: Chencholai orphanage bombing.
Place: Mullaitheevu.

Orphans of History

The picture was aesthetic. It showed two neat rows of dead children. Sixty-one girls, aged between 16 and 18, who were killed as the orphanage they were staying in was bombed in the course of the Lankan armed forces’ glorious war on terror. There were logs of wood in a corner and people standing like wooden blocks around the dead children, who appeared to be sleeping like logs. I couldn’t figure out where the lifelessness in the picture was – in the wood, in the dead children, or in the standing corpses who knew that this would be their eventual fate – that made the image all the more worse for me. These were orphans.

I eventually would meet the person who captured this image, TamilNet’s wartime correspondent from Vanni, A. Lokeesan. As we conversed, our bonding was instantaneous. After all, it was his image that changed forever the way I see things. His image informed the world the intention of the Sri Lankan state that killed children and called them terrorists. His image spoke to establishments that the Sri Lankan military strategy had the Tamil population as such as its target for assault and not the Tigers alone. “The world knew,” he said “that Chencholai was a prelude to something more horrible. But it didn’t care. Because these were orphans. Like the rest of us.”

Orphans of history.

They cried for themselves. They buried their own dead, burying their innocence and hopes with them. Others rarely cared. After this image, I could no longer read news from mainstream newspapers like before. Words started being interpreted differently. When I encounter disparaging reports on ‘child soldiers’, I ask ‘what do children do when their characteristic trait, innocence, has been brutally snatched away from them?’ When I read ‘suicide bombers’, I wonder ‘what do people do when living is dying and only a self-imposed death gives an iota of meaning to an otherwise senseless existence?’ The worst, then, is not ‘terrorism’ or ‘secession’ as those above, those with power over meaning, want us to believe. “The worst is when people – knowingly or not – carry prison inside themselves” (Nazim Hikmet) A better description of the existential condition of Tamils in unitary Sri Lanka cannot be found.

After Chencholai, words and their meanings started changing.

Words like ‘casualty’ and ‘collateral’ gave me images of families killed in air raids. ‘Unity’, a word loved by the Sri Lankan government, became the image of an army barrack in Jaffna while ‘reconciliation’ became the image of the soldier who executed naked, bound and blindfolded Tamil prisoners of war.

The antonym of ‘death’, then, was not ‘life’, but ‘freedom’ and ‘resistance’ was the synonym of ‘justice’. ‘Love’ was a flag held high in defiance of a world that seeks to shun it, while ‘faith’ was commitment to the ideals of those who gave their present so that we could inherit the future. And ‘Tamil’ became not the name of a language or a culture but the political identity of a people seeking their place in the world.

Words gave me ideas in new places, poetry in unexpected corners and prose flowing towards new avenues. Revelations of the higher kind happen, I believe, either with bliss or pain. I found mine in the latter. A revelation that my identity is a weapon and that it fires words.

Words that shall narrate the history of orphans.

Our history.

Deconstructing Sri Lanka’s reconciliation discourse

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on June 18, 2012

Originally published on JDSLanka

When the Lankan government triumphantly announced the ‘defeat’ of the LTTE on May 19th 2009, there was great jubilation among chauvinist forces in the island. While there are more than enough credible evidences to show what happened to the Eelam Tamils during this period and after – killing of civilians, mass rapes, routinization of torture, denial of medical care to the sick and the injured, to name a few – popular enthusiasm for the regime that made this possible was at its peak in the south.

And after the smoke in Vanni subsided and the diaspora began turning on the heat for an independent international investigation to probe charges of genocide, a word started entering the discourse around Sri Lanka in a big way. Reconciliation. Gotabaya talks of it. The opposition talks of it. Liberal Sinhala and Tamil activists talk of it. India and the West talk of it. NGOs talk of it. But many Tamils remain cynical of the word, three years after Mullivaikaal.


An elaborate report tabled by experts handpicked by the Sri Lankan government called the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ waxed eloquent on measures to be taken so as to achieve unity in the island. While the report completely exonerates the government, let alone from charges of genocide, from even the liberal accusations of human rights violations, it lays the blame for the misery of the Eelam Tamils squarely on the most committed defenders of their interests, the Tigers. Adding the necessary points on the need to address this or that grievance to give itself some credibility to observers, the report brims with enthusiasm for building a united Sri Lanka. Multi-lingual schools, bilingual anthems, pluralist approach to culture, people to people contact, and yes, mechanisms “that would effectively address and discourage secessionist tendencies and safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of the State.” Over the bones of the more than hundred thousand dead Tamils, that is. The real message of the devisors of the LLRC seems to be that Tamils have learnt a lesson and must reconcile to the fact that they are a minority at the tender mercies of the state, not a nationality, and that the there is no imagination beyond the unitary Sri Lanka. And yes, that the LTTE and its ‘secessionist’ project is a ghost of the past.

The same spirit was reflected in the recent US backed resolution in the Geneva UNHRC session, which called for a speedier implementation of the LLRC (a resolution rightly criticized by the civil society in the island, activists in Tamil Nadu and politically informed organizations in the diaspora for being grossly inadequate). Unfortunately for the international powers, GoSL and all the mechanisms it might promote through the recommendations of the LLRC, some ghosts do haunt the Sri Lankan and Eelam Tamil polities. This was evident in the commemoration of Heroes Day in many parts of the territory of Tamil Eelam despite open threats from the occupying Sri Lankan military, and in the continuing apprehension of Rajapaksa that the Tigers may come back with their ‘secessionist’ project. But again, why retrieve the dead? Why to exorcise ghosts when they can be written away by such reports promising harmony in the future? Or, why is it that the Sri Lankan model of ‘reconciliation’ appears a joke for the Tamils?

Questioning ‘reconciliation’

The term ‘reconciliation’ originally is derived from the Christian theological concept of ending the gap between god and man, through atonement of the latter. In politics, it is a liberal concept where one socio-political group of people – which formerly was privileged in a system that worked against the detriment of another group – constitutes a series of legal and symbolic acts, mostly with assistance and participation of the affected group, with or without external mediators, so as to create political and more importantly psychological conditions to generate a social harmony that was lacking in the past. To draw an analogy from the Christian concept, let’s say, the dominant group atones for its sins against the oppressed group.

One can presume that that the cynicism shown by atheists to this theological concept that material sin can be expiated through symbolic gestures will be shared by radicals towards the political concept. As the flaw with liberalism goes, the system is not radically restructured, only reformed so that certain grievances of the affected group are addressed and the psyche of the group is assuaged that some credible changes have taken place. Case to consider: South Africa, where despite the much talked about reconciliation process and the feeling of empowerment among the Blacks post-apartheid, the vast majority of wealth is still in White hands. The effects of reconciliation, we must understand, are meant to be more psychological among the oppressed groups than material.

Nevertheless, to be fair to the liberal pundits of reconciliation theory, psychological impacts do affect material conditions to some extent. A feeling of social harmony can effect some positive political changes within a system, though these changes needn’t be the ones that the oppressed group had initially desired. Elaboration is not necessary on how illusions of the justness of a political order can maintain it. So let us consider here the arguments of Dr. Alexander Boraine, by no means a radical, one of the main architects of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the co-founder of International Centre for Transitional Justice. On reconciliation, he writes “At its best, reconciliation involves commitment and sacrifice; at its worst, it is an excuse for passivity, for siding with the powerful against the weak and dispossessed.” [1]

He further argues, “Unless the call for reconciliation is accompanied by acknowledgment of the past and the acceptance of responsibility, it will be dismissed as cheap rhetoric. Perhaps one of the ways in which to achieve at least a measure of reconciliation in a deeply divided society is to create a common memory that can be acknowledged by those who created and implemented the unjust system, those who fought against it, and the many more who were in the middle and claimed not to know what was happening in their country.”

Based on this, certain questions can be posed to those who argue for reconciliation between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in the island.

Will the Sinhalese, obviously the privileged group in the unitary Sri Lankan system, acknowledge that what happened in the past was not a ‘war on terror’ but the continuation of a protracted genocide of the Eelam Tamils, genocide conducted to maintain the system that structurally privileges them?

Will the Sinhalese recognize that those who fought against the genocide enforced by the Sri Lankan state apparatus through armed struggle were not terrorists but the only credible representatives of the Eelam Tamils?

Will the Sinhalese recognize that the Tamils not just have a right but also an obligation to retain the memory of both the civilians and the fighters who died in the Eelam wars and to commemorate them publicly?

These of course are only moral questions. The appropriate political question would be to ask the Sinhalese, (along with the above three, for the line between politics and morality is always blurred), whether they would push for an independent international investigation to identify and punish the perpetrators of genocide in their state and for a referendum to be conducted among the Tamils so that the Tamils can determine their future. But are the Sinhalese in a state of mind to answer at least the three moral questions?

The Sri Lankan system and Reconciliation

At the risk of sounding cynical, one can say that apart from a few exceptions, the answers to the above questions would be in the negative. To push it further, there is a high probability that even the legitimacy of these questions will be questioned.

Why is there a general state of denial of the state of affairs in the island? Of course, in this media age, should anyone make a claim that he was not informed, one can only scoff at him. Sri Lankan society suffers from what Zizek terms ‘fetishist disavowal’ – the Sri Lankan knows what happened (genocide), but he refuses to accept the consequences of this knowledge (prosecution of offenders, a corresponding political solution), so that he can continue acting as if he didn’t know it.

Hannah Arendt points out how mendacity became a general part of the German character under the Nazis by the acceptance of effective lies. The most effective of these was the Nazi slogan “the battle of destiny for the German people”, which made self-deception easier on three counts – that there was no “war” in the proper sense of the term, that it was started by destiny and not by Germany, that the Germans need to annihilate or be annihilated, a matter of life or death. One only needs to look at Rajapaksa’s speeches, editorials of some mainstream Sri Lankan newspapers, blogs and sites run by Sinhala ‘patriots’, the writings of some JHU leader, or even better, the articles of certain self-proclaimed intellectuals to get the same message. The Lie that the Sri Lankan state had been spreading for ages about a global Tamil conspiracy, of Tamils as impure alien invaders, the uniqueness of the Sinhala race, the chauvinist concepts of blood, religion and soil, found acceptance as Truth by a vast majority of the Sinhalese. And this made many of them immune to any moral indignation at the obvious sufferings inflicted on the Eelam Tamils by their state.

A condition after the military defeat of the LTTE has been arrived at now. Actual subjective violence on the Tamils needn’t even happen – the omnipresence of the jack-boot and the rifle butt, the panopticon of the police-military institutions and the intrusive symbols of the colonizer, besides being an open threat of direct physical violence, creates enough psychological violence against the Tamil body to keep it in a permanent state of trauma. The argument that the absence of any major uprising in the so-called ‘post-war’ era signals the Tamils’ acceptance of the unitary state and the success of reconciliation is as ridiculous as the one that slavery is justified when slaves don’t revolt. The Sri Lankan state knows well that to crush the possibility of any mass outbreak of protest in post-Mullivaikaal period, it needs to create such a scenario where the Tamils would be made to know, would be made to feel, that any protest against the powers would be futile and suicidal.

Can’t it be otherwise in the future? Remember Col. Mathieu from The Battle of Algiers who responds to the questions of the French reporters on human right abuses in the colony with one of his own. “Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.” Structural genocide and violence against the Tamils must continue as long as Sri Lanka occupies the Tamil homeland. At a further degeneration, annihilation is the solution that unitary Sri Lanka can provide, with an intensification of subjective violence on the Tamils. With a possible betterment, assimilation is the best solution it has to offer, where the Eelam Tamils will lose all sense of identity and become ‘authentic Sri Lankans’ i.e. mimics of the Sinhalese. Either ways, violence on the Tamils will only shift forms in unitary Sri Lanka. But it is the latter that the Sri Lankan system desires, since it believes that it has cowed the Tamils with the possibility of the former through what it did during Mullivaikaal. It calls this reconciliation.

Conditions for reconciliation

There are two broad conditions in which reconciliation in the island can happen.

One is a long term possibility. If we can recognize that ‘reconciliation’ in the current context means nothing more than the acceptance of the superiority of the Sinhalese by the Tamils and a willingness to assimilate as Sri Lankans, it can proceed successfully through a combination of factors which include intensification of Sinhala colonization/Sinhalization to make claims of a Tamil homeland impossible, neutralization of activists in Tamil Eelam, Tamil Nadu and the diaspora to accepting the unitary state as the final solution, erasure of memory of the struggle for Tamil Eelam and its symbols and so. If this is allowed to happen, a stage will be reached – looking at trends in the island, it is likely to be within a decade if left unopposed – when the Tamils are but a scattered minority throughout the island without the possibility of a homeland of their own. At that time, maybe there will be a benevolent regime in Sri Lanka that recognizes that what happened to Tamils was a grave mistake, maybe even a genocide, for which they are genuinely sorry, and would ensure that the cultural and economic rights of the Tamil minorities are strongly safeguarded. This would be a genuine reconciliation, with a touch of irony albeit. For it is contingent on the idea of Tamil Eelam and retributive justice for what happened over the past 60 years breaking completely among the Tamils not just in the homeland, but in Tamil Nadu and diaspora as well allowing things to reach such a stage.

The other possibility, which needs to happen soon, is for the Sinhalese en masse to answer the three questions in the affirmative, to pressurize for prosecution of war criminals from the bottom to the top in the Sri Lankan state, to press for an immediate removal of Sinhala military and colonies from the Tamil homelands, to call for a referendum to ascertain the political aspirations of the Tamils, and to ensure material reparations for the losses that the Tamil Nation suffered. Unless this sounds like an idealist pipedream, this is the only way through which reconciliation in the island can happen between the two nations. If this does not happen, ‘reconciliation’ is likely to join the list of swear words in Tamil.

To end, the Christian concept of reconciliation was probably the inspiration behind the proverb “to err is human, to forgive divine”.

The Tamils, of course, cannot be expected to be divine considering that the other side largely tolerates a regime that was and continues to be inhuman.


1. See Alexander Boraine’s “Retributive Justice and Restorative Justice: Contradictory or Complimentary?” in “Genocide and Accountability” edited by Nanci Adler

Ideology Behind Military Rape in ‘United Sri Lanka’

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on March 7, 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.”

Tamil Women's Power through the Barrel of a Gun

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.

[i] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCpARMjv6AU&feature=youtu.be

[ii] http://groundviews.org/2012/02/25/history-after-the-war-challenges-for-post-war-reconciliation/

[iii] http://groundviews.org/2010/05/22/living-with-the-other-in-post-war-sri-lanka/

[iv] http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/03/02/news32.asp

A Letter to a Sinhala Woman

Posted in Poetry by Karthick RM on January 21, 2012

I write to you today
as a woman.
A woman
who is now asked
to reconcile
with the occupier of my home
the assassin of my lover
the violator of my body
the murderer of my innocence…
No, I will not ask you
‘what should I do?’
for I already know
the solution

But let me ask you
what did YOU do?
Did you hear the grenade
exploding in Koneswary’s abdomen?
Did your lips utter the screams
of Tharshini?
Did your face feel the warmth
of Krishanti’s tears?
Or did the hands that silenced Isaipriya
silence your conscience?


You poured kiribath
in the mouths of men
who poured their hatred
on our bodies in Vanni.
Your children burst crackers
in Colombo, in Kandy
even as shells and clusters
burst on the heads of ours
in Nandhikadal, in Puthukudiyiruppu.
Your daughters danced
for your victorious sons
even as they danced around
our mutilated bodies.

No! I reject the notion
that I lost my ‘karpu’!
No! I do not want to curse
god, or fate,
or some unseeable force!
But a curse on the womb
that gave birth to death.
A curse on the breast
that fed a child-rapist.
A curse on the arms
that cradled executioners.
A curse on you,
even as you, ‘sister’,
are a curse on all feminity.
For it was you
who lost your ‘karpu’
through your silence
making you an accomplice
in the crimes of your sons.

Tears? Yes!
But the blood of my children!
But the despair of my love!
But the anger of my heart!

But the truth too!
I have realized
through a six-decade old lesson
that at the end of the day
you are Sinhalese
I am Eelam Tamil
and that, and that alone
defines our separate womanhoods
our separate homes
our separate futures.
And it is only in this separation
will there ever be
no more tears

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Slavoj Zizek’s Systemic Violence and Structural Genocide Phenomena in Sri Lanka

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on December 5, 2011

Originally published on TamilNet

There have been quite some positions on ‘rights violations’ in Sri Lanka. Among those who recognize that there have been violations of the rights of the Tamils, two general camps can be observed. One are those influenced by liberal human rights discourse, who believe that certain horrific acts were committed in the war, but in a ‘post-war’ scenario, there is an urgent need for ‘reconciliation’, ‘peace-building’ and ‘rehabilitation’.

The understanding of this camp is that state violence happened as a onetime event, there were a few or many excesses in this event, but there is a possibility of a post-event condition within a united framework of a ‘better’ Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the ‘structural genocide’ position contends that horrific violence on the Eelam Tamil body-politics is not a onetime event but is a process, and that it is not an aberration but is inherent to the system of united Sri Lanka.

The theme of structural genocide of the Eelam Tamil nation has been addressed in various articles, editorials and features on TamilNet. In this regard, the study of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek on ‘systemic violence’ provides some valuable theoretical insights.

Prof. Zizek, who is a Marxist and critical theorist, writes in his brilliant book ‘Violence: Six Sideways Reflections’ that systemic violence has to be taken into account if at all one is to make sense of visibly horrifying subjective violence.

Zizek writes that “We’re talking here of the violence inherent in a system: not only direct physical violence but also the more subtle forms of coercion that sustain relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence.”

The thinker seeks to point out that subjective explosions of physical violence, like in the Eelam Tamils’ case what happened in Black July or in Mulli-vaaykkaal, cannot be seen in isolation from the various forms of psychological and symbolic forms of violence that are part and parcel of the system.

For such a system to survive, it needs not just a Weberian ‘monopoly of violence’, it always needs to point out to the subjects it colonizes that it has the will to exercise this violence as and when it deems fit.

So, acts like land grabbing, assaults on villagers by Sinhala army men and settlers, rapes, attacks on student leaders etc. are all required by the system to function smoothly till a point where the colonized Eelam Tamils themselves are psychologically conditioned by the system to become ‘true Sri Lankans’.

The Sri Lankan system’s threats of violence through the physical presence of army men in all Tamil localities, the military checkpoints throughout the occupied areas of Tamil Eelam, intrusion of private spaces and its symbolic violence through the desecration of all symbols of Eelam Tamil resistance and identity serve the purpose of this conditioning.

Writing about such political systems, Zizek argues that, “One of the strategies of totalitarian regimes is to have legal regulations (criminal laws) so severe that, if taken literally, everyone is guilty of something. But then their full enforcement is withdrawn. In this way the regime can appear merciful”.

This is precisely the case in occupied Tamil Eelam where practically every Tamil is a terror suspect under the draconian laws unless proven otherwise, that is, unless he or she is willing to work within the framework set by the oppressor.

The Sri Lankan regime makes itself appear democratic by allowing token elections conducted with the full supervision of the armed forces, symbolically hinting that if the Tamils do not vote for the parties whom it is comfortable in negotiating with then the other alternative is force.

The fact of such functioning namesake elections and kangaroo courts is thrown by Sri Lanka as an argument of its ‘democratic practices’ and to cover up its omnipresent threat of violence against Eelam Tamils.

Much of Zizek’s book is also an intellectual attack on the liberal theorists who promote a depoliticised human rights discourse.

Zizek writes that while they claim to fight subjective violence, such liberals “are the very agents of structural violence which creates the conditions for the explosions of subjective violence.”

Those who followed the Eelam struggle closely will know how certain dubious NGOs and academic institutions minted money out of the misery of the Eelam Tamil people and the propaganda they spread and continue to spread on the possibility of ‘post-conflict reconciliation’ while simultaneously evading the fundamental political question that confronts the Eelam Tamil nation – the right to exercise political self-determination.

The argument of charitable donations by such organizations is cruel in its apparent benevolence in that it requires that the Eelam Tamils be first reduced to a state of penury so that they can intervene and make their lives better.

As Zizek notes, “Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.” Organizations such as these only help providing a system practising structural genocide a good face.

Contrary to what certain Tamil politicians who are manipulated by India and/or western powers and intellectuals on the payroll of ‘donors’ may claim, the Eelam Tamils did not fight for individual human rights or equality.

That is not just a fallacy of missing the wood for the trees, but to actually make a criminal claim that there were ever no trees in a wood that have been razed to the ground.

Any genuine politics must start from the position that Eelam Tamils as a people are unequal, and will continue to be unless they have political power in their hands, in their own state.

It is also imperative to point out Zizek’s message to certain genuine humanitarians in the diaspora who are keen on doing ‘something’, without considering the core politics of what they are dealing with:

“Better to do nothing than to engage in localised acts, the ultimate function of which is to make the system run more smoothly.”

Unless one has the correct perspective of the needs of the Eelam Tamil struggle and the corresponding political will to serve the same in all actions, one will always be engaged in futile actions and be inevitably co-opted by the powers that reign.

Art in the Time of Genocide

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on December 5, 2011

Originally published on TamilNet

The recent cultural tour of T.M. Krishna, a Chennai based Carnatic singer, in the Northern areas of the occupied territory of Tamil Eelam, was praised by quite some in the Indian media and the Sri Lankan media. It was reported that there was a substantial turn out in Jaffna, where the artist had performed solely in Tamil. While observing the “conflicting images” in the Tamil homelands and asking some moral questions to himself, the singer concludes with an apolitical message in an article published later in The Hindu that “Artistes don’t stand for elections, don’t fight on the battlefield but we offer to everyone the very breath of life —happiness.”

The following article is, of course, not a comment on the performer’s artistic talents, but rather an introspection of the politics behind the performance.

Those familiar with Marxism would agree that there is no art that stands above politics. This is all the more true when art is placed in the context of a nation facing structural genocide. Krishna’s performance in Sri Lanka last year was held in memory of the collaborator Neelan Tiruchelvam, a virulent opponent of the Eelam Tamil struggle.

Krishna was then sought out by the Indian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Ashok K. Kantha who requested the artist to do a tour of the northern regions so that there could be a ‘cultural revival’.

When the emissary of India, a country that backed Sri Lanka in its genocidal campaign against the Tamil people, marks out an artist to promote ‘cultural revival’ in their homelands, can this act and the performance be devoid of politics? And what sort of ‘revival’ can one expect when the performance is allowed by a state that is bent on keeping the Eelam Tamils in a condition of permanent trauma?

Before philistines point out that promotion of such performances proves the liberalism of the Lankan state and that there is no threat to Tamil culture, let it be stated that that Lanka allows these performances precisely because they pose no threat to the state.

Indeed, performances like these also serve the purpose of numbing the effects of trauma.

The reports that the audience in Jaffna was enthralled by Krishna’s performance are believable.

Considering that this is the first tour of the occupied homeland of the Eelam Tamils by an Indian Tamil musician since 1983, the enthusiasm of the people who participated cannot be doubted.

All the same, it should be noted that when such performances are disconnected from real politics of the ground – structural genocide in this case – they only serve the purpose of providing a false illusory relief to the subject.

And this is precisely what the governments of India and Sri Lanka would want – a Tamil art form without a spine to stand as a reflection of the social life of the people, instead an impotent abstraction that is tolerated by the Lankan regime as such an art is powerless to accomplish anything substantial in the political sphere.

A culture in abstract may give a people some sense of identity, but it neither has the substance to resist assimilation nor the power to combat annihilation. Which is why the liberation struggle led by the LTTE followed Ho Chi Minh’s dictum “culture at the service of resistance, resistance at the service of culture” – there was no more talking of an abstract Tamil culture.

Culture was concretized in the Eelam Tamil resistance and its finest, progressive aspects were filtered and deployed by the movement. A simple historical practice of the subaltern Tamil classes, like the veneration of ‘veerakal’, symbolic stones installed to honor heroes fallen in battle, was revolutionized by the Tigers.

The result was ‘Maaveerar thuyilidam’ – the heroes’ graveyard, which got the dimensions of a sacred but secular space.

The popular enthusiasm of the Eelam Tamil people to honour the fallen cadres, irrespective of their gender, caste, subcaste or religion, produced a horizondalizing effect on a formerly vertical society.

For all practical purposes, the Eelam Tamil resistance was the pinnacle of Tamil culture.

But while the Sri Lankan government systematically destroys these popular symbols, hunts down Pongu Tamil activists, and ensures that no cultural traces of Eelam Tamil resistance is left, it promotes those forms of Tamil culture and art that are completely devoid of revolutionary content, that can be easily accommodated. Then, it goes without saying that the adherents of this Tamil culture can only be ‘cultural’ at the expense of the progressive culture of the Eelam Tamil resistance.

So T.M. Krishna is wrong when he claims that these types of artistic performances would give the Tamils “more self belief, pride and faith in themselves and their lives.”

For art to be emancipatory it cannot and it should not ever soothe a people facing oppression. Rather, it has to make them conscious of their existentialist condition, of the nature of the oppression they face and provoke them to fight it.

While Krishna’s tour was on, the SLA encroached a hundred acres of farmland in Kilinochi, forests were destroyed and lands were grabbed in Batticaloa, and foundations for Sinhala colonization were strengthened in Mullaitheevu with yet another Buddhist stupa built on Tamil lands.

Art, for it to be a true expression of the socio-cultural life of the Tamil masses, cannot but address these crucial issues. Else, it will just remain an opiate of a minority of Tamil elites in auditoriums in Jaffna or elsewhere.

The struggle for Eelam Tamil liberation, like all such liberation struggles, was in itself the highest expression of national culture. It is important for all cultural activists in the homeland and in the diaspora to carefully preserve this tradition and to invent and reinvent art forms, like those tried in the Pongu Tamil uprising and Maanudathin Tamil Koodal, and to provide a culture of progressive resistance to a people subject to meaninglessness.

The diaspora in particular has great potential to interact with cultural groups from various peoples fighting similar oppression and infuse into Eelam Tamil art forms new contents that dialectically enriches both the particular aspects of the art in the context of the struggle and the universal message it holds.

It goes without saying that for this, the political understanding of those dealing with culture must be rooted in the interests of the Eelam Tamil people. Failure to wage a resolute struggle in the field of culture will only allow the Sri Lankan state to destroy all progressive Eelam Tamil content in art while simultaneously promoting, with aid of its external patrons, depoliticized forms that are no expressions of Tamil reality.